Trump Reflects Changes in American Culture

Critics of Donald Trump love to state that he is a clown, his campaign speeches are reminiscent of a carnival sideshow, his language is too outrageous, he tends to argue too much, and he fights back when attacked.  He does not practice the sort of calm demeanor, tone, and professionalism we are accustomed to seeing in political candidates who run for the White house.

But what these critics may not realize is that in the last fifteen years, America's cultural tone has changed.  Donald Trump's mannerisms and antics simply reflect changes in American culture.  The change was signaled by the sudden and unexpected popularity of a television program that portrayed people as rude, argumentative, condescending, petty, and engaging in all kinds of treachery and improper behavior in order to become top dog on an island.

Today, a number, perhaps the majority, of TV commercials and programs are being  produced to reflect this sea change in American TV viewing preferences.  Here are some of the differences.

In the past, TV programs that focused on home remodeling or household repair were of the "how-to" variety.  The narrator explained how, step by step, to hang a chandelier or replace a faucet.  Now these shows are more likely to feature what goes wrong.  There are arguments between the installers – the person who went to buy the faucet bought the wrong one, and it doesn't fit.  The chandelier slipped out of somebody hands and broke, denting the family heirloom dining room table.  The couple who own the house don't like it.  The husband and wife argue over want they wanted to do and over who said what.

There's no more calm presentation of an informational nature.  Now it's all about controversy, missteps, breakage, overly expensive projects, and arguments.  The focus is on interpersonal dynamics of disagreement, conflict, and anger. 

Programs that show how gold is mined in the Yukon now spend the majority of program time on breakdowns, arguments over who's right, and who made the mistake that resulted in the breakage.  These are all things that were ignored in the past.

The great dancers in 1930s movies like Fred Astaire used to film their routines 20 or 30 times or more until they were perfect.  Viewers wanted to see what was perfect, what a great achievement it was.

Newsreels on Saturday afternoons during WWII never showed young dead Americans, never showed losses or failures.  The body counts during the Vietnam War TV reports were always famously distorted.  Two hundred Vietcong were killed for every twenty Americans who died.  Prior to that, nothing was reported but victory.

Now the opposite is shown on TV war reports: buildings blown up, cars twisted into wreckage, children who lose arms and legs.  Only the tragedy, suffering, loss, and angst are featured on the news.

Into this new zeitgeist comes Donald Trump.  He is very accomplished in the private world, very competent in the business arena, but very impatient and insulting.   He is intolerant of traditional politicians and calls them incompetent, stupid, political hacks.  No major political figure would speak this way in the past. 

But just as TV has changed and viewers no longer need to be reassured that all is right in the best of all possible worlds, TV viewers want to see arguing, anger, failure, loss, and destruction.  They want reality.

Those who feel it's insightful to call Trump a reality TV star are only half right.  He is reflecting reality, but there are two aspects to this portrayal.  One is that politicians always screamed and yelled and called each other names; it just wasn't shown on TV.  The other issue is that Trump's critics are behind the times.  Trump is much smarter: he knows that people want to see reality.  He knows that the most successful TV commercials don't show people with perfect hair and makeup; rather, they show the sweat, blood, and mishaps of real life.

This means that Americans may be jaded by traditional TV.  Now there are all kinds of TV shows that depict people trying to make money selling antiques, deciding what to grow in a garden, or digging for gold and fossils.  The down and dirty details of reality are what Americans want to see.

But while mired in reality rhetoric, Trump has also triumphed in reality.  He built real estate projects when everyone else failed.  He files for bankruptcy when his companies are no longer profitable.

Americans have decided they want a realist in government – a realist who can get things done and avoid the quagmire of the failed federal policies of the past.  Americans want someone who is not connected to federal failures.  They want somebody to kick people out of Washington, fire the incompetents, and not shelter uncaring VA officials in their overpaid jobs. 

The move to reality started many years ago.  Trump is the first person to understand it.

Most important, since he speaks off the cuff and does not read a lifeless teleprompter as Obama does, reciting the tired rhetoric needed to get elected, voters sense he is the real thing.  He intuitively gives the right answers, has the right perspective.  And even though he is wealthier than any of the candidates, he didn't have to sell government influence to get high speaking fees like Bill Clinton in order to become a millionaire. 

He earned it in the real world, the tough world, the world of arguing, loss, failure, and anger.  Voters are tired of phony success.  This standard doesn't apply to Trump. 

Political pundits have warned for months that Trump is on the edge and that any day now, he will be rejected by voters.  That he is not politically correct, he shouldn't speak of building a wall with Mexico, he's asking for trouble if he doesn't allow Hillary to label him a sexist without fighting back.  That he should never dare to answer the pope. 

No one can spontaneously answer politically dangerous questions the right way as does Donald Trump.  Everyone else is so carefully manicured and his words so carefully controlled he is not spontaneous.  Trump is.  These qualities cannot be faked, cannot be set up in controlled interview sessions.

Because Trump appeals to how the voters feel, and automatically understands their lives and their need for a real person, many voters are seeing him as the real deal.

Trump is popular not because he is manipulating the voters.  He's popular because the culture has changed.  The voters changed first.