There’s an old maxim that journalists are supposed to report the news not become the news. This was easier when the reporter was just a byline on their stories. With radio and then television came the need to like certain aspects of the reporter in addition to their reporting. Our trust and respect for the person had to survive hearing and seeing them deliver the news. Walter Cronkite would never have become an icon if he’d had Mike Tyson’s voice, no matter how good he was as an investigator, writer or boss.
But at least Walter Cronkite didn’t have to run for office every few years. The train wrecks that we call elections for national office here in the US are really nothing more than glorified popularity contests. Collectively we vote on very shallow information. One candidate says the other one voted against a crime bill and therefore is “soft on crime.” For the most part we eat that soundbite whole, not knowing or caring why the other candidate voted against the bill in question. Perhaps it was because the bill contained provisions to throw live kittens into wood chippers. Sometimes politicians load bills up with completely unrelated and outrageous crap specifically to force their opponents to vote against them. That way they get to say the other candidate is “soft on crime” because they know we’ll never actually read the text of the bill. Kittens? What kittens?
At the end of election day the winner is the person the voters like best or, more likely, dislike the least. That is decided mostly by who gets the most air time and has the best soundbites. Those things are determined mainly by who large corporate donors choose to support. With all the dependence on television, charisma helps too. The more we want to see the candidate because of who they are, the less it matters what they are. That’s a dangerous incentive to build into the electoral system because it skews the candidate pool toward photogenic, business-friendly puppets.
What we need are elder statesmen. People like our Founding Fathers who would be capable of working with a diverse group of peers to deliver today’s version of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. After winning the election a good leader represents all the constituents, even the ones who voted for the other candidate. The leaders we want are passionate about serving the country and only reluctantly cultivate fame, inasmuch as doing so is necessary to win the election.
But there’s a difference between becoming famous enough to win an election and running because you are famous enough to win. That difference is one of representation. Which of our current crop candidates do you believe will follow the will of their constituents when that differs from their own beliefs? Because that is what it means to represent the people from elected office. But the very system we use to elect our leaders almost guarantees that’s not what we’ll get. This year’s race is between one candidate running on an anti-corruption platform, several who represent the corporate interests backing their campaigns, and one who sincerely believes he represents the people, provided the people agree with him and if they don’t well it’s because they are idiots.
The corporate-backed candidates talk a really good game. They debate issues we care about as if they will represent us after the election. We like to think they will and but look at the congressional voting record and a different pattern emerges. Votes are split almost entirely along party lines. If the citizens were fairly represented the voting record would have more middle ground. There would still be die-hard RepubliCrats voting the party line but men and women of conscience would routinely and in greater numbers cross those lines to represent the will of their constituents. We don’t have that and we need to get it back. We are definitely moving along that path, but in the opposite direction.
A large part of that this year is Trump. The scariest thing about a Trump presidency isn’t that he’d dismantle the Constitution. Of course he would but we’ve been doing a pretty good job of that already and there’s no signs it’s slowing down. No, the scariest thing is that Trump would demean the office of President by turning it into his next reality show. He’d put the naming rights to the country on auction, divert funds from the Treasury to buy them, then rename the country The United States of Trump.
Not in the first week, though. The very first thing he’d do on taking office would be to hire a camera crew to follow him around all day. He’d want to make sure there was lots of drama so there would be a director and some writers deciding which world events were camera worthy and punching up the dialog with other world leaders. He’d want to get his trademark phrase in every episode so each week he’d call a Democrat into the Oval, tell them what a bad job they are doing, then look straight into the camera and say “you’re fired!”
Everything would be a photo-op. Eventually he’d have to relieve himself and the director would have arranged for the camera crew to try to follow him into the restroom. He’d pause at the door and hold a hand up to the camera. “Sorry,” he’d say looking straight into the lens with a smirk. “You can’t come in here. It’s classified.” Of course he’d cut a dozen takes to get that perfect-yet-spontaneous feel, then agonize for an hour in the editing bay over which one was best.
Naturally the entire production crew would be allowed into the Situation Room even though that actually is classified, but it makes great TV so Trump wouldn’t be able to resist. He’d have the best S.A.G. editors and bevy of lawyers in the editing bay to cut or mask out all the classified stuff. Producers would have show-friendly world leaders on speed dial, ready to provoke global incidents in return for camera time, a boost to their GDP and an infusion of foreign aid – in small, unmarked, non-sequential bills, of course.
Then there would be the appearances on other shows, starting with Cribs. Sometime in his first year in office he’d walk a crew from The Discovery Channel through the National Archives and Library of Congress to do an episode of Hoarders. When he couldn’t bully Congress into doing something he wanted, like perhaps setting up a registry and tattooing a bar code on anyone who vaguely looks like they might be Muslim, he’d burst into the chambers of Congress with the same Discovery Channel crew to film an episode of Intervention. And you know he’d work out a crossover show with the cast of Jersey Shore just to set up a scene in the Situation Room with him and The Situation.
You would think that other world leaders would have too much dignity and self-respect to escalate a Twitter war to actual war. Trump would find a way to do it though because it’s good for business. Of course he’d be called out for it and we’d go from spurious claims of “the evidence of WMDs was credible” to “The Donald’s Twitter account was hacked, the war wasn’t his fault.” Sadly that would be the high water mark of a Trump presidency.
He would also be the last President ever to hold office from The White House because after his global reality show was cancelled he’d strike the set and put it in storage with the sets of The Apprentice. Assuming the white house hadn’t been nuked out of existence before then. It doesn’t take sophisticated tracking to spot a bright orange dot from orbit, after all.
Does anyone out there, even the most ardent Trump supporter, actually believe he would represent any interest other than his own while in office? That if he disagreed with the position of any interest group he’d actually consider their positions and arguments with an open mind? No, right? So what’s he doing on the ballot?
I have a theory about that. Any hostage-taking terrorist worth his salt knows to give the negotiator some completely outrageous demands. It’s win-win. He might actually get some of those demands, in which case he’s ahead. But he can burn them off in negotiations since he doesn’t expect to get them anyway, and they make his actual demands seem sane by comparison.
That’s Trump’s role in this race. He is the outrageous demand and we are the hostages. Big Business is the hostage taker and most of the candidates are the demands that are supposed to look sane by comparison.
The thing is, we have representatives out the wazoo yet we have no representation. We haven’t for a long time and voters are starting to want that to change. The momentum gathering in the anti-corruption movement threatens the business-backed candidates, all of whom will be beholden to corporate interests. Once elected they won’t represent actual citizens like you and me. Trump makes all of them look by comparison to be a good choice. We know they won’t represent us but with Trump in the race it isn’t about anti-corruption. It comes down to being both electable and not Trump. No other issue is going to matter.
Meanwhile, the one candidate running on an anti-corruption platform can’t get a word in edgewise. But then maybe that was the idea all along.