Three years ago, I stood slack-jawed at the Iowa State Fairgrounds soaking up what I thought was the weirdest political spectacle I would ever encounter. Sen. Bernie Sanders was speaking at the annual Des Moines Register Soapbox, assaulting the power of the richest 1 percent of Americans. But his points were drowned out by the “Trump”-emblazoned helicopter of an actual billionaire presidential candidate buzzing the speech.
Sanders, as befits his narrative, riffed a response in his frank and pleading Brooklyn accent that pleased his fans but lacked the flair of the competition: “There’s Donald Trump, look who it is. I apologize, I left my helicopter at home.”
Trump did not speak at the event, and he had a decent reason. Taking its own whack at the unprecedented, the editorial board of the paper sponsoring the event had urged him to quit the race, calling him a “bloviating blowhard.”
But Trump could not bring himself to stay away from so much attention. So he went to Iowa and gave kids copter rides and flew around some more for the gawkers and cavorted for the fair goers, and the media he pretends to hate so much.
That same afternoon, Hillary Clinton, as befits her narrative, took a tack just as ill-considered as Trump’s, but far less charismatic. She, too, came to Des Moines. She, too, iffy about the combative soapbox crowd, chose not to speak. But instead of giving kids helicopter rides, she held a news conference just outside the fairgrounds that media members trying to catch the Trump ’n’ Sanders show couldn’t readily attend, then walked around the fair with a huge crowd snapping pictures with ill-considered fried foods.
Back in those innocent times, 1,096 long days ago, that event played as a shocking deviation from the norm. Now? The most accurate term to describe a 24-hour period that odd and dismaying is “today.”
As in, “Today, President Donald Trump tweeted of former staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman: ‘When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!’ ”
It’s a tweet that raises two big questions:
- Why would the president name a “crazed, crying lowlife” director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison in the White House? After employing her in four TV jobs?
Why would the president call this black woman whose destiny has been intertwined with his for 15 years a dog?
Now, there is a media frenzy over whether a tape of Trump using the N-word exists. Considering how little effect the president’s “Access Hollywood” “grab ’em by the pussy” tape had on his fans, it’s likely the answer matters only to people who already dislike the president.
But many media members, increasingly disoriented by the horrifyingly inhumane or provably untrue things Trump says in any day, no longer know what to highlight.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders flicked at that, unintentionally, in her briefing Tuesday. Asked why Trump keeps responding to Manigault Newman, she blamed the media for giving the feud so much attention. “The people in this room, they continue to create a large platform for someone they know not to have a lot of credibility,” Sanders said.
They do keep doing that — for Donald Trump. As he is the president of the United States, no one can find a way out of it.
Since it’s the third anniversary of that day in Iowa that marked a kickoff to the 2016 campaign, we know the next iteration gets going in just one year, with the 2020 election 15 months after that.
Just imagine what it will take to shock us by then.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.