In an interview with Brian Williams on MSNBC on October 10th, author and advocate Tavis Smiley made clear that he had no patience for talking heads complaining about Donald Trump’s reprehensible behavior, lamenting the sorry state of the presidential campaign, or indeed the condition to which democracy has sunk in this country. No, says Mr. Smiley, the media doesn’t get a pass on this. The media was complicit in helping make Donald Trump. “Trump was good for ratings, good for subscriptions…..now we all want to condemn him as though we had nothing to do with creating him.” Please watch:
Well, I would like to echo Mr. Smiley’s words, and add a few of my own. It’s not just the media who have created this monster. We must all take responsibility for this moment in history. We are all complicit.
“Not me!” you say. “I’m team #NeverTrump!” Well let me tell you something. If the media helped to create Trump, we helped to create the media. We are willing consumers of this sensationalized, biased, uninformative 24-hour-a-day media monstrosity. In fact, we are the authors of every bit of consumer crap that comes at us, from blathering talking heads to vapid, overly-violent, women-objectifying cinematic slop, to sugar- and sodium-laden over-processed food, to a whole host of other stuff too. Because if you didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t make it.
I always reminded my children that “you vote with your dollars.” In other words, you’re conveying your opinion when you buy a product; you’re not just exchanging your dollars for a company’s product. Yes, you’re saying “I like what you’re selling me.” But you’re also saying “I approve of what you’re selling me and how you’re selling it to me and how you’re making it.” It’s your money. You can vote Yes or No, and you have every right to say you don’t approve. You say it simply by not buying. If you don’t like the way a company is treating it’s employees, for example, you have the right not to give that company your hard-earned dollars. And if enough people withhold their dollars, companies either change their products/practices or they go out of business. This is why boycotts work. The same process works in reverse too. When the dollars keep flowing in, companies keep doing what they’re doing. You know what they say: If you build it, they will come. Well, if you keep coming, they’ll keep on building it.
Media outlets work the same way, even in this online high-tech world. They’re looking for eyeballs, and clicks, and shares. And don’t think for one second that they’re not counting and keeping track.
And we control the kind of world we inhabit by determining what kinds of products, including news (which is, after all, just another type of consumer product) companies make for us.
Trump built his campaign on the thousands of hours of free attention we gave him. It started even before he announced his candidacy, with endless speculation about whether or not he would run. And it continued right through the early days of the primaries. Not a day went by that his name wasn’t trending on social media. Not a news program aired that his latest antics weren’t the leading story. He knew that the more outrageous his statements were, the more coverage he would get. And it worked. We just kept tuning in, just kept watching and reading and sharing. He dished out the crap, the media covered it, and we ate it up. And that catapulted him from reality TV host to real presidential candidate.
Now everybody is trying to disavow Trump, and also trying to deny the part they played in creating him. Well, not so fast, mister. You’re not getting off that easy. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
But this is a turning point in our history. We have a choice on November 8 not just about who we are going to vote for. We also have a choice on that day and every day after that about how we want to go forward. Tavis Smiley concludes by reminding us that this election is about what kind of country we are going to be, and who we are as a nation and as a people. And I’ll be happy to know that just like a child who put her hand too close to the fire, we as a nation have learned from our mistakes. We must go forward with the understanding that everything we do matters. What we watch matters. What we buy matters. Who we reward with our attention matters. Let’s go forward with an awareness of the importance of our actions and of the important role we all play in the health of our democracy.