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Here's How to Understand Trump and His Supporters: Part II (REVIEW ESSAY)

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In any event, I posted my OEN article "Here's How to Understand Trump and His Supporters" on September 4, 2019. Then I read the article that the American journalist James Poniewozik (born in 1968), the chief television critic of the New York Times who became a TV critic in 1999, posted on September 6, 2019, in the New York Times titled "The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV: Understand that, and you'll understand what he's doing in the White House." It was a preview of his forthcoming book, so I ordered a copy of his forthcoming book.

In his smart and accessible new 2019 book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (Liveright Publishing/ Norton), Poniewozik, to his credit, does not disguise his dislike of Trump in his new book.

More broadly, Poniewozik in his new book says, "Donald Trump used the dominant media of the day tabloids, talk shows, reality TV, cable news, Twitter to enlarge himself, to become a brand, a star, a demagogue, and a president" (page xvii). Poniewozik's wording here "to enlarge himself" hints that Trump is inflated like a hot-air balloon. But his wording here also calls to mind Cabane's big gorilla exercise, mentioned above.

According to Poniewozik, "Television is really two things: an art form that spins stories and an attention machine that transmits real-world images from one place to another" (pages xxi-xxii). He says, "Donald Trump belongs to the attention machine, because Donald Trump is an attention machine" (page xxii; his emphasis).

To set forth his case for disliking Trump, Poniewozik divides his book into three parts: (1) "Origin Story" (pages 1-82), (2) "Antihero" (pages 83-192), and (3) "President Television" (pages 193-281). As he shows, the television antihero is unencumbered by a serious sense of shame in short, the television antihero is not pro-social in Moore and Gillette's terminology. In their terminology, the television antihero manifests and projects the "shadow" form of the Warrior archetype that they refer to as the Sadist, mentioned above.

Let me be clear here. Poniewozik does not claim to have done any original research about Trump's life. Rather, he is interpreting Trump's life for us by drawing on publicly available sources of information about him, on the one hand, and, on the other, by drawing on what he considers to be relevant interpretive works by others. Poniewozik's blending of Trump info with interpretive frameworks gives his new 2019 book whatever measure of interpretive value it may have for us as we prepare ourselves for the 2020 presidential election. But will any of the Democrats running for president read and understand his book well enough to capitalize on it in their primary campaigns?

In my estimate, Poniewozik's chapters on the television antihero are the most lucid for the purposes of contextualizing Trump's projection of the "shadow" form of the masculine Warrior archetype that Moore and Gillette refer to as the Sadist (pages 132-142), mentioned above.

In my estimate, the weirdest chapter in Poniewozik's book is titled "The Gorilla Channel" (pages 236-268). According to reports that he reports, President Trump in the White House likes to watch video recordings of gorillas fighting. This chapter strengthens my diagnosis of Trump as locked into the "shadow" form of the masculine Warrior archetype that Moore and Gillette refer to as the Sadist.

In conclusion, Poniewozik's new 2019 book is an admirably lucid tour de force.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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