Donald Trump will soon realise that Washington is not Hollywood – and that will be his downfall

His fame, ego and mischievous delight in defying the status quo ensured he would be judged by the lax standards of Hollywood, rather than the unforgiving rules that govern politicians

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The Independent Online

“Politics,” Ronald Reagan once remarked, “is just like showbusiness. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close.” More so than ever before, Reagan’s words ring true – but with a horrifying, nauseating twist exclusive to 2016.

Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States of America confirms that we are living in an age of “celebrity politics”. It showcases perfectly how people have become so disaffected that they are willing to place their faith in a lewd, bigoted, prejudiced, sexist, xenophobic, boorish, intolerant and inexperienced reality TV star.

Sadly, such debased qualities have underpinned Trump’s presidential campaign. They have been his bread and butter as he blazed across the US, tearing up the political textbook, kicking up dust wherever he went. 

Muslims? Kick them out. Mexicans? Block ‘em out. Women? Grab them by the pussy. For the vast majority of Western politicians, such world views – regardless of how contrived they may be – would equate to political suicide.  

But then came Trump. His unique blend of celebrity, ego and a mischievous delight in defying the status quo enabled him to connect with the millions who yearned for something different. This fame ensured he would be judged by the lax standards of Hollywood, rather than the unforgiving rules that govern politicians, and handed him an invincibility that enabled him to survive, and thrive, as an anomaly within the world of politics." 

Donald Trump shifts his position on Obamacare during CBS 60 minutes interview

For those fans of Charlie Brooker’s cult series Black Mirror, this reality sounds terrifyingly familiar. In an episode titled “The Waldo Moment”, a blue animated bear, with his own celebrity status, runs for local office. Armed to the teeth with profanity, lewd jokes and non-PC views, Waldo captivates the electorate. In contrast to the emotionally distant, legalistic, orthodoxy of the candidates he runs against (enter Hillary Clinton), Waldo offers an alternative to the established status quo.

His ability to say and do things no one else would makes it very difficult for his opponents to reason with him. If your opponent doesn't play by the rules – or doesn't acknowledge there are rules at all – it’s virtually impossible to beat them at a verbal sparring match.

Trump’s resemblance to Waldo is uncanny, but his emergence is not unprecedented. Set against the backdrop of the information-rich 21st century, in which social media is king, the “celebritisation” of politics has become par for the course. 

Boris Johnson springs to mind as one of the more notable examples. Throughout his career, Johnson’s political reputation has been intertwined with his comical, celebrity-like persona. Love or loathe him, this celebrity profile has handed him a certain durability that has seen him emerge unscathed from numerous would-be PR disasters. 

When the former Mayor was caught on a zipline at Victoria Park during an Olympic event, brandishing two plastic flags, adorned with a ridiculous helmet and an unflattering harness hoisting up his crotch, the public lapped it up. Typical Boris, up to his old tricks. When he tackled a 10-year-old boy during a friendly match of rugby with schoolchildren, this reaffirmed for many his bumbling, loveable public image.

Even for his more severe transgressions, Boris has avoided the chopping block. Think back to when he suggested the Queen must love touring the Commonwealth because she's greeted by "cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”, or when he more recently compared the EU to Adolf Hitler’s Nazism. After issuing an apology and receiving a rap across the knuckles, it was back to business for Boris.

While the recent summer of discontent may have irrevocably altered the public’s perception of him, up until then Boris had enjoyed a degree of invincibility thanks to his celebrity undertones. Against the charmless homogeneity of Westminster politics, at least here was a personality willing to spice things up. Is it little surprise then that so many people followed him into Brexit?

Returning to the US, in August 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as Governor of California. As a candidate who had never enjoyed public office and whose political views were unknown to most Californians, Schwarzenegger’s name carried him through the election campaign. As with Trump, personality prevailed over policies.

And much like Trump, the celebrity was also elected into office on the back of serious allegations of sexual misconduct. Within the last five days before the election, claims that the Austrian had sexually assaulted several women were published in the LA Times. Six came forward with allegations – and he was forced to apologise for “offensive” behaviour – but it wasn’t enough to derail his campaign. 

Is it time, then, to bow down to our celebrity overlords? Not quite. Trump’s “hell of an opening”, as Reagan termed it, confirms the danger today’s “showbusiness” politics now poses. But celebrity is fickle, and the tides, it seems, are already turning in America. Perhaps we needed his victory – and the subsequent protests – to prevent us from sleepwalking into a celebrity-studded political Armageddon.

It’s quite possible that Trump’s “hell of a close” will come a lot sooner than he ever expected.

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