Donald Trump is the presidential candidate that reality TV made. An electorate trained in voting contestants on and off shows like “American Idol” wants to keep him around because he makes things interesting. Instead of any plausible policy stance, Mr. Trump has built his campaign around an entertaining TV persona.
Reality television has always been fixated on the trappings of wealth, from the Real Housewives to the Kardashians and Vanderpumps. In that sense, it’s no different from any popular entertainment, from 19th-century novels to “Dynasty.” We like stories about the rich for a lot of reasons — they live out our aspirations, and their mistakes and foibles shrink the gulf between their lives and ours. In a sense, Mr. Trump’s immersion in the medium of reality TV normalizes his wealth. He connects with an audience for whom he represents the sort of rich guy they would be if they had the money.
Even if Mr. Trump’s poll numbers do begin to dwindle as the G.O.P. electorate gets to know him better, he’ll continue to draw an audience. In fact, Mr. Trump may be even more entertaining as an underdog, when he’ll have even less incentive to play nice.
That’s because reality shows thrive on high stakes, and there’s nothing higher than leadership of the No. 1 country in the world. Nobody tunes in to “Deadliest Catch” to watch a routine fishing trip — we want to feel that the boat could capsize at any moment and four tons of king crabs could crush the greenhorn beneath their writhing weight.
So, no surprise: Mr. Trump rates. Love him or hate him, he makes us feel as if the future of our country is teetering on the precipice. It might be entertaining to watch our country implode under his leadership, but one of the great pleasures of reality television is being able to turn it off when you’ve had enough.
Seth Grossman, “Donald Trump, Our Reality TV Candidate”, The New York Times (27 September 2015), SR4.