Although he was mentioned and alluded to a few times during the Oscars, I did not think about Donald Trump once during the show. It was something I only realized the next morning, stumbling across the latest eyeroll-y batch of Trump tweets. It was like sunlight hitting you in the face after leaving the dark of a theater, instantly melting away a reprieve from the real world.
Donald Trump is someone I think of often, and he reciprocates by being obsessed with how he’s perceived. As sure as gravity exists, if any popular person, place or thing is described by the Fox News-phere as anti-Trump, there will be tweets. It took a day for the president to watch both Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity rail against “the anti-Trump Oscars”–and rejoice at their dour ratings–but by Tuesday morning, like clockwork, the tweet arrived.
Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore – except your President (just kidding, of course)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2018
It’s a typically self-fellating celebration of Trump’s ubiquity and the fealty he feels owed. (Never mind the downward ratings trend across all live TV events in recent years, people didn’t watch the Oscars out of respect for Mr. Trump!) He says in the tweet that he’s kidding, just like how he recently kidded he’d maybe like to be president for life, a joke that in no way tracks with his demonstrated boner for authoritarianism. Trump’s a kidder! A real cut-up. But of course he does think he’s a star. We know that because he once used his star status as justification for assaulting unsuspecting women. He thinks he’s not only a star, but the brightest shining star in the galaxy; much more so than those chumps at the Oscars. Is there any truth to that?
Donald Trump is indeed the most famous person in the world. He was already a tabloid star, before he became a legitimate star in the days when he was firing lesser stars on The Celebrity Apprentice. Ironically, he earned political fame only by relentlessly (and racist-ly) trolling Barack Obama, whom conservatives had been attacking as a “celebrity president.” If Trump still seems more like a star than a politician, though, that’s completely intentional. Now that he has Obama’s job, he’s performing it like it’s his former job.
“Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals,” reported the New York Times last December. That tidbit should strike nobody as fake news since it’s evident in Trump’s approach to everything. He is obsessed with manufacturing narratives, whether it means making sure Mitt Romney is photographed at a fancy French restaurant seemingly against his will, pretending the NFL protests are about him, or promoting the Fake News Awards, coming soon, like a special episode, for no reason at all.
Trump is the star of The Trump Show, a program executive produced by Trump, which we all must keep watching for an indeterminate length of time.
Just because people are watching, though, doesn’t mean they’re enjoying what they see. Donald Trump is laughed at around the world, consistently and historically unpopular, and has more than once cancelled international trips out of fear of protests. He’s aware that a lot of people aren’t fans of his, but refuses to comprehend the true breadth of animosity he’s cultivated. He seems to envision himself as someone people love to hate, a charming rogue perhaps or, in wrestling parlance, a face who took a heel turn. But people don’t love to hate Donald Trump; they want him to go to prison forever.
Judging just from anecdotal evidence and my Twitter feed, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy in hating Trump. After 14 months of witnessing him simultaneously appeal to an uneasy combination of obscenely wealthy people and Nazis, most people who hate him just want him to stop doing things. Quote-tweeting him every time, say, he swears there is no chaos in the White House after nearly his entire cabinet and staff have either been fired, resigned in disgrace, indicted, or pled guilty to crimes–it’s something people do to gamify their own trauma and possibly keep from screaming. There may have been some twisted novelty to it a year ago, but now it’s just rote.
Another thing about stars is that they don’t tend to be visibly needy and desperate to be liked. They may have been at one point, and they may be again once their fame dissipates, but at the height of their powers, stars don’t have to look very far for positive attention. Trump, on the other hand, has a bottomless appetite for flattery. He cherrypicks compliments from hyperpartisan pundits and randos, amplifying them on Twitter, proud as can be. His aversion to criticism forces him to live in a safe-space fantasy world, where negative news is either not acknowledged, or attacked as fake. Trump refuses to hold press conferences and is only interviewed by a shrinking pool of sycophants like Jeanine Piro, who tend to ask questions like this one:
“Your approval rating is soaring. When you talk about the economy and low unemployment and the stock market and great things that have been happening, you have accomplished all of this. To what do you attribute these incredible advances?”
A real star is a star unconditionally, not just on certain channels or hate-filled 4chan threads. One of Trump’s methods for appearing to be a star back in the day, though, reportedly involved maneuvering into photographs with famous people, leeching off the aura of energy around them. If he seems to reject Hollywood, it’s only a product of his you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit-approach to never being seen as a loser—something that’s been evident in everything from his deleting tweets to pretending he never backed the failed candidacy of Luther Strange, or claiming celebrities would not be welcome at his inauguration, because it was abundantly clear that only Scott Baio and Stephen Baldwin would show up. When he says there are no stars left, it’s because there are no stars left who support him.
Trump is not a star. He’s a heckler who somehow seized the world stage by trolling its previous occupant, but then couldn’t read the room and outstayed his welcome by an embarrassing length of time. That’s not a star, that’s a supernova. And we’ll be scrubbing ourselves of the debris for years.