If it seems that Donald Trump is likely to lose Election 2016, the future of the Alt-Right — the budding political movement most enthusiastic about Trump2016 — may depend on how close the election is and how effectively Trump can turn his political capital into a media empire, like he is reportedly planning to do.
Valuable clues to Trump’s post-election plans may be the campaign additions of Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon and Fox News’ alleged sex offender Roger Ailes. Both media moguls have expertly gamed the transition of media from print to digital by guiltlessly eschewing journalistic integrity for money-making corporatization and commercialized bias.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also is a media mogul, and owns the New York Observer, but he doesn’t let the obvious, journalistic conflict of interest stop him from being “hands-on” in the Trump campaign. Two months ago Kushner published an opinion that his father-in-law was not racist, but it wasn’t very critical. He wrote about Trump’s infamous, anti-Semitic retweet, saying, “If my father in law’s fast-moving team was careless in choosing an image to retweet, well part of the reason it’s so shocking is that it’s the actual candidate communicating with the American public rather than the armies of handlers who poll-test ordinary candidates’ every move.”
With a twist of logic Kushner simultaneously puts the blame for the retweet on Trump’s “fast-moving team” while praising Trump for communicating without the use of such a team. He tries to shield Trump from blame by presenting him as a populist, even though he therefore must be a populist for bigots. If Trump somehow gets elected, expect more paradoxical gymnastics from the New York Observer’s coverage of Trump. If he loses, expect for the Observer to be integrated into a Trump News Network (TNN: CNN’s offensive cousin?)
Trump’s replacement of Paul Manafort with pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager suggests that Trump is less concerned with actually winning and governing than he is concerned with managing the media spin of his loss to better advantage the launch of a media company. Trump can be comforted in defeat by the reality that there is much more money waiting for him as an executive producer of a Trump News Network than the only six-digit salary of the presidency.
A media empire based on the brand of an unprecedentedly inflammatory, losing presidential candidate, the Trump News Network would be the most intentionally partisan and self-promoting counter-culture media company to ever enter the mainstream: a web-based marriage between Fox News’ conspiratorial experiments in Pavlovian, partisan loyalty and the Tea Party’s whimsically unprincipled susceptibility to racial and religious scapegoatism.
A Trump News Network would also be an epic case of bad-sport politics in which Trump could clumsily preserve his fragile, self-conscious ego from the sting of defeat and bluffed, narcissistic hubris by lashing out with even greater narcissistic hubris. If Trump’s campaign strategy of “all press is good press” is any indication, Trump is not going to stop obsessively desiring media attention just because he lost an election.
Trump is already laying the groundwork for an anti-Hillary Clinton media network’s raison d’être by insinuating that Election 2016 was rigged, that Clinton is physically and mentally unfit to be president, and that she belongs in jail. With such anti-democratic rhetoric Trump has encouraged the growing Alt-Right movement’s flirtations with political anarchy and institutionalized bigotry, and the Alt-Righters are waiting for a media network to legitimize their decidedly anti-mainstream ideology. Bannon’s stewardship of Breitbart was a trial run, but branding digital news with the Trump name can be made much more ubiquitous by commandeering the Republican Party for which Trump is the current presidential nominee.
The scary part is that Trump has incubated a sizable audience eager for a conservative news network with an Alternative-Right (translation: openly racist) mission statement. A Trump News Network, regrettably, is likely to be both wildly profitable and democratically invasive, and it wouldn’t be the first time accused sex predator Roger Ailes helped launch a purposefully-biased news network to stick it to a Clinton.
Even if Trump wins the election, a Trump News Network will still be inevitable. Trump doesn’t take criticism well, and his penchant for propagandized lies coupled with his disdain for the First Amendment will obviously guide a Trump Administration’s relationship with the press. If he cannot get the press he wants, he will pull a John Barron on America’s political media and create his own.
It’s not going to be pretty, but prepare yourself now for TNN’s inevitable assault on American democracy and decency.