COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, September 12, 2016 – All billionaires, like all people, were not created equal. For proof of that, consider Donald trump and Shane Smith. Donald Trump is a presidential candidate. Shane Smith is mastermind of Vice Media, a global youth media brand, portrayed by The Wall Street Journal in a Saturday feature, “Living Large.”
One man is seeking a better future for his country, while the other is trafficking in the very worst impulses ingrained in pop culture.
Donald Trump, candidate for president of the United States:
“I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens.”
“When innocent people suffer, because our political system lacks the will, or the courage, or the basic decency to enforce our laws – or worse still, has sold out to some corporate lobbyist for cash – I am not able to look the other way.”
Shane Smith, CEO of Vice Media:
“I learned all my business acumen being a drug dealer,” he once said.
While Trump aspires to “Make America Great Again,” Smith would change the planet one media empire after another.
Trump is seventy, Smith is forty-six, and that age difference may in part explain the chasm separating these two billionaires. It also might help to inform us about the tremendous philosophical gap dividing America today.
Both men are observers of the passing scene with a view to how they might insert themselves into it. Trump is a builder and a dreamer whose life seems firmly grounded in the here and now, in today. Smith, on the other hand, has been built his fortune by chasing the future.
According to the WSJ’s Andrew Goldman, “In the past several years, Smith has cannily shifted Vice’s target audience from his fellow Gen Xers (born in the late ‘60s and ‘70s), who constituted Vice’s early readership, to millennials (born in the ‘80s and ‘90s). Smith touts Vice as the only media company that truly understands this demographic, which in April surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation.”
Nick Denton, founder of the beleaguered Gawker Media says, “. . . (Smith’s) a completely brilliant salesman. He’s got a lot of bravado and confidence that he uses with people who really don’t understand where things are going with the media. Shane tells them, ‘Yes, You’re right, you don’t understand this generation, but I do.’”
Meanwhile, Trump has been — not so much chasing the future — as reaching back into the country’s past to resurrect the best and the brightest from that era. In the process, Trump, like the now-distant Bernie Sanders, has been able to tap into a segment of the American population that’s been overlooked, marginalized, and just plain ignored by technologically savvy and “cool” young adults for whom irony and political correctness go hand in hand.
Each man, despite their great differences, has been toying with demographics with uncommon results. Each man reaches out to large groups of people, reads them, and then gives them product that is perfectly synchronous with them, and them alone.
But it is with shared ESP skills that any similarities between the two men end. While Trump has been busy building his empire by altering New York City’s skyline with ambitious and iconic buildings, Smith has dwelt through his media company within the lower realms of pop culture.
In February, he launched Viceland, a cable channel in partnership with A&E Networks. Goldman reports, In addition to shows with an anarchic vibe, like rapper Action Bronson’s food show, F*ck That’s Delicious, and the global marijuana culture show Weediquette, Viceland features some . . . like Gaycation, a travel show. . .”
Vice’s co-founder Gavin McInnes, who parted with Vice in 2008, has this to say about his former partner: “This is about what’s going to make the most money. If you want the young demo, you have to acquiesce to the predominant narrative, which is political correctness.”
Trump also has mapped the demographics and learned in the process that there are many Americans who’ve been left by the wayside as the left and the young have claimed “change America can believe in” as their own new politics of the future.
Trump has claimed the ignored and taken them for his movement. “Build the wall!” Upgrade the military. Knock off all the economy-busting anti-global change regulations. He’s taken on the leftist media by attributing his political success so far to the intelligence of his supporters. “The reason is people in this country are smart. They don’t believe a lot of what they see in the media.”
Here are two men, both billionaires, slicing and dicing America’s demographics with great success. Their visions could not be more diametrically opposed. But in a land where Marshall McLuhan’s old adage “The medium is the message” still holds true, both men have been able to harness it to do their bidding.
Perhaps Smith’s final comment, meant for a Wall Street Journal audience might also be directed at Donald Trump and his movement members: “ . . . Vice will aim to meet the younger generation’s media needs, in every country on earth. ‘I’ll take the fact that I’m in with Gen Y all day long,’ he says. ‘They’re soon going to be the political power, the economic power and the media power. And I joke with all the old-school guys. I tell them, ‘You’re gonna die off, and I’m just gonna grow.’”
To which, Trump, whose very name is its own success brand might reply:
“What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.”
“Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.”
“If you’re interested in ‘balancing’ work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable.”
“I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present. That’s where the fun is.”
“In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish.”
“Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken.”
Trump and Smith: Two men who are seeking wildly different goals in life. Can we see the difference between noble ambitions and the cool ironic ones encased in America’s pop culture as promoted by men like Smith?
In the answer perhaps we will locate the destiny of this great country.