Stunning? Surprising? Shocking? Not Anymore


The Trump presidency has undeniably been an adjustment period for Americans. My mom watches MSNBC every weekday and keeps expressing surprise and disbelief at everything which happens in the theater of national politics.

“Why won’t somebody stop this guy?”

“Why can’t anyone do something about him?”

“Why isn’t anything happening?”

On Twitter and in interactions with my mom’s friends, the same reality of surprise and shock and cognitive short-circuiting recurs.

I try to tell my mom — as much as humanly possible — that MSNBC programming is DESIGNED to get a strong reaction from viewers, given that it is ideological programming and therefore, in my opinion, entertainment far more than news. If shows are built around furthering an ideological worldview, the decision has already been made (by MSNBC executives, not the hosts/anchors themselves) to create a nightly narrative about the world instead of following the truth, wherever it leads. This narrative is designed to make the viewer at home go, “YEAH! THAT’S RIGHT! THIS IS THE WAY IT SHOULD BE, AND THOSE GUYS (the political opponents of the right way, cast in the role of the villains, with Trump being the most common choice and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell filling in at times) ARE PREVENTING IT FROM HAPPENING!”

The truth is so obvious, and the opponents of the truth are evil. This is how ideological programming works. Roger Ailes elevated it to an art form at Fox News, but MSNBC also engages in it. You might counter with the assertion that MSNBC gets a lot fewer facts wrong compared to Fox News, and that might narrowly be true, but on a broader level, it remains that MSNBC is just as committed to advancing an ideology — neoliberalism — as Fox promotes right-wing beliefs and causes. The quality of execution might be less militant, but the basic commitment exists, something I will write about more in future columns.

The point to emphasize is that MSNBC is MEANT to elicit a strong emotional reaction from viewers already predisposed to be angry and upset. (My mother had a heart attack one week before the 2016 elections, so stressed was she about the prospect of a Trump victory, which she felt was coming all along. My calm attempts to point to the electoral map proved inaccurate and, as a result, inadequate in quelling her fears.)

I don’t blame my mom for being surprised and shocked all the time. I DO blame MSNBC for very intentionally perpetuating and deepening a climate of surprise among its viewers… which reinforces why MSNBC is properly seen not as a purveyor of news, but entertainment.

A mature NEWS outlet and mature NEWS commentators/analysts would not fan the flames of emotion. They would calmly report on and dissect the news, telling people not why they ought to be outraged, but explaining to people how stories affect their lives and how they can meaningfully address them. Part of this abandonment of a true news organization’s mission lies in MSNBC’s perpetuation of the idea that in Helsinki or on the Mueller probe or at the EPA, Trump’s actions are “surprising” or “stunning.”

“It is stunning to see an American president” do this, or that, or that over there, paid yakkers say to the camera or the evening anchor. We are a year and a half into the Trump presidency, and it was already apparent after the first few WEEKS of this presidency that — much like the 2016 election itself — Trump cut against many notions of what “normal politics” looks like.

Whether it was Sean Spicer’s weird insistence about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, or Trump’s self-focused speech at the CIA in January of 2017, or any of the Michael Flynn plot twists, the opening DAYS of the Trump administration were unlike the opening days of any other administration. Anyone in the news business with a clear eye and a level head knew that “normalcy” and “conventional expectations” had already flown out the window, never to return.

The idea that anything Trump does NOW, in the summer of 2018, is “surprising” or “stunning” is laughably inaccurate. Commentators paid handsome sums to keep intact the emotional soap opera of palace intrigue surely KNOW that what Trump does is not “stunning,” but remember: Cable network television is entertainment. It is performance art. It is part of a script with intentionally chosen guests who get to repeat their comfortable talking points day after day, week after week.

The show anchors, the panelists, the regular guests — they know that Trump is entirely removed from the conventional mold and style of politicians and presidents, but they have ratings to attain and corporate bosses to satisfy, so they all play along and say on the air that Trump’s actions are surprising, or that “THIS IS NOT AMERICA! THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!”, when of COURSE it’s what we are, and when OF COURSE our country followed various paths which led to the phenomenon of Trump and made him possible.

If you are surprised by what Trump does at the start of August in 2018, I don’t — and won’t — blame you. However, I hope you can now see more clearly that if you do place trust in MSNBC, you are being emotionally manipulated. More importantly, if you stop being surprised, you will attain better cardiovascular health and be at lower risk of a heart attack if Trump wins re-election in 2020.

Look after your holistic wellness and the wellness of others in your circles of family and friends. Stop being surprised today, and make a fresh start in life, one which includes registering people to vote instead of wasting hours each evening listening to MSNBC analysts engage in mindless prattle they inwardly know isn’t true.

As we should know by now, what is true is not profitable, and corporate-owned television is meant to be profitable far more than it is meant to serve the truth.

That should not be seen as stunning.

Stop being surprised and live your best life, starting today.

Main Photo: MSNBC logo


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