Donald Trump’s recent statements that he is actively considering a run for the presidency may be political and marketing genius, but I fear they could be psychologically debilitating for the American people.
Mr. Trump is already, of course, a widely recognized public figure. His name brand is emblazoned on buildings and neckties and a multi-level marketing company that sells vitamins. He has mastered reality TV and turned his uncompromising nature and the phrase, “You’re fired!” into media gold. He has appeared at Wrestlemania, locking horns with CEO Vince McMahon—with the loser’s head (McMahon’s, as it turns out) being shaved in public.
It has all been very profitable for Mr. Trump, and some of it has been a lot of fun for the American people. Trump is, in many ways, “larger-than-life.”
The extension of Mr. Trump’s brand into presidential politics, however, could be profoundly psychologically toxic to the electorate if it is designed as theatre primarily to fuel his fame and increase his fortune.
The morphing of a presidential election into a blustery, “larger-than-life” entertainment event would be the most malignant symptom yet of the assault by media on our collective grasp on reality. It would fit neatly and ominously with the effect of Facebook turning millions of people into “profiles” with lots of fake friends, Twitter encouraging everyone to think they’re worthy of followers and ClubPenguin convincing kids they’ve got pets they need to care for (when they really have meaningless, dancing pixel matrices). It would be the crowning jewel in the kingdom of fiction overtaking non-fiction.
Imagine the psychological damage done to American journalism if real reporters are hijacked into asking genuine questions of a man “acting” like a presidential candidate for no other reason than to sell casinos, neckties, vitamins and tickets to Wrestlemania.
Imagine the damage done to young voters if they cut their teeth on a Presidential election that includes an imposter, a stunt candidate, a hijacker of the real and genuine democratic process to a land of make believe public posturing.
Imagine the erosion of our real intentions to repair our economy and our liberties if we are drawn into a national made-for-TV miniseries about all of it.
I thought about all of this recently as I was watching former Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, a real life political analyst and strategist if ever there was one, being forced to comment on Mr. Trump’s potential candidacy. My gut could be wrong, but I felt like I was watching Ernest Hemingway being forced to analyze the literary merits of Jessica Fletcher or Richard Castle.
Imagine if Barack Obama, the first celebrity-in-chief, turns out to have paved the way for the first true president as entertainer/entrepreneur-in-chief.
I don’t know if Donald Trump the entrepreneur and reality TV star and professional wrestler is playing Donald Trump the candidate. That’s problematic enough. But if he is, and the American people play along, we are lost.
Interestingly enough, while I was writing this piece, my business partner Amber Roback asked what it was about. She’s 30, a new mother of twins and a former television producer. I told her it was about Donald Trump running for president. “Oh, he’s not running,” she said. “It’s a stunt.”
If it is, at least she knows enough not to take it seriously.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and co-author, with Glenn Beck, of the bestselling book “The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life.” Dr. Ablow can be reached at email@example.com.