I’m Juan Salazar and (maybe) I elected Donald Trump

I remember a few years ago, I would watch NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice religiously. I would cancel plans with friends, avoid any outdoor activities, and ignore phone notifications if the show was on. As much as I lied to myself, I didn’t watch for the charity factor, I watched for the trashy catfights, the celebrity meltdowns, and Trump’s ballsy boardroom persona. Trump’s ability to stir the pot, his irreverent petty remarks, and his shamelessly flirtatious persona made him reality television gold for me and many other viewers.
Who could have thought that years later, my favorite TV personality would become my worst nightmare!

Seriously, the thought of a billionaire mogul, turned reality TV star, turned evil dictator sounds like a twisted plot on an episode of Black Mirror. But today we face our orange-tinted reality: an America with a president who is short-tempered, punishingly un-presidential, and just plain evil. Many might think I’m editorializing with that last statement, or perhaps that it’s just me being a “millennial, liberal snowflake” (an insult I’ve previously received). But when you think about it, this is a person who uses bullying, aggression, and ridicule to address anyone who disagrees with his views. This is a person who’s approach to politics include impulsivity, delusions of grandeur, and an utter lack of compassion. This is a person that makes me sick to my stomach with every one of his actions. His lack of regard for humanity gives me crippling anxiety. Just looking at his smug face makes me want to punch him. I can go as far as to say that he is the first person I’ve ever hated. And with all the pain in my heart, I can now admit that maybe I contributed to his victory.

No, I am not a Republican. No I didn’t vote for Donald Trump since I am not allowed to vote (I am a resident, and God forbid I’d have a say in the country’s future). But I can’t help but to think that had I not watched Celebrity Apprentice, had I not gave in to his cold charisma, our present would have been different. As a society, the support we give to these problematic personalities can be extremely dangerous. Our fascination for the “tanned moms,” the “cash me outside” girls, the Mama Junes reflects our inner desire to be entertained at any cost, no matter the cultural damage it might represent. We want people to be bitchy, we want fights, we want drama, we encourage housewives to throw wine at each other at an intimate dinner. We pay no attention to national spelling bees or scientific achievements, we want Nene Leakes to call Latoya Jackson “Casper the Ghost.” If we had rejected The Celebrity Apprentice, if we as a society had denounced the normalization of bullying as a form of pseudo-entertainment, maybe Trump wouldn’t have been encouraged to run for president. I believe the success of the show encouraged him to further enhance his problematic personality and ultimately gave him the confidence to seek a greater spotlight. If the ratings would have plummeted, if nobody cared about a man humiliating a bunch of C-listers, Trump would’ve probably continued focusing on creating tacky buildings rather than the ridiculous sound bites that brought his people together in cult-like fashion. Whether or not my metaphorical, unintentional support had an impact on his election will remain a mystery, but the sole possibility kills me inside everyday.

I know I might have lost you already with my self-blaming nature, but here’s how I see it. Imagine a toddler repeating a curse word he just heard on television. It is amusing and maybe funny at the moment. You share this anecdote with your friends and family and they laugh, they clap, they ask him to repeat it. His actions, however inappropriate, have become a joke. The accountability or consequences we give to his actions are blurred, the toddler is given a pass due to the fact that he can’t be taken seriously, “it’s all in good fun.” But then, he says it at a funeral and people are mortified. He repeats it. He expects the same response he always gets and the discrepancy will leave him confused and will prompt him to keep saying it until it finds an different meaning. The parents realize that they should have stopped him from the beginning. That is the ‘aha’ moment I had with Donald Trump. By finding his actions amusing at first, I became complicit. I encouraged his behavior through my ratings contributions, my blog comments, my everyday life conversations with my friends, and social media posts. I didn’t stop his bullying, his abuse, or his disrespect when I had the chance.

So what can I do now?

  • I can start by not idolizing problematic pseudo-celebrities who contribute nothing to our culture. There is a difference between finding Snooki’s antics funny to embodying her personality or encouraging others to do so.
  • No offense to reality television or its viewers, but dedicating more time to thoughtful programming might help me shift my focus into other more deserving topics or personalities. I know how pretentious I am sounding right now. I totally understand any eye rolls these bullet points might be causing. But what I am trying to promote is finding a balance between thought-provoking programming and the mindless escapism of reality television. That way, we can put ridiculous behaviors into perspective and avoid normalizing or encouraging the shifting of cultural norms into a pop culture generation where entertainment is our number one priority.
  • And finally, by shifting my energy towards the present and the betterment of the future, I will be able to make a difference. By acknowledging my mistakes I will become a better person. But if I keep dwelling on them, I will accomplish nothing but to become a bitter, sadder version of myself.

So my theory might be a bit far-fetched. Maybe I sound a bit like Hillary Clinton on her “What Happened” book tour. But the reality is, this is the year when I learned to truly acknowledge the tremendous power of my every action (or lack there of). This is the year I finally learn to hold myself accountable even when it’s easier to blame others. Yes, I will continue to err, but I refuse to make the same mistake twice. This has probably been the toughest year of my life, but also the one with the most growth and all it took was electing Donald Trump as president. But looking ahead, I will try to be aware of the consequences of “feeding the crazy”. So in the near future when Honey Boo Boo is sworn into presidency, I’d like to be excluded from that narrative.

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