In a recent article for Slate, Bill Pruitt, one of the producers of “The Apprentice,” revealed many of the tricks of scripted reality television that helped recraft an image of Donald Trump, an image many experts believe placed him in the White House.

Since the 1990s, when MTV began throwing attractive young people in apartments filled with alcohol and condoms for “The Real World,” most of us have become wise to those tricks. Producers selectively edit clips, narrowly frame camera shots and angles, and insert dramatic music to create the illusion of a plotline.

In the case of “The Apprentice,” one of the illusions, among many, was that Trump was intimately involved in monitoring the tasks of contestants and when he wasn’t, he was busy attending to more important matters. According to Pruitt, the reality was that Trump needed a lot of hand-holding to understand what was going on, and much of his off-camera time was spent wandering around.

Pruitt wrote that he learned many of the tricks of deception from Appollo Robbins, a Las Vegas showman who has been called a “professional pickpocket.” In reality, Pruitt wrote, Robbins is a “perceptions expert.”

In his act, Robbins will announce what he will steal from a crowd volunteer before he does it. Pruitt says, “He does this not to hurt people or bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality. 

The results are marvelous. A lot of magic is designed to appeal to people visually but what he’s trying to affect is your mind, your moods, your perceptions.”

To varying degrees, most Americans living outside New York City fell for the illusion “The Apprentice” sold us on Donald Trump. Whether we watched the show or not, the myths about this businessman that most of us had only a vague awareness of before began to seep into the public consciousness.

Full Disclosure: I watched several episodes of the show and enjoyed it. However, I began to see that the principles Trump claimed to rely upon to decide a contestant’s fate were never evenly applied. 

In one episode, he would fire someone for conferring with their teammates instead of making the decision alone. In the next episode, he would fire someone for doing the opposite. I stopped watching because of this. 

But it wasn’t because I didn’t fall for the illusion that Trump was a savvy businessperson. Instead, it was because I assumed he was and these “principles of business” he employed just weren’t things I understood or cared to know about.

Like most of us, I fell for the illusion.

However, the illusion was put at risk once he descended that elevator on June 16, 2015. Like all modern political campaigns, his campaign apparatus could stand in as “producers” to manage his image. But now, he had to contend with new elements that had previously been only minor players in his story— a free press and curious public.

Once Donald Trump could no longer script his own story, the illusion faced scrutiny it had not known before.

Many decided the real Donald Trump was not fit for public office. Others stopped believing the illusion but cynically upheld it for political reasons. A small but significant number of people, however, refused to believe the illusion was anything other than reality.

For almost a decade now, the first group–those who see the illusion for what it is and refuse to allow it to stand– has looked at the last group –those who believe the illusion– with high levels of exasperation.

“How can they not see what is right in front of them?” This frustration and derision reinforce the feelings of many who believe the illusion that they are looked down upon, driving them deeper into the illusion.

Since last week’s debate between President Joe Biden and former President Trump, it has felt like some Biden supporters have tried to engage in “Apprentice” level framing and deception, challenging our maps of reality.

The illusion we are being led to believe is that Biden’s disastrous debate performance was a 90-minute aberration. They are swiveling the cameras away from his incoherent answers and physical decline and toward his legitimate successes as President.

“There’s nothing to see here, look over there instead.”

But we all saw what we saw. And, if we are honest, we will admit that it isn’t the first time we have seen it.

Anyone who has spent any amount of energy attempting to convince others to see the illusion of Trump for what it is cannot, with any amount of integrity, allow this illusion to go without scrutiny. This doesn’t negate any of the other considerations voters will need to carry into the upcoming election:

We must ask if the physical and cognitive decline of an aging president who believes in democracy is a more significant threat than a president who doesn’t hide his desire to be an autocrat.

We must acknowledge and contend with the fact that we have all contributed to an element of discriminatory ableism in conversations about Biden’s debate performance.

We must recognize that even though the general public wants to see a fully engaged, decisive leader, the executive branch’s best work is done by a President’s capable team.

A crucial element of good faith is telling the truth. As Marquis Hunt wrote in a recent GFM column, it is helpful to remember that “Not every truth is the necessary truth to rally for at the moment; it needs to be the right moment.”

But we can’t ignore the truth. As people of faith, we can’t abide with illusions, regardless of how much comfort they may bring us.

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