Diners, Drive-Ins and Donald Trump

“Friends, we’re being played. Trump is running a reality show, not a campaign. He’s producing episodes daily, directing and starring in the show. To understand Trump, we should look to a drama teacher, not a political scientist.”

Occasionally I wake up from a sound sleep, on the edge of a cold sweat, with the thought “what if we’re all being played?” ringing in my head. I see the polls, and I understand the realities of American politics. But America is not about politics–it’s rather the reverse, and we could all be chumps and suckers for a good story.

Even when things Trump does appear to sink Trump, is that really happening? Or are we being fed a political reality show?

You might notice the title. I’ll get to it. But here’s my question about Trump: Do we really understand his motivation? To say the things he’s said over the past year, he’d have to be dumber than a bag of rusty hammers, which means Republican voters have nominated the love child of Forrest Gump and Cat Woman. Obviously that’s ridiculous.

Trump isn’t stupid, so we have to proceed to other explanations of his behavior. Is he really working for Hillary? It might appear that way, but I have a hard time swallowing such a hairball of conspiracy worthy of a Ludlum book (where’s Jason Bourne in all of this?).

I think it might be a simpler explanation. I am a firm believer in Occam’s Razor. Which brings me to this:

In 2006, a chef and restaurant owner won Food Network’s reality show “The Next Food Network Star,” and Guy Fieri blasted onto the American television scene. Fieri knew a lot about food and restaurant management, but zip about television, but had the magnetic personality thing going. The “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” series was more about people than food (and still is).

Fieri fired Triple-D’s first producer, David Page, after the two had a rather public falling out. It was over Guy’s image versus being “managed.” And Fieri, like Trump, is more about the story, the drama, and the people. In the Page vs. Fieri battle, Fieri was right.

Anyone can learn the technical aspects of television production (or drama, or filmmaking, or politics for that matter). But connecting with an audience is a totally different skill set.

Trump is building a narrative. He’s not running for president in a political sense any more than Fieri was hosting a food show. Both men have that “plugged in” gene where they know their audience better than the experts.

It’s true that filming ten minute segments about a burger joint is worlds apart from running for president. But it’s all about audience and presence. Fieri shows up, does his gig, and leaves, but it’s all got to look “Guy” so his crew knows what to do. Trump obsesses over tiny details, colors, hair, camera angles, and visuals. Everything’s got to be “Trump.” The candidate shows up, does his gig, and leaves.

Friends, we’re being played. Trump is running a reality show, not a campaign. He’s producing episodes daily, directing and starring in the show. To understand Trump, we should look to a drama teacher, not a political scientist.

The elements of plot structure are: exposition, conflict, crisis, climax, denouement. We don’t need any more exposition of Trump–he’s been doing it for thirty years. We have plenty of conflict. Now we’re in the crisis. If Trump were producing a drama, it’s exactly where he’d want us.

He’s losing. Losing big. There’s little hope. Trump, the hero, is self-destructing. Then, at some magical moment, there’s this change. Something happens. Rocky gets serious. Superman returns to the Fortress of Solitude. Batman returns to Gotham. We cheer. The villain is defeated.

It’s so important for Trump and his acolytes to keep Hillary painted as the villain, in all things because this makes the drama work. If Trump had shown respect to Khizr Khan’s status as a gold star parent, it would have made Hillary seem somewhat okay–and she can never be okay in any way.

Trump has no use for politics. He consumes it like Fieri enjoys a good meal. We are watching Trump connect with his audience, and we find them (many of them secretly) rooting for him. He’s perfectly okay with us Never Trumpers, and even if others who now support him abandon him, it only increases the drama for him.

I’m going to ignore the polls. I don’t think Trump cares about them, unless he’s ahead. He’s busy making today’s episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Donald Trump.” It’s all to entertain his audience. If you’re not entertained, then you’re probably not part of Trump’s audience. It really is that simple.

At least Fieri actually cooks. Trump is no chef, to complete the analogy. Electing Trump president is like hiring Matt Damon to do Jason Bourne’s actual job, where the guns and the bad guys are real. It’s the Truman Show and we’re Truman and Trump is Christof looking down on us from the Lunar Room. It’s like that scene from War Games where Professor Falken tells the general he’s listening to a machine. It’s all a fantasy.

We’re seeing a show.

Working class, white Americans–the kinds who eat at diners, drive-ins and dives, are the audience. Everything Trump does and says is for that audience. I’d say “designed” but it’s more visceral than that. Trump just knows his “peeps.”

He’s totally convinced his “peeps” will carry him to the White House.

One more thing. I generally don’t eat at celebrity chef restaurants. Unless the chef actually cooks there, or it’s one of the original locations, I know I’m likely to be disappointed. (That being said, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life was at Emeril Lagasse’s Nola in the French Quarter. I have tried for years to duplicate the garlic mashed potatoes, with no luck.)

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good food show. But when you actually sit down for the meal, it would be nice if the food was edible. If Trump wins the presidency, it will be even worse–we will never get the meal at all, just endless shows telling us how delicious it is.