The illustration depicts what so many of us yearn to have happen when Trump announces today that he is running for president again, and what he fears almost more than anything else. Could we actually make it happen, by a strenuous enough effort of the will? More precisely, are all those voices urging the media to “deprive him of oxygen” right? Can we just cameras off, and make him go away?
This debate has been around in one form or another since long before the Orange Menace oozed onto the scene. Was it really “worth it,” many people wondered, for groups like the Anti-Defamation League to keep drawing attention to every Holocaust-denying crank out there? Didn’t that just give them the spotlight they craved and help them gain more followers? The fear driving such overexposure was based on incontrovertible historical fact: Hitler himself started out as a nothing and a nobody, a crank ranting in Munich beer halls. Suppose the German press had simply ignored him? That would have been difficult after he tried to violently overthrow the government of the German state of Bavaria in 1923 in the “Beer Hall Putsch” and was then sent to a comfortable house arrest for over a year, during which time he wrote Mein Kampf.
Could the American media have smothered Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015 and early 2016 by ignoring him? That also seems doubtful, though it was surely unnecessary for Saturday Night Live to let him “guest host” in November 2015 and for CNN to provide live beginning-to-end coverage of his rallies, which quickly became famous or infamous, depending on how you look at them. As many observers have pointed out, he might never have gained any traction in American politics over the past several years had NBC not given him massive exposure in the first place through “The Apprentice,” in the grotesquely misnamed genre of “reality TV.” That platform let him bamboozle millions of Americans who knew no better into believing he was a wildly successful billionaire businessman and not a blustering, incompetent sleazebag whose only gift was for calling attention to his repulsive self.
But ignoring him now? I am reminded of my parents’ unfortunate advice when I was a little kid to “just ignore” school bullies, based on a similar flawed theory that what they wanted was attention, and if I didn’t “let them get a rise out of me,” they would move on to other targets. That advice didn’t work, and I don’t believe it works for other schoolyard bullies, workplace bullies, or in the wider world. No; you have to confront them, ideally with many others at your side, but if necessary alone. Only when they learn that their intimidation tactics won’t gain them the power and control and adulation they crave, but instead leave them beaten and bleeding and broken on the ground, the target of ridicule themselves, will they give up, and their sidekicks slink away since the fake glamour of their bullshit power has been destroyed. Then we can safely “ignore them.”