For a long time now the pattern of American presidential elections has been that the primaries wrap up in late spring and early summer. The two candidates begin to take shots at one another leading up to their conventions in July. The Republican usually lacks the money to run an air war, so that leaves the Democrat free to pound away in key states with TV ads. The media, of course, swings in on behalf of the Democrat with a relentless drumbeat of attack ads telling us that the Republican is Hitler again.
Then we have the conventions and both parties begin running their ads and doing big campaign events. The media is still in the satchel for the Democrats, but the quantity of noise from both sides diminishes the impact of the media. They are left to cover speeches and interview people from both camps, usually swooning over the Democrat and playing gotcha with the Republican. Then we get the debates and the sprint to the finish as both sides focus on the toss-up states.
This time we are seeing something weird and different. The media is doing their part, but it is mostly the so-called conservative media leading the charge against the Republican. The Democrats have been running ads in the swing states, but they are mostly nonsense videos of Hillary from twenty years ago. They can’t show her today because she looks like death and sounds like she is about to turn someone into a toad. That and she appears to be struggling with serious health issues.
Trump is running his campaign away from the media and not running any ads. Instead he is doing these big events where thousands line up to hear him make his pitch. Trump is running the sort of campaign presidents ran in the 1940’s. The only thing missing is the train, but his private jet makes it a lot like the old whistle stop tour. He lands, does a speech and is off to the next town. On a weekly basis, Trump jousts with the media over their latest attack, but otherwise he has not done a lot of it.
We are seeing something strange this time. It is as if we have three elections going on at the same time. The Democrats are keeping Clinton hidden away for fear people will notice she is seriously unwell. Someone struggling with a cognitive disorder is better off in small rooms with a few people and that’s what we keep seeing. Her events are lightly attended, but there does seem to be an effort to keep her from standing in front of a large crowd. They probably worry that she could topple over like Bob Dole in ’96.
The other election campaign is the Trump barnstorming tour where he does these stadium shows for thousands. They are not running ads to promote these things. Instead, they are relying on word of mouth via social media. They also get local media coverage. Trump is deliberately banning the big foot media from his events and he is not paying for a plane to ferry around the press like we have seen in prior campaigns. Trump is running the first high-tech, grassroots presidential campaign in history.
Finally, we have the mass media election. This is where members of the media debate one another over the latest events. They used to count on the Democrats to supply the copy and some flaks to help sell this to the public, but this time is a bit different. Hillary’s poor health and long criminal history are preventing her campaign from putting her or her close allies in the media for fear someone may accidentally ask a question.
There is a medieval vibe to all of this as the estates of the realm are now fully insulated from one another. There’s also the obvious divisions within the estates, as there were in 18th century France. The media, serving as the First Estate, has a credentialed and high-born top with a rough and tumble, low-born bottom. The nasally twats writing at the NYTimes or appearing on the chat shows all popped out of elite colleges and come from upper class families. The bloggers and twitter monsters are uncredentialed rubes from the country.
You could argue that the forces behind Trump within the political class represent the noblesse de robe while the people backing Clinton are noblesse d’épée. The third estate, just as in 18th century France, is not entirely on the side of the former, but is not all that happy with the latter. The bourgeoisie, in our case, are academics, the vast array of business interests that feed from the public trough and those who profit from global capitalism. You are, in all probability, a free peasant.
It is not a perfect analogy and it is not intended to compare modern America to 18th century France. Sadly, we will not get to lop off the heads of the first estate when this is all over. It does help clarify the current crisis. The people chatting on TV don’t know you and they have no idea what you read or why you read it. The things discussed on blogs like this are as alien to them as proper dining etiquette is to you. Modern American society is now highly compartmentalized and fragmented and we see that in the campaigns.