Donald Trump and the Convergence of Politics and Entertainment

I’ve never met anyone who expressed interest in voting for Donald Trump. Bear in mind that I haven’t visited the United States recently, but at least the general consensus on my Facebook feed is that Trump is a political buffoon, a threat to democracy, or some version of a modern-age fascist. According to the latest primary results Trump is leading the Republican candidates. Suffice to say that people are actually voting for the businessman turned reality TV star, and the frightening prospect of him setting up shop in the Oval Office is inching closer to reality.

What I suspect to be the issue facing democracy is not the bulk of voters, as we all know better than to suspect the general public of making well-informed political decisions, but the convergence of politics and entertainment. This issue is a central theme in, “The Hunger Games” franchise, and helps us come closer to understanding why Trump has been having so much success.

The basic reasons are so obvious that I run the risk of insulting my readership, but in the interest of being comprehensive I’ll lay them out. The television networks, newspapers, and online publications all have a vested interest in attracting more readers. That is how they drive advertising and revenue. Trump’s public persona and proclivity for spreading ignorance make a great front page story, almost to the point of parody. As a result Trump gets free publicity and more opportunities to plug his hateful rhetoric.

But much is to be blamed on how easily we allow celebrities to transition into politics. Maybe we should have been more suspicious when an Austrian man known for playing a cyborg became the Governor of a State with a population larger than Canada. Hell, the Prime Minister of Canada is a trained actor. Maybe we should just be outsourcing all political work to Hollywood actors? Leo DiCaprio is basically the head of the World Health Organization, and he doesn’t know what global warming is.  A politicians primary job is to read a pre-prepared script and deliver it with conviction – sounds like a perfect way for Gerard Butler to revive his dying career!  I digress.

For the record I don’t think Trump is stupid. My reasoning isn’t elegant, but here we go: Donald Trump says things that are so stupid that even a stupid person wouldn’t say them. If you consider that a person of even below average intelligence and social wherewithal knows not to make racist remarks in a public setting, then you surely know it takes someone with some self-awareness to make them on a global stage. What worries me more is that if Trump isn’t stupid, then he is pandering to a class of society that exists in the first place, and one that responds to his hateful message with their unbridled enthusiasm. America prides itself on being one of the most culturally diverse and socially progressive countries in the world, but it turns out that’s all just misleading propaganda, because when it comes time to vote its social intolerance becomes manifest. Just in the last eight months the States have set themselves back fifty years in terms of social progress.

Time for a little history lesson: The first televised presidential debate took place in 1960, and featured John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Famously, when deciding who won the debate, those who watched on television preferred Kennedy, likely for his good-looks and presence, while radio listeners preferred Nixon for the content of his speech. Theatrics had replaced politics, and the same way that “video killed the radio star,” as the Buggles suggested in 1980, television killed democracy by rewarding people that look good on stage, instead of good politicians.

So while media conglomerates tap into the type of sensationalism that follows from Trump’s quacking, and political writers drivel about something they can’t change, maybe we should be asking voters to have a greater sense of self-reflection when deciding why they are voting for Trump.  Looking further into history, Plato always worried that dazzling rhetoric would distract from solid philosophy in politics, because uneducated citizens would favour the most persuasive speaker in the debate. Hopefully this all sounds familiar.

For those who don’t know anything about politics voting can be like a bad multiple-choice exam. When you don’t know an answer, your appeal to intuition usually decides that the best answer is the one that you recognize the most. For better or worse, Trump’s legacy will be more easily identifiable than any presidential election, so we pick (D) for Donald because we’ve seen it somewhere else before.

  •  Matt Silver

 

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