That reality television flop Sarah Palin was endorsing reality television star Donald Trump for the office of president of the United States has been known since late August, when Mint Press covered it. The Mint Press story said that in return Trump might give Palin a cabinet-level position in his administration. Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of Mint Press stories are ignored by the rest of the news media. In this case, the story never mentioned a specific endorsement speech.
At the time I wrote, “The news is pure hot air—the insubstantial stuff of which the celebrity news is constituted. Everyone knows that there is no way Trump will get nominated by the Republicans, and if he runs as an independent, there is no way he will win the election.”
Fast forward to two weeks before the Iowa caucus and half of what I predicted may turn out to be false. We may very well see the Republican Party nominate Donald Trump as its presidential candidate.
Nothing has changed about the incompetent Palin. She has managed to become a has-been in three professions—politics, reality TV and news-casting. Palin disappeared from the political radar, I think, because her ignorant opinions and frequent misstatements scare off all but the small base of rightwing Christian fundamentalists who were always her primary audience. For that base to matter to Trump or any other candidate, there would have had to have been a larger audience for Mamma Grizzly’s reality show. As it turns out though, Palin’s name matters a little bit in Iowa. Her second attempt at endorsing Trump comes the same day that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad asked Iowa caucus-goers to vote for anyone but Ted Cruz. The push-and-pull of Palin and Branstad so soon before the caucus may help Trump defeat Cruz, which would mark the beginning of the end of the Canadian’s candidacy.
The announcement itself was pure Barnum & Bailey. Someone living off a long-tarnished reputation endorsed someone known to the American people primarily as a business celebrity. This was the perfect Kodak moment for the 2016 campaign, which represents the apotheosis of American celebrity culture. Since the 1960 election of John Kennedy with fewer than 50% of the vote, the news media have gradually taken the focus of their election coverage away from issues and placed it on the same concerns that dominate celebrity news: Gotcha’s and mistakes. Personality clashes. What others think. Family life. Hobbies. Speaking style. Charisma. Skeletons in the closet. Long-time grievances and jealousies. Insulting other candidates. The latest popularity contest. The race for money.
In every election, ever more time and space is devoted to “celebrity issues” and ever less time to economic, social, international and environmental issues. Moreover, since the turn of century, at the same time the media has been celebritizing our news, reality TV in all of its formats has grown to dominate broadcast and cable television.
Today’s announcement thus marks the final stage in the blurring of political news and celebrity entertainment. It is an announcement that resonates as loudly in the world of reality TV as it does in the world of politics.
Virtually every cable news show made the Palin-loves-Trump announcement the focal point of news coverage for the day. An army of pundits and experts appeared, each spinning the announcement to support his or her own opinion or speculation on where Iowa and New Hampshire voters, the Republican Party and the country are headed and why. Lots of hot air with very little content. Imagine an “American Idol” in which the judging took 50 times longer than the singing, and instead of three judges, there are 60 or 70.
Treating the nominating process as if it were a reality show distracts the American public from considering carefully what the candidates say they will do. It keeps us from realizing how bad the Republican program is for anyone who isn’t rich and privileged, because we’re too busy analyzing the gotcha’s and trying to figure out if the non-Trumpeteers will coalesce behind Cruz, Rubio or someone else. In the process, each candidate becomes redefined as a celebrity brand that we can describe in a few sentences, as opposed to the pages it would take to describe their positions on important issues.