By Carl Golden –
Renowned 20th Century philosopher Dennis Rodman, he of professional basketball, tattoo and body piercing fame, once responded to a reporter’s question about whether he was bothered by the critical news coverage of him by saying: “The only bad press is an obit.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, it seems, has bought into Rodman’s law.
Beginning with his campaign announcement nearly 14 months ago, Trump rampaged through the primary season, the party’s convention and the early stages of the contest with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
He’s left in his wake ridicule of ethnic and religious backgrounds and beliefs, crude references to immigrants, questionable and demonstrably false anecdotes and statistics, and insulting descriptions of women.
Through it all, the media laid into him with a vengeance, citing his misstatements, lack of knowledge about issues foreign and domestic, and his general misanthropic behavior.
Thousands of column inches of newsprint and hundreds of hours of television analysis have been devoted to Trump, debunking his claims of business and financial success, dismantling his policy ideas and challenging his intellectual depth.
As if to prove Rodman’s theory, the media onslaught produced nary a dent.
Trump coasted through the primaries, swamping senators and ex-senators, governors and ex-governors, while poking his finger in the eye of the Republican establishment.
His current national poll standing places him slightly ahead, slightly behind, or tied with Clinton, even though this early in the process it’s an unreliable indicator of strength in the fall.
Much of Trump’s success can be attributed to his grasp of the impact of social media and the speed with which news is disseminated. There no longer exists the so-called news cycle which provided the media with the upper hand in conveying events and developments and what a candidate had to say about them.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and instant blogs have upset the balance of power. A news cycle is now measured in hours or even minutes, handing a candidate like Trump the power to shape and direct the coverage by taking to social media to move rapidly from subject to subject, diverting attention from what he may have said or done at noon on a given day to what he said an hour or so later.
Traditional media is left with little choice but to follow the bouncing ball controlled by Trump, relaying his tweets as the news of the day while a bewildered public struggles to keep pace with a constantly shifting campaign environment.
While the sea change in communications has benefitted Trump, the more compelling argument in explaining his success is the continuing failure of the media to recognize and understand the depth of discontent roiling the country.
Trump’s acceptance speech at the convention was criticized as portraying a dark and dismal picture of the nation, but his words reflected the anxiety and despair gripping a great many Americans who see themselves at a dead end economically and worry their children will inherit a country whose bright future has been extinguished.
They are convinced no one is listening to their concerns. They detect no empathy or sympathy from those in power.
These are the folks who lie awake at night, hoping to squeeze another year out of the family car, wonder how they’d deal with a sudden illness or medical emergency, worry whether their employer will decide to close, downsize or re-locate, or pray the mortgage company understands when the payment is a few days overdue.
They believe Trump speaks to them and for them. He is not constrained by ideology and his attacks on political correctness have been surprisingly effective.
Even Vice President Joe Biden, in a nationally televised interview, conceded that the Democratic Party had failed to speak to the disaffected and failed to appreciate their depth of distress.
There is no reason to believe Trump will alter his campaign style or his freewheeling rhetoric. He’s touched a nerve in the body politic and to many Americans has emerged as an acceptable alternative to leaders who they believe have ignored them. The desire for change, even if it is vague and unformed, runs deep and it is Trump who has come to symbolize that change.
The critical press coverage will in all likelihood continue unabated, even though Trump has been successful in turning most of it aside.
In November, the nation will learn to whom the Rodman principle applies. Will the obit be that of Trump — or the media?
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Copyright © 2016 Carl Golden, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.