Donald Trump is the present we are able to’t flip off, the automotive crash we are able to’t look away from, the information cycle we are able to’t escape.
There are simply too many explanation why we obtained right here to distill right into a single rationalization. However definitely one cause for Trump’s ascendance is tv. It’s not fairly proper to say that TV made Trump president, however it’s honest to say that TV created the situations that made Trump’s presidency attainable.
This, not less than, is the thesis of James Poniewozik’s new e-book Viewers of One: Donald Trump, Tv, and the Fracturing of America. Poniewozik is a TV critic for the New York Instances, and his e-book is an try to elucidate how Trump turned himself into the protagonist of his personal TV present after which pulled all of us into it. It’s additionally about what TV has accomplished to our political tradition and why Trump is the logical success of all of the media developments of the final twenty years or so.
In line with Poniewozik, Trump is basically a creature of TV. His entire public persona was formed by TV and he cleverly used the medium, with exhibits like The Apprentice, to propel his political profession. He additionally knew precisely what TV media craves — spectacle, drama, and outrage — and capitalized on it all through his presidential marketing campaign.
“Donald Trump isn’t an individual,” Poniewozik writes, “he’s a personality that wrote itself, a model mascot that jumped off the cereal field and entered the world.” And, after all, he’s now entered the White Home.
I spoke to Poniewozik final yr about how the highway to Trump was paved by TV and the way the way in which we cowl and take into consideration politics has been basically remodeled by the medium.
A evenly edited transcript of our dialog follows.
Many individuals consider tv as an instrument for masking politics somewhat than a medium that transforms it. However you recommend that that’s unsuitable and that TV has imposed its personal ideology on politics.
I made a decision to write down this e-book as a result of the man from The Apprentice obtained elected president of the US. I actually felt that a number of the general public dialogue didn’t take that severely sufficient — it was a type of joke. However it’s insane that that occurred and we have to perceive the way it was attainable within the first place.
As a TV critic, I needed to know, why this man? Why wasn’t it Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz or another conservative firebrand who rode this wave to the White Home? Why is it anyone who was made by tv and basically made himself out of tv? Why was Trump uniquely able to having the ability to translate that talent set into this type of success?
Effectively, let’s attempt to reply that. The premise of your e-book isn’t that tv made Trump president, however you do argue that Trump’s presidency is just attainable due to TV. Why is that?
Effectively, there are a pair parts to that. One is that Donald Trump’s profession has been primarily a media profession. And I’m not simply speaking about The Apprentice however going all the way in which again to his tabloid exploits and speak present appearances within the ’80s. If Trump had been simply a businessman, he’d be a nonentity. He’s solely “Donald Trump” due to tv.
The opposite half, and I need to be emphatically clear about this as a result of individuals wish to oversimplify issues by saying TV makes individuals dumb or brainwashes gullible individuals. I believe it’s extra sophisticated than that. Tv is the nervous system of our tradition. It’s our principal technique of gaining data and disseminating it and speaking to 1 one other. And it’s the world, for many years and a long time now, via which politics has taken place.
I write concerning the media theorist Neil Postman within the e-book as a result of one in every of his nice insights is that tv as a visible media promotes a distinct type of discourse than textual content does. It’s a visible medium, thus it appeals extra to emotion. In order that lends itself to a type of argument and rhetorical fight wherein Trump has thrived his whole life. His entire media persona is constructed on battle. He’s the man who “wins” and that meshes completely with tv, particularly actuality tv tradition.
How precisely did TV put together us for candidate Trump, for the concept of Trump as president?
The evolution of the 24-hour cable information format is a giant a part of the story. The enterprise mannequin of, say, Fox Information is to excite and agitate the viewers on a regular basis, to present individuals a cause to tune in even when there isn’t information happening.
However over time that mannequin promulgates the concept the way in which politics are argued on TV, the buttons that it presses, the way in which individuals dunk on one another — that’s not only a means towards political ends, nevertheless it turns into the motion of politics itself. And an enormous a part of Trump’s enchantment is that he completely embodies this type of politics, or this strategy to politics. He creates feelings and conflicts in media format and other people noticed it and thought, “Oh yeah, that is what politics seems like.”
What’s so fascinating about Trump is that, as you set it, he’s achieved an ideal symbiosis with tv. He isn’t on tv — he is tv. How does that assist us perceive Trump the political actor?
Trump thinks like tv. His stock-in-trade is the non-sequitur argument and the provocation. Going again to Postman, he talked concerning the rhetorical mode of TV information as being “now this.” “Now this” is just like the TV anchor’s segue from one matter to a wholly unrelated matter. And Neil Postman, once more, was writing within the ’80s. He didn’t even write about cable tv. CNN had barely been based.
However the cable new period is “now this” on steroids. It’s simply this, this, this, this, this. And that’s Trump’s mindset and elegance of talking. The lashing out, the careening from one topic to a different, the seemingly random fights on social media — that’s all tv gold.
He’s simply extremely attuned to the dynamics of our actuality TV tradition, and he’s totally meshed it with politics.
I need to ask you about skilled wrestling, one thing you write about within the e-book. The factor wrestling does so nicely is stroll that line between pretend and actual — it performs with that blurriness. Non-wrestling followers miss this once they speak concerning the “realness” of wrestling. The realness of the efficiency is secondary to the sentiments it elicits within the viewers. And this, to me, is an ideal strategy to perceive the dynamic between Trump and his supporters.
I’d love to listen to your ideas on this.
Yeah, I write quite a bit about this within the e-book. There’s an idea in wrestling known as “kayfabe,” which is mainly the pretense that the conflicts within the ring are literally actual. The wrestlers who combat one another truly hate one another. The backstories are actually happening. And within the very early days of professional wrestling, individuals purchased that.
Over time, say by the Eighties when Donald Trump was internet hosting Wrestlemanias at his casinos, that relationship between followers and the story grew to become extra subtle. Folks would possibly consider it’s scripted, nevertheless it’s nonetheless type of actual. Possibly this stuff are staged, however perhaps the feelings the wrestlers have are actual. You can purchase into it at no matter stage you needed to.
I believe that is mainly how lots of people view Trumpian politics. It’s not a lot about being taken in or pondering he’s completely sincere, it’s about this man who’s combating in your facet. And even when there’s this stage of bullshit and artifice, it’s solely as a result of he’s a intelligent trickster. And apart from, what’s most vital is how he makes his voters really feel.
Politics has develop into largely affective anyway. It’s concerning the supply of feelings. It’s about liberal tears. All these emotions are what it’s about, not getting some precise deliverable like a invoice handed or no matter. For anyone who follows politics via speak radio and Fox Information, that’s the top of politics.
Do you see Trump’s election as some type of cultural rubicon-crossing second? We’ve had actor-presidents earlier than, and loads of politicians are basically efficiency artists, however Trump actually is one thing … completely different.
The place can we go from right here?
Folks usually say, “Effectively, isn’t this like Ronald Reagan? He was an actor, too.” However it’s essential to make a distinction right here, past stating that Reagan was governor of California earlier than being elected president.
Reagan was a film actor, and a film actor’s job is to domesticate empathy, to think about your self within the place of different individuals, to think about the inside lives of different individuals. Trump is a actuality TV performer and which means his job is to be an exaggerated model of himself, to play up essentially the most polarizing, attention-getting facets of himself. That’s what wins on the earth of actuality TV. It’s an anti-empathy type of efficiency.
And this actually is a big distinction between somebody like Trump and Reagan. We’re far more in a actuality TV world now, and our politics displays that.
Is there any going again, or are we caught with actuality TV presidents?
I don’t assume so. Trump’s election was important in that it proved you possibly can develop into president even when your solely qualification was mastery of the media. However it’s nonetheless only one approach of changing into president, not the one approach of changing into president.
There may be a response towards this, and perhaps we get a string of extra boring or standard candidates. However there’s little doubt that Trump gained’t be the final actuality TV president. There can be others like him — that’s simply our actuality now. Possibly the subsequent one can be a Fox Information host or one thing like that, somebody with a built-in connection to a celebration’s political base who is aware of learn how to ship what they need.
However we now have to do not forget that Trump isn’t some alien monster who landed from one other planet and remodeled the atmosphere. He was uniquely located to reap the benefits of politics on this closely mediated atmosphere. The fragmentation of media, the polarization of political dialogue, the rise of Fox Information, the emergence of social media — all of this paved the way in which.
The environment that produced Trump will survive Trump, and we’re simply caught with that.
This interview was initially revealed on November 7, 2019.