One of the main points of criticisms I hear of President Donald Trump is his unseemly and unpresidential behavior. He is not a smooth talker. He tweets more than a teenager does, gives disparaging nicknames to his political opponents and is drowning in scandal. The list could go on for miles. Trump, a reality TV star who once made an appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment, does not fit the position of president of any country, let alone the United States, people often say. And I agree with them.
But we must understand that for those very reasons, Trump is our president. Because he is unpresidential, he is our president.
Those who voted for him appreciated that he was not a lifelong politician, slick and spineless and always smiling for the camera, but that he was brutally honest, mean, defiant and himself. He ran against the establishment and won because large chunks of America want that swamp drained.
There are problems with this sort of logic: whether it is possible for one person in one branch of the government to burn everything to the ground and truly start fresh is a glaring one. The problem I want to discuss, though, is the inevitable dysfunction electing an outsider like Trump brings. The White House has become reality TV: dramatic, scandalized, performative and thus mindlessly entertaining. If it’s not the Russian scandal, it’s Stormy Daniels, an aide resigning, or an infamous Trump tweet, etc. He called Kim Jong Un “little rocket man.” According to The Washington Post, he refused to fire Sean Spicer because “that guy gets great ratings.”
Why should any of this surprise us? Trump, at his core, is an entertainer. That’s one of the reasons he was elected, because his name-calling and insults and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor made people snicker and confirmed in them their cynical view of government. He has existed in the public eye for decades; he has cultivated a brash, crude and orange persona for the sake of increased ratings. Yet we are shocked at what the presidency has become.
We shouldn’t be, and I wonder how Trump would respond if we refined our expectations of him. Trump has simply brought his tabloid behavior to the White House. People often scapegoat Trump’s voters for this, blaming them for what has happened to America. That is where I break from those people, for the picture is more intricate and interconnected than that.
“Never Trumpers” need to understand their role in the rise of Trump, which is rooted in our entertainment-starved era. Conservatives are not the only ones who watch TV or use social media. In fact, every mainstream late-night comedian — John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, etc. — lean, if not are, politically leftist in their criticisms and opinions. Late-night comedy, or any comedy, is where many people receive their news today. Why then are these same people baffled at Trump?
Trump is the clearest expression of what these late-night comedians, or the worst of Fox News and CNN, are doing. He blends fact and fiction, comedy and diplomacy, entertainment with maturity, persona with credentials, and slogans with policy. Trump can only exist in a country where the news is shared alongside punchlines. We are like kids who can’t eat their vegetables without also eating mac and cheese; we can’t absorb news unless it’s funny.
Entertainment is the cultural incubator that gave Trump life. Conservatives are not the only ones who feast on tabloids and the E! channel. It is too reductionistic and simple, then, to make conservatives shoulder the blame for Trump’s election. Would he have been elected if The New York Times and CNN hadn’t obsessively covered his every insult and mistake? I’m not sure. My point, however, is this: Trump’s presidency thus far is eerily similar to a reality TV show, and for that, we are all to blame.
Scott Stinson is a UF English junior. His column focuses on popular culture.