Batman needed the Joker. Javert needed Jean Valjean. Patton needed Rommel.
The media needs Donald Trump and vice versa. What will they do without each other?
CNN will have to radically change its entire programming and return to covering the news. Remember that? Those were the days, before the 24/7 “10-reasons-why-we-hate-Donald-Trump” format.
What will become of CNN? What of Jim Acosta, Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo and friends? For goodness sake, Jake Tapper and Van Jones cried on live TV when the network announced Joe Biden had won the election. Aside from demonstrating a shocking absence of objectivity on what is supposed to be a news program, this outpouring of emotion shows me that these folks are in for some serious withdrawal.
It’s fine to be part of the anti-Trump resistance, but what happens after your nemesis rides off into the Mar-a-Lago sunset? The French Resistance faced the same problem with the German army after World War II. “Good. They’re finally gone. Now what?”
Fact-checkers for TV and social media will be hard-pressed to justify their existence. For that matter, the fact-checking industry as a whole is going to take quite a hit. Remember, fact-checking wasn’t really a job until Trump became president.
The media will have to get out of the polling business if it was ever seriously in it in the first place. I’m pretty sure I could come up with a more accurate poll in Wisconsin than did the Washington Post, which had Biden winning the state by 17 points. Either that’s an epic miscalculation or the poll was intentionally weighted and a not-so-transparent attempt to suppress the vote. Neither choice is comforting.
The Boston Globe, a week prior to the election, offered a dire prophecy on its Opinion page. “Without Trumpatainment, cable news will largely die.” Let’s face it. Trump was the best thing that ever happened to cable news outlets and once he’s gone they’re not going to know what to do without him.
Trump was a nonstop story. The media chronicled everything he did, said and tweeted. Trump didn’t make news – he was news. The president and the media took turns baiting each other.
I can already tell reporters are having a hard time letting go. President-elect Biden has had a couple of press conferences and the questions were mostly about Trump. In Biden’s first presser after election night, one reporter asked him, “If President Trump is watching, what would you say to him?”
Obsessions never end well. Ask Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction,” though she didn’t go down – or under, as was the case – without a fight.
For Trump’s part, he clearly doesn’t want to leave the White House. I’m not sure what he plans on doing Jan. 20, short of hiding in an armoire. Maybe Dr. Jill should do a quick sweep for former presidents before the new one makes himself at home. I know Biden jogged to the podium before his victory speech but the man is pushing 80. We don’t need Trump popping out of a wardrobe in the middle of the night to surprise him.
And what about Trump? Maybe no one else has noticed, but he seems to have a resigned, forlorn look on his face these days, almost as if he’s staring out the window in an Ingmar Bergman film. What will there be to tweet about without fake news? “Got 18 holes in today. Melania made grilled cheese for lunch.”
I suppose if we’re all honest with ourselves, we’ll miss the daily Trump/media cabaret. We like a fight, whether we’re willing to admit it or not. I can remember years ago there was talk of banning boxing. And here we are. Not only was traditional prizefighting not banned, we came up with something even more violent – cage fighting.
The reason men and women beat each other to a pulp in cages and, more important, the reason people will pay to watch them, is because it appeals to our base nature. Sure, the combatants are getting something out of it – money, adrenaline rush, notoriety. But the rest of us can’t look away. It’s brutal and violent and relatively pointless but we’re all getting something out of it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.
Can the media and Trump really live without each other? Can we live without them both? I’m not sure but it might be worth a try.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.