No president in memory has so dominated politics, culture, and the world. Even language is not immune to his influence. Think of the phrases he has embedded into political speech: Make America Great Again, Build the Wall, Fake News, Space Force. The celebrity Obama, who sought to rebuild America on a new, government-centered foundation, grows ever more distant. He fades into the background as Trump demolishes his work and builds over it with the good marble.
Trump looms larger than Obama in the media landscape despite coverage that is overwhelmingly hostile to him. His mastery of publicity, generation-long status as a cultural reference, and more than a decade on television collapsed the always-fuzzy distinction between politics and entertainment, and folded campaigns and elections into reality television and tabloid media. He is the subject of tirades and threats from Hollywood dinosaurs, the brunt of protests from NFL and NBA athletes, the beneficiary of compliments from Kanye West. In the Beltway where I live and work, Trump is insulted, impugned, condescended to, complained about, and sniped at in the most feverish, moralistic, exaggerated prose. But travel to a MAGA rally, and you encounter an energy and devotion seldom enjoyed by elected officials.
Trump’s polarization of the electorate explains a lot. He has a unique way of distorting the field, of making it impossible to see anything but his looming figure.