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How Trump Hatched His Success Story

October 16th, 2020 by dk

Most of us have somebody (living or dead) we wish we could ask about President Donald Trump. Yours might be a Founding Father or your actual father. Mine is Richard Hatch, the star and winner of the first season of “Survivor” in 2000. Hatch was portrayed as a shrewd scoundrel, manipulating (or was it outsmarting?) the other contestants to win the $1 million prize.

He and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett pioneered the anti-hero persona for so-called “reality TV.” They proved that large numbers of Americans — 54 million viewers — will follow a character they love to hate. Evil geniuses were not new, but they had always been safely ensconced in fiction, where they could do no real harm to real people. Television executives were surprised that viewers obsessed over what scheme Hatch might hatch next.

One viewer who was particularly enthralled was Donald Trump. (He admitted as much  to Hatch in 2011.) In 2000, Trump didn’t worry that he wasn’t rich enough. He did worry that he wasn’t famous enough. Feeding red meat to New York tabloids couldn’t build his national brand. 

Howard Stern and syndicated radio couldn’t make Trump a household name. Only television could do that, but Trump wasn’t likable enough or handsome enough. Then came Richard Hatch to show the way. Trump and Burnett followed that template to  craft Trump’s 2004 TV persona. He would play a rich and powerful scoundrel boss, one who finishes every meeting by telling somebody, “You’re fired!”

Hatch himself was one of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” contestants in 2011. Not long after that, Trump built a new strategy for greater fame. He’d run for president. He’d use President Obama as his foil, just as Hatch used the lovable-but-naive Rudy.

Trump trademarked “Make America Great Again” the day after Obama won a second term in 2012. Trump used profanity the same way Hatch used nudity, knowing what broadcasters would and wouldn’t show in their final cut. Remember the pirouettes done to avoid repeating Trump’s assessment of “shithole countries”? We’re less innocent now.

What does Richard Hatch think of how Trump mimics his “Survivor” character? I tracked him down in Rhode Island to find out. “He is an utterly deluded, impotent, and incompetent man whose facade is much more fragile than he understands,” Hatch told me. Even Hatch’s four dogs see nothing good in Trump.

Hatch doesn’t think Trump is smart enough to sustain his schtick. “[I’m] grateful he is pathetically unsophisticated and incapable of maintaining his unraveling reign.” Hatch credits “a trove of sycophants — themselves short-sighted and desperately in search of power” with keeping Trump’s charade going.

Reality will eventually intervene. “Trump’s presence has been horribly destructive, and I fear we will not course-correct quickly enough.,” he reflected, noting we need “to build life-preserving mechanisms to keep incompetent, abusive dolts from positions of power … before we destroy ourselves.”

And if we don’t?…

“If Americans are unable to reconcile Trump’s impact and our worldwide decline (unlikely, since most Americans lack any objective world perspective), I believe the road ahead will be bumpy and relatively short.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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