TV News Media & Trump Madness

This year while watching TV news I found I simply couldn’t anymore.

Watching newscasters on TV brings back a memory from when I was in the midst of my first semester finals in the Graduate School of Economics at the University of Wisconsin after I received an “I’ve got bad news,” telephone call from my father.

My two oldest nephews, Willy, aged 12 and Tom aged 10, had vanished after taking a rowboat out on Puget Sound. The family, broken by this time by years of dysfunctional fighting between my parents, was going West in two shifts: my mother and I first; my father and his new wife second.

As soon as I entered his house my oldest brother. Will, took my arm and walked me over to a Coast Guard map, telling me the story as we went. A storm had come up, he said pointing to the map, “this is where a woman on the shore saw them struggling in the boat”.

He traced the trajectory of the two boys’ trip from the beach in front of his house to that point. “She called the Coast Guard, but their ship was out on the water, and it had no ship-to-shore radio.”

As I studied for exams that week, and went for walks on the cold, lonely January beach alone and with my mother, visitors came flocking in each day with more food than any of us felt like eating. I watched as Will took each one in to the map telling the same story as he told me. Over and over again.

I recognized what Will was doing. My second oldest brother Les had once sent me a list of “psychological defense mechanisms” while I was in high school. Les and I were both trying to understand what was going on in our family.

Will was clearly in shock, and he was also in denial. So was I. Seeing two boys of about the right age playing on the beach one morning as I came down the wooden stairs to the beach, I felt a leap of hope in my heart that they were my nephews, even though I knew they weren’t.

I’d grown up with those boys and lived with them when Will was more like a father to me than my own father.

It took me nine more years to lose that hope during a dream when I saw my nephews playing on the other side of a river and called across to ask if they were dead. They nodded “yes”.

Most of you probably know about the list of defense mechanisms Les gave me, but what I want to talk about now is what the frequent use of them in my family did to me as a young girl and is doing to all of us right now.

TV media’s response to Trump

After the election of Donald Trump, the liberal media on TV appeared to be in the same kind of shock and denial as my brother, Will, repeating the same news stories day after day, hoping that it won’t be so—that Trump really was elected President.

At first the media began to to try to rationalize what was going on in early days of Trump’s presidency. They often tried to “put things that Trump did into a different light” than was actually the case.

In a way many of us used the psychological defense mechanism of dissociation, an example of which I saw as a girl used by my father.

One morning I could hear hear that my father felt quite self-righteous after reading in the newspapers that that a few influential men in my hometown, some the fathers of my friends, were caught misusing federal government funds by hiring their own children for summer jobs intended for children of poor people.

But at the same time, my father saw no harm in himself keeping a double set of books—until the IRS paid him an unpleasant visit, a visit that set off a war between himself and my mother, who had been the innocent bookkeeper of his fake set of books.

These two events stirred up a great deal of cynicism in me about the trustworthiness of the adult world I was about to enter.

Last year however, US TV media didn’t seem to share my cynicism about the possible result that Donald Trump would win the Presidential election. Now they still seem shocked and stunned by the contradictions  that we see within President Trump, between factions of the Republican Party, and the country as a whole—even months after the inauguration.

They media spins its wheels with all kinds of experts trying to sort out what is “really happening”. In my eyes, this doesn’t help one bit!

Common defenses against reaction to such “cognitive dissonance,” i.e. things that don’t add up, are repression of unacceptable thoughts, i.e., that Trump is just “out for himself and his family”, and displacement of negative feelings onto immigrants, women, marchers, transgender persons, Arabs, Mexicans, and Russians.

Then there is intellectualization. That is an overemphasis on thinking, rather than just feeling our feelings, when confronted with unacceptable situation or behavior.

I’ve also noticed that intimidation is a tool used frequently by interviewers at Fox News, and it seems to be spreading so some other news outlets as well.

No wonder Jon Stewart decided to resign from “The Comedy Show” last year – TV media has become so out-of-touch and such a joke it’s not even funny anymore.

The tragedy is that Americans are left with no news whatsoever about the rest of the world, insignificant distractions about fake news, trivial news, and scary news.

Every day it seems there is just one real question we need to ask of our national TV news media again and again – where were you when Donald Trump was partying and being pals with the people he’s now appointed to high office—the people he’s defending with tweets while many of them are being fired, sued, and/or investigated by the US intelligence community?

Trump’s response to TV Media

President Trump has been employing nearly every defense mechanism known to man to shield himself from media exposures of his stunning failures in office so far. Never has psychological dysfunction been so reduced to so few words.

When he took office President Trump was trying to undo every hurtful thing the media said about him, for example, obsessively insisting that his inauguration parade and many other things he had or did was bigger than anyone else’s.

Another behavior Trump employs was my father’s favorite. This was projection and name-calling. Faced with birthing four children who were much smarter than he was, my father cherished words like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “dummies”.

President Trump too can be counted on to call anyone he fears or doesn’t like a nasty name.

Other tactics the President uses to throw off the media constantly and keep them biting at chew toys for days while the promised meat never gets delivered include diversion. President Trump and his allies provide these red herrings at an astoundingly fast pace.

Then there’s  outright lying. The press loves fact-checking. Some of them get downright snarky and condescending about Trump’s errors. Sarcasm oozes out on all sides of the political press.

Do they think we’re too dumb to judge reality for ourselves? Does pointing out mistakes bring about any changes in the administration’s behavior? I don’t think so. Sarcasm is the weapon of the weak.

Donald Trump also appears to use regression, especially when he talks with his “base”, He sounds like a fond parent speaking soothingly to three-year old children, promising them “you’re really going to like it” “it’s huge” “it’s really, really big” over and over again concerning things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will.

Could Trump’s failure to take significant actions he promised be due to selective inattention? If so, how long we wonder, until Trump’s base starts feeling ignored by their hero?

I ask this question, because I don’t see anyone in the media taking it seriously. (After all, my own denial about my nephews’ deaths lasted nine years – could Trump’s base’s denial last that long?)

On the other hand, the President also rationalizes and minimizes the effects of his own actions, and blithely abandons the negative views he held just yesterday for positive ones or vice versa. That seems to be a form of reaction formation (acting out the opposite one what one really feels)

These three defenses too, like persistently telling lies, seem to be forms of regression. They’re how little kids cope with their own feelings of powerlessness.

Lastly, there is the well-known saying that the best defense is an offense, i.e., intimidation. This is a defense President Trump (and his staff) seem to employ with as much abandon as Fox News commentators.

For example, when the Canadian Prime Minister balked at a tariff on Canadian lumber, Trump added a threat to place a tariff on Canadian dairy products as well, all the while projecting the label of “really bad guys” onto Canadians, some of the nicest people in the world. We can always count on President Trump to “up the ante” with threats.

What can we do?

In the face of all the irrational defense mechanisms being played out in the media and online, the sanest thing each of us can do is stand by our own feelings, values, and truths while being willing to listen to views of friends that we don’t agree with.

We need to keep ourselves up on the news that’s important to each of us in whatever ways we can while in the midst of continuing to live our own “real lives” in the real world while all this TV and Twitter madness goes on around us.

Next post – “Quantitative Tightening” – Is It Coming Soon?”


1 comment so far ↓

#1 Raoul Martinez on 05.13.17 at 1:49 pm

Hi Nancy: Thanks for sharing this amazing personal and tragic narrative about your past. I’m sorry this happened. You are strong and you have risen above this negativism. Regarding our current US President, I am concerned and feel his actions indicate he is really not up to the task. I read and appreciate your advice. RAOUL

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