Gather around, boys and girls. I am going to tell you a story that you may never have heard before because it goes against all the prototypic American stories where the good guy wins the day and gets the girl. Perhaps these stories are old-fashioned and it is the superhero woman who wins the day. But I assure you that there never has been a story like this one.
Imagine, if you will, an old man, bald and fat, who speaks like a thug on a street corner in New York. He is not in disguise. This is who he is. Yet he does have a super skill that will turn him into the next President of the United States, which he will turn into the non-United States very soon. So pay careful attention or you will easily miss the nuances of how he did it, as have many grownups.
I want to tell you the story of a very bad man, who won an election by cheating and lying. He succeeded by stealing from other businessmen and by abusing women and bribing prostitutes. How did this happen?
Well, he dyed his hair from its natural grey to a yellowish orange and let it grow long enough so that it could be wrapped around his head each morning, making him look much younger than he is. Then he put a corset over his stomach and lengthened his tie to cover it as much as a tie can. He surrounded himself with beautiful women until it looked like he belonged with them, like there was something desirable about him. Then he pretended to be rich as a partial explanation of his desirability to these women. To play this part properly, he had to refuse to let anyone see his real record books and tax statements because in reality, he was broke.
He had created a character, a rich and desirable older man with a loving family and many women chasing him. Only much later would this performance of “reality” begin to waver. Only later with time would the other players not be up to the performance. His loving third wife would be revealed to be a former “nude model”, his children all with I.Q.s in the two digits and his daughter an object of his lust. Only later would his book about his successful “deals” be shown to be written by another man. Only later would the viewing public find out that he had intimidated his former schools into not revealing his academic records.
Only would the reality of this “reality star” be shown to be all lies and sleight of hand and mind. Girls and boys, we adult psychologists call this “gas lighting” and, by this trick, people began to believe him even though his lies became obvious. Some even loved him or thought he was the messiah. But children, he was not. He was only a reality television star who made many of the people believe he was a real man. This is the first thing at which he had succeeded in his life and he was very proud.
As many adults say, you never get a second chance to form a first impression. With his thuggish tough guy persona, his disdain for women and his mobster like qualities, he could have tried out for a role on the Sopranos. He could have been the Don in the movie Godfather. But those were long ago in reruns. He hit upon another scheme and that was to parlay his “success” at the Art of the Deal” into the biggest deal he had ever tried. He would run for President of the United States under the false aegis of being a polished and successful dealmaker. And so he did.
Surprise of surprises, he soon became the first “reality” president of the United States and he was able to use his skills to do so. In addition to lying and cheating, he was able to get the support of the sworn foe of the United States, who was more than happy to help in this deception. And it turned out that there were several men already in government positions who were as evil as he and were just waiting for him to come along. Donald Trump has turned the presidency of the United States into perhaps the most successful show currently on “Reality TV.”
This reality television show has, in fact, been so successful that it has taken over the reality of actual life. As psychological research has clearly demonstrated, it takes just .5 of a second to form a first impression. Half a second, children. Can you even count that fast? No, you can’t or perhaps you could control your own mind.
Yet this performance is so much more than a first impression. It has lasted longer than anyone could have predicted, partly because the groundwork had been laid and reinforced for many years by other evil men who were just waiting for him. The show was ready to be on air when their star appeared, straight from the streets and the boardrooms of New York City, straight from reality television.
For many citizens, the difference between reality and “reality” has become obscure, if not hidden from sight. Perceptions are formed in an instant by the visual media. As a psychologist, I can recommend noticing this unconscious bias and trying to resist it, but I cannot interfere with its automatic formation by the human brain. In fact, I have researched and written an entire book about human sight as a first and unconscious language1.
What this means in simpler language, children, is that you fall for lies and deceptions because your brain has learned to accept them as reality when you are still too young to know the difference, before you even have words. And there they remain even when you learn many, many words. This part of your mind can outwit the smarter part with all its fancy words.
The Democrats, who are running against him, do not seem to understand reality television at all. Perhaps they have never seen it. Instead they try to appeal to reality, when reality is long since gone underground, subsumed by “reality.” They argue about who has the most or the best plans, who has the most experience or who is too young or too old. They don’t realize what we do, children. They need to create a better character, more dynamic, more glamorous and more full of surprises. They need showmanship, not politics. They need glamor, not sincerity. They need to provide a reason for viewers to tune in next week.
You will understand all this much better someday when it is over and if it is over. We all will. Right now I cannot give you a happy ending to the story. I hope there will be some sort of ending one day, but right now, we are still deep inside this story. I apologize for that to you and to all the children who are being deceived, hurt and even held in cages. I am so sorry that this is happening to you, but the show must go on.
1 Kaschak, E. (2015), Sight Unseen: Gender and Race through Blind Eyes, Columbia University Press.