During a White House Christmas party, lame-duck President Trump teased a 2024 Presidential run to those in attendance. Though he has yet to concede the 2020 Presidential election to President-elect Joseph Biden (and probably never will), it’s been our first hint at what a post-presidency Trump will look and feel like.
And the glimpse it offers isn’t very encouraging.
Though we may temporarily bask in the President’s defeat at the polls, the prospect of a second Trump term in office (and a direct repeat of the 2020 Presidential election) raises some very interesting questions about how we — the American people — should respond to this potential eventuality.
Luckily, we have prior experience and a foundation from which to make a wise and compelling argument on how best to cripple Trump’s third bid for the White House before it even begins: Simply put, we’re going to have to commit to ignoring Trump for the indefinite future.
And that may be a lot harder to do than it sounds.
In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election, a lot was made of the media’s complicity in Trump’s victory. And those criticisms extended to both progressive and conservative ends of the broadcast spectrum.
In the early onset of the 2016 Presidential race, Donald Trump made for good television. He was unapologetically brash, appeared to have the political acumen of a freshman political science major, and employed nakedly transparent fear-mongering rhetoric. Here was a candidate who appeared to imbue the very worst populist impulses of the Republican Party. Of course, the major news network ate it up.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, it wasn’t uncommon for networks to run Trump’s rallies live and uninterrupted. According to some estimates, Donald Trump received more than $2 billion in free media exposure. And from his stilted performance on Saturday Night Live to the infamous “hair-tousling” episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Kimmel, late-night television effectively humanized Trump to their audience by showing he could roll with the punches.
Donald Trump may be a fool, but he’s not stupid. He knows exactly which buttons to push to ensure the media stays focused on him. Regardless if there was a grand strategy at play (doubtful), the chaos of the Trump administration and jaw-dropping insanity of the President’s Twitter account served its purpose: Damn good television.
In an article for Vox, journalist Emily VanDerWerff posits that modern news media narratives are constructed to emulate binge-worthy TV dramas. Though her article specifically calls out Fox News, I believe the points she makes extend to other news media organizations (and the way in which we, as consumers, process those narratives) as well.
“Creating a serialized narrative around reality gives viewers the accomplished feeling of mastering a complicated storyline that they can explain to the uninitiated…The war against some scary, nebulous “other” can never be over, because in some senses, that war is always beginning. A serialized drama can never really reach its conclusion, because there’s always a new villain, or an old one returning to the fore.”
Among his most ardent followers, the mythos of Donald Trump was created and supported by a predictable feedback loop of outrage. The angrier Trump made liberal activists, the more enthusiastic his supporters adored him. He was the President who “owned the libs” and knew how to get under their skin. This is effective political capital in a political era marred by bitterness, cynicism, and hyper-partisanship.
Being collectively shocked, frustrated, and appalled by President Trump’s outrageous behavior and lack of decorum may unite a coalition of opposition against him for a little while — but, like any emotion triggered by an external stimulus, the blazing furnace of outrage will beg for additional and more explosive fuel to stay alight.
Donald Trump was good for television, yes, but he was awful for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. He gave us plenty of fuel to feed our outrage, and we showed our appreciation by giving him the largest platform possible.
In a podcast episode, CNN correspondent and author Kristian Powers called the 2016 election of Donald Trump an “apocalyptic event.” But she didn’t mean “apocalyptic” in the sense that Trump’s presidency would trigger the end of the world. She was referring to the ancient Jewish understanding of the word, which means “an unveiling” or “to make known what was once hidden.”
In a lot of ways, Donald Trump was an apocalypse. He shattered our rose-tinted preconceptions of democracy and obliterated the myth of a “post-racial” America. He turned families against each other and created alternative realities by stoking conspiratorial theories. He held up a mirror to the soul of America and forced us to reckon with our past and present ugliness.
It’s quite possible that the presidency of Donald Trump firmly signaled the end of “polite politics.” We may swiftly be approaching the era of “zero-sum politics,” a reliable harbinger for countless civil wars and failed states.
Though the stage has been set, the future is yet unwritten. And letting go and moving past Donald Trump should undoubtedly be the first step in course-correcting our toxic sociopolitical climate.
And, to conservatives, the ball is primarily in your court. If you don’t want the Republican Party to become the Party of Trump (or, at least, any more than it already has), then it’s imperative to begin championing the voices of more common-sense and traditional conservatives within your party. Because a successful 2024 Trump presidential run would effectively freeze out any opportunities for any conservative candidates with presidential ambitions for at least eight years.
And, during that time period, Donald Trump will continue to mold the Republican Party into a cult of personality with himself as the central object of worship.
If we so choose, we, as a nation, can be done with Donald Trump. We can be done with the cringe-worthy celebrity impersonations, embarrassing Twitter antics, outage porn, and reckless public policy in/actions.
We just need to do what we should have done the moment he rolled down those escalators at his 2015 campaign announcement event: Ignore him.
For a compulsive narcissist like Trump, the most effective weapon the average citizen can wield against him is their divided attention. More than anything else, Trump desires to be at the center of your universe — if not to love him, then to hate him. It’s also his campaign’s primary strategy. Don’t give either one the pleasure.
And, to Republican leaders, reject him. I understand that Trump is popular with your constituents right now and that opposing him may be detrimental to your future political ambitions. But if you actually believe Trump is the only way forward for the Republican Party, then maybe it’s time to jump ship.
And, to the rest of us: If the media fails to do their part, we need to avoid the outrage cycle — because it will only serve to amplify Trump’s voice. In the coming weeks, months, and years, Trump will continue to say, tweet, and do outrageous things. He won’t be able to help himself. Some of those things will make you laugh. Some of those things will make you angry.
But don’t give him the time of day. Don’t engage with any Trump-related content. Let the television networks and media companies know that you don’t want anymore Donald Trump in your life.
In our attention-based economy, your eyeballs are the primary currency. So, don’t let Trump take any more of your most valuable asset. We can make Trump small. Don’t waste any more of your time propping up that sad, defeated man.
The future of our democracy may depend on it.