Last Night: Excavating (Or Not) Trump’s Taxes and Base of Support

Our critic isn't too happy with the MSM — except The Washington Post.

Last Night: Excavating (Or Not) Trump's Taxes and Base of Support


Another installment in our ongoing effort to monitor how politics is covered on prime-time television (and, occasionally, other major media).


The Myth of the Businessman

Onions to just about the entire mainstream media for missing one of the biggest points in the Donald Trump tax debacle. They got the magnitude of Trump’s gaming of the system right. Some even reported how this punctured Trump’s vaunt that he is a great businessman. (See Tuesday’s story in The New York Times.)

And just about everybody in the media understood that his tax gambit has as much if not more to do with our broken tax system as with Trump himself. We live in a plutocracy, so it shouldn’t shock us that the plutocrats make out like thieves while working people pay the bill. Just don’t expect that to change any time soon.

But here is what I haven’t read or seen: We hear repeatedly from Trump supporters that he is a businessman, not a politician, and that government needs a businessman to put things in order. Forgetting for the moment that he apparently was a lousy businessman whose company, according to The Huffington Post, underperformed the stock market, not to mention the real estate market, Trump has benefited politically and economically from our lionization of businessmen.

The Great Recession notwithstanding, the greatness of the businessman has long been a Republican meme, but the press has done little to investigate or challenge it. It reveres businessmen too, subjecting businesses to very little examination about how profits are earned (after all, the surest way to boost stock price is to lay off employees), what the tax consequences are (and how little most American companies actually pay into the government till), about the real sources of job creation, and about how much value business really adds to the American economy, especially as the country moves from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Trump is a perfect example of this last point. Once he might have been a real estate magnate, albeit, again, by the Times’ account, not a very good one. Now he basically licenses his name, which creates no economic value whatsoever, except to himself.

Government is constantly ridiculed by the press. When Obamacare had its balky rollout, the media couldn’t get enough of it. (See Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s brilliant book, American Amnesia, about the contributions of government, for a corrective.) In contrast, business coasts by, as if the Mylan Epipen gouge were an aberration rather than the way so much business is really conducted. The media themselves are a big business, so maybe we can’t expect them to police themselves. But someone in the media ought to disabuse Americans and themselves that big business is some kind of charitable institution while government is always craven and corrupt.

Who’s Not Afraid of Donald Trump?

Orchids to Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post, which has become the go-to paper if you want to get inside the Trump phenomenon. In case you missed it, McCrummen’s account of Melanie Austin (“Finally, Someone Who Thinks like Me…”), a fervent Trump supporter, is a true rarity – not just one of those hackneyed working-class profiles that discusses economic and cultural discontent where the names change but the grievances stay the same. McCrummen digs deeper. Austin is a strange woman with obvious mental issues, but hers is a voice of America too, and while this very sad, occasionally funny, and often eye-opening piece sometimes seems to border on parody (bet you didn’t know that Sasha and Malia were kidnapped from Morocco by the Obamas, or that Michelle Obama is a man, or that Antonin Scalia was murdered by prostitute), it brings us closer to some of the conspiratorial forces that animate the Trump campaign under the radar, where most of the mainstream media have missed them. McCrummen didn’t.

Neal Gabler

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, TIME magazine's non-fiction book of the year, USA Today's biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.