Just like that, the cable networks, so vital to Donald Trump’s rise and the political sensibility now bearing his name, turned their backs after months of near constant coverage, allowing the Republican nominee to lie his way to Election Day.
Call it exhaustion. Call it remorse. Call it fear. Whatever it was, they apparently had enough.
On the eve of the election, when an authoritarian came closer to wielding real power than at any time in modern memory, the news networks decided against covering his finally rally, the last in a long chain of events in which Trump besmirched America’s dignity, humiliated his once great party, and demeaned every stripe of person one can imagine.
Fox News ran talking heads while CNN and MSNBC ran live coverage of Hillary Clinton’s closing event in which she did what no one following Trump for a year and a half would expect from him. She apologized for the meanness of 2016.
It wasn’t her fault. It never was.
She talked about issues when people said neither candidate talked about issues. She talked about healing when people said neither candidate talked about healing. She talked about the need to work together for the good of the country when people said both were guilty of driving Americans further apart.
After votes are counted, perhaps we will reflect on this election and say to ourselves — it really was one horrible man’s doing.
Historians will look back to find the worst Clinton behaved was in using Trump’s documented words against him. Over and over again, she assailed him in the easiest way possible. Rarely did her campaign need to distort his long history of misogyny, arrogance, greed, thievery, and bigotry. It was all there, plain as day, obvious to anyone willing to take an honest look.
And yet the rivalry was a mismatch from the beginning. In addition to Trump, Clinton faced unprecedented scrutiny from a hostile press primed to chase scandal, the shadow of scandal, and the shadow’s shadow. Over 15 months, news outlets produced millions of words about her use of a private email server while secretary of state. The sheer bulk of that coverage, and the seriousness of its presentation, has lead to a majority of American voters believing she broke the law (she did not) or that she is less trustworthy than a con man.
Clinton faced an office of the FBI gone rogue, in thrall to Trump, and driven to investigate the Clinton Foundation based solely on allegations brought to light in Clinton Cash, a book whose smears were given credence by reviews in The New York Times, a book that was funded by a Washington “think tank” associated with Donald Trump’s campaign chief.
She faced a hostile foreign government, Russia, led by a reptilian autocrat, Vladimir Putin, who seeks to weaken the credibility of America and its allies. The Kremlin fed propaganda to the Trump campaign and hacked the files of the National Democratic Committee and Clinton’s campaign chief. It laundering those files through a “whistle-blowing” site before US media helpfully pored over the stolen goods, looking for anything that might put the likely next president on notice.
And she faced the problem of media institutionally incapable of dealing with a man who not only held truth in contempt but who sparked a sea-change in public discourse, arousing from the beyond once subterranean elements, permitting their fascist reaction to modernity to appear commonplace. Even as his views were awash in the bile of white nationalism, even as his followers called for Clinton’s head on a pike, even as Trump himself called democracy into doubt, the American media did not call these dark destructive forces by their proper name.
Throughout the election, Trump has toyed with the idea that he would not concede defeat if the race were close. By that, we can be sure he meant he cannot lose, because he is genetically presupposed to winning, and if he did lose, that means something is wrong with the system and the rule of law.
He may never concede. Should we care? No, we should not. Trump exists because we believe he exists. Once we turn out backs, as the cable networks did Monday, Trump and the political sensibility that now bears his name may fade away.