The Trump Train Will Continue Going Off The Rails After He Loses. It's Our Fault
There seems to be an extra dose of enthusiasm surrounding Election Day 2016. Surely, many people are excited by the opportunity that is afforded to Americans every four years to elect the person who will lead our country and represent the United States on the world stage. But I venture there's another element, namely that this eagerness for presidential voting to occur is so that this contentious election climate can end.
However, I don't believe the rancor and mud-slinging will end on Nov. 8 if Donald Trump loses (which most polls at the time of writing predict will be the case). If you were hoping that the Republican candidate would return to the Trump Tower from whence he came after Hillary Clinton (likely) wins, think again. Trump won't go away after the election — and it's all your fault.
And it's my fault, too. It's all of our faults, albeit for varying reasons. When Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, I wrote a piece for Bustle detailing every insane moment of the announcement speech. Here's how I summed it up at the time:
If you took big business gravitas, a whole lot of money, a dash of military pride, and about half a handle of very fine bourbon, shook them vigorously in a cocktail shaker, then threw said shaker into a deep, dark ravine, that's the closest approximation I can give you to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential announcement on Tuesday. It was a terrifying and wonderful mélange of buzzwords and not-so-humble bragging that inarguably made for the most interesting presidential announcement thus far. Interesting and terrifying and wonderful.
Nearly a year and a half later, the only one of those descriptors that I can still stand by is terrifying. Think back with me, for a moment, to when Trump wasn't the ubiquitous media presence that he is today, when he wasn't the GOP's candidate. It was a bizarre moment for America. The guy that we had come to know as a reality TV star and hotel operator was suddenly running for the highest office in the land! And he was talking about such ridiculous things as billing another country for a wall! It was hilarious because its departure from the normal, stiff campaign speeches made it seem like some sort of parody.
Jon Stewart, who was set to hand over the reins of The Daily Show shortly after Trump announced his presidency, called Trump's candidacy a "gift from heaven." Stewart said, "Thank you Donald, thank you Donald Trump, for making my last six weeks my best six weeks. He is putting me in some kind of comedy hospice where all I’m getting is just straight morphine."
At that time, I didn't anticipate that Trump would actually win the Republican nomination, so it seemed relatively harmless to find the unintended humor in his off-color remarks. That's largely how the media treated him, too. Trump became a spectacle, because after all, what kind of serious presidential candidate would be so openly sexist? What candidate would willingly call Mexican people rapists? Just from a tactical standpoint (I won't even touch on morals with Trump), that's alienating two of the biggest potential voting blocs right away. It seemed way too absurd to be taken seriously. People were entranced by it, so Trump and his campaign stayed at the top of the news cycle.
But it wasn't just people tuning in to watch the dumpster fire who were taken by Trump. The Republican candidate seemed to throw gasoline on a growing resentment for Washington politicians. The outsider, to some, represented something far outside the norm of American politics, which Vanderbilt University professor and expert on polarization Marc Hetherington told NPR was crucial to Trump's support. Fed by increased partisanship and what the Pew Research Center found to be the lowest level of distrust for the government on record, Trump's lack of experience in political office and his high-flying rhetoric of a radical shift made him an ideal candidate for some. "More polarization begets poor performance, which begets worse trust, which gives you worse performance, which, of course, gives you more frustration," Hetherington told NPR.
Regardless of how individual fascinations about Trump came to be, there is no doubt that he has saturated the media in a way that few, if any, presidential candidates have. And we aren't talking about his policies, his polling numbers, or even his campaign stops anymore (barring some viral moment on the trail). We're talking about his alleged cases of sexual assault (which he has consistently and adamantly denied). We're talking about his extraordinarily bad temperament. We're talking about his hotels.
And that's the reason Trump won't go away after this election. When Barack Obama beat out Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, Romney quickly dropped out of headlines. There wasn't a presidential race to talk about anymore.
But with Trump, the coverage has been less about the race, and more about the audacity of him actually running for president. That narrative, unfortunately, does not have the impermanence of polls and campaign speeches. We've become completely fascinated by Trump, either out of morbid curiosity or enthusiastic support. Presidential candidate or not, Trump will still be Trump after Election Day, and so I suspect that we'll still be hearing from him quite a bit.
In my mind, this shakes out in a couple of ways. Trump already has us all on pins and needles as to whether he'll accept the results of the election or stoke the fires of the conspiracy theorists and claim that the election is "rigged." Writing for the New Yorker, Benjamin Wallace-Wells laid out why the immediate aftermath of the campaign is so critical to watch:
But Trump’s talk during the past week means that November 8th is not the only date that matters; November 9th bears watching, too. The campaign, as it ends, is returning to the question with which it began: whether Trump’s supporters will believe him over everyone else.
But on a longer timeline, there's the notion of Trump TV, the much whispered about possibility that Trump could spin this whole running for president thing into a cable network. Trump has denied the rumors, saying this week, "I have no interest in Trump TV." Still, tongues have been wagging since "Live From Trump Tower," which features nightly campaign coverage from Trump advisers and conservative talking heads, launched Monday night.
Think about it. A guy who has hinged a large part of his candidacy on the fact that the mainstream media is lying to us all starts his own cable network to save you from the injustice of having to listen to such untruths. And even if you don't buy Trump's talking point that the media is part of some massive plot to install Clinton in the White House, you'll probably still tune into Trump TV. Why? Because you, like me and most of America, are addicted to watching the train wreck.
So, you can count down the days until Nov. 8 all you want, but Trump isn't going away anytime soon.