Trump White House is bad real­ity tele­vi­sion

Walker County Messenger - - News - Gene Lyons Arkansas Times

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has long been de­scribed with the hon­orific “Leader of the Free World.” No more. Don­ald Trump ba­si­cally sur­ren­dered the ti­tle dur­ing the re­cent G20 meet­ings in Ger­many.

Even the Rus­sians were of­fended by Trump’s point­less aban­don­ment of the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cords -- point­less be­cause it’s a purely vol­un­tary agree­ment with no en­force­ment mech­a­nisms. The pres­i­dent imagines a world­wide sci­en­tific con­spir­acy, which most ed­u­cated adults rec­og­nize as im­pos­si­ble.

Trump’s Pol­ish speech was also seen as prob­lem­atic. By en­dors­ing a Manichean, good vs. evil de­fense of “the West” -- defined, Putin-style, en­tirely in racial and re­li­gious terms -- Trump was widely sus­pected of scorn­ing multi-eth­nic Euro­pean democ­ra­cies like Ger­many, France and Great Bri­tain. Not to men­tion Asian ones like Ja­pan, South Korea and In­dia.

The West, so defined, ex­cludes most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, although it def­i­nitely in­cludes the Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica. How­ever, rel­a­tively few thought Trump ac­tu­ally grasped the full im­pli­ca­tions of the trib­al­ized world­view he ex­pressed.

Some­body wrote a speech; Trump read it. Our al­lies can only guess who’s in charge at the White House: tra­di­tional de­fend­ers of NATO like De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor H.R. McMaster?

Or blood-and-soil “pop­ulists” like Steve Ban­non and Stephen Miller, the au­thor of the War­saw speech defin­ing ISIS as a grave civ­i­liza­tional threat -- an all-but de­feated ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion with no army, navy or air force?

In real­ity, of course, the sin­gle great­est threat to the in­tegrity of west­ern democ­racy is the Krem­lin. But hold that thought.

The cor­rect an­swer to who’s in charge of U.S. for­eign pol­icy is no­body. And cer­tainly not Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who served as the pres­i­dent’s min­der dur­ing his bal­ly­hooed meet­ing with Vladimir Putin.

At the White House level, the U.S. doesn’t have a for­eign pol­icy. Trump­ism is best un­der­stood as a cult of per­son­al­ity with a world­view rooted in WWE pro­fes­sional wrestling, where race, eth­nic­ity and tribal loy­al­ties pre­vail.

But equally im­por­tant, where longnur­tured en­mi­ties and al­liances alike can be re­versed al­most overnight.

Ev­ery­thing de­pends upon pro­tag­o­nist’s whims, that is to say Trump him­self. In the WWE, the op­er­a­tive term for these scripted melo­dra­mas is “kay­fabe” -- pos­si­bly what the pres­i­dent meant when he tweeted the non­sense word “cov­fefe.”

Wike­pe­dia de­fines it thus: “por­trayal of staged events within the in­dus­try as ‘real’ or ‘true,’ specif­i­cally the por­trayal of com­pe­ti­tion, ri­val­ries, and re­la­tion­ships be­tween par­tic­i­pants as be­ing gen­uine and not of a staged or pre­de­ter­mined na­ture.”

Just so Trump’s meet­ing with Putin, which for all the hul­la­baloo, was

trip not­ing that the pres­i­dent is in fact lead­ing -- lead­ing, for ex­am­ple, in the de­fense of West­ern val­ues. Bob Dole, the for­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and se­na­tor, said just that, prais­ing Trump for restor­ing “proud and strong Amer­i­can lead­er­ship” and help­ing “re­store our po­si­tion as leader of ba­si­cally a made-forTV spec­ta­cle of lit­tle real im­port. One day Trump boasted that he and his new best friend Vlad were go­ing to set up a U.S./Rus­sian Cy­ber Se­cu­rity task force. But af­ter Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham de­scribed it as maybe the dumbest idea he’d ever heard, the pres­i­dent abruptly dropped it. Just kid­ding! Oth­er­wise, the head­line on Rus­sian ex­pa­tri­ate Masha Gessen’s New York Times com­men­tary said it all: “Trump gave Putin ex­actly what he wanted.” Specif­i­cally, a co-star­ring role, along with no se­ri­ous crit­i­cism for such Krem­lin pas­times as ex­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists and cy­ber­at­tacks on other coun­tries’ elec­tions.

Oth­er­wise, Putin got lit­tle in real-world terms apart from the ego-boost of oc­cu­py­ing cen­ter stage with the Pres­i­dent of the United States, whom, like an am­bi­tious pros­ti­tute, he was clever enough to flat­ter.

Loosens Trump up like WD-40. Ev­ery sin­gle time. How­ever, the good news is that even a GOP congress won’t let the pres­i­dent give Putin any­thing con­crete, such as a free hand in Ukraine, or re­dress from eco­nomic sanc­tions. Rus­sia holds Crimea, but at a cost Trump can’t re­lieve. Oth­er­wise, Putin’s schem­ing has pretty much back­fired.

But what re­ally seems to an­i­mate Trump him­self is his on­go­ing feud with CNN -- the ca­ble net­work that ba­si­cally made him

the free world.”

But Dole, and Cot­ton, and other Trump sup­port­ers don’t see lead­er­ship in the same way as the crit­ics. For Trump’s op­po­nents, at least as far as the G-20 is con­cerned, lead­ing is fol­low­ing, and fol­low­ing is lead­ing.

By­ron York is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner. pres­i­dent. Fol­low­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­cent tweet­ing of a WWE video show­ing him pum­mel­ing a fig­ure la­beled CNN -- not so much an in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence as to stu­pid­ity -- I was struck by this from a Wash­ing­ton Post pro­file of cor­re­spon­dent Jim Acosta:

Cov­er­ing this White House, Acosta said, is like “cov­er­ing bad real­ity tele­vi­sion.”

No kid­ding. Also, how­ever, by White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s ap­praisal of Acosta: “He’s the prime ex­am­ple of a (re­porter in a) com­pet­i­tive, YouTube, click-driven in­dus­try ... He’s rec­og­nized that if you make a spec­ta­cle on the air then you’ll get more air­time and more clicks.”

Who bet­ter than Spicer to un­der­stand?

So were you aware that CNN pres­i­dent Jeff Zucker per­son­ally mas­ter­minded Trump’s pro­gram “The Ap­pren­tice” when he presided over NBC En­ter­tain­ment? And that Trump re­ceived an es­ti­mated $5.8 bil­lion in free cov­er­age from CNN and the rest -more than twice that of any other can­di­date -- while ca­ble news rat­ings and prof­its soared?

Also that rat­ings con­tinue to grow for CNN as the Trump/ Comey/Putin kay­fabe drives news cov­er­age? You may dis­dain pro­fes­sional wrestling, or, like me, never seen a sin­gle episode of “The Ap­pren­tice.”

But we’re all watch­ing it now.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and coau­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­lyons2@ ya­

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