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TV created Trump. Then it made him president.

Donald Trump is the show we can’t turn off, the car crash we can’t look away from, the news cycle we can’t escape.

There are just too many reasons why we got here to distill into a single explanation. But certainly one reason for Trump’s ascendance is television. It’s not quite right to say that TV made Trump president, but it is fair to say that TV created the conditions that made Trump’s presidency possible.

This, at least, is the thesis of James Poniewozik’s new book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. Poniewozik is a TV critic for the New York Times, and his book is an attempt to explain how Trump turned himself into the protagonist of his own TV show and then pulled all of us into it. It’s also about what TV has done to our political culture and why Trump is the logical fulfillment of all the media trends of the last two decades or so.

According to Poniewozik, Trump is fundamentally a creature of TV. His whole public persona was shaped by TV and he cleverly used the medium, with shows like The Apprentice, to propel his political career. He also knew exactly what TV media craves — spectacle, drama, and outrage — and capitalized on it throughout his presidential campaign.

“Donald Trump is not a person,” Poniewozik writes, “he’s a character that wrote itself, a brand mascot that jumped off the cereal box and entered the world.” And, of course, he’s now entered the White House.

I spoke to Poniewozik about how the road to Trump was paved by TV and how the way we cover and think about politics has been fundamentally transformed by the medium.

A lightly

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