September 23, 2019

The Apprentice — Part 2

“The problem with writing about Donald Trump is that the outrages come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up,” wrote Max Boot on May 16 in Foreign Policy.

Outrages. Fast. Furious. Hard to keep up. Sound familiar?

Yes, these are some of the emotional staples of reality television, the junk food of entertainment, where cat fighting, backstabbing and manufactured drama rule the battle for ratings.

Our president lived in that world for 14 years. As the star and executive producer of “The Apprentice,” he had to make sure the drama and the conflict never stopped in order to keep his star shining bright. Through the show, he saw that playing a tycoon can actually build his brand a lot better than being a tycoon.

In this fake-real world, the only consequence that mattered was keeping viewers hooked. Trump knew how to do that. He was unscripted. No one knew what would come out of his mouth. The greater the outrage the better.

That was the lesson Trump inhaled from reality TV: Outrage is not just the norm, it’s the key to success.

I heard once that it takes 28 consecutive days to have a chance at breaking a habit. If you’re used to having a chocolate chip cookie every night and you want to break the habit, you need to not do it for 28 nights in a row.

Donald Trump spent 14 consecutive years manufacturing television drama in order to brighten his star. Did we really think that becoming the most powerful person on earth would make him break his habits?

If anything, he has doubled down on them.

In his mind, he is still playing the same game, but instead of playing tycoon, he’s playing president. Keeping viewers hooked through drama and chaos is what he knows. It’s his definition of “winning.” This has worked wonders for him in the past.

Of course, as president, it’s a disaster. Whereas his old antics might have offended a character or two on his reality show, today, those same antics could lead to nuclear war, breaches of national security, obstruction of justice, constitutional crises and other such unpleasant things.

Hooked on faux drama, Trump never made the leap from reality TV to reality.

A mature person would have said: “Hey, I’m in a different game now. This is not a show. The stakes are real and enormous. It’s not about getting people’s attention– it’s about gaining their trust. I’m now the most watched person in the world, so I better watch every word I say.”

Trump couldnt do that, because he couldnt change his game. It’s not that he hasn’t made an effort to accomplish some real things, or that he is completely oblivious to the seriousness of his new role, or that he enjoys being reviled by so many people.

It’s more that his old habits are too locked in. He can’t help himself. Chaos is his comfort zone. It’s what made him who he is.

Let’s remember that chaos helped him get elected. In his mind, his crazy antics on the campaign trail made him a winner at politics. Maybe he figured he could take the same craziness to the White House and keep “winning”—a monumental blunder. That craziness was precisely what he needed to shed once he made it to the top.

A grown-up mind would have figured that out. But, as David Brooks wrote in the New York Times, Trump has the mind of a child. Getting our attention is his candy, and he’ll raise hell to get it. If it worked for so long, why stop?

Well, for one thing, because when your body overdoses on sugar, it’s time for some broccoli. By the time anyone could tell him that, it was too late. Trump’s sugar habit couldn’t be broken– not even for a few days in a row, let alone 28.

Our reality TV president now seems headed for a blockbuster ending where someone will yell “You’re fired!”– and it won’t be him.