Why in the world are major television networks giving a free primetime slot to President Trump on Tuesday evening? When Barack Obama asked for a similar arrangement in order to address the subject of immigration in November 2014, NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox all refused on the grounds that his remarks would be “political,” as if politics were some kind of outré hobby that could be not be indulged in a commander-in-chief.
Not so with Trump. Why? In a word, because they know people will watch it. Because Trump is good for ratings, good for digital subscriptions, good for analytics and “engagement” and the thousand other absurd tools by which we measure the degree to which our attention spans are being shortened. Trump is popular. Trump sells.
No one understands this better than Trump himself, which is why he knew he would get exactly what he wanted from the network suits. He even went out of his way to pick the day after the college football national championship — even this winner knows better than to get in the middle of a contest between two of the winningest winners these days.
What’s more, Trump understood intuitively that the television executives had no choice. If the networks accede to his demands, he wins because he gets to prattle on about steel and glass and being “see-through” and the ontological difference between walls and fences, between corrals, palisades, enclosures, paddocks, pounds, espaliers, moats, dikes, ditches, barriers, barricades, circumvallations, dingles, doors, and hatches. If they don’t, they are “fake news” and “the Enemy of the People” and perhaps some new made-to-order epithet.
Only one thing can come out of Tuesday night: increased support for Trump’s wall. People who oppose it made up their minds long ago. Ditto Trumpist diehards, who insist that its imminent construction is the only thing standing between them and a horde of 700,000 plague-ridden ISIS terrorists, half of them pregnant. But between these two are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of moderate Trump-supporting Americans freshly returned from their Christmas vacations — or from working the New Year’s Day shift at a convenience store — who have not been paying attention to the news. They have some vague idea that the government is shut down, but because they are not federal employees or contractors they are not palpably affected by it. The president will speak to them in his best parody of measured concern and explain that Democrats are pointlessly obstructing the will of the people and hurting decent hard-working government workers in the process, all in the name of undermining national security at the behest of their globalist paymasters. It will be a carnival of nonsense with an audience of millions. It will change hearts and minds. It will be endlessly fact-checked and denounced and fretted over — all irrelevantly.
If the press really believed all of its gas about principles and honesty and democracy dying in the darkness, they would beg the suits to proceed with their previously scheduled lineup of NCIS: Anchorage and The Real Housewives of Fond du Lac. They would quietly invent an excuse for not giving the president free airtime, perhaps the same one they used with Obama about “politics.” If Trump responded by calling them traitors or terrorists or making jokes about their appearance, they would ignore him. Instead they will let him speak about his tinker-toy fantasies for 20 minutes. This relationship is symbiotic. It is also pathetic.