We have a certain affinity for the notion that we can fake it until we make it. That there is at least a sliver of performance embedded in our striving. It’s eminently understandable in small doses, but repugnant and downright sad when it’s the lifeblood of someone’s existence. In hindsight it’s become clear that Trump’s very existence, his lore for those easily persuaded, was nothing more than a performance. A pantomime of an ego gone mad, fed by a constant stream of attention.
If we think back to the time even before reality show fame, Trump was playing a successful person in a pre-social media world. Going to the right parties, brandishing his image in the media of personality cults – glossy mags, rag newspapers. Behind that sheen was always an unstable man – reckless and mostly unsuccessful in actual business. That made for an easy segue into television, playing the same part, but for a larger audience. It was always a role, and like any striving actor, he was always searching for the bigger stage and the bigger audiences. The presidency was like landing the role of King Lear. The ultimate goal of any actor. And he definitely hammed it up for his crowd. Of course he didn’t ever know what the job was supposed to be, nor had any idea what he wanted to accomplish because there was no script to follow. Instead he kind of made it up as he went along. There are lot of successful business people and it’s not hard for an actor to understand how to perform in that role, but the presidency is different. There are less than fifty American models, and the research required takes the kind of effort a lazy actor would never take on with any degree of seriousness. So we got a performative presidency and luckily the country is some still in tact, but only just so.
Now that he’s out of office it’s funny to see Trump fumbling around trying to figure out what the role of ex-President can be. It’s at best a side character. The character wouldn’t even have a name in the script if it was a movie. It would just read ‘Ex-President’ with no lines. But there’s also something purely American about the joy we feel in seeing a terrible person get what they deserve. In Trump’s case that is people proverbially leaving the theater mid-performance. The staff turning out the lights before the show is complete. The spotlight gone. The mic shut off.
I’ve sometimes wondered if a performer could ever get to a real level of power on the left, and I think the answer is no. Leaders on the right have to be performers. It’s the only way they can ever be palatable to most people. You have to act human and hate people at the same time.