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President-elect Donald Trump meets with US President Barack Obama during an update on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump meets with US President Barack Obama during an update on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

John Doyle: Trump on 60 Minutes: a TV corroboration of legitimacy Add to ...

If you were fretful already, the alarm bells should be ringing loudly and incessantly now.

The president-elect of the United States, after the campaign hurly-burly, still sounds like a narcissistic, boasting 15 year-old, with the vocabulary of a 12 year-old. And that is said with all due respect. The point of Donald Trump’s one-hour interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday was to induce respect. That inducement was the engine that drove it.

All sorts of rogues and scoundrels have used an appearance on 60 Minutes to legitimize their actions, no matter how rogue-ish or heinous. It’s a very comfortable platform to make your case, repair your reputation or re-introduce yourself to the tens of millions of Americans who watch 60 Minutes as a ritual on Sunday nights – a dozy dose of comforting pseudo-news.

Read more: Trump stokes uncertainty with Reince, Bannon picks for White House staff

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Long gone are the days when 60 Minutes did investigative journalism and caused conniptions. Now it’s rather like People magazine, without the edge.

Donald Trump’s appearance on 60 Minutes on Sunday was neither a hard-hitting interview nor an illumination of anything other than ritual normalization – see folks, here he is with his handsome, smiling family, the newly crowned king of white American males. Not remote, not weird and not the Satan some no-goodniks marching on the streets are saying. Let’s assuage all fears and alleviate silly-billy hysteria. It’s just that he lives in this massive tower where he and his family (none of whom have foreheads that move) sit around on the kind of chairs you probably last encountered at some faux-fancy wedding.

Multiple snippets of the interview were released in advance but it’s the whole package and presentation that really, really matters.

The big 60 Minutes interview is a coming-out, a corroboration of legitimacy. As interviewer Lesley Stahl said, “After Tuesday, only one description matters – president-elect.” And yeah, for 60 Minutes, his face looked less orange and his hair was something approaching the colour white. Suddenly statesman-like, strangely enough.

This kind of a 60 Minutes interview is especially important at a time when there’s a cacophony of social media and online commentary. Old-school TV matters more than any of that when it comes to bestowing gravitas. That’s why Mr. Trump and family agreed to it.

And so Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, recorded Friday, was this – the wagons of authority and permissibility being circled around the president-elect. In this kind of TV appearance, it matters how the cameras are used to frame the interviewee. It matters how viewers are invited to interpret the body language and to focus, or not, on the words used. It matters what the interviewer asks and Ms. Stahl hesitated to go beyond some mild insistence that the protesters in the streets outside Trump Tower mattered. No questions about groping women. Instead she fed him lines that required a response conferring authority in him. She noted he looked “sober” when he met President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump duly replied that, yeah, it occurred to him that he now had enormous responsibility. Invited to be humbled, he sort-of agreed that he was humbled. This was no interrogation.

Nobody could claim it was a historic interview. (It certainly lacked the weird frisson of Bill and Hillary Clinton flailing for understanding during a “bimbo eruption” in Bill’s campaign in 1992.) What mattered deeply was the staging and the intuitive mainstream TV impulse to flatter power without quite grovelling. Mr. Trump was given ample time to boast about his Twitter following and say, “I won easily” and “I’m very good at this.” CBS and 60 Minutes know better than to dent the vanity of the most powerful man in America, the king of white males.

Yes, it was very, unnervingly male, with the female interviewer as supplicant, no real misgivings apparent when Mr. Trump blithely declared he’d appoint “pro-life judges” to the Supreme Court and as for women affected by ensuing decisions, “They’ll have to go to another State.” One half-expected Ms. Stahl to go full People magazine mode and ask Mr. Trump and wife Melania where they went on their first date.

While the full 60 Minutes interview unfolded, noise around Mr. Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist on his White House staff was loud and intense. Pundits on CNN were calling Mr. Bannon “a white nationalist” and “a dangerous fascist.” The 60 Minutes interview existed as a calculated, counter-argument: Everything’s okay, we defer to the president-elect. “After Tuesday, only one description matters – president-elect.”

But, if you were nervous already, savour this 60 Minutes. It was a surreal moment of calm before the coming storm. It was merely an elephantine ego encountering a deferential TV show, attempting to confer authority.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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