Government as theatre

The Trump administration doesn’t make sense as government. He has no coherent foreign or domestic policies. He fires trusted advisors regularly. White House staff wake up each morning and check their Twitter feeds to find out what bizarre direction the country is now going in.

    image: NPR

However, the Trump administration does make sense as theatre. Not exactly Shakespeare, although there may be comic elements. More like professional wrestling says Naomi Klein:

“It’s hard to overstate Trump’s fascination with wrestling (Harper’s magazine, Sept., 2017).”

He has performed at least eight times in World Wrestling Entertainment, enough to earn a place in the W.W.E. Hall of Fame. In the “Battle of the Billionaires,” he pretended to beat wrestling champ Vince McMahon and shaved McMahon’s head in front of the cheering throng.

Trump honed his infotainment skills in front of live audiences. As president, whenever he wants a feel-good moment he assembles crowds of supporters and whips up the crowd with the standard rhetoric of wrestling.

His campaign followed the and true wrestling script: invent heroes and villains. Mock the villains with insulting nicknames like “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted.” Stir up the crowd with over-the-top insults and chants like “Killary,” and “Lock her up.” Direct the crowd’s rage at the designated villains: journalists and demonstrators.

“Outsiders would emerge from these events shaken, not sure what had just happened,” says Klein, “What had happened was a cross between a pro-wrestling match and a white-supremacist rally.”

President Trump’s plans to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, if it ever happens, will have the circus-like feel of a wrestling match. Each leaders boasts of having a bigger rocket than the other. They trade insults, Trump calling Jong-un a “little rocket man.” Jong-un calling Trump a “Mentally deranged dotard (senile old man).”

Trump will promote the match as having high stakes. If Trump wins –and in wrestling, the hero always wins- Kim will have to eat humble pie. Trump will symbolically shave Kim Jong-un’s head.

That’s how Trump will spin the meeting. The reality is a bit different. Trump is not bargaining from a position of strength. While he does have the potential to bomb North Korea out of existence, that would also destroy much of South Korea. Kim Jong-un’s stature is elevated to that of a world leader as a result of the proposed meeting with Trump.

Trump is not bothered at all about the political reality, his concern is ratings. Klein explains:

“So Trump sees himself less as a president than as the executive producer of his country, with an eye always on the ratings. Responding to the suggestion that he fire his press secretary, he reportedly said, ‘I’m not firing Sean Spicer. That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.’”

It’s a mistake to think of Trump as a politician. He ran for office as reality show host and won because he isn’t a politician. He is skilled at attracting attention to himself with crude, audacious, contradictory, untrue and insulting remarks.

It works. In a world that’s increasingly narcissistic, Trump is skilled at drawing attention to himself with his clever wrestling shtick.

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