An exchange on MSNBC this week so thoroughly captured the essence of the corrupt American news business that it almost had the metaphorical power of art.
Brian Williams was interviewing Donny Deutsch on The 11th Hour. Referring to the United States of America (I have to tell you that, because you could not possibly deduce it for yourself from what was said), Williams asked: "How dark are things right now to you?"
Here was Deutsch’s reply, edited for space (you can watch the whole thing here): "Very, very dark. And I want to say this with no exaggeration. If you look throughout history and you become a student of history and the worst of what humans have done throughout history, Trump is using that play book in every way you possibly can… And we should be very frightened. It is not just saying, ‘Oh, authoritarian tendencies.’ I believe this man is capable of horrific deeds. I'm not saying specifically what that is, but let your imagination go. Do not kid yourself. If he gets voted out of office, he will say it was fake. He will say the polls were rigged. He will tell his people to take to the streets. People have to understand this is not a man who is playing with any boundaries on what a normal civilization and normal democracy has."
You will remember, of course, that Brian Williams lost his NBC anchorman job after it was shown he had lied about several incidents, including being shot at in a chopper over Iraq. Deutsch is a former advertising executive.
So basically a liar and an adman walk into a TV studio and begin spinning fantasies out of nothing right in front of our eyes. Our president is a man capable of "horrific deeds" using the playbook of "the worst of what humans have done throughout history."
What has Trump done? Well, let your imagination go. Why not? They did.
The media has been giving us some version of this scene for the past two and half years now: liars and admen spinning fantasies of Trumpian evil. Trump said all Mexicans were drug dealers. Only he didn’t. Trump colluded with Russia. Only he didn’t. Trump said Nazis were fine people. Only he didn’t. Trump banned Muslims. Only he didn’t. Trump endangered the First Amendment. Only he didn’t do that either.
Evil Trump, it turns out, is as much a fantasy as No Scandal Obama.
More and more, it seems to me, what troubles the media about Trump is not that he lies, but that his lies interrupt their lies — and his lies are actually closer to the truth. If you still think The Washington Post is a newspaper, you can free yourself of that delusion by taking a look at their list of over 10,000 Trump "lies." Almost all of them turn out to be typical Trumpian exaggerations, silly but largely harmless. "We could fix our immigration laws in 15 minutes," says Trump. "There is relatively little support in Congress for many of his anti-immigration proposals," drones the Post. Compare that with the charges of treason, obstruction and racism that have been hurled at the president by the Democrats and their poodle press.
The media hates Trump because he plays their game at least as well as they do. Likewise the rest of the Democrats. When Trump walked out of an infrastructure negotiation with Democrats this week, claiming that he wouldn’t work with people who accuse him of a cover up, the problem wasn’t, as Chuck Schumer said, because "it was planned." The problem was Trump’s showboating interrupted the Democrat showboating, namely their endless investigations into things that have already been investigated followed by overblown denunciations on sympathetic news outlets, which is nearly all of them.
The old joke that politics is show business for ugly people has become literally true. Almost nothing that is happening in Washington, and nothing being reported about Washington on the news, has any meaning or any effect on our lives. It is merely people putting on a performance in the hope someone will mistake it for reality.
Trump did not create this situation. It was going on when he got there. The only difference between his lies and those of his opponents, between his performances and theirs, is that he’s done some good for the country — improved the economy, improved the judiciary, improved the military — and they’ve done squat.