Trump Briefings: Trump Is Building a Dystopia in Real Time

Television Briefings as a means of control, “they alchemize tragedy into a TV show.”


[The Trump Briefings] . . . also crystallize precisely what is so abhorrent about his low-stakes, entertainment-inflected approach to politics. The briefings are meant to convey information about, literally, life and death. And within a functioning system, indeed, they would inform people and instruct people and, when possible, reassure people. Instead, Trump uses the events to insist on the merits of his own power—a rhetorical move that, since it cannot be proved by evidence, typically involves him downplaying deaths and fears and human suffering.

In dystopias imagined in literature, television is a common character. The totalitarian regime of Fahrenheit 451 banned books but encouraged watching TV. George Orwell’s 1984 has the telescreen, a device that broadcasts and surveils at the same time. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagined the “feelies”—movies whose tactile approaches to storytelling made them, allegedly, “far more real than reality.”

The briefings that air on American television each day are tragically nonfictional. But they fit squarely in this dystopian tradition. They summon the sober set design of a government at work for its citizens: charts, slides, data, flags. But, because they are led by Trump, they typically sow chaos rather than provide comfort. They alchemize tragedy into a TV show. They end, sometimes, with people wondering whether they should drink Lysol to combat COVID-19.

They lull, they lie, they muse, they confuse, and they do a version of what anxious authors warned might happen when television doubles as a means of control: They steadily underplay the human cost of a crisis. They are evidence of our own dystopia—aired live, every evening, on CNN. (Emphasis mine, rmk)

Check out the rest of Megan Garber’s Op-Ed In the Atlantic.