Politics in America / Television

“The sessions are extraordinary for the rare glimpses they provide of unscripted conversations at the White House on critical issues”

The chief executive sits at a long wooden table, putting his invited guests on the spot to defend their positions, occasionally needling them with biting comments, often shocking them with blunt talk — all for a rapt television audience.

The tableau was a routine occurrence on President Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” punctuated each week for one unlucky contestant with his signature “You’re fired!”

Now, it has become a staple of life at the White House, where Mr. Trump is presiding over a different kind of televised ritual: the hour-long discussion session with members of Congress or ordinary citizens.

In West Wing meetings over the past several weeks, Mr. Trump has held discussions on immigration, school safety and gun control with cameras rolling and attendees speaking their minds.

The sessions are extraordinary for the rare glimpses they provide of unscripted conversations at the White House on critical issues. They have featured plot twists of their own, with the president, at least while viewers are tuned in, breaking sharply with his own party.

They are also a form of performance art for a president who has the instincts of a showman, and whose focus on building suspense and captivating an audience drives many of his decisions. Like the fiery, freewheeling rallies that powered his campaign, the presidential “listening sessions” are one way in which Mr. Trump has brought his reality show instincts to his next act as a politician.

The meetings have produced little in the way of concrete movement on major policy issues, and some Republican officials complain privately that they have only undercut the potential for such progress, because they show a president devoid of clear views. But they are nothing, lawmakers in both parties agree, if not entertaining.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Trump’s New Reality Show Airs Live From the West Wing”, The New York Times (4 March 2018), 18.