Last Sunday, TV critic James Poniewozik wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times reminding us that Donald Trump is not a real person but confirming that he is a TV character. I found the article enlightening. As a psychotherapist by profession, I had been faux diagnosing Trump from the early days of his presidency with a slew of DSM-V labels: bipolar disorder for his erratic mood swings and rages; narcissistic personality disorder for his grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggeration of his achievements; paranoid personality disorder for his persistence in bearing grudges; and psychopathic personality disorder for his lack of guilt, empathy, his pathological lying and blame of others. But since I had never seen “The Apprentice” I had not thought of Trump as a TV character.
Poniewozik writes that Trump, born in 1946, grew up at the same time that American broadcast TV was being born and evolving. “TV was his soul mate. It was like him.” It captivated him. He had dreams of going to Hollywood but got involved with his father’s real estate business instead. However, everything he has achieved, he achieved by thinking like a TV camera with its red light on. And, he is on at all times. Bigger than life.
Poniewozik writes, “If you want to understand what President Trump will do in any situation, it’s more helpful to ask: What would TV do? What does TV want?” And you, reader, know exactly what you and TV want: more conflict, more excitement, more fights, more chaos. That’s why we all feel so exhausted.
The TV reality show that is Trump keeps his viewers in a state of fear and panic. In reality TV, a character does not attempt to understand another character; he or she is only there as an obstacle to defeat. There is no ability to imagine what it is to be a person other than oneself, to have empathy, say, for people fleeing murderous political regimes. That type of empathy is developed by real trained actors, not reality show personalities. Before Trump took office, he told his aids to think of everyday as “an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”
Just think about it: everyday he has a new enemy: AOC, The Squad, Crooked Hillary, Puerto Rico, even John Bolton who he pitted against Mike Pompeo. This past week when he fired Bolton and installed an “acting” National Security Chief, I thought of all the other contestants in Trump’s administration in acting roles: Acting FBI Chief, Acting Director of the CIA, Acting Homeland Security Chief, Acting Secretary of Labor and Acting Administrator of the Business Administration to name just a few. Trump isn’t interested in their expertise, he has said as much. No, they are “acting” as cabinet members but only as long as Trump keeps them as contestants in his reality show.