This week, I received an interesting challenge: To read, listen, and watch only election coverage related to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. If I glimpsed the name of another candidate in a headline or a video title, I had to avoid it and move on.
My first thought was that this would, actually, be a little bit like going to work. At home, I wait tables at a local Japanese restaurant, and my boss — a non-white, immigrant, small business owner — is, of all things, a Trump supporter. He's a kind, generous, and well-intentioned person, but no matter how many times his wife and I tell him that Trump is crazy, he stands firm in his belief that a Trump presidency will fix the country. He is disillusioned by lack of progress in Washington and frustrated by taxes on his business — and, therefore, he sees Trump as the only suitable alternative to corrupt establishment politicians.
While I may not agree with this view, it is held by my boss, and I have to tolerate it. I once spent part of a shift trying not to laugh while my boss played The O'Reilly Factor on the bar TV. For a full hour, Bill O'Reilly sat across from Donald Trump, and I restrained my laughter as they conversed and took each other completely seriously. This week felt like an extended version of that shift.
While I perhaps can't chart my results visually the way a person who experiments with a new make-up routine or iconic TV wardrobe does, I knew this week would definitely make an impression on me. The rules were I could consume only Trump-related media, so I had to scroll through social media feeds with the utmost care. I didn't bother to check newspapers or magazines online. Unless the content had to do with Trump, I was in a political coverage blackout.
I suspected I would spend a lot of time grimacing at my computer screen — and, as the experiment proved, I was right.
Day 1: Encounters With Ivana
As I kicked off my week of Trump-centric news consumption, I realized quickly that depriving myself of all election coverage besides The Donald would seep into most parts of my life —including my morning routine. Like many people, I check my email and read the news in the morning, so when I sat down to eat breakfast and skim my New York Times "Morning Briefing," I realized my mistake and hurriedly scrolled past the first heading: "Busy April for campaigns." If I was going to stay focused solely on the Donald, I couldn't read about Lyin' Ted and certainly not Crooked Hillary.
Instead of reading The New York Times, then, I turned to a publication I consult far less frequently (see also: never) — the New York Post. The newspaper ran an "exclusive" interview with former model and businesswoman Ivana Trump. I was surprised, but what I thought would be an insubstantial (at best) interview raised some serious concerns.
I'll admit it; I never paid much attention to Trump before he ran for president, and I wasn't alive yet when he and Ivana divorced. I was horrified, however, when I read about Ivana's 1993 rape allegations. Ivana has since revised her account, after The Daily Beast published a story about the allegation in 2015. "The story is totally without merit," she said, adding, "As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a 'rape,' but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense."
Day 2: Reading Donald Denial
On Facebook the next day, I saw that Trevor Noah had covered Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — to some degree — on the previous night's episode of The Daily Show,and it pained me to avoid clicking the links. As the child of liberal and relaxed parents, I've watched The Daily Show since I was too young to understand it, and though I was raised on Jon Stewart, I think Trevor Noah has carried the show well since taking over. I was itching to see the coverage, but, loyal to Trump, I abstained.
It was voting day in Wisconsin, however, and I couldn't put the blinders up completely. I had to check on "my candidate," so I listened to Michael Savage's interview of Trump for The Savage Nation, and as expected, it was horrifying.
I don't know if Michael Savage authentically mispronounces the word "huge" or if he was attempting flattery via imitation, but I instantly cringed upon hearing Savage open with: "It's a yuge day." Rather than acknowledging Trump's bad week (it was the one when he suggested women who sought illegal abortions should be punished), Savage said: "The people love you, Donald ... even though the mainstream media and all of the naysayers are saying you had a bad week. ... I wouldn't go near that devil on MSNBC. I don't know why you went into the viper's den."
By saying this, Savage provided me with a clear example of a tenet Trump's campaign and, what I suspect is, a core principle for many Trump supporters: Denial. While many journalists who support a candidate might spin a bad week by offering them a chance to defend themselves, Savage simply refused to acknowledge the negatives as a whole. He didn't ask Trump to shed new light on what happened. He denied that it happened at all.
Day 3: I Succumbed And Googled "Trump"
After Trump's loss in Wisconsin, I expected to encounter a slew of headlines covering Trump's concession speech. I didn't, however. I saw almost exclusively saw Cruz and Sanders posts pop up, so I averted my eyes and skipped through posts in search of Trump. When I found none, I did something I never wanted to: I googled Trump's name.
What I found was a video of the incessantly annoying Greg Gutfeld on Fox's The Five, saying "Let's go to Donald Trump's concession speech" followed by a long, simulated cable beep. "Rather than saying something humble, gracious, and funny," Gutfeld elaborated, "[Trump] released a weird, angry statement. Its message: nothing is ever his fault."
As an outsider to the world of Trump supporters, I rolled my eyes at Trump's lack of professionalism, but I realized that a person who listens to Trump and only Trump — or perhaps only Trump and Michael Savage — might not have the same experience. A person inclined to believe Trump's words very well might, in fact, blame Trump's loss on anything but his violent speech, his absence of a platform, or his supposedly nonexistent bad week.
Day 4: My Twitter Exploration Of Trump
On Thursday, I realized that I had left a massive source of Trump-related media untapped: @realDonaldTrump. I turned to Trump's account and found a slew of hateful and nonsensical 140-character blurbs, but one tweet in particular stood out to me: a political cartoon retweeted by Trump on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Aside from the cartoon's complete lack of geographic accuracy and low-quality design, the image itself looked to me not only offensive, but intentionally so. With the burning bone-scattered depiction of Syria, Trump's oversized finger wagging "no" at a boat full of refugees, and the ignorant caption "Saudi Arabia has plenty of room for you," the cartoon looked like satire. Had Trump not retweeted it, I would have assumed it was a critique of his discriminatory and uninformed foreign policy, not a commendation of it.
I sought out more Trump coverage so ludicrous it seems satirical by watching a segment from Fox News' Hannity in which correspondent David Webb interviews Trump protesters. In the piece, Webb asked so-called "left-wing agitators" in Wisconsin "what they're so upset about," and Hannity then criticized the responses as too vague. One woman told Webb: "[Trump] has to be respectful to everyone," which the show frames as an under-formulated argument. Notably, the woman who voiced this was non-white and spoke with an accent, which likely served as substantial grounds for delegitimizing her argument in many Trump supporters' eyes.
I noticed the editing for Hannity frequently cut away from interviewees before they finished their arguments and specifically highlighted moments when speakers stuttered or failed to recall a specific detail. To me, its ambush-style journalism resembled Jimmy Kimmel's "Lie-Witness News" segments with the goal of humiliation and hilarity rather than actual discourse. The reporting done on Hannity, however, claims to be real political coverage, not late-night comedy.
Day 5: The Donald & The Silver Fox
I was assigned to watch Anderson Cooper's interview with Trump for a class on Friday, and though I was relieved by the assignment's content — because an interview with any other candidate would have posed a problem — I was, at this point, exhausted by Trump. His proclamations of Islamophobia entirely ceased to surprise me. Trump's extreme and unsubstantiated remarks felt like old news.
Instead, what I noticed was a difference in reporting style from Cooper. While Michael Savage, Greg Gutfeld, and Sean Hannity expressed a range of opinions regarding Trump, they all shared some of his style: loud, animated speech, jokes, ad hominem attacks, etc.
Cooper, however, remained reserved and committed to his points rather than on capitalizing on the entertainment resource that is Donald Trump. He refused to engage, for example, when Trump suggested that Cooper investigate the alleged hatred within Islam.
Though I was tired of hearing from Trump, it was refreshing to see a journalist who avoided mimicking Trump's flair and at least attempted to address concrete policy issues. I concluded, if we must offer Trump the spotlight, this is how it should be done.
Day 6: Is Trump The GOP Future?
On Saturday, I listened to Scott Brown's interview with Trump, and all of the horror was back. I remembered Brown from his partial term as a Massachusetts senator. He was elected to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat after his death and then lost reelection. During Brown's campaign, Massachusetts liberals joked that his entire platform was his persona as a truck-driving family man, and to our surprise, this approach proved effective in one of the nation's bluest states. Brown was never considered a "real Republican" by many, however, as his policies were seen by many party faithful as far too moderate.
To hear Brown showering Trump with praise made me realize the unsteadiness of his politics. His moderate Republican views were a distant memory compared to Trump's bombastic approach, and it made me wonder if the Donald's style and opinions would be the "new normal" for the GOP.
Day 7: Trump's "Generosity" Leaves Me Baffled
The last day of my Trump week arrived with a true rarity: a surprising news headline. Trump unexpectedly dropped $100,000 on a donation to the National September 11 Memorial Museum, and for the first time all week, I didn't know what to say. Do I trust the gesture's intentions? No — Trump strikes me as an entirely self-interested and amoral person. That being said, it's hard to criticize an enormous donation to the memorial of a tragedy.
The donation looked to me — and to many — like a massive shot at Ted Cruz and his "New York values" remark, but disguised as generosity. If this weren't made clear by the memorial's location in New York City, all ambiguity vanished when Trump asserted: "This is what 'New York values' are really all about," which directly responded to Cruz's comment.
The gesture, like Trump's false business ventures, wears an elegant disguise. Trump said the donation was made because he "just felt like doing it" but I found the timing suspicious. At the time, New York was the next big primary. However, I bet many Trump-only media consumers would have found the donation to be a sign of generosity and patriotism.
I don't know if I can honestly say I learned anything all that new or transformative from my Trump week. It was exhausting. It was frustrating. It messed with my browser cookies.
In fact, that was the one thing that really changed during the week: My web history. Because the Internet accession services that we use constantly collect data about what we're clicking, my browser figured out pretty quickly that I — or at least my online presence — had turned my attention Trumpward. Trump media is like the Hydra; for every article, video, or meme you close, seven more spring up in its place. As more content appeared in my recommendations, I began to understand how Trump supporters — like my very own boss — get entangled in Trump propaganda.
Images: Brian Ward