Each time we elect a President, the campaign seems to go on longer than it did before. I have no doubt that some of those vanquished in this cycle have already begun planning and fundraising for 2020. And while the endless ads and questionable rhetoric have always been difficult to endure, this time the outrageousness and awfulness of one candidate has created media coverage the likes of which I believe is unprecedented. By some calculations, this person had gotten the equivalent of over $2,000,000,000 in free advertising as of March, 2016 (and that coverage has certainly not decreased in the last five months), more than the combined cost all the commercials for the last five Super Bowls. And the Nacho Doritos ads in those Bowls alone provided more substance than this particular person, in my opinion, despite similarities in coloration.
Our media outlets are partially to blame for the deluge of clown coverage this election cycle. First, all the experts told us he could never, ever win; that hell would freeze over before he would be the Republican nominee. Well, now that Satan needs a pair of skates to navigate the netherworld, we all might be better off giving less credence to pundits, and understand the limits of their ability to gauge public opinion. Keep in mind that this candidate has also been a gold mine for news channels—ad rates sky-rocketed as ratings increased any time they featured him. That two billion in “free” exposure actually was a great investment for news sites as the more free time they provided, the more the money poured raked in. The longer he was perceived as viable, despite what most were saying, the larger the ad revenues. And if there is one thing that has changed about the fourth estate in the last thirty years, it’s the pressure on news divisions to make money. That’s very different from back when network owners for the big three (ABC, NBC, and CBS) paid little attention to the bottom line when it came to news. If all you do is news, though, (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, to name just three) and you have to make a profit or go out of business; then something which can be classified as news AND makes money for you will be pushed as much as possible, hence Bill O’Reilly. That some of the actions of this particular candidate were newsworthy only in the sense that videos of his outlandishness appeared on supposed news outlets illustrates how the definition of what constitutes “news” has mutated from its original connotations.
Since fame has become a commodity like athletic skill or business acumen, existence for some people is in itself news for everybody else. Millions spend hours watching other people living their lives, doing routine stuff that everybody does. When Kim buys clothes, that is deemed important and merits coverage. My oldest daughter goes off to college this fall to major in journalism, and it will be interesting to talk to her about exactly what “journalism” means in our social media era. Clearly there is interest in Kanye’s opinion on things, but what he thinks about anything other than popular music shouldn’t constitute news, regardless of how controversial, insipid, or stupid those thoughts might be. Growing up in the heyday of Walter Cronkite has obviously warped me significantly, but I think you should be famous for doing important things—making life-improving discoveries, curing diseases, or fighting for human rights—whether your small hands have implications for your sexual prowess or you’ve managed to plaster your name on a bunch of stuff doesn’t even remotely qualify.
But that two billion of free publicity is valuable only so far as the audience is paying attention. No matter how wonderful or awful a media event is, if few people pay attention, react, or comment; it has little impact. Capturing your eyeballs is the only way that any candidate’s manipulation will work. The slickest campaign of all time will wither and die if we don’t watch, click, share, and/or contribute. If a tweet lands on Twitter and nobody reads it, does it make any noise? Unlike the proverbial falling tree in the forest, there can be no debate about someone who is trying to capture our attention and fails—no, the unread tweet makes no noise whatsoever.
Which leads us back to the original point of this essay and our own culpability in creating this monster. If we hadn’t kept coming back for more, this would probably have been over a long time ago. The same impulse that causes gapers’ blocks on highways after traffic accidents is at work here: Because the spectacle has been so inappropriate, mean-spirited, and/or idiotic; we can’t tear our eyes away. Like many Brexit voters who voted to leave the European Union even though they didn’t really want to go and now regret their foolish anger, we must come to grips with our appetite for destruction and stop feeding this sinkhole with our attention.
So for all those who have speculated on what will stop this racist, misogynistic, fear-mongering, incompetent bully from reaching the White House, I believe the answer is pretty simple: Ignore him. Change the channel when CNN switches from something significant (a hurricane’s threat) to something idiotic (his plane landing at a state fair). Don’t click on the dozens of “news” stories touting how he has “gone too far this time,” causing his campaign to “self-destruct.” Yes, your Facebook feed will have all kinds of tantalizing headlines, but they will be linked to non-stories that repeat old comments and are based on a few out-of-context phrases—scan right past them. It will be difficult and you will probably be unable to resist a time or two, but his influence on what’s available to see must wither away.
I know that some of you who read my blog entry about how we need to escape our on-line bubbles to understand what those who disagree with us are thinking will see this boycott as the opposite of what I was advocating when I encouraged you to seek out opinions at variance with your own. This really has nothing to do with that; I wasn’t suggesting you wallow in the mud over trivial nonsense. Of course I’m not advocating ignorance—that’s been his approach. If you haven’t read his stands on issues or researched his philosophy on governing, by all means, try to find some facts about how he would lead our country. But, if like me, you’ve seen and read countless stories from both detractors and supporters in a wide variety of reputable sources for the past year and your mind is made up, it’s time to starve the beast. And yes, I’ve been following his opponent for an even longer time. Her exploits—both real and imagined—have been analyzed more intensely than almost any other public figure in history. And while there is clearly a history of bending the rules coupled with a dash of arrogance, it’s just ridiculous to me to compare her alleged sins with the barrage of horror we experience daily from the Republican side. And when you talk readiness for the job, well, whatever your views of her as a person, she certainly has significant governance experience which looms even larger when you compare it to none.
And I’m not trying to convince you to vote for her or to dissuade you from voting for him. My concern is that so many more important things are being shunted to the side in order to obsess over his insensitive comments to Gold Star parents, his petty refusal to endorse somebody, his creepy fixation on his oldest daughter, his racism about a judge of Mexican heritage being unable to adjudicate his lawsuit fairly, how quickly he did or did not disavow David Duke, his “joke” about assassinating political rivals, or any of the dozens of inane issues that have and will emerge over the course of the next two months. What we really need to focus on is what to do about income inequality, climate change, radical Islamic terrorism, gun proliferation, public education, immigration, police/black men interactions, the rest of the world, and a host of significant issues that do impact our lives and pose serious challenges for our country and planet. If and when he starts making some concrete proposals on those things, I’ll be happy to consider his ideas. (To illustrate further the contrast between nominees, he has seven of his positions detailed on his web site; she has thirty-seven.) But if all he and the media can do is obsess over his idiocy, I am going to build my own wall (And it will be a fantastic wall—trust me, I build the best walls—nobody builds walls better than me! And Mexico won’t even have to pay for it!) that will bar one individual from wasting my time any further. Maybe you should too.