As Russia’s War Grinds On, Media Obsessed With ‘What Would Donald J. Trump Do?’
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Pardon the above indulgence. I used to write ad copy for the late Rush Limbaugh, so flogging conservative novelties to the ingenuous is old hat. But with war raging in Eastern Europe, and all eyes on Putin’s cheget, only one name dominates the media airwaves: Donald J. Trump.
Democrats control Congress (albeit sparingly). Joe Biden is president of the United States. Yet our media remains eagle-eye focused on the last White House inhabitant, who now spends his days glued to Fox News, batting out gassy proclamations, and overseeing a non-functioning social-media platform.
Existential questions mount: will the U.S., the undisputed leader of western democratic liberalism, leave Ukraine hanging? What kind of military aid is President Biden supplying to Ukrainian forces? What Russian industries are being sanctioned? Is Germany exploring alternative energy sources to wean itself off Siberian oil? No British ocean liners with Americans on board are parked in the Black Sea, right?
Is a new Cold War afoot? Has WWIII kicked off? Is Putin more like Emperor Palpatine or Thanos? Is Joe Biden our Captain America? Is Boris Johnson an Anglican Thor? I personally think he’s more like a Tony Stark, playboy, philanthropist…well not quite a billionaire given the Downing Street reno. But you get the idea.
These are the relevant questions at hand as Russia tries to get the Soviet band back together, starting with the rhythm guitarist it nearly starved that one time. Every single day the New York Times front page should be chock-full of Nazi analogies. Wall Street Journal editors should be fired on the spot if they don’t cram “Putin’s personal Sudetenland” and “the Soviet Anschluss” into every single article. If Mad magazine still popped off the presses, the cover would feature Alfred E. Neuman socking a toothbrush-mustached Vlad.
This is war, dammit. As block captain of the West, America is supposed to juice the airwaves with anti-Ruskie propaganda and swagger around its B83 arsenal. The entire Acela-corridor media complex is supposed to be diverting our attention toward the racketing ordnances. Editorial pages should be filled with calls to deploy the 82nd Airborne above the Kremlin. CNN should be hosting 24-hour roundtables full of plump men and gussied-up ladies urging Biden to “do something.”
Instead, we’re watching the what-would-Trump-do political-football bandied about. Or what did he do about Putin’s re-Sovietization ambitions while in office. And what might he do if he wins re-election in 2024.
The four most popular articles on The Washington Post’s website were recently all Trump-focalized regarding Russia, including “Trump immediately botches what’s happening in Ukraine” and “Trump and his supporters praise Putin and dismiss Biden as crisis unfolds.”
Trending counts are determined by readers. But articles don’t write themselves. Editors assign stories; reporters draft them up. Narratives are predetermined based on, inter alia, goosing social-media clicks.
Pollsters are shoehorning the former president into their query canvassing. A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll featured Trump voters weighing in on whether “Putin is doing a better job than Biden,” a ludicrous and irrelevant query formulation that not only doesn’t mean anything (Is Putin doing a better job of being a bloodthirsty revanchist than Joe Biden?) but is purposefully constructed to ignite partisan acrimony.
Then there was Trump’s “praise” for Putin exploiting Donbass nationalism as a pretext for conquering Ukraine in entirety. The comment was unnecessary, not to mention off the mark given that nobody bought the rationale, but it was irrelevant. Putin wasn’t waiting for superlatives to make a go at the City-Formerly-Known-As-Kiev.
The acclaim did, however, give the media exactly what it wants: a hook for its Trump-hungry audience.
Following Trump’s forgetful CPAC keynote, CNN ran the headline: “Trump defends praise of Putin even as he calls Ukrainian President ‘brave’.” GOP senators are now being peppered with the question “Do you support Trump playing find the Russian marrow with Putin or do you support freedom and goodness?”
The Never Trump web-pub The Bulwark has all pistons charging on its Drumpf-the-real-enemy beat. Its head writers, including Charlie Sykes, Jonathan Last, and Amanda Carpenter, think the real shelling is happening in Mar-a-Lago.
Even a colloquy hosted by Bari Weiss featuring foreign-policy eminences such as Walter Russell Mead and Niall Ferguson was hijacked by a rehashing of Russiagate and how Trump “ackchtually” laid out the gold-gilded carpet for The Bear to lumper on to Ukraine.
Not to be left out, the shameless, click-bait meme industry is joining the 45 pile-on, with liberal viral accounts comparing “draft-dodging” Donald to kitted up Zelensky. And of course the usual Twitter suspects are dredging up the “perfect phone call” Trump made using the Oval landline to Zelensky asking for dirt on Hunter Biden’s Burisma racket in exchange for keeping up the flow of armaments.
So while President Biden is attempting to strike a balance between bolstering the Ukrainian army and not drawing Russia into a nuclear skirmish, the media is entertaining alternative realities where Trump is tweeting at Putin to pack it up and head home, where Trump Tower Moscow will be waiting in Red Square.
“What gods were to the ancients at war, ideas are to us,” said Lionel Trilling. In present-day America, just replace ideas with celebrities, particularly reality-TV-stars-turned-presidents, and the sentiment still holds. Meanwhile, gas prices are spiking due to Russian sanctions. Some congressmen are demanding an Uncle Sam-backed no-fly zone above Ukraine, practically guaranteeing a U.S.-Russia scuffle.
One crazed warmongering senator is begging Muscovites to take the job of dispatching Putin into their own hands. President Biden is providing just enough tactical intelligence to Ukrainian forces to claim allyship, but not enough to ignite a greater, more radioactive conflict.
Any day now, America could potentially trigger a nuclear holocaust. Yet the media remain fixated on asking: what would Donald Trump do?
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