Après Moi, le De'luge...
The Age of Trump, the End of What?
By Tom Engelhardt
French king Louis XV reputedly said, "Après moi, le de'luge." ("After me, the flood.") Whether that line was really his or not remains unclear, but not long after his death did come the French Revolution. We should be so lucky! Our all-American version of Louis XV, Donald I, is incapable, I suspect, of even imagining a world after him. Given the historically unprecedented way he's covered by the "fake" or "corrupt" news media, that "enemy of the people," I doubt they really can either.
Never, you might say, have we, as a nation, been plunged quite so fully not just into the ever-present, but into one man's version of it. In other words, for us, the deluge is distinctly now and it has an orange tint, a hefty body, and the belligerent face of every 1950s father I ever knew -- my own, in his angrier moods, included -- as well as of redbaiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. Of course, you have to be at least as old as me to remember that Trump-anticipating political showman and his own extreme moment. After all, in distinctly Trumpian fashion (though without Twitter), he accused President Truman's secretary of defense, George Marshall, and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, of being Russian agents. As McCarthy said at the time, "How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster?" McCarthy (whose aide, Roy Cohn, was once Donald Trump's mentor) offers a reminder that Trumpian-style personalities were not unknown in our history and that, in the case of McCarthy, their antics were, however minimally by twenty-first-century standards, actually televised.
Our very own Louis XV is, of course, something else again: a deluge of tweets, insults, self-praise, lies and false claims, and strange acts of almost every imaginable sort. In other words, thanks in significant part to the media and social media, Donald J. Trump is indeed the definition of a deluge and we, the American people, are -- thought about a certain way -- present-day Venice; we are, that is, six feet under water, even if we don't quite know it.
And here's what may be the strangest thing of all: while HE -- and, given the last three-plus years, those caps are anything but an exaggeration -- is dealt with by the media in deluge fashion, there's one story that's in our faces everyday and yet, in some sense -- a sense that drives me bonkers -- is simply missing in action. To be clear: since 2016, Donald Trump has been covered in our ever-shrinking yet ever-expanding media universe like no other individual in history from Nebuchadnezzar's moment to our own.
You know that. I know that. Everyone knows that -- and yet, in case you haven't noticed, the fact that HE's in all our faces like no king, no emperor, no autocrat, no president, no entertainer, no performer ever is hardly being covered, hardly even acknowledged from day to day, week to week, month to month, or even sadly, given how long the Trumpian moment has already lasted, year to year. In other words, HE is eternally there, but the media, omnipresent as it may be when it comes to him, in some sense isn't.
Winter Is Coming in Trumpian Fashion
The way that omnipresence is linked to his omnipresence must, I suppose, be obvious to everyone. Still, no one is really covering the coverage, not the way it should be covered in all its mind-boggling strangeness. Take the other day, a perfectly typical passing moment in my life in the age of Trump. On my way into the men's locker room at my local gym, I stopped to have a sandwich in a room with a giant TV screen and a few tables and chairs. On any day as I wander through, the TV is almost invariably on -- tuned in to (where else?) CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News -- and if you-know-whose angry face isn't on screen, then there are almost invariably several talking heads discussing HIM or something related to HIM anyway.
That particular day, when I sat down to eat my sandwich, CNN was on and the story being covered concerned an unscheduled visit the president had paid to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The White House claimed that Trump was simply getting part of his yearly physical early because he happened to have a free weekend in Washington. But the visit was (gasp!) "unannounced" and evidently unexpected by the hospital staff -- as if much that Donald Trump does is announced and expected -- and who knew what that meant.
In truth, the answer was: no one about to be onscreen yakking had much of anything to offer. The only news, beyond the visit itself, was that there was no news at all about HIM. Still, medical experts were interviewed and, by the time I had finished my sandwich and headed into the locker room, the talking heads were still discussing... well, essentially the same nothing much because nothing much was known.
And when I walked through that same room on my way out after my swim, another set of talking heads was, of course, discussing the president's unscheduled visit to Walter Reed. Several days later, when I began writing this piece, the issue was still being chewed over by columnists and on TV and, as with so much else about this president, days after Trump's "mysterious, unannounced visit to the hospital," as the New York Times put it all too accurately, there remained "a torrent of speculation" about it. Then again, such a description could be applied endlessly to stories about Donald J. Trump.
Now, there would be nothing particularly wrong with any of this, story by story, if it weren't seemingly our only media present, past, and future in the Trump era. But the historically unprecedented nature of all this yakking, writing, interviewing, speculating, Tweeting, Facebooking, discussing, arguing, reporting, and perhaps, above all, the 24/7 talking heads on cable news going on and on about everything faintly related to one distinctly over-present personage (who was evidently God's gift to them in 2016) has yet to truly sink in.
At some level, it's not even complicated, especially in this impeachment moment. The shambling body of that president of ours -- thanks to a set of media decisions about what truly draws eyeballs on this planet -- simply blocks out much of the rest of the world, everything but HIM and anything or anyone faintly relevant to or associated with or ready to attack him and his strange imperial solar system. In media terms, he is now something akin to a force of nature, a Category 5 (or maybe 6) hurricane, but so, of course, is the coverage of him.
There's obviously a unique history to be written of how King Donald I, still officially "president" of the United States (though he often acts as if he were something far more than that), proved so capable of drawing every camera, every bit of media attention to himself alone, how he kept "the red light" of those cameras and their social media equivalents ever on. It's a feat for the ages and, it seems, a successful gamble in a media world that found itself in a scramble for ad dollars, for existence and eyeballs, a world that made some hard, if seldom publicly delineated, decisions about what, in the twenty-first century, the news was becoming.
After all, in a world in which so much is, in fact, happening (and going wrong), other decisions, though hard to imagine today, might have been possible and Donald Trump's all-enveloping, all-absorbing presidency, under less of a media glare and stare, might have taken quite a different turn.