When all the world is a show, people stop being people. They become characters and props.
Donald Trump views the world as his stage – a kind of “Truman Show,” except one in which he, the title character, controls everything around him so he can live in the show in which he wants to live.
Once contained within an actual reality show, now Trump sees the planet as one giant shoot of “The Apprentice,” where everyone has a role – good guy, bad guy, etc. – that he determines.
When you take that into account, Donald Trump’s press conference this week makes sense.
It began with his team bringing out mounds of paper in folders, which he claimed contained just a fraction of the paperwork needed to execute an ethics deal to separate himself from his business.
But, no media were allowed to look inside the folders to see what was inside. Pictures posted online suggested the folders contained reams of blank paper. In other words, a show prop. But an effective show prop, as cameras all focused on what looked like a yeoman’s effort to be honest and transparent.
Next came the live audience – Trump’s junior staff. They were scattered throughout the Trump Tower atrium, to add a cheering soundtrack to the press conference. When Trump said something they wanted to indicate was laudatory, to the public, they let out claps, hoots and hollers. For the audience at home, and those watching clips on the news later, it wasn’t entirely clear who was clapping. Maybe it was the press!
Then Trump introduced the characters in the scene. Those would be the reporters, themselves.
A CNN report about intelligence officials briefing Trump on possible blackmail material the Russians had on him, and BuzzFeed’s subsequent publication of the brief, provided Trump with the perfect bad guys, the “Omarosa,” for this episode.
But, to set up just how evil those bad guys are, Trump started explaining who the good guys at the “board room table” were: Anyone who wasn’t BuzzFeed or CNN. In particular, he patted The New York Times on the head for what he deemed to be dutiful and reserved coverage of the emerging controversy.
Or, more specifically he said, “First of all, it [the dossier] shouldn’t have been printed because it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. I thank The New York Times for saying that.”
Got it, audience? The good guys are the media that aren’t publishing embarrassing things about him. Root for them.
Then it came to the bad guys. BuzzFeed, a “failing pile of garbage.” CNN, “fake news.” They were, as Trump put it, helping turn America into “Nazi Germany,” a strong point of reference in case people needed to know how “bad” the villainous outlets are.
Every episode needs confrontation, where the bad guy makes his move, but the lead character (Trump, in this case) shows ultimately shows his strength. Enter Jim Acosta, CNN correspondent. Acosta tried to ask a question, but Trump cut him off.
“No, I will not let you have a question…You are fake news!” Trump declared.
[The audience, Trump staff, applauds.]
What happened next, though, was the most stunning part of it all: Nothing.
Nothing happened. Every other reporter, who Trump deemed the good guys in this episode of the show, sat on their hands and allowed their colleague to be called illegitimate, allowed for him to be shouted down when he had a right to ask a question of an elected official.
No one stood up for Acosta in that moment. No one stood up for a free press. No one stood up to Donald Trump. Every single reporter in that room was manipulated into playing the role, in that moment, that Trump wanted them to play. They were the good guys, watching Trump rip the bad guy at the table.
Was it fear of being deemed the “bad guy” in next week’s episode? Was it a fear of losing access, and not getting strategic leaks from the Trump team, anymore?
No matter. Cue the credits and return the papers to the prop department. Another successful episode of The Trump Show has wrapped.