The Tabloid Myths of Jennifer Aniston and Donald Trump

Going by the tabloid reports, I found that Ms. Aniston should have given birth to some two dozen babies in the last few years. According to OK! alone, she has acquired up to 15 kids since 2013, having been pregnant nine times — twice with twins! — while also adopting a third set of twins.

.. It’s no mystery why In Touch and OK! keep printing these false stories. At a time when gossip magazines are suffering right along with more serious publications and digital outlets, they no longer have the reporting ranks they once relied on to dig up real celebrity scoops.

.. And the gossip industry provides a rich, if anachronistic, narrative indeed: The approachable-seeming Ms. Aniston gets the better of a glamorous rival — Angelina Jolie — and finds contentment through being reunited with the supposed love of her life. And baby makes three (or 18).
.. Never mind that Ms. Aniston herself finds that view of a woman’s happiness to be offensive. “We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete,” she wrote in 2016 HuffPost essay that debunked the endless false tabloid reports about her love life and supposed pregnancies.
“With Jennifer Aniston, you have to start with the fundamental thing that people like her, and they’re pulling for her,” said Larry Hackett, the former editor of People magazine. “They would like to see her have the baby, because they’re operating under this archaic, old-fashioned notion that without a baby she must be unhappy.”

Mr. Hackett sagely noted that the mix of reality and fantasy contained in the Aniston story line isn’t all that different from the contrived, highly edited versions of reality presented by “unscripted” shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” still going strong in its 15th season. More important for the purposes of this column, it’s not all that different from a onetime stalwart of the genre, “The Apprentice.”

.. As Patrick Radden Keefe wrote in a recent article on “The Apprentice” for The New Yorker, Donald J. Trump’s star had dimmed in the years before it aired. By papering over his business organizations’ bankruptcies, not to mention the fraud accusations against Trump University, the NBC prime-time hit “mythologized him anew, turning him into an icon of American success.”

Mr. Trump ran his campaign and at times runs his White House with a reliance on the same mix of fantasy and truthiness typical of supermarket tabloids and reality TV. Just as a large group of people can’t get enough of the tales about Ms. Aniston, a large constituency seems eager to believe a reality-show narrative about the 45th president.

.. On “The Apprentice,” he was a straight-shooting, street-smart businessman. To rally-goers during his campaign, he was the outsider who sought to smash a calcified ruling elite. As president, he has been the man willing to fight off resistance from “the deep state” to do what’s right, even if it means shutting down the government.

.. In this scenario, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III plays the role filled by Ms. Jolie in the Aniston saga — the foil who thrives on thwarting our protagonist.

.. Just as I have found myself tempted to believe the Pregnant Jen story line, the president’s fans seem more than willing to embrace this version of reality — a story line that has been fleshed out by The National Enquirer, his unignorable Twitter feed, his Fox News cheering section (Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, the gang at “Fox & Friends”), his radio boosters (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin), and his longtime adviser Roger Stone, who fed a new “deep state” theory to Infowars a week before his arrest on Friday.

.. Driving the belief in political conspiracy theories and celebrity pregnancies alike is “a desire to have the truth fit” the heart’s desires, said Renée Ann Cramer, a professor of law, politics and society at Drake University in Iowa. “They want it to be true,” she said.

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

How 9 “Art of the Deal” quotes explain the Trump presidency

  • On a daily schedule: “I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”
  • On flexibility: “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”
  • On the press: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.
  • On exaggeration: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”
  • On fighting back: “[W]hen people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard. The risk is you’ll make a bad situation worse, and I certainly don’t recommend this approach to everyone. But my experience is that if you’re fighting for something you believe in — even if it means alienating some people along the way — things usually work out for the best in the end.”
  • On results: “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
  • On competing: “I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

What’s So Good About Original Sin?

I would like to entertain the notion that a secularized conception of original sin is plausible, and that believing it might have good effects.

.. In trying to make the world an excellent place for human beings to live by developing and applying ingenious technologies, for example, we may wind up rendering it uninhabitable. Or in trying to keep ourselves safe and secure by stockpiling defensive weaponry, we may annihilate life on earth. There’s really no need for God’s punishment when you’re making your own hellfire.

.. As Paul told the Romans .. , “I do not know what it is that I accomplish” and “what I wish, this I do not do; instead, what I hate, this I do.”

.. There is some level of self-scrutiny too merciless for most of us, some inner corridor too dark. We are mystified, or purport to be, by mass shooters, for example. What could possibly motivate a person to want to kill — everyone? What could turn them so against their own species? I suggest that to answer a question like that we must look within ourselves — at our own violent fantasies, the ways we hate or negate the world, our moments of imagined annihilation of people we fancy to be our enemies, our feeling at times that we are being arbitrarily persecuted or misunderstood.

.. This insight is not the exclusive province of Christian theology. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I have within me the capacity for every crime.”

.. We may regard a shooter — or a racist, a sexual predator, an addict or someone who commits suicide (as de Cleyre herself tried to do at least once) — as alien. This reinforces, to ourselves and others, our sense of our own sanity and goodness;

.. The doctrine of original sin — in religious or secular versions — is an expression of humility, an expression of a resolution to face our own imperfections.

.. There is much to affirm in our damaged selves and in our damaged lives, even a sort of dignity and beauty we share in our imperfect awareness of our own imperfection, and our halting attempts to face it, and ourselves.