With this presidential campaign now drawing to a close, I believe a few thank-yous are in order.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the candidates, starting with Donald Trump. It isn’t easy to contrive a TV column every day and you, Donald, have been a precious resource for TV Blog topics ever since you officially announced your candidacy in June 2015.
The speech you gave then will go down as a classic in political history and television stagecraft. With all of the great and timely issues on the minds of the vast majority of Americans, you shrewdly decided to hammer Mexican immigrants, many of whom seemed like fine, hard-working folks to most of us until you set us straight. One question you have never really answered: What did a Mexican ever do to you that you should feel this way about them?
From “Saturday Night Live” last fall to the Republican National Convention this past summer in which you humbly accepted the nomination of the party you love for President of the United States, you have provided TV audiences, the cable news channels and journalists on the TV beat who generally have no business dabbling in political commentary with more than enough material to fill the airwaves and the seemingly infinite space available in cyberspace.
And who can forget the great televised debates of 2015 and 2016? I won’t soon forget them. You turned these traditionally serious events into spectacles that millions could enjoy watching for their sheer entertainment value. The morning-after columns practically wrote themselves.
And thank you, Hillary Clinton, for serving as straight man for The Donald. With an expression on your face in the debates that conveyed a combination of pity and understanding, you were like Ollie to Trump’s Stanley. Never again will we see the likes of the two of you facing off in prime-time debates, or in opposing speeches delivered every afternoon on the campaign trail in barns, high school gyms and small factories, and then boiled down to 15-second sound bites on the evening news. Context? What’s that?
Television has played a role in presidential politics practically since the medium began its conquest of American households at the dawn of the 1950s. Today, the two are intertwined to such a degree that it’s difficult to imagine one without the other.
With that relationship in mind, thank you, cable news channels, for destroying the long tradition of unbiased reporting in journalism. In this campaign, as in no other previously, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN all seemed to be saying: To hell with all that, we’re backing Hillary or Trump, and we’re not hiding our preferences any longer.
For years, the news channels wanted it both ways -- air so-called “straight news” all day and then segue into the opinionated, personality-driven talk shows in the evening hours.
Well, news flash to the news channels: Ordinary people really don’t know the difference between opinionated talk-show hosts and the anchorpeople and reporters who are supposed to report the straight news in all the other dayparts. Thus, for example, when you have a guy like Sean Hannity at 10 p.m Eastern every night promoting Trump’s candidacy, it is easy to form the impression that Fox News Channel generally is for Trump. Thank you, Sean Hannity.
And thank you, other candidates. Who can forget Bernie Sanders and his wild hand-gesturing and his insistence that the United States adopt a socialist system? When you stop and think about it, this was a pretty courageous position to take. Incredibly, millions agreed with him.
Jeb Bush, we hardly knew ye, but like Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront,” you coulda been a contender. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee were all players who strutted and fretted their hours upon the television stage, and then were heard no more (to paraphrase Shakespeare).
Thank you, everybody, who brought us to this point. The climax is tonight when the votes get counted on TV and then reacted to on Twitter. And on Wednesday morning, the cycle begins anew. Who’s up for the 2020 presidential campaign?