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OP-ED: Out of the White House, not the news

  • Published at 02:26 am January 18th, 2021
He will always have an audience REUTERS

Trump’s shadow will continue to loom over the news cycle for the foreseeable future

For someone who despises the media and does not make any effort to hide it, President Donald Trump is always in the news. The news is mostly not favourable but a saying goes: There is nothing called negative publicity. If that aphorism is to be accepted then Trump has been more successful than most other US presidents in staying in the news even after losing the election.

Call him deranged or a malignant narcissist, the truth remains -- even when his presidency is over, there is relentless discussion about him.

There was even a demand that his right to press the nuclear button should be revoked lest he decides to use the nuke. Just imagine the amount of fear he has generated. Take Trump’s finger off the trigger!

There are, of course, two ways of looking at this. One paints him as the worst US president ever, and the other is the perspective of a journalist who sees the era of Trump, his ravings and highly unpredictable actions a lesson as to the presence of radicals within a system which, for too long, presented itself as democratic apparatus with minimal flaws. 

The Trump regime’s greatest lesson for us is that even the US democratic system has become tainted by insular views.

Trump will be out in a week; a new US administration will take over and while their first task will be to salvage America’s image as a promoter of tolerance and freedom, the shadow of Trump will still be looming overhead because there are millions who voted for him and then took to the streets to vociferously denounce the election results. It was more like a scene from a developing country where voting results have always been an issue of contention. 

Then there was the storming of the Capitol building, the desecration of a revered institution, plus the ransacking of offices. 

These people will carry on harbouring such extreme views and preposterous conspiracy theories, including the one which continues to propagate that a Satan-worshipping pedophile cult is in operation among the Democrats.

I am sure a film on this line is being mulled. 

Trump’s victory and the development of a very rabid support base which has consistently flaunted xenophobic sentiments have given the world a picture of an America which is highly intolerant and illiberal.

Just because Trump has lost does not mean that the supporters will begin to dilute their rigid beliefs.

Sometimes one wonders if Trump provokes the media in order to remain in the news and trigger debate. Out of the White House does not mean he will change his stance. In fact, we should not be surprised if he goes on to publish a book on how the vote was lost due to an elaborate conspiracy where the media worked against him.

Whether we look forward to that book or not, it’s certain that once it comes out, Trump will once again be the topic of discussion. 

Trump may have appeared very truculent and often brash during his presidency, but one must say that he never hid under pseudo benevolence. He did exactly what he desired, said what he wanted, resorting to pugnacity rather than politeness. 

Someone once told me that he acted just like a top businessman: Ruthless, driven, and never backing down from firmly held beliefs.

That approach may work in a business empire where the boss can act like an autocrat, but not in running a country.

In almost all countries the media is a thorn in the government’s side and tries to find out aberrations, abuse of power, and irregularities. However, there are moments when the media is also praised by the power in place for their role.

In the US, there is a tradition of holding White House media dinners where both sides have been seen to set aside their differences for some good, old-fashioned jokes and raillery. 

I cannot recall any incident when Trump was seen to share light moments with the media or use language to appreciate the role of journalists in unmasking social/political maladies. 

Despite his loathing of the media, Trump is news because often what he does stuns everyone. That is the best way to stay in the news.

The decision to boycott the swearing in of Biden is another such move and a break in tradition. Naturally, by declaring so, Trump is hogging the headlines. 

Now, on the day of the program, if he suddenly changes his mind, adopts a conciliatory tone and then appears at the event, it will be more big news.

For the period Donald Trump was in office, the system which was in place for centuries was turned upside down. 

On several occasions, he acted on impulse, hired and fired on whim, used divisive rhetoric without compunction, and appeared brash during foreign visits. 

There were allegations of sexual misconduct against him, and complaints that he tried to influence the leader of another country to denounce opponents at home. 

In short, the Trump era has been a tumult. But he knows how to be in the news, and I won’t be surprised if he still carries on getting headlines in the year ahead. Ludicrous as they may sound, the conspiracy theories do add spice to these dreary times of the pandemic. 

To end with a quote from Shakespeare: “True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings; Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.”

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.