01 July 2017

Policy, Politics, and Personalities

Donald Trump has shown no interest in healthcare policy in the midst of the most important debate on the topic in a decade but he has obsessed over a feud with two TV personalities. If it seems odd that a president would ignore fundamental issues in a signature promise of Republicans (repeal and replace Obamacare) but tweet incessantly about a couple that maybe 1% of Americans watch regularly, you are forgetting something. It was his mastery in getting ratings - not his mastery of policy - that got him elected. Trump didn't come to national attention as a policy maker or politician; he gained fame as a reality TV star. He has no interest in policy matters or debates but does obsess over other TV stars.

I've gradually come to accept that my own fascination with policy sets me apart from many (most?) voters who instead find politics - who is more popular and why - more interesting. Politics is one step removed from policy but now, Trump has taken us one step further away: we've moved from politics to personality.

It's easy to think that he's got an interest in politics because he ran. I don't think that's it. I think he's interested in Fox News and the way that various personalities get higher or lower ratings. He knows how to drive ratings and is happy to tweet the most outrageous things to distract the world from politics or policy. Winning the presidency shows the ultimate ratings mastery.

He would glaze over in a conversation between Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and FDR as they discussed government and society and would at best contribute little platitudes that sound like they were lifted from a 7th grader's essay. By contrast, he would light up in a discussion between Roger Ailes (who made Fox popular), Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory, and other popular TV shows), and Rush Limbaugh as they discussed ratings and would be able to contribute incredibly insightful suggestions about how to raise ratings.

Trump has no interest in policy beyond what it does for his ratings. He promised not to touch Medicare and is now pushing a bill that would slash it in part because he's a liar and in part because he just doesn't care; promising to protect Medicare meant higher ratings during the election; now pushing for a GOP bill that cuts Medicare means higher ratings during his presidency.

Cerebral discussions don't drive high ratings. Visceral arguments do. Trump puts the id in ideology.

He's off to a G20 summit where world leaders will discuss big and important issues. As they obsess over the environment or economy he will obsess over which world leaders insulted him and which ones flattered him. As it turns out, the instincts that give you the ability to raise ratings overlap with the instincts that keep you popular in middle school. It's not just that Trump's intellect is woefully underdeveloped; his stunted emotional development makes him can't miss twitter.

Policy under Trump is atrocious. Politics is in shambles. You would think that all of that would matter but it doesn't. What matters is personality and Trump's keeps the nation riveted.

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