Donald Trump has been criticized for plans that would make the Republican national convention more like a reality TV show. But let’s be honest: It already is a reality TV show, just not a very good one.
Once upon a time, conventions were actual news: a place where the party’s grassroots and its top leadership got together to decide who would be the nominee. (It even briefly looked like that might happen this year too.) But since the 1980s, they’ve become pro forma affairs where the decisions made at the various primaries and caucuses were officially ratified, like college students turning their tassels on their mortarboards for a degree they’ve already earned.
That’s made them more like what the historian Daniel J. Boorstin called a “pseudo-event” in 1961—a happening designed for the sole purpose of being covered by the news. (To be fair, the parties also put together a platform and do other internal business, but the events wouldn’t be broadcast anywhere but C-SPAN if that’s all they did.)
But here’s the thing: They’re not even very good pseudo-events. The modern televised convention consists of some roll call votes that anchors have to talk over; speeches by key surrogates, the vice presidential nominee and the nominee; a short gauzy propaganda movie; and a balloon drop.