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‘You’re fired!’: Why we shouldn’t be surprised at the tumult at the heart of Trump’s ‘Apprentice’ presidency

Donald Trump's success in The Apprentice is influencing his Presidential approach

The succession of high-profile White House sackings is the clearest indicator yet that Donald Trump is modelling his presidency on his successful turn in the reality TV show 'The Apprentice', an American history expert has said.

Dr Melissa Milewski, American History lecturer at the University of Sussex, believes Trump is using the same tactics that brought him popularity as a reality TV star – with potentially disastrous consequences for the US.

Dr Milewski said: “As our new podcast shows, having a president from the celebrity world has real consequences. In the case of the first celebrity president, Ronald Reagan, it has been argued convincingly that his career in Hollywood strongly shaped his presidential character, his thinking and his language in the role. It is having even more powerful consequences in Trump's administration as the White House continues to be run in many important ways like ‘The Apprentice’.

“Different members of the administration are constantly being pitted against each other and then fired when they are seen as not succeeding, with Rex Tillerson's recent dramatic firing only the most recent example, while the nomination of Supreme Court justices has been treated like just another dramatic showdown between two potential winners.

“Like reality television programmes, the line between truth and ‘constructed reality’ has been unprecedentedly murky within the Trump administration. Unlike a reality television show, however, the consequences of these actions are international.”

Dr Milewski has just completed the latest episode of the Trump Watch Sussex podcast, in which she discusses with Trinity College Dublin’s Dr Daniel Geary how the celebrity backgrounds of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump shaped their elections and presidencies.

In the podcast, Dr. Geary suggests that the kinds of media worlds that both presidents came out of were very influential in their election and their actions as president.  He explains that while Reagan was shaped by his experiences in films in Old Hollywood, Trump has been moulded by his experiences with tabloid journalism and in reality television. As a result, the academics note, the rules of reality TV, laid down by the first notable US success Survivor, are often the same rules by which Trump lives by and the White House now operates.

Dr Geary observes how many of Trump’s speeches and tweets reflect a world of winners and losers, with ‘The Donald’ as the ultimate winner with the power to fire at will, while Dr Milewski points out how Trump employed reality TV methods in ramping up the tension over his delayed selection of Neil Gorsuch for his Supreme Court nominee.

But lying behind that winner’s confidence, Dr Geary argues there is tremendous anxiety borne out of an unhappy childhood from Trump that he himself might be a loser.

Dr Geary explained: “Trump was trying to always please his father, a man who could never be satisfied, so at some point Trump is afraid that he might not really be a winner but he gets to act out as a winner on ‘The Apprentice’.”

As 'The Apprentice' shapes Trump’s presidency, Dr Geary also argues Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood career was central to his motivation to become president - as famously noted by Berkeley professor Michael Rogin.

Dr Geary said: “Reagan was somewhat frustrated in Hollywood as he wanted to play the leading man, and got to play that as president, but because he had this sense of vulnerability, affability, it made him someone that Americans could relate to rather than a larger-than-life Hollywood star.”

Dr Geary also backs Rogin’s claims that a persistent confusion between fantasy and reality lay at the heart of Reagan’s presidency with the former actor reading out lines from his old scripts during speeches and supporting the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme because of its similarity to one featured in a film of his.

And while Reagan’s movie career meant he was happy sticking to the script and his role while allowing the experts in his team to focus on their areas, Trump’s 'Apprentice' persona means he sees himself as the all-knowing and all-powerful leader who can change the rules as and when the mood takes him.

Dr Geary adds: “For characters within a reality show, the extent to which they are showing a real side of themselves or to what extent they are being manipulated by the TV producers is up for debate. To some extent Trump was confused in his own mind about the image he gave on 'The Apprentice' and who he, Donald Trump, really was.”

The Trump Watch Sussex podcast series was launched last summer and is available for free on iTunes.

To listen to the latest podcast, visit iTunes or the Trump Watch Sussex website.


By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 22 March 2018

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