March 11, 2019

I should be gleeful right now -- Media Matters has unearthed old radio broadcasts in which Tucker Carlson made light of the sexual exploitation of underage girls and made other dubious comments. We all know that Carlson works for Fox, and therefore nothing will happen to him except a few days of embarrassment. For a lot of people, that's enough -- but after all these years, I'm sick of the double standard. This would be career-ending for a commentator employed anywhere outside the right-wing bubble. A non-conservative news organization that didn't fire someone who'd said these things would be subject to days of harassment from Fox News -- dozens and dozens of segments over a period of a few days. The president and Republican members of Congress would weigh in. It would become the #1 news story in America.

Nothing like this will happen in Carlson's case. He won't be Jussie Smollett or Ilhan Omar. Fox will have his back, and it will blow over any minute now. So I can't enjoy the pile-on while it lasts. I know how it ends.

I'm also dismayed by a story that appeared on the front-page of The Washington Post yesterday. It's an awestruck response to President Trump's CPAC speech the previous weekend, which really was no big deal -- it was just like all his other pep-rally speeches, except longer. But the Post's Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker used it to demonstrate two premises: that Trump is larger than life, and that -- although the authors would never admit that this is their point -- Trump is the real centrist in American politics.

The awe is palpable. Yes, according to Parker and Rucker, Trump is dishonest and a loose cannon -- but he's large and contains multitudes. (The headline is "The 10 Personas of Donald Trump in a Single Speech." The personas are: the Entertainer, the Fighter, the Victim, the Bully, the Expert, the Auditor, the Braggart, the Fabulist, the Rebel, and the Pundit.)

He lambasted and lampooned his rivals. He exaggerated and ballyhooed his record. He riddled his remarks with contradictions, shoddy statistics and falsehoods. And he embroidered it all with a fake Southern accent, curse words and bouts of extravagant pantomime.

For two hours and five minutes last weekend, President Trump dazzled his supporters and appalled his critics with a mind-spinning, free-associating performance that neatly encapsulated his singular standing as a polarizing cultural figure.

Note the awe: the speech was "a mind-spinning, free-associating performance that neatly encapsulated his singular standing as a polarizing cultural figure."

And note the binary: Trump "dazzled his supporters and appalled critics." This is how Trump, of all people, morphs in the media's telling into the real centrist in the presidential race. His critics hate him! His fans love him! He must be somewhere in the middle!


The spectacle showcased Trump in his purest form, an unconventional politician who drives opponents to madness and acolytes to glee.

There it is again -- Trump as the man in the middle.

The businessman-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-politician inhabited multiple personas in the space of a single speech — often intertwined and at a dizzying clip — from entertainer to fighter, from fabulist to bully.

He's just ... larger than life, as Parker and Rucker describe him. Who on the other side is as compellingly outsize a figure as this?

He's unfazed by failure, the ultimate happy warrior:

Trump took the CPAC stage after a stretch of global failures: the collapse of nuclear talks with North Korea; record high trade deficits and signs of a slowing economy; a surge in illegal immigration; and an unbuilt border wall that is unfunded after a lost standoff with Democrats in Congress.

Yet Trump on this Saturday afternoon was positively buoyant.

He's a force of nature who cannot be contained:

His aides and confidants liken him to a whistling teapot, a pressure cooker that might explode if he does not blow off steam. For Trump, the platform was a release valve.

Here's another binary:

A commentary in the libertarian publication Reason described Trump’s turn on the CPAC stage as “Prince-at-the-Super-Bowl great,” declaring that, if he can consistently re-create the dynamic, “his reelection is a foregone conclusion.” The left-leaning Salon website, meanwhile, described his remarks as “more like the delusional ramblings of someone hopped up on drugs or suffering a mental breakdown than anything resembling a normal political speech.”

He's more powerful than the Post's own fact-checking apparatus, because he is loved:

Little of what Trump said was factual — he made 102 false or misleading claims in the speech, according to an analysis by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker — yet to this crowd and millions of supporters around the country, his broader points rang true and carried the imprimatur of authority because he delivered them.

How great was Trump? He used ... hand movement!

He relied on his trademark gestures, from extending his index fingers and thumbs to frame his declarations of success to splaying his hands apart as if pulling taffy.


It was the presidency as Vaudeville act — the commander in chief at Carnegie Hall.

Which is it? A grind-it-out performance in a sad little tank town, or the pinnacle of a showman's success, a night on the most presitgious stage imaginable? It's both, I guess -- Trump is a scrappy, hungry road dog and he also hit the big time.

I don't care how many lies the rest of the story enumerates. I don't care that the part of the story that describes Trump as victim makes him seem like, well, a whiny guy playing the victim card. Trump is portrayed here as a giant his critics can't kill. Parker and Rucker may be appalled, but they're also impressed.

This is what the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will have to run against: not just Trump, but the myth of Trump. It won't be easy, with the mainstream media printing the legend.

Cross-posted from Steve's blog, No More Mr. Nice Blog.

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