On the eve of his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was asked by reporters from the Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper a fairly typical question for ascendant presidents: “Do you have any models — are there heroes that you steer by — people you look up to from the past?”
Barack Obama answered this question often, usually invoking Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, sometimes tipping a hat to Trump’s favorite hero of the Civil Rights movement, John Lewis. But Trump did not name a former president. No founding father came to mind, no proponent of justice, no activist or abolitionist, no innovator or icon. His response was a full paragraph of totally incoherent nonsense, starting with the line, “Well, I don’t like heroes,” and ending on the irrelevant factoid that he “learned a lot about leadership from my father.”
Well, if Tuesday night’s proceedings were any indication, I think we know who Trump’s hero really is: Chris Harrison, the master of ceremonies on The Bachelor.
How else to explain the way in which Trump announced his nominee for the Supreme Court? Everything about it was right out of the Bachelor script. Trump reportedly summoned his two “finalists,” eventual winner Neil Gorsuch and first runner-up Thomas Hardiman, to the White House hours before revealing his selection, drumming up the suspense until he could declare his pick in prime time. The New York Times literally referred to the announcement as a “ceremony,” borrowing language from the Bachelor’s weekly Rose Ceremonies, wherein would-be brides and grooms gather on bleachers to find out who will be sent home before the credits roll. Much like on the real Bachelor, the final contestants were two borderline interchangeable, basically terrible white people. And (at least, in theory) the Bachelor selects a mate he will love and honor, ’til death do they part. It’s a lifetime appointment, if you will.
Michael Schur, co-creator of Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Good Place, started tweeting about the absurdity of Trump’s ceremony using the hashtag #BachelorSCOTUS:
"I came here to be a SCOTUS justice. I really put myself out there. And Gorsuch wasn't even here for the right reasons!" #BachelorSCOTUS
— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) January 31, 2017
“It was simply the ‘reality show playbook’ of it — announce the date and time (prime time!), bring the finalists together, build suspense, announce the winner,” Schur told ThinkProgress via email. “It’s classic competition show, no different from The Bachelor or the end of any televised beauty contest. Except it was being applied to finalists to sit on the sacred bench of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”
“Thankfully,” Schur said, “the pick leaked, and President Chris Harrison was denied the ratings-grabbing dog-and-pony show he was so thirsty for.”
Hardiman and Trump sit close, curled up under a blanket. Trump demurs, then: "Gorsuch told me some stuff about you." #BachelorSCOTUS
— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) January 31, 2017
One would think that it goes without saying that the fate of a great many lives hangs in the balance of a Supreme Court appointment; that every American citizen, and every immigrant who wishes to become a citizen, has a stake in who sits on that bench; that the individuals who comprise this institution wield power over the most important, intimate aspects of our lives. And one might think that a person, upon becoming President of the United States, would treat the decision of who to nominate to the Supreme Court — a responsibility afforded only to those who are in office when there is a rare vacancy on the court, and sometimes not even then, for definitely legitimate, constitutional reasons — with the gravity it deserves.
But that expectation would be based on the behavior of just about every man who held the office of the presidency before Trump. As the Washington Post noted, Trump ran his transition just like a reality show: treating potential Cabinet appointees like Apprentice contestants, complete with the near-elimination of some who make the cut at the last minute; strategic and ever-shifting alliances; a reliance on sad! catchphrases. Why would his presidency operate any differently?
And since January 20 — which, for everyone playing along at home, was only 12 days ago — Trump and his staff have doubled-down on his reality-style tactics. White House press secretary Sean Spicer even invoked the mantra of the classic reality show villain: I’m not here to make friends.
Besides, Trump’s team is thick with plagiarists, so it’s not surprising that Trump would so brazenly lift tropes, language, style, and techniques right out of The Bachelor for this purpose. Considering his obvious devotion to reality television, it’s amazing Trump didn’t demand to be sworn in with his right hand on a copy of TV Guide.
When so much of what comes out of the White House feels like breaking news from an alternate reality — or alternative facts from our breaking reality — why zero in on this?
“The reason it is important to draw attention to things like this is that they are, prima facie, absurd,” said Schur. “And pointing out absurd things the government does is a vital part of a functioning democracy.”