How America became the love child of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump

February 24, 2016


After sailing to victory in Nevada and South Carolina and leaving the political establishment gobsmacked, Donald Trump has predicted that he will not only nab the GOP presidential nomination, but deliver the largest voter turnout in history. Typical trumpery perhaps, but the blustery billionaire is now closer to the White House than many people would have imagined. With breathtaking speed, he has rewritten the rules of campaigning while holding up a middle finger to Fox News, Republican elders and even the pope. He says things nobody else dares say — from expressing support for fans who roughed up a Black Lives Matter protester to maligning Senator John McCain’s military record.

His reality is becoming America’s. Do we have the Kardashians, in part, to thank?

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 celebrating the opening of "China: Through the Looking Glass," in Manhattan, New York May 4, 2015.   REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 in Manhattan, New York, May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

With their cartoonish appearances — Trump with his buoyant hair and Kim Kardashian with her outlandish curves — both seem characters from a storybook. They are the king and queen of an American Dreamland, all the more important now that the American Dream has become fantasy for so many people. In an era of growing inequality and foreclosed futures, people can’t get what they need, much less what they want.

In a better system, those who take advantage of a rigged set-up wouldn’t be seen as heroes. But when there seems no hope of transformation, watching celebrities who float free from any kind of social responsibility becomes hypnotically compelling. Not only can you be famous doing nothing of value for society, you can even be president! How awesome is that?

Trump and Kardashian have both acted as barometers for how far a person can go and how low a culture can sink. Trump was famous, of course, long before the Kardashians. He was the poster boy for 1980s excess, just as Kardashian became the emblem of same in the naughts. He started grabbing media attention during his ill-fated ownership of a football team, which he ran into the ground while seducing the press with his outlandish claims and boisterous personality. Trump learned then to present himself as the biggest and the best at everything — bankruptcies and business blunders be damned. He may have ridden to success on a train of tax breaks and government largesse, but he became adept at styling himself as the emblem of the free market.

Television personality Kim Kardashian arrives at the Clive Davis and Recording Academy Pre-Grammy Gala and Salute to Industry Icons in Beverly Hills, California February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Redmond   (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Kim Kardashian arrives at the Clive Davis and Recording Academy Pre-Grammy Gala in Beverly Hills, California February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

The temporal bridge between Trump and Kardashian is the 1990s — the decade in which reality television exploded, making people with no special talents wildly famous. The shows were loudly denounced as signals of American cultural enfeeblement, but the more the critics sniffed, the more the ratings soared.

Trump and the Kardashians perfected the genre. The Apprentice, hosted by Trump from its inception in January 2004 until 2015, presented the mogul interviewing, and gleefully dismissing, job candidates and went on to become one of the most-watched programs on NBC. In 2007, Keeping Up with the Kardashians flooded American living rooms with what looked like fly-on-the-wall glimpses of the lives of the Kardashian-Jenner family, mainly the antics of daughters Khloe, Kourtney and Kim. That program became one of the longest-running reality shows in TV history, with the 11th season airing last fall.

Reality stars aren’t supposed to elevate us or educate us. They are there to entertain us. So Candidate Trump need not concern himself with the minute details of foreign policy or healthcare. He only has to say, “It’s going to be very big. It’s going to be very special,” to have the crowd cheer. Kim Kardashian never went to college, but she can make the news instantly whether she is demonstrating how to achieve maximum cleavage or tweeting semi-literate statements about the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Trump and Kardashian share the values of opportunism, image-obsession and materialism, but where they really rise above the celebrity pack is their knack for making oodles of money simply telling the world how awesome they are. And being rich. In 2015, Kardashian ranked 33rd on Forbes’ roster of the world’s highest paid celebrities. With $52.5 million in earnings, she beat out both Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and former Beatle Paul McCartney. Trump placed 121st on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people on Earth the same year, with a pile estimated at $4.5 billion.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at his 2016 South Carolina presidential primary night victory rally in Spartanburg, South Carolina February 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina primary night victory rally in Spartanburg, South Carolina, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Surely something magical happens in the rarefied air at that stratospheric level of wealth and fame. Inanity can magically transform into insight; solipsism into social concern; ridicule into reverence. The only skills required to keep the American public’s attention are self-promotion and conspicuous consumption. Peers of this realm get a certain immunity from criticism and a pass on gaffes. Exaggeration becomes truth, or, as Trump himself artfully puts it, “truthful hyperbole.”

Garish taste and questionable credentials become emblems of connection to ordinary people. Despite a dwelling that looks like the fevered dream of a French monarch, Trump has been called the “people’s billionaire” and is considered by many a populist. Celebrity watchers love to remind us that Kardashian is just a “regular girl.” She has a daughter! She hangs with her family! Her lack of talent — unless you consider taking photos of your rear end for Instagram a talent — dissolves in the public fascination for such mundane activities as taking endless selfies (we all take selfies!), even when she is shelling out $827,000 on gold-plated toilets.

Kim Kardashian poses for a selfie with presenters Ant and Dec at the BRIT music awards at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Kim Kardashian poses for a selfie with presenters Ant and Dec at the BRIT music awards at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Reality stars are special kinds of celebrities. Not only do they distract viewers from what’s missing in their lives as we follow their every move, their association with a genre that ostensibly documents unscripted situations lures viewers into imagining that they are more “real” than other celebrities. They suspend viewers’ disbelief more than professional actors, so when they fabricate reality out of whole cloth, the public might just buy it. They seem extra-intimate because they come to viewers apparently unfiltered.

Reality TV thrives on high drama, outsized personalities and loud-mouthed conflicts, so when we see a person linked to the form, we expect and accept these things as par for the course. That’s why Trump can get away with denigrating Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on the air during a debate. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush could not. The rules are different.

Kardashian and Trump appear to represent a kind of capitalist abundance and freedom. What they really signify, however, is the imprisonment of the self and a future of further restricted possibilities.

When our connections to each other fall away and our self-absorption intensifies, Americans’ chances to act collectively to redefine the terms of our lives diminishes. Trump’s loud talk of building walls and roughing up those who get in the way is really the whisper of an authoritarian future where the freedom and abundance are reserved for elites who will protect their privileges at any cost.

The real wall will be around us — to keep us in our place. And we will have helped build our new reality.


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It is unfortunate that the image of America falls to Trump and Kardashian. We are much more than these two bozo’s. You just have to dig a little deeper!

Posted by Kachina888 | Report as abusive

Very insightful, and as a corollary to this analysis, Trump’s success has a lot to do with the honing of his message for the left-hand side of the IQ bell curve. He’s keenly aware of his low information target market of dim and incurious minds through not only his reality TV experience but also his sponsorship of bimbo beauty contests.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” – George Carlin

Posted by JimVan | Report as abusive

Very sad…

Posted by RoostahAZ | Report as abusive

Great article and interesting US culture analysis; now I’m really depressed. I take solace in knowing there are other countries who popular culture has gone “reality” although a reality star may not yet be running for president.

Posted by Zoid | Report as abusive

So much for American “exceptionalism”…

Every time these lamebrains talk about making America “great again”, I wonder what they mean. Are they referring to returning to slavery, or when women didn’t vote, or when the average American male was a drunk, or women seriously injured or dead from botched abortions, or …?

George Carlin had a point, but didn’t mention that the number of these exceptional people is staggering.

Wasn’t better education including more college graduates supposed to lead to a better citizenry?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

Love these comments. What does Make America Great Again mean to you? I dunno. Maybe moving out of burning tents in the forest? Maybe throwing some ice on WW3 that’s coming fast? Maybe enforcing laws to make sure people come to our country legally? Or maybe instituting laws that prevent drugs from invading our borders and the women getting raped by coyotes? It means something different to everyone, just depends on what you want to hear.

Posted by mh1023 | Report as abusive

Bless you, bless you, bless you! It is so good to hear from someone who is as distressed as I am with how superficial and empty our culture has become. God help us if these two “hollow (wo)men” are the role models that our children are encouraged to follow. Narcissism is a personality disorder and is considered pathological. Then why pray tell are we on the verge of electing this monstrosity of egotism President in the same line as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln? The prospect sickens me and takes me to the edge of despair for the future of coming generations. Perhaps you could write a follow up column with suggestions concerning education, religion, ethical organizations which might help stem the tide of this sickening head-long dive into selfishness and violence directed toward those who are different from or disagree with us. Thank You!

Posted by calmyourmind | Report as abusive

Ah, another article about how reality television is ruining the social fabric of the country. What an original sentiment.

And yet somehow, the republic still stands. If you don’t like reality tv or the media circus around Trump’s candidacy, remotes have an off button.

There’s a plethora of high brow content and high minded idealism being produced and expressed across all kinds of mediums right now, arguably more than ever before.

But please, continue to pompously condescend to our collective culture while trying to grab views with click bait titles.

Posted by Shamrock21 | Report as abusive

Kim and Donald – the pneumatic duo!
Great article.

Posted by tcarb | Report as abusive

“Reality stars aren’t supposed to elevate us or educate us. They are there to entertain us.”
Neither. They are there so the marketers could sell to us, and the dumber we are, the easier. Hence, Trump electorate. )

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Most of Trump’s supporters are under-educated bigots who get their information from AM radio talk shows and FoxNews “analysts” like Sarah Palin. Luckily, these people are 30% of America (Not 51%)…. and they have failed repeatedly in recent general elections. Republicans will lose again. This is all just them playing with themselves.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Trump offers change not the same old politics. If he can bring jobs back to America instead of the Democrates social program agenda that would be a welcome. That is his biggest draw, most people want to work for a better life. Way off base with “uneducated” going for Trump. Prepare for your next president that is tough, educated, and can get things done. President Trump.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

Interesting, thoughtful article – thank you. You need to fix paragraph 6, though (“…whether she demonstrating how to achieve maximum cleavage or tweeting semi-literate statements…”

Posted by jlj | Report as abusive

And we all thought the movie “Idiocracy” was pure fiction…

Posted by bearvarine | Report as abusive

Oh please. The Kardashians were created by the media. Trump’s persona was also created by the media. Trump at least created a business of value. And the disgust the media feigns is laughable since they spend so much time talking and writing about these personas. If they didn’t they’d have to write about hard topics like fixing the education system.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive

Majority of trump supporters who want “Wall built on border…. were not able to find Arizona on an unmarked map of America. These are trump’s people. Various forms of learning disabilities and low-information paranoia.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

i like Kardishan .i like DONALD , I DONT CARE WHETHER ITS DUCK OR TRUMP. . I love america , I don’t care whether I am a pauper in america or a billionaire in america. I can enjoy america even if i live on the road side or in Trump mansion .
America is a fringe country with fringe culture an experiment of humanity , a research field n great . The whole world bashes america but follows everything happening there with admiration . Its the dream-land of the young and healthy and smat and adventurous . Everything is an adventure in america , becoming a billionaire or becoming a pauper , its a fun and Trump is fun and so is Kardishan . I love both like i love and live in america.

Posted by ZZeitgeist | Report as abusive

People who teach “cultural theory” are far and away removed from everyday reality. Your ivory tower does not provide a viewpoint that properly explains the attraction of Il Donaldo.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive