Do we miss Trump just a little bit?
He put the ‘fun’ into ‘breaking fundamental democratic norms’
It’s now one year since Donald Trump left the White House, bowing out with perhaps somewhat sub-ideal levels of gravitas and dignity. He was perhaps the most psychologically unsuitable person to ever hold major office in the United States – but he also one of the funniest. And it’s no coincidence that he came to power during his country’s greatest moment of prolonged moral hysteria in centuries, the Great Awokening.
For all his faults Trump was hugely entertaining, to such an extent that the entertainment industry was a major component in his rise to power. An under-discussed aspect of Trump’s popularity was his previous role in wrestling, a quintessentially American form of entertainment in which the New York tycoon appeared as a comedy baddie who plays up to the crowd, always with a sense of irony. Was his bad guy persona a joke or was it real? No one is ever sure, and there was an element of wrestling heel in the way he played the part of president.
Certainly, in his foreign policy Trump often gave the impression that he was ready to do something truly terrible to one of America’s enemies, yet turned out to be most pacific president in decades. There was no repetition of the disastrous interventions of Clinton, Bush and Obama; like with the wrestling, it was all an act.
Outside of foreign policy, Trump was funny because of his opponents’ po-faced seriousness. We live in a great age of sanctimony, one in which movie award ceremonies have been killed off by the acting profession’s desperate urge to lecture and scold. Public life in the social media age is a status competition in which individuals try to outdo each other in their virtue. Unlike most conservatives in public life, Trump was never going to bother playing that game because he couldn’t win, even if he wanted to – and so played the heel instead. In a system where shame was systematically used to degrade people in public life for having unorthodox opinions, he won by having no shame.