Editorial: Trump tests huckster’s myth that no publicity is bad
The man in the nation’s White House is obviously a believer in the famous huckster’s saying: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
While marketing professionals through the ages have debated that wisdom, Trump is putting it to the test.
It’s early Sunday afternoon and the top three stories trending on the New York Times online version all have to do with sports — and politics. Trump insulted professional NFL players, professional basketball and baseball players as well, as well as coaches and team owners with another series of outrageous tweets — demanding that NFL owners fire any players who take a knee or otherwise chose to make a statement other than saluting the flag during the national anthem. All three stories demonstrated the overwhelming negative response to Trump’s call.
It has been another stupefying show of poor judgment. He has managed to offend sports fans across the nation — even many of the team owners, most of whom were Trump supporters and hefty donors.
But let’s back up a moment, and set the stage for Trump’s itchy Twitter fingers on Friday. Just what could he have been thinking?
What got him riled last Friday was Sen. John McCain’s announcement that he could not in good conscience support the Cassidy-Graham plan to repeal Obamacare because it was purposely being pushed forward without a bipartisan approach, because neither he nor anyone else in Congress knew how many Americans would be priced out of health insurance and what harm the bill would do to individual states.
Trump fired off shots disparaging Sen. McCain (but everyone expected that and paid those insults no attention), and then — if we are to extrapolate Trump’s typical pattern — he set out to change the conversation.
With the NFL’s season just underway, Trump seized on what we’re sure he considered a brilliant idea: He’d criticize those athletes who chose not to stand and salute the flag. You can see his mind racing: It was red meat for his white, racist base of supporters; it would get their minds off his repeated failure to repeal Obamacare.
Surely, his tweets would gin up his hardline supporters — the same hot-headed, 5 percent of America (11 million at its height) who took curious delight in watching “the Donald” fire people on The Apprentice. Surely this flare-up would also make his supporters forget about how North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un got the better of Trump with his verbal putdown, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” who was like “a dog barking.” Kim then vowedthe “highest level of hardline countermeasure in history.”
That is, Trump’s bombastic rhetoric — his supposed tough stand against North Korea that would whip Kim into shape — backfired, bigly.“Dotard,” for those who have not yet looked it up, comes from “dotage,” a word meaning “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”
Knowing that hit close to home, Trump sensed he had to cause to big distraction. And, hey, if he got a little bad publicity in the process, so what? Phineas T. Barnum, the famous 19th American showman and circus owner, after all, claimed that all publicity was good, and Oscar Wilde seconded that motion, saying: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.”
It’s a modus operandi that fits Trump to a “T.”
But back to those top three trending stories in today’s NY Times. For starters, NFL players across the nation demonstrated over the weekend in unified defiance of Trump’s call.
Even New England Patriot Tom Brady, who has been a Trump supporter, locked arms with his teammates in solidarity. And in a first for anthem demonstrations, Rico Lavelle, who sang the anthem in Detroit, sunk to one knee and raised a fist at the conclusion.
In Philadelphia, Eagles and Giants players and coaches locked arms as a massive American flag was unfurled over the field and military jets performed a flyover. A few players raised fists or knelt. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie locked arms with his players. The Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the dugout and did not participate during the singing of the anthem. The starkness of their empty bench was dramatic.
And, according to a New York Times roundup of demonstrations against Trump’s tweets, “Terry Bradshaw, a hall-of-fame quarterback and commentator for Fox, said he does not condone protests during anthem, but believed that ‘Every American has the right to speak out and also to protest. Believe me, these athletes do love this great country of ours. Personally I think our president should concentrate on serious issues like North Korea and health care, rather than ripping into athletes and the N.F.L.’”
And on and on the comments went.
Trump did rile his base. No doubt, that 5 percent of America that wants to bust heads and play shoot ’em up raised their Bud beer cans in a rowdy salute to Trump “telling it like it is.” But most Americans called Trump’s actions “disgraceful,” and the idea of a fan boycott absurd. Not even the most die-hard Trump supporter would go that far.
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