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Even the Real News Seems Fake

Making sense of a time when the president-elect will be an executive producer on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ and Bobby Valentine could serve as the U.S. ambassador to Japan

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Over the course of the past four and a half weeks, I have questioned the nature of my reality. I have read the stern chyrons of people debating the possibility that Mark Burnett, producer of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, might orchestrate next month’s presidential inauguration festivities. I have learned that the presidential inauguration is an event that might be orchestrated, as opposed to planned or broadcast. I have seen an entire pundit class choke on its tea at the news that our president-elect is planning to remain the executive producer of The Celebrity Apprentice. I have read that Bobby Valentine, erstwhile manager of the New York Mets, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox, is being considered for the role of U.S. ambassador to Japan. I have seen a parade of thumbs-ups beside gleaming golden elevators, pointing upward at penthouses and soaring bank stock and the air in which Donald J. Trump insists he will continue to fly in the pair of nearly 30-year-old 747–200Bs that constitute Air Force One.

Author Christopher Hitchens once said that if an enema were to be administered to the recently deceased Jerry Falwell, he could be buried in a matchbox. I have been thinking about this a lot.

But here we are. This is how it is now: We talk about fake news as the real news gets stranger, more sinister, and less plausible. So let’s do what we can: Let’s contemplate silver linings.

The silver lining of Trump affixing himself more firmly to reality television, padlocking his wrists around it before we can get the tractors of Norms or Optics or Presidentialdom inside the doors of Trump Tower, is that at least it’s done. Whereas before he was a reality TV star who became president, we now know that his intention is to be a reality TV star/president. If the scariest part of a Trump presidency was the specter of the unknown, well — now some shoes are beginning to drop. Sorry, not uplifting? OK, OK, let’s try another.

The silver lining of a former Major League Baseball manager being considered for a U.S. ambassadorship is that U.S. ambassadors to stable/wealthy/sufficiently interallied nations tend to be a notoriously fluffy bunch, a collection of campaign donors and modestly qualified buddies and people who would frankly be a lot more fun to get a beer with than your average career diplomat. Valentine, at least, has lived in Japan and is well schooled in the art of statecraft, but since you ask: no, not much upside here, either.

OK — the silver lining of Trump rampaging in real time on television and the internet is: At least we know about it. This was, more or less, what Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said this week about the president-elect’s Twitter usage; better to have it out in the open, a live repository of bombast for all to see. It’s transparency in a reactive and risky way, sure, but transparency all the same.

Except the thing is that Trump is not dumb, and some of what has seemed in the moment to be impulsive and thus honest has already been proved otherwise: His call to the president of Taiwan was, in fact, the result of careful strategy plotted months in advance; his tantrum about Boeing was deployed just 22 minutes after the company’s CEO criticized his trade policies. Much as reality TV has never been about portraying reality so much as telling a reality-infused story, Trump’s tweets aren’t windows so much as screens. We are not seeing his thoughts; we’re seeing the snippets of a story he wants to tell.

I am having some trouble with optimism lately. But what can you say, really, about something you never would have believed, even in the very recent past? If you were watching this movie, and a desperate future you came running up to present-day you and gripped your hand and said listen, listen, this is going to happen, you would be the person who said get lost, creep! and then got on your doomed bus or signed the cursed contract or whatever it was that so profoundly screwed over your timeline and/or the world. None of this is believable.