If you feel that all we hear about these days is Donald Trump, you are right. Due to a combination of factors including his breaks with conventional norms and his own use of social media, Donald Trump is dominating the news more than is usual for a newly-elected president. His impact on the media extends beyond the conventional news. Farhad Manjoo even found a way to measure this:
Consider data from mediaQuant, a firm that measures “earned media,” which is all coverage that isn’t paid advertising. To calculate a dollar value of earned media, it first counts every mention of a particular brand or personality in just about any outlet, from blogs to Twitter to the evening news to The New York Times. Then it estimates how much the mentions would cost if someone were to pay for them as advertising.
In January, Mr. Trump broke mediaQuant’s records. In a single month, he received $817 million in coverage, higher than any single person has ever received in the four years that mediaQuant has been analyzing the media, according to Paul Senatori, the company’s chief analytics officer. For much of the past four years, Mr. Obama’s monthly earned media value hovered around $200 million to $500 million. The highest that Hillary Clinton got during the presidential campaign was $430 million, in July.
It’s not just that Mr. Trump’s coverage beats anyone else’s. He is now beating pretty much everyone else put together. Mr. Senatori recently added up the coverage value of 1,000 of the world’s best known figures, excluding Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. The list includes Mrs. Clinton, who in January got $200 million in coverage, Tom Brady ($38 million), Kim Kardashian ($36 million), and Vladimir V. Putin ($30 million), all the way down to the 1,000th most-mentioned celebrity in mediaQuant’s database, the actress Madeleine Stowe ($1,001).
The coverage those 1,000 people garnered last month totaled $721 million. In other words, Mr. Trump gets about $100 million more in coverage than the next 1,000 famous people put together. And he is on track to match or beat his January record in February, according to Mr. Senatori’s preliminary figures.
This includes Trump dominating conversation beyond the news. He is everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. He comes up elsewhere:
It wasn’t just news. Mr. Trump’s presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of “The Bachelor” and even “The Big Bang Theory,” whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? TrumpTrumpTrump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president’s policies are an animating force in the N.B.A. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.
It is impossible to ignore Trump. His impact has been seen in many areas already, but probably the most on immigration. This excites the haters on the right, and is met with appalled criticism from others. The New York Times is not exaggerating in writing, Mr. Trump’s ‘Deportation Force’ Prepares an Assault on American Values.
Probably the most fearful narrative about Donald Trump is that he is an authoritarian, in Putin’s mold. There has been increased attention paid to George Orwell’s 1984 and other books about authoritarianism. Jonathan Chait has looked at these fears:
The prospect that President Trump will degrade or destroy American democracy is the most important question of the new political era. It has received important scholarly attention from two basic sources, which have approached it in importantly different fashions. Scholars of authoritarian regimes (principally Russia) have used their knowledge of authoritarian history to paint a road map by which Trump could Putinize this country. Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and other students of Putin’s methods have essentially treated Putinization as the likely future, and worked backward to the present. A second category of knowledge has come from scholars of democracy and authoritarianism, who have compared the strengths and weaknesses of the American system of government both to countries elsewhere that have succumbed to authoritarianism and those that have not. Their approach has, more appropriately, treated Trump’s authoritarian designs as an open question. Trump might launch an assault on the foundations of the republic. On the other hand, he might not.
What are the signs of impending authoritarianism? Trump has rhetorically hyped violence, real or imaginary, committed by enemy groups, while downplaying or ignoring violence or threats from friendlier sources. He said nothing about a white-supremacist terror attack in Canada that killed six people before denouncing a knife attack a few days later by an Islamist radical in France that killed nobody. He quickly directed a government program on countering violent extremism to focus exclusively on Muslim radicalism and stop work halting white-supremacist terrorism. Just as he urged his campaign crowds to rough up protesters, he treated news that pro-Trump bikers would patrol his inauguration not as a threat to create chaos but as a welcome paramilitary force. “That’s like additional security with those guys, and they’re rough,” he gleefully told reporters. Trump’s rhetoric follows a pattern of politicizing violence, simultaneously justifying stringent government action against enemies he has designated while tacitly justifying vigilantism by extremists sympathetic to his cause.
Since his election, Trump has obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate of the will of the people. According to his own concocted history, he won a historically large Electoral College victory, and would have also won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal votes. He has dismissed protesters against him as paid agents, denied the legitimacy of courts to overrule his actions, and, most recently, called mainstream media “enemies of the people.” This is an especially chilling phrase to hear from an American president. Totalitarian dictators like Stalin and Mao used designation of a political figure or a social class as an “enemy of the people” as a prelude to mass murder.
Fortunately, while Trump has done many undesirable things, the talk of the loss of American democracy remains only talk. Checks and balances on the presidency still work. We are seeing the start of a strong anti-Trump protest movement. While far too many liberals were willing to ignore Hillary Clinton’s extremist positions on American interventionism, with many even defending her positions on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and ignore her views on restricting civil liberties which are nearly as far right as those of Donald Trump, the left (and others) are already forming a resistance against Trump. Chait notes that, at least for now, the resistance has the upper hand:
It is worth noting that, so far, normal political countermobilization seems to be working quite well. “The Resistance,” as anti-Trump activists have come to be known, has already rattled the once-complacent Republican majorities in Congress, which Trump needs to quash investigations of his corruption and opaque ties to Russia. Whatever pressure Trump has tried to apply to the news media has backfired spectacularly. His sneering contempt has inspired a wave of subscriptions that have driven new revenue to national media, which have blanketed the administration with independent coverage. Popular culture outlets, rather than responding to Trump’s election by tempering their mockery, have instead stepped it up, enraging the president.
The most plausible (to me) mechanism by which Trump might ensconce himself in power was laid out by Matthew Yglesias three months ago. The scenario Yglesias described would be one in which Trump used the authority of the federal government to compel large firms to give him political support. Companies that opposed him, or who even refused to offer support, might be punished with selectively punitive regulation, while those that played ball might be rewarded with lax enforcement of labor, antitrust, or other regulation.
So far there is no evidence such a scenario is playing out. To be sure, Trump is attempting, sporadically, to bully the private sector. But the effort has backfired. Firms whose leaders make favorable statements about the president have seen their stock get hammered. A long list of prominent CEOs has openly criticized Trump. The reason for this is obvious. Trump’s supporters may have disproportionate power in the Electoral College, but his opponents have disproportionate power in the marketplace. Firms cater in their advertising to the young, who overwhelming oppose Trump, rather than to the old, who strongly support him.
If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.