Or ‘The Most Surreal Political Performance in History’
Remember Donald Trump at his desk on The Apprentice, making whichever decisions would boost TV ratings and incite his audience to turn to each other, like, “What the hell just happened?”?
Now, replace that desk on The Apprentice with the historic desk in the Oval Office, and imagine: instead of the paychecks and careers of several self-satisfied, privileged and largely abhorrent contestants on a glorified game show, what hangs in the balance of Trump’s despotic whims are the lives of black Americans who face daily institutionalized racism, school children whose parents are currently being marketed bulletproof backpacks due to the constant stream of school shootings, Iranian civilians who could at the flick of a small- fingered wrist, become casualties in the next American war in the Middle East, and South and Central American children dying in what many Americans are convincingly equating with concentration camps at the US/Mexico border. This is history’s biggest reality show.
“What the hell is happening?” I muttered to myself – more of a statement than a question – as Trump claimed there were ‘very fine people on both sides’ of a Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rally that clashed with counter-protestors, injuring many and leaving Heather Heyer dead. “What the hell is happening?” when, at a Republican rally, Trump supporters chanted “Send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who fled a war-torn Somalia as a ten-year-old child, and was granted asylum in America in 1992. “What the hell is happening?” when Trump gave the camera a thumbs up and smiled next to a baby orphaned by the El Paso shooter who had recently posted an image of the word ‘Trump’ spelled out in guns. As a child, I used to laugh at the absurdity of Donald Trump’s persona on The Apprentice. I am not laughing now.
While there always was, and always will be, some measure of bombastic performance in any politician’s shtick, Donald Trump has utilized his stage in unprecedented ways. Through incendiary one-liners delivered like shock-value stand-up comedians might, Trump has used Twitter’s limited characters to distract and divide not just America, but the world. His showmanship at Republican rallies and on the campaign trail is often akin to twisted dystopic scenes from Orwellian literature. Like some nefarious Shakespearean politician’s soliloquy, the toxic rhetoric ripples through crowds who are either as yet unaware of his most vile intentions, are too ignorant to see through his lies, are ignoring the racism in favor of tax breaks, are brainwashed by his silver-tongued villainy, or are just straight up racist themselves.
Though Trump claims to hate the “fake news” media, he seethes when it momentarily turns its attention to a crisis that doesn’t involve him. And what does he do when he needs to divert journalistic energy from a crisis he doesn’t want the media to focus on? Easy! He threatens Iran, threatens North Korea, befriends North Korea, insults an allied nation, threatens North Korea again, foments racism…
Does scene-stealing get more dispicable than this?
And how exactly are journalists supposed to fight back? They can’t no-platform Trump and ignore a sitting president’s actions, especially if he’s threatening a foreign leader. While Trump was on the campaign trail in 2016, The Huffington Post included the following editor’s note at the bottom of every Trump-related article: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the U.S.” When Trump became president, the outlet removed their editor’s note. If they had kept it, by now the editor’s note would require infinite scroll. Meanwhile, like the stars used to rate West End or Broadway productions, The Washington Post uses a system of 1-4 ‘Pinnochios’ to measure the lies of public figures. But due to Trump’s unabashed disregard for the contesting of his lies, in 2018 The Washington Post updated their system by introducing the ‘Bottomless Pinocchio’, ‘a new rating for a false claim repeated over and over again.’
In what is perhaps his biggest bit yet, the president has preemptively sowed mistrust in anything negative journalists might write about him by naming it all “fake news.” The tactic is both terrifying and astonishingly effective. Political commentators will tell you Americans are living in a ‘post-truth’ society – quite literally a fiction. Quotes, photo evidence, video footage, and audio recordings all feel somewhat useless against a president who will tell infinite lies and half of the country still believes him. To many Americans, the truth is whatever Donald tells them it is. “All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. If only he knew.
Amy Collier is a writer, designer, artist, illustrator, photographer, and avid fan of Italian male supermodel, Fabio.
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