For the past few months, people from around the world have watched with morbid fascination as a large, loud, orange mess bellowed, grunted and projected itself as a man of the people by eating fast food with silverware.
The “grandest stage in American politics” now has the kind of media attention that has Big Brother and the Bachelor producers going green with jealousy. This is in large part due to the weaponised pumpkin — or as a Kickstarter campaign phrased it, the “Trumpkin” — that has now won the Republican nomination.
Donald Trump bears many of the tropes that we have come to appreciate in reality shows these days. The arrogant ignoramus, the politically incorrect villain, the sexist asshole — all of these individual character types have found screen time in various reality shows, to the delight of the audience, who would boo, and vote and happily dissect these people on social media. The part where the Donald stands apart is his signature mix of sexism, arrogance and ignorance (the 18+ version of sugar, spice and everything nice) and building a brand image around it on a rarely-seen scale.
The “weapons-grade plum”, as Sue Perkins referred to him, took his larger-than-life image to a stage where larger-than-life characters are expected, and in fact, cheered on — World Wrestling Entertainment. Perhaps his most famous appearance was as part of the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ storyline, where Trump and Vince McMahon (neither of them close to being actual billionaires, but it’s a catchy title) battled through their wrestler of choice. When Trump’s pick Bobby Lashley defeated McMahon’s fighter Umaga, the man-with-small-hands symbolically proved his superiority by shaving McMahon’s head live on camera.
Regardless of whether Trump’s image is the result of years of deliberate cultivation, a natural state of being or a mixture of the two, the result has a clear terminology in WWE: ‘heel’. A character who goes out of his way to be — and actively enjoys being — a schoolyard bully, a narcissist, a champion of deliberate ignorance and prejudice, the propagator of an us-vs-them mentality and so much more.
Talking out of one’s ass is practically a requirement for a heel character. And as far as bad tans go, Hulk Hogan probably inspired generations of wrestlers to get them. In the WWE, heels can be both booed and cheered on, depending on how their story arc plays out.
It makes sense, then, to look at the American elections as one would a WWE match. There are, of course, a series of one-on-one matches (Clinton vs Sanders), handicap matches (that Republican nominee you don’t even remember), royal rumbles (the RNC), extreme rules matches (Trump against anyone who spoke out against him), dishonorable low blows (every time Trump opens Twitter) and so much more. The WWE had even considered an incest storyline at one point — an idea which they thankfully dropped.
Unfortunately, the Trump campaign seems to have picked up parts of that rejected storyline, considering the man’s insinuations that his daughter was hot enough that he could have otherwise dated her.
Trump recently raised eyebrows when he “apologized” for “certain remarks” that he made in the heat of debate. Political analysts are in overdrive trying to understand why he made such a move when one of his new recruits — Steve Bannon — actually believes that Trump needs to be even louder and more obnoxious (I’m paraphrasing) than he already is in order to win. They perhaps put it down to the tempering influence of Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.
I propose a more unorthodox answer — every heel pretends to mend his evil ways, an act which normally culminates in an act so devastating it makes his previous acts seem cute in comparison.
In the first Presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump will likely piledrive Clinton to bring this story arc to its conclusion. America, you have been warned.