The Donald J. Trump campaign for president has thus far survived vicious comments antagonizing practically every minority in America, an assault allegation against a high-ranking official, and a feud with the Pope. Would the denunciation of four former contestants on Trump's NBC reality show really derail him?
Probably not. But then again, in this reality show of a campaign year, it wasn't insane of Apprentice alumni Kwame Jackson (Season 1), Tara Dowdell (S3), Marshawn Evans Daniels, (S4, via Skype), and group ringleader Dr. Randal Pinkett (S4, winner) to think that their criticisms might at least sway someone.
So these four Apprentice alumni, all of them black, held a press conference on Friday in the modest, decidedly un-Trumpian ballroom of The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan to take turns flinging angry barbs at their onetime would-be employer.
"We acknowledge Donald's success as a businessman, and genuinely appreciate the opportunity The Apprentice afforded all of us," Pinkett said during his introductory statement. "We, however, strongly condemn Donald's campaign of sexism, xenophobia, racism, violence, and hate."
For more than an hour, the former Apprentice contestants stood behind a scuffed lectern and read eloquent, forceful anti-Trump invective. Many noted their disappointment that Trump, whom they once admired as a businessman and looked to as a mentor, has turned into such a divisive figure. (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were invoked multiple times—in this analogy, Trump the Apprentice host and real estate genius was Jekyll; Trump the Birther and demagogical presidential candidate was Hyde.)
And yet the group of Apprentice alumns clearly had learned and internalized at least one strategy from Trump: a mastery of the media. God, could these people serve up a soundbite. Season One runner-up Kwame Jackson, in particular, let loose with several one-liners that were aimed at the dozen or so television cameras in the back.
"America is often beguiled by a billionaire because he's shiny," Jackson said.
"Choose Kennedy over Kardashianism," Jackson said.
"Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do," Jackson said. explaining why he had come forward. Trump, he said, reminded him of the infamously racist North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, and also George Wallace standing in the door of a schoolhouse to block integration, and the politicians who instituted Apartheid in South Africa. He warned that the next Dylann Roof was out there watching, listening, probably getting inspired by Trump's rhetoric.
"Jim Crow has graduated to Jim Crow Esquire," Jackson said, paraphrasing Al Sharpton.
What seemed at first like an exercise in vanity and pointlessness—alumni of a mid-2000s reality show are going to bring down the GOP frontrunner?—was, if doomed to fall on deaf ears, at least deeply felt. Everyone who spoke mentioned that they felt a personal responsibility to do so. Mercifully, not a single person uttered "You're fired!" or any variation.
During the Q&A following the event, Pinkett indirectly blamed The Apprentice for the Trump phenomenon: without it, he reasoned, Trump would not enjoy the platform or recognition necessary to launch a successful campaign. It was a revealing moment: Pinkett noted that many Trump supporters cited Trump's work on The Apprentice as a reason they trusted him as a leader; thus, Pinkett reasoned, it was their responsibility, as Apprentice alumni, to push back.
Somehow complicit in the creation of a Frankenstein's Monster, Pinkett, Jackson, Daniels, and Dowdell had assembled to bring the Monster under control.
It's a strategy that, while perhaps clever, probably won't work. And besides, by the time Pinkett lambasted mass media for fueling the rise of Donald Trump, many of the television cameras had already stopped rolling.