Trump: Amer­ica’s re­al­ity TV pres­i­dent in wait­ing

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

If the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was the planet’s big­gest cir­cus then Don­ald Trump’s tran­si­tion from tabloid ty­coon into leader of the Free World has be­come Amer­ica’s ul­ti­mate re­al­ity TV show. From cab­i­net ap­point­ments to his newly em­braced flat­tery for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, from in­tim­i­dat­ing com­pa­nies to heck­ling a union leader, Trump is spin­ning as only he knows how a news cy­cle ob­sessed with the most ex­tra­or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal up­set in mod­ern US his­tory.

Day af­ter day, prospec­tive ap­pointees troop in and out of Trump Tower, ride up and down the golden el­e­va­tors the same props used in his long-run­ning re­al­ity TV show “The Ap­pren­tice” - in full glare of tele­vi­sion cam­eras. Trump uses some of the old­est re­al­ity tricks in the books: Cliffhang­ers, drama, parad­ing con­tes­tants to be in­ter­viewed, al­low­ing sur­ro­gates to leak in­for­ma­tion and then care­fully tim­ing his of­fi­cial an­nounce­ments.

If he spends most of his time se­questered in his op­u­lent pent­house, then with a sin­gle tweet he can reach an au­di­ence of mil­lions at the flick of a wrist. “He’s our first re­al­ity TV pres­i­dent, he’s one of the first true celebrity pres­i­dents,” says Richard Hanley, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity in Con­necti­cut. “I think it’s a re­flec­tion that Amer­ica has com­pletely lost sight of the line be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and re­al­ity,” he told AFP. It’s just busi­ness as usual for a real es­tate ty­coon who fed tabloids for decades with af­fairs, di­vorces and es­capades that made him, if not the rich­est bil­lion­aire in the coun­try, then the most syn­ony­mous with wealth. Take for ex­am­ple his most pres­ti­gious ap­point­ment, sec­re­tary of state, yet to be an­nounced. Af­ter weeks of fevered spec­u­la­tion, for­mer New York mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani was of­fi­cially ruled out Fri­day.

Stay tuned

Hang­ing by a thread is Mitt Rom­ney, the Repub­li­can grandee and for­mer Trump critic in­vited to dine at a fa­mous so­ci­ety restau­rant in New York only to be pho­tographed smil­ing awk­wardly next to a grin­ning pres­i­dent-elect. Trump di­aled into an NBC break­fast show to say that a fi­nal de­ci­sion was likely next week, throw­ing Rom­ney a lifeline but quickly talk­ing up the tal­ents of Exxon CEO Rex Tiller­son. Trump is said to want tele­genic staff and so for­mer gen­eral David Pe­traeus, Con­gress­man Dana Rohrabacher and ex-Bei­jing am­bas­sador Jon Hunts­man have gone be­fore the cam­eras to present them­selves as ar­tic­u­late al­ter­na­tives.

Af­ter meet­ings, he tweets his ver­dicts. “Very im­pressed!” he wrote of for­mer CIA di­rec­tor Pe­traeus, still un­der pro­ba­tion for giv­ing clas­si­fied ma­te­rial to his mistress. When de­ci­sions are made, many are timed for ef­fect, such re­tired gen­eral James “Mad Dog” Mat­tis an­nounced as de­fense sec­re­tary dur­ing a rally in Ohio. He drops teasers, telling Iowa that he will an­nounce a home­land se­cu­rity chief - re­port­edly re­tired gen­eral John Kelly next week. In other words, stay tuned.

Then there are the eclec­tic back sto­ries. Nine years ago, he shaved the head of the bil­lion­aire hus­band of cab­i­net nom­i­nee Linda McMa­hon on live tele­vi­sion. McMa­hon her­self is per­haps the only ap­pointee to face a Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing hav­ing been thrown around by wrestlers on tele­vi­sion.

Fas­ten seat­belts

Dom Caristi, pro­fes­sor at Ball State Univer­sity, says “The Ap­pren­tice” showed Trump “in com­mand, act­ing very busi­nesslike, mak­ing smart busi­ness de­ci­sions, rec­og­niz­ing the mis­takes of others, call­ing peo­ple out for those mis­takes”. So, too, has he sought to project the same im­age in his tran­si­tion. He posed as the tough man fight­ing to save tax­pay­ers’ money by call­ing out Boe­ing for the “$4 bil­lion” cost of two new Air Force One jets, say­ing that the aero­space com­pany had to bring the price down.

The tweet fol­lowed veiled crit­i­cism from Boe­ing about the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion and the com­pany’s share price fell - but re­ports since claim the com­pany is do­nat­ing $1 mil­lion to the in­au­gu­ra­tion. Trump also boasted of tak­ing on air con­di­tion­ing com­pany Car­rier to save jobs that would others have left In­di­ana for Mex­ico. But when a union leader took issue with Trump’s claim that 1,100 jobs had been res­cued - say­ing only 800 had been ear­marked to move - he tweeted out at the leader, ex­pos­ing him to a fu­ri­ous back­lash.

Even his de­ci­sion to stay on as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “The Celebrity Ap­pren­tice” - re­gard­less of the po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est - has blurred the lines be­tween re­al­ity TV and the busi­ness of gov­ern­ment. “We have yet to see what this pres­i­dency is go­ing to look like. That’s part of his goal to keep us off bal­ance,” said Jeff Morosoff, me­dia stud­ies and pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sor at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity. “I think we need to fas­ten our seat­belts for one long roller­coaster ride.” —AFP

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