A number of years ago when we first moved to Los Angeles, my wife and I had occasion to be on the cast of a reality television series. We were part of a “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” spinoff which aired on May 8, 2005 and featured the makeover of Lauren F. Our job was simple enough, to sit at a dinner table and react to Lauren’s unveiling after her makeover.
We quickly realized that in Hollywood, “reality” is an elastic concept. It took four takes before the director was satisfied that the cameras had adequately captured our awe at Lauren’s new look. What the viewers saw at home and naturally presumed was our initial reaction to the unveiling was actually a carefully managed Hollywood creation.
Which brings me to the Republican frontrunner in the nominating contest. Although he’s been known for many things, successful real estate magnate and best-selling author to name two, before his current presidential run his fame was due mostly to his stint as the lead character on the popular reality-television series, The Apprentice, which began airing on NBC in 2004. Let me be clear, I do believe Mr. Trump to be a smart and talented individual, but, like all reality television products, his image is due, at least in part, to a manipulation of the viewership.
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Don’t believe me? Let’s investigate Mr. Trump, the candidate, a bit deeper. Much of his success as a candidate owes to his reputation as a deal maker who can get things done. The American electorate, after years of Washington deadlock, is ready for a mover and shaker. How does he propose to accomplish what he promises? By getting the better of trade deals with foreign countries and by forcing Mexico to pay for a 1,000-mile wall along the U.S/Mexico border.
In short, he proposes to do what all good negotiators do, he promises to manipulate his opposition. Which brings me to the point of my reality-television anecdote. If the reality-television star, Donald Trump, is so confident that he can manipulate the educated and experienced leadership of foreign countries, why wouldn’t he think that he can shape public opinion comprised of a much less sophisticated electorate on his way to power within this country?
What evidence is there that Mr. Trump is manipulating his supporters? Let’s look at one of his recent proposals: his promise to increase spending on the military, keep spending on entitlements such as social security at current levels, give a net-decrease in taxes and yet eliminate the federal deficit in eight years. The proposal has been panned by nearly everyone who has examined it, conservative and liberal, alike. Yet, Mr. Trump has no misgivings about offering such an obviously unrealistic plan. There are two possible conclusions: (1) Mr. Trump is unintelligent and actually believes his proposal or (2) Mr. Trump is intelligent but believes his supporters can be manipulated into believing his proposals.
We can discount the first possibility out of hand. Mr. Trump is highly educated and materially successful. One does not achieve what Mr. Trump has attained without a certain level of acumen. Thus, he is not unintelligent. As Sherlock Holmes instructed, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The only conclusion which can be deduced is that Mr. Trump believes his audience, a large swath of the Republican base, is naive and gullible enough to fall for his manipulations.
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So far it appears Mr. Trump’s gambit has worked. What remains to be seen is whether, as Mr. Trump is further vetted and the primary campaign moves into its final stage, the voters of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California, among others, will continue to see him as his carefully cultivated reality show alter ego or whether they will tell him “you’re fired.”
Paul Thompson is a recovering journalist who has had his work published in numerous periodicals and who currently works as a trial attorney in Los Angeles.
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