It’s 2016, but I’m hoping to starting blogging again, especially with the current election season presenting us with an utterly insane political spectacle. Specifically, the Republican primary has been dominated by the rise of Donald Trump and the emergence of what many media critics have begun to call “Trumpism,” a particularly bellicose form of populism (Norm Ornstein’s diagnoses of the causes of Trumpism is perhaps the best writing I’ve seen on the topic). I’m not quite sure yet how I’d like to add to the conversation, but one contribution I’d like to make is to try to document some of the more significant “moments” of political media over the course of the next eleven months. While elections matter a great deal in determining the future direction of our country (and the world), the narratives that frame them also matter a great deal as well. They can serve to reflect the ways in which “we” perceive ourselves as a country.
With that in mind, I’m going to spend the next few months compiling and hopefully commenting on some of these key moments. One of the most widely discussed moments involves the recent Republican debate that aired on the Fox Business Channel. While the number of debates may seem excessive–and may, in some ways, reinforce political fragmentation–they can reveal quite a bit about candidates–not just their beliefs but also their temperaments, their ability to craft narratives about themselves. And that’s why I think that this exchange from Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, in which Cruz accuses Trump of having “New York values” is so important.
Cruz here is making an attempt at a form of “dog-whistle” politics: he’s using New York as code for everything that’s ostensibly wrong with America, at least from the perspective of the evangelical, rural, and presumably white voters that make up his base (and much of the Republican base). But Trump turns this on its head, in a response that evokes the heroic efforts of first responders during the September 11 attacks. For perhaps the best analysis of this exchange, see Josh Marshall’s insightful discussion of it.