Donald Trump is what you get once you let commercial interests control the presidential election process.
Once Fox News announced it was going to determine participants in its important Aug. 6 GOP debate based on popularity in the polls, how long did you think it was going to be before the so-called "conversation of democracy" on the campaign trail was going to get tabloid, stupid and ugly?
The takeaway on the first month of Trump's candidacy: This is how you rise in the polls in a cluttered field in Media-Toxic America these days. You do like the trash sites on the Web do: You get in the gutter, abandon all sense of decency and slash, burn, denigrate and attack. You go Gawker.
You don't try to actually formulate a coherent immigration policy. Oh no, that would be boring and nerdy.
Instead you call Mexicans rapists and trot out the hoary American trope of the latest wave of immigrants being a dangerous, out-of-control element that needs to be contained lest it pollute the nation.
That's the way we do it on cable TV and blogs dedicated to ideological warfare above all else. And isn't that the road to ratings and clicks? And what else matters? Who knows what journalism and presidential politics are anyway anymore? And who cares? It's all clicks, clicks, clicks, isn't it?
And if anyone dares to criticize your rhetoric or policy, you get down-and-dirty personal in response. There's nothing the social-media ecosphere loves more than personal attacks, like the one Trump leveled over the weekend on Senator John's McCain's service as a POW during the Vietnam War. Who cares about righteousness or truth, as long as it's trending?
Words like vile and despicable don't do justice to the role Trump is playing in debasing the presidential election process this summer.
In the month since Trump announced his candidacy, he has not only shot to the top of the polls with his rancor, he's totally dominated the media conversation about the presidency. Talk about Trump again filled the airwaves and cable channels Sunday morning, polluting one of the last bastions of public-affairs television that the nation has.
I am not saying the media created Candidate Trump. Donald Trump was pop culture pond scum before he ever ran for president.
But the media are certainly fueling his rise this time around by creating a process that plays to his worst instincts.
Cable channels like Fox News should be telecasting presidential debates, not determining who gets to participate or not based on popularity polls.
For the record, here's how Fox describes the role polls will play in its selection process:
Latest David Zurawik
To be one of the 10 debaters, a candidate "must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News leading up to August 4th at 5 PM/ET. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques."