Think of the 2016 presidential campaign as the political equivalent of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s loud; there are plenty of abusive special effects; the critics hate it, but the crowds turn out; a media company or three rake in the dough; and foreigners can’t get enough of this new vision of the American way of life—or is it of a Bizarro world?
If you prefer, you could think of Campaign 2016, the never-ending blockbuster, as an affirmation that, whatever the hell this country is, it’s still, like Hollywood, at the top of the heap. When it comes to gluing eyeballs, it remains the “sole superpower” on Planet Earth. Think of it, in fact, any way you like, but just notice that the only thing you can’t do is not think about it.
This came to my mind recently on my daily trip to the gym. A TV is always on in the anteroom you pass through to reach the men’s locker room. A couple of weeks ago, I started to jot down what was onscreen. So let me give you a rundown of one week’s worth of my comings and goings.
Monday: This proved the oddball news day of my exercise week. As I arrived, CNN was reporting from a “locked down” Capitol—shots of people running hither and yon—and it was still doing so with remarkably similar shots an hour and 40 minutes later when I left. It turned out that some madman—and I mean that quite literally, since, on an earlier occasion, the same fellow was arrested for shouting that he was “a prophet of God” from the gallery of the House of Representatives—had pulled out a pellet gun in the Capitol’s visiting area and been shot by the police. In the new American media world in which 24/7 obsession is the definition of news, that minor story played nonstop for the rest of the day and I caught it again leading NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (“Gunman at US Capitol Shot by Police”).
Tuesday, as I walked in, CNN was focused on the arrest of Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, for an “assault” on Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields in Jupiter, Florida (the American version of outer space). As I left, Governor John Kasich on MSNBC was just “weighing in” on—you guessed it—Lewandowski’s “alleged battery,” with a Washington Post reporter on deck, ready to offer crucial analysis on the same subject, while a Donald Trump tweet was also under discussion.