In an America filled with people accustomed to being disdained and dismissed, Mr. Vargas argued, voters in red states and swing states for the first time in a long while got to see a White House that was almost entirely devoid of mystique.
“Through the influencers in his orbit, Trump created a parallel reality for people who don’t need the validation of The New York Times, who don’t listen to NPR, and couldn’t give a hoot about the difference between New York magazine and The New Yorker,” he said.
“Who is on MSNBC?” Ms. Min said. “More often than not, it’s someone in Georgetown with carefully curated books on American history behind them. The person speaking for Trump on Fox News is loud, brash and may not have read a book in the last year, but it doesn’t matter. It’s from the gut.”
Twitter, where ideas get winnowed down to sound bites and fights get likes, has proved to be a forum remarkably like reality television, Ms. Min added. Not just because Mr. Trump could smack down enemies without adjudication by journalists, but because his habit of retweeting the most vitriolic attacks on his opponents amplified the voices of those making them, turning them into personalities and building the illusion of a populist uprising around what was mostly a cult of personality.
“It’s algorithmic behavior,” she said. “People like what you say, you get retweets and validation from the president, so you say more and more of it. It’s like in reality television, where you get rewarded for how outrageous your antics are, how bold you are, and also, how aggressively you’ll go after the opponent.”
Mr. Trump didn’t have to look far to find people who’d do this. His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., a self-professed “social media troll” amassed a following of 6.2 million people by throwing down at people like Robert Mueller, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. That led to a book, “Triggered,” a New York Times best seller.