From a mass media perspective, let’s look at what brought us Donald Trump.
Once upon a time we had television networks that were truly mass media – they had something for everybody, and none of it patently offensive. Things changed with cable, satellite and online programming, many choices – some good, and a lot of them really bad.
One spawn of this was reality television – niche-oriented, cheap to produce, full of empty calories. Scripts? Actors? Actual plots? They’re for losers. In reality TV, when you’ve got your narrow niche audience, you can just make things up as you go along.
And with reality television – “The Apprentice” — came Donald Trump as a pop culture and political player.
With him, and with the Republican National Convention last week, has come an embarrassment of riches – OK, just a bunch of embarrassments.
Now, one thing we know about reality TV is that it’s generally not real. How real can one be when one is being followed around in “real life” by a camera crew?
Which describes Donald Trump in a nutshell. He’s as fraudulent as the “university” bearing his name.
He’s a faker, a phony, a fraud, a fantasist. He is flim-flam in the flesh. He promised “no lies” in his acceptance speech, but his comments had fact-checkers’ fingers flying so fast you could smell burning flesh.
Trump not only managed to misrepresent reality time and time again, but he did so strategically to stoke the fear game that underpins his quest: fear groups – ethnic and racial — other than those who made up his almost all-white audience in Quicken Loans Arena.
He said, for instance, that no one is checking the backgrounds of Syrian refugees admitted to the country. In fact, the screening process is quite rigorous.
Ah, but who needs facts when hysteria makes for better television?
Everything about this convention was a lie, from Melania Trump’s using Michelle Obama’s words to the white people holding up the “Latinos for Trump” placards throughout the convention hall.
To be honest, this convention was one part reality TV, one part variety show (“and, now, direct from his engagement in . . . um: Scott Baio!”), one part cartoon show. Were those actual people viewers saw calling for Hillary Clinton’s neck in a noose or was that borrowed footage of pitchfork-wielding villagers from “Rocky and Bullwinkle”?
The Washington Post editorialized that in its “Lock her up” chants, the convention had “descended to a new low,” demeanor that “heightens fears about how Trump would govern.”
Ah, come on, WaPo; no one who’s been watching Trump from the start should have expected any less. Hillary swinging from a tree would bring “huge” ratings.
Beyond the rabble babble and the lies, something else was striking about the Trump convention: the absence of any cogent ideas.
Really, what new ideas did Trump offer to the nation? Almost nothing.
As James Downie wrote in the Washington Post, this GOP convention was the embodiment of an “ideas deficit” afflicting the Republican Party, which has spent the last eight years doing nothing but – OK, doing nothing — period.
Meanwhile, those things that Trump says he might do are downright scary. His talk about pulling out of NATO ranks among the most irresponsible utterances from a major-party candidate.
And over the weekend he was doubling down on his talk about banning Muslim immigrants, adding that he was expanded this absurd notion to apply to “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.”
What does that mean? France? Germany? The entire eastern hemisphere?
Whatever. He’s making this stuff up as he goes along. Any scratch that will satisfy his niche.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org