WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2020
Trump on display as he is: In this era of 24-hour "news," how quickly they forget!
On Sunday evening, the New York Times reported that Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.
Also, that he paid no federal income taxes in ten of the previous fifteen years.
That second claim strikes us as standard journalistic deception, of a type which has widely prevailed in this, The Era Which Was. We expect to return to that topic tomorrow.
For today, how quickly they turn! After watching hours of post-debate punditry last evening and this morning, we've seen no one say a single world about yesterday's top concern!
It isn't like the topic didn't arise during last evening's "debate." Chris Wallace directly challenged the commander on this matter, though we'd be inclined to say that Wallace backed off in the end.
With apologies, here's the bulk of the transcript of the non-discussion discussion. We're omitting various interjections and interruptions:
WALLACE (9/29/20): Mr. President, as you well know, there's a new report that in 2016, the year you were elected president, and 2017, your first year as president, that you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years. I know that you pay a lot of other taxes, but I'm asking you this specific question. Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?
TRUMP: I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax. And let me just tell you, there was a story in one of the papers that paid—I paid $38 million one year, I paid $27 million one year.
You know, if you wanted to, go to the board of elections. There's a 118 page or so report that says everything I have, every bank I have. I'm totally under leveraged because the assets are extremely good, and I built a great company.
WALLACE: Sir, I'm asking you a specific question, which is—
WALLACE: No, Mr. President, I'm asking you a question. Will you tell us how much you paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017?
TRUMP: Millions of dollars.
WALLACE: You paid millions of dollars in—
TRUMP: Millions of dollars, yes.
WALLACE: So not 750?
TRUMP: Millions of dollars. And you'll get to see it. And you'll get to see it.
TRUMP: Chris, let me just say something, that it was the tax laws. I don't want to pay tax. Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people. Like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws, and that's what it is. He passed a tax bill that gave us all these privileges for depreciation and for tax credits. We build the building and we get tax credits, like the hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Which by the way, was given to me by the Obama administration, if you can believe that. Now the man got fired right after that happened, but that's-
WALLACE: Vice President Biden, you want to respond?
"Chris, let me just say something," Donald Trump skillfully said.
With that, a filibuster began, after which Wallace relented. We'd describe the statement we've quoted as an example of "famous last words."
Back to our basic point. In that long, multiply-interrupted exchange, the commander seemed to say that he paid millions of dollars in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. Rather plainly, he seemed to contradict what the Tmeshad reported.
That said, it seemed to us that the accumulated confusion was substantial. For that reason, it seemed to us that Wallace should have asked him to state that as a specific claim at the end of the hubbub.
Instead, the commander staged a filibuster. To our ear, it seemed to us that Wallace then let him escape.
All in all, we thought Wallace did a perfectly decent job last night in a lunatic situation. That said, we thought he should have nailed down the commander's apparent claim.
That said, it was fairly clear that the commander had actually said it. He seemed to say that he paid millions of dollars in federal income tax each of those years, not the $750 the New York Times had reported.
As of yesterday afternoon, it was the number-one topic on earth. But so what? From 10:45 Eastern last night through 8 o'clock Eastern today, we didn't see a single reporter or pundit mention what Donald Trump said.
So it goes in the current era, an era known to future experts as The Era Which Was.
Journalistic attention spans have become extremely limited during this badly fraught period. Under the stress of the 24-hour "news" cycle, our journalists have tended to let major issues slide, focusing instead on Whatever Donald Trump Did or Said in The Past Fifteen Minutes.
A similar pattern has played out in the case of the $750. Also, in the case of the claim that the commander often paid no federal income taxes at all.
We expect to return to that Times report tomorrow. For this morning, we offer this instant reaction concerning last evening's debacle:
Last night's debacle may have been the most helpful event in a very long time. Beyond that, we'd say it was a milestone in the age of presidential politics as conducted on television.
Televised presidential debates began in 1960. Our "journalists" never tire of telling a silly, long-debunked tale in which Nixon won the first debate on the radio but Kennedy won on TV.
Our journalists love their stories! Last night, Joy Reid offered a slightly improved version of that long-debunked tale in the rollicking, entertaining hour MSNBC aired before the debate. All in all, our journalists observe one basic rule:
They never surrender their bullshit.
In part because of that silly story, that first Kennedy-Nixon debate has become iconic. Routinely, journalists say it showed the powerful role television was destined to play in presidential politics.
Television has played a major role in presidential politics. Today, we'll suggest a possibility:
We'll suggest the possibility that television has never played a larger role in presidential politics than it did last night. We suggest that for this reason:
All over the land, on TV screens, people were shown the commander in chief last night as he actually is. We'll guess that for most people—though not for all—he came across very badly.
Different people react in different ways to the various things we all see. Late last night, on CNN, six undecided Ohio voters in Ohio said that last night's debate helped them make up their minds.
Four of them said they'll be voting for Biden. Two of them watched last night's debate, then said they'll be voting for Trump.
We respect the reactions of all six of these fellow citizens. But again, we'll advance this guess:
On their TV screens last night, voters saw Trump as he actually is. We'll guess that, on balance, this will tilt things toward Biden.
No, Virginia! Kennedy didn't lose that debate on the radio but win that debate on TV. Our journalists love to repeat that memorized tale because repetition is what they do best.
Kennedy didn't gain the White House that way, but Trump may have lost it last night. The magic of a familiar technology placed him on our TV screens.
Last night, on our TV screens, he was seen as he actually is.
There were no interruptions: There were zero interruptions in that first TV debate. Kennedy listened as Nixon spoke. Nixon listened to Kennedy.
There were no interruptions. That said, Theodore White didn't like what he saw.
In his iconic book, The Making of the President, 1960, White described the problems which obtained as Kennedy and Nixon debated. There were zero interruptions, but White was troubled by this:
WHITE (page 294): [R]arely in American history has there been a political campaign that discussed issues less or clarified them less.
The TV debates, in retrospect, were the greatest opportunity ever for such discussion, but it was an opportunity missed...All TV and radio discussion programs are compelled to snap question and answer back and forth as if the contestants were adversaries in an intellectual tennis match. Although every experienced newspaperman and inquirer knows that the most thoughtful and responsive answers to any difficult question comes after long pause, and that the longer the pause the more illuminating the thought that follows it, nonetheless the electronic media cannot bear to suffer a pause of more than five seconds; a pause of thirty seconds of dead time on air seems interminable. Thus, snapping their two-and-a-half-minute answers back and forth, both candidates could only react for the cameras and the people, they could not think. And, since two and a half minutes permit only a snatch of naked thought and a spatter of raw facts, both candidates, whenever caught out on a limb with a thought too heavy for two-minute exploration, a thought seemingly too bold or fresh to be accepted by the conditioned American mind, hastily scuttled back toward center as soon as they had enunciated the thought.
The candidates were given two and a half minutes that night. There were zero interruptions. Each man was permitted to speak.
Nevertheless, White was appalled by what he saw. That wasn't sufficient time for this pair of experienced men to outline the full complexity of their thoughts.
(We'll note that White didn't miss the chance to roll his eyes at "the conditioned American kind." Our elites have been playing this way for a very long time.)
White thought TV had murdered debate. Fast-forward, if you will, to last night!