Donald Trump and unresolved conflict

trumptapperThe press gave a great deal of attention this past week to an interview Donald Trump gave to CNN political reporter Jake Tapper. The story wasn’t about what Mr. Trump said; it was about how a hero reporter persistently asked the same question until he finally got his answer. What a guy! The professional journalism community was excited, likely because it revealed one of their own demonstrating higher morality than that shown by the GOP candidate. One assumes from all the headlines, that journalists writing about this thought their readers and viewers would feel the same gotcha moment. It’s dangerously naïve to think so, however, and this case provides further evidence that the press continues to assume its own relevance, especially when it drifts into matters of candidate character.

The CNN video of Jake Tapper “challenging” Mr. Trump is hilarious, not because it reveals the persistence of a heroic journalist pressing Mr. Trump, but in how much free media it has produced for Mr. Trump, who could care less that the presentation is designed to show him as a racist, a liar, and a distorter. Here’s a Washington Post headline on the matter: Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump if his judge attack was racist — then followed up 23 times. What is the purpose of this if not to tout the persistence of Jake Tapper, and, frankly, who cares?

The press cares, because it gives them more evidence of the “Donald Trump is unqualified and dangerous” theme that governs its horse race coverage of the 2016 campaign for president. It does absolutely nothing, however, in helping Americans be informed about the candidate and his appeal, because his followers determined long ago — before Mr. Trump ever announced — that the press operates with a liberal bias and therefore cannot be trusted. As I’ve been pointing out for nearly twenty years, the press has done this to itself.

Back to the CNN interview. While Mr. Tapper steadfastly stuck to his journalistic duty to get a response to his (most important) question, Mr. Trump simply used the airtime to pour forth his position on those matters of interest to his supporters. It was a free, five-minute commercial for Donald Trump in a very presidential setting. Good job, Jake. Here are a few campaign statements that went unchallenged, because Mr. Tapper was busy making journalists proud:

  • Hillary should be in jail for her email scandal.
  • I’m building a wall between here and Mexico.
  • I’ll do well with Hispanics, because I’m going to create jobs.
  • Hillary Clinton is a stiff.
  • I’m being treated unfairly.
  • Thousands and thousands have given Trump University great reviews.
  • This case should have been dismissed years ago.
  • The plaintiffs just want to get their money back.
  • The law firm suing me has committed huge amounts of money to Hillary’s campaign.

These are some of the things that Donald Trump was able to clearly communicate while Jake Tapper was busy being a hero to journalists. Again, who cares?

Donald Trump is winning, because he speaks of issues the press assumes have already been resolved, and that includes the matter of race. To Trump supporters, race is very much an unresolved issue, for political correctness is a liberal concept that’s been forced on conservatives. As Mr. Trump has noted many times, “We have to stop being so politically correct in this country,” so one assumes that a part of making America great again is the rolling back of political correctness, something the press wrongly believes is poppycock.

Which helps us understand why Donald Trump is such a surprise to them but not to a great many others. Here are five things I’ve heard about the candidate that resonate beautifully with his followers and lay the foundation for viability among a great many Americans. The reader can be the judge of the significance of each:

  1. The view that terrorism is Islamic; that the “real” danger from terrorism is the religion it represents. This is actually a defense of certain forms of Christianity, for both religions are evangelical and therefore at enmity with each other. By referencing the terrorism problem this way, therefore, his words fit a deeply held belief of many, that the problem is with the religion, not the violence, for in many ways, they are deemed one and the same.
  2. When he addresses the dying middle class as an aftereffect of foreign trade and manufacturing, he again states a deeply held (thought of as common sense) belief of many Americans. When Donald Trump discusses the disappearance of good jobs in this way, he speaks to the pain of those people and communities who’ve suffered loss, “proving” to his followers that he understands them. They also reason that a very successful businessman who speaks in this manner does so from a position of knowledge, because he simply must have information unavailable to the masses. After all, he’s a billionaire!
  3. To Mr. Trump’s followers, this billionaire business is all the proof they need that he’s smart. This is the lone qualification in their minds, for who’s to argue with his financial success? Attempts by the press or opponents to dismiss this — for whatever reason — fall away in light of Trump’s visible display of business-gained wealth. This is why so many of his followers honestly believe he is among the smartest people in the world. This cannot be overlooked.
  4. Donald Trump’s views on political correctness, in the agreeing minds of his followers, proves to them that he can’t be easily fooled by liberal language. This is a far greater social matter than anyone cares to admit, because the press crossed its bridge long ago, and to them, it’s a dead issue. The mere thought of offending our neighbors has become such a dark blight that speaking the “right” words has become a matter of duty in order to qualify for good citizenship. George Carlin called this “fascism pretending to be manners,” and the final verdict is a long way from having been written. The heart of Mr. Trump’s support comes from white males, who’ve been painted as the bad guys in the rise of PC practices, and nobody ever consulted them about the accusations. This is one of the most divisive matters before the electorate today — touching everything from race to religion to gender and beyond — and it won’t go away automatically, because anybody simply says so.
  5. His willingness to boldly take on the press proves to supporters that he knows journalists are all biased, even Fox. Every time the press reports on Mr. Trump’s shortcomings — rightly or wrongly — nobody really pays attention, because it’s just more of the same. This bias belief has produced record low numbers in terms of trust in the press in the U.S. and yet the press continues under the belief that it operates with the public trust. We wrote the book on this thirty years ago at CBN, and it continues as a major concern for our democracy.

So celebrate Jake Tapper’s “victory” if you wish, but if you’re not a fan of Donald Trump’s, you might want to rethink the rejoicing. A little humility might help you realize that you don’t know the people you’re covering quite as well as you think.

You are, unknowingly, a factor in his success.