I Turned Trump Off

In which I embrace my bias against lies, and call on the news media to follow my lead

I have spent a lifetime watching political conventions, and I give the Republicans as much attention as I give the Democrats. I sat through two Nixon conventions; two Reagans; and three that starred a variety of Bushes. When I sat riveted and appalled by Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 culture wars speech, I knew I was watching a new chapter of history unfold.

Photo credit: Jeffery Edwards/Shutterstock.com

And I am unable to watch this one.

I had reservations last week: on Friday, I woke up from four nights of staying up past 11:00 to watch the Democratic National Convention, feeling my age and realizing that I was going to need about two nights of uninterrupted sleep to recover. And I began to worry about whether a second week, one that would be full of people telling endless lies, would be worth it. “Pull on your big blogger pants,” I told myself, “And just do it.”

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But I started worrying more when I learned that, for the first time since 1854, there was no Republican platform. Remember, in June, when the RNC announced that they were going to use the 2016 platform? A platform that included the epic statement that the greatest threat to a free internet “originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government”?

Right. Then Jared Kushner announced that the campaign was going to produce a one-page platform, but Trump tweeted in mid-June there was “no rush”? If you are a university teacher, this is the equivalent of an undergraduate telling you that a couple of weeks is “plenty of time” to write their senior honors thesis.

Then, not surprisingly, on August 23, the GOP decided to take an incomplete. There would be no platform, just a statement that obliquely blames Covid-19 for the platform committee’s “inability” to convene. So too bad that the internet has been down for months! There are also claims that the media have misrepresented Trump; that the RNC “enthusiastically support[s] the President’s America-first agenda”; and that it endorses everything that Trump has done or will ever do. Any attempt to amend the platform, or create a new one, the statement warns, “will be ruled out of order.” There will, they assured us, be a platform in 2024.

When, if Trump gets another four years, many of us will be dead, homeless, and without health insurance or a functioning justice system, and so not reading Republican platforms. A dodge worthy of a frat bro.

Last night, having cut a deal with myself to watch the first episode of Little Fires Everywhere (an excellent show, by the way) rather than doom scroll through the convention previews in the 8:00 slot, I still thought I was going to watch, out of a sense of duty to history and my readers. And it took less than an hour to Just Say No.

Was it Herschel Walker announcing that Trump was not a racist—and that contradicting him would be racist because as a Black man, he obviously would know? No, although as knuckleballer Jim Bouton once quipped, “you had to consider the source.” Bear this in mind: Walker announced in 2015, at the age of 53, that he was considering a comeback with the Atlanta Falcons.

Does Herschel Walker believe that Trump is not a racist? I do not doubt that he does, on some level. And this is the successful businessman whose contribution to the debate about anti-Black police violence has been to offer to help protesters go into exile in countries that have no police. (Clarification: there are countries with no armed police, but no countries without police.)

No, it was watching Trump stand in an unmasked semi-circle with six working-class Americans, imitating Taliban prisoners of war invited to confess their crimes and swear allegiance to Allah. They were all involved in health care, talking about what a terrific job Trump had done with “the China virus,” despite Democrats getting in his way at every turn. You know, getting ventilators to the hospitals that needed them most, supporting front-line workers, and everything he has done to stop this pandemic. Then there was the guy who had Covid-19 saying it was no big deal—he just took a Z-Pack, and got a little rest, and was fine. And then Trump said right, he took a Z-Pack too, and some zinc, and what about hydroxychloroquine—how too bad that people were against it!

My eyeballs rolled up in my head. Over 170,000 Americans are dead, a number which no other industrialized country has approached. The Trump campaign strategy is to tie Americans’ brains up in a flood of disinformation so vast that the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians can take a well-deserved vacation from their laptops.

Journalists pay attention. What happened in 2016 cannot happen again. The collective belief in newsrooms that the president must be covered, no matter what the cost to our democracy, must end. Do not reprint this dangerous sludge: do not engage it, do not respond to it, and push out as much information about how a Biden-Harris administration plans to rebuild this country as you can.

Media, it’s time to embrace your bias as I have embraced mine. It’s called not reprinting lies.

What I’m reading:

  • Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo speculates about where the Jerry Falwell, Jr. “pool boy” scandal will go. Will we learn more about “Falwell’s critical 2016 endorsement of then-candidate Trump and what role Trump and Michael Cohen’s knowledge of Falwell’s private life played in that decision”? Will evangelicals care? (“Day 2 on Falwell,” August 25, 2020)

  • Has the pandemic reshaped political campaigns forever? Ricki Harris, at Wired, says yes. (August 21, 2020)

  • QAnon is now a political movement: “The Republican Embrace of QAnon Goes Far Beyond Trump.” (Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, August 21, 2020)

  • At Crooked Media’s Big Tent, Brian Beutler parses the anger on the Democratic left about including anti-Trump Republicans at the conventions to woo the center. The problem is anxiety, “a trust deficit, and a deep well of fear” that Biden will fail. (August 21, 2020)

Claire Potter is co-executive editor of Public Seminar, Professor of History at The New School for Social Research, and author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020). You can tweet with her @TenuredRadical