The Performing Trump

I’ll take a break from politics until Labor Day, at least, or until Trump quits, whichever comes first. On all sides, this campaign is too much like norovirus. As I leave, I’ll commend this very good essay from Kevin Williamson about the rhetoric of political humor especially Mencken and Twain.

And a last thought about Trump. It occurred to me this morning that, when he says these outrageous things, that he disorients us all. We treat him, naturally enough, like a politician, most of whom are driven by ambition and take some pains not to alienate anyone unnecessarily. Trump is a minigun of offensiveness. We might accept it in a crude sort of stand-up comedy, but it’s disorienting in a politician.

But, perhaps, we shouldn’t think of him as a politician. Perhaps, even in is own mind, that isn’t what he is, despite running for president. Perhaps he sees this all as a sort of performance, indeed, sees his entire life as a performance. He has been playing the role of mogul, of deal-maker, most of his life. He puts his name on everything he owns, usually in immense letters, often shiny. Perhaps he is not especially concerned with winning or losing; he has committed himself to a certain character, and he’s going to play that character to the end.

Let’s think of him for a moment as an actor who has decided that Candidate Trump behaves in certain ways. An actor doesn’t change his characterization in the middle of Act 3, unless he’s out to confuse us. A different motivation might take over, depending on events in the play, but the personality of the character won’t change. The actor, if a good one and a little Method-y, puts the character on, but his own personality is tucked away in a safe place. What the character says, what happens to the character, whether joyous or terrible, don’t affect the actor, nor not much. We’ve all heard of actors who become entirely immersed in their roles for the duration of the performance, but when the play’s run is ended, or filming is completed, they emerge.

Politicians also create public persona, at least since the time of Julius Caesar and maybe before. Caesar crafted a particular persona to win support and kept it before the Roman public. Such political personae are usually exaggerations, edits, of the “real” personality. I’m suggesting that Candidate Trump’s persona is more than usually fictitious.

I’m far from confident in this suggestion, but it makes a little sense to me right now. It seems a little dangerous in a candidate for the presidency, in part because we can’t guess what persona he’ll put on should he take office.

I see that someone else has had a similar idea.

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