Trump Is a Television Star. Can That Win Him the Election?

Donald Trump is great TV; Hillary Clinton isn’t. Can it be that these facts will decide the U.S. election?

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 8, 2016.
Mike Segar, Reuters

As things stand now – and they rarely stand still – the forthcoming U.S. elections are a double-tiered Schrodinger’s cat-in-the-box conundrum. The cat is supposedly both alive and dead under his box’s closed lid. At this stage, with November ballot boxes still unopened, their contents undisclosed, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are simultaneously presidents and also-rans. To top that, as Benjamin Schwartz put it in a caption for his recent New Yorker cartoon: “I believe Trump is positing some form of Schrodinger’s elections – simultaneously fair and rigged until the results are in.”

It will not be over until the famously fat lady croons her swan song at the inauguration, but Michael Rosenblum has already predicted (Huffington Post, August 21) with grim determination that “Donald Trump is going to be elected,” polls notwithstanding. His reasoning – and it does stand to reason – is as follows: “Trump understands how Americans actually think. They think TV. They think ratings. They think entertainment. We are a TV-based culture. And Donald Trump is great TV. He knows how to entertain. He understands TV. Hillary Clinton is crap TV. She may be smarter, better prepared, a better politician. It won’t matter. She is terrible entertainment. That’s just how it is. Depressing, but true.” Rosenblum blames American TV, which peddles mindless entertainment to the masses, for the dumbing down of the common American mind, echoing notions presented almost 30 years ago in Allan Bloom’s 1987 book “The Closing of the American Mind.” And mind you, the terrifying notion that Trump will win because he is better TV is presented even before the TV debates, the ones in which Nixon lost the 1960 elections to JFK due to his five-o’clock shadow, and Kennedy’s much better TV screen savvy.

Apart from the yawning gap between the contenders’ screen appeal and TV entertainment acumen, it looks like the matter boils down to a showdown between “the healthiest presidential candidate” and “the woman who can’t make up her e-mails,” or between the guy who climbs a wall he has not built yet, and the gal who does not remember which server best serves her best interests.

As the world turns, and has been turning for some time already, and hopefully will keep on turning (and that depends very much on whose finger gets to be on the red button) it has become a global village. (Hillary penned a book titled “It Takes a Village.”)

We Israelis have a TV-based culture just as the Americans do, with our TV channels and cable stations spewing out gushing streams of mindless entertainment, some of it imported (most of that from the U.S.A.) and some of it home-made. There are some newscasts in between, most of them being “infotainment,” entertainment disguised as news, or vice versa. The notion behind it is that “the public” has a very short attention span, and therefore is neither willing nor able to think straight for more than mere seconds; so if you do have a message, keep it short, sharp (hence, the sound bite), clear and simple. Which starts a vicious circle – vice squad should be alerted – of shunning complexity, a stunning disregard for the simple fact that “reality,” as opposed to “reality TV,” is a very complex matter.

Here in Israel we have just had a perfect (or rather imperfect) example of a concerted effort to dumb down the Israeli mind. The minister of education, Naftali Bennett (N.B., the guy who tries to forge a new balance in Israeli students’ minds) has announced, on TV (of course) his plan to change the ways in which young Israelis study English. In his view – and he is well versed in the American way of life, having been a high-tech entrepreneur – Israeli students should first and foremost study how to compose e-mails in proper English (presumably to enable Hillary Clinton to get the message) rather than study plays by one William Shakespeare. “Less Shakespeare, more practical” was N.B.’s message to the media, clear and simple.

Trying to be as practical as can be under the circumcised circumstances, I embarked on a time-travel trail and projected Minister Bennett’s idea forward into the past, to the spirit of the Swan of Avon. Allowing for some lapses of time and mind, here is an e-mail that landed recently in Minister Bennett’s inbox (leaked to me courtesy of a server of too many masters):

From: wshakespeare@elizabeth1.co.uk

To: nbennett@edu.gov.il

Dear Sir,

Methinks thou hast been much mistaken

If rumors can for truths be taken

If thou believest composing proper e-mails

Studying less of my writings entails.

Thou criest: less Shakespeare, and more practical,

Which, in my mind’s eye, is blatantly hypocritical.

Consider thus: In one of my plays

An elder long and winding tale portrays

Trying, in vain, so fool is he

To gather whether Hamlet yearns to be or not to be.

To him the Queen unveils her heart

And asks for “more matter with less art.”

And he, Polonius, obeys, the old fart.

The moral of the tale, if truth be told

Should make you put your plans on hold

As Polonius, who gets promptly practical

Is stabbed to death in manner most unequivocal,

Having been mistakenly taken for a rat.

I think I’ll leave you to ponder that.

With as much honour as it deems me to profess,

I remain your most obedient servant, William S.

And although these days, weather-wise, bring to mind Cole Porter’s song “Too Darn Hot” (Trump does not believe in global warming), it is another of his songs from the same musical, “Kiss Me, Kate,” that pops up, a remnant of those good old times when one was wooing (members of the other sex, or the public) with the words of the immortal Bard, and not with sexting. From “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”:

Brush up your Shakespeare,

Start quoting him now.

Brush up your Shakespeare,

And the women you’ll wow.

Just declaim a few lines from ‘Othella’

And they’ll think you’re a heckuva fella.

If your blond won’t respond when you flatter ‘er

Tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer.

And if still, to be shocked, she pretends well,

Just remind her that ‘All’s Well That Ends Well.’

Brush up your Shakespeare

And they’ll all kowtow.

Will Shakespeare turn out to be Trump’s losing card? That’s for all of us to find out, in time, watching the entertainment on TV.