In recent days I’ve read that Donald Trump is finally done, and I’ve read that these reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. I’ve had smart people tell me confidently that he won’t walk away with the Republican presidential nomination, and I’ve had equally smart people tell me with equal confidence that he just might.
Ditto for the presidency. There’s a camp, a robust one, that’s sure that he’ll never sit in the Oval Office. There’s another camp, less robust, that sees a way.
How and when does Trump end?
In terms of politics, it’s a fascinating question.
In all other senses, it’s a foolish one.
Trump doesn’t end. Win or lose, he’ll never shut up and never slink off – not after the convention, not after Election Day, no matter how resounding his defeat, no matter how grotesque his path there.
He won’t follow vanquished candidates of the past into grudging exile. You won’t spot him where someone saw Marco Rubio on Monday – in Seat 19C on an American Airlines flight from Miami to Washington with no aides in attendance and no reporters in pursuit, according to Mike Allen and Daniel Lippman in Politico.
And that’s not just because Trump has private planes. It’s because he’s a showman, not a statesman, a point he copped to on Monday in one of his most revealing remarks yet.
“I can be presidential, but if I was presidential I would only have – about 20 percent of you would be here, because it would be boring as hell,” he told a crowd in Superior, Wisconsin.
Boredom? Not on your life. If he had the dexterity, he’d juggle bowling pins while riding a unicycle to stave it off. That’d certainly be more dignified than many of the stunts and screeds he’s ginned up so far.
Those stunts and screeds will continue, because Trump is an attention junkie who has become accustomed to the highest doses imaginable of his beloved drug. He’ll say what he must and do what it takes for his fix.
And while that’s nowhere near as terrifying as a Trump presidency, it’s still plenty scary. Imagine Trump in December, braying as loudly as he does now. Imagine Trump in January, during someone else’s inauguration, braying even more loudly.
The only way to discourage this is to ignore it: We can stop feeding the habit. By “we” I mean the American people, not just journalists, because journalists didn’t determine, in a vacuum, that Trump was the star of the show, though that’s a popular complaint, narrative and apologia of late.
Journalists gave news consumers precisely what they demonstrated that they wanted. This is too often omitted from critiques of Trump’s media dominance, which comes at a time when news organizations can more quickly monitor precisely which stories and interviews are being watched and read. Watchers and readers disproportionately favored Trump, so they got more of him. Had they cast their gazes in another direction, news organizations would have followed suit.
And news organizations didn’t set Trump up to soar in the polls and win primaries. From my seat, most of the Trump coverage was negative: the Mexican “rapists,” the Muslim ban, the blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s “wherever,” the mocking of John McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, the boasts about his penis, the shrugging about the Ku Klux Klan. These tempests could – and should – have done as much to quash Trump as to elevate him, unless coverage itself equals votes, in which case there’s more cause for more teeth-gnashing about American democracy than about CNN programming.
Should producers and editors have ignored metrics in favor of their own judgment and sense of mission? They routinely do this – otherwise, there’d be wall-to-wall pet stories – but to play down Trump specifically once he’d emerged as the front-runner would have been elitist and paternalistic: exactly those qualities that the news media has been derided for.
It’s because journalists remained Trump-rapt and Trump-inquisitive that he said what he did about abortion and so many voters heard it in full. Same goes for Trump’s troubling takes on violence at his rallies, nuclear weapons in Asia, the future of NATO and so much more.
There are legitimate questions of proportion in regard to Trump coverage, and perhaps he has been accorded additional acres of news media real estate because he’s so easy to talk and write about, a policy-free zone of quickly digested, succinctly rendered struts and slurs.
But Americans took up residence on that terrain, and frolicked there, and if we want the end of Trump, we have to set up camp elsewhere. He’ll resist it. He’s addicted to us. Soon enough, we’ll have to confront and deal with our addiction to him.