The entertainment presidency

Trump never “pivoted,” as candidates are supposed to do when they win their party’s nomination and begin campaigning in the general election. And he has continued to not pivot as president, even despite pundits breathlessly observing him “becoming president” on the night of his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Despite the presence of moderating influences in the White House who have, sometimes successfully, pulled him away from the nationalist impulses that drove his candidacy, Trump hasn’t changed–and there’s no evidence he ever will. He is one of the least conventional candidates to ever win the office.

Trump has had a profound effect on an American political culture already heavily weighted toward entertainment. The battles in the White House play out on cable news, the palace intrigue akin to a season of The Real World. Who will win this round — Steve Bannon or Jared Kushner? Gary Cohn or Peter Navarro? Trump himself views the world through the prism of media coverage, is obsessed with cable news, and acts accordingly. It’s the entertainment presidency. And despite the stasis on policy—the U.S. is still in the North American Free Trade Agreement, and serious tax reform looks unlikely this year—Trump’s unconventional approach has changed the debate surrounding these issues in ways that could eventually have real impact. It’s Trump who has made renegotiating or terminating NAFTA into a live issue, and who has expanded the range of tax proposals being seriously debated.