Author Archives: Neal Gabler

One year later: The political cancer metastasizes

America was never what it had purported to be.

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it. Continue reading

How social media abet the political right (it’s not how you might think)

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and many others have become a mechanism now for channeling our discontents.

So much of the discussion about Donald Trump’s success in politics has focused on how he has mastered social media, particularly Twitter, with his continual tweets that dominate the national conversation while also rousing and even inciting his “alt-right” base. As he told Maria Bartiromo last weekend, “Tweeting is like a typewriter—when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. I mean the other day, I put something out, two seconds later I am watching your show, it’s up.” Continue reading

Trump the entertainer

The media continue to view Trump through a political lens when an entertainment lens would be more appropriate.

It is becoming increasingly clear that to speak of a “Trump presidency” is a misnomer. There is no presidency, at least not by traditional standards. There is a “Trump show,” and that makes all the difference in the world. Continue reading

America’s biggest divide: Winners and losers

America is deeply divided between those who are considered (and consider themselves) winners, and those who are considered by the winners to be losers.

There are plenty of reasons to bristle at President Trump’s tweets on Puerto Rico, which is suffering horribly from Hurricane Maria, not least of which is the racist suggestion that Hispanics there don’t deserve the same treatment as mainland white Americans. But in all his fuming, Trump did make another point, and it is worth examining: The poor people of Puerto Rico, he said, should stop complaining and begin helping themselves rather than rely on government assistance, intimating that their misery was their own fault. He added for good measure, but with no comprehensible logic, that the island was wallowing in financial disaster, as if Maria were some divine retribution for profligacy. In short, they were losers. Continue reading

America held hostage

In terms of numbers, most Americans reject conservative policy positions. So why are Republicans in office?

Of all the myths the Republicans have perpetrated, and there are a lot of them, perhaps none is more powerful or insidious than the foundational one that this is an overwhelmingly conservative country and that progressives are outliers in it, along with its pernicious corollary that conservatives are “real” Americans while liberals (and the minorities who support liberal policies) are somehow counterfeits. Continue reading

Trump bet Americans would like his un-presidential antics. He may be right.

Is America one big con game?

Political pundits have been intoxicated lately by explanations as to why Democrats always seem to be behind the eight ball—never mind that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; that liberal positions on issues like health care, climate change and income inequality are held by a majority of Americans; or that Republicans are more unpopular. Continue reading

The Trump Doctrine: Up-Yours-Ism!

A chip-on-the-shoulder attitude prevails at the White House. It could destroy the country.

Another week, another disaster, which is the way it goes in America nowadays. Just before Memorial Day, it was President Trump’s unwillingness to reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which calls for mutual protection among the allies. Last week it was his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which puts the country in the company of Syria and Nicaragua as the only nonsignatories. The consensus was that the latter decision put ideology above science, and politics above everything. Trump was delivering on a promise he made to his base, and God knows he needs that base because he doesn’t have anyone else. The planet can go to hell. Continue reading

The sham presidency

Donald Trump is master of perception, altering reality to distract the public from his lack of character.

Presidencies are often defined by images: FDR delivering his reassuring fireside chats; Harry Truman speaking from the back of his campaign train, whistle stopping in 1948 and giving ‘em hell; JFK and Jackie, elegant in Paris, defying Henry James’ stereotype of Americans as bumpkins; Reagan at the Berlin Wall; and George W. Bush in his flight suit against the banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” Continue reading

Why Trump was able to sucker the world on Syria

The reality-show presidency goes to war

It is pretty amazing how quickly the media and suck-up politicians can transform a mendacious, hypocritical, amateurish, ignorant, incoherent, bigoted buffoon who is way, way out of his depth into a man of courage, which is what they did to President Trump this past weekend. All it takes is some saber rattling and launching a few dozen missiles. Granted, the Trump brand is already so tarnished that he didn’t get the bounce or the adulation that the Bushes, pere and fils, got when they began their wars. According to one poll, only 51 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s action, but given that Trump’s favorability rating has hovered around or even south of 40 percent, this is an improvement. Continue reading

How the system got broken, and why it can’t be fixed

Whatever happened to the separation of powers?

The system wasn’t supposed to work this way. The Founding Fathers deliberately devised a structure in which someone like Donald Trump—a vain, self-centered, mendacious demagogue—could never become chief executive, and in which the legislature could never be captured by a reckless, ideologically obsessed minority bent on overriding the majority interests of Americans. Those Founders labored to create an independent judiciary that was not captive to any single ideology or party. They carefully crafted a set of checks and balances in which no single branch of government could overpower another, and in which each held its own prerogatives dearly. In doing so, they thought they had provided posterity with a wise, cautious and magnanimous governmental operation that would serve the larger public weal rather than advantage any particular group or party, and that could withstand the gusts of any given historical moment. Continue reading

The high-concept presidency

The line has blurred between politics and entertainment. Donald Trump simplistically—and dangerously—sees the world as one big reality show.

Anyone who has ever pitched a movie or television idea in Hollywood knows the tyranny of the “high concept.” It’s a staple of the entertainment world. A high concept is a simple, succinct, immediately comprehensible gimmick: Abraham Lincoln is a vampire hunter; the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Jack Frost team up to defeat an evil villain; Superman and Batman face off as enemies; Pride and Prejudice is reimagined as a zombie war in 19th-century England; Lucifer comes to earth to consult with the LAPD. (By the way, these are all real movies or TV shows.) Continue reading

Besotted Ayn Randians now rule in America

Media, morality and the neighbor’s cow

If you have any doubts that the phenomenon of Donald Trump was a long time a’coming, you have only to read a piece that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire magazine in July 1961, when the conservative movement was just beginning and even Barry Goldwater was hardly a glint in Republicans’ eyes. Continue reading

Alfred Hitchcock explains James Comey, the media and 2016’s ‘MacGuffin’

It takes a master of suspense to decode the final plot twists of this election.

It is impossible to count the myriad ways in which the media botched FBI Director James Comey’s Friday announcement that the agency had found a cache of emails that seemingly (a key word) pertain to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. I heard the news via CNN at an airport while waiting to board a plane. No one needs to be told that CNN is a journalistic disgrace—a textbook case of the decline of American media, all the more depressing because, unlike Fox News and MSNBC, it purports to be a real news organization. Instead, it is a ratings machine, and it is beyond contemptible. Continue reading

Trump’s campaign for celebrity

Like junk food, will Trump leave us empty and wanting more?

It is a cliché by now that Donald Trump has run a reality show campaign—a series of gaffes, surprises, outrages, weirdnesses, explosions, revelations, and just every other ingredient that comprise the popular TV genre of faux authenticity. On reality TV, the subjects are seldom artists or entertainers or high achievers in any field. They are personalities. Their roles are their lives, which creates a Möbius strip. What do the Kardashians actually do besides being on their show, which has, of course, generated all sorts of commercial opportunities that almost make it seem as if they are doing something? What is their talent, other than the talent for self-promotion? Continue reading

Now the nadir

This time, Donald Trump dug himself in deeper all by his lonesome.

Heading into Wednesday night’s debate, many of us expected the worst. After Debate Two, in which the media instantly declared that by not losing, Trump won—notwithstanding his lies, insults, stalking, intemperance, illogic, nonsense, aggression and threats, only to be compelled to reverse their course when the viewers in CNN’s poll decided otherwise, the only possible direction seemed to go further downward. Continue reading

Television the enabler

How the medium that created the GOP nominee is undermining his campaign.

There are all sorts of lessons to be drawn from Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” video. This is the one I draw because I think it speaks most forcefully to the Trump media barrage: a candidacy launched by television has now most likely come undone thanks to television, particularly one aspect of television—its macho culture. Continue reading

Is Trump-bashing good for the media?

It seems that a candidate whose words and deeds are so far beyond the pale have finally awoken the press to the truth-squadding that is its job.

Just about everyone now concedes that the media have it in for Donald Trump. A survey of eight major news organs during the primaries, conducted by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy—one I cited in a previous post—showed that the press grew increasingly hostile to Trump, peaking at 61 percent negative to 39 percent positive at the end of the primary season. Even the conservative, Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal editorialized that he should consider quitting the race, and the normally cautious NBC Nightly News has turned reporter Katy Tur into a one-woman truth squad, correcting Trump whoppers. Continue reading

Trump, the GOP and media pivot to ‘normal’

Now that he has clinched the nomination, here comes the effort to shape Donald Trump's image as a regular guy. But he remains ‘an existential threat.’

There is no sense in mincing words, even at the risk of sounding alarmist: Donald Trump is an existential threat to American democracy. Andrew Sullivan, in his much-discussed essay in New York Magazine, said as much, calling Trump “an extinction-level event.” Continue reading

Why hating the media could make the difference in November

The winning candidate may be the one who most successfully stirs the public's mistrust of journalists and journalism.

As the political pundits keep reminding us, this might be called the “hate” election. Both major parties’ presumptive nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have historically high net unfavorable ratings—so high that voters are said to be casting their ballots against a candidate rather than in favor of one. The question seems to be: Who do you hate less? Continue reading

Why Trump can lie and no one seems to care

The GOP candidate gets away with outrageous, contradictory statements because the mainstream media and the public let him.

Donald Trump is a serial liar. Okay, to be a bit less Trumpian about it, he has trouble with the truth. If you look at Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site that examines candidates’ pronouncements for accuracy, 76 percent of Trump’s statements are rated either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire,” which is to say off-the-charts false. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s total is 29 percent. Continue reading

The media myth of the working-class Reagan Democrats

The numbers don't lie. The notion that angry blue collar voters could sway the election just may not be true.

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, we are likely to get all sorts of mainstream media analysis about how his narrow pathway to Election Day victory runs through white working-class America, the way Ronald Reagan’s did, while the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, must corral young people, minorities and the well-educated. Continue reading

Donald Trump, the emperor of social media

As FDR mastered radio and JFK conquered TV, Donald Trump rules the Internet like no other candidate.

By now I must be at least the millionth commentator to observe that Donald Trump is the candidate for whom social media have longed. What FDR was to radio and JFK to television, Trump is to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, et al. Continue reading

How the media enabled Donald Trump by destroying politics first

The mainstream media is to blame for Donald Trump’s rise, but not for the reasons most people think.

It is more than a little ironic that the Republican Establishment and the mainstream media are both now in full panic mode over the possibility of Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination. You would think that the Republican Party, which has been, let’s face it, hate-spewing, poor-bashing, government-stopping and corporation-loving for decades, ought to be the leading culprit for having paved the way for Trump’s success. As for the media, Marco Rubio, who claims to be exactly where he wants to be after losing 14 primaries and caucuses and winning only one, holds them responsible, which, from a candidate who has demonstrated little support outside the media, is a bit disingenuous. Still, even Rubio is occasionally right. The media did have a lot to do with enabling the rise of Donald Trump. Just not how Rubio or most people think. Continue reading