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Communication in the Age of Trump

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Edited By Arthur S. Hayes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio fireside chats to connect with millions of ordinary Americans. The highly articulate and telegenic John F. Kennedy was dubbed the first TV president. Ronald Reagan, the so-called Great Communicator, had a conversational way of speaking to the common man. Bill Clinton left his mark on media industries by championing and signing the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Barack Obama was the first social media presidential campaigner and president. And now there is President Donald J. Trump.

Because so much of what has made Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency unconventional has been about communication—how he has used Twitter to convey his political messages and how the news media and voters have interpreted and responded to his public words and persona—21 communication and media scholars examine the Trump phenomenon in Communication in the Age of Trump. This collection of essays and studies, suitable for communication and political science students and scholars, covers the 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency.

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1. American Idol: Trump’s Administration and Reality TV (June Deery)

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1. American Idol: Trump’s Administration and Reality TV

JUNE DEERY

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A common remark among pundits is that Donald Trump has turned politics into a reality TV show, or that he operates as though it were one. Others declare that Reality TV “created” candidate Trump. In this chapter, I argue that these conclusions, despite being somewhat glib, do merit closer attention. Reality TV cannot take the credit for producing Trump, but it did likely increase his chances of getting to the White House. A better equivalence would be to say that the kind of person who is successful on reality TV is now apt to be successful in politics also. Regarding the popular sentiment that Trump is transforming politics into reality TV, it might be more accurate to say that the process of turning politics into entertainment has been going on for some time but that Trump’s rise suggests it has increased exponentially.

Certainly, the campaign and presidency of ex-reality TV host Donald J. Trump has crystallized and benefitted from significant trends in the confluence of entertainment media and politics, among them: fragmentation and polarization—seen, not coincidentally, in both politics and media distribution; the diminution of professional journalism; ratings-driven politainment; and the rise of “fake news,” “post-factual information,” and, underlying it all, decades of subterranean public relations. In this chapter, I will explore how Trump’s political persona reflects and capitalizes upon attitudes...

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