Unreality TV

Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ rhetoric shows how his television obsession informs his decision-making.

Unreality TV

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

Aug. 9, 2017, at 4:46 p.m.

Vice News reported Tuesday that President Donald Trump is presented with a folder, twice a day, of glowing press reports, tweets, transcripts and even screen shots from TV news he may have missed, with photos of himself and laudatory comments.

According to the article, the only feedback the White House communications operation has gotten is “it needs to be more f******g positive.” Lovely.

Judging from his daily barrage of self-serving tweets, it appears that the only approach to gain favor with him is to flatter, praise and preach to the choir. As we know, his main channels for information are not books, studies, lengthy memos (or even short ones), but the television. The almighty television.

I have had a theory for a long time that those of us who grew up as baby boomers grew up as the real focus of modern television during the 1950s and 60s. Our parents came of age during radio and movies; our children and grandchildren have been the digital generation, with cellphones, games, all manner of hand held devices and programming on demand.


Trump is the ultimate “tuber” who has carried his obsession with television into a method of decision making. When we were kids the programs such as “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” “Bonanza,” “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Lone Ranger” all had one thing in common: They all solved a problem or crisis in one quick half-hour or hour. The characters were introduced, the plot established quickly, the heroes and villains identified and, by the end, everything was neatly tied up in a bow. No fuss, no muss and good triumphed. We got used to a simple world, where the TV sitcom defined America and we got used to easy answers, unquestioned values and a paternalistic, very white, WASP culture.

Of course, none of that was ever true, but it took the turbulence of the late 1960s and the rapid evolution of our culture to produce accelerated social change. I am afraid that Trump has been engulfed in the baby boom television era for far too long – he has clearly exploited it with his celebrity culture, “The Apprentice” and pushing the hot buttons in today’s politics. He certainly has played on today’s cynicism and anger, and has promised to take us back “to those golden, thrilling days of yesteryear” – when TV was king.



So when he says that North Korea should expect the “fire and fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he seems to be taking a page from a 1950s Western, not from any sense of modern diplomatic history. Can you imagine President John F. Kennedy using such terms during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or President Dwight Eisenhower issuing such threats during the Soviet put-down of the 1956 Hungarian uprising?

The statement from Trump was calculated and deliberately bombastic. It’s sad, really, when we had the world behind us in the 15-0 vote at the United Nations for added sanctions and increased isolation of North Korea. The objective is not to bring about a war, but to avoid one by ensuring that the Chinese and the Russians put added pressure on Kim Jong Un and his generals.

Trump seems to be still living in that television world of yesteryear, where he cannot resist constant simplicity, over-the-top language and egotistical, self-aggrandizing rhetoric. The problem is that such sitcom behavior will not play so well in the real situation room.