Columns » Gene Lyons

Bad reality show

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As reality TV programs go, the Trump administration is a badly scripted muddle. How much longer will loyal viewers stick around? Just the other day, the president reached out to the influential Imaginary-American community. He dashed out a tweet thanking one Nicole Mincey, supposedly a conservative black woman enthusiastically posting praise of Trump himself.

Except, uh-oh, the photogenic Mincey appeared not to exist. Pictures of her wearing Trump paraphernalia turned out to be photo-shopped screen-grabs of African-American fashion models. Twitter suspended the @ProTrump45 account after concluding that it was a phony, perhaps originating (where else?) in Russia.

Since then, a real Nicole Mincy (note alternate spelling), has emerged, claiming that she's a victim of identity theft.

Twitter estimates that slightly more than half of Trump's approximately 30 million followers are "bots," i.e. fraudulent accounts, many (again) Russian.

Almost simultaneously, Trump lashed out at his favorite whipping boy, the so-called "mainstream media": "Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTIMES & WAPO, the Trump base is getting stronger!"

Is it even necessary to point out that the president's approval rating in opinion polls has sunk to record lows?

But polls come and go. What's really alarming are Trump's efforts to depict the news media as united in a near-treasonous conspiracy against him and his supporters. Or would be if they weren't so clearly born of desperation.

He repeatedly lashes out at the "failing NY Times," another falsehood.

In fact, while the newspaper business in general has suffered of late, a few big national imprints are doing well. The Times' public relations people counter- tweeted: "That is incorrect. NYT's business is thriving. Most ever paid subs: 3.3 million; and growing profit, income and revenues."

Almost needless to say, it won't be long before Trump sits down with the Times' Maggie Haberman for an unscripted interview. A New Yorker, he craves the establishment's imprimatur.

Posturing before a cheering crowd at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia, however, the president took it to the next level. He called independent counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election a "witch hunt" and a "total fabrication." He accused Democrats of seeking "an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics."

Then he went there: "They can't beat us at the voting booths," Trump charged, "so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They're trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us, and most importantly, demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution."

The good news, I think, is that Trump hasn't got the courage of his fabrications. Nor have his most enthusiastic supporters. That West Virginia audience was basically a pro-wrestling crowd, easily titillated and vastly entertained by the president's antics.

There's a big opening here for that very funny wrestler working the Appalachian small-town circuit who styles himself "The Progressive Liberal" — the guy with photos of Hillary Clinton on his shirt. "I understand now why you all identify with country music," Dan Richards tells audiences. "It's slow and it's simple and it's boring, just like each and every one of you."

If only the dude had wrestling moves commensurate with his wit.

But I digress. As shocking as it may have been to hear accusations of treason out of the president's mouth, along with calls to have his 2016 Democratic rival jailed ("Lock her up!"), Vladimir Putin he ain't.

"I can call spirits from the vasty deep," boasts Owen Glendower in Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I.

"Why, so can I, or so can any man," Hotspur responds. "But will they come when you do call for them?"

In Trump's case, no. This president hasn't got the self-discipline to lead a coup, and the great majority of his followers are far too comfortable watching the televised spectacle in their recliner chairs to take to the streets. Only a steadily shrinking minority believes the president's "witch hunt" rhetoric, and not very strongly. As I say, it's poorly scripted melodrama.

As for the dreaded "mainstream media," it's tempting to observe that as the cable news networks — CNN and MSNBC particularly — made Trump, it's only fitting that they play a role in unmaking him. Some with long memories can even remember Chris Matthews audibly panting on "Hardball" as Gennifer Flowers told him about the Clintons' many imaginary murders.

The New York Times played then-FBI Director James Comey's ill-advised letter temporarily reopening the Hillary Clinton email probe last November like the landfall of Superstorm Sandy.

Basically, they all did.

Meanwhile, under the pressure of Trump's shameless, incessant lying, his trademark Fake News slogan has turned itself inside out. What once signified "make-believe" has basically come to mean, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

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