Saturday, July 22, 2017

Our Celebrity President

Gay pride stickers placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star of President Donald Trump before the start of #ResistMarch during the 47th annual LA Pride Festival in Hollywood, California on June 11, 2017. (Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump's tweets show he doesn’t really see himself as a president, and neither do a lot of the media.
I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that our bullying, narcissistic, impulsive man-child of a president is only fighting a Twitter war against MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and the entirety of CNN rather than a real shooting war against North Korea or Iran, even if his war of words seems to be sucking up all the oxygen in government and the media.
For a lot of folks in the media, Trump’s eruptions provide yet another occasion to explore his lack of presidential temperament and even his sanity. There is a kind of exasperation in the coverage — a how-in-the-hell-did-we-let-this-happen incredulity, as if underscoring Trump’s deficiencies will somehow disable him and snap all of us back to our senses. Good luck with that.
What I think many of us have overlooked in his latest Twitter dust-up is that Trump doesn’t really see himself as a president, despite his constant vaunting that he is. Frankly, neither do a lot of the media, which may explain why he gets the kind of coverage he gets and why everyone seems preoccupied with the idiocy he tweets.
As a candidate, Trump proudly declared himself a non-politician, a populist outsider attacking the political establishment. He wasn’t. As I wrote last year, what he was really was a celebrity who stood entirely outside the political process, and who had absolutely no interest in it or in using it to further any program. All he wanted was to be president, to grab attention for himself — which is what celebrities do, not politicians.  
It bears pointing out that we have never had a celebrity president before. Sure, we have had celebrities who became politicians — to wit, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But they conformed to traditional politics, albeit using their acquired fame. And of course every president is famous, but celebrity is a subset of fame. It is not so much a status one has as it is a narrative art in which one becomes an ongoing protagonist in his or her own story.
Fame is public recognition. You can even be born into it, as the royals are. But celebrity is the art of capturing attention and then holding it, which is something most famous people – say, Angela Merkel or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett — don’t necessarily feel compelled to do.
Celebrity typically entails generating episodes or adventures that keep the media engaged and the wider public entertained. That is one job of publicists. It is all about stories. Think of the Kardashians, or Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher, or Tonya Harding, or Martin Shkreli, or the late Zsa Zsa Gabor.
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