The Donald Show: Trump, Television, and Manufactured Reality

Television has had a tremendous impact on Donald Trump. During Trump’s impeachment trial in the United States Senate, part of his consideration for who would represent him was based on how well those individuals would come across on television. As one White House source stated, “It’s simply who Trump is, [he] loves having people who are on television working for him.” 1 One article referred to Trump’s obsession with television as:

Having been a reality-TV star before entering politics, Trump is known to be obsessed with how his presidency plays out on TV and to keenly monitor the media appearances of top advisers, sometimes watching them with the sound off. 2

A poster for the movie.

Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, Being There, addressed a simple gardener who must leave the house where he has lived for years when the old man who owns the house dies. The novel and, subsequently, the movie, starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas (1979), provide a perspective on the influence television has on Donald Trump in the White House.

In the movie, there is a scene where Chance (Sellers) is eating dinner with the very affluent and influential, Ben Rand (Douglas) and his wife, Eve (MacLaine) and he is asked by Rand his opinion on health care in America and says, “Yes, shut down and closed by the attorney.” 3 What Chance (called “Chauncey” by Ben Rand for no apparent reason) was referring to was how he was forced to leave the house where he lived as a gardener by the estate’s attorney. But his remark is interpreted as a brilliant insight into the state of our nation’s health care.

Chance and Ben Rand.

When he was elected President, there was hope that he would “grow in office.” This was meant as a way to see him begin to grasp the seriousness of the position he held and would start to take the time to make thoughtful comments—that has not happened. This is not to address his policies or those of the Republican Party, those are not being challenged here, rather the issue is how Trump articulates for many Americans the problems, fears, and hopes that they feel. There are times when a President is confronted with issues, whether it was a surprise military attack on American military facilities in Hawaii, or planes flown into two tall buildings in lower Manhattan, or a health crisis that seems to have profound consequences to families and the livelihood of people, that is when a President can step forward to address all Americans. Look beyond tax cuts, government deregulation, climate warming skepticism, abortion restrictions, Supreme Court picks to just Trump’s presentations, his demeanor, his messaging. Jon Meacham, a presidential biographer stated, “I cannot think of a president off the top of my head who has so self-evidently failed to learn on the job.” 4

Chance is oblivious to life around him. Statements he makes that get repeated by a President of the United States mean nothing. There is no connection between what is said and what and whom those words might affect. During this pandemic we are all going through, it is natural that people turn to their leaders for hope and inspiration and guidance. When Trump pushed the use of hydrochloroquine, an anti-malaria drug used to address lupus, and when he suggested that people “clean” their bodies with a disinfectant saying, “I see disinfectant, where it knocks [coronavirus] out in a minute—one minute—and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning,” his words were taken seriously by many Americans. 5 One man is known to have died from ingesting a variation of hydrochloroquine, one used to clean fish tanks and New York City’s poison control center saw a significant increase in calls within 18 hours of Trump’s remarks on using a disinfectant, asking if they could take Clorox or other Alcohol cleaning products. 6

Donald Trump, by Ha Hoang.

62 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Many did not vote for him because of specific policies he pushed but because of certain feelings that he gave them. 7 Gallup organization research has shown that for many Americans what they want in a President is trust, compassion, stability, and hope. 8 Those leadership qualities matter when Trump speaks. Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, said regarding leadership, “The secret of American leadership is convincing Americans that what you want to do is in their self-interest.” 9

James Bryce, an Englishman who frequently visited America, wrote an interesting, although largely forgotten book on American politics, American Commonwealth, published in 1904, which has a chapter titled, “Why Great Men Are Not Chosen President.” 10 One quote by Bryce says it all:

An eminent American is reported to have said to friends who wished to put him forward, “Gentlemen. let there be no mistake, I should make a good president, but a very bad candidate,” Now to a party it is more important that its nominee should be a good candidate than that he should turn out a good president.

In an odd sort of way, Trump had an exchange with Rona Barrett, a well-known celebrity columnist who asked Trump in 1980 if he would ever consider running for President. In that interview Trump said something that echoed Bryce:

Barrett: Why wouldn’t you dedicate yourself to public service?
Trump: Because I think it’s a very mean life, And I also see it that somebody with strong views … which may be right but may be unpopular, wouldn’t necessarily have a chance of getting elected against somebody with no great brain but a big smile.

Greatness is not the issue. Robert McNamara, when nominated to become Secretary of Defense by John Kennedy, told Kennedy he did not know anything about government, Kennedy replied, “We can learn our jobs together. I don’t know how to be president either”. 12

Kosinski was concerned that watching television seven and a half hours a day raised the issue of what was being missed regarding life around one. As Kosinski said, “the world comes to us through television.” The question which Kosinski asks, which is the issue that helps us address Trump not growing in office is: “What happens when you overdo?” One writer addressing Trump’s attachment to television wrote, “Trump’s obsession with television is so consuming that the former reality-TV show star experiences the reality of his presidency through flat-screens in the West Wing.” 13 Television helped Donald Trump win the Presidency, but it may not have prepared him to govern well, particularly during a pandemic.

The Image Is The Man

Television made Trump. Trump’s role on The Apprentice which was on for 15 seasons with Trump hosting the show for the first 14 seasons, made Trump a household name.

Trump on The Apprentice with a well-known offstring.

In February 2016, as the Trump candidacy for President was in full swing, Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS said, “[Trump was] good for us economically…and…may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” 14 Moonves saw a public eager to watch a well-known reality TV star try to win the right to run for President of the United States. Moonves described the 2016 Presidential campaign as a “circus,” and joyfully counted the money saying, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” Reality show TV merged with the Presidential campaign to create a Presidential election season unlike any before.

This exuberance for Trump in 2016 is now lightyears in the past. Personality issues that were there for all to see were pushed aside. Dave Berg for 18-years was co-producer for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, noted issues with Trump in the Summer of 2016. Berg stated that Trump saw late night talk shows as important to his campaign. Trump, in fact, was critical of Mitt Romney not taking these shows seriously in the 2012 Presidential campaign, when he was the Republican candidate. In an admiring statement on Barack Obama, Trump said, “Obama, say what you want, he was on Jay Leno, he was on David Letterman. He was all over the place.” 15
Part of Trump’s fight with mainstream media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC is because he gained his status, celebrity status might be the best way to describe it, through gossip columns. Liz Smith, a well-known New York City gossip columnist who wrote for the New York Daily News for years, was described this way regarding her role in Trump’s rise to celebrity status:

Liz Smith claimed to have invented Donald Trump, and in a powerful and enduring way, she did. Trump’s rise to celebrity was the product of an energetic injection of tabloid journalism into New York’s media bloodstream in the 1970s and ’80s, and it was Smith who turned Trump into one of the main characters in the city’s soap opera. 16

Smith’s writings on Trump’s divorce from Ivana Trump in 1990, gained Smith her own celebrity status. Trump fumed about Smith’s writing, but when he threatened to buy the Daily News just so he could fire her, her status went even higher. 17

Trump’s relationship with gossip columnists, no doubt influenced his expectations of how to deal with traditional mainstream news outlets. One gossip columnist stated:

It’s easy to forget, given Trump’s current war with the press, but there was a time, not so long ago, when Trump’s mastery of the news media—or at least the branch of it that helps shape and define the popular culture—was all but complete. 18

Katy Tur, an NBC correspondent and an anchor on MSNBC, was assigned to cover Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign. At one point during a contentious moment with Trump, he yells at her, “You know my whole life has been a win. You understand that.” Tur’s account of her time on the campaign trail is one where Trump or a subordinate try to repeatedly get her to see things Trump’s way–probably not all that unusual from any politician who want their image presented a certain way, but Trump’s style and approach to trying to achieve this was different. A confrontation with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager (well one) has Tur being yelled at and there was a follow up yelling session by Trump, where her cameraman said afterwards, “I can’t believe Trump yelled at you like that.” 19 For Trump the transition from dealing with gossip columnists to reporters and correspondents was not an easy one and still is not.

Trump’s divorce from Ivana was 14 years before The Apprentice first aired. In those years between 1990 and 2004, to stay in the public’s eye, Trump had to keep working at it, The Apprentice changed all that. In those 14 years, Trump appeared in several movies and on several television shows. But, unlike his continuous presence week after week, season after season on The Apprentice, an appearance in the movie Across the Sea of Time (1995) where according to a New York Times review, “Donald Trump [made] a suitably discreet entrance,” that may not count as a way of keeping his name actively in the public’s mind. 20 Or, in 1996 in an appearance on the television show The Nanny, Trump wanted to be referred to as a “billionaire” not a “millionaire,” eventually it was agreed to call him a “zillionaire” whatever that is. 21

The Apprentice helped to solidify an image of Trump. Yet, image is one thing, substance another. Clay Aiken, whose name is just on the tip of your tongue (runner-up on Season 2 of American Idol, who released five albums and ran for a Congressional seat in North Carolina losing with 41 percent of the votes) summarized Trump’s role on the show:

Trump the zillionaire on The Nanny.

It was very much a ‘I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.’ Donald Trump isn’t the businessman that people believe he is, because we saw him on TV playing The Apprentice and he did look like he was leading. But on The Apprentice, he doesn’t lead. 22

In a situation that sounds like the contentious issue of the Emolument Clause in the United States Constitution, which addresses a President not taking advantage of his position to make money, Trump took advantage of The Apprentice to make money off the show, beyond appearing on it. He rented space in Trump Tower to the show’s producers to film the TV show. 23

The Apprentice allowed Trump to create an image. Often losers on the show, such as Khloe Kardashian, were asked by Trump what charity they supported, and he would denote money to that charity. As Trump stated in one show, “I’m going to give $20,000 to your charity.” Or he stated, “Out of my wallet,” or in one case, “Out of my own account.” The money came from a TV production company. As one report on these contributions stated:

The [Washington] Post found 21 separate instances where Trump had pledged money to a celebrity’s cause. Together, those pledges totaled $464,000. The Post then contacted the individual charities to find out who paid off Trump’s promises. …As with Kardashian, that money came from Reilly Worldwide [a production company]. Trump gave nothing. 24

Six corporate bankruptcies, three were for casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the 1990s belong to Trump’s record as a businessman. He had another bankruptcy in 2004, the year The Apprentice began and another in 2009 but The Apprentice made him into a different commodity. Regular viewers of the show favored Trump by 28 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Voters who did not watch the show gave Clinton a 15-point advantage. 25

It should not be forgotten that Ronald Reagan did television and made a national name for himself in the process. Reagan usually played a second-tier actor in movies. There were exceptions, such as his performance as Drake McHugh in Kings Row (1942, also starring Ann Sheridan and Robert Cummings) but playing Professor Peter Boyd in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) seemed to cement his image as a joke whose Hollywood years were behind him. Even when Reagan was in the White House, he was haunted by his role in that movie as indicated by the 1984 recording of the album Five Minutes, the recording group was Bonzo Goes to Washington.

Reagan’s image went through a transformation with his hosting of General Electric Theater on television between 1954 and 1962. Unlike the reality show format of The Apprentice, each of the more than 200 episodes of General Electric Theater were adaptations of a novel or a play or a work of fiction. Unlike Dennis Rodman or Omarosa Manigault or Chloe Kardashian appearing on The Apprentice, episodes of General Electric Theater included Fred Astaire, Lon Chancey, Jr. or Myrna Loy. Nancy and Ronald Reagan appeared together in several commercials.

Reagan on GE Theater.

CBS broadcast General Electric Theater on Sunday evenings at 9pm, a prime time for adult viewing. This was an era when, basically, television consisted of ABC, CBS, and NBC, each were competing for the same audience. Some places, such as New York City had several local channels but even in the New York market there might only be seven channels, and they did not stay on the air 24-hours a day. Watching a station sign off with the National Anthem and start their programming with a prayer was typical.

Reagan, in addition to just being on television visited General Electric facilities and gave speeches at Rotary Clubs on behalf of General Electric across America. His first real impact on the national political scene was the speech he gave in support of Barry Goldwater in October 1964 at the Republican National Convention. But that speech was an outgrowth of what he had been saying as he toured the country representing General Electric. 26

Walter Mondale lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 Presidential election.

Reagan had his lies, all Presidents do. Perhaps the most well-known of Reagan’s was when he said, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” 27 In addition, Reagan understood the importance of presentation style for a politician. As he said during the 1980 Presidential campaign, “How can a president not be an actor?” 28 But actors run the gamut from great to B movie stars.

There are aspects of the Reagan Presidency, however, that when looked at closely resemble nothing of what conservative means in the Trump Presidency. There were tax increases while Reagan was President, and with the Republicans as the majority party in the Senate. In 1983, in Reagan’s third year as President, he signed an amendment that made up to 50 percent of Social Security benefits as taxable. A reason why the Republicans lost control of the Senate in the 1986 Congressional elections can be pointed to this event. Furthermore, withholding taxes went up under Reagan. In 1980, the year Reagan was elected, and the Republicans became the majority party in the Senate, individuals paid 5.08 percent in Social Security taxes and 2.1 percent in Medicare taxes. By 1986, the year Republicans lost control of the Senate, The Social Security tax was 5.7 percent and the Medicare tax was 2.9 percent (Social Security is split evenly between employer and employee).

From his years on television, learning how to reach a broad audience and touring the country for General Electric, Reagan learned that pragmatism sometimes is a necessary aspect of political life. Ideology and his version of being conservative was not as television reality-show superficial as the version that Trump displays. Toward the end of Mrs. America, currently on Hulu, Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blancett), who led the Eagle Forum and spearheaded the push to prevent the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from becoming ratified and becoming part of the United States Constitution, believed she was going to be offered a position in Reagan’s cabinet, that does not happen. The phone conversation Reagan has with Schlafly, has Reagan saying he had not done as well as expected with women voters (although he won that 1980 election) and tells Schlafly he needs to mend some fences with women voters, including those who supported the ERA. Schlafly is expendable as Reagan aims for pragmatism.

Schlafly was described by one writer as the person who, “played a major role in linking the Republican Party with the New Right,” and referred to by many in this movement as their “First Lady.” Reagan’s picks for his administration showed his pragmatism as one article states, “Schlafly did not end up in Reagan’s Cabinet, which was generally stocked with more moderate figures. Reagan was sensitive to her polarizing effect even within his own party.” 29

Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America.

Alpha House, an Amazon Original which was on briefly for two seasons, (2013-2014, starring John Goldman, Mark Consuelos, and Clark Johnson) has an episode where Republican senators head off to a retreat at a Virginia plantation. In the background as entertainment there is a Reagan impersonator who uses actual Reagan quotes and Senators start throwing stuff at him. One Reagan quote goes, “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it is common sense,” with one Senator saying, “Better get out of here before it gets really ugly.” 30 Reagan’s television years, had their impact on him but in ways entirely different from Trump’s years.

Trump’s television years taught him to think only in showmanship ways, without any substance, very different than the years Reagan spent on television. One critic of reality shows, as The Apprentice was, stated:
Reality television shows usually portray people in a heightened state of reality to the point of it almost being fiction. Thus, the premise behind many shows has garnered criticisms based on how fabricated the portrayed reality actually is. Additionally, through editing film crews are able to portray a situation that might have been largely underplayed in real life for the purpose of portraying drama. 31

An imaginative picture of Trump watching himself on TV.

This way of looking at the participants on reality TV has influenced Trump regarding how he sees the American public, or, more precisely, that segment of the public he wants to keep reaching to stay loyal to him. Part of that view of how he sees the public is to say anything that sounds good to him or makes him look good, regardless of how many lies newspapers or fact-checkers count. In fact, Trump supporters do not care if he lies, even if they know he is doing it. 32

Reality television, these odd assortment of shows that are too numerous to list and run the gamut from girls pledging to join a sorority (Sorority Life, 2002-2004), to sex change operations (Sex Change Hospital, 2008), to following the lives of six stylists at salons in New Jersey (Jerseylicious, 2010-2014), to a dermatologist in action (Dr. Pimple Popper, 2018-2020), permeate television. These shows often display a similar format where participants come across as stereotypes. One study that examined women on these shows stated:

Women are often presented as dependent and subordinate as well as dim-witted and vain. There are very few reality programs that feature women as the main subject. However, the programs that do portray women do so in an extremely negative light. Apart from being depicted as passive and weak, women are generally much younger and more physically attractive than their male counterparts, displaying them as sex symbols. 33

Southerners are often portrayed as lazy or stupid (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty), 34 African-American American women are portrayed as prone to hair pulling and brawling. 35 A study noted that bullying and aggression on a reality show can lead viewers to believe such behavior is more acceptable. In fact, the same type of actions seen on a television crime show had less impact on viewers than a reality show. 36
One woman who was part of a reality show described her experience at the beginning of shooting, while took place in her apartment:

[A] few hours into our first day, I understood that “me” wasn’t a pronoun that existed in the context of this show. I was playing a version of myself — a character — and with a nudge here and a shove there, it was clear what character the producers wanted me to play. They were casting the stereotypical L.A. girl: Long blonde hair, thin, perhaps a bit shallow, and with a small, fluffy dog to boot. I looked the part. I had a choice to make: I could either fight it, and portray the intelligent, feminist and sarcastic self I had grown into over the past 23 years, or I could fake it. I chose the latter. 37

The very apt criticism of Trump that he has not grown in office can be related to his television years. The reality show feel of contestants coming and going or cliff hanger moments, at times, leaped from the set of The Apprentice to the White House. A Time magazine critique stated:

The President’s tweeted insults of not only of his opponents but also his own subordinates has been widely compared to reality television, and the news focuses on the revolving door for White House operatives and leaked predictions of one another’s departure. 38

Growth would require developing substantive values and ideas and there is no reason to do that if as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” and, unfortunately for the country as a whole, Trump’s stage has hardly moved from the one in Trump Tower where The Apprentice was filmed.

Elvis has Left the building, but Donald has Not

The phrase Elvis Has Left The building was a reference to announcements after an Elvis concert that he was not coming back out for an encore and the audience could leave. The notion of a dramatic exit is now used in association with this phrase. There is no dramatic exit for Trump, where he gives a meaningful, thoughtful address to the nation and aims to inspire people in a difficult time, there is only continuous theatrical presence.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President George Bush showed a Presidential style where he tried to bring the country together. His efforts may not have lasted long, but it showed a style of Presidential leadership we do not see now. Donald Trump, despite the hardship that COVID-19 has brought on, cannot escape his character. Trump through his actions and words has only exasperated the divisions that already exist within the country—there has been no kumbaya moment that Trump has shown during this difficult time. His press conferences only serve to fuel social media to fan the flames of division.

Trying to watch Donald Trump’s nightly press conferences that took up part of March and April 2020 until Trump’s re-election team realized they were harming the product and his chances for re-election, so ended the surreal performance of these nightly gatherings, will be discussed by historians for years to come. One press conference (Monday, April 13th), lasting more than two hours included a short video which was a strange thing to see. The video included the words, “The media minimized the risk from the start.” Other parts of this short video showed Governor Gavin Newson of California saying, “He returns calls, he reaches out, he’s been proactive.” That is followed by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida saying, “The president has been outstanding through all this.” So, a Democratic and Republican governor are meant to convey the appearance of bi-partisan support for Donald Trump. A blatant campaign ad during a moment when people turned on their television sets to listen to a President say something about where we were as a country and what might be done about it.

It is difficult to try to step back and become detached and assess what took place: Chance from Being There was on full display. The deadly impact of a pandemic was slowly taking hold on the country and a moment when Presidential leadership could say something truthful about what lies ahead and how this virus cared not whether one was Republic or Democrat, was lost. Instead Trump showed a video that could have been produced by Mark Burnett, the creator of The Apprentice (but probably was not).

What stands out about this video and add in other scenes from press conference moments, such as Mike Lindell, CEO of the company that makes “My pillow,” being called upon to stand at the podium with Trump at his side and say, “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016 [when Trump was elected President] to change the course we were on,” 39 is the type of foolishness that cried out for a Saturday Night Live skit. That is not what a country needs to take away from Presidential press conferences on a pandemic.

Trump’s version of what was going on at these press conferences seemed to be detached from how they were being understood by the media. A New York Times article pointed out that the audience was larger than The Bachelor or Monday Night Football. Trump, subsequently tweeted, “my News Conferences etc. are high, ‘Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers.” But he missed the point of this article which addressed networks discussing whether they should carry his daily press conferences since he repeatedly provided false or misleading statements about COVID-19. 40 Chance was on full display moving from Ben Rand’s mansion to the White House.

Trump’s type of Guy: Mike Lindell lays it on thick for Trump.

Donald Trump has not traveled far from The Apprentice. It is unfortunate that he cannot grow in office. Franklin D. Roosevelt had an interesting quote on leadership, “Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their minds.” Trump’s mind was locked by television’s imprint and it is still there.

In the waiting room before an appearance on Jay Leno, Trump told a producer that The Apprentice was rated the number one show, the show was not. The producer wrote of this moment:

The ratings had started to slip at the time. I thought he was joking, so I laughed. But he didn’t, and neither did his staffers. It was obvious that they hadn’t told him about his dropping Nielsen numbers. You can’t be president if you only hire yes people. 41

The country probably has a White House filled with yes people advising the President. Chance with his obliviousness of life around him resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Works Cited

  2. Ibid.
  5. , and,
  7. Roderick Hart, Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen, New York, Columbia University Press, 2020
  9. Richard Reeves, American Journal: Travels with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America, New York, Simon and Shuster, 1982, p.69
  12. Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993, p. 25
  19. Katy Tur, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, New York, Dey St., 2017, pp. 26-29.
  23. Ibid.
  26. Thomas Evans, The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism: The Education of Ronald Reagan, New York, Columbia University Press, 2008
  40. , and, the article Trump referred to,

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Trump won’t go quietly. He’s already re-ramping up the 2016 fraud voting rhetoric. If he loses in November, he’ll use that to cling onto power.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I’m not sure how he can cling to power. Mo doubt questioning election results will be part of what he will say. There are numerous articles online addressing scenarios about how he will act. First off, we need to assume that it is not a forgone conclusion he will lose.

  2. Following US politics is boring. No matter what happens, a right-wing American wins the presidency. Even Barack Obama with his peace prize was conducting drone assassinations around the world. Donald Trump is just an extreme example.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I think that might be too superficial a view of policy developments within the United States. There are changes in policies and those can be seen, but not necessarily easily seen. I spent years teaching graduate students in Public Administration the importance of something called “rulemaking,” which is incredibly difficult to understand well, but matters greatly.

  3. Both parties need to elect a president who has a parent to look after them

  4. Trump’s victory was an anomaly, a fluke. His apparent triumph a fleeting one. A last dying gasp. America’s long-heralded demographic timebomb has finally gone off. Trump and his cronies, rich old guys, aren’t getting any younger. They are the past.

    People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the future. She will outlive them all. Which is why they are all so visibly terrified of her and what she represents. And rightly so.

    • Joseph Cernik

      It’s difficult to tell if AOC is the future. It is important to look at members of the House of Representatives related to their Congressional districts–which are quite different in makeup from each other. Also, it would be nice to think of Trump as a fluke, I hope so.

  5. For the last few years, US politics has seemed devoid of integrity after the ascension of Trump, bringing forward the nations decline on the global stage. From election fixing to thinly veiled racism and and everything in between, Trump and his family have demonstrated their moral depravity excellently, using the most powerful office in the world for their own personal advancement.

    Surrounding them are their cronies, ranging from the Bush-ultras of Bolton to the right wing mouthpieces of Steve Bannon, whose crimes against decency are just as bad as their masters. They sit in their gilded cage, watching their backs on order to maintain their place. When they fall from grace their is the chance to make some money from their memoirs, but it is imperative not to aid the Democrats: as is the devotion of the Trump cult.

    American politics has become a tragedy for democracy, witnessing the use of foreign powers to win elections and power becoming a tool for self enrichment. Hopefully, this will not be the case after November with the election of a party who aren’t content with nominating an arrogant demagogue to run for President; If not, the world is in for another four years of misery due to the incompetence of Donald Trump.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Well, some of what you say I can agree with. I’m not sure I would use the word “tragedy,” probably because I have spent years closely following where Federal government money (therefore programs) has done a great deal of good. In fact, it always amazes me how little is seen and understood how effective Federal government programs can be.

    • From afar, it seems to me that US politics is infected in the precise way that its enemies would have planned.

      In any two party system with a ‘free press’, it seems to me that all the US’s enemies would have to do is consistently pour poison into the system and encourage both sides to hate each other so much that respect evaporates completely.

      Whether that outcome has been promoted by the US’s enemies or the US has got there entirely on their own doesn’t matter, they now have a President who’s main ‘quality’ is that he winds up the other sides and a media that is prepared to pump out falsehoods and brand anyone who attempts to fact-check that as ‘fake news’.

      The storm is not going to be a short one I’m afraid.

      • Joseph Cernik

        I tend to believe that there is a precondition to any US enemies “pouring gasoline on the fire”–that the different US sides, Democrat versus Republican, need to already be quite far apart from each other.

  6. If there’s one thing this has taught us it is that Americans are staggeringly selfish. Not just meat and potatoes “I don’t want to share” selfish. Totally apocalyptic “I would rather let you die than slightly inconvenience myself” levels of selfish.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Over many years, I have known many elected officials. Surprisingly, many, whether Democrats or Republicans, have been very thoughtful people, actually interested in doing something they saw as useful. At the same time, there are a number that I would say exist in a world I’ll call “ideological simplicity.” These are people who sound like the nonsense you hear on talk radio, and that is unfortunate..

    • Two months of people standing up for justice in the streets and that’s what you see?

      • Joseph Cernik

        I’m tryin g to put together an essay on the reaction to the killing of George Lloyd–why was it seen so different than previous situations? I’m not sure I have an answer yet. Sure, it’s easy to say something like “Americans have had enough,” but that is too vague and meaningless. It just seemed that protests this time were different.

    • Well, perhaps. But you are surely not suggesting that Americans are uniquely, institutionally more “selfish” than citizens of any other country, are you? Citizens of every country value the lives of their own citizens higher than the citizens of other countries, don’t they? What do we learn, for example, from the attitude all around Europe, to refugees from war-torn territories on its south eastern periphery?

      • Joseph Cernik

        Interesting. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of a comparison with attitudes in other countries. It was just the case of a situation in a particular county in Missouri where a man died in somewhat similar circumstances to George Lloyd and that was determined well afterwards. Since no pictures exist, like the Lloyd situation, the difference seems to be pictures. It shows the power and impact of a picture.

  7. Samantha Leersen

    As someone who does not live in the U.S. it is difficult to see Trump as anything but a caricature. The points you present here confirm that. It is a little mind-blowing that someone like him can not only run for president, but actually get elected. Not to say our government is a stunning exemplar – it certainly is not. But Trump, even when you put aside many of his beliefs which I disagree with, just does not seem at all like a person inclined for politics, and certainly not presidency.
    This was a really good article by the way, insightful, I enjoyed reading it!

    • Joseph Cernik

      He seems a caricature to many of us too. I always tried to see Presidents (having met two, and a First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt) as having things that should make them rise to the situation, but I cannot see that in Trump. I don’t think I thought that way the first year, maybe a bit more than that of his Presidency, but I began to change my opinion even before this pandemic hit.

  8. It’s definitely accurate to say that Donald Trump is first and foremost a reality TV star, and that he comes across in that way on the world stage. He’s all style, and no substance. He can produce a stirring speech or photo-op when he wants to, but mostly he just dithers, tweets, argues with his advisors, or gets manipulated by special interests. Anytime he makes a decision, the best you can hope for is that the special interest he happens to be courting at the time coincides with your own interests and goals.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Usually, Trump’s special interests are not in the best interest of many Americans. Thanks you reading my essay, I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to Trump’s next TV special (I assume he’ll have one to address something or other)–never quite sure what. I think he showed that rambling is the best that can be expected from the televised briefings that supposedly were about the pandemic which were not really on the pandemic.

  9. I’ve been thinking lately about the beginning of the Troubles back at the end of the 60s. That started out as straightforward peaceful protest which was about rights and in no small way was motivated by police violence and killings of Irish people, and which were met with a heavy handed violent response, leading to thirty years of dirty warfare. And the Irish didn’t even really have guns at the beginning of that.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Developments take time, often things don’t suddenly just happen–they come from somewhere. I hope you enjoyed my essay.

    • Yes, the US situation could lead to escalating street violence too. But in NI it was a kind of colonialist situation, with intelligence services ‘running’ most of the leading terrorists and arranging an assassination from time to time to keep the pot boiling and making it look like any Irish unity was completely out of the question. In the US it was be a push for a dictatorship run by the Presidency that will be the motivating force.

      • Joseph Cernik

        Trump just saw an opportunity to exploit and hope it would lead to an increase in voters supporting him–I’m not sure he saw it as a power grab.

  10. Please, for the sanity of the whole damn world, do not re-elect this maniac!

  11. The system for electing US President just doesn’t seem fit for purpose to me, not when you’ve got such a ruthlessly dishonest actor as Trump involved. For one thing, the electoral college is like the bad enough British ‘first past the post’ system on a massive dose of steroids.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I don’t see the Electoral College system being changed or eliminated anytime soon. I’ve given public lectures on this issue and frustration is generally all I hear.

  12. Micah Mc

    Trump did not start the problems in the US, he is just too stupid to effectively hide those issues. Removing him won’t change anything in of itself and much more fundamental system change is necessary.

    • Joseph Cernik

      There were a number of issues prior to Trump, but he may have brought them to a head. I think that is a position being taken by a number of reasonable Republicans who are trying to do their best to make sure he is not re-elected. But, at the same time, they want to ensure any Trump-like character cannot become President again.

    • callister

      Trump was not the one who built the institutional racism that is to be found everywhere in the USA, notably but not exclusively in its police forces. Society in the USA is (and always has been) characterized by the mindset “If you are not with us you are against us”. It’s what you get, when national politics is a 2-Party State. Recall the old joke about the visitor to Belfast, asked in the pub if he is Catholic or Protestant, his answer “Neither. I am an atheist.”. Punch line: “Yes, that may be. But are you a Protestant Atheist or a Catholic Atheist?”

      It will take more than a change of President to shift that Centuries-old deeply-embedded mindset.

      • Joseph Cernik

        I think change in the US is possible. I’m currently finishing up an essay that addresses some the ways to look at change, which I’ll submit to the The Artifice soon. I guess I have a high degree of optimism in change as possible. Ironically, change for the good might be because of Trump. That he is so bad as a President, and as a person, I think reaction to him is what can bring about change.

  13. An Speer

    The poorly-educated, opinion-led by megachurch, Fox and Facebook, and much loved by Trump, are in great supply in America.

    Probability of Trump remaining in power: high.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I’m not sure there are simple stereotypes of Trump supporters. I often think of them in degrees of support. In fact, I know a number with college and universities degrees. A number of voters were not necessarily voting for Trump as much as they were voting against Clinton. That might be one of the reasons he is doing so badly now in public opinion polls against Biden.

    • Facebook has as many left-leaning sites and individuals as it does right-leaning ones, and each do equally well. The studies show Facebook (and the same is true on Reddit, Twitter, etc.) is that it leads to polarisation.

      • The difference is that Trump has weaponised social media to be much more than an insult forum.

        • Joseph Cernik

          Trump has used social media well, which, hopefully, will not continue at such a higher intensity. At least that is what I hope, I’m not sure that will be the case. In order for that to happen, TV news needs to go a whole series of days not discussing Trump’s tweets. If every time he adds some tweet about anything, it becomes news–why would he want to stop? Assume he loses the Presidency, we can assume his constant barrage tweets will continue–and will continue to be reported as news.

      • Joseph Cernik

        True, the ability to select what to read and filter out tends to reinforce polarization. Yet, studies show a greater tendency on the part of people who label themselves as “conservative” willing to believe false (or fake) stories.

      • Joseph Cernik

        Unfortunately, polarization encourages superficial reasoning since too much is reduced to Us versus Them.

  14. Presidents like Trump and Bush and their GOP with its Tea Party have made certain that the intelligentsia of the country has been silenced.

    • Joseph Cernik

      There are some standard themes or issues that run through Republican administrations, but Trump may have taken his administration off the guardrails. That it is possible to read of so many Republicans in Congress quietly or behind-closed-doors expressing their dislike of him indicates that, but it indicts them for failing to step forward and think about issues beyond just their re-election.

      • If people haven’t seen the great comedy Idiocracy, now is the time. Only came out 14 years ago! Electrolytes!

  15. What I find most worryingly is the amount of so called normal people who were prepared to (and still are) vote for a game show host. Was it an act of revenge to get back at the fact that an African American was shockingly voted in as the president of the United States of America and worse still, lasted the full two terms in office….?

    Trump has successfully opened Pandora’s box and no one can find the lid.

    • Joseph Cernik

      You can’t look at this as a 100% should vote him out–he will have millions support him in November (hopefully a lot less than Biden).

    • Ms. Hills

      They were offered Hilary. Maybe they thought Hilary was a bigger insult than The Donald.

  16. OkaNaimo0819

    With what we know now, I wonder if Trump will get re-elected. Maybe not, but then again no one expected him to win the first time. Nice article, by the way. Interesting to see how television can play a key role in politics, especially with someone like Trump and Reagan.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I guess the best I can add is never say never. Hopefully, Trump is not re-elected, but an absolute certainty is not guaranteed.

  17. Capitalism and the land of the free… what could go wrong?

    • Joseph Cernik

      Well, what went wrong was Trump. I, hopefully, addressed a reason why in this essay: TV image. Note that in my essay I pointed out where people who watched his show were so much more likely to vote for him.

  18. If nothing else, it has confirmed to the rest of the world that the President of the United States is not the leader of the free world. This was true long before Trump but the fantasy has persisted, the US lags in so many things: killing each other, healthcare for any but the rich, poverty, racism to name just a few things. Militarily it outmatches everyone but that is just an expression of “might is right”.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Trump took things to a worse-case-situation than would have been the case with anyone else who was elected President. The reason I bring up the topic of “growing in office” is because he was given the benefit of the doubt when he was elected–unfortunately, it seems he went down rather than up.

    • America is run by corporation and banks/financial service providers. They have ‘rights’ and with their rights they have torn apart the world’s labour laws and the environment. And their people lap it up and call it furdom against turney.

      • Joseph Cernik

        There is some of that but politicians still need votes and they pay close attention to whether they are gaining or losing support among voters.

  19. Briseno

    Good read. I hope more voters are ‘Woke’ and can see the devastation the current conservative paradigm has caused in this nation. This is a very scary time. The outcome is in our hands. Change needs to happen!

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thanks for enjoying my essay. I’ve followed Presidents since Eisenhower was in office, I do not ever remember feeling so bad (disillusioned, critical-beyond-measure, concerned) as I am with Trump running around the White House (or as one book used the title, “Toddler in Chief”).

  20. I think Trump is going to win again in November, because the Democrats’ support for law breaking protesters and for defunding the police will be badly received by many ordinary Americans, in particular minority groups who are more often the victims of crime in their own communities and who depend on the police for their own security far more than those in prosperous white areas.

    I know what the polls say, but they said much the same in 2016 and look what happened.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I am concerned about the November election. What concerns me is something that happened in Georgia recently. A “conservative” group sent out mail-in ballots for an election and put their address in Iowa as the place where the ballots should be sent–not the correct Georgia state office. They printed ballots that looked like the actual ballots. Georgia says it can sell its voter list to anyone. I’m hoping this issue is being followed closely. Obviously, “conservative” here does not conservative in some good way, but some organization doing what it can to help Trump.

    • The Democrats don’t support defunding the police.

      That’s a Trump lie.

      • Joseph Cernik

        Trump will want to push that position, but it’s not true. Within political slogans, there usually is something deeper going on.

  21. The Republican party are totally complicit in enabling Trump and the ugliness that accompanies him.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I agree with you. That party matters more than country during a pandemic demonstrates incredible lack of values. I think Republicans in the Senate could have had behind-closed-door meetings with Trump to put pressure on him to act correctly during this pandemic–and just kept up the pressure. There is no indication they did anything but looked the other way.

  22. Let’s hope the good honest majority get out to vote and deliver a better more Internationalist USA to the beneft of all including the Americans.

    I fear another Trump presidency will exacerbate conflicts in Middle East , Far East and trade wars which are a lose lose.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I read his idiot son-in-law’s proposal for peace in the Middle East. Worse, that the son-in-law picked his former college roommate to deal with COVID-19, instead of a scientist or physician who has some understanding of the situation we are all in, just indicates such a detachment from reality.

  23. The election of Trump as President showed how disconnected American voters are from the real world.

    • Joseph Cernik

      At least that seems to be the case with many of Trump’s voters. I see Trump voters broken down into those that voted for him that actually believed all the nonsense he has said and those that voted for him because they had no intention of voting for Clinton. Somewhere in between those two categories there, no doubt, are other reasons why people voted for Trump.

    • Joseph Cernik

      The Electoral College helped him with its odd way of determining who wins the Presidency–not popular vote but Electoral College votes.

  24. Trump was 40-50 years in the making. A complete hollowing out of communal life and economy was set in motion in the 70s. Fast forward to country where 90% of people own less than a quarter of the wealth.

    They are exhausted, isolated, anxious and angry. To register disgust, even if it’s ineffective, against the political establishment was and is empowering for anyone.

    Unfortunately, Biden has no interest in changing the fundamentals of the system.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I agree Trump did not just come out of nowhere, that there is process that allows someone such as him to make it to the White House. One reason for the emergence of Trump was the problems associated with the Great Recession of around 2008 and that many people felt the adverse economic effects of that recession for too many years after it, essentially, was over.

  25. Joseph Cernik

    I tend to see your statement as related to too much of the nonsense I see on cable news shows, where substantive discussion is often pushed aside in favor or circus entertainment. As a result, too many politicians end up pandering at that level.

  26. Trump is yesterday’s news, but his screwups with the pandemic will be headlines until he’s gone.

    • Joseph Cernik

      My guess is even if he loses his re-election that you will hear him frequently–and TV news will continue to let you know what he has to say (or tweet).

  27. man this is so fascinating and so horrifyingly insidious. he has so much experience and wields this stuff like a weapon, but he’s still out here making a massive fool of himself with axios? stuff of a horror movie

    • Joseph Cernik

      TV taught Trump how to make a presentation. The problem with his presentation is that there is nothing behind it and so he has no substance to understand how to govern. Enjoy the movie “Being There,” and get a sense of Trump’s lack of substance.

  28. The US appear to suffer from a toxic and deeply split society. Its citizen cannot even agree on basic facts anymore. The strenght of an open, pluralisitc society has been the ability to hold a discourse, to have an open discussion about anything and accept any compromise. This is gone now.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Polarized is usually the word used to express extremes in political thinking and attitudes. I would say here is that, but, at the same time, there are attempts to find some common ground–it’s just difficult to see it with Trump in the White House.

  29. America used to have a high standing in the world in general, but that high standing has now disappeared, instead there is a nation who’s rulers are unable to negotiate democratically, and uses threats and even violence to attempt to subdue objections to the leaders actions.

  30. Delatorre

    If Trump wins, his supporters will feel vindicated. If he loses they will use the result as an excuse for extreme violence.

    • Joseph Cernik

      My concern is what he seems to be trying to do to the US Post Office service to really throw a monkey wrench in mail delivery–all apparently aimed at disrupting the delivery of mail-in ballots. Not all of those ballots are Democrats voting, but also Republicans, so I’m not clear if his moves are only going to hurt Biden.

  31. I wonder if Trump supporters feel like he’s given them what he promised them at the last election. People voted for him because they felt disenfranchised. Think what you like of them, but most of them had real grounds for their grievances and it would be nice for politicians to one day actually look after the battlers they fawn over during elections and then forget about every other day of their term.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I wonder the same thing too. I have been trying to figure out how to approach writing an article about this issue. It is apparent he has his full-pledged groupies who admire him–but, what has he done for them in specific ways?

  32. “Gallup organization research has shown that for many Americans what they want in a President is trust, compassion, stability, and hope.” Literally everything Donald Trump is not.

  33. Joseph Cernik

    Unfortunately, too many Americans see him another way. How many less deaths there would have been if he were not in the White House will taken time to assess.

  34. One factor that should be accounted for is that the 80s was a very different time to today.

  35. Elpis1988

    This is a great read. Nice work!

  36. Joseph Cernik

    Thanks. I might need to write a follow-up essay with Trump back in the Presidential race (assuming he gets the Republican nomination).

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