Trump Trauma: Where Reality TV Meets ‘Reality by Decree’

US president Donald Trump creating an Orwelian dystopia and a poor example for the youth. Tania Advani

IT’s 2004 AND, despite my best intentions, I’m a pop-culture junkie. While my one-year-old daughter is napping, I watch an episode of a new reality TV show, The Apprentice, hosted by New York real estate mogul, Donald Trump. The show’s premise: Sixteen to eighteen individuals, divided into two teams, test their business acumen by competing in a series of moneymaking challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump calls the losing team into an ersatz boardroom where he delivers his signature tag line, “You’re Fired!” to the individual he determines most guilty of gumming up the works.

I remember noting what seemed to me an unprecedented televised celebration of US capitalism with its corresponding culture of authoritarianism and non-empathy. Before ordering contestants out of the boardroom, Trump denounced each one with epithets such as stupid, terrible, or loser, all while the camera zeroed in on the very face of human shame and vulnerability. After viewing a few harrowing instances of this, I turned the damn thing off.

During the last decade or so, I’ve watched from afar as The Apprentice gave rise toCelebrity Apprentice, finally plopping Trump dead center in our political theater. When Trump won his run for the White House in 2016, I, along with most of the country, blinked in bewilderment, asking, How the f#%k did this happen?

Shows like The Apprentice, along with toxic right wing radio and Fox News, did much to reflect and bolster a culture of Americans who see humanity as inherently greedy and who regard empathy as being for losers and wimps.



The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article, or click here to read a PDF version of the full article.

Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 3:9-10

Chaia Heller has taught at the Institute for Social Ecology for thirty years and teaches anthropology at Mount Holyoke College. Heller recently published Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops with Duke University Press.
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