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Essay (March 2016)

Politics in the Age of Reality Television
by Ray Harker

Perhaps you recall Network, a 1976 satirical film in which the UBS Evening News anchor, Howard Beale, is told that he will be fired in a couple of weeks because of his poor TV ratings. Beale then announces to his viewers that he will commit suicide on the air during his final broadcast. That announcement, along with a series of rants on corporate and political corruption, caused his ratings to skyrocket.
 
Instead of firing Beale, the network executives decide to exploit his antics. At which point, Howard Beale goes on to galvanize the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." But as viewers gradually became bored with Beale's antics, his ratings once again plummeted.
 
The Donald Trump phenomenon holds an eerie resemblance to the Howard Beale character and the lack of journalistic ethics portrayed in the film. Similarly, real-world politics and journalism seem to have become all about entertainment value and television ratings. Trump, producer and star of The Apprentice reality TV show, wasn't taken seriously by politicians and media when he first announced his presidential candidacy.
 
Even during a GOP debate, while contesting Trump's qualifications for President, Marco Rubio retorted that "Donald Trump is the greatest show on earth." This was the sentiment of most political junkies and pundits at first. But today, Trump has the GOP establishment in full panic mode as the mainstream news channels are busy writing the script, controlling the narrative, and plotting the conclusion of their saga entitled Election 2016.
 
There are two distinct groups that make up Trump's fan base. The first group we'll call the GOP's faction of spiteful voters, and the second we'll simply call the naive electorate. Regardless of which category they fall into, the majority of his supporters are "mad as hell" at the political establishment -- and rightfully so. Through his media savvy and star power, Trump taps into the energy of most disheartened voters. (Bernie Sanders is the Democrat's own version of such voter revolt, but that's another story.)
 
The spiteful voter, although politically well-informed and fully aware of the risk of a Trump presidency, is the type of person who will "cut off his nose to spite his face." This is the emotional and reckless response to the "GOP establishment." Sort of like a child on the beach, this type of Trump supporter would destroy his own sandcastle instead of defending it from the bully who is about to kick it over. And imagine if anti-Trump Conservatives were to adopt a similar attitude and vote for Clinton in November -- purely out of spite.
 
The second group of Trump supporters is the naive segment of America's voters in general. Ted Cruz once asked Donald Trump and his followers, "How can you 'make America great again' if you don't know what made America great in the first place?" In other words, Cruz challenged Trump and his people to enter a meaty discussion about the Constitutional and Biblical principles upon which America was built, such as individualism, property rights, self-reliance, low taxes, dispersal of power, free-market economics, and so forth.
 
Ted Cruz was trying to expose the fact that there is no substance to Donald Trump's message -- and yet he is winning. Perhaps this is a testament to our government run schools and the systematic dummying down of America. We are now living in a world of reality television and Americans yearn for reality TV stars as their political leaders. Following politics in the mainstream media today requires a soap opera mentality and zero intellect. Rather than electing a candidate based on substantive reasons, such as those spoken of by Ted Cruz, we find a simple-minded electorate gravitating toward a candidate based on things like mass popularity, vague rhetoric, and (just like Howard Beale) how Donald Trump "tells it like it is."
 
In regard to free-market economics itself, many would say that Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman who obtained his wealth in a capitalist system, certainly advocates the most basic conservative principles and values. If nothing else, Trump is definitely at least a Republican -- right? Not necessarily. Look at successful people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet who are all Democrats. In fact, Trump financially supported some Democrats in recent elections.
 
One reason why many wealthy businessmen turn their backs on the very system that was responsible for generating their wealth is the desire to become part of the ruling elite. Many voters will praise Donald Trump because he runs a self-funded campaign and doesn't accept money from lobbyists or special interest groups. But the Trump Empire is (in and of itself) a special interest!
 
Donald Trump is neither a Liberal nor a Conservative. He is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. In fact, it is impossible to position him anywhere on the political scale. But some may ask, "What does that matter?" The answer is that we will never know what Trump is about, or who we are getting, until he becomes President. At which point it will be too late.
 
Hopefully a Donald Trump administration won't turn the White House into a reality TV show. And at this point in the election, Trump has no need to worry about suffering the same fate as our main character in Network. The narrator, in the very last line of the film, leaves the audience with the following statement: "This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings." (Screen goes to black) 
 

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"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord"
                                                             - Psalm 33:12