Perhaps you heard the big explosion that went off Tuesday night, and reverberated around social media the next morning. That explosion was the sound of the bombshell on Tuesday night’s episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, or rather the sound of hype and conjecture exploding into a pile of ash, revealing nothing of substance. Tuesday night was an embarrassment, an affront to all of the folks like me who have taken to political activism and resistance in the face of the Trump administration. This was not just a “nothing burger” as Senator Cruz would say, this was a pure shot of adrenaline into the veins of not only Trump, but all of the heartland American “deplorable” supporters who elected him, in part, to spite the very liberal/major media establishment intelligentsia behind stories like these. It played right into their hands, basically. And the Trumpster himself was able to take a victory lap Wednesday both in person and on TV, able to crow out to all his supporters that everything is as it always was: the establishment cannot let him succeed, and is only attacking him to score points, nothing more.
The problem with cable news channels is that you are never quite sure when the person speaking is acting as a journalist, or merely a commentator, in other words someone who is merely giving an observation or an analysis of news that was gathered by someone else. To draw a conclusion I will clarify now which must be obvious to you: I am not a journalist. I am not speaking to primary sources, gathering evidence or the like. I am an idiot with a platform from which I can throw eggs at those in power, a blowhard with an opinion, nothing more. Anything I ever do from here in this capacity would be prefaced with that same understanding. I have no intentions of being a journalist. I feel that most people on cable news have intentionally never declared which side they’re on, and that this is by design so they can play on both sides of the fence, depending on the nature of the story. This does the viewer a disservice, and is part of the reason why the notion of “truth” and “facts” has become such a malleable thing in contemporary America. This is how you get “alternative facts” and “fake news.”
So Maddow got Trumped. She teased out her own story until her show’s midpoint to make sure the audience all saw one complete batch of commercials before the big reveal, and by the time any substance was shown on camera, two pages of a 1040 filed by Trump in 2005, multiple sources in media and the White House itself had already acknowledged, and responded to, the supposed bombshell. While watching it with a friend, I myself was so not impacted by the inflated weight of the reveal that I turned to ask my friend if we’d both missed something. Nope, there was just really nothing there to begin with. Trump earned money! He paid millions in taxes! Do we know anything else? Isn’t this stuff we already basically knew? Where’s the story, reporter?
Presidents revealing their tax returns is not a tradition that goes back a long way in American history. It goes back to Nixon, who himself had a bit of a tax problem at the beginning of his second term. This of course is overshadowed by Watergate, the real scandal at the heart of his administration and campaign, and maybe this ought to be instructive. The tax returns issue is a concern, and a valid one, but pumping up what is essentially two pages proving absolutely nothing scandalous or disqualifying on their own merits as something that might possibly be something scandalous or disqualifying is, forgive me for saying this: fake news. This is part of the problem and it is not helping.
I am already seeing the Clinton/Obama establishment set of liberals coming out on Twitter and elsewhere to defend Maddow. “Why are you upset with her, he’s the one obfuscating and lying,” or “hey, at least she forced him to release something,” and the like are common lines of argument. But that does not disprove what I said: this was a lame ploy for ratings and ad revenue, nothing more. It was all smoke and no fire, or all hat and no cattle as we say here in Texas. I mean come on, yes, it’s prime time cable news and that’s the point. But there was a nakedness about this that concerned many, and I am in this camp. It just served to embolden the guy you’re trying to thwart. And it could not have come at a worse time.
That there is a need for Congress and the FBI, and probably others, to investigate what ties, if any, Trump or his staff had with Russians and how involved these folks were with the election itself, this is an agreeable point on both sides of the political aisle. Fine, investigate. The tax issue may come up on its own during these investigations, and there are already efforts underway in Congress to force Trump’s hand in this regard too. Let these efforts continue. Support them publicly, call out those in Congress or elsewhere that hamper these efforts or slow them down for political reasons, vouch for the institutional processes we have to deal with this problem. Give voice to those doing the same. But stop bucking for cheap ratings when all you have is a sparse two page 1040. Stop just making it all about you, while simultaneously acting like you’re being the virtuous conscience of American democracy. You cannot do both. When you try, you just lose credibility and give Trump more red meat for his base. We need to stay focused, and not grandstand things not worth grandstanding. With healthcare on the table, as well as the huge cuts to programs dedicated to food, air and water quality/safety, with the intention to wall our country off from another (property owners already got their land grab notices, this is happening right now) and deport those we find undesirable en masse all in front of us as issues, we cannot afford to be knocked off message now. Stand Indivisible, or sit down and let the rest of us do it.