One remarkable and inspiring thing about former President of the United States Donald Trump is that he has somehow spent unimaginable thousands of hours in his life watching television without ever getting good at it. Television is one of the great passions of his life, and maybe the only thing he has truly loved. His fixation runs like a thread through his public life, from bragging about committing sexual assault to an Access Hollywood anchor he sought to impress, to referring to television by a little nickname (he called it “telly-telly”) when trying to get a woman he was aiming to seduce to join him on a hotel bed, to being awakened into his current Golem-hood after endless hours spent observing Fox News guys with heavy Long Island vibes getting upset about The Democrat Party. Lay out the hours that Trump has spent staring at his television like an asthmatic old dog or barking at it like an agitated younger one, end to end, and you will wind up with a period of time that almost certainly covers multiple decades of Trump’s life; a truly chilling 2020 report in the New York Times maintained that Trump watched as many as seven hours of cable news not every day, but every morning. That those years Trump gave to television are almost certainly the years of his life in which he did the least harm seems inarguable, but also does not mean that they were really any good for anyone.
One of the defining aspects of the highly caffeinated conservative cable news sludge that Trump still chugs thirstily from morning until night is that it is hard to understand. It is intended to induce a state of heated clammy umbrage in the slack and softening minds of its consumers, and reliably does that, but it does this more through tone and frequency than by means of information. The point is to keep everyone watching both very upset and kind of curious about what exactly they’re upset about. This worked both on Trump and for him, but in no way can it be said to have made him more informed. Nothing on earth has ever really done that, but the idea is to repeat things enough that even passive viewers will be able to pick up the broad strokes, learn the heroes and villains and outrages and memes, get upset when they’re supposed to get upset and keep watching through the commercial breaks. Someone who watches enough hours of this will become not just familiar with but wholly conversant in all the salty phonemes that make up its language, but never quite know what the fuck they’re talking about.
For an example of what this might sound like, here is a two-minute video of Donald Trump calling into Newsmax, a cable news channel that broadcasts the maximum amount of news allowable by law, to discuss what a shame it is that Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new slate of laws aimed at making voting more onerous, annoying, and difficult to do. The stuff that approaches fact in the discussion is wildly, 180-degrees wrong—there’s no reasonable comparison between Colorado and Georgia’s voting laws, for starters—but mostly they are just kind of making the same sounds back and forth.
The big guy just loves to talk and truly loves to be on TV, but also his dedication to television and congenital blowhard incuriosity makes it difficult for him to communicate beyond aiming to replicate the various smears of color and noise that he encounters there. Here, later in the same conversation, we see Trump running aground when asked whether his people should boycott MLB in response to the woke, the thing with the woke that is actually very sad, with the All-Star Game, that no one cares about but which is really so regrettable. So, sir, to boycott or not to boycott?
“Well look I’m just not very interested in baseball for the last number of years,” Trump begins. “I think it’s not appropriate.” But having delivered that correct answer, Trump downshifts into what we might call James Austin Johnson Mode. “You know, you look,” he says, his pace quickening, “it’s—you want to find a game, it’s on, it’s on every channel, and yet you can’t find anything. It’s the weirdest thing. Used to be a nice, easy thing to follow. And you know what I mean by that. It was on one network, and it was nice and good and beautiful. Today, you don’t even know what the hell you’re watching. So I would say boycott baseball, why not. I think what they did was a terrible thing.” The people, he continues, we have more of them but they don’t—and the companies that want to be so righteous, it’s terrible—and the bill.
We can leave him there, pivoting, as the host nods. Trump is on television, he is making television, he is becoming television. He is upset, and it may be because there are too many games on different channels, or because he can’t find the YES Network which they for some reason moved, or because he takes offense at all those MLB Network games in the 300s or the 600s on his cable package, taking up all the good numbers. Look to be frank it is not good. It is also very unfair. This problem cannot be solved, because it cannot really even be named. But it must be looked into.