During the presidential primary run, his Republican rivals had reason to complain that Donald J. Trump was garnering all of the coverage. It was, as it turns out, all about him, mostly from his point of view, that is, largely unquestioned. From a headline perspective, their problem was simply that they weren’t saying or doing anything new, meaning reporters and editors had nothing fresh to report on those candidates and their campaigns. A policy statement, let’s be candid, is news just once, when it’s released. Trump, in contrast, was providing outrageous grist for the mill – he was a truly unconventional, unpredictable, and unkempt subject. To their everlasting remorse, his opponents failed to take him on full-force, much less seriously, which would have at least landed them comparable headline presence. If they had only done their homework, they would have had many of the factual details that are finally coming to light against Trump and his ways. Gee, the recent New York Times report about Chris Christie’s forgiving Trump $25 million in overdue state taxes could have taken down two candidates at once, had Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or any of the other dwarves been on their toes.
News media coverage is not the only route to primary victories, by the way. Most of the Republicans were relying on very expensive direct-mail advertising flyers, at least from what we endured in New Hampshire. You may have read some of my household’s reactions.
In contrast, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders was gaining ground by flying under the radar, sticking to a successful script that included little new material while hammering his points home in speech after speech. He was certainly helped by strong organization and a vibrant (dare I say organic?) grassroots social media presence.
When Nacky Scripps Loeb was publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, she liked to quote her late husband’s adage than negative publicity was better than no coverage at all. I know the basis of the argument, especially for an upstart, but I’ve also seen its downside: sometimes the attacks really inflict damage.
You didn’t hear Trump complaining about the billions of “free media” exposure he got on his ascent, but maybe none of his inner circle could see it would eventually come with a price.
My, has it!
We find ourselves waking in the morning with an obsession to discover the latest. It’s not just the New York Times or Washington Post, either. Team Trump has been stimulating a stunning parade of splashy tabloid headlines, from the New York Daily News to the Huffington Post and Politico. Done well, there’s an art to these, I’ll confess with admiration. Not that my journalistic training or practice ran in that direction.
Almost every day now has delivered a new, well, Trumpage that stirs up the question, Is he really trying to lose? Is he even running on Hillary’s behalf? In the latest round, the pundits are sensing his new strategy is to circle the wagons and focus on his core supporters while hoping the Libertarian and Green parties erode enough votes from Clinton to give him an edge. As they acknowledge, it’s a very risky approach, especially for someone who may be recognizing he’s really losing.
Step back from the daily revelations and you can see Trump’s bigger story is fitting into a classic type of fiction or biography or history – a rise-and-fall epic of tragic proportions. (Remember, true tragedy is what happens when a character challenges the gods and bears the consequences.)
In American literature, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick come immediately to my mind, along with Peter Matthiessen’s less conventional Killing Mister Watson, which opens with the well-earned finale for a character who has a lot in common with Trump.
The Trumpster provides plenty to focus on as a character-driven story, especially of the psychological nature. He’s a spoiled bully full of inner conflict, anger, bombast, self-delusion, insecurity, social-climbing, hostility, and more, all abetted by the proverbial silver spoon.
There are other classic structures the story could also develop, including the idea novel, which starts with a question; the event tale, where the world is out of order and demands correcting; or the milieu narrative, which would require the protagonist to emerge a new person after traversing the strange landscape of American politics, big business, and celebrity entertainment posturing.
Each day, we’re reading and hearing more bits of the unfolding story.
Now into the post-convention stretch of the White House quest, Trump is still the primary subject of the media coverage. This time, though, as the plot line is well into the “fall” half of the equation, it’s been to Hillary Clinton’s advantage to be flying under the radar. Are we watching a death by a thousand self-inflicted wounds? Are all of his previous falsehoods, fraudulence, and flatulence finally resurrecting and running up behind him, like monsters from a horror show?
We’re still quite a few pages away from the final pages, and it’s possible Trump will somehow pivot into a new, unanticipated, denouement. Deus ex machina would be a huge letdown, to say the least, as would anything having him live happily ever after.
Not after all this.