All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances…
-William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”
Before anything else, Donald Trump is an entertainer. He knows how to build a brand: in this case, his own name. To his credit he has kept his name – and an association of wealth and glamour with it – in the public eye for decades. He’s good enough at it that just licensing out his name to put on the outside of a building has been known to increase its value substantially. He built a second career for himself in network television with “The Apprentice,” which earned him tens of millions of dollars.
And now Trump has proven the shallowness of our political system to be real by branding himself to within one step of being the most powerful man in the world.
But did he ever even intend to win? Did he have any real designs on becoming president? Former Trump Super PAC adviser Stephanie Cegielski says no, and that this was simply the biggest publicity stunt in his tumultuous, storied career in the limelight. It was a media act that would put Andy Kauffman to shame, save for the fact that Kauffman’s genius pointed to elements of human nature worth reflection, and not really to himself.
So to what end would Trump run for president if not to win? Recent stories about members of the Trump family already discussing the prospects of a “Trump TV” network point toward the proverbial brass ring that may have been the original intent to begin with. Maybe he saw an opportunity to out-fox Fox News and leap into the media fray with his own channel. And what better way to broaden one’s brand as a political household name than to run for office?
Only it worked, far too well. If it can be believed, his success in the political forum seems to have exceeded his own wildest dreams, and yet his indefatigable ego has taken over, refusing to let go once the prospect of winning was in his sights. America’s well-being and his own sense of realism be damned; if people were serving up the prospect of becoming president for him, how could he not try and take it?
So how does an entertainer go about marketing himself in an area where he has little or no experience? He entertains, of course. And in true Trump fashion, he does do by going BIG, in everything he says and does. His events are huge, his plane is huge…even his hands (despite evidence to the contrary) point to another “huge” asset down south, according to him.
Trump lives big. He thinks big. And he certainly talks big. He keeps things simple, binary, easy to understand in the minute sound bytes offered up by today’s frenetic media culture, with us lapping it up, ten seconds at a time. And how to control such a fast-moving, highly competitive news cycle? By starting big and going bigger. The only way to ensure people would continue to tune in is by satisfying the ever-lingering question…
What will Donald Trump say and do next?
The thing is we’ve heard it, to the point that it’s getting predictable. He’ll spout a new conspiratorial rumor about his opponent today, followed by some divisive, sexist or racist comment tomorrow. It may be shocking, offensive and hard to believe, but at least we keep listening.
But for how long?
It seems that the Trump shine is wearing off. While we could argue that the recent comments about, and accusations by, women who apparently were victims of his aggressively objectifying tendencies have become his Achilles heel, he’s said just as bad or worse before. And I’d argue that it’s not the sexism and disregard for female human dignity that’s the final straw for Trump; it’s that it’s predictable, just like everything else he’s been saying and will say tonight in the final presidential debate.
He’s said and done it all, more or less, by now. And despite all the sound and fury, despite the bombast and spectacle, we’re right back where we started in the court of public opinion ten months ago.
We’re a media culture addicted to novelty and distraction. And even for those who revile him, Trump has been the car wreck in the road that we could not bring ourselves to look away from. But the prospect of his seventh-grade rhetoric filling the media pipelines for the next four years is simply more than most Americans are willing to stomach.
Let him have his network; at least then we can just turn him off.