Fear, Anxiety & Blame
Would it be fair to say that some members of the media might doubt President Trump’s understanding of today’s issues? Is it possible that their skepticism might have pushed them into the camp of the so-called “Never Trumpers?” Might they be dedicated to preventing Donald Trump from winning another four-year term?
It would seem so. If you fell into that camp, what would you do to achieve that outcome?
Pretend for a moment that you are one of those “Never Trumper Journalists.” Your task is to craft a media strategy to oppose Donald Trump and to prevent his second term. If you were a journalist, how would you approach that challenge?
Not an easy assignment. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the president had enjoyed a series of notable successes. On the heels of tax cuts and a roll back of burdensome regulations, companies began expanding and hiring new workers. The economy picked up and we saw record low unemployment. Inflation remained in check and Americans generally felt good about their prospects.
To be sure, President Trump often stumbled and did not seem “presidential.” But those flaws might just have stimulated more support for him. He certainly was not your typical politician. No, not even close. He came to Washington and kicked the table over. It was no longer “business as usual.” Many Americans applauded because they were fed up with the Washington establishment. The relentless pursuit of party politics at the expense of national interests had turned off many voters. Trump to the rescue! (See my essay “Priorities”)
Given Trump’s successes (whether deserved or not), what would you do? Fear might be your best weapon and the Covid-19 pandemic might just have given you a golden opportunity to use that weapon. Mix in a healthy (pun intended) dose of Anxiety & Blame, and you might just turn the tide.
It goes like this: Fear (everybody is going to get infected and die); Anxiety (there is no way to avoid the virus); and Blame (Trump mismanaged the crisis).
And, lo and behold, that is exactly what has happened.
Fear #1: Early Coronavirus projections were devastating. On the 16th of March, the Imperial College in London predicted that 81% of Americans would become infected and as many as 2.2 million would die. CNN, MSNBC, PBS all ran with it.
Fear #2: Nancy Pelosi was more direct. During CNN’s Sunday talk show, “State of the Union (March 29th), she asserted that Donald Trump’s mismanagement had cost American lives. “The president’s denial at the beginning was deadly. His delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly….As the president fiddles, people are dying.”
Anxiety: In the month of May, national anxiety became the dominant focus. CNN ran nine separate segments highlighting how anxiety was gripping the country. Repeat the narrative often enough and even normal citizens would begin to feel that they ought to be anxious.
And then there was the Blame. On March 7th, Politico ran a piece under the banner, “Trump’s Mismanagement Helped Fuel Coronavirus Crisis. Not to be outdone, the New York Times (April 11th) headlined, “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.”
And, of course, the other news outlets dutifully repeated that storyline.
Mission accomplished. You, as the quintessential “Never Trumper Journalist,” are to be congratulated. Your strategy of Fear, Anxiety & Blame has worked to perfection. Joe Biden wins in a landslide. Donald Trump is denied his cherished second term.
(Whoops, that sounds an awful lot like Hillary in 2016. Maybe we ought to wait until after the election.)