The Press Has Enabled the Political Theater Trump Uses as a Substitute for Governing

I have likened Trump’s transition to political theater. Pollster Cornell Belcher calls it Trump’s “big tent carnival foolishness,” and that is, I suspect, what we can expect to get for the next four years.

On Apprentice, Donald Trump entertained with his larger-than-life ego. That ego is not as useful in a governing role as on TV but Trump sees the world as a stage. The presidency to Trump, as we see from his behavior as PEOTUS is not about governing but about showcasing.

Trump says he won by an electoral landslide but he won by one of the lowest margins ever, and he lost the popular vote. In another epic twitter rant Tuesday he said the pre-inauguration approval polls are wrong and insisted despite all the evidence to the contrary that he is wildly popular and people are beside themselves with joy.

CNN’s Brian Stelter explains the scope of Trump’s blanket accusation:

Who are the “people” he’s talking about? Well, CNN/ORC released a poll at 6 a.m. showing a pre-inauguration day approval rating of just 40%. For comparison’s sake, President Obama took office in 2009 with an 84% approval rating. President George W. Bush? 61%.
Later in the day, after Trump’s tweet, NBC and the WSJ released a poll showing Trump at 44% approval. NBC’s press release blast was titled “TRUMP TO ENTER OFFICE WITH THE LOWEST-EVER RATINGS FOR AN INCOMING PRESIDENT.” Gallup also had Trump at 44% a few days ago…

Nate Silver tells us, “On average between the five surveys, 41 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s transition performance while 52 percent disapprove.”

Stelter cites Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, who said Tuesday’s Trump tweet about the polls “shows how much he can be baited by bad news — and distracted from governing. Welcome to the NFL.”

Most presidents care about the polls. As Stelter says, “Approval ratings are a real-time report card. IF the president believes the polls. Trump might not…” If he does not, if he continues to pretend or sincerely believes they are wrong or biased, will anything at all regulate Trump’s behavior?

Of course, Stelter’s employer, CNN, if not Stelter himself, is responsible for helping Trump in the polls during the election (even providing a pulpit to Trump employee Corey Lewandowski), along with other mainstream media outlets. Individuals like Stelter and Katy Tur, Sopan Deb and others were the exception to the corporate rule.

There is another problem with the media, according to Nate Silver. He explains that the election results actually fell within pollsters’ margin of error but that the media was careless with its presentation of polling data:

Here’s the thing. The loss of trust mostly isn’t the pollsters’ fault. It’s the media’s fault. Oh, yes, I’m going there. The loss of trust in polls was enabled, in large part, by reporting and analysis that incorrectly portrayed the polls as showing an almost-certain Clinton win when in fact they showed a close and highly uncertain Electoral College race, especially after FBI Director James B. Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28.

The fact is, as Silver concludes, “There’s no doubt that polls took a trust hit during the campaign and that Trump is going to exploit it.” Bad enough is a Trump who is not provided with additional ammunition by the mainstream media that collectively and royally screwed the pooch.

Trump is to be blamed for attacking freedom of the press and attempting to criminalize dissent, but the mainstream media is equally guilty of mishandling its responsibilities as the Fourth Estate, which Edmund Burke is reported to have said is the most important of all.

Important does not necessarily mean powerful. Influential yes, as we saw from the elections but as Mother Jones pointed out this summer, threats to the press “come from powerful people to whom the cost of company-bankrupting litigation is pocket change…and they are mostly men, are willing to go nuclear, there’s very little in the institutions of democracy that can stop them.”

So the threat to the brakes the press would normally apply to people like Trump is substantial and those breaks are limited already, even without accounting for the damage the press has done to itself and continues to do in its inability to respond to Donald Trump’s provocations.

Next time Trump uses a “presser” to try to silence legitimate questions from the press, what the press must do is find its metaphorical cojones and withhold questions until that question is answered, or better, not attend at all, until Trump relents.

Trump can ignore everything they say and nobody can prevent him attacking their every utterance, but the press doesn’t have to attack Trump to exert its power; it has only to refuse to do his job for him by spreading his lies far and wide.

In other words, the press has only to tell the truth – not the talking points – about what Trump is saying. That will be damage enough to his political theater of horrors.