The other day, our president-elect tweeted (of course) that flag-burners should go to jail, and the media went ape-shit.
The internet, talk radio, cable news, print news, and opinion writers all had a massive heart attack simultaneously:
From the left is was: Doesn’t he know the Supreme Court has ruled on this? Twice? Doesn’t he know even Scalia said its OK? Hasn’t he read the constitution? Doesn’t he know what free speech is? Does he know the difference between being president and emperor?
From the right is was: Finally a president who understands. Burning the flag is treason! You elitists don’t get it – desecrating the flag is desecrating our military. Most people agree flag burning should be illegal. Crooked Hillary also wanted to outlaw it!
But why was Trump even talking about flag burning at all? True, there had been a demonstration at tiny Hampshire College several weeks earlier, after which a flag had been burned. But that furor had died down and been replaced and replaced again by others. It certainly wasn’t in the actual news when he blasted out his twitter-twaddle.
Some say it was because he was watching a FoxNews piece about it at the time, and, impulsive man-baby that he is, couldn’t stop himself from firing off a stupid tweet. And why not? It would only strengthen his popularity among his supporters, and that has shown to be a winning strategy for him.
But that’s not what happened.
What happened is that Trump was really getting annoyed by the coverage of him that had filled the airwaves over the previous 48 hours. That coverage was actually about something serious (for a change) and was getting some traction. It was all about his conflicts of interest – how he already seemed to be using the office of the presidency to further his various businesses, how we didn’t even know what they all were because of his refusal to release his taxes, how we were in uncharted waters about what he would have to divest or put in blind trusts, and so on.
Ordinarily, Trump is happy as long as his name is all over the front pages, and it really doesn’t matter if the coverage is pro or con – either suits his purposes just fine.
During the campaign, monopolizing the news with his incendiary nonsense ensured that his opponents got no coverage – we weren’t even sure who they all were – and that he never had to address actual issues of government or policy. Whenever talk about him seemed to be ebbing, he’d throw some new gasoline on the fire.
But all the talk of conflict of interest was starting to have an effect, and he had to get us off it. Trump is the Master Distracter. Hence the flag-burning “controversy”.
Of course, all this would easily be countered by a journalistic profession that had some integrity and responsibility and trusted the American people to have an attention span longer than Trump’s. But in the era of 24/7 news for profit, the beast must be fed. Even a serious story has a short life and must be set aside for new meat, serious or silly.
Journalism is dead. Twitter is alive. And Trump knows exactly what to do with these new realities. It’s time to face facts: Donald Trump is actually smarter than the rest of us.