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Can Trump Actually Improve Washington?

Can Trump Actually Improve Washington?

January 6th, 2017 // 5:44 am @

The New Reality

Donald TrumpThe election is over, and the new Trump Administration has a problem. In fact, it’s a major problem. To begin with, governing is a whole different thing than running for office. And “draining the swamp of Washington” while also governing the nation is more than doubly difficult.

But the problem goes deeper. The very things that brought a Trump victory at the ballot boxes can be a serious liability in the White House.

Here’s why: Trump won in large part because he mastered the new media—something the Clinton team mocked and laughed at (until their shocked experience on election night).

In fairness, as Democratic strategist Van Jones pointed out, past media revolutions brought similar results. FDR used the radio to put together multiple winning elections, while opponents tried to stick with the old newspaper approach to media. Years later, Republicans were surprised by the rise of television media and how effectively JFK used it to create broad national popularity.

Another few decades, and the rise of Internet media changed the way presidential campaigns worked. While McCain and then Romney attempted to do things the old way, Obama and his team mastered social media and dominated two very effective campaigns.

Note that in all these cases, Democrats adapted to changing media realities while Republicans remained stuck in the old way. This changed in 2015-2016. As Jones put it, Trump tapped into a new media model—a nation of viewers steeped in Reality Television.

Neighbor or Villain

In this new medium, candidates win by emulating what winning participants do on reality TV. The quickest way to the stay on the show, week after week, is to jump in as the villain during week one. Say outrageous things, stir the pot, get a bunch of Americans hating you, boost the ratings, and do it every week. In fact, if you ever lose the focus of the camera, say more outrageous things. Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, even Duck Dynasty, Real Wives, Jersey Shore, etc.—this formula is effective.

The quickest way to lose in this format is simple: try to fit in, attempt to be popular, don’t make waves. Even worse: try to impress people. Today’s generation of Americans increasingly see this as acting like a politician. It feels slick and glib, a la Bill Clinton, Bush, Romney, Rubio, etc. Saying whatever you think the voters (or other contestants) will like is the sure road to losing. In contrast, in this new Reality Television media system, being the villain, saying outrageous things, and picking repeated fights, frequently brings victory.

This media shift shocked the Obama and Clinton machines in 2016, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had been proving the opposite for many months. But now the election is over, and a new reality is setting in.

It’s almost impossible to predict what this will mean in the years ahead. In the last three major media shifts, the new media worked both during the campaign and after. FDR used radio to his benefit during elections and even more while governing. Presidents did the same with television when it took over the media world. Online media kept Obama’s popularity high, and even helped boost his ratings on numerous occasions during the years between elections.

The question now is whether the newest media system, the Reality Television model of “Be the Outrageous Villain and Keep Doing It, Week after Week,” will work for the next four years. Think about it. This is a big deal.

Breaking or Building

Clearly the liberal mainstream media (led by NBC, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC, CNN, etc.) are an unwitting asset; they have shown they are willing to keep supporting Trump in this approach. They want to tear him down in any way they can, and as long as so many Americans distrust the media, this turns to his advantage.

If Trump wants to maintain this strategy in the months and years ahead, he’ll routinely support major reforms that drastically change Washington, he’ll pick a continuous series of fights with special interests and federal bureaucracies, and he’ll vilify someone new every few weeks.

In all this, he’ll usually blame the media. In fact, he’ll look for as many ways as possible to fault the media. The more the better. He’ll tweet, call names, use bombast, and overstate things, all in the name of stirring the pot and keeping the media focus on him and his policies.

The media will think it’s tearing him down, but if this strategy works he’ll be more popular than ever when the next election comes. If you think the mainstream media was shocked in the 2016 election, imagine how they’ll feel after attacking Trump for four years and seeing his electoral numbers increase in 2020. They’ll be positively apoplectic.

But here’s the rub. What a lot of people don’t want to hear is that this kind of bombastic, extreme tone is a lot more likely to coincide with truly, actually, “draining the swamp in Washington.” If the Trump Administration decides to try to play the mainstream media game and attempt to look like a Bush, Clinton, Bush II or Obama style system, we likely won’t see much real change in Washington.

Not So Revolutionary

Somehow the kind of professionalism and antidisestablishmentarianism [I can’t believe I actually just used one of the longest words in the English language is a serious sentence] exhibited by many presidential administrations create a tone of “Washington staying the same.” And that path guarantees bigger and bigger government. Not draining the swamp, but expanding it.

Consider the Reagan Revolution. It started out with what the establishment in both parties considered outrageous, extreme, and even irresponsible. But it also began by making some real changes. By Reagan’s second term, however, the administration wasn’t a revolution anymore. It started fitting in with the establishment, and by the time Bush was elected, the Reagan Administration was pretty much part of the establishment.

This led to the Gingrich revolution in 1992, which was considered extreme, irresponsible, and outrageous (sound familiar?), but by 1996 the Gingrich/Kasich Revolutionaries had become part of the establishment. The party of Reagan, Kemp, Gingrich and Limbaugh became the party of Dole, W, McCain, Romney, and Jeb. Not really a troop of boat-rockers.

It’s hard to tell where the Trump team is headed. Some of Trump’s White House and cabinet picks are from the revolutionary wing, while others are more establishmentarian. It’s a mix. Moreover, the tone out of Trump Tower and president-elect golf clubhouses is largely mild, professional–and leaning establishment.

The Real Challenge

This may be a smart chess move, keeping things hush-hush until after inauguration. Once the new president is in charge, his team will be a lot more effectively armed to take on the mainstream media.

But what if the Trump team takes the other approach? What if they decide they want to be popular? Or hope to get The NY Times, NBC, and CNN to like them? What if Trump hopes to be loved, or gets tired of being vilified, mocked, called a clown, a buffoon, and a devil? What if he wants popularity in New York and Washington? It might happen early, but even if it doesn’t happen for several years, the pressure will always be there.

The way the mainstream establishment fawned over Bill, Barack, Michelle, and Hillary—that’s a lot of incentive; and The Donald has, in the past, shown an affection for the spotlight and a particular aversion to being mocked or blamed.

trump-family-portrait

And beyond his own instincts of self-preservation: Will his chivalry for his wife or his allegiance to his youngest son (who have both been in the cross-hairs of some harsh media treatments in recent months) begin to figure into the equation? All things considered, who wouldn’t want to be loved and popularly lauded when faced with such extremes? Will this opportunity for validation and praise prove too compelling a siren song?

The hard-working voters in the rust belt, Southwest, or rural America will never be able to provide such flattery or accolades, even if they were inclined to do so. But such fawning isn’t even part of their culture. If President Trump wants that kind of love and admiration, he’s going to have to look for it in the elite class. (They’ll never give it to him, of course. They couldn’t even be objective about Dole, Bush, or McCain–committed cronies of the establishment, all.)

Whatever you think of the new president, if he’s actually going to drain the swamp, as promised, he’s going to have to play the villain. Week after week. Month after month.

In short: Being outrageous won’t be his problem. The challenge will be vanity. And endurance. Will he embrace the role of villain and drain the swamp no matter how bad the media attacks become? Or will he follow the pattern of many presidents before him and go after popularity—by increasing the size and scope of government?

Ultimately, the new president will have to make this choice. The consequences will drastically impact America in the months and years just ahead.

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2 Comments → “Can Trump Actually Improve Washington?”


  1. Kris Rytlewski

    7 months ago

    Dear Oliver,
    You may well be correct in your analysis of this situation. The formula for the reality TV genre certainly sounds correct and plausible. I feel though that President Elect Trump truly dislikes the mainstream media for who they are as mouthpieces for the globalists who are trying desperately to bring in a one world government. (The globalists elates actually own the MS media through 5 or 6 major corporations now as you know). And with Mr. Trump being a true nationalist who believes that nation states should be Sovereign and left to their own to decide their future, no matter how much he may desire acceptance by the MS media,, I sincerely doubt that he’ll abandoned his core beliefs for their accolades, or the accolades of the élites who have snubbed him his entire life! This is a message that he has driven into all of his children and I doubt he’ll do anything at this point in his life to disappoint or change direction on them and ruin his legacy. And if he wants acceptance by the real people with whom he identifies with and voted him into office, all he has to do is go to any major arena in the nation and “they will come” and give it to him!! And the MS media will be forced to cover it as he will be the sitting US President! I’ve read your books and agree with many positions you take in them Oliver, and I truly believe that the masses are finally waking-up and we are in the throes of a new “Leadershift” that will bring us prosperity and truth for the next 100 years and hopefully beyond. Let us pray and do all we can do as individuals to increase our levels of influence and influence as many people around us as we can to spread the message of truth, freedom and liberty as the Founding Fathers had hoped we would. We still have time to save this Great Nation and the “Leadershift” has just begun! Thank you Oliver for all you do in your articles and books! You have influenced me and many others! Please continue to fight for our Liberty and help us to restore this once great Republic!! May God truly bless you and your Family!


  2. David

    7 months ago

    Wow… What a great article! This will be the test. My prayer is that Trump will stay as outrageous as necessary to get real reform, and freedom on the docket. That said, I hope he doesn’t severely anger other world leaders to the point of causing problems to the US.


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