For cable news abusers like myself, the intervention of summer signals a painful season of withdrawal.
Like clockwork, the news cycle slows as Congress takes its annual 38-day vacation — presumably to recover from the stress of its 82 other days of vacation. CNN anchors try to compensate with live breaking coverage of tire factory fires in New Jersey, while morning news shows gush with puff pieces about Chelsea Clinton’s recipes for vegan baby food. Ratings plummet so precipitously, in fact, Nielsen can only measure MSNBC viewership using the Large Hadron Collider.
That’s why it was such a shot in the arm this July to see the unfolding of two genuinely suspenseful national stories. One, the daily hold-your-breath drama of that gold-plated sojourner speeding far from civilization into a hostile void where no man has gone before. The other, NASA’s historic fly-by of Pluto with the New Horizons spacecraft.
Best of all, they’ll both be sending back startling images for at least the next 16 months.
As for the former — the raving Rorschach test that is Donald John Trump, Sr. — he has, according to many Fox News pundits, struck a chord that resonates with Americans of every political stripe. The problem is, it’s the same chord that’s struck when your four-year-old walks up to a morbidly obese shopper and cries out “How come you’re so fat?”
Of course, that question is resonating in your own mind as well, but you don’t say it.
Unless you’re Donald Trump: a pompous plutocrat populist who has more in common with Andrew Dice Clay than William Jennings Bryan. In addition to his Palinesque inability to speak in any depth or detail about the issues of the day, Trump also has a penchant for personal invective — a trait which, in a different century, would have landed him in a duel to the death at dawn.
Today, it simply lands him more airtime, which quickly translates into a larger following: more white-haired whites who see him not as a bombastic blowhard, but rather as a crusader in the spirit of St. Ronald, waging a righteous guerilla war against the powerful axis of Washington corruption and incompetence.
But while Reagan argued eloquently against the Left’s characterization of him as “the rich man’s Billy Jack,” Trump argues like Jack the Ripper, slashing back at his questioners by name, denigrating entire countries and races, glorifying his wealth-creating prowess, and shamelessly breaking the Gipper’s 11th commandment by trash-talking about any Republican who stands in the way of his nomination.
The ratings-starved cable news networks — and the men and women who love them — are thrilled to have this endless loop of bread-and-circus spectacles.
But no one’s happier than progressive news anchors and analysts, who are barely able to contain their glee as they feign concern that Trump may be permanently damaging “the Republican brand.” To hear them worry on conservatives’ behalf about the first debate, you’d think Don King was promoting it instead of Roger Ailes.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the August 5th ten-person exchange is not going to erupt into “Trumpnado,” despite all of their wishful thinking.
The rules of the debate, as well as the troika of serious hosts, led by Chris Wallace, will most certainly prevent a Trump hijacking by disallowing interaction between candidates, and posing questions that will require thoughtful and detailed responses — a kind of beauty pageant for policy wonks. In this format, The Donald’s answers may end up sounding more like those of a rambling Miss USA finalist than a candidate for president.
Needless to say, I won’t be happy about it.
But, as every junkie knows, what goes up must come down, as Trump’s hot air balloon surely will this Fall, when he finally manages to alienate everyone in every Haploid group in his core constituency.
Maybe he’ll tweet a slur about Italian mobsters or Irish alcoholics, or call all Medicare recipients losers, or give out the Pope’s cell phone number.
Maybe he’ll walk the gravestoned fields of Arlington and grumble that the real heroes are the soldiers competent enough to not get themselves killed.
However The Donald self-deports from the scene, I won’t care. Summer will be over. Hillary will be back from fighting income inequality in the Hamptons. The Joe Biden gaffe machine, if he announces, will be running at full tilt. And my personal favorite, the “Survivor” special: Republican edition, will be an absolute embarrassment of political riches.
Add to that a full stash of hi-def photos from Pluto, and I’ll be guaranteed my daily news fix until at least next July.
And then, if the Summertime blues return, I’ll be ready with the cure: a third party run by — who else? –The Man Who Would Be King.
Timothy Philen is the author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!,” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a meditation on post-modern American culture.