The retired demographic lives for the former president's scandals
Former President Donald J. Trump was arraigned this week in a Miami federal court, pleading not guilty to 37 felony counts. In one sense, this gives Trump the opportunity to return as the beleaguered martyr, remarking afterward that “the only crime that I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.” But more than that, the former president’s alleged crimes — the retention of national defence documents and obstruction of justice in concealing them — signify another revival of the Trump political universe: the Baby Boomers.
Retired, upper-middle class Baby Boomers — and their fellow NeverTrump fellow travellers across all age groups — comprise the core market for Trump-scandal content. After all, Americans aged 65 and older are the group most likely to say they watch cable news. And this clearly pays dividends when a new story breaks. Live coverage of Trump’s post-arrest address brought Fox 2.4 million viewers at 8pm, well above the network’s post-Tucker average. And across all cable networks, approximately 5.6 million viewers tuned in for coverage.
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This news comes on the heels of last week’s cable news ratings showing that MSNBC “was the most-watched basic cable network in primetime,” for the first time since the Russiagate glory days of 2018. Keep in mind, while the network’s primetime viewership averaged 1,512,000 in total, only 172,000 came from the key demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds. The much greater number comes from Baby Boomers and the remainder of older generations.
Their anxieties, fears, obsessions and regrets all act as fuel for the machine that preys on them. We saw this play out across news and entertainment after 2016, with many media executives being of and catering to the Baby Boom generation (MSNBC’s Phil Griffin being an emblematic example, born in 1956 and steering the network from 2008 to 2021). This neurosis comes as a mix of latent Cold War paranoia about the Russians and the break with the political order of the late 20th century signified by Trump and other populists across the west — an order which suburban, upper-middle class Baby Boomers benefited from significantly (hence why many of them shifted their party allegiance after 2012).
The question now is: what will happen to these people if Trump winds up being found guilty? How will the media and its ageing consumer cohort satisfy their intense need for content? This is an open question for the conservative side as well, with Fox News still leading in total average viewers last week at 1,090,000 and only 127,000 in the key demo. While the MAGA and #Resistance Boomers stand in rhetorical opposition to one another, they actually depend on each other for their sense of purpose. If the drama ends, so does their need to buy the right books, watch the right shows, and post the right things on Twitter.
Barring a ChatDJT application that cranks out endless Trump-related content, there’s really not a clear replacement waiting to fill the void. From a purely political standpoint, this week’s events will only deepen Trump’s popularity within the GOP, but may also further exhaustion with him among independents. And while many cable news–watching Boomers are having fun reliving the days of non-stop Trump skits on SNL, most of us have long-since moved on.