Politics as Reality Television


by Charles Fredricks

Reality TV may not have prepared Trump to be president, but it has prepared him to win those who prefer entertainment to hard realities

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.

Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.

Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.

Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.

Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;

It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

—Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, poem 38

Much as one might try to escape it, catching the latest faux pas of the Trump campaign is unavoidable. The media finds endless fascination in his dribble and would have us do the same. Hillary spends most of her time pointing them out with a laugh, which does little to diminish this attention or recommend herself as an alternative, and telling us what we already know is boring. As anyone in TV can tell you, the cardinal rule above all, including substance, is, don’t be boring.

Despite his frequent transgressions against common sense, Trump is said to be rising in the polls. Obviously Trump knows something Hillary does not, not to suggest he is more intelligent. People rise to power for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily because they are more astute or more just.

Hillary is a political animal. She expects some rationality from her public. She believes once manipulated, they should stay convinced. Trump’s power however has come from leveraging falsehood upon falsehood in constant quest for personal aggrandizement, an approach better suited to capitalize on both the system’s strengths and its weaknesses. His target demographic craves style over substance, equates brand affiliation with success. He knows they need constant distraction from hard truths. It’s what made America great, and he wants to make America great again. To understand why so many of our fellow citizens fall prey to this silliness it’s useful to remember America is founded on a lie.

We are not unique in that of course. Every nation is based on the lie that people on one side of an arbitrary line determined by some past conflict have more in common and are more deserving than people on the other side of the line— even though when we cross the importantly guarded imaginary boundary we discover we haven’t changed. America’s lie has to do with inclusiveness: in the words of Jefferson “…that all men are created equal…” While not deigning to include women as equal partners, the new United States promised to extend to all men equal rights; unless they were the natives whose land we were in the process of stealing, or Africans brought over as slaves, or they didn’t own enough property.

A war fought over the issue of slavery resulted in a half million dead, yet scarcely a decade later the economic status quo of subjugation was allowed to resume. Some time later it was decided a woman was the equal of a man, if we could pay her half or three quarters as much. Trump doesn’t concern himself with any of these contradictions. What he does appear to believe is that Americans he represents don’t know how to deal with any of this, and have no intention of facing it either. What they are looking for in a candidate is not someone who will tell them hard truths but someone who will protect them from those truths through endless spin and distraction. In that sense Trump is by far the more entertaining candidate.

While Hillary sharpened her legal claws in boardrooms, and her political clout in Congress and as Secretary of State, Trump has constantly been forced to reinvent his brand to cover the scandals he leaves in his wake. On reality TV he honed persona projection. What Hillary must accomplish through grit and determination at an all day grilling before a Senate committee investigating Benghazi or her emails, Trump accomplishes by tossing off a one-liner, and when the press react, covering it with another; “What I meant was…” We get a sound bite of Hillary diluted by commentator spin, while the scandal of Trump saying what he believes his demographic is thinking invariably commands wide coverage, as does the ensuing retraction that no one believes.

A nation is a myth passed from generation to generation: in short, a brand. Trump has achieved success manipulating the powerful and powerless alike because he knows from personal experience it doesn’t really matter what actually lies behind a brand, as long as the brand is perceived successful. In that, his brand is an accurate representation of our country today, which, having outsourced our manufacturing base, our outdated infrastructure crumbling, our natural spaces raped by corporate hacks, allowed by the government whores in their employ, deeply in debt to China, and about to be sold off at auction by our multicultural president through poisonous trade deals, is still “the greatest country in the world.”

Trump believes his brand is more representative of today’s America than our founding documents, or Hillary’s delusion that the myth can be updated to bridge the gap with reality. Trump denies climate change, but when Hillary proclaims her belief in science, it sounds like religion. The trouble with most religions is that their followers are hypocrites. Hillary has personally overseen the export of fracking technology worldwide as Secretary of State, and refuses to go on record opposing new pipelines. We must conclude as president she will assist the ongoing corporate war on nature.

Trump deftly sidesteps the whole issue by simply denying reality in favor of reality television, a contrived situation we watch for our amusement from the comfort of our homes. On Survivor when someone gets kicked off the island or when Trump yells “You’re Fired!” we don’t picture thousands of workers laid off from outsourcing. When he describes the wall Mexico will build after we’ve deported 11 million people, we needn’t picture people dying in the desert trying to cross, mothers and children in prison for more than a year, sent back to face death squads. If we’re truly Americans (the righteous brand), we shouldn’t concern ourselves with such things, or any of the millions of refugees from the wars in the Middle East we’ve had more than a little to do with. One of them might turn out to hate us and make trouble. And when climate change doesn’t exist— hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

Little wonder then Trump is wiping the floor with Hillary in the Media Circus, at least with a certain demographic. His juggling of America’s denial is a wonder to behold. He is the consummate showman, the man of the hour, perhaps even the man of his time. As was another clown in Germany, in 1932.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Content © Change-Links or the perspective writers, photographers and artists.