I’m currently 40 years old. I grew up in the 80’s, which means I’ve known who Donald Trump is for a long time. Even as a little kid, I remember the big gold “Trump” on the front of the Art of the Deal and Trump Tower. I didn’t know anything about him, but I knew he was a big shot of some sort, and stupidly rich. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, you basically knew who Trump was, and that he was sort of the personification of American capitalist celebrity. He was the first guy, in my life at least, who I can remember being famous just for being rich. It was a huge deal if he showed up on Oprah, or some news show, and he had that 80’s rich celebrity aura about him. In the mid to late 90’s he kind of fell off the map, or maybe I was too busy partying with my friends in my early 20’s to care what Donald Trump was doing, but he came right back into public consciousness with the Apprentice in 2004.
But this article isn’t a biography of Donald Trump. This article is about how he has changed politics forever, via his celebrity star power and personality. We will get into that in a bit, but first let’s look at some of the “celebrity” presidents we’ve had before. Obviously, any president is going to be a celebrity on some level, just by virtue of the fact that they run the greatest and most badass country of all time. Every President is world renown and carries a tremendous amount of weight with ever word they utter. In my lifetime at least, Barack Obama was the first President that felt like a celebrity. There was a lot of people that worship the ground he walked on, and still do. He did all the nightly talk shows, and had a far more magnetic and fun personality than most presidents as well. I like to think I kept up with politics pretty well during his terms, but I can tell you, I and the rest of the world didn’t hang on his every syllable the way we do with Trump. I didn’t watch his every press conference. I didn’t watch every time he answered a question aboard Air Force One or Marine One. I didn’t watch every time he had a rally, and I don’t think I ever even saw his Twitter account.
What we have right now is on a whole other level of celebrity. What separates Donald Trump is that he was world famous BEFORE he was president. As President, he has been perfectly willing to use the tools that made him famous, while in the presidency. The brash showman, jokester, fighting attitude, and highly inappropriate fire starter hasn’t let up one bit. The result is one thing that I argue is overwhelmingly good whether you love or despise him:
His celebrity and personality makes people care about what’s going on in the country at a level we haven’t seen in a long time.
For a long time, we’ve had a fairly disconnected citizenry. Sure, we’ve had high engagement on the fringes, whether it be the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, but the massive middle was largely apathetic and didn’t closely follow what was going on in the country. Those days are over. For better or worse, EVERYONE cares about what Trump does, and by extension, the government. Every word he utters is national news on a scale never before seen, and every tweet drives an entire news cycle. His slightest utterance is capable of preempting virtually anything else. The interesting part is that Barack Obama currently has over double the number Twitter followers, yet I never read one tweet of his while he was President. If you go read his Twitter right now, it’s so incredibly boring and mundane. Trump, for whatever faults he has is deeply interesting. Every tweet or statement hangs right on the edge of inappropriate, thus he has your engagement, and he knows it. Every single news outlet immediately stops what they are doing to cover a Trump tweet. During the campaign he got millions of dollars worth of free coverage, just due to his celebrity. I’ll never forget the time he trolled CNN into airing 45 minutes of military generals endorsing him, just so he could utter one sentence about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and then leave.
Things don’t slide under the radar any more. I remember when people used to make fun of watching hearings and votes on CSPAN and the like. Now, every machination of the federal government is under a microscope. This is part of why we have seen the barrage of harassment allegations and discoveries of slush funds and the like recently. It’s not that these things didn’t happen before, it’s that people are really paying attention now. To a large extent, Trump did that, though not directly. The left has gone after him with such insane vigor, that they hang on every action that happens in government, and his followers do the same to defend him and his administration’s actions. Nothing is too small to get noticed now. Part of “Draining the Swamp” is getting people to pay attention to what’s going on in government. Slush funds, back room deals, and payoffs that no one used to find about about, it’s all out there now. We are in the most transparent time for our government, maybe ever, and a lot of it is enabled by the intense scrutiny Trump has brought in on both sides.
So whether you love him or hate him, he has changed the game, permanently. It’s unlikely we will ever go back to the days of low information, back room deals, and payoffs. It might take a couple boring presidencies after him to reset us back to normal. I always said one of the biggest advantages of Trump was that he’d clean up government corruption. That doesn’t mean he necessarily has to do it himself, he’s doing it by proxy through all of us watching closer than ever before. A lot of this that’s happening isn’t directly his doing, but is enabled by the levels of scrutiny brought about by him. Carlos Lozada wrote in the Washington Post after his election: “Trump will have to do something that appears contrary to his nature: He will have to cease behaving like a celebrity. Trump must relinquish spectacle, trading it in for the unglamorous business of governing.”
Wrong. The spectacle made us pay attention, more than we ever have, and the country will be better off for it.
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