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New book details how President Trump turned reality TV fame into a spot in the Oval Office

James Poniewozik portrait
Courtesy of Penguin Random House
"That voice of Donald Trump on 'The Apprentice' was, you know, very much the voice of Donald Trump that you will hear, you know, at press podiums or speaking on the White House lawn," Poniewozik said.


How did Donald Trump vault from the faux-boardroom of The Apprentice into the Oval Office?

A new book called Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America offers some answers. 

It’s written by James Poniewozik, chief television critic for the New York Times. He grew up in Monroe and graduated from the University of Michigan.

Poniewozik points to larger changes in the media landscape as a major factor in Trump's rise in popularity and his eventual election to the White House. Those changes, he said, include an American public that has become more accepting of antihero figures, which are common in the world of reality television. 

“Once you had your HBOs, your cable outlets, you have the development of reality TV, you develop this idea of learning to follow and root for characters who you maybe thought weren’t admirable, maybe weren’t moral, maybe weren’t kind or decent,” Poniewozik explained. “But they were entertaining. They were fighters. They put on a great show.” 

He said that Trump didn’t necessarily model himself after the antihero figure, but the that character trope became familiar to audiences, which allowed them to more easily accept it in Trump. Poniewozik also said that he thinks Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan during the 2016 presidential campaign resonated with many in America, including here in Michigan. 

“You know, one thing that I think is sort of suffused in a lot of Michigan culture, in Michigan popular culture—certainly it was something that I noticed growing up even back in the 70s and 80s—is this notion of nostalgia. Of being told that there were better times before you came along when the auto plants were humming and producing jobs, and the assembly lines were running,” Poniewozik said.

Poniewozik will be in Michigan for the Metro Detroit Book and Author Society event at Burton Manor on Monday, October 21 at 12:00pm, and at 7:00pm, he’ll be at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

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