Trump as media junkie (by Kevin D. Williamson at National Review)
"Donald Trump cares more about how he is perceived in the media than he cares about anything else in the world, including money. Trump is a true discipline of Bishop Berkeley, professing the creed of the social-media age: Esse eat percipi— “To be is to be seen.” Trump is incapable of enjoying anything — money, success, sex — without being perceived enjoying it."
Yair Mintzker at Project Syndicate argues that rather than a new Mussolini (or Berlusconi) we should see Trump as a modern-day Louis XIV - "This explains why Trump is preoccupied with appearances and regal roleplaying, and why his administration has reprised classic courtly archetypes, down to the court fool. He has a beautiful princess daughter who can do no wrong, and emasculated grown sons who linger in their father’s shadow. His foreign-born wife has a thick accent, and lives in a separate residence. Like a modern-day Marie Antoinette, she is often accused of profligacy and frivolity. Beyond the family, Trump has a courtly entourage, complete with the evil adviser, Steve Bannon; the favored duke, Jared Kushner; a host of bankers; and, lest we forget, Sean Spicer, the jester... '[t]here was nothing [Louis XIV] liked so much as flattery or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it.”Leaders such as Louis XIV and the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa relied on close advisers to do the work they couldn’t possibly do themselves. At the same time, they played their advisers against one another, so that none would accumulate too much power. One contemporary observer’s description of Baroque court culture could be applied to the Kushner-Bannon relationship today: “The court is a place where no friend is ever close enough not to become an enemy later.”"
Trump lies not just to hide truth, but to alter reality - an adapted book extract in Slate from Brooke Gladstone's The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time (which looks to be very much the grandson of Daniel Boorstin's 1961 The Image: a Guide to Pseudo-Events in America), a key text I use in Shock and Awe. Gladstone uses similar imagery of phantasms and fog to Boorstin, for instance: ""This fantastical world of unkillable lies and impotent truths arose because much of the country had accepted Trump’s deal... The confusion generated by the Trump fog machine is truly awe-inspiring, because its messages seep into and leech the clarity from even the sturdiest of minds."
"The presidency now has kinglike qualities, and we have a child upon the throne" - Ross Douthat on Trump's incapacities in New York Times
"Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself" - David Brooks on Trump the child man in New York Times
"A Show About Nothing" - conservative columnist Kevin D. Williamson in National Review on Trump's first 100 days (only 13/14ths of his term to go!). He compares it to American Pickers (the mantiquing show I wrote about here) which uses editing to create the illusion of deal-making excitement, comparing it to how Trump, "a creature of reality television.... may not be very good at running hotels or casinos, but he is a gifted performer, a master of creating the illusion of action.... Trump was, he assured us, a different kind of politician, a builder and a doer, a winner, a hard-charging negotiator. Which is to say, he convinced the electorate that he was in reality the character he plays on television. Many of his talk-radio and cable-news partisans are still trying to convince us that is the case, but it is not entirely clear that these reality-show performers are able to tell the difference between the political theater and the theater, between action and acting. Instead of hard choices and committed action, what Trump has produced is a flurry of shallow gestures that create the illusion that he is doing something meaningful. But those executive orders range from the shoddy and unusable to the symbolic..... Conservatives had better start facing the fact that the president is a man overmatched by his job. All of President Trump’s reality-television posturing, all of his hooting and hollering and fussing and foolishness and tweeting and preening is sound and fury signifying squat. The Trump administration is a show about nothing"
Gotta love the Seinfeld reference in the title (given Bannon's connection) and eerily delicious to find oneself in agreement with a NatRe correspondent.
Rick Perlstein in the New York Times Magazine on the apocalyptic nativist dark side of American conservatism as roots of Trumpism - and the turn towards showbiz as a way of masking over the gap between the irrational rhetorical pitch to the voters and the cold-hearted reality of conservative governance:
Peter York in Politico on Trump's "dictator chic" and the nouveau riche aesthetics of autocrat decor aka the Russian oligarch look.
"Architecturally, it’s gilt and mirrors, as in his famous marble-and-gold Trump Tower apartment, photographed many times over the years, with its canopy beds, fresco-style ceilings and colossal chandeliers. Trump’s design aesthetic is fascinatingly out of line with America’s past and present. If you doubt it, note that the interiors of the apartments his company actually sells bear no resemblance to the one he lives in. But that doesn’t mean his taste comes from nowhere. At one level, it’s aspirational, meant to project the wealth so many citizens can only dream of. But it also has important parallels—not with Italian Renaissance or French baroque, where its flourishes come from, but with something more recent. The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump’s look, I’d argue, is dictator style"
York's 10 (or 11) rules of Dictator Chic
1/ "Go big. Dictators’ building projects are almost always ludicrously overscaled"
2/ “repro” aka “Louis the Hotel”- "Dictators might work in the grand styles of earlier centuries, but they don’t usually use old materials and furniture (antiques = too shabby). Everything is brand spanking new".
3/ "Think French" (Versailles)
7/ marble (always new though)
8/ 19th Century big and bright paintings
9/ instantly recognisable "known-value" brand-name ornaments or furnishings
10/ life-size or larger paintings of the autocrat
11/ heroic animals (sculpted or stuffed)
On Trump's own apartment (largely designed by Henry Conversano, who has worked on casinos lots) - "No matter how you looked at it, the main thing this apartment said was, “I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful.” This was the visual language of public, not private, space. It was the language of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern nouveau riche."
"Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people... Trump’s apartment projects a kind of power that bypasses all the boring checks and balances of collaboration and mutual responsibility and first-among-equals. It is about a single dominant personality.... a startlingly un-American idea"
David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy on the Shallow State and Trump's war against depth and truth
"Trump’s team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance. It plays not to newspapers — which it seeks to discredit — but to social media, animated by the belief that the actions of a government can not just be explained in 140 characters but can consist largely of tweets and photo ops and packaged images. ... You don’t get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge... without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer."
Laurie Penny at New Statesman on "the coronation that dare not speak its name":
"When Americans elect a president they are electing at once a politician and a king - and that very knowledge flies in the face of everything America tells itself about itself. America is not, officially, a fan of royalty... But the iconography of kingship is everywhere.... This week, in this city, America is about to anoint an Emperor. It will take a great deal for someone to point out that the Emperor not only has no clothes, but is starring in his very own pornographic spoof of the presidential mode that plays perfectly to the auto-erotic tendency in American politics... White America wanted a king who would pummel through its pain with his tiny entitled fists.This is why the most heartfelt cry of anti-Trump protesters today is "Not My President"... For Americans, though, refusing to crown Trump in their own American story has symbolic value. It’s a way of resisting the unique power of kings.... In folktales and fairytales, the king is connected to the land. A bad, reckless king makes the land sicken, the people suffer, the crops fail; a good king brings rich harvests and success in battle. This is the level on which Americans of every political background understand the presidency. The President is more than a man, more than a politician - he is a little god, and too much resistance in thought and deed is heresy. It is a heresy that Americans will have to contemplate as they stare down the barrel of four years with a vengeful cartoon narcissist, half toddler, half tyrant, squatting in the Oval Office with his evil aviary of hawks and vultures."
Laurie Penny at the New Statesman on how fake news sells because people want it to be true, and how Trump is the king of telling it like it feels
Greil Marcus on the Hair Metal President - "a pornography of money, fame, and domination, all for no reason outside itself” (actually from '92 essay on Rock's Death, a bit about his disgust at a Poison video)
Slate, channeling The Washington Post, on Trump's image-based approach to recruiting office-holders in his administration (and his facial-hair phobia):
“Presentation is very important because you’re representing America not only on the national stage, but also the international stage depending on the position,” Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller explained.... “[Trump] likes people who present themselves very well and he’s very impressed when somebody has a background of being good on television because he thinks it’s a very important medium for public policy,” [says] Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump... “That’s the language he speaks. He’s very aesthetic,” said one person familiar with the transition team’s internal deliberations … “You can come with somebody who is very much qualified for the job, but if they don’t look the part, they’re not going anywhere ... ”
"The Majesty of Trump" by Will Wilkinson at The New York Times
Forward's Jake Romm with a convincing reading of Time's Person of the Year cover, analysing the staging of the Trump photograph (by Nadav Kander) as a slyly subversive deconstruction of his regal pretensions:
Trump as reality TV star turned Narcissist-in-Chief (Guardian) :
"'We found that reality TV stars were the most narcissistic of any group of celebrities including actors, musicians and comedians,' says Mark Young, who studies the entertainment industry at the University of Southern California and co-authored The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. Young says a talent vacuum in most reality TV stars means they have to “act out” to stay in the public eye, while typically also losing self-awareness to paranoia and insecurity. “Reality TV has normalised outrageous and inappropriate behaviour,” he says. Viewers demand it, meanwhile, “since they are primed for this type of entertainment and stimulation”. Young identifies a comparable feedback loop of outrage in Trump’s presidential campaign. “He didn’t have skills in the political arena so … he was able to keep himself ‘fresh’ by being outrageous,” he says. He calls Trump’s victory “the greatest ending to any reality TV show in history”.
Trump's unprincipled flip-flopping and opportunistic beliefs as revealed in this 2000 interview when he tried to run as Presidential Candidate with pro-immigration, pro-health-care, pro-LGBT etc positions: "Last fall Donald Trump shook up the political world by announcing he was joining the Reform Party, a major step in exploring a run for president. The pundits laughed, claiming that the real estate mogul knew more about glamour than politics..."
Laurie Penny on the "performative bigotry", hate-speech cabaret and "pageant of insincerity" of alt-right trolls - "the insider traders of the attention economy," with Trump as their Gordon Gekko (Medium)
Donald Trump as actor playing the part of "Donald Trump" in a Goffman-esque, "presentation of self in everyday life" (psycho-)analysis by Daniel P. Adams (The Atlantic):
Greil Marcus on Trump as Ubu Roi and Beyonce as Trump (in Tages Anzeiger)
"Her fans, her followers, the people who think she understands them.... : They are in love with her apparent power. She seems to own the stage she walks on, she seems to own the air she breathes. And we breathe that same air at her dispensation. The aura that surrounds here and that she’s created around herself and other people have created around her is very similar to the aura that has been created around Donald Trump. This sense of authority, of absolute power, a sense that one has reached a point where he or she can do absolutely anything and be beyond criticism, alone face any consequences. I don’t want this to be misconstrued. Donald Trump is a racist, Beyoncé is not. Donald Trump wants to destroy people, and I don’t think Beyoncé does. They’re entirely different, but the linkage between the two is that they worship power and the appearance of power....
"[That SNL sketch about how] anybody who doesn’t like Beyoncé is hunted down and thrown into prison. Anybody who likes her new album but not the seventh track loses his job and is attacked by the FBI... the Beygency hunting anyone that doesn’t bow to her - this sketch actually gets to the question: What if Beyoncé was Donald Trump? And Donald Trump was a dictator? And to criticize him became a crime?"
Trump as King - blogpost at Followers of the Apocalypse on the royalist and restorationist currents of "neo-reactionism":
Trumpism and the Weimar analogy / decadence>authoritarianism syndrome (Chris Hedges's "It's Worse Than You Think" at Truthdig):
"We have replaced political discourse, news, culture and intellectual inquiry with celebrity worship and spectacle... '“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Noam Chomsky told me with uncanny insight when I spoke with him six years ago.... 'The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen....'.... The rot of our failed democracy vomited up a con artist who was a creation of the mass media—first playing a fictional master of the universe on a reality television show and later a politician as vaudevillian. Trump pulled in advertising dollars and ratings. Truth and reality were irrelevant.... Trump is emblematic of what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” A society in terminal decline often retreats into magical thinking. Reality is too much to bear. It places its faith in the fantastic and impossible promises of a demagogue or charlatan who promises the return of a lost golden age."
From Barrett's book's Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: "“His fatalism allowed him hold himself blameless; his determinism convinced him he’d be a winner again. On the public stage where he’d played out every act of his life he was too much of a showman to be embarrassed by a single disastrous performance. The cumulative effect of this life view—so deep seated it appeared to be instinctual—was the confidence that all of this would come and go.”
from the interview:
on Trump as gambler / speculator / fabulator:
"Donald in ‘88 and ‘89 was doing incomprehensible deals that were unsustainable on their face, thinking he could not lose. Almost every one of those deals blew up in his face. It was like one lemon after another in a manic, manic state. I thought he was on the same kind of manic run the last two years. I thought he had damaged his brand and that it was all going to explode. I thought he was like on a 1988-89 re-run. And then it turns out that he wins. In the 1990s, he was anything but manic. He was extremely subdued.... he was hiding in the ‘90s. He was just glad to be alive. And biding his time."
on his success as a triumph of optics belying the reality of failure:
"The glamor is intoxicating. He understood that carrying this big dick, having a blonde on his arm, getting into the casino businesses where everything seemed to convey a fast life, when it’s really a dead end for so many people ... Trump Tower is really the only great project that he actually built.... It’s a triumph of a project. That can make your name. The triumphs are what last in this culture. He seemed to have it all, and that stays in the mindset. So he has a track record of bankruptcy and failure, but there’s also this narrative that he’s the embodiment of brashness, boldness, decisiveness, and that’s what people choose to see.
"When Alice Cooper Predicted Donald Trump" by me at MTV News
Chris Ott aka Shallow Rewards on Trump as "The Contestant" (subscribe here)
"His only interest was in the contest itself, because he is a gambler. He did not get into the casino business randomly: his dream of owning a casino was an augmented reflection of his innate obsession with outcomes.... Trump likes to watch the wheel spin. He likes to blow on dice.... It has become clear Trump was only interested in winning. This has been suggested from the beginning: my point is that it is now incontestably clear, clear enough that he must answer for it. He has spilled his drink on the roulette table to ensure nobody wins, but more importantly, he doesn't lose.... Trump's flailing transition trainwreck is evidence of his disregard for the prize he has won. The presidency is merely a trophy to him, a ratings victory following another reality show."