Trump's victory was sealed in the arena in which he was most comfortable: television. And his manipulation of the medium will change US politics for good.
“She doesn’t have the stamina” boomed Donald Trump way back when he was trying to cash in on Hillary’s bout of pneumonia. “I said she doesn’t have the stam-in-a. I don’t believe she has the stamina.”
Got it? Mrs Clinton has a stamina problem. In case you didn’t quite get the message, Donald employed his favourite televisual trick, the three-peat. Say something three times and it’ll hit home.
Here he is on his border control policy to conduct rigorous checks on all Muslims as they arrive in the land of the alleged free: “I call it extreme vetting. Ex – treme vetting. It’s called extreme vetting.” Extreme vetting it is then.
Say what you like about Mr Trump (and let’s face it, most of us do), but he’s a master of seducing the crowd with simple, short and not necessarily sweet slogans. Make America great again, build the wall, drain the swamp, crooked Hillary, lock her up… these potent banalities provided the vacuous soundtrack to the emptiest presidential campaign in American political history.
While the billionaire New Yorker spewed his catchy chorus lines, multi-millionaire New Yorker Hillary swiftly abandoned substance and gamely matched like with like with her ever-present rictus grin and her meaningless refrain “Stronger together”. But everything about her botched bid for the White House betrayed a vastly inferior understanding of the crucial medium that matters, TV.
If you’re wondering why an ill-informed, shameless braggart who has never held public office stormed to sensational victory over an experienced, serious politician, to borrow and amend a phrase, it was the box what done it. As a former star of the awful U.S. version of The Apprentice, Donald Trump knew precisely how to use the telly to boost his appeal. In stark contrast, Hillary looked like a Washington insider doing her best not to be too dazzled by the cameras. And failing.
She was just on TV. He embraced TV. His raucous campaign may have been tragically lacking in policy statements but its meticulous eye for presentational detail delivered a winning formula. “Look at me with Jay Z, Beyoncé and Katy Perry,” whispered Hillary, happy to be outshone by celebrities. “Look at ME!” roared Donald. He didn’t share the screen. He owned it.
Cut to that impressive Trump jet taxying across the runway, zoom in as the door opens and the great man stands there like a benevolent king waving to his adoring subjects. His dark suit, white shirt and primary coloured tie all carefully calculated to project a striking image tailor made for the television.
Now over to little Hillary missing the moment by merely getting off the plane in another of those unflattering Chairman Mao trouser suits that make her seem much shorter than her 5ft 7ins (1.7mtrs?). And is that her hair? Or a lacquered helmet? In fairness, on the Barnet front she’s head and shoulders above her rival. But then again, who isn’t?
In the three worst-ever presidential TV debates, Donald reduced what should have been a frank exchange of informative views to a playground slanging match. Naturally funnier than Hillary (but not in a good way), he employed the power of the insult. Calling your opponent names is much more entertaining than taking the trouble to explain your policies. On the off chance you have any.
Anyway, thank God the shabby show is over. After a bitter battle for votes that debased America and turned the self-styled greatest country on Earth into a global laughing stock, surely we shall not see its like again? In your dreams.
The saddest thing of all about this woeful war of weasel words between two terrible candidates was that proper politicians were watching and learning. Donald’s barrel-scraping television tactics chalked up a new low, but they were frighteningly effective. Having already consigned hopeless Hillary and her plodding earnestness to the scrapheap, Washington’s smartest operators will be working out how to follow in Trump’s triumphant footsteps. This, I fear, is the rancid future.
In American politics if you’re no good on the box, you’re no good. That Trump succeeded in his impossible mission to upset the establishment applecart is as astonishing as it is illuminating. Consider his dubious track record. He was forced to apologise for boasting about sexually assaulting women and his inflammatory speeches alienated millions of Latinos and Blacks. He is absurd, orange perma-tanned, prone to gormless gaffs and instead of normal hair sports a nesting ferret on his head. He is also the 45th president of the United States of America.
No one is going to risk not going for the lowest common denominator again. All future candidates will be charismatic figures regurgitating pithy platitudes just for the cameras. Goodbye real politics, hello reality TV.
All stars and stripes, brass bands and banner-waving razzmatazz, the presidential election is a TV spectacular. And the Trump-Clinton soap opera changed the rules of the game. For the worse. Of all the artful lies that were told throughout the corrosive campaign, Hillary’s laughable “When they go low, we go high” was the least believable.
From now on, depressingly, White House challengers will follow Donald’s descent to previously unexplored depths. Intelligent argument will be replaced by juvenile shallowness. It doesn’t matter if what you promise isn’t true. People trust what they see on the telly. Just assure the middle-American masses they’ll be better off with you and let the powerful prism of television work its magic.
Build the wall and get Mexico to pay for it? Has there ever been a more ludicrous load of nonsense dressed up as a policy? Basically, an outrageous fib. And yet it resonated. Staring into the lens with fierce intent, Trump was on top three-peat form. “Gonna build a wall, folks. Build the wall. Gonna build a wall. And they’re gonna pay for it.” No, they’re not. But as a telly soundbite, it was dynamite.
Hillary’s dazed Democrats soon realised that the traditional route of laying out your policies and hoping the electorate approve was a one-way street to oblivion. Donald proved that approach is way too complicated for TV. He went low and so they did too. Never mind what the second President Clinton would be like, concentrate on rabble-rousing nightmares. Down they went to his moronic level. Do you really want Trump’s finger on the nuclear button? The answer was yes.
Despite being a dead loss in print, Trump remained must-see TV. Nothing stuck to Teflon Don because whenever he was hit by his latest scandal he simply hit the screen and denied it. Or issued a grudging apology and moved on. When the FBI exonerated Clinton for her email indiscretions, Donald carried on calling her a criminal and created his own through-the-looking-glass televised truth.
During those rambling addresses to the devoted disciples at his extraordinary rallies, dangerous Donald’s unpredictability was mesmerising. Predicting that gun-control Hillary would be shot by disgruntled gun-owners. Threatening to punch a protester in the face. Mimicking a disabled reporter. Squabbling with the Pope, for God’s sake! The Trump TV show in full flow was tawdry but car-crash compelling. Alec Baldwin’s hilarious impression on Saturday Night Live was brilliant. But the Donald was beyond parody. And the joke backfired.
Something irrevocable has happened to American politics. Never exactly an uplifting spectacle, the Washington circus has now plummeted into an abyss of cynicism. The next Republican candidate will be a disciplined version of Trump whose command of television will be even more skilfully manipulative. And the Democrat will be down in the gutter with them fighting inane fire with inane fire, churning out the same superficial tosh. Three times.
This article first appeared in The New European.