One of the stranger things about the political system that has evolved since the end of the Cold War is the declining reality of politicians. No, not their declining grasp on reality, which is a real thing. It is the fact that our politicians are less and less like normal human beings and more like sketches of human beings. As the role of politician has become more of a role, performed by someone good at public performance, their back stories have grown smaller and less important.
Go back to the last two Cold War presidents and you see men with long and detailed back stories that were relatable. Reagan was the midwestern guy who went to Hollywood to become a star. He ended up on television as a pitchman but became the head of the actor’s union. Poppy Bush came from an old blue blood family. He was in the war and then had a life in politics. He was even the head spy for turn. We knew a lot about these men before they entered the White House.
The first post-Cold War president was a different matter. We know a lot about his time in Arkansas, mostly because of he and his wife’s personal corruption, but none of that was known before he hit the national stage. It was only after he was in the White House that his backstory came into focus. How much of it is true and how much of it is missing is something we will never know. Bill Clinton was the first president who started out as mostly an idea, a sketch of a man, rather than a real person.
Bush the Dull was another poorly drawn sketch. His backstory never got much attention at all, other than his wild days. His bio was mostly inherited from his father, other than the hints of his prior drug taking. It is easy to forget, and many would like to forget, but Bush was sold as an updated Reagan. He was the best of the old line Republicans combined with the social conservatism of the new Republicans. Like Clinton, George Bush was fitted to the role, not the other was around.
Obama may go down as the quintessential liberal democratic politician, because he was pretty much an actor hired for the role. Central casting sketched out the ideal liberal democratic Progressive. He was one part black leading man, one part urban sophisticate, one part mysterious foreigner and one part post-racial. This was poured into the mold of the former three letter heroes. Obama was FDR, JFK, MLK and RFK all rolled into one character. He was the first Mary Sue president.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but when Reagan entered the White House, the media was full of people who knew Reagan going back to his youth. Like presidents before him, this was part of the getting to know him process. We had a lot of Clinton chums turn up in the media, usually from jail, but at least they were people who knew the man before he was famous. To this day we have precious few people who have come forward to talk about the young Obama.
The we got Trump. If Obama is the epitome of liberal democratic politics, Trump is the epitome of modern business ethics. He created a brand first then he used that brand to create business opportunities. He is “fake it until you make it” in the flesh. His life was as the brand manager of Donald Trump the brand. In the whirl of self-promotion, a swarm of ever changing characters would work various deals that always relied on someone in the room being the mark.