Watching Donald Trump’s news conference reaffirmed my view the president-elect is a showman without precedent or parallel in American political history.
I first came to this understanding in June of 2015, when I watched Trump at a campaign event in New Hampshire, held in the large home of a supporter; an event covered in its entirety by MSNBC (why the cable network was covering an event by a candidate in a primary where there were 15 other Republican candidates, is another matter).
I had paid little attention to Trump until that live broadcast, thinking of him as a not serious candidate for President of the United States. I was wrong about that, as was almost everyone, including media and Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary.
But I did post that day on Facebook that I thought it would be a mistake to dismiss Trump entirely, because, I wrote, his absence of political orthodoxy was mesmerizing on television – and I am a Kennedy/Dukakis Democrat.
Watching Trump in his more than one hour news conference this morning, was to watch again what we have come to expect – a master of television/political art.
The man is simply brilliant in front of television cameras; not even Marshall McLuhan, for all of his profound insights into the medium is the message, anticipated the likes of Donald Trump. (True, McLuhan understood that television is the triumph of image over substance, but Trump is beyond even McLuhan’s imaginings.)
Not one American politician can match Trump on camera, because the only rules Trump follows are his own. And even though we’re told he has a fragile psyche, that is not what one sees on camera – anything but.
The man’s in charge, and if you want to stand up to him, he’ll take you down, as he did today when he refused to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question, saying he wouldn’t answer a question from someone from “fake news.”
Had President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, or anyone on the Democratic side, anyone, taken on Fox News or right wing talk radio, for instance, as Trump has with mainstream media, the results of November 8 might have been different.
Trump does what I, a former U.S. Senate press secretary have long thought, if you believe media has done you wrong, you have to push back hard. If you ignore it, you will be thought guilty.
Where other politicians are timid with media, Trump is tempestuous; where they are differential, Trump is dominating: where they are cool, Trump is hot, all the while blowing up the McLuhan model.
And, when he does this, as he has repeatedly done, he’s one with his followers, who have cheered him on from day one of his run for present, and now that he’s about to become king, are delirious in their glee.
My concern here, however, is not the substance of what Trump says, or what he said at his press conference today, of how he misrepresents issues and raises hyperbole to Everest heights, but wholly to his effect – which is jaw dropping.
Of course, he’s unlike anyone who has ever been elected president. The idea of propriety and standards of politeness are behavioral patterns contrary to his nature.
Trump is the very essence of what Machiavelli so brilliantly divined in the 16th century, “For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
The United States of America is in a place it has never been.
No one knows how this turns out.