Sure, Donald Trump's formative experience in the national spotlight was on reality TV, playing himself in “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” And sure, the campaign he ran for president had more elements of a cliffhanger than a traditional political race. And yes, the way he has conducted his search for a Cabinet has all the appearances of “The Bachelor” — as a group of ambitious wannabes make public shows of affection aimed at winning one man's favor.
But the news late Thursday that Trump will remain an executive producer of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” even while serving as president, cements it: The lines between reality TV and politics have now grown so blurry as to be meaningless. “Trump: The President” is the natural end point of where we've been headed in our politics and our culture for a while now: an obsession with living out loud, of being famous for being famous, of destroying the lines between public and private life.
The details on Trump's setup with “The Celebrity Apprentice” aren't totally clear. What we know is that, according to Trump, he and Mark Burnett co-created the show. It's not clear whether that means Trump will be paid for his role — most executive producers are — and the Trump folks aren't telling. “Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show,” was all that spokeswoman Hope Hicks would offer when asked for details about the deal.
Put aside the obvious potential conflicts of interest here, like the president of the United States potentially drawing a check from a network that is covering his presidency. What's abundantly clear from this “Celebrity Apprentice” news is that Trump is simply not interested in walking away from the reality star life that served as a platform to launch his bid for president. Trump is set to give a big speech — and, finally, a news conference — about how he is separating himself from his business interests next Thursday, but it's already clear that completely stepping back from the reality TV world and that persona is off the table.
Imagine Trump doing a walk-on in the premiere episode of “The Celebrity Apprentice” now featuring former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is it THAT outlandish? Is there ANY doubt in your mind that Trump would love to do it? Or that it would get bananas ratings? What about a semi-regular appearance where Schwarzenegger and Trump kibitz about leadership? Again, would it stun you if that happened?
Nothing, at this point, seems off the table to me when it comes to Trump's willingness to mix politics and reality TV. Consider that he has announced that Linda McMahon, the head of World Wrestling Entertainment, as his pick to head the Small Business Administration. (Sidebar: Would you fall over dead if Trump walked on to a pro wrestling show like “Raw” or “Smackdown”? I wouldn't.) And now there's a report out of Boston that Bobby Valentine, the former Mets and Red Sox manager, is under consideration to be ambassador to Japan in the Trump administration.
The “Celebrity Apprentice” news serves as a reminder that the old rules not only don't apply to Trump but also that he seems entirely comfortable with totally ignoring them. I have told anyone who asks that this is truly a “through the looking glass” moment in politics. We've never been here before — not with someone with Trump's résumé who ran the kind of campaign he did to get elected. What no one knows is whether Trump's election is a blip in the long arc of “how politics is done” or whether it represents a fundamental break with that past.
What is clear, however, is that Trump has zero plans to handle the presidency like anyone who has held the office before him. He views the White House connected in a seamless line to the world of reality TV, a line that some establishment types tut-tut at, but which for the average person makes total and complete sense.
Trump was elected as our first reality TV-age president, and he seems pretty set on governing like one.