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With Air Force One Prank Call, Stern's "The Donald" Interviews Come Full Circle

Not since Ronald Reagan has a republican presidential candidate enjoyed receiving such a substantial percentage of the vote of union households as did Donald Trump in the most recent election. With John Melendez, former The Howard Stern Show cast member prank calling Air Force One last Friday, just days after the supreme court vote against public-sector unions, the show's effect on normalizing Trump to the blue-collar, boy's club wing of the union voting bloc could be seen in the clouds.


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Commercial Airplane Taxis on a Runway

7/5/18 J.D. Lakota (Boston, MA)

It's June 30th, 2018, three days after the United States Supreme Court ruled against public sector unions for the first time in at least forty years. In doing so, the court overruled a four-decade-long precedent set by the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. On this last day in June, "Stuttering John," formerly of The Howard Stern Show fame, was patched through to the president on Air Force One. The president was led to believe that he was taking a call from Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

As a prior member of Stern's cast on FM radio from 1988 to 2004, John Melendez was a longstanding contributor and present during many of the frequent "The Donald" visits to the show. Trump's appearances were between 1993 and 2015. Although Melendez did trick a handful of dispatchers in the process of accessing the president on Air Force One, doing so shouldn't reflect on their general level of intelligence—Melendez is a comedian and professional prank caller who has been honing his craft for decades, using Stern's show then, and today his podcast.

What the call does highlight, though, is the irony of the union vote in the past presidential election, and how that vote was used to help elect "The Donald" as the 45th president. Just three days before the Air Force One call, the first Trump appointed supreme court justice of his presidency helped ensure that the ruling in Janus v. AFSCME would weaken unions. Although the Janus case was about public-sector unions, the Pacific Standard and many others reported that over time the decision would most likely lead to the indirect weakening of private-sector unions.

Justice Kagan's dissent opinion highlights the magnitude of Trump's pick Gorsuch on the outcome of this case:

Rarely if ever has the Court overruled a decision — let alone one of this import — with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis."

Staring Down Stare Decisis

Stare decisis is a fundamental, guiding principal of the supreme court. One that requires current members attempt mightily to understand and respect the collective decisions of past supreme court justices, only overruling a prior decision when it truly made sense to do so. In short, stare decisis means to let existing decisions stand whenever possible.

So far in 2018, the Supreme Court has overruled not one, but two decisions. Before the union decision courtesy of Janus, the court ruled that out of state purchases through online retailers could be taxable in the state of sale. The result of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. overruled the Quill Corp. v. N. Dakota decision of 1992.

Prior to 2018, the Supreme Court hadn't overruled a single decision since 2015—when it legalized gay marriage. The last time it overruled two decisions in a single year was in 2010, when the Citizens United verdict overturned a pair of separate rulings that had kept corporate money out of political campaigns.

Now, with a healthy Kennedy retiring and vacating his lifetime appointment to the bench, many expect Trump's second supreme court pick to make it possible for the court to overrule the Roe v. Wade verdict. Being decided in 1973, it, too, is a longstanding precedent, but that may no longer matter to a US Supreme Court seeded with two judges appointed by the sitting president.

A Microphone Stands Ready to Transmit Over the FM Airwaves
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To gain an impressive swath of the union vote, instead of employing something akin to the cowboy image of Reagan, "The Donald" would eventually rely on a persona fairly representative of a stereotypical male fraternity member.

Before the Apprentice, which began airing in 2004, Trump had a regular presence on The Howard Stern Show. This was his primary media outlet. During the course of over three dozen radio and E! TV appearances, Stern recorded 15 hours of interviews with "The Donald." The now president then presented himself as "one of the guys"just the richest one with arguably the most sexual conquests.

There are probably more than a hundred articles written about the exact language and subject matter of "The Donald" interviews, so there is no need to rehash those here in detail.

With 30 million in the audience today, The Howard Stern Show is successful in part because the characters are real and relatable to everyday people, with the common denominator among the cast and audience being—seemingly—the Freudian id; not the super-ego exemplified by "Reagan cowboy" imagery. Stern and his recurring guests connect with the audience at the basic human level of pleasure and desire.

During the time period in which "The Donald" interviews occurred, there were conceivably many union tradesmen, among various other walks of life, in the audience who accomplished their daily work with the radio tuned to The Howard Stern Show for four hours each workday.

To truly tap into the potential of this audience meant that eventually the audience must think of the characters on the show as personal friends, or at least someone they might spend time with as an acquaintance if the stars aligned. Over time, "The Donald" became just as real and relatable to the audience as Stern, Quivers, Melendez, and the rest of the show's cast.

XM Satellite Radio and the Dawn of a Renewed Medium
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When The Howard Stern Show moved to XM Satellite Radio in 2006, some listeners made the switch by purchasing a new truck, or other vehicle. New vehicles at the time began coming equipped with the XM service, free for one year. For union tradesmen in the audience, these purchases were something afforded, in part, through their success in trades, for which unions strove for decades to ensure fair wages for their members.

Like the successes the businessman "The Donald" presented on the radio for over a dozen years, it is conceivable that some parts of the audience looked at their own financial accomplishments in the same light as that of the oft recurring Stern guest who would one day become president. Their friend "The Donald" was doing well, better and better each year, and so were they.

Does Howard Stern feel at all responsible or guilty for the eventual election of "The Donald" to the United States presidency? Whether or not he does or should, any unintentional part he had in making a Trump presidency possible was just one of a handful of things that had to transpire to make the seemingly improbable instead today's reality.

As a man with three daughters, though, any strong-armed changes to women's federal health laws should be something of concern for Stern, and especially because an attempt at overruling Roe v. Wade appears to be the next supreme court decision that will almost certainly disregard longstanding decisions, stare decisis, and modern American values.

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