“You wonder how these things begin.”
— The Fantasticks
In the beginning there was a combative media. Dating back to Colonial America, as Eric Burns has chronicled in his book, “Infamous Scribblers,” politicians and journalists have mostly had a love (for Democrats)-hate (for Republicans) relationship. It is television and the advent of the celebrity culture — from “TMZ” to “Entertainment Tonight,” to now even broadcast news — that has taken the process to new depths.
The first televised presidential debate in 1960 between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon began the shift from substance to the superficial. As numerous journalism students have been taught, people who listened on the radio thought Nixon had won on substance, but those who viewed the debate on TV decided Kennedy was the winner because he looked better than the perspiring, uncomfortable, five o’clock shadow Nixon.
There was a celebrity hiatus when Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater competed in 1964, because neither was telegenic and the Vietnam War topped all concerns. In 1980, Ronald Reagan solidified the necessity of looking good on TV against a mousy Jimmy Carter.
By 1992, when Bill Clinton ran against President George H.W. Bush, the celebrity culture had morphed from prominence to dominance. Clinton played saxophone on a late-night talk show.
In 2008, came the man with something for everyone. He was hip, he was cool, he was made for TV, he was African-American, and he had a multicultural name. For the left, Barack Obama had it all. And the media followed him around like a loyal pet, waiting for him to toss them treats.
Hope and change was all they needed to hear. The fundamental transformation of America sounded good, but lacked specifics. Few seemed to care, including journalists who should have.
What we used to refer to as “morals” have also been transformed in our celebrity culture into the meaningless word “tolerance.” Truth has been sacrificed on the altar of tolerance. Everyone is now free to believe anything and everything, as long as it makes them feel good about themselves. Who are we to judge what used to be called “sin”? Character matters very little, as long as I get mine.
There was a time when a divorced man would not think of running for president, much less believe voters would support him. Yes, there were presidents, including Kennedy and Johnson, who had extramarital affairs, but the press mostly ignored or covered up for them. And then in 1992 a known philanderer was elected president. He would have sex with an intern and ultimately be impeached. No matter, his approval rating remained high until recently.
Which brings us to 2016 and Donald Trump. If Ronald Reagan was the “Teflon president,” Donald Trump is the man of steel. Is there a substance equal to kryptonite that could bring Trump down? If there is, it has yet to be found. Trump’s language, lifestyle, morals, religious vacuum and viciousness against people he doesn’t like — along with numerous other character flaws — might very well lead to an expansion of the Seven Deadly Sins.
That his rabid followers — especially and curiously evangelical Christians — continue to kiss his feet says more about them than about him.
Electing a celebrity/businessman president would be the final verdict on what the scripture Trump claims to love, but apparently doesn’t read, calls a “wicked and adulterous generation.”
If, as the cliche says, we get the leadership we deserve, the fault lies within us, not him.
Trump is right about one thing. The public is sick of traditional politicians who make promises but don’t deliver, while driving up the debt and lining their pockets. But whose fault is that? Ultimately it’s the voters’ fault, because they are the ones who put them in office, demanding more from government than it can, or should, deliver and demanding too little of themselves.
Welcome to the United States of Trump.
Readers may email Cal Thomas at email@example.com.