The central appeal of reality TV is voyeurism. We get to go to places – bedrooms, boardrooms – that cameras normally aren’t allowed. We get to see how other people live, love and lust, without having to reveal any of our own personal secrets.
That reality TV ethos – and appeal – animates how Donald Trump approaches the presidency. From turning Cabinet meetings into live-for-TV events to hyping up a live prime-time reveal of his next Supreme Court nominee, Trump’s years as a reality TV show producer have quite clearly never left him.
Which brings me to Monday morning. And specifically Trump’s decision to make the announcement of the outlines of a new trade deal with Mexico with the press watching and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto kind of, sort of, on the phone.
You could see how the script was supposed to go: Cameras roll, Trump defers to Peña Nieto, who praises the deal (and Trump). Then back to Trump for some closing remarks about how no one thought he could do it, but he did. And, scene.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with the well-laid plans of reality TV, things didn’t go to script.
The cameras started to roll before Peña Nieto was on the line. Which led to this epic Trump time “fill”:
“And I believe the President is on the phone. Enrique? You can hook him up. Tell me when. How are you? It’s a big thing. A lot of people waiting. Hello? Do you want to put that on this phone, please? Hello? Be helpful.”
To be clear: The “how are you” appeared to be aimed at someone off camera – maybe a staffer. Then Trump turns back to his barely veiled annoyance at the way things are playing out with, “It’s a big thing. A lot of people waiting.” My favorite part is Trump’s “be helpful” line. Just, you know, fix this as soon as possible. Do your job. Immediately.
At this point, some poor White House staffer scurries in front of the cameras to fix the phone problem. Here’s how that looked:
As best as I can tell – and I am no phone wizard! – Peña Nieto was on the wrong phone. (Trump had two on his desk.) The staff guy transferred him to the right phone, and voilà!
The rest of the call, generally speaking, went off without a hitch. But there was still awkwardness as Trump stared into the cameras aligned in front of him as Peña Nieto talked – via speakerphone – about the outlines of the trade deal.
It all served as a reminder that when you run a reality TV show presidency, sometimes things go a little off the tracks.