I think I stand with millions of people who just months ago snortled (a combination of snort and chortle) at the thought of Donald Trump becoming a viable political force. Sure, we thought, he is wealthy and influential in certain media industries. But at the end of the day, Trump was just a rich blabbermouth with a reality show and a hairpiece. Oh, how our snortles turned to lameeps (a combination of lamentations and weeping) as Trump climbed the polls to become the most well-known, if not the most realistically viable, Republican nominee for the United States Presidency.
I for one am still confident that Trump will not win the final election—that people will realize, beyond rabble-rousing and headline-grabbing outbursts, that being the President of the United States requires some level of understanding of politics and government. The lesson Trump’s quick rise to prominence can teach us is that the ability to become a major political player is almost indistinguishable from the ability to become an effective media sensation—in this generation’s parlance, going viral. We live in the age in which meaningful information is not something to seek out but something to sift through–in short, the power to become a sensation rests in the hands of those who can manipulate the torrent of media to their advantage. Trump has many of the necessary tools to shape a place for himself in the 24-hour news cycle—namely money, name recognition and personal controversy—and this is a very scary thought.
First of all, let’s be honest. A huge part of a potential candidate’s viability is the size of his or her campaign coffers and personal ego. Trump is a billionaire narcissist who loves nothing more than to show his face as much as possible and express with great vigor how smart he believes he is.
Don’t take this from me; on his recent interview with 60 Minutes’s Scott Kelley, Trump admitted that “… I’m on a lot of covers. I think maybe more than almost any supermodel.” I think this says a lot about Trump’s goals in his campaign, but it’s also important to remember that he can afford to do this, to shell out huge sums of money so that he can continue to be the center of attention.
The reason Trump’s rise as a political candidate fascinates me is that so many of the traits that make him excellent fodder for media outlets on all parts of the political spectrum—his big mouth, his offensiveness, his reactionism—are all very close to the traits that make a good reality-television candidate. Political success in America, at least success a year before the polls, seems to be closely related to how much noise and stink the politician in question can make rather than to how many policy solutions he or she can bring to the table.
This is not a new criticism, but it is also not my point—what Trump does that we should (silently) thank him for is remind us of the hollow nature of American politics, and to really dig beneath the surface of our candidates without letting firebrands like him gain the upper hand.