Remember the good old days when the media were certain that after Donald Trump lost the election he’d launch his own television channel? Son-in-law Jared Kushner met with media dealmakers to lay the groundwork, and a small alt-shop called Right Side Broadcasting Network earned the nickname “Trump TV” by producing post-debate analysis on Donald’s Facebook page. There was even excited speculation that Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would bail on Fox News to join their old boss Roger Ailes at an all-Trump-all-the-time, sexual-harassment-friendly workplace.
This new, Breitbart-flavored media empire would, many of us feared, make Trump’s birther campaign to delegitimize President Obama look like a dress rehearsal and Fox look like a poodle. Trump TV would not only hound President Hillary Clinton 24/7, with pitchfork demands for her head, it would operate as a government in exile, in your living room and on your handheld device—menacing, unaccountable, and, most frighteningly, more entertaining than anything the official administration could muster.
Well, never mind. Come the next presidency, Trump TV will, in effect, be on all channels all the time—and Donald “OPM” Trump won’t have to put up a dime. Nearly all news will revolve around Trump, more even than it already does. Syria and immigration, police violence and school vouchers, hate crimes, sex crimes, terrorism, gossip, Social Security—all will reflect aspects of Trump’s brain. His personality will saturate the fabric of the media far more deeply than Obama’s, W’s, or Bubba’s ever did.
Donald Trump’s unique relationship to the media has often been noted. He is both its creature—tabloid cover model, star of The Apprentice, cable news and Twitter addict—and a master media manipulator. But now he’s crossed into something like a Twilight Zone plot: It’s as if television has beamed a 3-D avatar of President Trump into our dimension to rule us in its stead.
He is the culmination of everything that commercial television produces and depends upon: celebrity, a short attention span, enough dramatic conflict to reliably “deliver eyeballs” (yours) to advertisers, and the ad language of puffery. It’s understandable that some Trump voters weren’t bothered by the wild exaggerations and lies; that’s the commercial world we all grew up in. There’s a pleasure in buying—and buying into—things, even hollow crap, even fake news. Whether or not you experience buyer’s remorse when you don’t lose weight or when you, say, lose your Medicare, the pleasure is in the initial surrender—in not having to question, in a fuck-the-facts, fuck-it-all freedom. TV and vast swaths of the Internet tell you again and again, in one way or the other, if you just buy this, your dreams can come true. Without a blush, candidate Trump once told supporters that electing him would “make possible every dream you’ve ever dreamed.”