Crowded Out

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The first 48 hours of the Trump Administration were nothing if not illuminating. Following a dour, dire inaugural address in which the new president affirmed his commitment to faux-macho militarism and the destruction of free trade, Trump and VP Pence set off on the traditional post-inaugural parade. But much of the parade route was lined, not with adoring supporters, but with empty bleachers. Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat — especially when compared to Obama’s numbers in 2008 (or even in 2012, the much less “hopeful” time around). Aerial photos confirmed that Trump’s crowds did not stack up: there were huge gaps on the Mall, some of them even visible on the live TV feeds when Wolf Blitzer or someone equally dim tried to talk about a “teeming mass of humanity” that was not in evidence.

Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat.

The Trump team had many options available to explain this disappointment. First, the weather: dreary, overcast, continually promising rain that arrived right in time for Trump’s address. Second, the demographics: of course Obama would pull more people from DC and its suburbs, the center of the swamp that Trump has appointed himself (and half of Goldman Sachs) to drain. Third, the economics: heartland Republicans might wish to be there for the historic moment, but the depredations of Obama have left them unable to travel outside their own red states. Fourth: the priorities — and this would be a stretch for any politician, but bear with me: they could have said that the inauguration itself wasn’t what was important; rather, what mattered was individual taxpayers working to better their lives in their own communities, not traveling to pay homage to a new would-be god-king.

Faced with these and other possibilities, the Trump team chose the expediency of bald-faced lies.

When press secretary Sean Spicer took the podium on Saturday for a press briefing, he refused to accept any question, delivering instead a diatribe against the media for misrepresenting the crowds, which he estimated at “a million to a million and a half people” — a transparent falsehood. Asked about these remarks the next day, advisor Kellyanne Conway referred to Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts.” Alternative facts!

Of course, Trump never lies without also personally attacking the people he’s lying about. During a rambling, borderline unhinged speech to the CIA, of all people, he referred to the media as “the most dishonest human beings” — something which might be accurate, apart from the grotesquely dishonest context in which he was giving utterance. Other admin statements took a threatening tone: Reince Preibus spoke of “not allowing” the media’s obsessive quest to “delegitimize the president”; Spicer himself warned menacingly that the administration would hold the press “accountable” for, one assumes, telling the obvious truth.

They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign.

And here’s the thing: the DC press corps is packed full of liars, courtesans, and ass-kissers. Any other president would let these natural sycophants do their work for them: just promise them access and appear even vaguely “presidential,” and they’ll swallow anything — just look at the Bush buildup to the Iraq War, or any major Obama initiative. Trump & Co. have instead made clear that they will fight to the death anyone who doubts the anointed — a policy which would leave us soon with Breitbart and (maybe) Fox News as our new Pravdas. If he had wanted to float supreme above the press, that would be one thing — that would at least promise the pleasure of toppling an icon. Instead, he seems to desire endless flattery and coos of reassurance. For someone who claims to value masculine independence, he’s proving himself such a whiny, fragile little snowflake.

All of this, meanwhile, over just the most pointless thing, something not even worth lying about. The crowd size doesn’t matter, any more than the popular vote does, or anything else that isn’t direct, concrete governance. They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign. This, in fact, is the main danger facing the press corps, as well as the historically huge crowds that turned out to protest Trump the day after his inauguration: they’ll once again think they’ve vanquished him, when they won’t have delayed for even a second anything those working through him have planned.

In the meantime, though, the lesson remains: either Trump’s ego is such that he can’t bear coming off second best on any comparison to Obama, or he really is so beholden to audience numbers and ratings that he literally can’t see things anyway, or (more sinisterly) the administration wanted an early test case to see who would echo their lies, even when hard data and common sense both dictate clearly otherwise. Either way, it’s indication and confirmation of exactly how far we should trust anyone connected to the White House: the distance between a fact and its alternative.



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Comments

Scott Robinson

Dear Mr. Ferguson,

This is illustrative of the fact that Donald Trump is obsessed with marketing. What is he marketing? "Trump" Take a look at the buildings he owns, the steaks, vodka, and clothes. Every one of them is called "Trump ...".

I think that a better point he could have brought up is, "look at how many more protestors I had." I thought, "Could you imagine if these protest scenes had been present for the inauguration of Barack Obama?" He could have used this observation to comment that it is popular and approved to hate white men. However, crying about being wronged doesn't sell your wares.

Best Wishes,
Scott

Fred Mora

Hello Mr. Ferguson,

Regarding the low crowd count, one additional factor were the multiple roadblocks set up by various leftist rioters, to the great annoyance of all, preventing a number of cars and buses from reaching downtown DC that day. It doesn't excuse the lies, though.

About using the DC press corps "swallowing anything": Your assumption is that the press will soon set aside the rancor and the partisan bile it displayed during the campaign and start eating out of this hated new president's hand. I am not sure it's warranted.

During the Bush years, the media went along with the Iraq WMD hallucination because, at that time, the Democratic Party and the globalist Neo-Cons shared a common interest in this regard. But such convergence is not in sight today, and thus it's hard to see why the media would willingly echo the propaganda of the Trump White House.

This is not a bad deal for libertarians. This administration cannot count of having its water carried by the 80% of journalists that self-identified as left-leaning in a Pew Research Center poll. This will be a nice change. The spectacle of a fawning press rushing to whitewash every blatant mistake, every glaring abuse of the Obama regime was an absolute disgrace. The slobbering leftist sycophants that pass for our media are now going to start doing their job, even though they will predictably discredit themselves by peppering their columns with sheer dishonesty.

Trump is a media manipulator. He is well aware of the red-hot hatred of the liberal press. He can therefore bait them into displays of irrational rants and verifiably untrue statements, which will further discredit them. The only risk here is that the press will cry wolf so often and so loudly over so little that nobody will pay attention the days they attack the Trump administration about something real.

drew

Hi Fred—

Probably a moot point now, but I truly do think that if Trump had just settled in and "played the game" once in office, the media would have cut him every bit of slack they do anyone else who keeps the lines open and pays them lip service. But here we are, not even a week in, and it's already a state of open war, led by the president and his closest advisors—Bannon today even said flat out that the media "needs to keep its mouth shut," which is about the only way to ensure they don't.

As such, I feel like the "rancor and partisan bile" you cite during the election was, if anything, not nearly enough. There was too much of Trump as comical figure, as reality TV star, as anything but the wildly unstable authoritarian he's already proving himself to be. Thus far we have threats to send the military into Chicago, the mooted return of torture and extraordinary rendition, blanket bans on visa applications from 7 Arab countries (without touching Saudi Arabia, an actual supplier of terrorists), gag orders placed on federal bureaus (including directives to have all governmental research vetted by admin spokesmen before release), felony charges filed against journalists at the Inauguration, and huge tariffs promised against Mexico to pay for the biggest boondoggle you'll ever see. And an investigation into nonexistent voter fraud—in an election he won!—because his feelings have been so badly hurt by losing the popular vote. What will he say, do, or tweet next, simply because he sees a report on TV and has to respond immediately?

I do very much agree though that this could work to libertarians' benefit—but we have to be on the front lines, not just leaving the hard work of protests to "various leftist rioters." As bewildered as I am by libertarians (or even self-proclaimed Tea Partiers!) cowering when so much as a single window is broken, I'm still more so by those who won't even countenance peaceful passive resistance. The protesters who were annoying people—that is, getting out a message through the means available to them—were demonstrating for causes they cared about: the environment, gay rights, feminism, race relations and policing. Why weren't libertarians blocking an entrance at the Inauguration in the name of free trade, free speech, freedom of movement, freedom from surveillance? The immediate need is for anti-authoritarian pushback on all fronts; if we do not get involved now, we will have no say in what happens after—and at that point there will no longer be even the pretense of any lesser evil.

Jim Williams

Indeed, I think we should keep our eyes on the possibility that Trump is not picking these fights because he's thin-skinned and reactionary, but rather that he's coldly calculating.

One possible motive would be to trick the media folks into destroying their own credibility, as you point out.

Another motive would be to provide so much distraction that the press will never attack Trump about anything real that would truly threaten liberty because they won't be looking for it, being too busy chasing the shiny bauble.

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