Just after midnight on May 31, 2017 President Trump might have slyly revealed, via Twitter, the key to his political superpower: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe….” A twitter storm ensued. Just after 6 a.m., Trump deleted the tweet and presented a bold challenge. “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ???”
Challenge accepted, Mr. Trump! Could be the political Rosetta Stone long buried in the mud of the metaphorical Nile of contemporary journalism, holding the key to interpreting Trump’s curious power, a power rooted in an insight of post-Marxist philosopher Guy Debord and in… professional wrestling.
Coming down the escalator Donald Trump uniquely grasped the nature of the cultural revolution which Debord revealed, in theory, in The Society of the Spectacle. That revolution thereafter revealed itself, in practice, in professional wrestling. The essence of professional wrestling is contained in the genre’s word “kayfabe.”
I contend that kayfabe was the concept Trump encoded, or garbled, as “covfefe.” If “covfefe” meant “kayfabe” it explains much that mystifies Trump’s critics, enthralls his devotees, infuriates the Democrats and confounds the Republicans.
Kayfabe? Per Merriam-Webster: “During the 19th century, [wrestling] began to take shape as a form of spectacle or performance art, relying on showmanship for its appeal more so than physical exhibition of perseverance, strength, and strategy. Today, that genre of wrestling is known as 'professional wrestling,' which affects showy costumes and over-the-top behavior and showcases matches pitting a villain (called a 'heel') against a good guy (called a 'face' or 'baby face') in an epic confrontation of good and evil. The matches are (spoiler alert) scripted, and although fans of professional wrestling are aware of their predetermination, they, nevertheless, enjoy the melodrama and pantomime that unfolds in and outside of the ring between wrestlers. In the 1980s, wrestlers began using the code word kayfabe in reference to the staged performance presented as authentic as well as to the act of maintaining the fiction by staying in character.”
Donald Trump had direct exposure to professional wrestling. And he extended the concept of a “staged performance presented as authentic” into a $427 million bonanza as his “reality” TV show, The Apprentice.
Short step from “reality” TV to political theater! Trump sensed that America was ready for someone to transform politics from competitive sport to staged spectacle. Until Trump, the players, the Republicans and the Democrats, competed for votes by coming up with proposals for better policies and plans to implement them, most visibly in the pennant races and World Series of politics, the presidential elections.
Trump, uniquely, grasped the hunger of 74,223,369 Americans for a melodramatic staged spectacle rather than a serious competition. The mass of politicians now lead lives of quiet desperation trying to beat Trump by the old rules of competition. Melodrama now rules.
Progressives are marginalized. Conservatives are confounded. Party regulars are losing the battle playing by the old rules to those who play by kayfabe.
A drastic cultural shift has transformed (some say deformed) the world socially and politically. Guy Debord captured this, in 1967, in The Society of the Spectacle.
Debord’s insight, anticipating Trump, is summed up very well by Noel Yaxley in an article at The Article: “In his theory of the spectacle, Debord sees society slowly being divorced from reality, culturally denuded and subjected to false needs. … The individual is reduced to a consumption pattern, set by a corporate narrative. Citizens enter into a life that is nothing but a mere passive relationship with the social world. Consumer society, with its vast proliferation of goods and culture, offers up to the populace an illusory image (spectacle) of happiness and unity. …”
That lays out the essence of the cultural and political revolution now consuming us. After the Trump presidency we reach a fork in the political road. Donald Trump has established, or at least is clinging to, a kind of new political cultural hegemony. (H/t, Antonio Gramsci.) Now what?
The regulars next will figure out and follow the “spectacular” rules of engagement, learning how to stage a more melodramatic, thus more voter-satisfying, spectacle than Donald Trump’s. Or else … the regulars will figure out how to restore politics to its classical status of competitive sport. A worthy challenge.
If not? Trump remains potentate.
Potentate? “A monarch, especially an autocratic one.”
Thus, now it falls to those such as the diverse champions of freedom, the honorable Rep. Jim Jordan R-Ohio, founder of the House Freedom Caucus (and, aptly, Hall of Fame wrestler) and the honorable Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus to have a beer and, together, wrestle this out.
My bet? Freedom beats melodrama.
Meet you at Bullfeathers, guys? (I’ll buy.)
Freedom’s the alternative to politics as spectacle.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply-Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $88T. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.
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