Trump's expertise at reality TV may not have prepared him to be president, but has prepared him to win over a large portion of the electorate, who prefer entertainment to the hard realities we confront.
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, excerpt
Much as I try to avoid it, catching the latest faux pas of the Trump campaign is somewhat 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 the media’s attention on him or recommend her as an alternative, and telling us what we already know is boring. The most remarkable thing in all this is that despite his frequent transgressions against common sense, Trump seems to be rising in the polls. As anyone in TV can tell you, the cardinal rule above all including substance is, don’t be boring.
Trump’s power comes from leveraging the system through falsehood upon falsehood as a tool for personal aggrandizement, an approach better suited to capitalize on both the system’s strengths and weaknesses.
Which forces me to conclude Trump knows something Hillary does not. I don’t mean to suggest he is more intelligent or more insightful. People rise to power for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily because they are more in the right or more just. Hillary is a political animal who expects some rationality. Once manipulated by a lie, she believes her public should stay convinced. Trump’s power comes from leveraging the system through falsehood upon falsehood as a tool for personal aggrandizement, an approach better suited to capitalize on both the system’s strengths and weaknesses. His target demographic craves style over substance and equates brand affiliation with success. He knows it needs 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 upon the lie that people on one side of an arbitrary line, determined most often by conflict, are better and more deserving or at least have more in common than people on the other side of the line— even though if we cross the imaginary line everyone importantly guards, 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...” That is, while not deigning to include women as equal partners, the new United States would extend to all men equal rights; unless of course they were the natives whose land we were in the process of stealing, or the Africans who had been brought over as slaves, or they didn’t own enough property.
We fought a war over the issue of slavery in which over a half million people died, more than in all our wars against foreign enemies combined. The union was preserved, the slaves set free, but a decade later the economic status quo of subjugation was allowed to resume in exchange for settling a tied election in favor of the Republican candidate. A few decades after that we allowed that maybe a woman should be the equal of a man, if we could pay her half or three quarters as much.
Trump doesn’t concern himself with the subjugation of Native Americans or the inequality forced on African Americans and other immigrant groups. Any appearance to the contrary can be put down to electioneering jargon that will be forgotten on November 2nd. What it appears he does believe, not so much consciously but in his DNA because it has proven successful thus far, is that the 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 (not that Hillary is such a person), but someone who will protect them from those truths through an endless web of spin and distraction. In that sense Trump is by far the more entertaining candidate.
While Hillary has sharpened her legal claws in boardrooms, and her political clout through her husband’s connections, while serving in Congress and as Secretary of State, Trump has been constantly reinventing his brand. He had to, to cover up the scandals he leaves in his wake. His mastery of persona presentation has been honed on reality TV to the point where what Hillary must accomplish through grit and determination at an all day grilling before a Senate committee investigating Benghazi or her emails, Trump does by tossing off a one-liner, watching the press react, then tossing off another the following day: “What I meant was…” We might get a sound bite of Hillary if we’re lucky diluted by the spin of commentators. Trump’s pronouncements and the ensuing scandal for saying what he believes his demographic is thinking invariably gets wide coverage, as does his ensuing retraction that neither his followers nor anyone else believes is real.
National boundaries that fail to fall on rivers or coastline cannot be perceived from outer space. A nation is a set of myths and history passed on from generation to generation: in short, a brand. Trump is more successful at manipulating the attention of 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 this 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 and the government whores on their payroll, 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 knows that his brand of reality television is more representative of today’s America than our founding documents, or Hillary Clinton’s delusion that the myth can be updated to bridge the gap with reality. While Trump denies climate change is happening, Hillary says she believes in science, but when she says that it sounds like her religion. The trouble with most religious people is that they are hypocrites. They believe “we are one in the spirit,” but are the first to sign up to blow their fellow humans away when some economic disparity is on the line. Thus Hillary, who believes in science, 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 that as president she will continue to assist in the ongoing corporate war on nature.
Trump deftly sidesteps this conundrum by simply denying reality, in favor of reality television, a contrived situation we watch for our amusement from the comfort of our homes. When someone gets kicked off the island on Survivor 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 for us after we’ve rounded up and deported 11 million people, we don’t have to picture those dying in the desert trying to unite with their families across a border, or mothers and children held in prison for more than a year having broken no law, sometimes separated from their children, sometimes giving birth in prison, or sent back to face death squads. If we’re truly Americans (the righteous brand), we shouldn’t have to concern ourselves with such things, any more than accepting any of the millions of refugees from the wars in the Middle East we’ve had more than a little to do with. After all, one of them might turn out to hate us and make trouble. And if climate change doesn’t exist, hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
So it is little wonder Trump is wiping the floor with Hillary in the Media Circus. 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.