Donald Trump presents an enigma to conventional political analysts.
One minute he opposes NATO, the next he is NATO’s biggest supporter.
One minute he calls China a currency manipulator, the next, he tells the Wall Street Journal that “they’re not currency manipulators.”
One minute he opposes intervention in Syria, the next he fires off 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria.
One minute he loves Putin… you get the idea.
The list could go on and on. And it does…
How is this possible? How can someone, particularly someone in power, turn 180 degrees in a matter of minutes.
To understand how Donald Trump thinks, you have to understand who he is.
Donald Trump is neither Republican nor conservative; neither right nor populist.
He is television.
Donald Trump, like all of us, is the product of his experience. For most people in political power, their life experience is one of government and public service. They understand the levers of power, they relish in it. They live it. They grew up in it, from small town representatives to state government to governorships or Congress and ultimately to the White House.
Not Donald Trump. He cut his teeth in reality TV.
Prior to The Apprentice, he was a failed casino operator, a four-time bankrupted businessman and a builder with no prior political or public service experience whatsoever. The Apprentice changed everything. He and the show quickly rose to a national hit, year after year. He was portrayed as a business genius. A decision-maker. “You’re fired!” Of course, like all TV, it was all make-believe. But it worked. Like The Real Housewives, people ate it up (and swallowed it). He was ultimately made the show’s executive producer, a title he still carries.
Donald Trump may not understand politics, but he understands TV. He is fortunate, because America also understands TV, far better than they understand foreign affairs or the domestic budget. Those issues may confuse most Americans, but boy do they know how TV is supposed to work. His was a marriage made in heaven.
The essence of successful TV is ratings. If the show doesn’t rate, it doesn’t survive. Election and polls are just like ratings. Trump understands these things.
The way you keep the ratings high in TV is to throw in shocking surprises. You can’t let the viewer get too complacent or the show gets boring. You have to keep shaking things up. This is what Trump knows how to do. Shake things up. It doesn’t really matter why you are shaking things up, so long as you keep doing it. This is how he runs the government.
Every once in a while in any good TV show you need a stunt. This is a surprising, big event that really grabs the viewer’s attention. Who killed JR? Firing 59 missiles into Syria – that was a ‘stunt’. Great video. Really shook things up. Got the viewer’s attention.
The day after the stunt, back to the show, as usual.
Today, he dropped a MOAB bomb, the biggest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal on Afghanistan. Another great TV stunt. What could there possibly be left to blow up in Afghanistan after 16 years? But
In any normal society, this kind of TV leadership would be, well, unacceptable. There is no policy, there is no plan; there are only the ratings.
But we are not a normal society. We are a society that spends five hours a day, every day, watching TV – the same thing that our president does. Is it any wonder he got elected? Is it any wonder that his people love him? He is our favorite TV show – even if we hate him, he and Sean Spicer are our favorite TV show. CNN loves them; NBC loves them; They are a ratings machine! That’s entertainment!
Trump can’t help himself. TV is all he knows. It defines his world. It circumscribes his view of the world. He doesn’t read. He had no intellectual curiosity. But he loves to watch TV. From his perspective, TV is how the world works.
So now we are all players in The Donald Trump Show, a 24-hour, never-ending TV show where he calls the shots.
Quite literally, alas. Quite literally.