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What Happens When Reality TV Meets The Presidency?09:34Download

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump seen in a television camera's viewfinder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump seen in a television camera's viewfinder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In May, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort called the campaign "the ultimate reality show." Now, a reality TV star is about to be president.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with futurist and science fiction author David Brin (@DavidBrin), and Boise State University professor Justin Vaughn (@justinvaughnphd), about the ways in which our cameras-everywhere culture is affecting the candidates, presidential campaigns and us.

Interview Highlights

On whether the presidency and campaigning are the "ultimate reality TV show"

Brin: "This has certainly been experimented with, even in science fiction films, we've seen this, everything all the way up to 'Idiocracy,' where you've seen the notion of the running man and all of this. And it reflects on our historic past, where we cringe when we think that our democracy may head into the direction of bread and circuses, where the Roman Empire kept the masses under some degree of sway by offering them massive and expensive and bloody entertainment.

But on the other hand, science fiction sometimes does explore the possibility that technology in the future might enhance our ability to act as sovereign, independent citizens. And we're seeing this in what the other news from this election, and that is the number of referenda, and ballot measures that citizens take very, very seriously and study very hard, and apparently — over the years, in my impression — have done a very good job."

"It's a little ironic if you were to criticize Trump for becoming the first reality television president, because President Obama has approached his time in office in kind of similar ways."

Justin Vaughn

Vaughn: "I don't think that it's a new thing. Presidential elections for a long time have been staged events — there's some sort of reality that's happening, and maybe we capture it on tapes sometimes. But by and large, both the presidential campaigns and the presidency itself, are this series of prepared and semi-real stagings that conveyed us some approximation of what is apparently happening behind closed doors.

President Obama has been historically critical of Trump as a candidate... But it's a little ironic if you were to criticize Trump for becoming the first reality television president, because President Obama has approached his time in office in kind of similar ways, a lot of time spent on late-night talk shows and ESPN and slow-jamming the news..."

On candidates being available for on-camera appearances

Brin: "My personal belief is that the cameras had much less to do with it than physical proximity of thousands of people during those rallies. I think those absolutely changed Donald Trump. I expected him, by the time the debates came around, to do a veer toward the center, to try to grab the center on a number of issues, like for instance, changing the Republican stance on climate change. But he did none of those things.

And I believe it's because of the rallies. I think he was getting a very, very potent emotional high off these rallies of tens of thousands of people and playing up to them. And I think that this may make the presidency problematic for him, and we may see him head out to the road very quickly in his term to get that high from the rallies. And this is old-fashioned; this is not technology — technology does drive some of these changes, but in this particular case, I don't think it was."

Vaughn: "I think that you certainly going to have to maintain a public presence. To the extent to which you make yourself totally available, that may not be necessary. But certainly the handlers of candidates and presidents will have these kind of strategic considerations that they make about how available they make their candidates, how they deal with the inevitable damage of when things you had preferred to keep behind closed doors come out.

Increasingly today I think there's no more secrets, whether it's WikiLeaks, or videos of Billy Bush, or any number of other things... that everything is going to come out of the woodwork, and I think we'll see that continuing in a way that kind of running for a major office like that is kind of this political panopticon, where everything you do is seen."

This segment aired on November 10, 2016.

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