The chief TV critic of the New York Times sums it up: “Without TV, there’s no Trump.”
In his stellar debut, Poniewozik demonstrates how Trump, over a period of four decades, “achieved symbiosis” with the TV medium: “Its impulses were his impulses; its appetites were his appetites; its mentality was his mentality.” As TV evolved from America’s homogenizer (the three major networks) to fragmenter (cable TV), Trump “used the dominant media of the day—tabloids, talk shows, reality TV, cable news, Twitter—to enlarge himself, to become a brand, a star, a demagogue, and a president.” Recounting how Trump, who was born in 1946, grew up with TV, the author details how he cultivated a famous image and leveraged celebrity, becoming a reality TV star in the 2000s and a politician in the 2010s. “Playing ‘Donald Trump’ became his full-time job.” His telling analyses of Trump’s appearances on The Apprentice, Fox & Friends, and The Howard Stern Show will come as revelations to readers unfamiliar with those programs, on which Trump emerged as an antihero, known for “being real” rather than honest, in the manner of the not “conventionally likeable” people on reality TV. As Poniewozik writes, he “spent a lifetime in symbiosis with television, adopting its metabolism, learning to feed its appetites.” For Trump, cable TV news, with its “constant fear and passion” and need to “agitate their viewers, not settle them,” was a perfect fit. His daily tweeting is based on careful study of his most popular tweets—those provoking “shock, insult, rage.” The author chronicles Trump’s actions against a deeply insightful history of vast changes in the media and popular culture during the period. TV, he writes, proved “the perfect medium for his sensibility, for picking fights, for whipping up people’s hatred and fear and resentment, for taking the express lane around logic.”
This intelligent eye-opener belongs on the small shelf of valuable books that help explain how Trump created his base.