Sunday, December 20, 2020

Honey, I Shrunk the Emperor


Image via Popsugar, February 2017.

"MAGA Apprentice" is just a joke, of course, but you can't help seeing the sincerity in the way Trump is said to be entertaining the thought of reviving his TV show after he leaves the White House, and his lack of a sense that it would be inappropriate for the Leader of the Free World to return to the Black Lagoon from which rage at Obama had drawn him.

no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice — (laughter) — at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks.  And there was a lot of blame to go around.  But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership.  And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meat Loaf.  (Laughter.)  You fired Gary Busey.  (Laughter.)  And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.  (Laughter and applause.)  Well handled, sir.  (Laughter.) 

He may not have known it at the time, but I think in retrospect he sees himself as having been happy when he was making Celebrity Apprentice, maybe more like happy than he'd ever been before. He didn't have to work very hard, he was surrounded by celebrities, if not many of the first rank, and all of his decisions were right, at least as far as his colleagues were concerned. If they'd been working under the assumption that he was going to fire Meat Loaf and he was suddenly inspired to fire Busey instead, nobody reproached him, the way they'll reproach you when you let a casino go broke or can't pay a $340-million-dollar loan. They'd just buckle down and recut the show.

And the money worries that had dogged him all his life were gone! He was truly rich this time, making money practically on a Kylie Jenner scale. He was collecting golf courses the way other men collect vintage cars. The entire country of Russia seemed to be treating him like royalty. Who wouldn't want to go back there, from the awful anxieties besetting him now of debt and criminal exposure (you and I can confidently say he's never going to prison, but can he be sure, knowing what he knows?), and from the mark of the loser?

And even if it's impossible for him to go back to The Apprentice (which I assume it is, strictly speaking—I can't imagine NBC would want to, or would be interested in selling its rights either), wouldn't he like to have a similar perch to retreat too, where he could continue being famous with less risk and maybe more secure income? Maybe one of those family reality shows for superannuated stars like Ozzy Osbourne, where all the Trumps could be on salary and filmed driving around and going shopping, quarreling, getting into sex complications and planning birthday parties, and he could collect some decent payola endorsing shower heads and dish machines with high water volume, alternative medicines, and the like (episode 1: Mexicans build a wall on one of his properties and he pays for it, kvetching about the quality of the materials while Melania complains it's wrecking the view).

Question that occurred to Jordan earlier in the week, via email: What does this do to Trump's effective leadership of the National Trumpist Movement? What's left when the God-Emperor shrinks into comfortably retired Archie Bunker padding around the gold-plated triplex in slippers and whining about smart toilets and Korean cars?

Wouldn’t it be great if all his much-vaunted, scary ability to stay in the spotlight, to remain “in control” as “the leader,” that right wingers keep extolling in order to threaten us (“president in exile”; “king across the water” as Josh Marshall put it) is revealed to just be his base ego, his trivial desire to be on television as a celebrity? Without all the policy and boring meetings and actual work — just the shouting and the cameras? It’s all he ever wanted to begin with.
What happens to his “movement” then? When you take the politics away, since it never fit to begin with?... It just suddenly hit me that Trump could destroy his own “brand” from within, in a way nobody else possibly could, by revealing it to have, in the end, nothing to do with politics at all.

His tragic flaw is that he's so stupid (I think this is possible in classic tragedy, as in Sophocles's Ajax), and his downfall will come as he exposes himself simply because he's too dumb to avoid it.

I'm doubtful halfway on this, partly because I thought it was going to happen about four and a half years ago and it never did. He couldn't fall from being a "leader" who was "in control", doing "politics", in the first place, because he never attempted to be one. To the contrary, far from asserting that he was "in control", he may have moved from Trump Tower to the White House, but continued to speak as someone who was not really part of the government himself at all, or merely more annoyed with it than before, as it frustrated his desires—with some justification, from his standpoint, as people in various departments and different branches worked to stop him from breaking the law, or examined the questions of how he might have broken it already, which he naturally found irritating, but with the overall effect that he kept sounding exactly the same as when he was a troll on the outside of government, complaining about people who annoyed him and flattering those who flattered him, but having nothing to say on what should be done on this issue or that except that it should be better than Obama and anything Obama did was a "disaster".

And he didn't really add anything to his cranky Apprentice persona through the presidential campaign, with the exception of a couple of slogans—the Wall, of course, locking her up, draining the swamp, cutting everybody's taxes except "the hedge fund guys", and making America great again because "it's a disgrace what's happening"—and new enemies acquired or forgiven as new people insulted or flattered him.

It's striking me more and more, recently, that one of the main secrets of Trump's success, as far as it goes, in business and politics, is that people just can't believe their eyes and ears when reality tells them something unacceptably contrary to their understanding of how the world works. They couldn't believe somebody as rich as Trump could have difficulty extracting the meaning from a moderately complex written sentence, they couldn't believe an American politician could be openly courting the president of Russia with offers to ignore his illegal conquest of Ukrainian territory, they still can't believe he's openly (if wrongly) claimed to have successfully bribed Supreme Court justices, or that he has to be told he's not allowed to call out the military to overturn state elections, as Mike Flynn advised him to do on Friday, while Giuliani thought he should have DHS seize the voting machines instead, and Sydney Powell seems to think she should be named Special Counsel to investigate the whole thing while Biden assumes the presidency (in some kind of revenge for what Trump sort of believes the FBI did to him)  

During an appearance on the conservative Newsmax channel this week, Mr. Flynn pushed for Mr. Trump to impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election. At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea....

Mr. Giuliani joined the discussion by phone initially, while Ms. Powell was at the White House for a meeting that became raucous and involved people shouting at each other at times, according to one of the people briefed on what took place.

and they could never believe he could slide into the presidency without having any kind of plans or aspirations but just because it looked like a good business opportunity, for branding and access to new markets. Who does that? How would that even work?

That emptiness, that lack of a sense of proportion, that inability to understand that there was any important difference between being host of The Apprentice and president of the United States except that the latter was more famous and had higher ratings (and ultimately turned out to be less profitable, to his amazed disappointment)—he never hid them in any way, as president, or even tried to hide them. People generally didn't see those things because of the cognitive dissonance involved; nothing that idiotic could possibly have happened.

But I can imagine something like what Jordan was talking about accompanying the perception of Trump as a loser; if they get that he isn't the president any more and now has to hustle like Ozzy Osbourne simply to maintain his lifestyle, they could start to get that he isn't a billionaire, that he was never president in the effective sense, and that in the end he's got nothing, other than a ridiculous squandered inheritance and his petty criminal propensities. May it be so, soon.

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