Like most people who write about politics these days, I want to say something about Donald Trump and his enduring lead in the GOP presidential polls -- with the first caucusing in Iowa exactly two months away. And like most of them, I struggle with what that would be. Haven't I already branded Trump a runaway liar? Why yes, I have. And haven't I fully examined the right-wing media machinery that made the short-fingered vulgarian's lies possible? Check, check and check. Fascism? Been there, done that. Is there anything that either I -- or one of the many more important journalists out there -- could write that would make a difference?
But I do think David Roberts (not the new Dodgers' manager) over at Vox.com has the best analysis yet of Trump's deceitful road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There's a lot of good stuff here, but I want to highlight this particular part on what lies make the media apoplectic, and which aren't such a big deal:
It's a mistake to see Trump as de novo. The term is all over the place now, but I wrote my first column about "post-truth politics" back in 2010 (see follow-ups here and here). Conservatives have been bending the truth for many years now. Romney and Ryan lied like crazy in the 2012 campaign. Republicans in Congress have been telling outrageous lies about Obama for almost eight years, everything from his secret Muslim-hood to Agenda 21 to his plan to confiscate guns and to institute Sharia law.
Remember Sarah Palin and death panels? Swift Vets going after Kerry? Bush and Cheney and weapons of mass destruction? Clinton having Vince Foster shot? Oh, and climate change being a coordinated global hoax? The increasing radicalization and insularity of the conservative movement over the past several decades has made it, in Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann's words, "unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science."
Of course, all politicians bend the truth, and Democrats do it too. But the parties are not symmetrical in this regard. There is simply nothing on the left like the phenomenon of numerous elected politicians and a third of Republicans believing that Obama is training troops in Jade Helm for a coup. That is wackadoodle, Alex Jones–level stuff, and it isroutine on the right. The other day Ted Cruz speculated, based on a clerical error hyped by a far-right blog, that the Planned Parenthood shooter is a "transgendered leftist activist." It was wildly irresponsible, but it barely qualified as the most outrageous howler of the day.
Donald Trump's nonsense is not appreciably more nonsensical than much of what circulates in right-wing media every day, the same right-wing media Beltway reporters have been treating with kid gloves for years. Why do his lies rankle so?
Right...lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and you get re-elected, but lie about grain storage in ancient pyramids and they'll crucify you. As for "why do [Trump's] lies rankle so?"...it's complicated. Roberts notes, as other have before him, that the media's role as a "gate-keeper" and as a sanctioner of lies has collapsed under the Trump onslaught. The brilliance of the billionaire's leveraged buyout of the GOP is that it's built on the 25 percent of the minority party -- thus, maybe 8-10 percent of the nation, max -- that doesn't believe a word in the lamestream media.
The conclusion by Roberts is brilliant, though -- that Trump has forced the major media to either a) give up and stop fact-checking the candidate, and admit that journalism doesn't have an important role to play or b) fight Trump's dishonesty at a new level, one that would forever trash antiquated (to me, at least) ideas about objectivity and balance.
I've given up pretending I know what's going to happen. It's possible that a savior will rise from the streets (Christie?....God help us) and that Trump melts. On the other hand, if Trump actually spends some of his billions to get his people to show up in Iowa and keeps his lead in New Hampshire, a flood of winner-take-all (i.e., 25 percent of the vote can get 100 percent of the delegates) primaries could give him the crown before the GOP bosses knew what hit them. And in the fall of 2016, if it's Trump v. Hillary, anything can happen.