It’s not surprising that Trump won the election. Americans love reality television. Millions of viewers tune it to watch Survivor every Wednesday night, others can’t survive without their Tuesday fix of Dancing with the Stars. When the election mutated into a spin-off of The Apprentice, Americans couldn’t get enough of Trump’s on-the-trail antics, some of it funny, some of it scary, yet entertaining all the same.
The media also embraced the campaign’s carnival-like atmosphere, analyzing Trump’s tweets and monitoring his rallies, waiting for him to say something outrageous that would drive the 24/7 news cycle. Every day, it seemed, a Trump narrative dominated the headlines, stealing airtime from Hillary. Even when Trump wasn’t the focus of the news, his response to Hillary’s bad press became news when he inevitably stepped on the story with one of his blunders.
“This one will sink him,” the talking heads predicted, first during the primaries and then the campaign.
“He’s the Teflon Don,” another shot back. “Nothing has sunk him yet.”
That turned out to be accurate. No matter how outrageous or inflammatory Trump could be, his supporters stuck by their guy. He was entertaining, wasn’t politically correct (to a fault). He spoke to them like a friend and was somebody they wanted to have a beer with. His recognizable face and brand made them feel warm and fuzzy. They knew this guy. They had watched him on TV: The Apprentice, the Miss America Pageant, and Access Hollywood. While Hillary became ensnared in a character battle with Trump that brought out her greatest weaknesses, Trump was celebrated for his. “It was just Trump being Trump,” the guy who was everything that Washington was not.
He was the anti-presidential candidate. Though his negatives were higher than Hillary’s was, it became an asset for him, not for her. He was, Mr. Reality TV, was supposed to be outrageous and politically incorrect. That was his brand.
The Clinton campaign made a grave error using character as their focus of the campaign. Character was her greatest weakness, his greatest strength… because he was the likable reality TV star, she, the dishonest wonk, according to Trump and his supporters. The Clintons underestimated the power of a reality TV star and the audience that adored and trusted him. Even if Trump supporters thought he was a clown, he was a clown they knew. They didn’t really know Hillary, even though she had been active in politics for many years. They had heard about Benghazi and Monica Lewinsky. Knew they shouldn’t like her. But not until the email scandal and Trump’s branding of her as “Crooked Hilary,” was her character transformation complete. A complicit media that had an appetite for demonizing Clinton, assisted in propelling the narrative that Trump had created.
The media fell in love with Trump, the rating’s magnet; they adored him, even when abused by him, and overlooked facts for the sake of audience market share. They followed Trump’s Twitter activity more than leads on his questionable business dealings and character flaws. Had the media latched onto Trump’s taxes as firmly as Hillary’s emails, Trump may have been forced to release them before he takes the Oath of Office on January 20th.
I thought the media would have learned their lessons from the campaign. But they continue to allow Trump to drive the narrative, dictate the script, while they report on every tweet. They treat him like a TV star, not a president-elect. They embrace his weaknesses: his thin skin and erratic behavior, to bolster their ratings, instead of reporting on how his flaws could adversely affect our country and the world. They want to cultivate favors with the new president-elect, not alienate him.
While we watch Trump captivate the media with his outrageous statements: his bigotry, bullying, xenophobia, and sexism, as he flip-flops on his campaign promises (mostly overlooked by the press) — America loses its soul. Because they elected a celebrity they thought they knew, but really didn’t know.
The media and their audience focused on Trump’s shenanigans instead of his backstory: his global financial ties, not vetted, Russian involvement in the election (and possible coordination with the Trump campaign) mostly glossed over, along with the Trump Foundation and Trump University.
The media didn’t hound Trump to release his taxes and his supporters didn’t care if he released them or not. They believed Trump when he told them that he was under audit and that the “dishonest media” was out to get him, would crucify him if he released his taxes. By defusing the media’s influence, questioning the veracity of every negative story about him, Trump became the media authority, the only honest news source according to Trump. Because of his recognizable brand and power of celebrity to “grab them by the pussy” or “do whatever the hell I want,” he seduced the American people, who idolized their TV star, and convinced them that he would “Make America Great Again,” despite not having substantial plans to backup his claims.
Because the media embraced the notion that Americans wanted to be entertained, not informed, we are now involuntary participants in a reality TV show, unlike anything we’ve seen before. No one received a call from central casting, and yet we have accepted our roles as the electorate in a Trump presidency.
As in all reality TV shows, there will be winners and losers. However, if President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks are an indication of what to expect in future episodes, there will be no winners, except for the star and cast of the Trump POTUS TV show that will run for four consecutive seasons on every station.
We will be a captive audience whether we like it or not.