The "town hall" on CNN with Donald Trump reflected and illuminated rather than harmed the American political condition. It was responsibly journalistic in its primitive, sad spectacle.
American politics is in fact a primitive, sad spectacle. CNN merely put the reality on TV, which is what a cable television news network presumably ought to do.
Yet there are those blaming the mirror and the light rather than the condition. They are declaring that CNN should never have showcased this horrid man of subterranean character and decency who poses an actual threat to our democracy.
That's a tired refrain. It's a variation on the clichéd cry that the news media ought not to report bad news, but emphasize the positive. That presumably advocates reporting that Little Rock was spared a tornado yesterday and that there were no mass shootings in most schools again yesterday. Or that Trump doesn't exist.
There are those saying Trump is irrelevant because he can never win a general election. They're oblivious to the fact that, while he probably can never win the nationwide popular vote, the nationwide popular vote has nothing to do with electing an American president.
Vast open spaces organized into subdivisions called states elect American presidents. Conservatives joyfully immersed in a homogeneous nationalized Fox-driven politics cling to state autonomy when it provides their only means of winning the presidency anymore. A few people voting differently or not voting at all in a few precincts in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin--because they'd had it with Biden and Democrats--would re-infect the White House with a liar, demagogue, megalomaniac, sexual assaulter and Putin pal.
Let's not numb ourselves to what he is by pretending he doesn't exist.
There are those saying CNN should never have permitted the "town hall" audience to be dominated by New Hampshire deplorables who cheered Trump's anti-American cant--his unwillingness to say he preferred Ukrainian over Russian victory; his desire that the nation default on its debt and risk global economic calamity for the good of his election; his mad insistence that his rightful re-election was stolen in 2020 although it simply and absolutely was not.
But Trump's cult is a menace, and public menaces, like assault weapons and funnel clouds, are news.
Anyway, CNN has been trying to dial back its hyperpartisanship, which is really anti-Trumpism, in the interest of marketing on the basis that straight both-sides journalism is not otherwise available. By assembling an audience hostile to itself and its reporter, and worshipful of Trump, CNN tried the hard thing because it was hard. It captured a more revealing slice of Americana than an auditorium filled with sedate VIPs.
There are those complaining that CNN's interviewer of Trump, reporter Kaitlan Collins, let Trump avoid her questions and rail instead about personal grievances, and should have better challenged and corrected--debated, in other words--the liar and the lies.
But arguing with the guy was not her job. Her job was to draw and reveal the subject. And Trump was fully drawn and revealed.
That there were people loving what they saw and demonstrating mindless affection on live media ... that's not a scoop, but it's news bearing re-exposure. America must confront having to contend with a significant decline toward an "idiocracy," to borrow a word coined for a prescient movie about a future America where people don't know that applications of water would keep vegetation from dying.
Did this event matter in the current narrative of American presidential politics? Why, yes, it did, to understate woefully.
The event was its own new chapter. Afterward, Trump cultists sold T-shirts celebrating "TNN," in the logo style of CNN, meaning Trump had owned CNN.
Democrats rushed to call attention to the event. "Well, that happened," a Democratic blast email said to emphasize the choice between Biden, who wasn't behaving like that on television, and Trump, who was.
We'd just seen a poll showing Trump ahead of Biden because people were sick of Biden. So, in today's American politics, Democratic political operatives were anxious to redirect focus to the more sickening prospect, meaning the very spectacle that many liberals naïve to political reality were saying never should have been aired.
Trump's base will hold solid with or without such programming. Swing voters in swing states need reminding of who and what Trump is. Having a panel of talking heads tell them how horrible he is--or a newspaper columnist write it--is not nearly as effective as putting a camera and microphone on him for direct evidence.
If they like what they see, then America is too far gone already.
Of course I'm sick of Trump. But he's his own worst enemy. Goodness knows Democrats aren't.
So, show him--not frequently, but sufficiently.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jb[email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.