Donald John Trump: a man that is polarizing a nation. A man that is polarizing politics. A man that might send shivers down the spine of one person, and serve as a symbol of hope to the next. Donald J. Trump is a man that has been in the spotlight for years, and is in his biggest spotlight yet, as the nominee for the Republican Party for the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Hate him, love him, confused by him, disgusted by him – all reasonable reactions to the shenanigans put on the by the businessman-turned-politician. And while the “Trumpster” might be upset with me for calling him a politician, that is exactly what he has become. Now, Trump isn’t a politician in the same way that Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney is. No, he is a politician in the same way that the BlackBerry was a popular cell phone: it came, it changed the game, and it left. It is that simple. Donald Trump is the epitome of the phrase “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Hate it or love it, it’s about time that we accept that Donald Trump is changing American politics forever.
Let me get something out of the way: this is not just another article where some college kid dissects the way Trump is hurting the image of women or destroying the Republican Party. Nor is this an article where Trump is praised for leading an alternative movement of free speech, so that I can then get away with whatever I want to say. This article’s purpose lies in its exploration of the sudden rise of the business mogul, as well as how he got placed in that “Presidential spotlight,” not magnifying the man himself, but investigating the culture that surrounds him.
The Rise of The Donald
Donald Trump did not win the Republican Party nomination by chance, nor was he selected the host of the hit reality TV show, The Apprentice, by chance. Though these two impressive accomplishments are likely what Trump will be remembered for the most, his rise first began in the late 1980s, when he released his New York Times Best Seller, The Art of the Deal. The book, essentially a how-to manual on the tact required for negotiating in business, held the number one bestseller spot for nearly a full calendar year, and thus began the start of Trump’s climb up what could be called the ladder of pop-culture. The success of Mr. Trump’s book made him a household name, and he started landing cameo after cameo throughout the 80s and 90s, including a guest spot on Oprah and an infamous appearance in Home Alone 2. As he has often been called one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, one might assume this is where Trump’s grandiose ego comes from; yet, according to a 1987 appearance on David Letterman, Trump once appeared to employ humility as one of his strong points. After Letterman continued to poke and prod at Trump to reveal his self-worth, Trump continually responded with “You’ll never get it out of me, David.” As the interview went on, Trump continued to stay surprisingly humble, saying things like “I don’t like to think of myself as ambitious, I just enjoy what I do, David,” and “I learned a lot from my father, more than anything else.” This relatively humble Trump continued on throughout the late 20th century, as he appeared as a friendly character in TV shows and movies. One interview with Trump on KPRC Nearly Noon has Trump admitting that he loves to “sit around on a Friday or Saturday night in his underwear, order a pizza, and rent a movie,” as well as promising that all of the profits from book sales would go to charity, painting a picture of a seemingly modest and compassionate Trump. So what happened to this guy? A guy that, if he were to run for president, might be a reasonable choice for the Republican Party (GOP), a guy that seems modest, electable, and, dare I say… politically correct? Although Trump wasn’t perfect during the Reagan Era, he did seem to gravitate towards a more moderate side of speaking. So, what exactly changed?
It was the fateful month of January of 2004 that changed the course of Donald Trump’s life, and depending on how the polls play out on Tuesday, the course of America’s. Trump reached the pinnacle of American pop-culture as he started his eleven year tenure of hosting the network reality television show/game show, The Apprentice. The show ran season-long competitions, where contestants were divided into two teams and resided in separate living quarters. The contestants would compete in tasks, that are in some sense business-related, where they would have to use their economic strategy, marketing, management, and accounting acumen to try and complete whatever task was at hand. Teams would then sever off their weakest link, and that individual would be disqualified from the show, as Trump loved to let them go in a obnoxiously grandiose fashion. He became infamous for using the term “You’re Fired!” as he kicked contestants off of the show in his commanding and arrogant demeanor. As the show started to evolve, so did Trump.
After six seasons, Trump decided to bring celebrities onto the show as contestants, as he was more and more often being presented in the media as the “king” or “boss” of celebrities during the time frame that this show ran. Not to mention, during the 2000s, reality TV was just exploding, as hit network shows like Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race captured audiences from week to week. This then contributed and ultimately lead to Donald’s rise up the celebrity hierarchy that we know as “Hollywood” culture, as he was slowly climbing to the top.
i’m bo yo.
For those of you confused about the title of this section, consider yourself “Shyamalaned.” You see, this article doesn’t just feature Donald Trump; nor does it offer just one perspective from a straight white male who was born in the 90s. It offers two. Bo Burnham is an emerging twenty-six year old comedian, hailing from Hamilton, Massachusetts. Burnham has skyrocketed quickly, with three of his own comedy specials already filmed, and is known for how he takes meta-comedy and self-deprecation to a whole new level. Burnham’s most recent special, Make Happy, propelled him directly into the spotlight, as he has made several primetime media appearances, appearing on Conan and participating in an interview with Rolling Stone. During this stretch soon after Make Happy hit the airwaves, between engagements with the media, Burnham also talked a little politics, particularly about the man of the hour, Mr. Donald J. Trump. In an interview with Rolling Stone’s Stephen Drew, Burnham admits that he has been paying attention to recent political coverage, answering Drew’s question about 2016’s circus of an election, stating “I have definitely been following the election really closely.” Burnham goes on to explain how good of an entertainer Trump is, saying “I’m not tempted to talk about that because, to me, Donald Trump is a symptom of entertainers and entertainment.” He followed with an interesting comment that mentions Trump turning politics into more of an entertainment or sporting event, explaining “I think that was the huge appeal that people didn’t realize, was that he was a good television performer. He realized that the camera is in a close-up, and he should act for the camera, and he did it. I wish that it wasn’t a thing. I wish CNN didn’t look like ESPN.” Burnham is not wrong about Trump’s ability to pull in an audience; his previous television experience with The Apprentice and his Rosie O’Donnell feud sets him up perfectly for politics, as the camera of major news networks haven’t left his side since he made those derogatory immigration comments about Mexicans. Throughout his GOP nomination campaign and Presidential campaign, Trump has been able to get the media to cover almost everything he has said, as he continues to say and do outlandish things to keep the camera on him.
Getting the media to do campaign advertising for him is not the only thing Trump has succeeded at, as the Los Angeles Times reported an article showing that all three of the most recent presidential debates between him and Hillary Clinton are in the top ten for the most watched debates of all time, as their 1st and 3rd debate ringed in at number one and number three on the all time list. Reaching the 84 million-viewer mark is an incredible feat not only for Trump (as it shows his ability to capture an audience), but also for politics in general, as citizens are now more involved in the political process than ever before. Although Burnham seems to be right about the fact that Trump might be manipulating the media, this wasn’t Burnham’s only theory, making further comments on America’s obsession with the celebrity.
Bo Burnham’s critique of satire and the media is not the only thing Burnham has commented on this past year, as his new special Make Happy contains a unique commentary on American culture as a whole. Burnham’s most recent special is filled with all sorts of comedic shenanigans, from ironic songs about being a straight white male to a parody of a Kanye West concert, but there is one thing that makes this show really stick out. About a third through the special, Burnham concludes a bit that mocks the art of modern country music, saying that it panders to a certain audience to make its money. Burnham then finesses his way into a second bit, starting directly after a country song, essentially mocking the popularity of celebrity lip-syncing, declaring it the “end of culture” and adding that it’s just “people we have seen too much of mouthing along to songs we have heard too much of” and declaring that the American culture deserves something better. This observation that Burnham astutely points out analyzes the monster of today’s post-modern culture*, declaring that people no longer pay attention to celebrities because of what they produce, but because of who they are. In another interview, Burnham sat down with comedian Pete Holmes on Holmes’ podcast, You Made It Weird, where Holmes provides an entertaining take on the tangential nature of podcasts, as he basically takes a decently well-known celebrity and deconstructs their opinion on culture, entertainment, and spirituality in a serious yet humorous fashion. During the three hour conversation with Burnham, he illuminates how pop-culture continues to fail people again and again, as he points out the terrible decline made by late night talk shows over the years, as they are catering to such culture, using a clip he saw of celebrities throwing a purse full of skittles at a basketball hoop, as an example of the control celebrities have over our attention. Burnham also points this out in his interview with Rolling Stone, answering the question of “One of the things that really struck me about the show was that you were a little less than kind to a number of celebrities, like Jimmy Fallon, Kanye West, Katy Perry and Keith Urban. You seem to take issue with the culture that puts these people on a pedestal.” This prompted an immediate response by Burnham, calling out The Tonight Show for having celebrities on for throwing darts at balloons, saying “Like, you deserve better entertainment than this. You deserve better than famous people acting human, you know?”
So, what do Bo Burnham’s observations have to do with Donald Trump and the current political culture? Well, Burnham’s hypothesis is unfolding right in front of us. Donald Trump has used his influence and prowess as a celebrity to slip into the political field as a front for his own brand: TRUMP.
*Post-modern culture stemming from the literary theory where an author tears down a typical narrative and rebuilds it in his or her own name, by usually putting themselves in their own story.
Alright, Parlier, let’s wrap it up:
So, if Trump truly is a mascot for the American people to rally on, what does it mean for politics? It’s simple really: Trump is establishing himself as someone who is so self-aware that he uses his name/brand to promote his political candidacy, rather than the policies that he has produced. People gravitated to the fact that there was someone who acted and spoke like their private sector of America, someone to run against and try to defeat one of the most politically established candidates of all time, Hillary Clinton – just like people gravitate towards a musician who represents their emotions, a sports team who represents their city, or a comedian who represents their observations and thoughts. One might argue that Ronald Reagan has already done this, but Trump has done it so blatantly and objectively that he’s bypassed the idea of political correctness or political policy, to just front himself as someone who is coming from outside the political spectrum, a value he knew was attractive. Just like what Burnham has pointed out about celebrity culture, Trump has completely skipped the political details and policies of what usually comes with running for president, and has jumped right into making himself a caricature of what people want to see. Donald Trump has flipped the norm of politics, not gaining support for what he has done, but because of who he is already, turning the political process upside down and coming up with an altogether new way of doing things.
What’s the fallout? What will happen to all of Trump’s supporters? Will he truly concede if he fails to win the election? To these burning questions, all I can say is that Trump opened a door, and I don’t think that door is going to close anytime soon. Love it or hate it, he has changed the political game, and he’s created a totally new way to gain a foothold in US politics. Donald J. Trump might even someday be called the founder of post-modern politics.