Part III: The Trump Effect - How reality television and social media created President Trump
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States.
Something that seemed utterly unfathomable a year ago, is now a reality, sending a clear signal to Washington that a significant portion of the American voting public is unhappy with the status quo.
Based on the level of shock and surprise in the media this morning, it is clear, that they, along with the Democratic party underestimated the level of discontent.
In recent years, the media projected a view of America that was more enlightened and progressive than ever before, openly embracing the rights of the LGBT community and minorities of all kinds.
But reality is much different than media perception. In fact, a significant number of Americans held fast to more conservative principles and were concerned at the perceived liberal direction of the country.
A growing disquietude over the failure of ‘big government’ to tackle concerns over immigration, income inequality, the rise of ISIS, as well as domestic crime also took hold of the nation. Trump won big with rural voters and blue-collar working Americans – a portion of the population who felt ignored by Washington and perhaps more significantly, unrepresented in the media.
How he did it
It is arguable that Trump would never have won the nomination, let alone the presidency without two factors that are distinctly part of the modern era – reality television and social media.
While something of a celebrity for many years, his role on The Apprentice allowed him to cultivate the persona of a seasoned businessman – the kind of guy who knew how to make deals and build a billion-dollar business. It didn’t matter that Trump inherited a fortune and declared bankruptcy several times, the narrative created by the show is the one that resonated with audiences, and ultimately voters.
Time and time again we have heard his supporters argue that Trump’s business experience was a key factor in his election – in fact, his lack of political experience was viewed as a plus. Less politics, more business seemed to be the philosophy.
His campaign at times just seemed an extension of the Trump reality show – the ex-wives, the glamourous children, the unfiltered access, the utter lack of political correctness. It was a rollercoaster – as he offended women, minorities, politicians, picked fights with media – it was unlike anything we have ever seen in politics and it worked. America was hooked on the Donald Trump show.
It is worth remembering that while the media gave Trump an unprecedented amount of air time it was largely to criticize him and predict his downfall. Even Fox News, the conservative-leaning network didn’t endorse Trump until he was in effect the last Republican standing.
This hostility from the traditional media would have signaled the end of most political campaigns, but Trump’s effective use of social media – specifically Twitter, proved key in reaching voters directly and circumnavigating the usual channels of influence.
His rambling, often offensive tweets veered from entertaining to terrifying but they allowed him to tap directly into the pulse of the average American in a way that no other party candidate could match. The reality is while offensive to many, to many more Trump merely said what they were thinking.
In contrast, Clinton could never quite connect with the voting public at large in an authentic way. Irrespective of her depth of experience and qualifications for the job, voters opted for the less qualified but more ‘relatable’ Trump. He was the candidate that ‘told it like it is’, even if what he said was inaccurate or more than once an outright lie.
How a Manhattan-dwelling billionaire convinced America he was just an average guy like them is truly an impressive feat. It remains to be seen how long he can maintain that image as he takes office and must balance the interests of a deeply divided nation.
And while reality television and social media played to his strengths, navigating elected office is new territory for Trump. It is hard to imagine a President tweeting his every thought – his supporters who so embraced his unfiltered stream of thoughts and outsized character, will now expect results.
What he can deliver remains to be seen. And we have the next four years to find out.