Yes, this is probably just a summer thing. On the other hand, Maher’s description—Avenatti as “folk hero”—should give the American people pause. The country’s celebrity-saturated culture loves heroes, characters, narratives. This triumph of image over expertise was first detected and articulated by historian Daniel Boorstin in a seminal book, The Image, published in 1962. What troubled him at the time was John F. Kennedy’s telegenic ascent to power—even though JFK, prior to becoming president, had logged 14 years on Capitol Hill.
Who knows what Boorstin would say today about Trump and Avenatti; back then, he described celebrities as “human pseudo-events” who are known for their “well known-ness.” He wrote: “Pseudo-events thus lead to pseudo-qualifications. If we test presidential candidates by [their] talents on TV quiz performances, we will, of course, choose candidates for precisely those qualifications. … Our national politics has become a competition for images, or between images, rather than between ideals.”