I have a confession to make: I’m a reality TV junkie. I know how this game works. Work the tabloids to grab those headlines, and put on a show to razzle-dazzle the media and drive your own narrative.
As an expert on dominating the tabloids and working the reality TV circuit, President Donald Trump is using the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy to do exactly this. Just how hard are the national media outlets falling for it?
From zero tolerance to (hopes for) zero attention
During the spring, the Trump administration doubled down on its hard-line, anti-immigrant agenda with an even more aggressive “zero tolerance” campaign of prosecutions and deportations, including the deliberate separation of immigrant families and prolonged incarceration of immigrants in deplorable conditions. The White House hoped that this would excite the Republican base and hurt Democrats in the polls, but this self-induced scandal has instead galvanized resistance to Trump’s agenda and failed to reverse Republicans’ political woes in this midterm election year.
Though the Supreme Court will likely continue to play a major role in shaping the enforcement of immigration law, Trump’s very showman-like process for choosing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s high court replacement feels more like a thinly veiled effort to distract from his self-induced immigration scandals. Thus far it seems to be working in terms of redirecting national media attention to SCOTUS speculation, and away from reports of children forced to defend themselves in court, ICE threatening a journalist who’s been covering their attacks on immigrant communities, and other damaging stories.
What else is happening, and why doesn’t Trump want you to see these headlines?
So what might the other damaging stories be? Keeping on the global front, there’s also the matter of Trump’s trade policy. He’s long promised to “make America great again” by bringing back jobs and industries that had faded away due to globalization. But as he’s pushed to make tariffs happen again, communities that have come to depend on exports, whether they be soybeans, cheese, or motorcycles, are increasingly worried that Trump’s belligerence and other countries’ retaliatory actions will ultimately result in fewer jobs and less business. And with Nevada increasingly dependent upon international tourists to keep Las Vegas buzzing, Trump’s trade war may yet prove disastrous here.
Speaking of disasters, there’s still the whole matter of North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Despite all the pizazz of Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the North Korean regime recently slapped down the White House’s claims that they’re making progress in their denuclearization talks. This was supposed to be Trump’s great diplomatic achievement. Instead, it’s become yet another of his blustery blunders.
And of course, there’s still Trump-Russia. With self-proclaimed “fixer” Michael Cohen apparently disputing Trump’s claims that his campaign never colluded with the Russian government, claims that Cohen himself parroted until he decided to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the White House is again worrying over who might flip or fall next. Despite U.S. intelligence agencies confirming that Russia indeed meddled in our 2016 election, Trump continues to parrot Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims that he never did any such thing. And on top of that, Trump continues to pursue his bromance with Putin… Even if it means further deterioration of our relationship with NATO allies.
Why is Trump reducing the high court to such a low speactacle?
And that’s not even the end of the list of damaging stories. Trump continues to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and raise Americans’ health care costs in his ongoing effort to undo President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. One of Trump’s most prominent allies in Congress, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), is now embroiled in his own scandal over what he knew and what he did (not do) while coaching Ohio State University wrestlers who were being sexually abused by the team doctor. Jordan had been campaigning to become House Republicans’ new leader in the wake of Speaker Paul Ryan‘s (R-Wisconsin) retirement, and for the time being Trump continues to defend Jordan and attack the #MeToo movement instead (which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Trump’s own history of sexual misconduct).
Amidst this incredibly scandalicious backdrop, Trump is directing us all to focus on his SCOTUS spectacle. There’s a method to his madness: It’s a time-honored tradition of reality TV regulars and tabloid titans to get our attention and focus it where they want it. That’s what Trump is doing (again), and far too many in the national media seem to be falling for it.
Don’t get me wrong, the Supreme Court is incredibly important. But by reducing the filling of Kennedy’s soon-to-be vacant seat to a glitzy reality show competition, it’s becoming clear that he’s using this SCOTUS showdown to distract the media and the public from everything else that’s going down at the White House. And from what we see above, there’s a whole lot going down that we need to pay more attention to.