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If you think about it, the amount of attention paid to President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is extraordinary. Wake up in the morning, and the folks at CNN and other mainstream media outlets have already scoured his Twitter account, to see what’s on the news agenda for that day.
The media’s fascination with Trump’s Twitter account
Tune in around mid-day, and the mainstream media is probably reporting on some faux pas committed by Trump on Twitter (never, ever berate the North Koreans or Chinese on Twitter!). And, by the time the evening news programs come on, all the major broadcast outlets are using screenshots of Trump’s tweets to showcase what a complete shambles his administration has become.
Even when Trump’s Twitter activity is nothing particularly extraordinary – like the time he used the word COVFEFE in a late-night tweet – it’s transformed into a viral Internet meme that lasts for days and that shows up on all the news shows. In fact, even when Trump’s Twitter is silent, the media is rushing to report that the Twitter account is dark that night. (in the brave new post-modern world, no news is “breaking news”)
It’s no wonder that many media pundits showing up in the mainstream media routinely advise Trump to cool it on Twitter. Some Republican strategists have practically begged him to give up the account entirely, just to avoid the string of embarrassing tweets that seem to occur on a regular – if not daily – basis. According to this line of thought, Twitter is a liability, not an asset. But just how accurate is that thinking?
You could just as easily argue that, in an era of one-to-many communication, Twitter is Trump’s primary weapon to take on the mainstream media. It’s a way to keep “on message” and activate his base at any time. If Trump wants the media to start talking about foreign policy, what’s better than a series of angry tweets about China threatening a trade war? If he wants them to focus on immigration, why not a tweet-storm about illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities?
Political narratives are now Hollywood plot lines
What’s strangely compelling – whether you are a Trump supporter or not – is how much the presidential tenure has started to resemble a reality TV show or some other form of Hollywood entertainment. Really, this is entertaining stuff, filled with villains, incredible characters from central casting (The Mooch!) and conspiracy theories and plot twists better than any found in blockbuster summer movies.
Turn on the mainstream TV news most nights, and you’d think Trump was acting out his role in “The Manchurian Candidate.” Other nights, he’s like a billionaire villain from a James Bond movie, willing to start a nuclear war and destroy the world just to prove that he’s the alpha dog of the geopolitical playground. And still other nights, he’s like a sick, twisted villain from a Tarantino movie — a racist, hate-spewing politician who’s threatening America with a sequel to the Civil War.
That begs an interesting question: is CNN and the mainstream media trying to destroy Trump – or are they trying to survive in the digital media world by creating video content that’s so compelling to watch that you can’t turn away?
Maybe Orwell was right?
What’s fascinating in all this, of course, is the strange symbiosis between entertainment and news in today’s world. Take CNN, for example. They’re part of a major media conglomerate: Time Warner. During the week, they’re covering Trump’s tweets. During the weekend, they’re scooting off with Anthony Bourdain to parts unknown or airing special segments on the music of the 90’s. When the two worlds collide – such as Spike Lee commenting on America’s race divide and Trump – it is pure ratings gold.
Entertainment is news. News is entertainment. As a result, “Saturday Night Live” is now more relevant than CNN when it comes to politics. That would be Orwellian, if it weren’t so downright scary. Maybe Trump is right – the media needs him more than he needs them. Quick question: would you ever watch Anderson Cooper or Erin Burnett on CNN if all you got was Vice President Mike Pence talking about tax reform and healthcare policy?
Traditional political content is never going viral. It’s not clickable. It’s not even watchable. To survive today, the media needs an Orwellian state of perpetual war. So bring in all the plot lines that seem like they’re ripped from Hollywood blockbusters. Bring in the scenes of angry Trump protesters clashing with angry anti-Trump protesters, like in some dystopian Hollywood blockbuster. That will get the clicks!
Watch CNN, and you’d be convinced that Trump is an angry, solitary president without a friend in the world (even Melania doesn’t want to be around him!) who spends all day just watching cable news and sending out a few angry tweets as a final feeble response before it all blows up, in one spectacular dumpster fire of a presidency.
Does the media need Trump more than Trump needs the media?
But maybe something else is going on here. For today’s media, it’s a lot easier to get clicks, views and downloads when you’re selling the story that the world is ending tomorrow. It’s way more entertaining to discuss how Trump is really a Russian agent than to get down to all the boring details of healthcare reform and tax reform, right?
So here’s the thing – maybe Trump really is winning, and the mainstream media still has no idea how it’s possible. And maybe that’s the point – the more that Trump can encourage the media to spin these tales of a presidency imploding, the more he can show how they’ve become a vast fountain of conspiracy theories and fake news narratives. He’s trying to drain the swamp by sucking all the oxygen out of the traditional media.
Right now, it’s Trump Twitter account vs. the world. Sooner or later, people will realize that real news and fake news are so inextricably linked at this point in time that there’s no going back. Politics is reality TV and scripted TV together, all packaged to go viral and get the clicks. So whatever you do, don’t tell President Trump about Instagram. If he starts sending out late-night selfies from the White House, that might just break the Internet.