Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik

Author:James Poniewozik [Poniewozik, James]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781631494437
Publisher: Liveright
Published: 2019-09-09T23:00:00+00:00

FOX SERVED AS a kind of test-market for Trump’s political opinions, a real-time feedback mechanism to see what best unleashed the gut passions of the audience and kept the camera rolling. Conspiracy theory: good. Xenophobia: good. Laying into Obama: very, very good.

There was one particular, potent claim that rolled all these into one, multiplying their power. Since Obama had been elected, fringes of the right had embraced the theory that the president had been born not in Hawaii but Kenya and therefore was constitutionally ineligible to be president.

How and why exactly someone would have engineered a conspiracy with medical and government officials in the belief—in the segregation-era America of 1961—that a black baby would grow up to be president fifty years later required some logical gymnastics. But the emotional evidence, to the fervent believers, was that a black man whose name rhymed with Osama bin Laden’s, with the middle name Hussein for God’s sake, was running the goddam United States, and it was not normal, he was not a regular American president, something had gone crazy. In Hofstadter’s words, America had been “taken away from them and their kind.”

It was all so volatile, and so nuts, that for all its catering to its viewers’ passions, Fox News steered clear of it in 2009 and 2010. Even Glenn Beck, the man who saw fascism on the back of a dime, dismissed it. And yet it was out there, spread on Facebook and in chain e-mails and the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs. It was potent—the pure, black-tar, straight-to-the-artery speedball version of Fox’s usual intoxicant—and hanging out there for anyone to use if only they were unencumbered by shame.

Trump had already learned a lesson from his Central Park Five crusade: What stirs people up? Racial issues. What really stirs them up? Actual racism!

On February 10, 2011, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a proving ground for Republican presidential candidates. His speech was standard Trump—China is killing us, America is a laughingstock, our leaders are losers—with a new variation: “Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere! In fact, I’ll go a step further. The people who went to school with him, they never saw him. They don’t know who he is. Crazy!”

Crazy! The crowd indeed went nuts. On Valentine’s Day, Fox & Friends reported that Trump had been the “star” of CPAC. The wider media was abuzz too, both with the outrageous birther claim and the possibility that that guy from TV might be an honest-to-God candidate for president the next year. The Tonight Show, on Trump’s home network, NBC, aired a bit with politicians’ heads superimposed on contestants in an Apprentice boardroom, Trump telling House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Vice President Joe Biden, “You’re fired!”

As it happened, the fourth season of Celebrity Apprentice was premiering on March 6, 2011. This provided the perfect, mutually rewarding peg for Fox & Friends to announce its new guest feature, “Mondays with Trump,” making Trump’s association with the show official.


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