The Koi Pond of Discontent
Don’t be fooled, stirring a feeding frenzy is not meaningful accomplishment
Koi ponds are supposed to be peaceful places, both as decorative landscaping and as places for reflection and peaceful mediation. The koi themselves, elevated to a higher place of respect than their fellow carps, are beautiful if somewhat persnickety creatures who exist mostly to look pretty and eat on command. It’s living, breathing, peaceable entertainment.
But dump enough food in the tranquil waters of the koi pond, and you will get a feeding frenzy. They can’t help themselves.
We have two narratives in the news cycle that are only there because President Trump has dumped them into the waters to create a feeding frenzy. And like the colorful carp of the koi pond, the commentariat and media cannot help but swarm at the splashes.
For the umpteenth time, President Trump has publicly swiped at the late Sen. John McCain. He is also feuding with the very much alive George Conway, husband of counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Both of these stories get plenty of play on the networks, in columns, on social media, and in the news cycle.
And neither story matters a bit except for the splashing entertainment of the political theater feeding frenzy.
The John McCain-Donald feud far predates the latter’s political career, going at least as far back as the 90s and the Senator being among the congressional voices opposing the famed real estate developers seeking of federal funding for a project. Add in the fact the men are opposites in chosen paths of life, and both could get bitter and nasty with a grudge, and you have the makings of good, old-fashioned hate. But John McCain is dead, and the presidents continued vitriol, justified in his mind or not, is yet another example of his propensity towards pettiness. The honored war hero John McCain and the long-time politician John McCain is it’s own complicated legacy, but it is a completed legacy now left to history to judge with the man’s passing. The president should let it go, but won’t for reasons known only to him, and his savvy media instincts and experience tells him every time he throws out the nibblet of McCain criticism the feeding frenzy will gather. I suspect the president will continue, if not escalate, his comments directed at the late John McCain, after all no reason to pull punches when the other party can no longer hit back. It’s just the kind of fight President Trump likes; personal, petty, safe for him to engage in on his own terms, no danger of losing anything of value to him.
At the same time, the media drama triangle that has escalated between the president, Kellyanne Conway, and her husband George Conway has been getting more attention. Conway the husband has sniped at Conway the wife’s boss before, but President Trump has seen fit to give it the full Twitter treatment over the last few days after George Conway questioned his mental health, including punctuating a tweet with the terribly original burn of “a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!” This has lead to the spectacle of Kellyanne Conway, in her role as counselor to the president and frequent talking head representative, to defend her boss the president against a private citizen who is her husband.
“He left it alone for months out of respect for me,” Conway, a senior Trump aide, told POLITICO in a brief telephone interview. “But you think he shouldn’t respond when somebody, a non-medical professional accuses him of having a mental disorder? You think he should just take that sitting down?”
“Don’t play psychiatrist any more than George should be,” she added. “You’re not a psychiatrist and he’s not, respectfully.”
Well, then, that should settle that right down. Now if she could just convince the president to move on to other, more pressing issues.
Everyone participating in this should know better. There is nothing wrong with being koi in the pond. Just don’t pretend that idly swimming while waiting on the next dumping of Trump-brand media feed equates to accomplishing anything more than being an amusement to the president who is getting what he wants every time the frenzy commences. The problem is this; if your job is reporting, writing, or otherwise creating content on current political events, grabbing one of Trump’s tweets o’ the day is an easy way to fill your quota without having to unduly burden your creative circuits. The story arcs of interpersonal feuding write themselves, and have worked as drivers of content for time immemorial. Everything from Greek tragedies to professional wrestling storylines to TV & film is driven by interpersonal conflict, something Kellyanne Conway herself acknowledges:
“Yesterday George spent the day tweeting about the president,” she noted. “I spent my day doing two one-hour briefings with press and intergovernmental affairs people, agency people from all across the country and then over an hour briefing that I led in the Oval Office with the president and first lady in the cabinet on opioids at one year, so this is what I do here. I think it probably looks differently if everybody is turning into ‘Gossip Girl’”
Small fish, in a small pond, doing small things. The discerning media consumer will concluded it warrants a passing glance. But nothing else.
Do as you will.
Originally published at ordinary-times.com on March 20, 2019.