It was a throwaway line in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews—but one that briefly, if inadvertently, revealed the depth of Donald Trump’s cynicism and the toxic churning of current U.S. political culture.
Matthews was pressing foreign-lobbyist-turned Trump adviser Paul Manafort for details on how his boss planned to energize the Republican National Convention, where the former star of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice is expected to accept the GOP presidential nomination.
MATTHEWS: How? What do you do? Do you have movies?
MANAFORT: We’re going to put a program together. It’s not put together yet—
MATTHEWS: A reality show of some kind?
MANAFORT: This is the ultimate reality show. It’s the presidency of the United States.
It’s one thing to compare the four-day convention to a television show. Sponsored by corporations, scripted by writers, and staged by Hollywood producers, presidential conventions long ago stopped serving a purpose beyond making money and winning (approval) ratings wars.
It’s another to call the presidency a reality show. But that’s what Manafort did.
In his fifth decade of national GOP politics, Manafort could have made the point that celebrity has been a part of American politics since General George Washington converted his fame into the first presidency. Manafort could have said politicians are entertainers and consultants are their promoters, drawing from a history rich in both: the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, and Ronald Reagan’s mastery of television stagecraft.