The Celebrity President or the President as Celebrity?

trump

Donald Trump sits now where he is most comfortable–at the center of reality. Like sunflowers craning toward the daylight, it seems our body politic is bent toward the billionaire carnival-barker turned politician. This “Trumpotropism” is unsettling to our political class, especially of the genus Republican. The disquiet is deafening.

There is good reason for concern. Trump leads in some polls by double-digit margins, and though early frontrunners frequently flame-out (what happened to the Bachmann-Cain ticket in 2012?), Trump, unlike previous wilting flowers, greets the moon while sleeping on luxurious piles of cash. If he wants to hang around, he will. If he wants to poke the GOP with a sharp stick and run as an independent, he can. Outside of strategic concerns, Trump’s power speaks to our culture and our politics. He has managed, in a way only the blustery and shameless can, to join two streams of discontent.

There is a deep disgust for our governing class. Congress is as popular as the bird flu and nearly as dangerous. Too many “leaders” suffer from skewed priorities. Power, wealth, and celebrity drive them far more than policy or service. Lucrative lobbying careers, speaking fees, book deals, and cable news programs are the real goals in Washington (or Columbus or any other state capital). Politics is a means to unsavory ends and we all know it. Trump, though unsavory himself in myriad ways, doesn’t need the money. He is already famous. For many, these facts alone are enough to conclude he must be doing this for the right reason–to help fix things.

Beyond this, political correctness is the oxygen that fuels our culture. We all contort ourselves daily not to offend. We couch our words and we shield the truth with warm, comfortable phrases. We say “feel,” when we ought to say “think,” and nearly any strong point is blunted with, “but, that is just my opinion.” There are some topics too toxic to touch, so we cordon them off from civil conversations, clutching our own yellow tape of doom–“Politically Incorrect Line–Do Not Cross.” Donald Trump is a walking trigger warning. His hair is a micro-aggression all on its own. Though sometimes repellant, Trump has a whiff of honesty that many find more aromatic than freshly baked bread.

For the politically learned, Trump’s ribaldry is off-putting. They “tut-tut” at his manners and snicker at his obvious deficiencies. The establishment screams, silently so far, “Heavens, this cannot be! Surely we cannot allow such a man onto the grandest of stages! He is, after all, a reality tv star!” As a theoretical matter, the establishment is correct, but this criticism fails the test of reality. Like it or not, the establishment created Trump’s allure through its failures and its willingness to use tv for its own benefit.

Politicians, establishment and others, long ago made their deal with the television devil. Wearing rabbit ears instead of horns, tv–the celebrity’s most powerful tool–lured politicians with a song too sweet to resist. The instant connection to voters, and the temptation to at least appear “normal” if not “cool,” seduced our political class from top to bottom. Richard Nixon, who, to put it kindly, sometimes struggled to construct a pleasing image, took the plunge on the hit comedy show Laugh-In. Just two months before the 1968 presidential election, candidate Nixon agreed to appear and utter one of the show’s famous tag-lines, “Sock it to me.”

Harmless? Perhaps. Just a tool to reach voters? Yes. But at what cost? Bill Clinton played the saxophone (with sunglasses) on the Arsenio Hall Show. Candidate Sarah Palin did a rap on Saturday Night Live. George W. Bush read a Top Ten list for David Letterman. Rudy Giuliani, as mayor of New York, hosted Saturday Night Live–and, admittedly, it was pretty funny.

President Obama has perfected the use of celebrity to empower himself. While President, he did a “slow jam” of the news with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show. He has routinely picked NCAA tournament brackets on ESPN. The President has been a frequent guest of John Stewart on The Daily Show. The president has gone out of his way to cultivate celebrity relationships, ranging from athletes to singers and actors. Perhaps at his lowest point, President Obama went on a Miami radio show called “Pimp with the Limp” when he campaigned for re-election in 2012.

To dodge such attacks, politicians respond that this is part of communicating with voters today. After all, you ought to drop your line where the fish are biting. At one level, this makes complete sense. It is hard to imagine a modern president that avoids television and the entertainment media since they are integral for many Americans.

But to play this game, as establishment politicians have for more than a generation, and then to decry Donald Trump as a buffoon, seems more convenient than convincing. It is a thin, and slowly disappearing, line that separates the “serious” candidates using the medium to reach people from a product of the medium running for our highest office. For voters, what, precisely, is the difference between a President pretending to be a celebrity and a celebrity pretending to be President? I think the differences are obvious, but then again, I don’t worship at celebrity’s altar as so many in our culture do.

So, the next time you hear an establishment type decry Trump, be sure to ask him if he is willing to elevate the presidency above the puffery that passes for politics. Then, listen for the crickets, that is, if you can hear them over the tv.

8 thoughts on “The Celebrity President or the President as Celebrity?”

  1. I am laughing. You are hilarious. We needed you during Gummy’s recent surgery. It was pretty tense during those uncertain days. Today was not much better trying to find the doctor’s office with Gummy putting on the brakes and the GPS recalculating. The political situation is (I can’t think of the correct word).

  2. Well he is speaking the discontent of most of us Americans. Who knows except the Lord what America will get in 2016. Hopefully it would be someone with character and for the people and supports the Constitution.
    Gummy

    1. Considering that many Republican presidential candidates apparently want to take a scalpel to the 14th Amendment, well, good luck.

      At least Rick Perry took a stand. Must be the glasses.

      1. The only part of the 14th amendment anyone is considering touching is the specific part about “born on US soil”. Right now, just for being born (an action the baby did not initiate and has no control over) in a US state or in a US territory citizenship is conferred.

        The birther clause was first instituted in a far different era than today. It was good policy then. Today illegals are taking advantage of it. Probably even those legally visiting take advantage. For instance, any woman from any country travelling in the United States could give birth here and have her child then considered a citizen.

        There is nothing wrong, discriminatory, or racist, about wanting to go back to the original methods for obtaining citizenship. Naturalization or birth to citizen parents. The problems that the birther clause of the 14th amendment was intended to fix have been fixed. Now it is time to fix the new problems it is causing in the present day.

        You used the analogy of a scalpel… well, doctors use scalpels to preform surgery to fix problems that patients have. Maybe it is time we are thankful that there are those willing to say we need to use a scalpel to fix some things. Is surgery painful? Yes. But sometimes in the long run it makes things better for all.

  3. A short while ago, conservatives were railing about the Constitution being neglected and rejected when, oh my, discrimination against same-sex marriage was deemed unconstitutional. I remember well conservatives even threatening to take up arms purportedly to defend the Constitution.

    Yes, armed revolution. Talk about radical!

    And now, just a short time later, many of the same conservatives want to change the Constitution, radically altering a 150 year old amendment.

    Talk about judicial activism!

    Btw, “anchor babies” is considered by most to be an offensive term. I prefer simply the term “babies,” because I don’t feel it appropriate, as a true pro-lifer (unlike many on this board),to demonize newly-born children.

    The demonization of immigrants from south of the border is most definitely racist. Many illegal immigrants are not from Mexico but one hears practically nothing about them. I don’t recall Mr. Trump referring to light-skinned illegals as rapists and murderers.

    With the continued success of Donald Trump, we are watching the rapid demise of the credibility of the Republican party. For years conservatives have accused liberals as being immoral, President Obama as being inexperienced politically, and Democrats as lacking solid business experience.

    And yet the very frontrunner of the party is a thrice-married womanizer (I remember the Marla Maples scandal) with NO political experience (just like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina) and with a lengthy record of bankruptcy (even after his 1991 era bankruptcy he ran DJT into the ground and cost his fellow shareholders everything).

    The Donald Trump problem, however, is NOT so much with Trump himself but with the GOP. The GOP base LOVES the guy, despite his obvious immorality, incompetence, and narcissism. Any claim that the party is taking the high ground in the race for 2016 is akin to a bad, pathetic joke.

    Obviously, I am not laughing.

    Have a nice day.

    1. “The demonization of immigrants from south of the border is most definitely racist. Many illegal immigrants are not from Mexico but one hears practically nothing about them. I don’t recall Mr. Trump referring to light-skinned illegals as rapists and murderers”

      Putting words in peoples’ mouths again…

      …no one is demonizing “immigrants”. As the vast majority of people, including Mr. Trump by the way if you actually pay attention to what he actually says (and no this is not an endorsement of him, I hope he collapses and soon) attempt to make clear, sadly to no avail, we have no issues with immigrants (I believe Trump specifically said we should have a big nice door in the wall for people to come in legally), we have no issues with Hispanics. The people we have issues with are illegal immigrants. The key word is ILLEGAL. They are criminals. In any self respecting law abiding society, criminals are prosecuted. These criminals are using babies as anchors to stay here illegally.

      “Btw, “anchor babies” is considered by most to be an offensive term. I prefer simply the term “babies,” because I don’t feel it appropriate, as a true pro-lifer (unlike many on this board),to demonize newly-born children.”

      Wrong again. No one is demonizing these babies. Like I said. They did nothing. They are innocent. The problem is with their parents and the birther clause of the 14th amendment allows them to force the United States into making a choice no nation should have to make… a choice between willingly allowing these people to continue in violation of the law or deporting them and sending their American citizen child with them, or worse, separating parents from child.

      It is difficult to here and I know you and others see the only real solution, changing one small line (hardly a radical change, BTW) of a 150 year old amendment, as some terrible thing, but this problem needs dealt with.

      But notice, conservatives want to change the constitution through constitutional means… by amending it. This is far different from neglecting or rejecting it. Apples and Oranges.

      1. I expect little from someone who on this very board defended, of all things, genocide of infants because of the sins of their parents. You have exceeded my expectations

        Um, I did not put any words in Mr. Trump’s mouth. Did you not see him refer to Mexicans as rapists and murderers? Do you want to see the link? By wanting to build a wall only to keep those darker-skinned people out, and not a wall everywhere, the racist roots of Trump’s plan, as well as those who support the wall are crystal clear.

        The GOP is reminding me more and more of those scary right-wing extremist parties in Europe.

        Now to the rest of your “argument:”:

        “They did nothing. They are innocent. The problem is with their parents and the birther clause of the 14th amendment allows them to force the United States into making a choice no nation should have to make….”

        You have not thought this out thoroughly. OF COURSE the babies are being demonized by virtue of the fact that conservatives keep calling them “anchor babies.” Who else other than the babies is specifically being demonized by this phrase OTHER than the babies?

        If the problem is with the parents, as you say, why then the offensive appellation being given to the babies and NOT to them? Your logic fails.

        You are welcome to try to revise the Constitution for racist reasons, just like they tried back in the late 19th century with the Chinese. I think the Constitution is fine as it is.

        If someone tried to advance the notion that we should revise the 1st amendment to take away the freedom of religion, would you consider it merely an ” attempt to change the Constitution through constitutional means”? From what I heard about gay marriage from fire-breathing, if not borderline treasonous conservatives, with their calls for armed revolution, I seriously doubt it.

      2. Which conservatives are calling for armed revolution? And by this I don’t mean random nobodies living out in the sticks. Give me conservatives whose opinions actually have influence with others.

        The term “anchor” is simply used as an adjective because that is an accurate description of what these babies are being used for. The baby is an anchor to help the parents stay here. That is what they function as. If you want to view that term as offensive or demonizing then please provide an alternative adjective to describe this problem because it IS a problem and whining that a certain term is offensive does not make that description untrue. These babies ARE, by the de facto nature of considering them U.S. citizens, anchor babies. So what term would you use to describe the problem? There is nothing wrong with my logic because if the illegally present parents cannot be deported because their child is considered a citizen then that child is an “anchor” holding them here. If the facts are offensive, then so be it. In that case “offensive” is what we need to be. If you want to ignore a problem because accurate terminology used to describe it is offensive to you, it is your own logic you should be concerned about. Of course, to be blunt, actual logic is something I have come to not expect from you.

        “You are welcome to try to revise the Constitution for racist reasons, just like they tried back in the late 19th century with the Chinese. I think the Constitution is fine as it is.”

        You did it again. You ascribe motives to others when you have absolutely no proof you are correct. You only assume you are correct because the liberal bull crap says so. There is no racist motivation at all, at least not for the vast majority of people. I want a big, nice, secure wall built on the southern border. The northern border with Canada does not present the problems the southern border does thus the singling out of the southern border for a wall. I also want there to be doors in that wall so that ANYONE can enter this country LEGALLY. If someone wants to come to this country legally and obey the laws of the United States that’s great. If they don’t and they come in illegally, they should be prosecuted. This is NOT racism, it is common sense. The only “racist” component about it is that the majority of illegal immigrants happen to be Hispanic. It is the facts that often lead to unfair accusations. Because of the FACT that most illegals are Hispanic, it is only natural that when someone thinks of illegals, they think of Hispanics. It is no different than when we hear in the news of a suicide bombing, we automatically begin thinking “Muslim”. In a way it can be considered discrimination to have those feelings, but what drives those feelings? Facts.

        “If someone tried to advance the notion that we should revise the 1st amendment to take away the freedom of religion, would you consider it merely an ” attempt to change the Constitution through constitutional means”? From what I heard about gay marriage from fire-breathing, if not borderline treasonous conservatives, with their calls for armed revolution, I seriously doubt it.”

        For one thing, I am sure there are fringe groups on the left that would like nothing better than to scrap the 1st Amendment. But again, you offer a red herring. Nothing being proposed would actually take freedom away from anybody deserving of freedom. Those who have broken the laws of the United States by entering illegally have demonstrated, by their actions, that they have no respect for the authority of the United States. If they have no respect for the authority of the United States, then why should they be entitled to the rights granted by that authority to those who do respect it? If you believe that they should still get them, again, it is your logic that fails.

        I think, sir, that in the end, you are the one not thinking thoroughly. If you were, you would actually be open to acknowledging the issues rather than brushing them away because of something your very subjective and broad sense of political correctness finds offensive. and you would recognize that the one actually doing the demonizing is you by your ever-ready willingness to accuse everyone of racism who is willing to at least care enough about the difficult and delicate problems facing this nation because they have the guts to actually tell the nation the uncomfortable truths it needs to hear.

        Have a nice day,

        P.S. And while you are having that nice day, it might be to your benefit to remember that every day you live (and the same goes for me and every one else) that the only reason you are able to do so is because the same God, the creator and adjudicator of morality, that you have the guts to impose your own subjective morality on, over something he commanded that happened 3,000 years ago, is merciful and does not simply destroy everyone on the face of this planet since all of us are sinners and deserving of his righteous wrath.

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