Lessons from Nixonland

Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred.

Between US Presidents 37 and 45, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, the links of language and temperament are getting uncannily close—their political predicaments, too. Even beyond the Saturday Night Massacre parallels and the rising calls for impeachment, there are other points of comparisons.

Both Trump and Nixon, for instance, refer to their stalwart base using the same title: the silent majority. Both presidents also share a certain adversarial view of the political press. Trump has called the media his opposition.  Nixon made them his enemies.  For the benefit of Henry Kissinger and others on his staff, Nixon—inadvertently taping himself—turned his sentiments into a sort of prose poem:

The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The establishment is the enemy
The professors are the enemy
The professors are the enemy
Write that on a blackboard 100 times
And never forget it….
To understand how and why the ambient fears of the Nixon presidential years are now resurfacing in the Trump White House, we talk to the man who might be the missing link: Patrick J. Buchanan. Buchanan is one man who’s not just looking at a movie he’s seen before. He was, after all, a major player in the prequel: writing some of Richard Nixon’s most famous fighting lines. You could say he anticipated the movie playing now in his own right-wing populist “America First” presidential campaigns in the 90s and then 2000—first as a Republican, then as an independent.
John Aloysius Farrell, the esteemed biographer of Tip O’Neill in the Congress, and Clarence Darrow in the courtroom, joins us. He’s spiced up the Nixon legend in a big one-volume life full of fresh letters and tapes and lines we’d almost forgottento David Frost, famously, when he spelled out the ultimate executive privilege: “When the president does it,” Nixon said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Beverly Gage—historian at Yale working on a new biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding G-man of the FBI—discusses another set of parallels: from Nixon-Hoover to Trump-Comey. She tells a broader story about the culture of an institution that has always chafed against the presidential leash. Glenn Greenwald—co-founder of The Intercept and one of the main journalists who broke the Snowden story—draws out the parallels between Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers and today’s Wikileakers, including Snowden and recently released Chelsea Manning. We’re asking Glenn, of the latest flurry of Trump scandals: “Do you ever feel like we’re in a game of distraction—to keep our eyes off the ball?”
While he may not have admitted to being a crook, President Richard Nixon would have certainly admitted to being a cinephile.  During his abbreviated time in office, he viewed an astonishing 528 films.  In this short essay film, Boston Globe film critic Mary Feeney explores Richard Nixon’s devoted relationship to the movies.

Guest List
Pat Buchanan
Author, former speech-writer for President Nixon, and former conservative presidential candidate.
Glenn Greenwald
Investigative reporter, pundit, and co-founder of The Intercept.
John A. Farrell
Commentator and author of Richard Nixon: The Life.
Beverly Gage
Historian of U.S. history at Yale and author of The Day Wall Street Exploded, currently working on a biography of J. Edgar Hoover.

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  • Disappointed

    I’m sorry but I can’t take this level of respect and normalization of someone who is a shameless liar and is completely incompetent. Chris, I’ve been a fan of yours for decades, but I feel like you are trying so hard to dignify the people who voted for Trump that you’ve lost site of the truth about this man. This to me is irresponsible journalism.

    • essence

      I completely agree with this. I respect Chris’s respect for all sides, but I can’t respect or dignify those who support an administration that literally does not care if cops kill minorities or if the planet dies. Pat Buchanan…please. How on earth is this guy relevant in 2017? He should get back into his time machine and return to 1956.

  • Potter

    The show was worthwhile for one guest throughout: John Farrell. Nixon I can’t forgive for being the first President to actively attempt to divide us as a country for political, partisan ends. But Nixon had other qualities and abilities and he did the right thing for us as a country at times as Farrell tells.

    I don’t understand why Buchanan keeps popping up on ROS. It is clear though that Trump and Buchanan are both looking to bring back “the good old days”. Trump rode on that nebulous futility to office.

    We will,maybe, see American greatness if the various parts function as they should- the branches of government, the media, the people awakened, even the independent arms of the law and justice.

    Trump divided us with such extreme shocking ugliness. His ability to keep his supporters seems astonishing. Nixon was not so compelling personally. Both Nixon and Trump called the press the enemy…

    I still think though that Trump’s so called genius was not strategic, but very improvisational and fueled by what seems by now a personality disorder. It includes an amorality- what has been compelling him, getting him through, seemingly all his life, this need to “win” for himself. That was not Nixon. Nixon knew too much about what real greatness required it seems.

  • JBK007

    The only reason I can think that you’re normalizing Trump’s voters, is to try and seek some room for detente post-impeachment so that a civil war doesn’t break out. Other than that, these people need to have a big reality check thrust upon them from every direction! They have become blind, fundamentalist radicals who have had their deep rooted prejudices legitimized by a wannabe tyrant…. and can’t seem to see/think beyond the tweets. Says alot about the current state of our country…SAD!

  • ‎NX-74205

    Chris, why did you let Buchanan get away with his revisionist history? People did not riot against Nixon because he was too slow to get out of Vietnam, it was because he EXPANDED the war!!

    • christopherlydon

      Please listen again, NX-74205: I did not let Buchanan get away with anything except speaking his piece. For myself I held Nixon accountable for “four years of completely immoral and bootless, murderous war in Vietnam, and the Christmas bombing after the war was over.” Like you I gasped at Pat Buchanan’s absurd euphemism that Nixon was a little slow getting out of Vietnam.

    • David

      I also gasped at that point in the show. I didn’t hear Chris letting him get away with that claim, but it made me wonder — along with other very dubitable things Buchanan said — why Buchanan would, overall, be worth listening to. I understand he brings special insight to our understanding of the Nixon period, but his facts are inextricably muddled up with the propaganda in which he has steeped — and heaped on others. Unless we’re listening to him more as an “Exhibit A of the way the right’s been damaged by their complicity with power,” he brings more noise than signal for me.

  • christopherlydon

    Potter, dear Potter: Thank you for noticing my recurring fancy for Pat Buchanan and the views of “the only extremist I know with a sense of humor,” as Richard Nixon described Pat. Granted, he’s an acquired taste, but Pat Buchanan won my respect the hard way: by renouncing the imperial pretensions and continuous military misadventures that have wasted the spirit, character and reputation of our country in our lifetimes, not to mention its manpower and treasure. In our politics and public commentary this is a rare and remarkable recovery – as moving to me as the record of our jazz giants who quit heroin cold-turkey. As the Lord recounts in the Gospel of Luke, there is more rejoicing for the one lost sheep that is found than for the 99 that were never lost. And finally, I like Pat’s laughter, all the more when he’s needling his sometime heroes, like his “Old Man” Nixon.

    • Potter

      Buchanan was right, that Nixon was not keeping up with the changing morality of the country. Nixon, Buchanan says, stood and fought and Buchanan seems to have urged that. Did Buchanan himself move with that change? I don’t think so. The revolution, matured, Buchanan says, has prevailed. Yes it did thankfully. Buchanan’s take is that it includes intellectuals and the media, now against Trump and his supporters… It’s personal, he says, “they don’t like him”. This is from the ROS show. It is for me an annoying point of view, discounting the multitudes out here who were outraged by what the press did prior to the election. In other words, It did not start out that way in this election season.There was enough unfairness to go around for both sides to enjoy.

      Why is this situation not sustainable? According to Buchanan:
      The press, the opposition “party”, stepped in and now it’s a fight with them. (Trump called the press “the enemy of the people, not merely or respectfully, the opposition.)

      Nixon’s adversary then similarly was the press, not the people. Trump’s people Buchanan says, want the walls, and manufacturing jobs to come back, and for him to stay out of wars. The crisis of this presidency, it’s incapacity, is probably going to eclipse allowing Trump to show he can (or cannot) fulfill his wild magnanimous and nefarious promises. But at the same time he’s attempting to erase the progress we have made in many areas such as health care, civil rights and the environment.

      Buchanan: We are close to divorce. He characterizes Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” remark as being merely name calling. (unfounded) but at the same time seminal. My opinion: she was saying the obvious, though regrettable that she said this. And it was treated close to the way Howard Dean’s scream was ballooned.

      But Buchanan admits Trump took up the leadership of one side of the divide..admittedly a minority. That is what can’t sustain Trump. The hostility towards the rest of us including the MSM and intellectuals (he loves the uneducated) came and comes originally from Trump. (Now we are also in the whining stage). Never mind that there are many uneducated that don’t like Trump. In the end here, Buchanan’s implied and laughingly stated wish/solution is for WAPO to shut down.

      Chris you made me like Ralph Nader again. Buchanan’s transformation is not evident here.Nor do I get much wisdom. I don’t hate him either. He seems likable, someone one can agree to disagree with, but he was annoying here in this discussion. Not that I need to be protected from being annoyed. Look how it got me going.

      Love ya’s all, and thank you.

      Potter

  • christopherlydon

    Last word on Buchanan from me: If Norman Mailer could find a lot to like in Pat Buchanan, so can I. This from a good profile on PB in his last run for glory:

    “So why does Pat Buchanan bear the mark of the beast? Because he is the only major American political figure to wake from the long Cold War nightmare and demand that his countrymen renounce empire. Buchanan is that rara avis in merican public life: a politician who has sat back, examined the evidence and changed his mind. He served as an adviser to two of the most internationalist presidents, Nixon and Reagan, and while he remains personally loyal to this dubious duo, his platform is a flat repudiation of their legacies.”

    • Potter

      And he apparently supported Trump. Go figure. I agree almost totally with quotes I read of Buchanan on “empire” and his idea of foreign policy. Mailer examines what we mean by so-called “empire” as he kind of agrees. I change my mind about Buchanan in this discussion; I think he belongs in it, very much so.

      Reading S.Tannenhaus article ( I link below), as well as other interviews, I realized that there is a line, maybe wavy but certainly to be drawn from Buchanan to Trump and it’s not about foreign policy. Trump’s foreign policy I think we may have quite a quarrel with. Trump says one thing (Buchanan-ish) and he does another: now lots of money and weapons promised to the Saudi’s, and then he’ll bomb when he feels like it. Totally unpredictable, not to mention unfit. Buchanan went for a total disaster of a person, evident, what should have been evident.

      I wish I could read that Mailer interview with Buchanan August 1996 Esquire that you link in your email letter but it’s behind a wall where you have to get involved in a subscription.

      When Buchanan Tried to make America Great Again

      Thank you Chris. This was good.

  • Pete Crangle

    I recommend the following short clip from a larger documentary. It encapsulates the Nixon style and to some extent, the Trump style, summed up in the following way: Vicious, Brutal, Coarse, Anxiety & Fear driven, Seething with Loathing, for Trump I’d add Vulgar and Infantile … pay particular attention to the comment at the end by Nixon biographer, Roger Morris. It can and will apply to Trump as well.

    Congressman Richard Nixon beats Helen Douglas for the Senate

    As for Pat Buchanan, I have to chuckle. He sounds exactly my father, two of my three siblings, and even my mother. Imagine being reared in that sort of environment. It’s the sort of codependent dysfunctionality that is not easily shed. The moment I was taught by a crisis counselor the means to impose and maintain “healthy boundaries” was the beginning of my recovery. That victim narrative bullshit requires someone seeking it out to stoke it up. Trump has mastered it. And victim narratives require constant adjustment to the physical, cultural, and historical reality they find themselves in. It is the pathway to emotional and psychological derangement. Such as, older conservative voters voting for a pack of wolves that are ALEC friendly neoliberals who want to burn the social safety net into a small pile of cinders, and send their children off to war or prison.

    Pat Buchanan: drunk uncle pundit, premillenial snowflake. That said, I’d rather have him than Seb Gorka, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, and the rest of the team of fascists that wander around The Peoples White House. As Chris points out, I too share Pat Buchanan’s point-of-view on The American Imperial Project … if I am understanding it correctly. Our reasons may differ, but when it means sparing lives, I’m willing to be cynically pragmatic. I also find him easier to listen to than Camille Paglia. Matters of taste of the psyche, I suppose. Don’t do it Chris. Don’t schedule Paglia. Don’t do it … LoL

    • I love Paglia !!!!
      I would love to take her thrill ride on the coaster of contemporary chaos.
      After which, we will all be disoriented and a bit nauseous, but woweeee!

  • Gordon Adams

    I would love a retrospective of Hillary Clinton and her disconnection from the electorate. We must remember that despite her loss and the loss of Congress, yet again, the Party not only remains in the control of those who misread the electorate but could well nominate her again.

  • Glenn Greenwald was a lead in to Adam Curtis – when will Curtis be on?

  • Pete Crangle

    Breaking News: The Post-Relevant Media Era

    Potter writes: “[Pat] Buchanan’s take is that it includes intellectuals and the media, now against Trump and his supporters… It’s personal, he says, “they don’t like him”. This is from the ROS show. It is for me an annoying point of view, discounting the multitudes out here who were outraged by what the press did prior to the election. In other words, It did not start out that way in this election season. There was enough unfairness to go around for both sides to enjoy.”

    Shorter Crangle response: ahYep. Vital point. Etc.

    Gasbag Crangle response: The media. That never ending soft target that is too big to ignore, and too habitual to dump. That plug-in beast of a drug that has snaked its way past democracy and codes of ethical conduct, and attached itself directly into our collective limbic and monetary systems. That ubiquitous toady that services the elite, the powerful, and the celebrity bubbles for sport, profit, and herd control. That tabloid social media complex staffed with parasitical courtiers and information prostitutes who own and run the clown show.

    Many of us are disgusted by the “the media”, but can’t let go of it. It has become the monkey on our backs, and the wolf we hold by the ears. A process addiction of hungry ghost proportions with profound consequences for our political economy, and our individual lives. To conjure up the extemporaneous Richard Nixon “Let me say this about that, and I want to make myself perfectly clear, make no mistake about it” the content pushers of this highly profitable enterprise know it, too.

    Breaking News: Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, Eliot Spitzer’s black dress socks, and Joey No Socks are in fact, The Exact. Same. Socks. Now, back to you Wolf

    A challenge: Find one major, media shareholder who holds a substantially leveraged position in a large media conglomerate who is complaining about the 2016 election cycle’s return-on-investment. Find one? I doubt it can be done. You’d have better luck finding a righteous sinner cruising Sodom & Gomorrah. After all, what’s bad for democracy, turns out to be great for revenue generation. I will be forever grateful for the thinking out loud candor of shareholder wrangler Les Moonves. He probably believes himself to be less beastly than Roger Ailes. I imagine that CBS shareholders and other institutional investors who feed off the media sector probably do, too. Nothing personal citizen, it’s just business.

    Breaking News: The Walla noise jangling our innermost nerves sounds strangely like Natter Natter, Rhubarb Rhubarb, Watermelon Cantaloupe, and Peas and Carrots. Now, back to our very own Katy for another update

    I recall listening to a “Talk of the Nation” discussion just after the 2008 election cycle that attempted a postmortem analysis of media coverage and its relationship to American politics (like Noam Chomsky, I too sometimes listen to watered down NPR shows when I want to torture myself). There was on the panel a member of the McCain campaign, perhaps his manager, who said something along the lines of “We used to be able to agree about facts … we can’t agree about facts anymore … anything can be a fact now.”

    It’s not an exact quote, but it’s close enough for the purposes here. At the time, I agreed with this basic assertion, and I think it makes sense now, even more so. Which implies, if any assertion or proposition can be considered fact, then of course, there are no facts, or viable assertions or propositions. Which means there is no dependable basis for even a modest or reluctant consensus that has relevancy beyond partisanship and Machiavellian power arrangements. Perhaps more importantly, if there are no facts, there are no reliable methods or processes for generating facts, let alone reporting and analyzing reality from which facts are conjectured and tested. Therefore, every proposition or assertion is tautological while simultaneously being fallacious. Given the limitations of the law of excluded middle, this is, from an Aristotelian perspective that most of us enjoy, problematic. If Kurt Gödel struggled to thread this needle, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Alex Jones or Sean Spicer or Frank Luntz reforming ancient Greek logic. Modern politicians do love to reform stuff, but I doubt they will lose much, if any, sleep over reforming this conundrum.

    Breaking News: Attorney General Jefferson Sessions has just organized the first round of water cures for FBI agents and will be putting them to The Question. Loyalty oaths soon to follow, beginning with the Ninth Circuit. Now, back to you, Chuck

    We are faced with a dilemma that is in all likelihood, very old, and very persistent when a charismatic leader appears. If facts, or assertions, or propositions, have no quasi-normative, quasi-objective processes or methods that can be used to produce them, or analyze and verify them for a general consensus, then a personality cult will produce them free from the burdens of reality. Our post enlightenment dawning may bring back a darker times, redux.

    Given a president who is completely untethered from any fidelity to veracity, a Congress that is completely untethered from ethics, and a deep state that is a device for duplicity and blood sport, I’d say we are having an interesting, and distressing, collective moment. We are into a sort of fact-free, non-empirical basis for examining and understanding cultural, historical, and physical reality, which is an extremely dangerous situation given the amount of firepower that we can unleash upon each other, and the amount of instability and disequilibrium we can push into the life support systems we enjoy — our environment and habitat. Not to mention the industrial havoc we can wreak upon each other with hazardous commercial products that are produced at unsafe sites, and shipped off by unsafe distribution mechanisms. Them oil pipelines do leak, contrary to popular, energy company CEO opinion. Them fertilizer plants do blow up.

    Breaking News: Stephen Bannon declares the Trump era “A Heartbreaking Presidency of Staggering Genius.” Back to you, Hallie.

    I don’t believe I’m being hyper rationalist about this. And I’ll be perfectly candid when I say, I am at my limits of understanding about what I can glean from the media landscape, and how to connect this with the history I carry around in my head, the history I consult across different repositories, and the means to think about various potential futures that all of this may portend. Examining human memory, the historical record, especially when guided by someone with expertise, is a somewhat viable means to compare the present to forecast the future, and locate the present and understand how it is unfolding. It’s why we’re discussing Nixonland during the Trump era.

    Since established facts, and consensus regarding assertions and propositions, are being pushed aside as “Fake”, the historical record becomes even more tenuous than it normally is, given the usual caveats that apply to relying upon it too heavily — history is imprecise, error prone, biased, and can be out-and-out propaganda used in service to stranglehold power. By dismissing cultural consensus as fake, there is the possibility that radical, violent state sanctioned behavior is incubating that will be both spontaneous and strategic, particularly within domestic confrontations. Before there is a full scale operation of ethnic and religious cleansing, there must be a scrubbing some of the historical record, while sanitizing other aspects of it.

    Since we’re talking about Nixon, we should not forget the south and the southern strategy. Currently there is a relic war being waged. Those confederate relics that are being removed across the south are arousing a desire among some to hold onto a completely fictionalized version of The War of Northern Aggression. These are not simply symbols, they represent a means to reinforce an interpretation of the historical record, and bend it to accommodate a cruel, fantasy world view wed to white supremacy and privilege. These types of symbols and regalia, when promoted by the state in the public commons, provide cover and legitimacy. To be blunt: Vanquished people lose their rights to claim public, heritage honorifics. You can still find people in the south who do not believe the confederacy really surrendered. The confederacy is in a strategic retreat posture. Reports to the contrary are conspiracy theories and fake. The relics help supply the reality distortion. The lost cause of the confederacy, for some, was never actually lost.

    Breaking News: Angry focus group decides Trump Towers are not actual towers. Plans for a proposed Ivanka Steeple will still go forward. And now, let’s go over to you Frank for some focus group weather. We’d love to hear about those climate change polls

    I believe, most of us, if we’re being truthful, are now at the borders of reason in trying to understand what is unfolding, or forecast where this is going. This is how I remember living through, and what I learned from studying, the era of the 1960s and 1970s, which were significantly more unstable and dangerous than the present situation. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seemed that society was both unraveling and repairing itself, but in very chaotic and caustic ways. Riots and violent movements were afoot, and confrontations of all sorts were amok. Some of this I witnessed first hand. It was unnerving, and frankly, terrifying.

    And so, here we are again, sort of, but with some differences. The Fake News cudgel suggests to me that we’re experiencing a Tower of Babel moment. Globalization and technology have delivered mass communication and news that have become our Tower, and the collective id is in the process of cursing itself into teeny, tiny, atomized partitions that can be easily divided and conquered. The herd is honking and bleating white noise without understanding itself. Paradoxically, this type of context is a means to bring about mass hysteria, paranoia, madness, and a variety of criminality. It is the means for which decline can accelerate into a collapse. Which would seem to imply that we are running the risk of tipping into raw, tribal, sectarian cultism — another paradox of atomization. A type of cultism dependent upon a charismatic leader that will wrap itself in an ideological perversion of something resembling a lurid Christian, libertarian, techno addicted, drug addicted, market happy, war fanaticism authoritarianism or fascism. It will be entangled deeply with the personality cult, the cult of self, and the necessity of escapism.

    Breaking News: George Soros Gate has broken wide open. It seems that Mr. Soros has been paying himself for years to show up at places and talk about stuff. And now, back to you, Tucker

    Cult of personality carries with it deep loyalties. Trump has an extremely stubborn demographic floor that will likely never be diminished, let alone obliterated. This makes holding him accountable by a corrupt and tepid Congress extremely difficult, perhaps unlikely, and potentially dangerous, over a long timeline. And what is the alternative? President Pence? A more reasonable face of an authoritarianism wrapped in market friendly, prosperity Christian zealotry. A monstrous deep state that hangs Trump’s scalp on some bureaucrat’s office wall? Authoritarian charismatic wannabe tyrant versus authoritarian anonymous shadow government. For the record, I am rooting against everyone who plays in this arena at this level. I wish them all ill. That said, the reality suggests we are in the terrain of bad options, with nothing but bad outcomes. And of course, it’s ratings gold, but deadly for democracy.

    Breaking News: Congress declares itself a Reality TeeVee show named: “Spitballing Lounge.” Back to you, loyal viewer

    As suggested in this discussion here on ROS, we’re stuck in a rut of consensus-free politics. It does seem we’re locked into a tribal marriage well passed its death knell anniversary. This will continue to bring about sabotage and acrimony at increasingly vicious and menacing levels. Not even war, the ultimate team death sport, seems to bind us together.

    For a superb example of consensus-free sabotage that has run through our body politic over the last few years, run the thought experiment where GOP kabuki politics votes to repeal the PP/ACA over sixty times. When the House finally arrives at the replacement phase, they cough up what is essentially a tax code windfall for the one percent. Now, the GOP Senate gazes into Mitch McConnell’s magic turtle shell like its the black obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey. If and when the worm turns, it’s highly likely the democrats will try to push the puddle back towards the mushy, market friendly middle, while trying not to irritate a growing bloc of angry voters who need health care, and still placating their corporate overloads, who are essentially, their fellow country club patrons. Imagine, using Aetna as a weapon and political football against the sick, dying, and infirm. As if Aetna were the pinnacle of moral capitalism brought down the mountainside by Adam Smith hisowngoodself. And, so it goes.

    Breaking News: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer makes a surprise press conference appearance and declares: “William Shakespeare and Edward R. Murrow never did this from either the podium or the bushes.” And a mic drop exit from Mr. Spicer. Audacious move. Back to you, Jim

    “All human beings have a need to hear stories, and a rather pretentious fraud I knew in school even used to say that stories are actually “as necessary as food.” I hated that. But, do you know, it’s true? If people don’t dream at night, they go insane, and by day, they need stories — it’s just that simple.” — Jack, from “The Designated Mourner” (1996) by Wallace Shawn

    The media is not The Lone Gunman that put us where we are, but it has played a crucial role in bringing this about. There is a technique I’ve observed over the years that is used by corporate media, particularly regarding advertising. You can probably find it explored better somewhere in a textbook on media. It’s how media drives a narrative into spectacle and dollars. Since narrative and spectacle are the sweet tooth for generating dollars, it becomes a vehicle of presenting “news.” It’s now part of the commodification and packaging of information. IMO, News should not be a “Once upon a time …” operation. News should not be especially narrative driven, but instead, wrapped in empiricism that has existing threads of context; context is not narrative, strictly speaking. It is interesting that our politics is probably at least as narrative heavy as the average Reality TeeVee show, or the long running saga of the now departed “The Jerry Springer Show”, or some WWE passion play.

    This narrative and spectacle approach is especially present during war, political elections, and celebrity culture. There is a prevalent arc, which is usually followed by scandal. ArcGate. It is a re-engineering of the The Three Act architecture used by much contemporary media. It’s the basis for quite a bit of advertising that is still with us, well beyond the Mad Men era. And let use never forget, media, be it click-bait oriented, be it eyeballs or earlobes fixated, is a vehicle for advertising, which is the vehicle for the neoliberal economic imperative, as well as, the neoconservative war machine (those retired generals and other *authorities* of the state security apparatus keep turning up in green rooms for some mysterious reason). I suspect this is more *emergent* than some vast conspiracy, but it could be a mix of emergence and a priori tactics. Success breeds imitation.

    Breaking News: Neoliberal Goldilocks beds down with the Neoconservative Three Bears. Full coverage during the next Fox & Friends with special guest Whoopi Goldberg

    Act 1: Create the problem or conflict or introduce a new cult of personality. Build up a personality cult and/or idea and/or impending event as important and/or inevitable. Give it gravitas by fiat. Define the parameters of relevance. Define a villain or threat. For example, help create a war or a political candidate, and define the nemesis. Act like the war or the candidate or the nemesis fell from the sky so the context can be constructed on-the-fly. Use selective amnesia to lead the consumer herd towards support of a candidate(s) or war effort. Use celebrity pundits or think tank talking heads to push the product. Push the creation of the problem by hitting emotional triggers. Foreshadow the solution.

    Act 2: Bring the problem or conflict or candidate(s) into the field of media reality. Articulate the conflict or problem to be resolved. Amp up the cheerleader role for the venture or the personality cult. Heighten the villainy of the target villain. Add an occasional dissenter to provide the patina of respectability. For example, give Donald Trump lots of free, prime media time. Or, put military generals and other security apparatchiks on Point-Counter Point shows that either have no counter-point, or provide a spineless pushover who is unable to assert even the most basic talking point of dissent — a patsy and rhetorical punching bag. Embed journalists in political campaigns and the war machine to report victories or useless information, such as, pancake campaign events, or, “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy” liberation moments. Showcase nearly useless events such as political debates to pump up ratings. Horse race the hell out of the political coverage. Video game the hell out of the war coverage. Ignore vital issues that have no sizzle or ratings bump. Hide distressing data, such as, flag draped coffins generated by counter-insurgencies, or war crimes perpetrated by the home team. Pump it up to a climax that is never consummated. Keep the cortisol levels always rising.

    Act 3: Reach problem/conflict zenith & resolve it. Find or create a scandal. Pull the grenade pin and toss it. Show the screw-ups, over-and-over. For example, Iraq v. 2.0, Afghanistan, Donald Trump, The Clinton’s public soap opera, “Fake” news conspiracies, etc. This would have worked with HRC winning the election, as well. Bernie Sanders would have been red baited, or some such nonsense, and the attacks, particularly on Fox and RW Radio/Internet venues would have been a relentless fury for either a Sanders or HRC victory.

    (It’s still hard for me to understand that the Ghost of Vince Foster haunts conservative minds. Some people are still paddling around Chappaquiddick looking for liberal conspiracies. And, of course HRC thought Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas were relevant during the Democratic primary. That was some pretty artful smear work that no one really gave a damn about.)

    To bring some supposed relief, find a resolution. And so, for Act 3, the resolution is: Tune in again for another pull on the grenade. Amp up the intensity. Employ selective amnesia. Eventually, kick the personality cult to the curb of public oblivion, or forget about the ongoing counter-insurgency. Return to Act 1, repeat the process ad nauseam. Ka-ching.

    To help pull this off, use multi-millionaire talking heads from off-the-rack celebrity pundit inventory for all three acts. It’s ratings gold, which is advertising dollars, and advertising dollars architect product desire. It is probably no accident that war, politics, and celebrity culture have all come to resemble product placement branding exercises. The same mechanisms that are used to push a cell phone service or a hamburger or an erectile dysfunction aid through advertising, are essentially used to sell wars, politicians, celebrities, and at a meta-level, the political economic media war complex structure itself. It generates increases in desire, not satisfaction. Which of course means, more war, more horse race politics, more scandal, more ka-ching.

    Breaking News: The Ridiculous has jumped the Sublime: President Trump drops Electoral College Maps from Air Force One while flying over the Islamic State. We return you back to Kent Brockman

    Understood in this way, the Donald Trump candidacy and election does have some coherence. The fact that most of the pundit and polling class thought that Trump’s election was a surprise demonstrates either how deep their public mendacity goes, or how thick their lack of understanding is about their own culpability regarding this process. Trump, was their villain and dog in the manger, not the hero or heroine. One of the irony’s here is that I would guess many Trump supporters tend to be fans of movies and television shows where there are clear lines of demarcation that exist between “bad guys” and “good guys.” Thus, Trump supporters were experiencing a mirror image script that the establishment was pushing during the 2016 election, and vice versa. Those Trump campaign rallies made this abundantly clear. The Basket of Deplorable rhetoric made this abundantly clear. Yes, it really does appear we’re locked into a tribal marriage well passed its death knell anniversary.

    Breaking News: The News Sector is All Boogered Up and Pretty Damn Broken. And now, back to Joe and Mika

    Of course, there are those narratives that defy the three act structure, or, exist over a very long timeline so as to obscure the structure. They tend to be simply unseen or ignored, like large whales swimming the oceans, but their side-effects are used to generate scandal or catastrophe ratings. For example, the extrajudicial killing of civilians — an uncomfortable percentage that are unarmed people of color — in the U.S. by a domestic security ethos that resembles a form of vigilante justice. Global ecocide with its side-effects, such as, extreme weather, wars, mass refugee problems, etc. Financial Services sector chicanery that lead to boom-bust cycles, and has since the tulip mania market crisis. The decline and partial collapse of infrastructure, such as, Flint, MI tap water, in concert with the selling off of public assets for private ownership. Protest and resistance movements that are expression of de rigueur irritability (I am not speaking of things like the BLM movement, or the NODAPL resistance). Etc. All various types of catastrophe ratings that are generated that seem to have no mysterious cause and effect. And so it goes.

    Breaking News: We will continue to be Poorer, Sicker, Dumber. And now, Back to The Future

    * * * * *

    Breaking News: A Drive down memory lane with O.J. Simpson

    ahYep. Back to you Chris…

  • Lilee

    Man the gang of boys. What a white guys perspective on history. Love the last line. “Miserably incompetent rival. She was awful.” Meanwhile Pat Buchanan is quoted, made a guest and his contribution debated. Really boys? Really?

  • Gordon Adams

    What is extraordinary about Trump is he attacked the media in the first place and now complains about the media. And he is supposed to be some kind of media guru! Anyway, the point is Trump created the problem he is now complaining about. He may like his cake and ice cream but he still have have his cake and eat it, too.

  • Ian Waring

    I thought the 1968 to 1972 delay on Vietnam was extensively covered in a book published several years ago by Christopher Hitchens. The 2002 but updated in 2012 book “The Trial of Henry Kissinger”.