Maçães recognises that the US is not the only country reinventing itself. Much of the world no longer aims to emulate any liberal model of society or government. Like many, however, he conflates a rejection of liberalism with rejection of the West. Russia has repudiated both, and for that reason is most feared by western liberals. For the Bolsheviks Soviet communism was an avowedly westernising project, a combination of French Jacobinism with American Taylorism – the ideology of “scientific labour management” which Lenin admired and Trotsky tried to implement. Nothing could be further from the future Western liberals imagined for post-communist Russia than Putin’s blend of autocracy, anarchy and Orthodoxy. Despite being much more repressive and vastly more costly in human lives, the former Soviet Union is far less alien.
For him, the presidency of Donald Trump is the apotheosis of this phenomenon. But whereas the former actor Ronald Reagan turned what he had learnt from Hollywood into political messages, Trump has turned the presidency into a branch of the entertainment industry. As Macaes points out, he does not use the skills he learnt as the star and co-producer of The Apprentice to be a more skilful politician; he uses the stage of the presidency to become the nation’s most-watched reality TV act. To quote the author’s characteristic phrase, this is “a Copernican turn”.
On Trump, though, the book is simply brilliant – mischievous, and full of insights. Trump has not just adopted the techniques and tricks of the game-show, he has actually made the White House a continuum of the show. Being President of the United States is no different from being the omnipotent, omniscient host of ‘The Apprentice.’ In both roles, he can make his own reality. In the post-truth fantasy world of his game-show, he is playing the role of the most successful businessman in the world. But, then, even John F Kennedy and George W Bush’s team believed in adjustable reality. “We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” affirmed Karl Rove, the White House Svengali, before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.