There is nothing Donald Trump loves and fears more than television.
These mixed feelings galvanized in 2004, when “The Apprentice” premiered on NBC, morphing the real estate charlatan into a reality show charlatan.
Bloomberg published a scathing column that August:
“In America, being on TV is everything. For proof, see builder Donald Trump. His public record for management is horrible. Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., which operates three gambling spots in Atlantic City, N.J., has lost money in each of its eight years as a shareholder-owned company — and has finally gone broke.”
Yup. Trump, who inherited his wealth, ran all his ventures the same way: into the ground. If not for NBC, he’d now be managing a Cinnabon and binge-eating the profits out of a dumpster emblazoned with his initials.
“The Apprentice” altered Trump’s cultural trajectory with a smoke-and-mirrors premise: This failed businessman is a financial guru! Forget the bankruptcies and vendors he ripped off. Just focus on the fake boardrooms, fake private jets, fake tans and fake storytelling.
As Bloomberg noted: “That’s the power of television. Trump’s value is entirely in his ridiculously coiffed image.”
That image suffered more blunt-force trauma on Thursday. I’d be surprised if there aren’t clumps of dyed blond hair and skull fragments scattered around Mar-a-Lago after Trump watched his inner circle, including daughter Ivanka, dismiss his baseless election conspiracies.
When the Princess isn’t buying the dark fairy tale, that’s a wrap.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr said he told Trump claims of a stolen election were, and I quote, “bullshit.” Other Team Trump members also made cameos on Thursday. Not one disputed Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.
The real power of television, ultimately, is in simplifying the complex. This is what Thursday’s prime-time hearing achieved. It reduced 18 months of polarized noise to a damning hum that can’t be ignored, even by those who are now desperately plugging their ears and trying to change the subject.
With evidence-based testimony and slickly-produced videos, including previously unseen footage of the barbaric attack on the U.S. Capitol, the bipartisan committee weaponized the power of television against a man who fears and loves the medium more than anyone else.
Republican Liz Cheney, Public Enemy No. 1 to MAGA cultists, put on a clinic in how to deftly ride the airwaves. In her powerful opening statement, she took a flame-thrower to Agent Orange, methodically itemizing his attempts to steal the election while lying about how the election was stolen from him.
It was like watching Carl Sagan smack down a flat-earther. Cheney, who may well lose her re-election bid, put country above party. And while I may still have concerns about her 23andMe — how did her dad end up shooting another fellow during a quail hunt? — there is no question her fealty is to the U.S. Constitution. On TV, she cemented her place on the right side of history as the craven jackals in the cratered ruins of the GOP slavishly kneel in the quicksand of dishonesty, begging for magical pixie dust from Dear Leader.
Fifty years from now, Cheney’s moral courage will be taught in political science class. Elise Stefanik, not so much. And Jim Jordan’s future relatives will no doubt Liquid-Paper him out of the family tree entirely.
As Cheney noted: “Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonour will remain.”
She’s right. And it proves she has Trump dead-to-rights. On TV, her words landed like bunker busters. She has endured relentless abuse. She remains unbowed. She trotted out facts as Trump burned in the flat-screen glow.
Thursday’s hearing was a doozy for anyone who, you know, might object to insurrection. And there are at least six more hearings, with the next scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m. Stock up on the popcorn this weekend.
On Friday, unsurprisingly, Trump was in temper tantrum mode. He lashed out at Bill Barr, calling him “weak” and “frightened.” He said Ivanka was not involved in studying election results because she had “checked out.”
Yes, or she bailed out after realizing her dad is a raging narcissist.
What Trump was unable to do was counter Thursday’s devastating hearing. He’s out of counterpunches. Even if his brain-scrambled cult refuses to believe he lost the election, these hearings will eviscerate their stupidity.
And blow up his pathological lying once and for all.
This was not just mesmerizing TV. It was also a road map for how the Department of Justice, should it be so inclined, might pursue an indictment against Trump for trying to overturn a free and fair election. There’s a reason he lost more than 60 legal cases while trying to stay in the White House.
This bipartisan committee has conducted more than 1,000 interviews and analyzed more than 100,000 documents, to say nothing of the personal texts and emails in its possession. They have the receipts. This committee is not screwing around. This is not a witch-hunt. It is not fake news.
It is a noble effort to reclaim American democracy.
It represents months of painstaking investigation. And if what unfolded on Thursday is any sign, it’s hard to see how Trump does not pull out his ridiculously coiffed hair and maybe try to pin all of this on Barron.
Thursday’s hearing was television at its best.
And that is Trump’s worst nightmare.
The medium he loves and fears is coming for him.
And there is nothing he can do about it.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION