Donald Trump is the Fakest (and Realest) News of All
by Tom Engelhardt
Here’s the truth of it: I’d like a presidential pardon. Really, I would. And I think I deserve it more than Michael Milken or Rod Blagojevich or — because it’s obviously heading our way — Roger Stone (not to speak of Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort). Unlike the rest of them, I genuinely deserve a pardon because I don’t even remember being tried or know what I did. Yet somehow, here I am sentenced to what, if things don’t get better — given my age and his luck — could prove to be life not in prison but in Trumpland (once known as the United States of America).
Or here’s another possibility that came to mind as I was thinking over my predicament: maybe I can still use that old “get out of jail free card” I saved from my childhood Monopoly set. You know, the one at the bottom of which was written: “This card may be kept until needed or sold.” Well, I need it now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work anymore, maybe because it was produced before financialization stopped being a kid’s board game and became one for presidents, presidential candidates, and those recently pardoned by you-know-who.
If only this were simply a game I found myself trapped in — Trumpopoly. Unfortunately, it’s no board game, though I must admit that, more than three years later, I’m officially bored with the man who has surely gotten more attention, more words spoken and written about him, than anyone in history. Even if you included Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, I doubt he would have any serious competition.
Honestly, who could even contest that statement, given that nothing he does, no matter how trivial, isn’t dealt with as “news” and covered as if the world were ending? When you think about it, it’s little short of remarkable. And I’m not even talking about Donald Trump’s non-stop coverage on his own news service, also known as Fox News. No, what I had in mind was the Fake News Media itself, regularly identified by the president as his major enemy. (“Our primary opponent is the Fake News Media. They are now beyond Fake, they are Corrupt.”)
He’s not wrong, if by corruption you mean the over-coverage of him. The truth is that, whether you’re talking about the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, or MSNBC, none of them can get enough of him. Ever. They cover his rallies; they cover his tweets; they cover his impromptu news conferences in the north driveway of the White House, often as if nothing else on Earth were going on.
“Cover” might not even be the right word for it, unless you’re thinking about a thick, smothering, orange blanket thrown over our American world.
In this Trumpian prison of ours, you really have little choice. Whether you like it or not, whether you want to or not, you’re a witness to the vagaries of one Donald J. Trump, morning, noon, and night, day in, day out. I mean, you know what film the president thinks should have won the best-picture Oscar this year, right? Gone With the Wind, which, after he brought it up, promptly shot to number one on topics trending on Twitter. You have a sense of how many years he expects to remain in the White House (up to 26, as he told one of his rally crowds recently, or assumedly until Barron is ready to take over); you know that he’s a “germophobe” (small tip: don’t cough or sneeze in his presence and the next time you meet him, don’t try to shake his hand); you’re probably aware that his properties in India (as well as his pronunciation of Indian names) leave something to be desired, but that the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas is buzzing along (especially when he visits while on the campaign trail). And here are some other things you might have caught as well: that you and I have spent quite a little fortune (up to $650 a night per agent) putting up the Secret Service people protecting him at Trump properties; that, thanks to a tweeted photo of him on a windy day, he has quite a tan line (or that, as he tweeted back, “More Fake News. This was photoshopped, obviously, but the wind was strong and the hair looks good? Anything to demean!”); or that he hates being told, especially by American intelligence officials, no less “Shifty Schiff,” that Vladimir Putin would like to lend his reelection a hand, but loves it that the Russian prexy may have a yen to promote Bernie Sanders in this election season; that his greatest skill (à la The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice) may be firing people he considers personally disloyal to him (even if it’s called purging when you’re the president and they’re government officials or bureaucrats), hence his three years in office represent the greatest turnover in Washington officialdom in presidential memory; or perhaps the way he tweets charges and claims of every sort (that, for instance, Mitt Romney is a “Democratic spy”); or all the people he actually knows but claims he doesn’t; or his urge to slam every imaginable, or even unimaginable, figure ranging from the forewoman of the Roger Stone jury (“She somehow weaseled her way onto the jury and if that’s not a tainted jury then there is no such thing as a tainted jury”) to the 598 “people, places, and things” the New York Times counted him insulting by May 2019, including John McCain (23 times, “last in his class”) and his daughter Meghan (four times, “obnoxious”); oh, and let’s not forget his threats to unleash nuclear weapons on North Korea (“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”) and Afghanistan (“And if we wanted to do a certain method of war, we would win that very quickly. But many, many — really, tens of millions of people would be killed…”). And that, of course, is barely a hint of the world we now inhabit, thanks not just to Donald J. Trump, but to the very Fake News Media that he denounces so incessantly.
We’re here in Trump’s version of a prison in part because he and the Fake News Media he hates so much are in eternal collusion as well as eternal collision! Much as they theoretically dislike each other, both the non-Fox mainstream media and the president seem to desperately need each other. After all, in a social media-dominated world, the traditional media has had its troubles. Papers have been losing revenue, folding, drying up, dying. Staffs have been plunging and local news suffering. (In my own hometown rag, the New York Times, undoubtedly because many copyeditors were dumped, small errors now abound in the paper paper, which I still read, in a way that once would have been unimaginable.) On TV, of course, you have cable news networks that need to talk about something quite literally 24/7.
So what a godsend it must be to be able to assign reporter after reporter and commentator after commentator to the doings of a single man, his words, acts, impulses, tweets, concerns, bizarre comments, strange thoughts, odd acts. Who could doubt that he has, in these years, become the definition of “the news” in a way that once would have been inconceivable but couldn’t be more convenient for a pressed and harried media?
And however much he may endlessly denounce them, he desperately needs them, too. Otherwise, what would he do for attention? They’re, in effect, his servants and he, in some strange way, theirs. No matter what they officially think of each other, this is the definition of collusion — one that has, in the last three years, also helped redefine the nature of our American world. No matter what they say about each other, in his own fashion, he’s always ready to pardon them and they, in their own fashion, him.
And here I am — don’t think I’m not feeling guilty about it — covering him, too, today. It seems I can’t help myself. After all, I’m in the same prison world as everyone else in this country, including reporters.
Pardon Him? You Bet!
By the way, give you-know-who credit where it’s due. He may be 73 years old, but he’s grasped the tweetable moment in a way that’s been beyond impressive from that fateful day in June 2015 when he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race, praising his future “great, great wall” (to be paid for by Mexico), and denouncing the “Mexican rapists” who had to go. In attention-getting terms, he had anything but a 73-year-old’s sense of how this world actually works and, let’s be honest, that was impressive.
At some basic level, the results of what he grasped are no less so. After all — god save us — he might even find himself in the White House for a second term (if the coronavirus or Bernie Sanders doesn’t take him down first).
Donald Trump is obviously no founding father but, despite his weight, you could perhaps think of him as something like a founding feather, a phenomenon carried by the latest political winds into the grim future of us all. And what a future it’s likely to be if this president, a genuine arsonist when it comes to heating the planet to the boiling point, gets reelected. (He could singlehandedly give William Blake’s classic poem, “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright, in the forests of the night,” new meaning.)
I, on the other hand, find myself trapped in his world but, in a sense, from elsewhere. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really living in the world I seem to inhabit or if I’m not already, in Australian terms, in some kind of midsummer night’s dream or rather nightmare?
I’m just a couple of years older than The Donald and yet if he represents the most modern of 73-year-old realities, then I’m from a past age. I can’t even tweet, having never learned that modern form of conspiracy haiku. Has anyone, no matter how much younger than him, grasped as fully or creatively as he did the all-too-modern sense of how to demand and command attention on a 24/7 basis? There has been nothing like him or his version of a presidency in our history.
Now, to be honest with you, I’m sick of both Donald Trump and the fake news media. No, I mean it. Sometimes, I dream of bringing back my long-dead parents and showing them our Trumpian world in which, for instance, Americans fight a range of endlessly unsuccessful wars across a remarkable swath of the planet. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is indulged in its urge to recreate a militarized version of the Cold War, including a new multi-trillion dollar nuclear arms race; a world in which, however — and this would have been beyond comprehension to them — “infrastructure week” in Washington, the very idea of putting significant sums of money into rebuilding the crumbling basics in this country, has become little short of a joke. Oh, and of course, I’d have to tell them that, since their deaths, we — some of us at least — have accepted that the planet itself, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, is now overheating in a radical way.
There is, however, one thing I’ve never doubted about The Donald: that, as he did with his five flaming, bankrupt casinos in Atlantic City in the early 1990s, when the moment comes, he’ll jump ship in the nick of time, money in hand, leaving the rest of us to go down on the USS Constitution (with no get-out-of-jail-free card in sight).
Pardon me? Don’t count on it. Pardon you. I wouldn’t hold my breath. But pardon him? You bet! Consider it a done deal.