Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Politics is Professional Wrestling: Donald Trump's 'Pipe Bomb' Promo in South Carolina

They have been given a full palate of colors. Yet, they dabble with them like amateurs. Almost to the one, their paintings are either an accident or a coincidence where something acceptable was produced despite he or she who holds the paintbrush and not because of their gifts or intentions.

The claim that Donald Trump is some type of "professional wrestler" is now part of the political chattering class's lingua franca. Of course, this is not an original idea. It is heavily borrowed from my own writing on the subject. This is not a claim of intentional plagiarism. But rather, that many of the so-called "smart people" have pulled an idea from the ether without wondering from where it was originally spawned...and who has perhaps done a better job of making the argument.

Thus, when these members of the commentariat write about professional wrestling and politics they are looking at shadows of shadows and not Plato's true Forms.

To wit. Donald Trump has doubled down on his professional wrestling heel persona after a second place showing in Iowa. As I predicted, in keeping with the "chickenshit heel" script, Trump would threaten a lawsuit, say that Iowa's outcome was rigged against him, play the victim, claim victory anyway, and amplify his obnoxious tone and rhetoric going forward. Trump successfully followed this game plan in New Hampshire and thereafter.

During last weekend's debate Trump escalated his heel performance by attacking Jeb Bush and his connections to his brother's war in Iraq, calling Ted Cruz a liar to his face, and mocking the crowd.

Political analysts called this debate a professional wrestling "steel cage match". Others suggested that Donald Trump lost and looked "vulnerable" with his aggressive attacks. Some focused in on the boos from the audience as examples of how Trump is increasingly unpopular with Republicans.

These observations are incorrect. Once again, Donald Trump's knowledge of professional wrestling and his heel persona offer the best answers. For the heel, boos are a sign of popularity. Trump is not playing for the donors, media elites, opinion leaders, and other political insiders who attend debates. He is playing for his public. Trump is the champion of the "silent majority" and the "politically incorrect". To them, boos are indications that Trump is doing something right.

Donald Trump did not look weak in the South Carolina debate. His attacks are in keeping with the heel who takes the "cheap shot" and then bows out or "takes a powder". Trump hits when it is advantageous to him. He is not obligated by Queensbury rules. Jeb Bush and the other "establishment" Republicans are impotent before Trump (Cruz perhaps being the exception given his Christian Dominionist base) because they do not understand that fact.

While it may seem like a quibbling complaint or minutia, the following distinction is very important: the South Carolina debate was not a "steel cage match". To make such an observation betrays a limited and incorrect understanding of the narrative arc of professional wrestling. The steel cage match is either the culmination of a long running feud or the "blow off", i.e. the last confrontation to be featured before the respective wrestlers move on to other rivalries. Donald Trump is just getting started with his presidential campaign. Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire are opening gambits. The steel cage match will be the brokered Republican convention or the presidential election itself.

I offer a corrective.

The most compelling and accurate professional wrestling allusion for last weekend's Republican South Carolina presidential primary debate is not that of a steel cage match but rather then WWE Champion CM Punk's legendary 2011 "pipe bomb" promo.

In that monologue, CM Punk performed what is called a "worked shoot". This is a mixture of the scripted (the work) and the shoot (the truth; a real fight or performance).

During the pipe bomb promo, CM Punk told the truth about his own disappointment, frustration, and anger about his relationship with the management and fans of the World Wrestling Entertainment. Punk's presentation was so devastating because it was the truth. He broke the fourth wall that separates the scripted from the real. Punk's promo was made no less powerful by how the management of the WWE gave him permission to publicly air his grievances.

Donald Trump did much the same as he broke the fourth wall of Republican orthodoxy during the South Carolina debate and said 1) that George W. Bush did not keep America safe on September 11, 2001, and 2) that the second Iraq War was based on lies.

These are unadulterated and incontrovertible facts. However, these facts are verboten to a contemporary Republican Party and movement conservatism which together act like a political cult, adherents to Right-wing orthodoxy and disinformation as a type of religion.

The gasps among the South Carolina debate audience and subsequent circling of the wagons by the corporate news media (the faux liberals and Fox News types both) that Trump dared to break the fourth wall and let slip some basic truths showed the power of the moment.

The heel drives the narrative in professional wrestling. The heel is also much more fun to play than the "face" or heroic character. Why? The heel has fewer limits on their behavior and can push boundaries that the "face" never could.

Donald Trump is dominating the news headlines. He is the force that the other Republican candidates have to overcome. The question then becomes is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders going to be able to have enough "shine" and momentum as the Democratic Party's "face" characters to defeat Donald Trump in November?

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