Wednesday, March 07, 2018


I'm late getting to Chris Cillizza's "Donald Trump Is Producing the Greatest Reality Show Ever" -- many people have already weighed in, most notably Soledad O'Brien:

I agree with all that, and I'd add that's it's the most obvious, unoriginal take imaginable. Search "trump reality show presidency" and you get recent hits from The New York Times ("Donald Trump and the Limits of the Reality TV Presidency"), NBC ("Trump's Presidential Reality Show"), The Nation ("The Reality-Show President, Season One"), Salon ("The Reality TV Show Presidency of Donald Trump Slips Out During White House Rant"), Newsweek ("Trump All but Amits His Presidency Is a Reality TV Show as He Welcomes Media 'Back to the Studio'"), and more, and that's just on the first page of results. Cillizza's pieces preens and prances as if the author believes he's discovered the cleverest metaphor in the history of political commentary. Please.

And Cillizza's examples prove exactly nothing. For instance, this:
It began with Trump insisting that all of the chatter about chaos overrunning his White House was overblown. He tweeted:

"The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!"

Like a good reality TV producer, even in that assurance that everything was totally cool was the sign -- for knowing viewers -- that everything is not totally cool.
Right, because no previous president has ever claimed that things were going well when they actually weren't. That never happened in the later Nixon years or in George W. Bush's second term. Donald Trump invented presidential Pollyannaism! And it never would have happened if he hadn't once been on reality TV!

What's most amazing about [Gary] Cohn's departure is not the theatrical way it played out but that just a few weeks ago people were talking about Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, as a leading candidate to replace John Kelly as White House chief of staff.

Is there anything more reality TV than rapidly rising and then collapsing fortunes? The man or woman who you think is for sure going to win "Survivor" or get the final rose (do they still do that?) on "The Bachelor" suddenly falls into disfavor and is out before you blink.
Hmm, let's see: Gary Hart was the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when he formally entered the race on April 13, 1987. A couple of weeks later, a sex scandal destroyed his candidacy. How was it even possible for a sudden reversal of fortune to play out in public, given that reality TV hadn't been invented yet? Or how about Harriet Miers being nominated for the Supreme Court in early October 2005 and then withdrawing at the end of the month? Well, that was after Survivor debuted, so I guess we can credit that one to Mark Burnett and not to Bush's angry base, right?

Cillizza adds:
(Sidebar: That reversal of expectations is what made the execution of Ned Stark in Season 1 of "Game of Thrones" the linchpin to the future success of the show. It proved that the conventions of normal TV were out the window -- making "GOT" must-watch.)
So the Trump presidency is like reality TV, as we can see from its close resemblance to ... a scripted fictional drama. Right. Got it.

Speaking of [John] Kelly, the chief of staff is also a classic reality TV archetype: The good guy/bad guy. No one can get a read on what, exactly, Kelly's motives are and whether he is benign or malignant.
Yep, there were never any of those in politics before we had a reality TV president. Everyone was either pure good or pure evil. Oh yeah, there was the guy who got us through the Great Depression and most of World War II while also interning Japanese-Americans, or the guy who gave us Medicare and the Voting Rights Act while miring us in Vietnam. But they must have had magic time machines that allowed them to watch reality TV broadcast from the future, otherwise they couldn't have done both good and bad things in one presidency.

This is punditry as theater criticism, and it's a terrible example of that. Cillizza just shoehorns everything he sees in the Trump White House into a framework that's vaguely reality TV-esque but also like a lot of other human experiences, most of them involving incompetent people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect and flailing as their endeavors fail. Try harder, Chris.


Yastreblyansky has a contrary take.

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