In the November 9, 2016, “President-Elect Trump” issue of TIME Magazine, Joe “Primary Colors” Klein claims that “the American political establishment has been toppled. As a long time member of the clan, I am writing from beneath the rubble. The view from here is rather limited.” Yet, I remain skeptical of his claim that “the entire political-consult industrial complex has collapsed. Money raised and spent on advertising meant nothing.”
Although this was true when considering the main story of the election the case of HRC and Trump, it doesn’t mean that money spent on advertising meant nothing on the less hyped elections that allowed for the Republicans to retain control of both houses of congress, as well as the vast majority of state governers and legislatures (with the power to gerrymander districts, deny voting rights and ensure that the electoral college is not abolished). By claiming that “advertising meant nothing,” Klein is, in effect saying that the fears that Citizens United (that allows unlimited corporate spending on political advertising) would radically transform, and render less democratic, American politics have been disproven by this election. Citizens United isn’t really worth worrying about, and had little to do with what gave us Trump….
Yet, since the advertising industry has benefited with increased revenue as a result of Citizen’s United, I’d be very surprised if Trump’s victory in and of itself will reverse that trend. I think Klein is being somewhat of a catastrophist there (after all, Joe, if things were this bad, TIME wouldn’t be using the money it gets from Big Pharma to pay you for your opinion). Obviously, he’s licking his (collective?) wounds. On the other hand, those who wish to repeal Citizens United and the political advertising media industrial complex should not, however, be appeased. The media was good to Trump—insofar as he knew that no publicity is bad publicity-- because it knew it could make more money off him (and sell ads to its other advertisers) than it could from the standard deal it usually made with politicians, parties and other interest groups: Pay To Play; coverage for advertising, etc.
TIME commentator David Von Drehle compares him to the way Facebook “cut out the middleman” while Zeke Miller claims “Trump presented himself as a destructive app; his campaign staff compared him to Uber.” Trump used social media to Trump TV. Trump was, in fact, one of the best advertisers, for social media (an unacknowledged spokesman for Twitter).
From Klein’s perspective, “the greatest danger of [Trump’s] victory is that it will spawn a whole generation of candidates, in both parties, who believe that being obnoxious is the path to power,”who will use the tools and weapons Trump honed as a celebrity millionaire to become what the media deems charismatic, or newsworthy enough to be able to bypass the advertising-based political establishment in which Klein could thrive. And even Klein acknowledges that he created a climate in which “it became permissible for a certain sector or people---white people without college educations—to say and think a lot less savory things too. Trump empowered a brutal ignorance, especially toward Latinos and Muslims and the world outside our borders.”
But though the corporate media banked on Trump, it was smart enough to hedge its bets. While it’s likely it will continue to cultivate characters as “obnoxious” or “charismatic” as Trump, it will also continue to court those advertising dollars, and vigorously fight against any media regulation that would, for instance, mandate that stations fulfill their license in the public trust by mandating as much coverage of the local races as it devotes to the more lucrative and “glamourous” national ones. Since under the current system, many voters get much of their “information” through advertisements, this regulation would render political advertising not only illegal but also superfluous.
Joe Klein, of course, does not bring this third option up as within the realm of possibility (Hell, it’s hardly even ever brought up on Democracy Now, which prides itself on its coverage of third-party candidates like Jill Stein). Perhaps it sounds too much like the Fairness Doctrine in going against the country’s dominant secular and commercial religion of advertising. But it’s not just an either/or choice between the allegedly toppled political establishment, and the race-baiting obnoxious celebrity. And if we collectively refuse to support any candidate (or ballot initiative) that spends money on political advertising, we may be able to truly topple, or at least trump, the political establishment more than this election was able to.
And I appeal to any of those (like, say, Rod Smith) seriously considering running for office on a grass-roots level, whether democrat, republican, or so-called independent---to make the refusal to buy advertising a selling point. Don’t pull a move on.org sending out pleas, “She’s winning despite being outspent. Donate, please!” But consider the possibility, “she’s winning because she’s being outspent.”
And, regardless of what one thinks about Trump’s agenda, he was successful at breaking down the traditional political dichotomy between “serious message” and “rowdy party” and one doesn’t have to be a “law and order,” white male supremacist candidate to so this as effectively as he did, at least on a local level. And while Klein laments that Trump’s campaign has shown that “even truth, sadly, has shown to be irrelevant,” we can make truth relevant again with a good soundtrack.
Bernie couldn’t do this (maybe had he played the late Sharon Jones’ version of “This Land Is Your Land” instead of trying to sing it himself), but imagine a local city council candidate, who can still bombard social media with a series of ostensibly apolitical tweets designed to unify as much as Trump’s were designed to divide.
Imagine a slate of city council candidates who for the last two years have been involved with this Oakland podcast/ radio show, who plays local hip hop, who plays local “indie rock” or whatever they call it now, who plays local contemporary country, and holds dance party contests for campaign theme songs that stir local pride, and can even create jobs, all on a shoestring budget. In a city with 60% renters that is being destroyed by gentrification, these candidates will run on an affordable housing agenda, for instance. I’d donate money for that, or, better, try to provide people power—bring this person to my class at Laney College (though I can’t “endorse” him), or get some musicians together and stimulate the economy by recording at the Creamery and/or another local studio….
There are many possibilities to create a populist grassroots movement that does away with the “business of usual” of “respectability politics” (i.e. it’s okay to support racist policies, just don’t sound racist), even if Klein fears that the defeated Democrats will go more socialist which he calls “a philosophy at odds with the American spirit.” Is it really, Joe? Given your erroneous prediction about this last election, it’s quite frankly a little hard to take your assertion seriously that “America’s only possible is…globalist.” Yes, Trump will have to adjust to an increasingly multi-cultural America, but certainly the anti-globalist Trump supporters, as well as the millions of anti-globalist Bernie Sanders supporters who didn’t vote for Trump, together, suggest another possibility if they can somehow find a way to unite, despite the media and the political establishment which, alas, has not been toppled, even in this presidential electoral defeat. Citizens United did play a large role in this election, but primarily on the congressional, state and local levels. I don’t want to go so far as to say the election of Trump is a false flag, only that we have a lot of work to do if we wish to make his claim that “money spent on advertising meant nothing” a reality.
 If you’re a white male, that is, for as Charlotte Alter (42) reminds us, a white man can get away with such “obnoxiousness” while a white woman, or a half-black man in Obama’s case, has to be ‘squeaky clean.’ Certainly Obama couldn’t have won had he spoke about grabbing pussies, for instance.