Saturday, September 19, 2015
Journalism is a kabuki.
I've been saying it for years.
What does that mean?
Kabuki is a highly stylized form, a centuries-old type of Japanese theater, with long-established plot lines worn smooth from time, repeated again and again and again, with the same characters going through the same motions.
Journalism too has its tropes, its cherished plots that withstand the test of time, and are performed over and over again by the same actors.
Look at Donald Trump's supposed gaffe in New Hampshire this past week A supporter prefaced his question by saying that Muslims are a problem in this country, and that Barack Obama is neither a Christian nor a citizen.
"Muslims..." he said, his voice dripping with contempt. "We know our current president is one."
Trump did not correct him, and this led the news media to dab on its face paint, don its kimonos, snap open its fans, and begin to go through the motions of the classic tale, The Would-Be Leader Stumbles. Again and again we heard serious reporters ask gravely: Is this the mistake that would finally bring the high flying Trump down to earth? I almost burst out laughing, listening to the NPR panjandrums ponder the possibilities.
What planet are these people living on? Association with that kind of hateful rhetoric won't hurt Trump. Exactly the opposite; it's what put Trump where he is. He's been a birther for years. Heck, his acceptance of the supporter's hallucinogenic bigotry will no doubt make him more popular, as exactly the kind of bold truth teller that right wing GOP wackjobs adore. They'll be rolling at his feet like puppies, while Trump juts out his Mussolini lip and preens like Il Duce.
The man is a demagogue—he only has one message: embrace him, accept his Cult of Personality and he will save us from everything. I almost said he's dangerous. But thank God only a third of the nation are stone crazy right wing haters, and that will be our salvation. And I'll be honest. Say what you will about Trump, I'd prefer him in the White House, hands down, to Ted Cruz, a frightening nightmare image, not from kabuki, but out of science fiction. Every time he opens his mouth and lets another falsetto squeal of moral indignation out, I see his face 60 feet high, mouth moving grotesquely, uttering mendacious slogans, something out of Orwell, projected against the sides of public buildings.
We count on journalism, or what's left of it, to be intelligent. To describe reality, not to try to jam reality into the molds of our expectation so it takes a form we recognize. Trump isn't George W. Bush saying something stupid by mistake, he's Huey Long saying something stupid that he really believes and his followers really believe. Let's focus on that, not a witless rendition of hackneyed story lines that really don't apply to every circumstance. Trump won't be president, not because he'll blurt out something that reveals him as he actually is, but because only 33 percent of the voters in this country passionately lap up the poisoned gruel he's serving.