If you ask any American who Kim Kardashian is – other than perhaps one of her 34 million Twitter followers – they’ll likely tell you she is a vapid, self(ie) obsessed brunette with a propensity for public displays of nudity who leads a reality show band of dysfunctional misfits. They’d be right of course, but that wouldn’t be whole story.
That characterization would miss the fact that she is a brilliant marketer and businesswoman who has successfully harnessed rapidly evolving social media for a decade, and in turn attracted the attention of millions of young fans at a time when young people are notorious for having short attention spans. She has in turn turned those millions of fans into hundreds of millions of dollars not only for herself and her family, but for E! and a wide swath of the American publishing industry.
Good or bad, Kim Kardashian is an American cultural icon. So too is Donald Trump. When it comes to self promotion, Kim’s a piker as Trump has been at it for almost four decades – although she has ten times as many Twitter followers.
And now, in perhaps the greatest example of self promotion in human history, Donald Trump is running for President. And he just might win. In the world of political media, where seasoned politicians have spent years cultivating messages and controlling coverage, Trump is running the table. Although there are currently 17 candidates for the GOP nomination, from a media perspective there is really only one. He is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room… and as a result many seasoned and successful politicians will not survive for long.
And he’s doing it on someone else’s dime, despite the fact that he could afford to spend 10 times what everyone else in the field could, combined. Just as Kim Kardashian has leveraged the media to benefit herself, Donald trump has leveraged the media to put himself at the front of the pack. While Rick Perry, the extraordinarily successful governor of Texas is eliminating the paychecks of his staff, Trump has spent nary a dime advertising his campaign. Just as you may not like the way Kardashian gets coverage, she’s very good at it… and so is Trump. It’s neither the fault of Kardashian or Trump that America is celebrity obsessed. They simply take advantage of it.
But to write Trump off as a mere celebrity would be a mistake. He’s that, but much more. He is a consummate operator. Although he was born with a quarter billion dollar silver spoon in his mouth, to his credit he has improved on what he was born with twenty fold. Certainly there have been very public stumbles along the way, but each time he has recovered, spectacularly.
For those gnashing their teeth as to how it’s possible that a celebrity, with what might charitably called shaky conservative principals, could be leading the GOP field, they’re missing the forest for the trees. Donald Trump is not leading the field just because he’s a celebrity. He’s not leading the field because he said Mexico is operating a modern day Mariel boatlift and he’s going to build a wall to stop it. He’s not leading because he said something rude about Megyn Kelly. While those all have contributed, he’s leading because Americans think he can and will get something done… particularly building the wall.
In A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House Arthur M. Schlesinger recounts a story about the president’s brother Robert F. Kennedy… if I remember it correctly! As Attorney General RFK noticed a sign on the GW Parkway indicating the exit for CIA headquarters. He called someone in charge to get the sign removed. Months later the sign was still there. He called again. Months later the wheels of bureaucracy had still not turned and the sign was still there. Finally Kennedy called the Parkway gardener and told him to take it down personally… and it was gone.
Americans see that nothing works in Washington. America has become that sign. Cameras catch thousands of illegals crossing into the country every single day for decades and yet Washington can do nothing. Regardless of how much money is spent on welfare it keeps growing. The tax code is so complex that the people who wrote it don’t even understand it. Government has become V’Ger from the first Star Trek movie; it’s taken on a life of its own, with no master.
Rightly or wrongly, Americans think that Trump can be government’s master. He may not say the right things, he may be a crony capitalist of the highest order, he may have an ego the size of the Empire State Building… but he gets things done. America sees itself as the Wolman Rink of the world, and the Washington establishment is the Koch administration.
Sadly, the GOP establishment and the media don’t get that. In what is perhaps the most inane interview in political history, Bradley Blakeman, a former Bush administration official complained that Trump doesn’t have the infrastructure, the boots on the ground that campaigns usually have. He decries the fact that Trump has not announced who his advisors are, hasn’t spent any money on a campaign and doesn’t have what’s necessary to get voters out to the primaries. Americans don’t care if Trump spends a dollar on his campaign. They don’t care that he doesn’t have an army of advisors telling him the right thing to say, the name of the president of Burundi or what the new EPA regulations stipulate about CO2 emissions. Americans don’t want someone who can ace a civics test. They want someone who can get things done. Trump does that.
Blakeman, like the GOP establishment, misses the fundamental point. The point of campaigns is to get voters excited and get them to vote, not to build infrastructure or hire campaign strategists. The establishment fears Trump because he can win without them. He doesn’t need them or their cabal to succeed. Like Ronald Reagan before him, Trump can and does take his case directly to the American people. And if a president doesn’t need the establishment… their power is gone… and with it their privilege. Then they will have to figure out how to compete in the real world, where effort and results drive success, something they are not particularly accustomed to doing.
Of course, Reagan had a long track record of success in government experience before he entered the White House. Trump does not. For six years we’ve lived with the consequences of a president who has no executive experience in government. It’s been a disaster. But it’s been a disaster not because Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing, but rather because Barack Obama is an anti-American anti-free market narcissist with dictatorial proclivities. Donald Trump too is a narcissist and may have dictatorial proclivities and none of his books are titled Wealth of Nations… but he’s nothing if not rabidly pro-American.
Actual voting is still months away and by January Trump may have faded from view like most of the males who enter the Kardashian universe. But until then, Donald Trump is giving Americans something they crave, someone who promises to go to Washington and change the rules, break the bureaucracy and get something done. In the process he’s doing the nation a great service that hopefully will outlive his campaign… reminding Americans that that the business of Washington isn’t to perpetuate its own power, but rather to serve at the behest of the people.