By this time, it is of course a cliché that Traditional Media does not merely react to the phenomenon known as Trumpism; rather, it is deeply involved and implicated in the creation of its own favorite story. The outrageousness, and the outrage thus provoked, are great advertising, analogues of politicians’ earned media. And the best part is, once press coverage boosts it to critical mass, it achieves perpetual motion by feeding on itself.
I’m not by any means saying that Trump is succeeding purely through media attention. He is a consummate salesman whose senses are so closely attuned to his customer that he knows what they want to hear yet fear to speak, and he gives voice to these repressed feelings. His short-sighted selfishness attunes to our less developed instincts of tribal cohesion and external aggression, aspects that manifest more often when we’re feeling stressed. And Trump supporters, who seem from his rallies to be overwhelmingly white and half of whom have high-school educations or less, are objectively under a great deal of economic stress given our current policies and outlook. He is also a master of social media despite his clear inability to grasp what, in fact, the internet is.
Still, the gap between coverage of what can only be called Trump’s antics and that of the serious social policies offered by Bernie Sanders is evidence of a yuuuuge media conspiracy. One, of course, that the participants do not realize they’re involved in; were it otherwise, the veil of secrecy would be easily pierced for all to see. Trump is clearly not 81 times as newsworthy as Sanders; but that’s the ratio of time ABC News, for example, has been clocked at for the entire year. The explanation is simple: covering Trump is simple. No understanding is required; simply record his reality show, as journalism over the past few decades continues gradually slipping into the role of stenographer. No analysis of substantive issues which might provoke backlash from knowledgeable readers or conspiracy-minded cranks, no need to think through the problems involved, in fact no need for conscious thought on the part of writer or reader.
No need, either, to point out that Trump and Sanders have about the same amount of support nationwide, as the Washington Post’s new real-time tool demonstrates.