In his novel The Terrible Twos, writer and satirist Ishmael Reed presents readers with a president who is a fashion model. The model was the next step for the oligarch powers to foist upon the American people after having foisted an actor on them. The actor had proved problematic. He felt he should have some lines. The model was the next choice because folks in that profession don't speak.
Of course the actor-president was a wispily veiled reference to Ronald Reagan, a figure whose specter has floated eerily over the Republican firmament in the decades since his presidency.
Last week at the Reagan presidential library in California we witnessed a further iteration of Reed's political nightmare in Donald Trump. Trump has combined television entertainer, huckster, and oligarch into one persona. While other billionaires, such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers sit in the background and pull the strings of candidates who pander to their whims, Trump has chosen to get into the game himself and skip the middleman. At least that way you don't end up with some lily-livered politician who goes back on his promises.
Trump is a reality show star who believes all reality should be like his show, where he can sit behind a big table and bluster about what others should have done. Imagine his cabinet sitting around a table trying to explain why a treaty negotiation went sour. He would lean back in his chair, pout his lips, point at his secretary of state and proclaim, "You're fired."
Reality shows have come a long way since a naked guy wandered around on an island grossing out viewers. This conglomeration of Republicans vying for a chance to actually remain on the island until the initial voting starts in February is way more entertaining than Naked Guy ever was.
For Trump it doesn't matter what you say as long as there are cameras there to catch it. That's the only way that his avoiding actual policy discussions with the claim that he's going to get some really smart people together and they're going to come up with something terrific and classy and fix everything line makes sense. It's in the realm of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment.
And when it comes to women it seems that Trump can't have a debate without getting into a fight with a woman. In the Fox debate it was moderator Megyn Kelly who drew his ire. In round two at CNN he tussled with Carly Fiorina over his previous comments about her looks. Then, after telling her she is hot, they got into it about who was the worse businessperson. Fiorina claimed that she was fired from Hewlett-Packard because she pissed people off by doing the right thing — apparently what she would do if sent to Washington — while Trump refused to own the bankruptcies at his casinos.
The most eviscerating moment of the debate also involved a woman. It came when Jeb Bush demanded that Trump apologize to Bush's wife for having said that Bush was weak on immigration because she is an immigrant. Trump refused, claiming that he had said nothing wrong.
Not that I go for that macho stuff, but when Republican candidates gather, the place drips with testosterone and faux cojones. (I know I just mixed French and Spanish together in a weird idiomatic manner.) In that atmosphere, when you demand that another man apologize to your wife and he refuses, you go over and smack him upside the head – or at least show everybody who is the best candidate by blistering him with your debate skills. Bush did neither, which probably puts him in line for getting voted off the island or sitting at the table across from Trump while he declares you "fired."
Trump really showed that media mindset after the debate when he spoke to the press. In the middle of being questioned, he surveyed the room as reporters pressed microphones toward him. "Gee, there's a lot of cameras here," he said.
Even Trump, who has lived much of his life in the spotlight, was impressed with the amount of cameras trained on him. That's all that seemed to matter as he declared himself the debate winner and pointed out "It was a lot of substance."
Well, it was a lot of something.
The sad part of this whole reality show orientation is that the public is going for it. As Trump often reminds us, he is way ahead in the polls. I guess that equates to having great ratings on television. To a public that eats up so-called reality programs like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, Chrisley Knows Best, and Wife Swap, Trump looks like the real thing.
He's the ultimate political outsider to a conservative constituency that has been let down time after time by a political party that has led them down the primrose lane only to let them down – most recently on gay rights issues.
And he's real. They know that. They've seen him on reality television.
CNN format: When you have an unwieldy number of candidates onstage like there was for the CNN event, and since they never actually have real debates anyhow (where you actually have to answer the question and use facts) I found the format CNN presented fairly entertaining. Especially the way moderators invited the candidates to have at each other. Mostly they didn't, but Trump obliged by mixing it up with Bush and Fiorina. Even Rand Paul stepped into it, calling Bush "privileged" for safely smoking marijuana in his youth while minority kids were hauled off to jail.