Trump, Media Angst and the Test of Time

In the aftermath of the recent election season and presidential campaigning shenanigans, we have seen a lot of hand ringing and anguish over the media’s apparent lack of understanding of the American electorate and the obvious media biases that were at the forefront of the election (on both sides).  The news is the media.

“Main stream media” is code for the right’s complaint about the usual media sources that they claim lean left.  Fox News is the equivalent of journalistic heresy for left leaning consumers. In the fray are all of the myriad online “news” sources and their pundit leaders who have created a cottage industry of generating news of various shades of truths and fiction that are wrapped in ideological glitter.  We should have no illusions that “the game is on” by both sides of the political spectrum.

We might be heartened at the apparently genuine consideration within the mainstream media of ways to right the listing media ship that teeters dangerously in the waves between port and starboard.  Some real soul searching seems to be going on. Some intentional effort to get back to a standard of journalistic objectivity seems to be underway, though only time will tell whether this is mere lip service.  

We have also seen lists generated by self-declared experts exposing the “fake news” sources as they call them.  The lists are as different as port and starboard.  We might truthfully categorize most of those lists in the same vein as the fake news sources. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some truth to the biases the lists purport to categorize. The biases however, seem to run with the lists as surly as the sources the lists expose.

Meanwhile, the media continues with the same inertia that propelled them through the blustery presidential campaign, as if the media simply can’t help itself.  Every day we read multiple headlines that appear seem like gradeschoolers tattling on their classmates. Trump did this; Trump did that; and on and on.  To be sure, headlines of the same ilk continue about Hillary Clinton, but losers don’t share the same limelight as winners.

All of this serves as a backdrop to an article by Drew Harwell and Rosalind S. Helderman published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, December 7, 2017, “Trump Sold All His Stocks, Aide Says”. (Some versions add, “And Provides No Evidence“) The gist of the article is that the media angst is overblown. The “provides no evidence” headline suffix seems to be the media “party” line.

Much of the media tattle tailing and hand ringing has focused on speculation about Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest.  It’s all speculation, of course, because we don’t have the information to confirm them. Trump’s affairs remain locked tightly in mystery.

We shouldn’t brush the concerns aside.  Conflicts of interest are of no little concern.  They threaten to undo public confidence in our leaders to whom we have entrusted much.  The influences that accompany conflicts of interest are insidious and undermine governmental integrity.

We take them seriously at a local level, and we should take them seriously at the highest level all the more.  Donald Trump potentially represents the greatest conflict of interest problem in White House history, though we should not be surprised to find that other Presidents in the past had significant private business interests that posed similar conflicts of interest issues (in fact, as recently as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney).

We should not be surprised to find that conflicts of interest have existed on both sides of the isle with presidents, congressmen and many others in government, just as those issues arise on a continual basis at the local level.  It’s virtually inevitable in a free, capitalist society that some conflicts of interest will arise.  All the more reason for us to identify those conflicts of interest and have protocol in place to avoid the insidious negative influences.

I don’t want to insinuate that we should not take them seriously and should not have protocols in place to address them, but Trump hasn’t even taken office yet.

The recent Washington Post article reports the assertions of Trump insiders that he old off all of his stock-holdings back in June of 2016.  If this is true (not that we know yet), the angst is overblown. We may only know looking back whether Trump has done what he has reported to have done. But, shouldn’t we expect someone running for president to do that sort of thing?

Trump is brash and anti-PC enough to let people wonder, without letting them in on the truth (or the joke, depending upon how you look at it). If he has sold off his business interests, he will prove to be everything the people who voted for him hoped he would be; if he has not sold off his business interests, he will prove to be everything his detractors fear that he is.  We simply don’t know at this point.

There are some hopeful signs.  His portfolio is believed to be roughly in the neighborhood of $40M as of December 2015, according to previous disclosures.  He has reportedly dumped $47M of his own money into his campaign, albeit as a loan, and that loan coincides with timing of the rumored sale of his business interests (June 2016).  He has also formally forgiven that loan, already, and added more to the campaign coffers since then.

If all of these things are true, Donald Trump likely stands in the unique category of presidents-elect who have significantly funded their own campaigns.  We have seen other multi-millionaire candidates fund unsuccessful campaigns, but not many of them have funded successful runs for the White House. This would also be a unique example of “putting your money where your mouth is”.  Perhaps Donald Trump is everything people hope he might be.

According to the Post article Trump, has given $66M to the campaign. That is no insignificant amount, though it is short of the $100M he claimed he would spend.

Bravado aside, Trump has telegraphed a consistent intention to be a different kind of president, not one that enjoys the fruits of the White House, but one that plants fruit.  He claims that he will cancel the multi-billion dollar order for new presidential planes, for instance.  He has also announced he will not take more than $1.00 as a presidential salary.

Still, suspicion and doubt seem to rule the day, even in his own party. John Kasich, for instance, has advised his Ohio state electors not to vote for Trump in the electoral college.  Efforts continue to complete recounts in various of the swing states, and hope continues to be held out that some post-election miracle will bump Trump and replace him with a Clinton.

His appointments certainly have not eased the tension, suspicions or doubt, though his appointments should hardly come as a surprise.  Trump ran the campaign championing his outsider “credentials” and promising something very different than politics as usual in Washington.  He has certainly kept that promise, selecting people with no experience in top government positions to top government positions.

For better or worse, we can expect something very different than politics as usual in the next four years.  Isn’t this exactly what people seem to want?  People gravitated toward Bernie Sanders for the same reason they gravitated toward Ben Carson early on, and people elected Donald Trump because they are tired of politics as usual.  People want a change, and we are certainly going to get a change with the president-elect.

In the meantime, the media continue devouring every rumor like Pavlovian dogs at every ring of new “truth”, regurgitating those rumors like cows chew their cud while back office editors of the more legitimate media analyze the damaged media psyches and front office pundits continue to run the “news”. It won’t be the media, but the history books that will tell us whether we got what we bargained for or bargained for a different kind of hawker’s empty promise.

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