As you’re no doubt aware, the idea that Donald Trump spends an inordinate amount of time watching cable television is a popular misconception. Sure, it might seem like he watches a lot of TV because almost everything he tweets between the hours of 6:30 AM and 11:30 AM (i.e. “executive time“) is a quote from Fox News, but what you have to understand is that he’s usually too busy reading to turn on the television.
“I don’t get to watch much television”, the President famously said last year, before elaborating as follows:
Primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents. A lot.
Right. But again, the fact that the President habitually quotes Fox virtually every morning, means he’s either watching it, or else they’re sending him transcripts. Take Monday morning for example:
….a law firm, eventually Kremlin connected sources, to gather info on Donald Trump. Collusion is very real with Russia, but only with Hillary and the Democrats, and we should demand a full investigation.” Dan Bongino on @foxandfriends Looking forward to the new IG Report!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
Well, according to a new Axios article, when Trump gets some time away from Fox News and when he isn’t immersed in “documents”, he likes to watch the Donald Trump show – literally. “Like an NFL coach reviewing game film, President Trump likes to watch replays of his debate and rally performances”, Jonathan Swan writes.
Apparently, Trump actually has his favorite rally moments pre-loaded on a TiVo. According to Swan’s sources, Trump compels aides and advisors to watch these reruns with him as he narrates. Here’s Axios:
“Wait for it. … See what I did there?” he’ll say. “People think it’s easy,” Trump said in one riff about rally footage, per a source with direct knowledge. “I’ve been doing this a long time now and people are used to it, every rally, it’s like, people have said P.T. Barnum. People have said that before. And they think that’s easy, because hey, P.T. Barnum, he does the circus. … They don’t realize, it’s a lot of work. It’s not easy.”
It’s hard to know exactly what to say about that other than it’s simultaneously hilarious, sad and also terrifying.
Hilarious and sad for obvious reasons, but terrifying because it’s yet another example of Trump being caught up in his own reality distortion loop. Back in January, The New Yorker ran a piece called “How Fox & Friends Rewrites Trump’s Reality“. You should read the whole thing, but it begins with the following poignant example of how the network and Trump are constantly removing the fourth wall, reinforcing their reflexive relationship on the way to writing the script for one another (and, in the process, for America):
President Trump woke up on November 3rd, turned on the television, and started tweeting shortly before 7 a.m. “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,” he typed. “People are angry.” By “everybody” and “people,” he seemed to mean, as he often does, the three anchors of the top-rated cable morning show, “Fox & Friends,” who happened to be discussing that very topic live on air, deploying their trademark brand of folksy, disingenuous outrage.
Soon afterward, one of the co-hosts said, “And now the President is tweeting about this.”
“I think he’s tweeting right now!” another said. The thin fourth wall between Trump and his TV had been broken once again.
During and after Trump’s rallies, Fox airs clips of the President’s “best” moments accompanied by obsequious, sycophantic “commentary”, so in a way there’s not much difference between the President watching what amounts to state television (Fox has morphed into a pure propaganda outlet) and simply watching himself on TiVo.
That said, Trump’s free-wheeling rallies are often the scene of the President’s most outrageous claims – a forum for him to spin his own demonstrably false narrative with impunity in front of a captive audience. When he watches reruns of those rallies, he is effectively making himself a part of that audience – he is both the stage actor and the observer of that act, setting the stage (figuratively and literally) for the President to spiral further into his own black hole.
There is no better example of this than what happened two Fridays ago, when the President held a nationally-televised press conference to celebrate quarterly GDP data that was by no means historic. No matter what you might have heard on Fox News, the simple fact of the matter is that the numbers (which showed the U.S. economy expanding at a 4.1% annual rate) would have qualified as just the fifth best quarter of the Obama presidency. And yet Trump gathered reporters and advisors in front of the White House as though something of historical significance had taken place. It was, in a word, bizarre.
Trump isn’t wrong to say that the economy is doing well, but the dynamics described above seem to leave him further and further detached from reality as time goes on. For example, Trump spent Saturday evening ranting about the economy at Olentangy Orange High School in Lewis Center, Ohio, the site of a rally for Republican Troy Balderson. On Monday, he tweeted this:
Great financial numbers being announced on an almost daily basis. Economy has never been better, jobs at best point in history. Fixing our terrible Trade Deals is a priority-and going very well. Immigration on Merit Based System to take care of the companies coming back to U.S.A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
Again, the data is indeed good, but is it that good? Is it continually shocking observers “on an almost daily basis”, as Trump claims? Not relative to expectations it’s not. The chart below is Citi’s Economic Surprise Index, which is basically just whether the numbers are coming in better or worse than estimates.
Market watchers know there are all manner of caveats that go along with using that index (Citi itself famously cautioned against overinterpreting it last year), but the overarching point is that the President of the United States is increasingly prone to falling victim to his own propaganda, economic and otherwise. Recall the following excerpt from a piece penned last year by Notes From Disgracedland’s Bjarne Knausgaard:
Donald Trump is like a new celestial formation, a cognitive black hole, a strange attractor, and a quantum-mechanical paradox, all at the same time. He has a unique way of distorting the social space around him. Everyone who enters his event horizon begins to not make sense. There is something terminal about coming too close to Trump.
The list of casualties who have crossed the point of no return, and became permanently trapped on the other side, is getting longer every day.
Trump himself is now on that list.