Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to Trump-le!

August 28, 2015
The Gallagher family carries cut-outs of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump while waiting in line outside a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire

Gallagher family carries cut-outs of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump while waiting outside a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

As I watch Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, I am reminded of the wrestling promoter extraordinaire, Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment. McMahon is a lesser billionaire than Trump, but he is a man who understands the American appetite for entertainment in a cynical age.

In 1989, McMahon admitted what everyone knew –that pro wrestling is scripted. Similarly, Trump has lately divulged that the political game in America is fixed because politicians have to solicit money to fund their campaigns. McMahon lost nothing from his admission. He knew that what mattered more than the match in the ring was the trash talk that went on before and after the matches.

Television personality and real estate developer Trump and World Wrestling Entertainment owner McMahon talk during a segment of NBC's "Today" show in New York

World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon McMahon (L) shaved his head after he lost a wager to Donald Trump. They talk during a segment of NBC’s “Today” show in New York, April 2, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Trump, too, understands the crowd’s appetite for trash talk. In a week of galvanic financial markets and epic emigration from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, Trump, the front-running Republican candidate, retweeted that Megyn Kelly, the FOX News host, is a “bimbo.”

I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I ought to be mightily offended by Trump’s declaration that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers. Instead, I laugh at his low estimate of his audience.

I laugh, like a teenaged boy laughs at the trash-talking wrestler at Summer Slam. And I am American enough to recognize an American comic type. Trump is Ralph Kramden, he is Archie Bunker, he is Ted Knight, he is Foghorn Leghorn — braggarts, blowhards all. Trump is so pumped up by the media, he floats above us as gigantic as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, and, as advertised, he is untethered.

There is an opposite tradition in American clownery, a tradition of silence that explores the smallness, even the pathos of our lives. The most famous American circus clown of the last century, Emmett Kelly, was doleful and hapless. In the movies, particularly before talkies, the poet-clowns were losers — Charlie Chaplin, of course, but also the balletic Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

mahurin for wapshot (elephant & clown

Credit: MATT MAHURIN

What intrigued me about the Marx Brothers was the meeting of two comic traditions — the randy mute played by Harpo versus Groucho’s double-talking con-man, Otis B. Driftwood. Trump is what Otis B. Driftwood aspires to become and never will — rich. Trump is Daddy Warbucks; he is Scrooge McDuck; he is Mr. Moneybags with dollar bills spilling from his top hat.

What many Latinos I know are saying about Trump is that the clownish behavior can have serious consequences. Two teenage boys in South Boston find a Mexican homeless man to beat up on a street corner, because the trash-talking politician has granted them an excuse for the kick.

There is something sinister about circuses and clowns. And mimes, too.  Shrieking white face makes children cry. Not a few comic books and horror films have imagined the mass murderer as a clown—a conceit that James Eagan Holmes turned on the audience in the Century 16 theater complex in Aurora, Colorado, at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.

Trump is not a monster. He is a duckling-haired billionaire who lives in a skyscraper, high above the proprieties and vapors of civilization. When news reached him that two young men had beaten a homeless man in South Boston, Trump distanced himself from the pair.

But it remains a dark business, this deliberate political un-correctness that Trump passes as truth-telling.

Republican presidential candidate Trump spars with Univision reporter Ramos before his "Make America Great Again Rally" in Dubuque

Donald Trump spars with Univision reporter Jorge Ramos before a rally at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ben Brewer

Watch his eyes at the podium, the way his eyes search our faces, the way he savors our laughter. Trump strikes me as dangerous not so much for what he believes but for how little he seems to believe — preparation for a debate would be a weight on his panache — and how much he is willing to say. He dares to demean American prisoners of war. What matters is lip.

He began his presidential campaign by pairing Mexico and China as America’s primary adversaries. When he gleaned from the stirrings in his audiences that Mexico is the larger annoyance, he postponed China and offered a solution to illegal immigration worthy of a Chinese emperor: I will build the greatest wall you’ve ever seen! At a time when China is violating its own ancient wall to extend its presence all over the world, Trump advised America to wall itself in.

To its credit, the American middle class traditionally does not envy the rich; we all aspire to be rich. But here is something new: the middle class being persuaded by the rich man to turn against the poor. This is not a call we are accustomed to hear from a billionaire. But when his authority to speak is the freedom of his wealth, the middle-class audience is romanced by the demagogue.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for jury duty at Manhattan Supreme Court in New York

Donald Trump arrives for jury duty at Manhattan Supreme Court in New York, August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

I am old enough to remember a time — the 1950s, the 1960s — when the cultural left in America reveled in upsetting the verbal proprieties of the middle class. I am old enough to remember Lenny Bruce being arrested for verbal obscenity on stage. I remember the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.  Maybe because the political and cultural left took so many constituencies — gays, women, racial minorities — to itself, there developed a caution, a political correctness that deliberated how, or even if, we could characterize one another.

What remained of verbal unruliness in the cultural left took the form of music — rap, metal, hip hop. Otherwise, as the university learned political correctness, the political right discovered the car radio. The undergraduate became puritanical in her speech; her grandfather listened to Rush Limbaugh.

Trump inherited his braggadocio from Limbaugh. Limbaugh had ascended to talk-show stardom by playing the merry iconoclast, mocking the left’s sacred cows, from “femi-Nazis” to the speech pattern of “the Reverend Jessie Jackson.”

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the crowd in the overflow room following a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire

Donald Trump speaks to the crowd in the overflow room following a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By his own admission, Limbaugh owes his rude freedom to Bob Grant, the Jubilation T. Cornpone of talk radio. Grant entertained his audiences by hanging up on callers who challenged him. Grant referred to Haitian boat people as “scum” many decades before Trump divulged to his audiences that Mexican immigrants are criminals.

The irony is that we now have a trash-talking billionaire who, in the name of controlling illegal immigration, incites the crowd at the state fair to illegality — to disregard the 14th Amendment, retroactively to deny the children of illegal immigrants, “anchor babies,” citizenship. (The 14th Amendment prescribes that U.S. citizenship be based not on blood but on the power of this soil to name us. It was an amendment the Congress passed in the aftermath of the Civil War to insist to a fractured nation that former slaves were as much Americans as those Americans who once enslaved them.)

Republican candidates in the main tent have heard the applause coming from the Trump side show. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has announced that he, too, is against birthright citizenship. The candidates begin to line up, like a Dumbo parade of elephants, each holding the tail in front of him — Senator Rand Paul (Ky.), Ben Carson, Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — himself a birthright citizen. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who once presumed himself the ringmaster, has joined in using the term — “anchor baby” — he once foreswore.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's greets the crowd during his "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa

Donald Trump’s greets the crowd during his rally at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ben Brewer

Vince McMahon’s wife, Linda McMahon, has twice run for the Senate. She spent many millions of pro-wrestling booty for her campaigns. But, in the end, the voters of Connecticut twice were unable to vote for a candidate whose money had come from telling the truth about the lie of pro wrestling.

Not everything is a verbal game, after all. Sometimes, pro wrestlers have died in the ring, the result of having punished their bodies with steroids to turn themselves into comic book heroes or villains. Sometimes, two teens in South Boston, drunk with something they heard a billionaire tell them, end up under arrest.

I do not think that Trump will win his party’s nomination. But what a great price we pay for the humor he has added to the evening. He parodies American values and turns them against us. He reduces individualism to egoism, plain-speech to blowhard insults, patriotism to nativism. Like the greatest of humorists, he makes us laugh and reveals what fools we are.

31 comments

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Thanks for the jolt of reality. Indeed the allure of the Cult of Personality was calling…

Posted by deadbeatles | Report as abusive

This is a good and insightful article. I particularly think that your comparisons of Trump to entertainers is correct.

However, I am not convinced that “the middle class being persuaded by the rich man to turn against the poor.” I think the appeal of Trump has more to do with Americans’ belief that our political elites don’t actually much care about Americans. So we are supporting a guy who reminds me of PT Barnum. And perhaps we all should remember that PT Barnum’s most famous statement is “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Posted by RedSegje | Report as abusive

While Trump may be a clown he is less dangerous then the lying career politician who talks out of one side of his mouth to get elected and does something completely different.

Trump doesn’t run around pandering to the religious right pretending to be a Christian then propose policies that are have nothing “Christian” about them.

America is dumb, very dumb that is why the same snake politicians continue to get elected as people know the name and vote on party lines. At least Trump isn’t trying to lie and cover up who he really is like the rest of the pack!

Posted by GH112 | Report as abusive

It’s like he’s doing a Colbert shtick.

Posted by geonel | Report as abusive

This was a very refreshing article to read. Thank you.

Posted by ValenCourt | Report as abusive

Author’s attempt at compelling reporting/opinion falls flat. The piece struggles to keep my attention, unlike cheerleader Trump’s material.

Posted by ernstostermann | Report as abusive

He is over the top, but other than the specific approach to his particular type of manipulation I don’t see him as much different in intent than the majority of other candidates either GOP or DFL. I have said he is like Mussolini, and that is true, he is like Mussolini. However, every power hungry minion of the wealthy has the same plans to manipulate us and enslave us for the wealthy. What’s new.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Mexico has less than half the population of the USA, yet they cannot come close to taking care of their own people, they use the USA as an economic dumping ground.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION is just the symptom of the real problem, that Latin America refuses to take care of its own people.

Americans are sick and tired of being accused of being racists because we don’t support illegal immigration.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

The GOP is not sending their best into this race. They’re sending their drug addicts, their criminals, their rapists. We’re getting the scum of the republican party until we build a better wall to keep them out.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Do you actually mean to say that the Boston thugs who beat a homeless Mexican did so because Trump gave them permission?

Posted by NBE | Report as abusive

if only two comments pass your filter after 6 hours, the liberal agenda is obvious.

Posted by ernstostermann | Report as abusive

The issues of the day are at times compelling. An honest debate as to what course the nation should take would seem to be in order. It is too bad that we are so poisoned and fragmented as a nation that we will not have that debate.

Posted by CanyonLiveOak | Report as abusive

Very well written. Would that I could write as well.

Little trace of bitterness to interfere with what he had to say.

Sadness, though. That’s enough to make one hopeful.

Posted by Curlee | Report as abusive

Oh great, so Bill Maher just wrote this column.

Posted by codestud3 | Report as abusive

The reason why Trump will never be POTUS is not because he’s a buffoon, but because he cannot be controlled by TPTB. He would never submit to being steamrolled by the Military Industrial Complex, Fed Bankers and Wall Street like the way our last 3 Presidents have been.

Posted by SH1337 | Report as abusive

Trump is not like Ted Knight. The Donald may be like the buffoonish character Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but not the actual actor named Ted Knight.

Posted by CupcakeWarrior | Report as abusive

Trump is not interested in any debate CanyonLiveOak. Obnoxious blowhards use their loudness to drown out their opponents. That and going off on a tangent for personal attacks in order to avoid answering questions about the actual topic. All of that was painfully apparent during Trump’s first ‘debate’.

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

Rodriguez, like a politician you use many words but say almost nothing. In contrast, Trump’s direct style is authentic and refreshing. He has stated his various positions, none of which are radical. It is true many people will become fixated on his delivery (as you seem to be) and not understand his message. I have no problem with his message or style. In the end we are judged by our actions not words.

Posted by smith_9000 | Report as abusive

Smith: Trump’s message is not radical? What message is that precisely? It is rather well known that the majority of the positions Trump has taken on the issue is utterly groundless and not based on the reality. Some high school level fact-checking via Google would verfiy that. Needless to say, Trump’s *positions* has very little chance of becoming policy should he become President, not without dragging America into a global trade war or the hot shooting kind. Neither of which will result in America coming out a winner.

Bottom line, xenophobic talking points and rhetoric is not “taking a position” by any stretch of the imagination. That nothing more than a stage performance designed to entertain the uninformed masses.

What’s really hilarious about Trump supporters is the fact that they don’t even know why they are backing him. For example, Trump supporters love him for supposedly being a straight talker and sticking to his guns. Meanwhile on the campaign trail, Trump has mentioned “flexibility”, “negotiations” and “deal making” more times than we can count. Those two are diametrically opposed positions so which is the real one? Consistancy anyone?

Posted by blah77 | Report as abusive

Well stated! But, isn’t this nasty, mean-spirited, hate-mongering clown getting boring?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

blah77: Trump’s positions can be found on the Internet – but you know that. Trump suggests that we play the game of global trade in a way that keeps more good jobs in the US – you do understand the decades long problem of polarization of wealth and income in the US? Your post seems short on facts but full of jabs and insults – perhaps you are more like Trump than you think. Of course he realizes that only some of what he suggests might come to pass. Voting for a Presidential candidate is voting for general direction – more taxes or less taxes, more global inter-dependence or more national independence, etc. I think he’s made clear which direction he will push in many areas.

Posted by smith_9000 | Report as abusive

trump is refreshing for several reasons.

not a lawyer, not a professional pant seat polisher, not a back scratcher, not beholden to anyone or anything but common sense.

Posted by haode | Report as abusive

blah77: Trump’s positions can be found on the Internet – but you know that. Trump suggests that we play the game of global in a way that keeps more of the good jobs here in the USA – you do understand the decades long problem of polarization of wealth and income in the US? Your post seems short on facts but full of jabs and insults – perhaps you are more like Trump than you think. Of course he realizes that only some of what he suggests might come to pass. Voting for a Residential candidate is voting for general direction – more taxes or less taxes, more global inter-dependence or more national independence, etc.

Posted by smith_9000 | Report as abusive

“But here is something new: the middle class being persuaded by the rich man to turn against the poor.” This is not new; the Republicans have been doing this for years, and Trump, a Republican, is the leading GOP candidate.

Posted by elprofesor66 | Report as abusive

Finally a fresh air , got sick of the two clans that run this country to the ground.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Surveys, polls, and focus groups are ways of getting you to tell politicians the lie that you will believe. Don’t respond. It’s their job to tell us what they truly believe and will try to do, not the other way around. By denying them this information, you also reduce the value of their television, radio, and autocaller ads. This is because you deny them your feedback on their message which is what they need to decide to place more ads or pull them. — Don’t respond to polls, surveys, and focus groups, particularly if you are an undecided voter. — Don Krieger — Please repost!

Posted by DonKrieger | Report as abusive

All due respect, Richard, this is a crock. You are completely missing the point of Trump’s success. He is succeeding because his message that professional politics is a shameful betrayal of the Constitution and the American Dream. He is succeeding by saying what many people realize: that the political class IS in fact owned by the lobbyists and special interest, your, mine and ours.

Not saying he’s great on policy specifics, but tell me: When did you EVER hear policy specifics from a member of the professional political class? Ever write a letter to your congressman, or inquire on his/her website about a specific issue?

What did you get in reply. Gibberish that erupts from the fear of specificity. Gibberish that comes from this central thought” If my answer is vague enough I might still get this guys vote, and if I win, who cares?

Yes, he’s boorish and he’s theatrical, but he’s embedded in something much deeper in the cultural psyche than you think.

Posted by byerstexas | Report as abusive

The only way he wins the nomination is if Charlie Sheen is his running mate

Posted by LouD | Report as abusive

People laughed at Hitler, and they made fun of Mussolini. Never underestimate the ability of a psychopath to manipulate the mob. Trump is indeed a blowhard. But we are indeed the fools if we don’t find a way to roll back from the racist hatred that now feeds the ‘soft-white underbelly’ of America. (And given how obesity is rampant in lower-income families, that phrase is more descriptive than ever!)

Posted by BGaston | Report as abusive

Trump, you bore me, YOUR FIRED!

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Macedonian swoons: “Finally a fresh air , got sick of the two clans that run this country to the ground.”

Uhhh, you know he’s a republican, right? He’s actually just part of the same 2 clans. Unless you meant Coke and Pepsi.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive