We keep talking to ourselves. Constantly. Trying to make order out of chaos and sense out of the surreal. And this year, most doing the talking have gotten it wrong. Wrong about Trump. Wrong about Rubio. Wrong about Sanders. And now wrong about the road ahead.
What are we talking to ourselves about now on the Sunday shows, on cable news, in newspaper columns, in the blogosphere, on Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook? We are grimly warning the world that following Friday night’s fracas in Chicago, America faces a deepening divide that is tearing away at the fabric of this great land.
What mind-numbing nonsense.
Friday’s freak show was as prepackaged as a rerun of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” The only difference was that Donald Trump delivered his lines on the phone from a hotel room in the Windy City instead of on the set of his made-for-TV boardroom.
It was all a scam.
Has anyone noticed that Trump’s campaign now regularly stages media events designed to eclipse any negative coverage that predictably follows Republican debates?
The Feb. 25 debate in Houston where Marco Rubio delivered the campaign’s most withering critique of Trump was followed the next morning with Chris Christie’s headline-grabbing endorsement. That Friday press conference consumed all political coverage throughout the weekend and limited any fallout from the Fox debate to a hardy band of Trump deniers on Twitter.
Then last Thursday, Rubio delivered the debate performance of his life in Miami. But with Florida and Ohio five days away, the Trump campaign took no chances. It leaked the news of Ben Carson’s coming endorsement before the debate even began and held another Friday morning press conference to showcase it. But Carson was just the warm-up act.
When news broke early Friday night that the Chicago rally had been canceled because of safety fears, you didn’t need to be a programming genius to predict what would be jamming America’s airwaves for the rest of the night. And for the next four hours, the candidate who is promising to weaken libel laws spoke on cable news channels about how his First Amendment rights were being violated. He was doing all of this while reaching a far larger audience than he could have ever done while actually speaking at a rally.
As has been the case throughout the entire 2016 cycle, Trump thrives on the political chaos that he helps creates. If it is true that opportunity and chaos are the same word in Mandarin, Trump should stamp that word on a poster and sell it at his next scheduled event. For the Manhattan billionaire, manufactured chaos is just as profitable for his brand as Paris Hilton’s sex tape was for hers.
But now important voices warn us that America is on the brink of chaos despite the fact that Friday’s spectacle in Chicago was more reality show than political revolt.
The rally was canceled, we were told, because law enforcement officials consulted with the campaign and concluded that scrubbing the event was in the best interest of public safety. One problem: The Chicago Police Department said that never actually happened.
And if you find that curious, perhaps you will find it even more interesting that a political campaign whose security has been so stifling as to draw angry comparisons to fascist regimes would plan a key rally for Trump in the middle of a racially diverse urban campus. The fact that this campus sits in the middle of a city that is so Democratic that it has not elected a Republican mayor since before Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as president makes the venue’s selection even more bizarre.
Following the rally’s cancellation, Trump supporters expressed surprise at the number of protesters that were filling the lines and streaming into the event on a campus that is 25 percent Hispanic, 25 percent Asian and 8 percent black. William Daley, son of former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, did not share that surprise. “Whoever picked that location knew what they were doing as far as poking that sleeping dog there,” Daley said, suggesting to the New York Times that the venue was staged for the purpose of provoking protests that would energize Trump’s own supporters.
It would also land Trump on cable news channels throughout the night, talking nonstop over endless loops of skirmishes that paled in comparison with rowdy celebrations that often explode in American cities after sports championships. Yet everyone got sucked into the political sideshow. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s brief appearances on TV during the rolling cable news coverage only made their own candidacies seem smaller under the glare of Donald’s Big Tent Show.
It was all a far cry from the kind of political riots that Americans saw during the 1968 Democratic convention. Those riots flickered across Americans’ television screens while the nation was still absorbing the shock waves of violent convulsions that had ripped across the country during the first half of that horrifying year. The Tet Offensive, launched in January, led to February’s record number of Americans killed in Vietnam, more than 500 in one week alone. In March, Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection after being shocked in New Hampshire’s primary by antiwar crusader Eugene McCarthy. The next month, dozens of cities went up in flames following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Eight weeks later, Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in California after winning that state’s Democratic primary.
As Mayor Daley’s city went under siege on the night of Aug. 28, Americans were more divided politically, racially and culturally than any time since the end of the Civil War a century earlier. Serving as backdrops to the Chicago riots were a bloody war, campus chaos, urban riots, murdered heroes and a 200-year-established order suddenly under siege.
America was at war with itself and for good reason. But Friday night’s farce was a made-for-television event with a handful of Trump supporters squaring off against protesters offended by Trump’s presence on their campus.
Unfortunately for his opponents, most of the protesters who appeared on camera during the night shouted profanities at cameras, intimidated others being interviewed by networks and played directly into the Republican front-runner’s hands. Fox News’s John Roberts kept asking a stream of protesters why they were out in force against Trump, and none could answer the question.
Perhaps they should have just used the New York developer’s own words against him to explain why Friday’s event took an ugly turn, like the time Trump said of a protester at a Las Vegas rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
Or when he declared that “in the good old days,” protesters wouldn’t show up “because they used to treat them very, very rough.”
Or when he told his audience to “Knock the crap out of them, would you?”
There was so much that could have been said but instead those protesting against Trump being interviewed on camera seemed to be about as shallow as the reality-show routine of the man they love to hate. The difference, of course, is that Trump wants to be the next president of the United States. But that will never happen unless the man who is about to lock down the GOP nomination drops his reality-show routine, starts working on uniting his party and gets serious about the daunting task before him.
Mark me down as skeptical.