Friday, October 11, 2019


Jonathan Chait has responded to last night's Trump campaign rally with an amusing post about the president's TV obsession.
As usually happens, Trump grew bored and wandered off script....

When Trump goes off script, he usually starts talking about the one subject that compels his interest and occupies most of his waking hours: television. At this moment in the rally, Trump started riffing on a series of pillow ads he has frequently seen. “Hey folks, the greatest buyer of advertisements in the history of the world, Mike Lindell, My Pillow. I have never seen so many ads,” he began, continuing on about the pillow ads.

This was a completely typical moment in a Trump rally.... the leader of the movement is simply too bored to stay on topic, and continually changes the channel on his own speech. You can almost see the president relaxing in his Barcalounger, clicking the remote control....

It might seem like Trump is unable to focus on his text because he is bored with the presidency. The truth is slightly different. He sees the presidency as a means to the end of positive television coverage. Here is Trump describing his great election victory:
That was one of the greatest nights in the history of television … It was one of the highest rated evenings in the history of television. You add up all those networks.
One of the greatest nights in the history of television. The president of the United States thinks of his own election as a show that he watched on TV.
I'm just giving you a small taste of the post -- go read it. It's fun. But I disagree with one passage:
Trump failed as a businessman, but then succeeded playing one on television. During the Obama era, he hit upon a new market in right-wing paranoia, sensing the racial anxieties of aging white America being underserved by a Republican leadership that wanted to talk about budget deficits. He was drawn unexpectedly into the presidency as he chased this audience.
The verbs in the second sentence don't feel right to me. It might be appropriate to say that Trump, as a Fox News commentator in the Obama era, "hit upon a new market in right-wing paranoia," but I feel as if Chait is crediting Trump with marketing genius, as if Trump analyzed the Fox audience and understood precisely how he could win them over. I don't believe that. I don't believe Trump was "sensing the racial anxieties of aging white America being underserved by a Republican leadership that wanted to talk about budget deficits."

I think Trump just wanted to be on television -- anywhere, under any circumstances. He had become a Fox fan because he's an aging white racist who (like other Fox viewers) enjoys being scared by images of black criminals and swarthy brown terrorists, and because he liked Fox's reduction of all of politics to a war between pure good and pure evil. He'd always been pro-capitalist, pro-"law and order," and anti-minority; Fox gave him an all-encompassing narrative on which to hang his prejudices.

But mostly he just wanted to be on TV.

Trump started appearing on Fox in 2011. He wanted to run for president -- he's always wanted to run for president -- and he nearly pulled the trigger in the 2012 race. On Fox, he spent a lot of time insulting the black guy who had the job he felt he deserved, but he would also participate in typical morning-show bits, such as the time he accepted an ugly Christmas sweater as a gift from Ozzy Osbourne's daughter. He was up for just about anything, as long as he was seen.

He honed a message by 2015, cribbing it from his favorite TV channel, along with his own prejudices. I don't believe he tailored it to any audience -- Fox had done that heavy lifting for him. It worked, but let's not give Trump too much credit. He was an angry old white guy venting, and other angry old white people just so happened to agree with him and like his style.

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