September 11, 2017

The Celebrities Who Legitimized Trump

Penn JilletteThe Celebrity Apprentice was a well-funded and slickly produced infomercial for Donald Trump. I suspect it was instrumental in shaping public perceptions of him in such a way that it helped him win the presidency. I do not think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that he used the show to present himself as a king and his family as royalty. Viewers ate it up.

But the neatest trick of all was how Trump surrounded himself with (mostly washed-up or D-list) celebrities who groveled before him. They treated him to an excessive level of respect to which he was not due. Given Americans' well-known obsession with celebrities, I believe that this travesty of a show likely did as much to legitimize Trump as anything else. Had it never aired, I suspect that much of middle-America might not have known who Trump was.

So what? If I'm right about this, those of you who are still looking for someone to blame for President Trump might want to consider the celebrities who appeared on the show. I have seen many other people being blamed for President Trump (e.g., Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, assorted racists), but the celebrities who helped to craft Trump's image by how they treated him on this show seem to have flown under the radar. And again, the issue isn't just that they appeared on the show; it was the obsequious manner in which they behaved toward Trump on the show.

Just to be a dick about it, I believe I'll point to one of the darlings of the skeptical and/or atheist communities (I realize that there are sharp differences of opinion on the question of whether there are any such communities) who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice and subjugated himself before Trump: Penn Jillette. Yeah, that's right. Penn Jillette was on Trump's show. Perhaps he deserves his share of the blame for the current occupant of the White House. He's far from alone in this, of course, but I don't believe I've seen anyone else pointing the finger at him. Want to blame someone for President Trump? Blame Penn Jillette.

Am I serious? Am I really "calling out" Penn Jillette here? No and no. I am being deliberately silly here. I do not hold Jillette or any of the other celebrities who had the poor judgment to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice responsible for President Trump. I recognize that politics is more complicated than that, and I am reluctant to conclude that Americans are stupid enough to be influenced that much by a "reality" show even though I suspect that might be the case. Besides, if I was going to hold any one person responsible for President Trump, it would probably be Sen. John McCain for giving us Gov. Sarah Palin a national platform. Without her, I suspect a President Trump would have been far less likely.

As I have written here several times, I detest the outrage culture in which we live and the incessant public "call outs." So no, I am not now embracing any of this. I suppose you could say that I am once again attempting to mock it and to highlight our shared responsibility for Trump. Jillette's not responsible for this travesty; we are.