In This Review

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America
Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America
By James Poniewozik
304 pp, Liveright, 2019
Purchase

Poniewozik, the chief television critic for The New York Times, has written a dazzling dual biography of television and Donald Trump. The two stories have intertwined over the course of the past 70 years as television transformed, from the unifying monoculture of the three major networks to the fractionalized cable universe. As one TV era followed another, Trump drew personal lessons from each: the talk and lifestyle shows of the 1980s (“all about ego and the projection of self”), the cable news that exploded in the 1990s (“no narrative, no logic, no arc, and no end”), the reality shows that took off in the early years of this century (raw aggression is rewarded, and someone has to lose for someone else to win), and the dark dramas that have won over audiences in recent years (the star is an antihero). As a candidate, he “recognized intuitively what the televised debates were: an elimination-based reality show.” The relationship eventually became symbiotic. He wanted what the camera’s red light wanted: conflict and drama. The book is so rich with insights about the man and the medium that it isn’t until the end that readers will realize it’s still not clear how 60 million Americans could come to see an obviously phony performer as the person they wanted in the Oval Office.