Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency: Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House [1st ed.] 9783030505509, 9783030505516

This book examines Donald Trump's longstanding connections to professional wrestling in relation to how he uses and

461 32 1MB

English Pages XV, 108 [120] Year 2020

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency: Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House [1st ed.]
 9783030505509, 9783030505516

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xv
Introduction (Shannon Bow O’Brien)....Pages 1-10
Manufacturing Realities: Truth Is What You Can Get Away With (Shannon Bow O’Brien)....Pages 11-37
Wrestling with the Presidency: How Donald Trump Uses Wrestling and Theatrical Tactics in the Public Sphere (Shannon Bow O’Brien)....Pages 39-58
Going Re“public”an: How Donald Trump Uses Speeches to Target Audiences and Mask Reality (Shannon Bow O’Brien)....Pages 59-83
Why Does Any of This Matter?: What Can We Learn from These Strategies? (Shannon Bow O’Brien)....Pages 85-104
Back Matter ....Pages 105-108

Citation preview

RHETORIC, POLITICS AND SOCIETY

Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House Shannon Bow O’Brien

Rhetoric, Politics and Society

Series Editors Alan Finlayson University of East Anglia Norfolk, UK James Martin Goldsmiths, University of London London, UK Kendall Phillips Syracuse University Syracuse, USA

Rhetoric lies at the intersection of a variety of disciplinary approaches and methods, drawing upon the study of language, history, culture and philosophy to understand the persuasive aspects of communication in all its modes: spoken, written, argued, depicted and performed. This series presents the best international research in rhetoric that develops and exemplifies the multifaceted and cross-disciplinary exploration of practices of persuasion and communication. It seeks to publish texts that openly explore and expand rhetorical knowledge and enquiry, be it in the form of historical scholarship, theoretical analysis or contemporary cultural and political critique. The editors welcome proposals for monographs that explore contemporary rhetorical forms, rhetorical theories and thinkers, and rhetorical themes inside and across disciplinary boundaries. For informal enquiries, questions, as well as submitting proposals, please contact the editors: Alan Finlayson: [email protected] James Martin: [email protected] Kendall Phillips: [email protected]

More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14497

Shannon Bow O’Brien

Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency Professional Wrestling Rhetoric in the White House

Shannon Bow O’Brien University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX, USA

Rhetoric, Politics and Society ISBN 978-3-030-50550-9 ISBN 978-3-030-50551-6 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Augustas Cetkauskas/EyeEm This Palgrave Pivot imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

I would like to dedicate this book to my husband, Bill O’Brien.

Preface

Kayfabe. If you are reading this book, you probably have noticed that word in the title. I would like to address it immediately to clear up any concerns about terminology. Persons familiar with professional wrestling language already know the term. For the rest of us, it is likely you have never heard or seen reference toward in society. Kayfabe refers to wrestlers maintaining the entire situation is absolute real without any hint of performance. For actors, it is referred to as being “in character.” Kayfabe thus is the illusion that everything is utterly sincere and authentic when it is all just an act. Humans like myths and fictions. One of the snippets from graduate school I always remember involves Clifford Geertz’s concept of fiction (Geertz 1973). In simple terms, your head is full of all your experiences. It is a melon with every birthday party, every heartbreak, every triumph, every meal, every boring moment, and a multitude of other things all crammed into it. When we witness an event and then recount it, we create fiction. We see a thing, it goes into our noggin, and the description that comes out is filtered through the black box of all our cumulative experiences. We have no way to prove or disprove our fifth grade snack time impacted our word choices as we recount an event. Our perception, even with innocuous events, affects the descriptive quality of the recollection. When two people standing side by side witness the exact same thing, their accounts will always vary albeit in usually minor ways. This imperfect recall is ultimately fiction because of its personalized explanation.

vii

viii

PREFACE

But I digress… People like stories. They give us ways to provide context for difficult to understand ideas and concepts. Myths help us organize the complex into understandable and relatable. Fictions give us the ability to express these thoughts into coherent frames that feel relatable. We do not like stories to feel like a Jackson Pollock painting with thoughts going everywhere. We like them to have an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Most of our stories, especially theatrical ones, are hyperbolic. Most visual entertainment has about two hours to introduce characters, create conflict, tell a story, and resolve issues. It is really a short amount of time to accomplish all those ideas. In real life, situations unfold over months and years, not minutes. Therefore, stories have to be larger than life, with their characters presented in broad stereotypical terms so people recognize them as heroes or villains. Events have to be compressed to advance storylines. We accept these notions within a theater because they are part of the experience. I sincerely hope I do not destroy many people’s worldviews when I state that the majority of professional wrestling is scripted. Most professional wrestling exists as a pre-written story where the athletes execute a ceremonial dance of sorts where their success or failure hinges upon their ability to sell their performance to the audience. Achievement hinges upon eliciting emotion from the viewers. Cheering and booing are the same as long as they are sincere and voracious. The wrestling ring is less of an athletic arena and more of a thrust theater. The wrestlers emerge from the curtain with a walkway that connects the ring to the upstage end. As common with this theater style, the stage, in this case, the ring allows for action to be viewed from three sides. Athleticism is part of the performance, but usually takes a backseat to the dialogue which advances plot lines or defines alliances or antagonisms. Wrestlers use the ring as a forum to address grievances, posture, or manipulate situations to create audience reaction. These experiences bring us back to kayfabe. While in front of the audience, kayfabe overrides all other issues and concerns. The only major exception when kayfabe is ignored involves serious injury to one of the performers. Understanding Donald Trump requires familiarity with professional wrestling. His first major exposure to large audiences occurred through this medium. He has had a close association with professional wrestling going back to the early 1980s. He is in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)’s Hall of Fame. He has been integral to

PREFACE

ix

several of their storylines over the years. He exists as the character of Mr. Trump in their universe which leads me to some of the basic ideas of this book. Wrestling is unique because the performers exist with a duality of person. For example, there is the man, John Cena, who has a family, friends, and a private life completely unrelated to wrestling. Simultaneously, a professional wrestling character is named John Cena (played by the man John Cena) who has alliances, enemies, feuds, and conflicts played out on television for our entertainment. Both can be separate, but both also overlap. The character John Cena likely shares many traits with the real man, but often in an exaggerated state. Personality aspects are embellished and reactions are overstated. The character has to move forward a storyline for an audience while the person simply lives a life. Under the rules of kayfabe, this difference does not exist. Person and character are interchangeable with no clear division. The audience often intuitively understands the difference, but many of them accept the utter reality of the world presented to them. Historically, wrestlers maintained kayfabe under all circumstances. The audience was given the impression no separation existed between stage and personal lives. One of the biggest breaks in kayfabe occurred when the Iron Sheik (who was notoriously anti-American) was arrested with Jim Duggan (who was extremely American patriotic) in the 1980s (“Two Wrestlers,” 1987). Fans were shocked either man had a cordial personal relationship with the other since their characters were mortal enemies. The mirage of kayfabe has wavered a bit in the last several decades. The internet, social media, and the expansion of wrestling into an international medium has allowed for cracks to emerge in the illusion. Fans often revel in the "inside" information in part because it helps draw them into the experience. Outsiders only see the performance at face value and lack the ability to grasp the nuance and interplay that comes with the true understanding of what is actually occurring in front of them. One of the goals of this project is to establish the idea that Donald Trump vigorously maintains kayfabe as the president to the point the two aspects have merged. His rhetorical style has been heavily influenced by professional wrestling. His close association since the 1980s means this media form is where he "cut his teeth" as a public persona. Wrestling has many aspects that Donald Trump trades on within the public sphere. Verbal aggression, name-calling, refusing to admit fault, never apologizing, and always doubling down are all stock and trade

x

PREFACE

wrestling mannerisms. Wrestling frequently presents a world of protagonists and antagonists with little to no gray area between the two positions. People may flip sides, but do not exist in the space between. He built a campaign and now a presidency around this concept of kayfabe. Any challengers to his point of view or administration are labeled as enemies or denounced in extremely negative terms. Allies who change positions into either neutral or negative positions are quickly dismissed as tangential with limited knowledge or access. They are also regularly verbally attacked as a way to marginalize their opinions. These tactics all originate within the archetypical storylines of professional wrestling. This book attempts to tackle these ideas in several ways. It will explore Donald Trump’s connection to wrestling and how he has used wrestling tactics both as a candidate and president. It will also look at a couple of other famous individuals over history that used media in ways to forward themselves as political candidates. It will also explore ideas of how manufactured realities and how they play a role in this entire perspective. Finally, it will look at the first two years of the Trump administration and how he has weaponized the use of going public for his own means. In particular, it will highlight how his speechmaking patterns compare to other administrations. More important, it will show how the administration has systematically eliminated certain types of speeches out of the public record in what I believe functions as a way to manufacture a specific legacy and reality for the archives which may not gel with actual reality. Austin, USA

Shannon Bow O’Brien

References Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Two Wrestlers Arrested on Drug Charges; Suspended. (1987, May 28). Associated Press. https://apnews.com/eca94e958509fcd2842cc0a384056ae3.

Acknowledgments

Ideas, books, papers, and other works rarely start out as cohesive pieces. The ideas for this project span over twenty years of events in my life. In many ways, this begins because my friend Melissa Dimeny helped me get the job in Budapest, Hungary for a year. It changed who I was and in a roundabout way set me on my academic path. American professional wrestling ran on Friday nights in Hungary. Wrestling was my weekly ritual. I would make dinner and then turn on wrestling. It was one of my few windows of the world I had left. I watched it as a way to hear American English and escape for a few hours. My time in Budapest allowed me space to really think about what I wanted in life. It was teaching there for a year that made me realize I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. I missed the challenge of academia. I drifted away from wrestling during my Ph.D. program. As many others can probably attest, you do not have the time to watch much television in a doctoral program. I did not think about professional wrestling in the next 15 years. My past became my future when Donald Trump began his run for president. Throughout his campaign, I began to get that itch in the back of your brain reminding me I had seen something like this at another time. Eventually, I noticed many of the methods, language, tactics, and verbal spars were almost exactly like professional wrestling. I had a vague recollection Donald Trump had some involvement in the genre but did not remember details. With a bit of research, I realized he had deep and lasting roots in the sport. Many of his earliest large audience

xi

xii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

interactions were associated with professional wrestling. When I filtered him through this lens, his actions and behaviors seemed to conform to the expectations of the ring. I became interested in publishing a piece on wrestling about Donald Trump. I worked on several ideas about it and approached a couple of colleagues. Bartholomew Sparrow, Joe Amick, and I were also interested in characteristics of voters in counties that voted for Trump in the primaries. While we hope to collect more data to continue this project after the 2020 election, the wrestling material ultimately did not fit within the research. I decided to work on it independently and started developing journal papers for conferences. The feedback I received at my panels at the American Political Science Association, Midwest Political Science Association, and Southern Political Science Association was invaluable. One person I would like to specifically single out is Richard W. Waterman. He and I worked together at Advanced Placement readings for years. We also see each other at conference panels. His comments about my conference paper really helped push me to decide to pursue publishing this project as a book. After a panel, he came up and told me when he saw the title of the paper, he thought I had finally lost it and had taken a turn around the bend. After listening to my presentation, he was onboard with the ideas and thought they had merit. He then asked me to send him a copy of the paper for his students to read in class that semester. As an academic, I could ask for no higher praise. We all pursue ideas because we think there exist some truth within them. We aim to share our views with others to better understand the world. Many of my friends and colleagues over the past several years have had to listen to me explain wrestling and why I think it matters to understanding the Trump administration. Their patience and insightful comments have been invaluable. Many of them, like Ivana Veljkovic, Jacob Straus, and Michael Anderson have helped point me in directions I had not previously considered and their recommendations made a difference in the final project.

Contents

1

1

Introduction

2

Manufacturing Realities: Truth Is What You Can Get Away With

11

Wrestling with the Presidency: How Donald Trump Uses Wrestling and Theatrical Tactics in the Public Sphere

39

Going Re“public”an: How Donald Trump Uses Speeches to Target Audiences and Mask Reality

59

Why Does Any of This Matter?: What Can We Learn from These Strategies?

85

3

4

5

Index

105

xiii

List of Tables

Table 4.1 Table 4.2

Percentage of year 1 and year 2 speeches in media markets by year and by ranked size Percentage of year 1 and year 2 speeches by Electoral College results

71 75

xv

CHAPTER 1

Introduction

Abstract This chapter introduces how Donald Trump uses professional wrestling tactics and language to employ a unique manner of going public to the American public. Donald Trump never shifted his rhetoric from campaigning to governance. In a very real sense, he has crafted the truly permanent campaign. It also introduces how he uses social media platforms, like Twitter, to help manufacture his own reality. It provides an overview of all the chapters and explains how they fit together within the book. Keywords Trump · Manufactured reality · Overview · Going public · Permanent campaign

The Donald Trump presidency is unique in American history. Many people did not expect a real estate developer turned television personality to successfully capture the 2016 election. His brash, controversial, and at times, confrontational statements toward a wide variety of targets have been his hallmark. They have often been targeted toward political opponents, assumed allies, celebrities, and the news media. While unconventional, his campaign and governing style resonated within the American public and energized populist elements. Trump is simultaneously unique and traditional within American political thought. Many © The Author(s) 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6_1

1

2

S. B. O’BRIEN

of his tactics are well-established and grounded in mid-century research on propaganda and populists. He utilized these ideas in distinctive ways fashioning him into an entirely neoteric creation. Trump, in many ways, epitomizes the ideal populist, but blended with other theatrical elements that morph him into a truly unique occupant in the office of the American president. Donald Trump has employed well-established presidential tools in completely new approaches in an attempt to build the strongest executive branch in American history. His connection and usage of theatrical tactics to persuade audiences and drive rhetoric are important to better understand his presidential style. Specifically, his connections to professional wrestling and how that medium plays upon its populist roots are key to how he resonates with sections of the American public. Few realize Donald Trump has over a thirty-year history with professional wrestling. Throughout his campaign and presidency, he has employed verbal cues and tactics closely associated with wrestling to make appeals. The unusual dynamics of wrestling allow his language and behavior to motivate certain audiences. Trump has taken their methods and molded them into a highly personalized way of going public. By specifically targeting individuals over institutions, he has weaponized going public in ways no other president has ever dared. He uses social media to tailor verbal assaults and attacks at people, not just policies or ideas. Furthermore, these activities have led toward a shifting of expectations within public space. Through the integration of wrestling rhetorical standards into discourse outside the ring in the broader world, he has allowed for exaggerated behaviors to become more normalized tools for political actors. Donald Trump appears to have embraced Rules for Radicals by targeting people with ridicule, then personalizing attacks to polarize the public (Alinsky 1971). For Trump, going public involves Twitter posts and public verbal declarations that often include overstatements, bravado, and direct messages toward targets. Ouyang and Waterman (2020) look at President Trump’s tweets and astutely access he has used the tool for going directly public (GDP). Their nuance on Kernell’s research offers a perceptive and interesting analysis of the evolving use of social media in presidential communication (Kernell 1997). However, most scholars focus on the institutional level appeals of this tool. That is, the president encourages people to contact Congress to endorse his ideas. President Trump has attempted to expand the power of the executive branch to levels not seen since the Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt administrations. Donald Trump has

1

INTRODUCTION

3

used going public to target individuals and in that sense, turned it into a weapon. He singles out specific people and turns the wrath or adulation of his supporters upon them. He has taken going public and wielded it as a bludgeon to cull threats and reward perceived allies. Going public has never been utilized in such a targeted way by presidents to force abeyance or compel action. Donald Trump exploits language in very specific directions. He utilizes the venacular and mannerisms of wrestling to make rhetorical appeals. The parlance of wrestling has impacted the way Donald Trump uses the media, the public, and the office of the presidency. Wrestling has origins in theater which later moved into the circus. Performance exists within enclosed spaces that allows for hyperbolic stories within confined arcs. Trump draws upon its tactics to redefine expectations of spaces to fundamentally change the nature of political expectations and expression. Wrestling is almost always about stories within a confined area. Wrestling exploits its own dramaturgical tendencies to create strongly drawn characters with compressed storylines. Donald Trump appropriates these tools and pulls them out of the confined space of the arena. The emotion of performance supersedes truth or accuracy. Factual exactness matters less than your presentation of the material. As Donald Trump blends performance and public service, social confusion over boundaries has occurred. Theatrical norms when applied to daily life generate vastly different reactions than within the artificial confines of a stadium. It is not simply a muddling of public and private. Rather, it is a jumbling of theatrical and generalized social standards. As a result, these actions have allowed for social confusion of acceptable behavior. He has turned the public forum into a pseudo wrestling stage. It helps create a perception of permissible conduct for embellished language and stereotypes. Taunts, exaggerations, half-truths, and blatant falsehoods are all acceptable within the ring. It is the reaction of the audience, not the action itself that validates the language. Cheering fans function as the barometer for the truth rather than objective standards that gauge accuracy. Wrestling trades on kayfabe performances. It is a specific term that refers to wrestlers maintaining whatever is happening around them is absolutely real. Antagonisms and grievances are genuine. Situations are reacted to as absolutely candid and sincere. In most circumstances, all events are carefully staged as part of the performance. Wrestlers are not permitted to break character and must maintain the illusion of authenticity at all times in front of cameras or non-insiders to the sport. Many

4

S. B. O’BRIEN

fans understand and appreciate the kayfabe dichotomy within professional wrestling. It gives the wrestlers tacit approval to behave appallingly while allowing their fans to understand it is all part of the show where stereotypes and truths can be aired without repercussions. Donald Trump has utilized these tools of wrestling to craft a presidency where he is allowed to be outrageous and have supporters deflect away criticism. He has to maintain the illusion of absolute control or knowledge. Trump has not significantly shifted his behaviors between his campaigning and governance. Donald Trump’s activities as a candidate and president deploy practically identical rhetorical devices within both roles. He has never stopped campaign rallies and routinely treats every situation like a publicity event. President Trump seeks to be the source of trusted information for his audience. Page and Shapiro (1992) say “responsiveness to new information results from individuals using cognitive shortcuts or rules of thumb, such as reliance upon trusted delegates or reference figures (friends, interest groups, experts, political leaders) to do political reasoning for them and to provide guidance” (p. 17). Trump attempts to reframe himself, his business, his actions, and even his own words in ways to always paint himself in a positive light. He presents facts within speeches that “have already been mediated or filtered by the Leader” (McGee 1975, p. 249) to present a specific reality. Trump wants his supporters to trust his vision and path regardless of its accuracy. Politifact has rated statements by candidate Donald Trump in 2016 as 23% true or generally truthful, with 77% of his statements being false or mostly untrue (“Donald Trump’s,” 2016). By July 2018, these truthful numbers had slightly increased almost 32% true to half truthful with 70% generally untruthful (“Donald Trump’s,” 2018). Of the 70%, 48% were rated as either fully false or their lowest rating of “pants on fire.” These numbers stay consistent through March 2020 with 28% in the general truthful range with 69% scoring a false rating with 48% completely untrue (“Donald Trump’s,” 2020). These erroneousness proclamations matter because of his influence. Gilens (2001) found that “facts have a weak and inconsistent effect on the preferences expressed by the less politically knowledgeable Americans” (pp. 391–392). If Trump is pursuing a base that does not invest energy in political information, his opinions have a strong impact on their beliefs. This approach seems to work given a CBS July 2018 poll showing 91% of strong Trump supporters trust he provides accurate information (“Americans Wary,” 2018). A Pew March 2020 poll finds that by “nearly 2-to-1 margin, white evangelicals are more likely

1

INTRODUCTION

5

than other Americans to say the terms ‘morally upstanding’ and ‘honest’ describe Trump at least ‘fairly well’” (Gjelten 2020). Trump supporters have less trust in societal institutions (Boon et al. 2020) so his opinions carry tremendous weight. Trump disclosed to Leslie Stahl he uses the term “fake news” and aggressively attacks the media “to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you” (Schwartz 2018). Considering some research (Barbera et al. 2019) has shown that politicians pay more attention to supporters than the public at large, Trump’s blatant distortion makes logical sense. He cultivates distrust in other sources of information while catering to the issues that resonate with his base. Regardless of his broader accomplishments, they gauge him solely upon their pet topics, ignoring the fact he has largely stacked the deck in his favor. When new sources are controlled or cater to the administration, one cannot help but remember propaganda concerns espoused by The New York Times in 1937: What is truly vicious is not propaganda but a monopoly of it. When we are asked to suppress any ‘propaganda,’ let us be sure that we are not merely being asked to shut down on one side of a controversy and leave the field free to the other. (“Victims,” 1937)

Donald Trump describes news he personally does not like, regardless of accuracy, as “fake news.” He encourages his supporters to dismiss it as unimportant and not worth their attention. It allows the president to function as the sole mediator of accurate information for people with a high degree of trust in him. These concerns are extremely troubling when the administration changes factual material to conform to the administration’s questionable assertions. During the coronavirus crisis in April 2020, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, made a statement about the national stockpile that was demonstrably inaccurate based upon documentation found on the Department of Health and Human Service’s website. By the next day, “that language suddenly disappeared from the site Friday morning… and was replaced with something deemphasizing the size of the stockpile and its role in helping the states” (Blake 2020). The manipulation of factual material to match statements rather than admit misspeaking or being mistaken strikes at the heart of the importance of understanding kayfabe and wrestling linguistic tactics. On April 13, 2020, the president ran a carefully edited video at his press briefing that looked more like a campaign

6

S. B. O’BRIEN

ad than an informative assessment of the situation. The White House attempted to “create an alternative history of the first months of the crisis” (Mackey 2020) that took reporter’s comments out of context to create a completely different narrative with the Trump administration in a positive light (“Donald Trump airs,” 2020). After it aired, John King said, “[T]hat was propaganda, that was not just a campaign video, that was propaganda that aired at the taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room” (Felman 2020). This administration expects and demands its voice be the dominant one for public information. Any challenges to their assertions must be vilified and denounced. It allows the president the freedom to mold and fashion facts in ways that best suit their current political and policy goals. President Trump’s usage of kayfabe tactics to champion manipulated truths comes across as overt propaganda. This book’s chapters address and explore many of these issues from a variety of positions. Chapter 2 explores the idea of manufactured realities. Manufactured realities are spaces where conduct appears permissible or even acceptable within these spaces though it may not be allowed elsewhere. For example, the behaviors people engage in at Disney World are often markedly different from their daily lives. Dress, social attitudes, and expectations may significantly alter within these spaces to conform to their perceived acceptability. Donald Trump has also utilized aspects of manufactured reality to create a stylized world where his beliefs are the guiding principles and the only point of trusted information. President Trump curates his own reality to develop a managed perception where he is both the protagonist and antagonist of many events. He uses well-established tropes within professional wrestling to create conflict while simultaneously behaving as the aggrieved party when anyone reacts to his antagonism. Within the world of wrestling, trustworthiness is derived from the vigorousness of your assertions. Apologies, backtracking, or admitting faults are a sign of weakness and lack of truthfulness. This chapter examines Donald Trump as well as others who have fashioned their own manufactured realities. It will briefly examine Disney World as well as the lives of Dan Rice, John R. Brinkley, and Father Charles Coughlin. All three men were popular figures of their day and very influential in the mediums of their time. Dan Rice was a nationally famous circus clown who ran for president in the mid-nineteenth century. John R. Brinkley was a medical doctor who pioneered the field of talk radio and used his popularity to run for governor. Father Charles Coughlin created a hugely popular and influential radio program where he espoused many of his political beliefs.

1

INTRODUCTION

7

He helped create a political party in 1936 which ran a candidate for the presidency. Chapter 3 looks at Donald Trump’s connection to professional wrestling and how that has shaped his presidency. It also examines the populist appeals of wrestling to the public. It also looks at how he has used and weaponized going public for his own ends within this administration. Chapter 4 looks at his speech patterns through the midterm in comparison to previous administrations. These governance distinctions are critical because the administration does not include his presidential political rallies within the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (“Daily Compilation,” n.d.). President Trump’s most raucous and divisive speeches are systematically eliminated from the governmental documentation of his presidency. Their omission is concerning because it does not provide an accurate accounting of the public events of his presidency. It changes the permanent public record in a way that masks many of his actual activities. He also has presented speechmaking patterns most closely similar to administrations from 30 years ago. His stylistic patterns are simultaneously older, yet previously unseen from an American executive. Explaining this unusual presidential rhetorical style helps understand the actions have intention rather than just unorganized chaos. The final chapter attempts to summarize what all this really means for us as Americans. How has the Trump administration changed the way to interact with our leaders? How has it shaped who we are as people? Professional wrestling, while entertaining, has its own communication style that derived from rich performance roots. Understanding the broad aspects of its portrayals and exchanges helps us better grasp the way Donald Trump acts, reacts, and attempts to connect with the public. President Trump’s communication style epitomizes the basic ideas of going public, but he uses them in completely new ways. He has turned Twitter into a bullhorn directly connected to his id (Freud 1933). The id is largely pleasure-seeking and functions as the most primal part of the brain. Twitter gives him immediate emotional validation without any delay. He manufactures his reality that acts as an echo chamber to corroborate his own confirmation bias. Manufactured realities have many uses within this world. They allow escapism in a large variety of ways. Disney parks, for example, provide a distraction from the mundane for a brief glimpse at the fantastical. Dan Rice entertained people via the big top. John R. Brinkley offered people the ability to recapture lost youth through medical procedures which grew into an early medical and media empire. Father Coughlin gave voice to his vision of America and found a large

8

S. B. O’BRIEN

audience of supporters. These three men were extremely famous at one point and attempted to transition their popularity into political success with limited results. All failed, though one can argue Brinkley was only hampered by the exclusion of ballots cast with immaterial errors. Donald Trump, on the other hand, succeeds and secures an election win which makes him unique. There have been other entertainers who have run and been elected, such as Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. There have even been former wrestlers, such as Jesse Ventura, who have won governorships. However, most have separated their entertainment personas from their political ones. Donald Trump and the other men discussed in this book never did. They all openly used their performing identity as an integral part of the political act. It could even be argued that seeking office (or in Coughlin’s case, pushing forward a candidate) was simply another role they played within their public masquerade. When image is given paramount importance over truth and factual material, we all suffer the consequences. This book attempts to explain how the Trump administration uses specific performance-based theatrical tactics to advantage themselves with the American public. Fantasy within entertainment is welcomed by many people as a preferred genre for narratives. However, it should always be contained within recreational pursuits for amusements. When it is deployed within the public sphere under the guise of official information, it trends closer to propaganda and away from entertainment. Public officials serve the people first and foremost. In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln says “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Lincoln 1863). Our country should never serve or cater to one person or political party. When it does, it places our basic rights and freedoms at risk for the goals of particularized gain. By being able to better recognize and understand tactics, we all become better analysts of mannerisms and behavior. Theater has an important place within American life, but it should never function as the de facto strategy of our political leaders.

1

INTRODUCTION

9

References Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for Radicals. New York: Random House. Americans Wary of Trump Tariffs’ Impact But Support Plan to Aid Farmers. (2018, July 29). CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americanswary-of-trump-tariffs-impact-but-support-plan-to-aid-farmers-cbs-poll/. Barbera, P., Casas, A., Nagler, J., & Egan, P. J. (2019). Who Leads? Who Follows? Measuring Issue Attention and Agenda Setting by Legislators and the Mass Public Using Social Media Data. American Political Science Review, 113(4), 883–901. Blake, A. (2020, April 3). The Trump Administration Just Changed Its Description of the National Stockpile to Jibe with Jared Kushner’s Controversial Claim. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ 2020/04/03/jared-kushner-stands-trump-proceeds-offer-very-trumpianclaim-about-stockpiles/. Boon, M., Salleras, A. C., Menchen-Trevino, E., & Wojcieszak, M. (2020, February 18). Trump Supporters Have Little Trust in Societal Institutions. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/trump-supporters-have-littletrust-in-societal-institutions-131113. Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents. (n.d.). Office of the Federal Registrar, National Archives. Retrieved April 5, 2020, from https://www.archives. gov/federal-register/publications/presidential-compilation.html. Donald Trump Airs Propaganda Style Video at Coronavirus Briefing. (2020, April 13). News and Guts. https://www.newsandguts.com/video/donaldtrump-airs-propaganda-style-video-at-coronavirus-briefing/?fbclid=IwAR2K zxQhpSofoqHR2RRiDWunNcg9KdjN32opz_nm2K-lRgFbijESWabTDo8. Donald Trump’s File. (2016). Politifact. Retrieved June 27, 2016 from http:// www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/. Donald Trump’s File. (2018). Politifact. Retrieved August 6, 2018 from http:// www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/. Donald Trump’s File. (2020). Politifact. Retrieved March 20, 2020 from http:// www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/. Felman, J. (2020, April 13). CNN’s John King Blasts Trump Video at Coronavirus Briefing: “That Was Propaganda.” Mediaite. https://www.mediaite. com/tv/cnns-john-king-blasts-trump-video-at-coronavirus-briefing-that-waspropaganda/. Freud, S. (1933). New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton. Gilens, M. (2001). Political Ignorance and Collective Policy Preferences. American Political Science Review, 95(2), 379–396. Gjelten, T. (2020, March 12). Survey: White Evangelicals See Trump as ‘Honest’ and ‘Morally Upstanding.’ All Things Considered. NPR. https://www.

10

S. B. O’BRIEN

npr.org/2020/03/12/815097747/survey-most-evangelicals-see-trump-ashonest-and-morally-upstanding. Kernell, S. (1997). Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Lincoln, A. (1863, November 19). The Gettysburg Address. http://www.abraha mlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm. Mackey, R. (2020, April 14). Trump PR Stunt Falls Flat, as White House Video Exposes His Failure to Prepare for Pandemic. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2020/04/14/trump-pr-stunt-falls-flat-whitehouse-video-exposes-failure-prepare-pandemic/. McGee, M. C. (1975). In Search of ‘the People’: A Rhetorical Alternative. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 61(3), 236–249. Ouyang, Y., & Waterman, R. (2020). Trump, Twitter, and American Democracy: Political Communication in the Digital Age. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Page, B. I., & Shapiro, R. Y. (1992). The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Schwartz, I. (2018, May 23). Lesley Stahl: Trump Told Me He Uses the Term “Fake News” to Discredit the Media. Real Clear Politics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/05/23/leslie_stahl_ trump_told_me_he_uses_term_fake_news_to_discredit_the_media.html. Victims of Propaganda? (1937, September 1). The New York Times, p. 18.

CHAPTER 2

Manufacturing Realities: Truth Is What You Can Get Away With

Abstract This chapter explains how Donald Trump utilizes the wrestling concept of kayfabe to forge his own reality. Kayfabe involves pretending an event, action, or activity is absolutely real, no matter how contrived or fabricated it happens to be in actuality. This chapter explores how manufacturing spaces impact perception. The chapter looks at the origins of modern professional wrestling within the circus and theater. The specialized language of wrestling comes directly from the circus, which also helped develop its theatrical mannerisms. It also explores others who have manufactured realities to help create and controls ideas within spaces. It looks at Disney parks, Dan Rice, John R. Brinkley, and Father Charles Coughlin. All three men (Rice, Brinkley, and Coughlin) had political ambitions and used their fame to help achieve them. Keywords Manufactured reality · Kayfabe · Dan Rice · John R. Brinkley · Father Charles Coughlin

Donald Trump allows the average man to dream. He has shown that anyone is capable of winning the presidency. Scandal, shortcomings, personal failings do not have to derail a presidential dream. He inspires the people who did not work tirelessly toward a goal to hope they can still become powerful. Donald Trump sells the dream of aspirational power © The Author(s) 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6_2

11

12

S. B. O’BRIEN

and wealth. He has done so throughout his entire career. It gives people who have no expectations of themselves the ability to feel good enough. Steaks, airlines, vodka, magazines, and private colleges all have elements of a kayfabe performance. Each enterprise was presented to the public as the gold standard of its field. Trump supported them all as pinnacles of achievement. However, all either ceased production, closed down, or were not successful enough to continue (Koeffler 2015). They were all fantasies of success marketed to the public as legitimate enterprises when their viability was primarily speculative. It is easy to look at these attempts with derision. However, the truth of their impact is far more complex. The shortcomings and failures are not negative. For the persons who feel left behind, passed over, or fall short, Trump signals to them that all is not lost. They can still be prosperous, they can achieve dreams, and they can flaunt their success in the faces of all the ones who ran them down. Trump sells the illusion of aspiration. He offers the perception of success through the purchase of his product. Sometimes, the product is one often associated with wealth, such as wine or steaks. As president, Donald Trump offers himself as the product. Pithy t-shirts, buttons, and other collectibles are easily purchased to help bolster his campaign coffers. In return, the Donald Trump gives the audience entertainment as a candidate, and later, the president. In a very real sense, Donald Trump is not all that different from the Disney Corporation. Disney is in the business of “manufacturing fantasy” (Wasko 2001, p. 5). Disney operates upon the assumption they are not just “recognized, but loved around the world” (Wasko 2001, p. 221). Trump employs similar language often equating his supporters as a silent majority with detractors comprising only a noisy minority of Americans. Both Trump and Disney tie themselves closely to what they refer to as American values. In the case of Disney, Wasko (2001) asserts many of these values “have either been mythologized or not necessarily embraced by everyone” (p. 224). The same criticism can also be leveled upon Donald Trump. “Make America Great Again,” his slogan for the 2016, evokes both a prospective promise for the future, but implies a halcyon past which needs to be recaptured. Disney and Trump trade on manufactured realities. In other words, they each create spaces where they set and orchestrate the rules. Disney parks use suspension of disbelief as the standard. In these manufactured spaces, control of expectations is paramount. When people accept them as the truth, they surrender control of their own rational thought processes.

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

13

Koenig (2002) notes a person at the gate asked an attendant if it was raining inside the park since it was storming outside in the parking lots (p. 21). Fantasies are made real within Disney as long as you pay for the experience and accept the magic comes with a wink and a nod. People in their daily lives would likely not wear Goofy ears when going to a public municipal park for recreation. However, at Disney, people wear them proudly after purchasing them at a premium inside a park gift shop. They may be relegated to the back of a closet at home, but within the confines of the park, they are at the height of fashion and happily worn atop one’s head. The resetting of standards and norms within manufactured spaces is important and cannot be underemphasized. The expectations within the spaces shifts and recasts itself into the worldview of the purveyor. In Trump’s case, it exists as metaphorical head space where his values, ideas, and beliefs reign supreme. He constructs an insular world of his own making where his opinions exist as the only valid ones. For Disney, both metaphorical and physical spaces exist for their perspectives. Disney has the parks, cruise ships, film studios, toys and other ventures that create physical representations of their fantasy. Within their physical spaces, like the parks, they reset a person’s expectation for a reasonable wait or interaction. People will line up hours in advance for the opportunity to take a quick photo with a costumed actor portraying a film or television character. It is reasonable to accept that children will long to see their favorite character brought to life and interact with them. However, adults without children will also patiently wait in the same lines for these moments with live representational avatars of favorite programs. They surrender a modicum of their skepticism in exchange for an attempt to recapture the wonder of their childhoods. Persons will wait for two or three hours in a line for a ride that lasts under five minutes. They will willingly stand outside in the sun politely queuing with strangers to experience an attraction. Many do it simply for the ability to proclaim they have been on that particular ride. It is more about the acquisition of the experience to either separate themselves from the ones who have not, or join in the communal repartee of those who have done it. The sacrifice of hours in line is outweighed by the emotional satisfaction of the event. Individuals will often accept the line was long, but the trade-off was worth the time invested in the wait. Many people wait comparable times at the driver’s license bureau to get or renew their license. The ownership of a valid license allows people privileges they cannot exercise without one. Places

14

S. B. O’BRIEN

often require a valid state identification to be allowed to vote in an election. It also permits people to legally drive and acquire vehicle insurance. However, rarely do people downplay a long wait to the friends while carefully describing the actual experience in front of a clerk processing the renewal. Theme parks create atmospheres where attitudes and expectations are temporarily reset in favor of the ones subtly inculcated by the location. They attempt to cultivate an immersive environment where a person’s typical reactions and interactions are subjugated in favor of the park’s expectations. Disney will solemnly, yet cheerfully, apologize for long waits, but not change the time to accommodate temper tantrums or ill behaviors. They want their guests to experience their magic and feel special, but it is still a communal magic that touches everyone individually without doling out favoritism. Park goers can console themselves with the notion they are the chosen ones experiencing these events right now while others they know are not participating. It is that inclusion that makes the people special and the lines tolerable. In other words, the space has manufactured its own reality. Manufactured realities are spaces where we suspend the norms and rules of the outside world. While different, supporters of Donald Trump share many similarities. His supporters join a fraternity of sorts that defines itself by the exclusion of others. They feel their inclusion grants them special status and privilege not shared by detractors. It also gives them a veneer of success for standing by this person as their president. It functions less about political choice and more about personal alignment. Trump encourages this perception by aggressively attacking any criticism. They bemoan any condemnation upon their allies, while simultaneously striking out in what they feel is justifiable in-kind treatment. On February 6, 2020, Donald Trump gave a long press conference where he lashed out about the impeachment process without accepting any culpability of his actions (Baker 2020). Specifically, he called into question the religiosity of Nancy Pelosi and Mitt Romney without any proof other than his own opinion. He heralded his “total acquittal” while minimizing the reality it was in fact simply the Senate refusing to remove him from office. Trump and his allies latched onto the acquittal term because it helps drive a positivity narrative for them with the justification of future action. In other words, Donald Trump, much like Disney, created a manufactured reality where the rules of engagement are set by whatever provides him the most advantage at the moment. For Trump, ideology is ultimately flexible and

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

15

secondary to power. The rub lies in the fact Trump will deny this duality on the surface while embracing it in the shadows. The key to deciphering Donald Trump’s worldview for engagement with others stems from the world of professional wrestling. The language, posturing, and social interactions of the theatrical sport provide an astute lens to better understand his behaviors. The world of wrestling itself is a manufactured reality. With its roots in theater and the circus, the ring and its entryway strongly resemble a thrust theater with the action occurring in space similar to a theater in the round. Within wrestling, behaviors and actions must play, or sell, well to a crowd. Crowd enthusiasm gauges the continuation or elimination of an activity. The verity of truth lies within the forcefulness of your articulation. He can consistently position himself as the person fighting against an “elitist” system designed to subdue persons like him. Donald Trump has played into very classic notions of American culture while tapping into its deep connections to populism. Orrin Klapp’s seminal piece on typologies in American society explores how certain ideals are embraced or rejected as cultural norms. As the fascination with heroes declined, the public embraced other classifications more willingly rather than rejecting them outright. Trump embodies many of the characteristics of a “flouter,” “rogue,” and a “troublemaker” which all fall within his villain category. Klapp claims Americans are generally ambivalent about the flouter which “seems to thumb his nose at the social order by scandalous behavior” (Klapp 1962, p. 53). The “rogue” is “a complex character who enjoys the distinction of being at the same time hero, villain, and fool – often given the names rascal, scalawag, scamp, and hell-raiser” (Klapp 1962, p. 54). On the other hand, “troublemakers” “might be a newcomer unwilling to accept procedure established by tradition of authority” (Klapp 1962, p. 54). Trump has made multiple comments toward his own party and the system working against him. He said “[T]he Establishment is trying to take it all away from us, folks. They’re trying so hard” (Howley 2016) at a rally in Wisconsin. He has repetitively referred to the media as the enemy of the people (Bierman 2017). Donald Trump has embraced the mantle of the outsider, and while in Klapp’s world it may be a villain, he may be unwittingly touching on far deeper connections to theatrical traditions though implemented for the modern world. “In professional wrestling, more often than not, the bad guy wins. The rules are broken. Referees are powerless to prevent the

16

S. B. O’BRIEN

villain’s humiliation and degradation of the helpless victim” (Campbell 1996, p. 127). Donald Trump plays the role well as a rule-breaker challenging what he believes is an unjust system. Trump embraces the mantle of the outsider and [W]restlers know very well how to play up to the capacity for indignation of the public by presenting the very limit of the concept of Justice, this outermost zone of confrontation where it is enough to infringe the rule a little more to open the gates of a world without restraints. For a wrestling fan, nothing is finer than the revengeful fury of a betrayed fighter who throws himself vehemently not on a successful opponent but on the smarting image of foul play. (Barthes 1982, pp. 25–26)

The language of dramatic wrestling, as well as many of its tactics root into the world of the American circus. “It is said that P.T. Barnum was the first American wrestling promoter” (Kerrick 1980, p. 144). Within the circus, the clown has been an integral part of the entire experience. While its origins may date back to Roman times, the clown or fool has been a theatrical technique that has been used with great effect for centuries. Shakespeare utilized clown “and his disrespect and total lack of inhibition was a large element of his appeal. … The clown actor, then as well as now, is in a unique position, simultaneously inside and outside the proceedings, and therefore able to make us feel like active participants in the experience of the drama” (Videbaek 1996, p. 191). Shakespeare often employed the clown to offer insights, truths, or information in a particular way. The individual did not have to be well-liked, and in fact, often had many flaws, but the truth of their words often was more poignant in the face of the character’s failings. Donald Trump has frequently cast himself in the role of the fool or clown within American life. In the classical sense, the fool wielded great power and authority. The modern usage of the word has turned it into a more derisive one, but Trump really occupies the space of the classical construct. The clown derived from fool of the court. “Greatly respected as was the privilege of the fool to speak the truth on all occasions, whoever might wince under it…” (Doran 1858, p. 50). Nobility throughout Europe often employed fools as part of their royal courts. At Eltz Castle in Germany, the walls of the room where knights met have heads of jesters. They were placed there as symbols to indicate all could speak freely in this space without repercussion (“Burg Eltz,” n.d.). The fool, jester, or clown

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

17

was granted greater free speech than others. They told the uncomfortable truths of society. “Fools were free to speak before there was a liberty of the press, or even a press at all” (Doran 1858, pp. 51–52). While only once part of the heraldic courts, playwrights like Shakespeare and others used the clown on stage as a rhetorical device for confrontation of their protagonists. Clowns have often shared a special place in many societies as outsiders on the inside who could challenge norms within the safety of their sphere. It would stand to reason that modern circus would be a place many people would look for entertainment and socialization. In the nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries, when the circus came to town in America, it was often the dominating topic of discussion for weeks. The event cut often across class lines and gave rural areas their first look at exotic animals, persons, and performances. In many communities, “Circus Day” was so popular, “shops closed their doors, schools canceled classes, and factories shut down” (Davis 2002, p. 2). This experience also helped reaffirm many notions of outsiders within society. At this time, the circus came to town with exhibitions composed of foreigners from places far away from America. Gawking had its place as well as the clown. The circus, with its sideshows, performances, and animals gave people windows into another world. Freak shows gave people comfort in their own normality. It also helped reinforce the otherness of distant cultures. Davis (2002) asserts the circus helped consolidate a shared sense of white racial privilege among its diverse, white ethnic audiences; Euroamerican spectators came, in part, to laugh at what they ostensibly were not: preindustrial, slow, bumbling, or ‘savage.’ The circus played a double function because it codified European ethnicity as racial difference, while simultaneously promoting a uniform ‘white’ American racial identity. (p. 26)

These acts like “wild men of Borneo” help reinforce the importance of segregation and separation to many audiences who may have never seen persons from outside their own community. For the audiences of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, concepts like eugenics were broadly accepted within American society. “By 1928, eugenics was a topic in 376 separate college courses, which enrolled approximately 20,000 students. A content analysis of high school science text books published between 1914 and 1948 indicates that a majority presented eugenics was a legitimate science” (“Eugenics Archive,” n.d.). Congenital imperfections

18

S. B. O’BRIEN

helped give audiences a sense of voyeurism with reinforcement of thankfulness for their own lot in life. Persons of color were often presented as savages with minimal clothing to play up their otherness as curiosities and not fellow humans. “Two common themes characterized the presentation of women from ‘savage’ societies: sexual promiscuity and participation of physical labor” (Davis 2002, p. 131). Acts like sword swallowing or snake charming often threaded lines between burlesque and wholesome entertainment to maximize profitability. These acts help engrain ideas of superiority into communities throughout the country. Foreigners, especially non-white ones, were displayed as persons needed to contain and keep separate. In many ways, they were mini-morality plays about the primacy of the Western European/American experience. It was not until after the Second World War that it became difficult for circuses to acquire racially diverse persons from other countries (Davis 2002, p. 226). These acts at their height of popularity were often on the sideshow near or blended with freak shows. These were often complemented by other acts like early professional wrestling. Modern professional wrestling was born from the circus, in particular, the circus sideshows. People came to see the extraordinary. Feats and contests of strength were often part of that entertainment. The performers put on a show for the paying public. The clowns often engaged in light satire and humor while the sideshows helped reinforce the spectator’s positive beliefs of their own personal lives. Professional wrestling started in this world, but quickly grew beyond it and evolved into its own creation. However, the roots of its origins resonate in the sport even through the modern incarnations. Language, audience engagement, and theatricality all trace their foundation to the circus. While clearly not Elizabethan theater, it still deploys many of these classical tactics to engage the audience in similar ways. The language of wrestling is important because it helps explain how performance in the ring as well as on stage helps define the way insiders and outsiders are perceived. “Much of the language of wrestling is argot, terminology designed to conceal meaning from an outsider” (Kerrick 1980, p. 144). In other words, wrestlers use words in ways to help create their own exclusive space within the broader world. Argot is drawn specifically from carnie language that was directly “lifted from the circus or carnival” (Kerrick 1980, p. 144). Circus and wrestlers both typically live itinerant lifestyles moving from city to city on an almost daily basis. Distinctive language helps create a separation from those in their professions and others. Within this idea sits the essence of kayfabe.

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

19

They are giving a show for an audience who they are hoping to sell their performance and have them accept it as authentic. The truth is less important than “getting over” or “popping” the crowd by generating strong reactions. Cheering and booing are two sides of the same coin. The emotion from the audience is more important than its direction. The worst possible outcome would be no reaction from a crowd. Positive or negative outflowing of emotion means an audience cares enough to emote. If they have no response, it means the performer has failed at their job of entertainment. Within the language of wrestling, the good guys are babyfaces while the heels are bad guys (Kerrick 1980, p. 144). Kayfabe demands these performers maintain their character and do not indicate they are portraying a fiction. “A wrestler’s success will be evaluated not in whether he wins or loses but by how effectively he plays that role” (Campbell 1996, p. 128). The truth is in the reaction of the audience. Their enthusiasm for activity determines its continuation. Donald Trump’s appeal rests within these theatrical tactics and performances. Shakespeare used the clown to often appeal to the groundlings. Modern professional wrestling has strong appeal with working-class Americans who also ties to populism. Professional wrestling allows things not commonly expressed by the media or politicians to be aired in a stylized environment. “If traditional melodrama centers upon the moral struggle between the powerful and the vulnerable, masculine melodrama confronts the painful paradox that working-class men are powerful by virtue of their gender and vulnerable by virtue of their economic status” (Jenkins 1997, p. 75). Wrestling gives the voiceless a voice. It functions as the modern agora where spectators also have the opportunity to join the chorus. Their social frustrations can be vented in a public space using stylized and symbolic heroes and villains as their focus. These spaces are important for societies to feel connected and have their voices expressed. Throughout American history, people have occasionally emerged who have captured the public’s imagination and considered themselves their voice. They have been part of the circus or media and aspired to either attain or put surrogates into power. The ways they used the power of the public to draw together supporters and devotees to help achieve their goals. Dan Rice, John R. Brinkley, and Father Charles Coughlin are three such persons who captured the public’s imagination and each attempted to transition that into political power.

20

S. B. O’BRIEN

Dan Rice One of the early “celebrity” outsiders to run for president was Dan Rice. He was a circus performer who became one of the most famous Americans in the country during the mid-nineteenth century. Rice was a literal clown in the circus. Circus at this time was a more interactive experience with the audience and performers engaging with each other in often verbal back and forth quips (Carlyon 2001, p. 5). Persons on the stage would dialogue with the audience. Circus performers, such as Rice, frequently discussed political issues and would have monologues more in line with Will Rogers than the modern circus clowns who primarily use pantomime. In many ways, modern professional wrestling’s interaction with the audience has very strong commonalities with Dan Rice’s act. Wrestlers often have an introduction by their master of ceremonies followed by a dramatic entrance into the ring. Many physical contests do not immediately begin when the combatants enter the ring. They routinely provide exposition and dialogue aimed at riling up the crowd, moving the dramatic narrative along, or commentary about their opponent. During many current wrestling performances, the bout is rarely about a show of strength and force. It is a physical representation of the antagonisms between the two wrestling characters or as a proxy on behalf of allies. If the circus routinely had clowns providing interactive discourse with the crowds about events and politics, what changed to create the muted audience with silent clowns? The shift of this interaction to the more spectator-based audience was actually driven by political events. With the Spring of Nations (also known as the Revolutions of 1848) in 1848, “rowdy interaction in performance caused anxiety” with “passive and quiet spectators” considered the best “solution to his newly conceived ‘problem’ of participation” (Carlyon 2001, p. 83). Circus owners, as well as many community leaders, began to fear the open discourse of the public. In short, they were worried about crowds being inflamed and turning into angry throngs. These concerns have valid justifications from various points of view. “Worry about mob rule inevitably extended to audiences. In theater and circuses, participation was customary, with conversation common and rowdy enthusiasm running across classes. Audiences were not simply expressing an opinion, they were exercising the duty of ‘THE PEOPLE’ in a republic” (Carlyon 2001, p. 262). There existed fears that an excess of democracy could easily turn into

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

21

a riotous situation that could spin out of control. These concerns were not unfounded as noted by the Hartford Fire of 1944. Circus tents were often coated in paraffin wax soaked in gasoline (O’Nan 2001). When the fire broke out, it spread quickly throughout the enclosed space. The tent collapsed upon hundreds of spectators, trapping them under the burning canvas (Skidgell 2014, p. 61). This event resulted in over 160 deaths and at least 600 injuries (“The Hartford,” n.d.). The fears of an unruly audience were salient with potentially disastrous consequences. Dan Rice’s popularity rivaled the most famous persons of the day with a Mobile newspaper once commenting “it was ‘no wonder that the audience are involuntarily carried along at his will, and that they become apparently unconscious puppets in his hands’” (as cited in Carlyon 2001, p. 75). Dan Rice was an effective orator and used his skills to enthrall an audience. His draw was so strong, presidential candidates like Zachary Taylor were tremendously helped by his vocal support. Rice campaigned for Zachary Taylor using a bandwagon at the circus. His popularity would encourage local politicians to often climb on it thus spawning the colloquial phrases involving jumping on bandwagons and likely one of the early instances of riding coattails. The tools of Rice’s trade often involved hyperbole, mockery, and physical threats to the competition if they encroached upon his territory. By the Civil War, Rice began creating a fictional history for himself as a way to create a mythos larger than life. For example, without proof, he adopted the title of Colonel claiming Zachary Taylor once gave it to him for his campaign support (Carlyon 2001, p. 352). Though purely speculative, Taylor’s home state of Kentucky does have the ability to bestow the ceremonial title of “Colonel” to renowned persons. Dan Rice was a Democrat who regularly shifted his political views to best appeal to his audiences. In the mid-nineteenth century, these changes were accomplished by playing up or down slavery support while simultaneously defending patriotic values. When he ran for president in 1867, Rice made “politics his opponent” (Carlyon 2001, p. 348) pulling support from the working classes while simultaneously attempting to distance himself from his low brow language and humor. He frequently attacked any criticism directed toward him. He referred to the editors of a Michigan paper as “malicious liars” when they published unflattering stories (Carlyon 2001, p. 350). These comments are remarkably similar to Donald Trump a century and a half later. During his campaign, Trump referred to his own “party’s system for selecting its presidential nominee is a ‘scam’

22

S. B. O’BRIEN

and a ‘disgrace.’” (Cusack 2016). Much of Trump’s campaign and presidency has been defined by repetitive attacks upon the media when he believes coverage is inaccurate or unfair. He regularly brands news he dislikes as fake and has often described the press as the people’s enemy (Roig-Franzia and Ellison 2020). While Rice’s campaign ultimately went nowhere, it did give him material for lectures delivered in various formats for the remainder of his professional career. Rice claimed many relationships when they were advantageous to him, notably a close friendship with Abraham Lincoln (Carlyon 2001, pp. 409–410) and did not deny being the inspiration for Uncle Sam. Scant verifiable evidence is lacking in both cases, though Rice at his height did dress and have facial hair similar to the iconic caricature figure. However, it is unclear which one emulated the other or if it was merely coincidental. Dan Rice was a popular American figure during the nineteenth century. He gained fame through an entertainment medium that had strong appeal toward the average citizen. His circus act used tools still in use today in the circus and professional wrestling. He attempted to use his popularity to transition himself into a political figure, but was ultimately hampered by the internal party forces of the era. Rice has many commonalities with Donald Trump. Both men created personas for themselves through the media of their day. They each had troubled personal lives (divorces notably), but created public images that often transcended the mundane. Rice and Trump craft images of success with the stories more important than the realities.

John R. Brinkley John R. Brinkley was well known in the early to mid-twentieth century for a variety of things. He was a doctor and radio personality who almost won a governorship. While many people at the time would consider him a revolutionary medical pioneer, others would place him firmly in the “quack” camp. He used the tools of his trade to brand himself as the iconic medical gold standard for rural and middle-class Americans. Brinkley understood that success was rarely about skill. It was marketing and public opinion. He transformed himself from a person subsisting on the itinerant city to city jobs into one of the most renown figures of his day. How did he do this? In short, he accomplished it via goat testicles. He created and proselytized a process that addressed erectile dysfunction back

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

23

when it was only discussed euphemistically among people. He appealed to the vanity of aging men whose reproductive systems were decidedly in nap mode. He transplanted the testicles of a goat into an adult man to help increase his virility. These activities were well-documented and publicized. His process was considered revolutionary and people flocked to this doctor who had answers for their problems. He even inserted goat glands into several Hollywood celebrities (Lee 2002, p. 46). Brinkley guarded his process as proprietary, likely in part to circumvent judgment from the broader medical community. Though his methods were never fully documented, it appears he implanted slivers of goat testicle into patients with the idea it would be absorbed by the body before it putrefied. John Brinkley’s fame began to rise in the late 1910s. He had spent a career marketing himself with varying degrees of success. By the early 1920s, Brinkley’s career was on the upswing. The goat testicle transplantations began to take off and capture the public consciousness. He only had one major complication: the lack of a reputable medical license. When he was younger, he was unable to pay his tuition and instead opted to shortcut a degree by manipulating the system and paying certain fees that would facilitate agreements (Lee 2002, pp. 21–22). A newspaper exposé of this system occurred in 1923 accusing schools of selling degrees and after being issued licenses these new doctors would exploit “reciprocity licensing” (Lee 2002, p. 49) and move to other states. At the time, Brinkley was operating under a license issued in Connecticut. The state “was so embarrassed by the exposure and bad publicity that the state rescinded all licenses issued to eclectic doctors, including Brinkley’s” (Lee 2002, p. 49). Brinkley lost several licenses from both foreign and domestic governmental entities who had granted in-kind from the Connecticut one. While these setbacks would often be the death knell on many careers, Brinkley’s turned to the media as a way to reinvent himself and add a veneer of distinction that appealed to many people who rarely saw doctors because of proximity or income. He created his own radio station in 1923 that blended entertainment with testimonials and information about increasing virility through transplantation. He eschewed the elite medical boards in favor of the common man who enjoyed the entertainment and light education. His station, KFKB, was located in Kansas and “the fourth commercial station in the country” (Lee 2002, p. 62) and quickly became “first in the nation in terms of listener interest” (Lee 2002, p. 62). Brinkley tailored his message to appeal to farming families who liked the

24

S. B. O’BRIEN

news, music, religious fundamentalism, and medical advice. In 1927, the station began operating on 5000 watts of power allowing it to “be heard anywhere in North America” (Lee 2002, p. 70). Brinkley tapped into a large working-class market of Americans who wanted medical advice in a friendly, non-threatening way. His daily programming schedule entertained and offered close to medical proverbs. They did not explicitly give medical protocols, but encouraged the listeners to turn to Brinkley for their ailments. Brinkley’s words carried weight with his listeners. They saw him as a successful physician and trusted his commentary and advice. His business rapidly expanded leading to the creation of the very profitable Brinkley Pharmaceutical Association (Lee 2002, p. 70) which provided him a portion of the sales from the filled prescriptions. He would read letters on the air and give them suggested numbers of prescriptions from his association in order to help control the distribution and profit margin. At his height, Brinkley had millions of listeners and grew extremely wealthy from the business in Milford, Kansas. He did not see his radio viewers though he would regularly prescribe his patented medications, which were far more expensive than other options. Over time, complaints grew about his business practices. Brinkley vigorously defended his practices and organization with lawsuits, advertisements, and demeaning language on his radio station. “His supporters worshiped him and his opponents hated him” (Lee 2002, p. 88). During his radio broadcasts, he referred to the American Medical Association (AMA) “as the ‘Amateur Meatcutters Association’ and Morris Fishbein [of the AMA] as ‘Little Old Fishy’” (Lee 2002, p. 89). The more the AMA tried to regulate or address the concerns of Brinkley’s questionable medical practices, the more aggressive the doctor became toward defending his lucrative and growing financial empire. As regulatory agencies (such as the Kansas Medical Board and Federal Radio Commission) grew concerned about the Brinkley medical business, he attacked the political system as corrupt and stacked against him (Lee 2002, pp. 100–102). When eventually forced to shut down his radio station, he quickly purchased a transmitter just inside the Mexican border that would broadcast at 50,000 watts (Lee 2002, p. 103). By 1936, he was broadcasting at 1,000,000 watts overwhelming other signals as far as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York (Lee 2002, p. 173). While we may consider Dr. Brinkley’s practice to be farcical nowadays, it was serious business to both Brinkley and his followers. It also sounds reminiscent of the modern situation with Donald Trump. He gained national awareness

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

25

through the media and uses the media to attack critics. Trump regularly verbally aggresses and insults challengers (Croucher 2019; Edelman 2019; Lee and Quealy 2019; Relman 2019). Concerns about Brinkley’s medical practices and radio medicine eventually lead to Kansas taking action against him in a way to curtail his activities. The ultimate loss of his license to practice in Kansas was a personal and professional attack upon his business and reputation. In order to salvage them, he decided to run for governor of the state. It would be the ultimate revenge for those who wronged him since he would gain control over the regulatory boards that attempted to strip him of his livelihood. John R. Brinkley and Donald Trump share many commonalities. Each man found audiences who felt they had not been given a voice by people in charge. Both turned to politics when they felt slighted by people, they wanted respect from as professionals in their fields. Brinkley wanted to be recognized as a medical professional and not a fraud. It is speculated Donald Trump began to seriously consider a presidential bid after being insulted at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. Trump wanted to be considered an influential developer and revered television personality. The lack of adulation from the media likely helped push Trump into a presidential bid to raise his profile. Each man also traded on advice and entertainment. They both felt maligned by the more traditional establishments and gained tremendous popularity through media exposure. However, at the same time, neither saw their personal reputation increase within their original field of enterprise. Dr. Brinkley felt the traditional medical establishment belittled his educational path and discounted it as a way to maintain their elitist system in power. Donald Trump has frequently expressed beliefs that the traditional political party leadership dismissed and discounted him. He has also made references to never feeling accepted by the social elite of New York society (Welch 2019). Brinkley decided to take on the electoral establishment of Kansas in 1930 and run for governor as a write-in candidate. He espoused several populist beliefs that he referred to as “Brinkleyism.” Many of his radio fans were fervently supportive of him for who he was more than what he stood for as a candidate. While he did not initially believe he could win, rapid support of his followers invigorated a platform for him to vent his spleen over the newspapers, political actors, and institutions he felt maligned him (Lee 2002, p. 121). He announced his candidacy within five days of the Kansas Medical Board revoking his license (Lee 2002, p. 121) with a platform “designed to appeal to farmers, laborers, the poor and others disaffected”

26

S. B. O’BRIEN

(Lee 2002, pp. 121–122) and disgusted by the current political climate in Kansas. He complained that “the statehouse in Topeka was filled with corruption and inefficiency… [and] exhorted all good citizens to ‘Clean up, Clean out, and Keep Kansas Clean’” (Lee 2002, p. 122). Echoes of these platforms resonated decades later with Donald Trump’s assertions to “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC. In many ways, Brinkley cared less about true government reform and more about allowing his business practices to operate without constraint. Brinkley blended religion and populism into a platform with enormous appeal. The Kansas government ruled that the only write-in ballots that would be counted for Brinkley were ones where his name “J.R. Brinkley” was spelled in exactly that fashion. Ballots with misspellings, different versions of his name, or just doctor would be discounted in the official tallies. He ultimately lost, but questions abounded about the volumes of discarded votes. His supporters wanted recounts, but “Brinkley could make more in a month as a physician than he could in two years in the governor’s office and probably did not really care to occupy the office” (Lee 2002, p. 129). The election was more about grinding political axes, increasing popularity, and bolstering supporters than actual good government. These issues sound strikingly familiar when compared to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential run. There was suspicion he was angry at politicians for discounting his viability and wanted to use a run for office as a way to secure a better contract for The Apprentice television show (Kaczynski 2017; Moniuszko 2018). Both Brinkley and Trump utilize media to provide themselves a legitimacy they would not otherwise attain through traditional means. Each maintained lavish lifestyles to inculcate an image of success to their target audiences. Brinkley owned yachts, private planes, and mansions while appealing to the working class on his radio programs to use his services and prescriptions. Trump encourages the same perception with ostentatious wealth. Since the 1980s, Donald Trump has developed a persona of aspirational wealth through media appearances and real estate development. The courts were ultimately the harbinger of Brinkley’s downfall. He would frequently sue people who he felt were damaging his reputation. In 1938, Brinkley sued Morris Fishbein of the AMA for libel in an article published in Hygeia (Lee 2002, p. 211). Intense examination under oath forced Brinkley to admit his medical surgeries did not do what he claimed and his advertisements were not truthful (Lee 2002, p. 217). The verdict went against Dr. Brinkley and the court publicly declared him a charlatan

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

27

and a quack (Lee 2002, p. 218). Lawsuits from individuals and others for back taxes left Brinkley in desperate conditions. His domestic radio business was sold while the Mexican government confiscated the one inside their borders (Lee 2002, p. 220). He attempted to run for a Texas seat in United States Senate in 1940. The campaign quickly fell apart, but one newspaper warned his attempt “would again ‘be irresistible to the moron mind and Texas has plenty of such’” (Lee 2002, p. 223). The life of John R. Brinkley holds many insights into Donald Trump, his followers, and their joint worldview. Brinkley relied upon his faith that the common man would seek out help, but not be especially informationseeking. He was given their trust because he echoed their concerns and spoke of alleviating fears. At his height, Brinkley drove and lived in ornate and obscenely garish vehicles and homes. He always presented an image of success no matter his own personal financial status. Audiences continued to tune into his shows because he brought entertainment and advice into their homes. It forged a personal connection that translated into loyalty. Many people believed in him even in the face of direct evidence of fraudulent activity. They wanted to believe because he at least offered them something compared to many politicians of the day. Politicians promised policy, but Brinkley offered medical advice, music, and religious content. He urged them to his clinic where he promised virility and health. Citizens could hear and see the tangible results of this promise. The content was given to them on a daily basis replete with platitudes and friendly voices. Average citizens do not see the daily progress of politicians at work. They hear promises, but rarely see concrete results. Policy change happens slowly with its results tracked by decades, not days. Citizens often feel the government does nothing because it is often difficult to see the slow progress unless one pays careful attention. For example, it is all but impossible to watch paint on a wall dry. We see it wet and we will observe it in stages of drying and then dry, but we rarely notice when it is 5% or 8% complete. We know the process, but many are frustrated when it does not happen as quickly as hoped because of increased humidity or other factors that interfere with typical results. Donald Trump also trades on the imagery of wealth and entertainment. Wrestling gives him a verbal style that allows him to say things most people wish. As the boss on The Apprentice he could say what he wants with no consequences. As president, he presents people the same image of decisive leadership. His policies like building a wall, restricting immigration, or even detaining people at a border are all issues that can present

28

S. B. O’BRIEN

tangible evidence to show action upon what he claims. While some people are horrified, others see it as a confirmation of their choice for a “doer.” Many people feel frustrated at the slow process of bureaucracy and find his assertions comforting because they indicate action, even if it functions only as a rhetorical façade of superficiality.

Father Charles Coughlin Charles Coughlin was a Catholic priest who rose to national prominence during the 1920s and 1930s. In many ways, he primed media for talk radio and television evangelical programming. At his height, he was drawing over 40 million listeners a week (Marcus 1973) making his broadcast the most popular in the nation. He is important for using mass media to inspire the population into action. Coughlin was, in a very real sense, going directly public (Ouyang and Waterman 2020) as early as 1930. He gave weekly sermons on the radio that regularly emphasized political and social commentary. He utilized tactics such as name-calling to denigrate others, specifically linking terms like “‘atheistic,’ ‘international,’ and ‘Communist’ with ‘Jew’” (Lee and Lee 1939, p. 31). Coughlin used his radio pulpit to assert Jews were involved in a conspiracy within the United States and abroad to establish communistic governments (General Jewish Council 1939). While initially supportive of the New Deal (Tull 1965, p. 239), he grew unhappy with it as time progressed. His unhappiness manifested itself into a conspiracy theory alleging wealthy Jewish bankers were at the root of the worldwide depression (Tull 1965, p. 40). He has no substantiating proof other than his own thoughts and beliefs. These “hunch” tactics have also been deployed by Donald Trump over the years to push ideas that frequently lack evidence (Zeballos-Roig et al. 2019; Sargent 2020; “Conspiracy Theories,” n.d.). During early 2020, President Trump even referred to the coronavirus as the “new hoax” by the Democratic Party (Franck 2020) as another attempt to undermine his administration. Father Coughlin began endorsing political candidates in 1935 to help “influence the selection of congressional candidates” (Tull 1965, p. 117). He was hostile and truculent toward the New Deal which led to his involvement in the creation of the Union Party. The party ran North Dakota Senator William Lemke as their candidate in the presidential elections of 1936. Coughlin was a key player in the party platform, goals, and campaigning. Coughlin dominated the political arena more

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

29

than the presidential or vice-presidential candidates. At one political rally, he referred to Roosevelt as a liar and the resulting uproar caused the Vatican to order him to publicly apologize (Tull 1965, pp. 136–137). At the nominating convention, Coughlin’s control “could be used as an outstanding exhibit in any college course dealing with mob psychology. Coughlin was their messiah, and these people came prepared to obey humbly his every wish” (Tull 1965, p. 140). President Roosevelt never rose to the bait of responding to Coughlin given the “risk of alienating large numbers of Catholic voters” (Tull 1965, p. 162). The eventual returns on election night were a disaster for the Union Party. They counted their supporters at five million, yet received “less than one million votes and fail[ed] to win the electoral vote of a single state” (Tull 1965, p. 163). Poor party organization, heavy negative campaigning, and running a Republican candidate on a third-party platform all likely contributed to this dismal showing. By 1938, Father Coughlin began to assert “American democracy as too decayed to operate effectively” (Tull 1965, p. 243) and advocated a corporate state where parties would be abolished and the president selected out of the House of Representatives (Hansen 1939, p. 10). At one point, he pronounced “democracy was doomed” and embraced the “road to fascism” (Hansen 1939, p. 11). In addition, he began to espouse “militant nationalistic isolationism” (Tull 1965, p. 244). These beliefs were likely driven by anger and frustration over his inability to transition his large popular culture following to true political power of swaying national elections. He advocates overthrowing a system that does not hold him in high esteem and honor. President Trump has dipped his toes into the waters of systemic overhaul by joking about refusing to leave office (Cole 2019). By February 2020, he repeated the claim over 25 times leading some to question whether it is really humorous or a trial balloon to gauge public interest (Hasen 2020). Father Coughlin continued his attacks upon Roosevelt, Jewish people, and communists while increasingly casting Nazism and Italian fascism in positive lights. By March 1942, Coughlin used his print publication to directly accuse “the Jews of starting the Second World War” (Tull 1965, p. 233). By this time, the language violated sedition laws involving the mail causing postal authorities to pursue action. This statement finally encouraged the Archbishop of Detroit, Edward Mooney, to neutralize Coughlin. “Mooney ordered Coughlin to stop his political activities or be defrocked” (Battistella 2014, p. 49). When given the choice between his

30

S. B. O’BRIEN

faith and his political activities, he withdrew from public life. He remained the priest at his parish until retirement, but was never again allowed to engage the broad national public on a regular basis. Both Trump and Coughlin use certain populations to simultaneously uplift while disparaging others. Coughlin would target Roosevelt, Jews, and communists often generalizing them together without clear distinction. Donald Trump typically prefers to lump former President Obama, Democrats, and specific nationalities as targets for generalized vitriol. The two men both give large raucous political rallies where they promote their ideas and agendas with rapt populations reveling in the persuasive performances. Negative campaigning functions as the stock and trade for each one where they lament decisions of others as egregious violations of the moral and social orders. However, for Father Coughlin, he was ultimately accountable to the Catholic Church. When forced to choose between it and public notoriety, he selected the former.

Conclusion The goal of this chapter involves highlighting how many craft and recrafts themselves, their images, and their attitudes of society to conform to goals, ideals, agendas, and dreams. Manufactured realities comprise the construction of imagery, expectation, and experience which makes illusion feel authentic. Disney, Rice, Brinkley, and Coughlin all moved the world and their supporters in the direction of their personal beliefs, opinions, or dreams. They also wield a strong measure of control over others. The Disney parks provide a narrative of American history that romanticizes its vision of our collective history while minimizing its negative aspects and conflicts. “The control motif is power, not least because it is relatively easy to cloak with euphemisms and neutral terms, of science, of progress, and of overcoming wilderness, and by eulogizing the intuition or courage of those who manage to (or seek to) overcome adverse conditions” (Bryman 1995, p. 107). Words within these places matter. Within the world of Disney, employees are cast members, not employees. Uniforms are costumes and no one ever admits to playing a character onstage, or rather the public areas. Cast members who play characters usually refer to themselves as a friend of that character (Niles 2015) because anything else would break the magical construct of the fantasy. Brinkley, Coughlin, and Trump all also use language to craft imagery. They use language to belittle targets

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

31

because it helps create a lasting impression. Disney parks use language for suspension of disbelief. Political actors use it the same way, but for other goals. During the March 20, 2020 press briefing, President Trump joking referred to the State Department as the “Deep” State Department (Nash 2020). These comments help substantiate perceptions of secret shadow governments while undermining the professionalism of the bureaucrats who spend careers specializing in areas of expertise. Donald Trump seeks to create a manufactured reality akin to an enclosed biosphere where the opinions of himself and his allies are the only valid and acceptable ones. The truth stems from the belief in their assertions, not concrete facts. Critics, detractors, and threats are vilified primarily because they challenge their perspectives. Donald Trump has been especially voracious with the term “fake news.” He has used it on average once a day since inauguration as “a catch-all criticism for any news that Trump doesn’t like” (Stelter 2018). Historically, the term refers to inaccurate or blatantly false information. Donald Trump has shifted and confused its meaning to also encompass his personal disapproval of news. It is an overt attempt to rebrand it within his own manufactured reality while undermining trust for critics. It also simultaneously encourages supporters to only accept information and sources he personally endorses or approves. The impact of this situation has been enormous upon the landscape of American politics. According to Knight Foundation poll in 2018, “[F]our in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news’” (p. 3). This research suggests Donald Trump has fundamentally altered the perception of words within the English language. He has constructed his own lens that filtered all information into his worldview. Donald Trump interacts with the American public more regularly than any previous president. This constant presence helps forge a sense of intimacy between himself and his constituency. Though Intintoli (1984) was analyzing the emotional impact of soap operas, parallels exist with the Trump administration. “Viewers come to feel they know the characters well- characters are continually there, and their most intimate feelings, desires, and behaviors are accessible … The personalistic, intimate focus on highly emotional themes can create an experience of considerable emotional depth and intensity” (Intintoli 1984, p. 55). He also suggests that their “investment of time and energy can embody a form of moral commitment as they vicariously participate” (Intintoli 1984, p. 55). Though he was referring to the symbolic universe of the

32

S. B. O’BRIEN

soap opera, the emotional commitment of supporters and fans follow a similar path. Trump’s constant presence with his unfiltered commentary gives people a connection that likely feels more tangible than other politicians who focus on abstracts with little to no impromptu personal commentary. Supporters feel like they have a personal connection to him and he milks it for adulation and veneration. His television viewing habits have turned certain news sources into a curated space for direct information access to the administration. Donald Trump uses programs like Fox & Friends the same way many administrations use bureaucratic policy advisors (Flood 2017; Gertz 2017; Marantz 2018; Moritz-Rabson 2018). This program, as well as others on their network, gives the president a measure of confirmation bias about his thoughts (Rupar 2019). Appearances on these programs provide direct access to the administration. Lobbyists buy airtime to promote their positions (Shields and Dlouhy 2019). In other words, Fox has access to the president. If you get your opinion on Fox, you have a high likelihood of being on the president’s radar. News sources report that around 60% of the president’s day is spent in unstructured executive time (McCammond and Swan 2019). Much of this time is devoted to television watching, newspapers, and then calling allies to discuss what he watched or read on television or in the print media (Smith 2019). It creates its own echo chamber where reality bends to conform to pleasing the president and catching his attention. It is the very essence of manufactured reality as well as kayfabe. Opinions are branded as facts and anyone is attacked who challenges this perspective (Quigley 2017; Jackson 2019; Pasley 2019; Herbert 2020; Tofel 2020). The president’s perspective is the only valid one and all others must be extinguished. This view aligns with the concept of kayfabe well since it presents the theatrical world of wrestling as reality and aggressively rebuts any suggestions otherwise. These perceptions matter because they fundamentally impact the way the president filters information. During coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak of 2020, President Trump did not take it seriously for a significant amount of time (Leonhardt 2020) and at one point even said it will just go away (The White House 2020). It took several members of his inner staff to sit him down in a firm discussion to even accept the significance of the virus threat (Pettypiece 2020). More important, the President of the United States only began to shift rhetoric and tone after direct intervention by Fox news personality, Tucker Carlson (Sullivan 2020). Carlson spoke directly to the president to help him understand the

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

33

gravity and urgency of a governmental plan and response. It is noteworthy that a television personality had to intercede on behalf of the American population for a president to trust the information of the bureaucratic experts. These facts speak toward the power and sway the popular media, especially from Fox, holds over the policy decisions of the Trump administration. It gives them tremendous power to curate stories to cultivate opinions both from the people and their leaders.

References Baker, P. (2020, February 6). Trump Lashes Out at Impeachment Foes and Pelosi Hits Back. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/ 06/us/politics/trump-prayer-impeachment.html. Barthes, R. (1982). The World of Wrestling. In S. Sontag (Ed.), A Barthes Reader. New York: Hill and Wang. Battistella, E. L. (2014). Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology. New York: Oxford University Press. Bierman, N. (2017, February 24). After Trump Calls Media an Enemy of the People, White House Bars Many New Outlets from Briefing. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washin gton-updates-after-trump-calls-fake-news-enemy-of-1487963297-htmlstory. html. Bryman, A. (1995). Disney and His Worlds. London: Routledge. Burg Eltz. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://burg-eltz.de/en/ eltz-castle-the-attractions/did-you-know.html. Campbell, J. W. (1996). Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins. The Journal of American Culture, 19(2), 127–132. Carlyon, D. (2001). Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You’ve Never Heard Of . New York: Public Affairs. Cole, B. (2019, December 9). Trump Jokes He Won’t Leave Presidency After 8 Years: ‘It’s Not a Bad Idea.’ Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/trumpjokes-he-wont-leave-presidency-after-8-years-its-not-bad-idea-1476178. Conspiracy Theories Promoted by Donald Trump. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category: Conspiracy_theories_promoted_by_Donald_Trump. Croucher, S. (2019, November 21). Donald Trump Has ‘R-Rated’ Nicknames for People He Doesn’t Like-But He Keeps Them ‘Within the West Wing,’ Anonymous Official Claims. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/trumpr-rated-nicknames-west-wing-anonymous-book-warning-1472962.

34

S. B. O’BRIEN

Cusack, B. (2016, April 12). Trump Slams RNC Chairman, Calls 2016 Process, ‘a Disgrace.’ The Hill. http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidentialraces/276054-trump-slams-rnc-chairman-calls-2016-process-a-disgrace. Davis, J. M. (2002). The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. Doran, J. (1858). The History of Court Fools. London: Richard Bentley. Edelman, A. (2019, April 25). A Guide to Trump’s Nicknames and Insults About the 2020 Democratic Field. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/ politics/2020-election/everything-trump-has-said-about-2020-field-insultsall-n998556. Eugenics Archive. (n.d.). The Eugenics Archive. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/list2.pl. Flood, B. (2017, June 19). Typically Trump-Friendly ‘Fox and Friends’ Questions President’s Twitter Habits. The Wrap. https://www.thewrap.com/typ ically-trump-friendly-fox-and-friends-questions-potus-twitter-habits/. Franck, T. (2020, February 28). Trump Says the Coronavirus Is the Democrats’ ‘New Hoax.’ CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/28/trump-says-thecoronavirus-is-the-democrats-new-hoax.html. General Jewish Council. (1939). Father Coughlin: His ‘Facts and Arguments.’ New York. Gertz, M. (2017, March 20). The Bigotry and Idiocy of Donald Trump’s Favorite News Show. Media Matters for America. https://www.mediamatt ers.org/fox-friends/bigotry-and-idiocy-donald-trumps-favorite-news-show. Hansen, J. (1939). Father Coughlin: Fascist Demagogue. Pioneer Publishers. Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/hansen/ 1939/coughlin-fascist.pdf. Hasen, R. L. (2020, February 4). Trump’s Jokes About Defying Election Results Could Create Chaos. Slate. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/02/ trump-jokes-rigged-elections-chaos.html. Herbert, G. (2020, March 20). Trump Attacks Reporter for Asking About Scared Americans Amid Coronavirus Pandemic. syracuse.com. https:// www.syracuse.com/coronavirus/2020/03/trump-attacks-reporter-for-askingabout-scared-americans-amid-coronavirus-pandemic.html. Howley, P. (2016, March 30). Trump in Wisconsin: ‘The Establishment Is Trying to Take It Away from Us.’ Breitbart. http://www.breitbart. com/2016-presidential-race/2016/03/30/donald-trump-wisconsin-establish ment-trying-take-away-us/. Intintoli, M. J. (1984). Taking Soaps Serious: The World of Guiding Light. New York: Praeger. Jackson, D. (2019, October 23). ‘Human Scum:’ Donald Trump Has Harsh Comments for ‘Never Trumper’ Republicans. USA Today. https://www.usa

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

35

today.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/23/donald-trump-describes-rep ublican-critics-human-scum/4076555002/. Jenkins, H., III. (1997). ‘Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama. In A. Baker & T. Boyd (Eds.), Out of Bounds: Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity (pp. 48–78). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Kaczynski, A. (2017, February 2). Howard Stern: Trump Wants to Be Loved, Presidency Will Be ‘Detrimental’ to His Mental Health. CNN . https:// money.cnn.com/2017/02/02/media/kfile-stern-on-trump/index.html. Kerrick, G. E. (1980). The Jargon of Professional Wrestling. American Speech, 55(2), 142–145. Klapp, O. E. (1962). Heroes, Villains, and Fools: The Changing American Character. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Knight Foundation. (2018). American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy. A Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey. https://knightfoundation.org/wp-con tent/uploads/2020/03/KnightFoundation_AmericansViews_Client_Report_ 010917_Final_Updated.pdf. Koeffler, J. (2015, August 7). Donald Trump’s 16 Biggest Business Failures and Successes. Time. https://time.com/3988970/donald-trump-business/. Koenig, D. (2002). More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland. Irvine, CA: Bonaventure Press. Lee, A. M., & Lee, E. B. (1939). The Fine Art of Propaganda: A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches. New York: Harcourt, Brace. Lee, J. C., & Quealy, K. (2019, May 24). The 598 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/28/upshot/donaldtrump-twitter-insults.html. Lee, R. A. (2002). The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press. Leonhardt, D. (2020, March 15). A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/ 03/15/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html. Marantz, A. (2018, January 8). How “Fox & Friends” Rewrites Trump’s Reality. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/ 15/how-fox-and-friends-rewrites-trumps-reality. Marcus, S. (1973). Father Coughlin: The Tumultuous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower. Boston: Little, Brown. McCammond, A., & Swan, J. (2019, February 3). Scoop: Insider Leaks Trump’s “Executive Time”-Filled Private Schedules. Axios. https://www.axios.com/ donald-trump-private-schedules-leak-executive-time-34e67fbb-3af6-48dfaefb-52e02c334255.html.

36

S. B. O’BRIEN

Moniuszko, S. M. (2018, September 6). Michael Moore Claims Trump Ran for President Because of Gwen Stefani. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/ story/life/entertainthis/2018/09/06/michael-moore-claims-trump-ran-pre sident-because-gwen-stefani/1210403002/. Moritz-Rabson, D. (2018, December 28). Video Compilation Shows 30 Times Trump Repeated ‘Fox & Friends’ Talking Points in 2018. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/trump-fox-and-friends-influe nce-video-twitter-tweets-fox-news-1274231. Nash, C. (2020, March 20). Watch: Trump Says ‘Deep State Department,’ Prompting Dr. Fauci to Bury Face in Hands. Mediaite. https://www.med iaite.com/trump/watch-trump-says-deep-state-department-prompting-drfauci-to-bury-face-in-hands/. Niles, R. (2015, June). Robert’s Rant: Should Disney Character Actors Be Allowed to Identify Themselves? Theme Park Insider. https://www.themep arkinsider.com/flume/201506/4598/. O’Nan, S. (2001). The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy. New York: Anchor. Ouyang, Y., & Waterman, R. (2020). Trump, Twitter, and American Democracy: Political Communication in the Digital Age. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pasley, J. (2019, October 30). Every Time Trump Has Attacked American Veterans or Military Families. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider. com/trumps-insults-american-veterans-families-2019-10. Pettypiece, S. (2020, March 12). Behind Trump’s Coronavirus Shift. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/behind-trump-s-cor onavirus-shift-n1157321. Quigley, A. (2017, February 4). The 23 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Attacked on Twitter as President. Politico. https://www.politico. com/story/2017/02/trump-twitter-attacks-president-234620. Relman, E. (2019, June 7). The Most Disparaging Nicknames Trump Used for His Political Enemies and Former Allies. Business Insider. https://www.bus inessinsider.com/trumps-most-disparaging-nicknames-of-2018-2018-12. Roig-Franzia, M., & Ellison, S. (2020, March 29). A History of the Trump War on Media—The Obsession Not Even Coronavirus Could Stop. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/a-his tory-of-the-trump-war-on-media–the-obsession-not-even-coronavirus-couldstop/2020/03/28/71bb21d0-f433-11e9-8cf0-4cc99f74d127_story.html. Rupar. A. (2019, July 30). Trumps Latest Live-Tweeting Binge Shows How Fox News Sets His Agenda. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/7/30/207 47141/trump-fox-news-presidency-elijah-cummings. Sargent, Greg (2020, February 27). Trump Just Pushed One of His Worst Conspiracy Theories Yet. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.

2

MANUFACTURING REALITIES …

37

com/opinions/2020/02/27/trump-just-pushed-one-his-worst-conspiracytheories-yet/. Shields, T., & Dlouhy, J. A. (2019, August 28). Fox News Advertisers Get Direct Line to Viewer-in-Chief. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/ news/articles/2019-08-28/fox-news-sells-direct-access-to-trump-for-farmersand-airlines. Skidgell, M. (2014). The Hartford Circus Fire: Tragedy Under the Big Top. Charleston: The History Press. Smith, A. (2019, February 3). Nearly 60 Percent of Trump’s Schedule Is ‘Executive Time,’ Report Says. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/pol itics/donald-trump/nearly-60-percent-trump-s-schedule-executive-time-rep ort-says-n966376. Sullivan, M. (2020, March 18). Surrounded by Experts, Trump Still Needed an Intervention by Tucker Carlson to Take Coronavirus Seriously. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/sur rounded-by-experts-trump-still-needed-an-intervention-by-tucker-carlson-totake-coronavirus-seriously/2020/03/18/3cf67cb0-6922-11ea-9923-57073a dce27c_story.html. Stelter, B. (2018, January 17). Trump Averages a ‘Fake’ Insult Every Day. Really. We Counted. CNN . https://money.cnn.com/2018/01/17/media/ president-trump-fake-news-count/index.html. The Hartford Circus Fire-July 6, 1944. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2020, from http://www.circusfire1944.com. The White House. (2020, March 10). Remarks by President Trump After Meeting with Republican Senators. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefingsstatements/remarks-president-trump-meeting-republican-senators-2/?utm_ source=link&utm_medium=header. Tofel, R. (2020, February 27). The Real Story About Trump’s Latest Attack on the Press. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/president-donaldtrump-libel-suit-new-york-times-press-freedom. Tull, C. J. (1965). Father Coughlin and the New Deal. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Videbaek, B. A. (1996). The Stage Clown in Shakespeare’s Theatre. Westport: Greenwood Press. Wasko, J. (2001). Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. Cambridge: Polity Press. Welch, M. (2019, May 20). Trump’s One-Sided War Against New York’s Political Elite. Reason. https://reason.com/2019/05/20/trumps-one-sided-waragainst-new-yorks-political-elite/. Zeballos-Roig, J., Haltiwanger, J., & Kranz, M. (2019, October 9). 24 Outlandish Conspiracy Theories Donald Trump Has Floated over the Years. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-conspiracytheories-2016-5.

CHAPTER 3

Wrestling with the Presidency: How Donald Trump Uses Wrestling and Theatrical Tactics in the Public Sphere

Abstract This chapter looks at the theatrical elements of wrestling (including kayfabe) and how Donald Trump has used them within his campaign and administration. It explores the appeal of wrestling and its tactics to audiences and how Donald Trump has used that to his advantage. His long-standing relationship with professional wrestling has allowed him to use tools like hyperbole and verbal aggression in very specific ways. His use of these tactics has allowed behaviors often contained within theatrical spaces to be released into society leading to confusion over acceptable public behaviors. Keywords Professional wrestling · Verbal aggression · Theater · Presidency · Donald Trump

In order to better understand Trump’s appeal, it helps to look at the ways he connects with audiences. He pulls language and tactics from modern professional wrestling and deploys them into the political sphere. These mannerisms and behaviors are often misunderstood or dismissed by traditional pundits or academics. They see the bluster as hyperbole when it actually functions as calculated and nuanced rhetoric targeting workingand middle-class demographics. Donald Trump has traded on accepted

© The Author(s) 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6_3

39

40

S. B. O’BRIEN

theatrical behaviors of wrestling and normalized them as political antagonism. It has allowed the barriers of dramatic production to collapse and allow its affectations to seep into the broader world. Exaggeration exists in theater because stories and arcs have to occur within a compressed time frame. Emotions and reactions are intensified to propel events in an expedited manner. However, these all exist within the confined space of the stage, or in wrestling’s case, the ring. By adopting these tactics outside the arena, Donald Trump has simultaneously engaged an audience base while disintegrating the distinctions between performance and reality. It is imperative to better understand the world of professional wrestling in order to help grasp the calculated mannerisms behind many of Trump’s actions. It is a distinctive way of going public unlike many other iterations. Directed appeals target audiences to pressure actors (lawmakers, media, critics) to conform to behavior, but the language exists almost as code that engages only specific listeners. Politicians use certain words to signal affinities with certain groups, but President Trump uses broader performance. People who are aware of wrestling and its norms see the disconnect between presentation and governance while others less familiar with the medium are often horrified or appalled. Outsiders are often shocked at the loyalty retained by the core supporters who see his language as commonplace bluster to win an edge over a perceived adversary. Many of us watch in awe or throw up our hands in the face of such an unusual approach by a sitting American president. We are used to professional politicians who welcome the norms of government. Donald Trump is a political amateur exploiting tools acquired from a lifetime of calculated pop culture media exploitation. While many point to his media ventures such as The Apprentice, it is not where he learned this craft. He has had a 30-year relationship with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formally World Wrestling Federation) and placed the former CEO, Linda McMahon, as administrator for the Small Business Association. When Donald Trump campaigned in Democratic stronghold Connecticut in August 2016, many Republicans openly criticized the choice as a waste of resources (Glueck 2016). He had a rally in Fairfield County where WWE is headquartered and spoke at Sacred Heart University where Linda McMahon sat on the board of trustees (Altimari 2016). The owners of WWE have been loyal associates and Trump has regularly acknowledged it via

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

41

actions. In 2007, an Internal Revenue Service filing indicated the McMahons were the Trump Foundation’s largest donor (Alexander 2017). She stepped down from the Small Business Association in 2019 to “chair the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action” (Restucci et al. 2019). On April 15, 2020, Donald Trump placed Vince McMahon on an advisory group tasked with helping reopen the country following the COVID-19 shutdown (Fernandez 2020). His long-standing relationship with professional wrestling functioned as a training ground for his approach to public appeals and rhetorical style. Through exploring the ideas embedded within these sorts of entreaties and their connection to wrestling and political populism, we can better understand exactly how Donald Trump exploits them to weaponize going public for his own ends.

Wrestling as a Rhetorical Medium Professional wrestling is a performance where characters communicate storylines in a very physical manner in front of a captive audience. Wrestling blends the truth and fiction into a product that exists as neither fully one nor the other. It is a stylized drama of amplified reality that allows contemporary issues to be aired and addressed within a constrained space of a theatrical arc. Henry Jenkins asserts modern professional “wrestling heightens the emotional experience offered by traditional sports and direct it toward a specific vision of the social and moral order” (Jenkins 1997, p. 54). Roland Barthes says “[W]restling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque” (Barthes 1982, p. 18). Wrestling has strong working-class roots with a predominantly male audience. The WWE’s 2015 investor report claims 63% of their audience is male and 44% between the ages of 18–49 with 38% over 50 (“Investor Presentation” 2015). Wrestling has revenue of 633 million with more average viewers in primetime than any other cable network (“Investor Presentation” 2015). Professional wrestling’s online presence is strong with more than a half a billion followers on social media with more Twitter followers than NFL, Google, or ESPN (“Investor Presentation” 2015). Their domestic fans are not fringe Americans, but rather, large groups of citizens who can be activated with appropriate motivation. According to Leverette (2003), the content creators for wrestling “interpret the political and social climate and cull their characters from that

42

S. B. O’BRIEN

environment. … These characters then perpetuate a myth of America and function as an interpretation of reality for a particular fan base” (p. 182). Trump uses verbal aggression to emphasize the populist patois that makes inroads in populations many do not commonly associate with Republicans. Wrestling has a long history of spectacle and uses classic devices of hyperbole and exaggeration to evoke strong emotional mythos to reflect cultural concerns and anxieties. Donald Trump has been involved with the world of professional wrestling since his first appearance at Wrestlemania IV in 1988 culminating with his induction to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. He has been featured on programs for World Wrestling Entertainment on a somewhat periodic basis since the late 1980s with his most famous performance at 2007’s Wrestlemania 23 where he bet shaving his head upon the outcome of a match. Jenkins says professional wrestling “bridges the gap between sport and melodrama, allows for the spectacle of male physical prowess (a display which is greeted by shouts and boos) but also for the exploration of the emotional and moral life of its combatants” (Jenkins 1997, p. 53). Wrestling storylines often have large narratives with characters interacting with the onlookers to elicit cheers, jeers, and other responses. Specific language exists within wrestling to “dehumanize the action, to emphasize the ritual, the mechanical, rather than the emotional and personal” (Kerrick 1980, p. 145). For example, most performances are scripted events, yet the talent zealously maintains the concept of “kayfabe,” or in outsider terms, the illusion the events occurring are absolutely real. Any suggestion otherwise is aggressively challenged as a way to get “over” to sell the pretext to the watching audience. Donald Trump casts himself as a larger than life figure within our social culture. These images have strong grounding within the theatrical nature of his early interactions with the public. President Trump presents himself as a positive protagonist within his own story. Protagonists are frequently seen as the hero or the character that embodies the good fight while moving a plotline forward. Donald Trump, however, regularly employs many negative traits associated with an antagonist. His tendencies toward braggadocio while mocking or belittling others center his natural mannerisms closer to an antagonist rather than a protagonist. The reality within literary devices is Donald Trump probably fits best within the role of the antihero as an atypical protagonist. While humans always contain more depth than literary characters, these categories matter because how

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

43

Donald Trump views himself matters. He presents himself more as a character within a narrative role than a person navigating complex situations with often true solution. Donald Trump’s behaviors and motivations make more sense when one understands rhetorical engagement in professional wrestling. In the modern wrestling world, “the good guy/bad guy dichotomy has been replaced with a more rudimentary strong/weak dichotomy” (de Garis 2005, p. 205). The setup in most engagements is pretty standardized and borrows from theatrical tropes. There is a “conflict, crisis, and resolution” (de Garis 2005, p. 207). The performance itself is always the front and center purpose of every event. Forceful, angry, or emotional appearances are acceptable as long as they drive action and get a response from the audience. Truth rests within the intensity of the argument, not its actual words. Within the world of wrestling, apologies convey weakness so they are never forthcoming. Protagonists and antagonists double down on their assertions to communicate the legitimacy of their words. Dirty tricks, manipulation, and unfair play are all seen as appropriate tactics as long as they make their opponent look weak or foolish. While professional wrestling apes the grammar of the conventional sporting event, its performance drives much of its dramatic punch from the jarring juxtaposition of the ‘vulgar’ or ‘inappropriate’ with the ‘normal’ codes of athletic competition. Mocking ‘fair play’ with its blatant violation of rules and cheerful celebration of trickery, professional wrestling fractures the athlete-citizen paradigm of impartially judged, equitable competition, highlighting instead the kinds of behind-the scenes politics and prejudices that obstruct the mobility for the majority of nonbourgeois subjects. (Rahilly 2005, p. 217)

These observations by Rahilly accurately capture the Trump campaign and administration’s modus operandi though they need tweaking a bit for the political, not sports arena. Donald Trump presents a veneer of a politician, but his mannerisms, behaviors, and expectations are more in line with a theatrical presentation. Donald Trump implements tools commonplace in professional wrestling, like verbal aggression to maximum effect while promoting his own version of reality. Tamborini et al. (2008) found “character and competence attacks are among the three most common verbal aggression types in professional wrestling, behind swearing” (p. 253). Furthermore, “the overwhelming majority of verbal

44

S. B. O’BRIEN

aggression in professional wrestling is communicated for amusement. In other words, characters verbally aggress for no discernable reason other than self and audience gratification” (Tamborini et al. 2008, p. 253). Donald Trump referred to Mexicans as “rapists,” though suggesting many were fine people as well as mocking Nancy Pelosi, the disabled, Megyn Kelly, Elizabeth Warren, Lebron James, among others (Politico Magazine 2016). The following are several instances where Donald Trump has exhibited clear verbal aggression. Trump regarding Megyn Kelly: I just don’t respect her as a journalist. I have no respect for her. I don’t think she is very good. I think she is highly overrated. … She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions and, you know, you can see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever. (Schwartz 2015)

Trump responding to comments from Marco Rubio: Look at those hands, are they small hands? And he referred to my hands—“if they’re small, something else must be small.” I guarantee you there’s no problem there’s no problem. I guarantee (Krieg 2016). Trump tweeting about James’s interview: Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike! (Caron 2018). Trump commenting about 4 congresswomen of color, 3 of whom were born in the United States: Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came (Quilantan and Cohen 2019). Trump responding to comments that Nancy Pelosi said she prays for him: Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that’s not so (Baker 2020). During the vice-presidential debate, Mike Pence justified Trump’s untoward comments by attempting to explain that he was “not a polished politician, like you and Hillary Clinton” (Costa et al. 2016) when rebutting a comment from Tim Kaine. Trump, both as a candidate and president, trades on the dramatic punch of questionable commentary to control the narrative and exposition. He seems to embody the expression “any publicity is good publicity,” which has been attributed to P. T. Barnum, George Cohen, Mae West, Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, and well as several others without any definite evidence for any one originator.

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

45

He says startling things which seem to run counter to the normal standards of political discourse. The reactions to his comments overwhelm the narrative to a news story without real depth into the policy details. In the middle of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, it was his inimical response to a question that usurped headlines. The reporter asked Trump what he would say to people who were scared and he replied the question was nasty and the man was a terrible reporter (Concha 2020). This response dominated the next news cycle more than the seriousness of the pandemic situation. Many supporters of the president cheer these thumbing of traditional standards because it resonates with their expectations from entertainment venues like wrestling. Over time, the tail begins to wag the dog because these behaviors are then expected from the Trump administration so they seem to pursue events and confrontation that will instigate them. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of the State of the Union speech at the end of his address on February 4, 2020, the resulting outrage from the president and other Republicans stemmed from the interruption of their narrative. The president delivered his address rife with several reality television moments. He had the First Lady unexpectedly award the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh in the audience. He suddenly gave away a scholarship to a young African American student attending a failing public school though it was later found out she actually attends a well-regarded charter school (Carlisle 2020). In perhaps the most reality television segment, President Trump surprised a military wife with her husband who was unexpectedly returned from deployment for this surprise reunion (Lapin 2020). All of these moments were interspersed with a heavily economic policy-based speech touting achievement. It served as a de facto address to launch a reelection campaign without actually using those words. The fact the president clapped for his own speech at points helps highlight the similarities to a wrestling performance. Wrestlers will often clap or wave their hands at the end of their spoken narratives to help draw reactions from the crowd to amplify the response. At the end of the speech, the president and his Republican allies expected the news cycle for the next day to be devoted to dissection of his actions and the policies he spoke about in the speech. Without saying a word, Nancy Pelosi derailed their talking points and shifted all discussion away from the president and onto herself. She nonverbally expressed an opinion that echoed louder than his “ratings sweeps” moments peppered

46

S. B. O’BRIEN

throughout his address. She stole his thunder and his anger through Twitter and other media sources the next day reinforced it. Her destruction of her paper copy provided a strong visual rebuttal that upstaged the president. In an attempt to pull attention back onto his message, President Trump and his allies had to craft a false, but compelling account to counteract it. Within wrestling (and other venues with narratives), there is a concept called “retcon” which means retroactive continuity. Retcon occurs when a developing storyline no longer fits the established facts of a situation. However, the writers or others prefer this new direction so the past is either ignored or reimagined to fit the new path. During an early part of State of the Union, President Trump honored one of the last surviving Tuskegee airmen, Charles McGee. Nancy Pelosi tore her copy at the very end of the State of the Union address after the president finished speaking. The next day a video surfaced that retconned the moment Nancy Pelosi ripped the speech as occurring at the moment President Trump introduced Charles McGee. The president shared this video on his own Twitter feed lending validation to this overtly fictional retconned moment (Perrett 2020). This manipulation speaks strongly to the president attempting to shift back the narrative and storyline in his favor while maintaining kayfabe. The president shares this material knowing it is intentionally fictional, but holds to the emotional aspect of the story arc and even falsely perpetuates the rumor her actions were illegal (Timm 2020). His commitment to the idea he was harmed by her actions justifies his anger and retaliation as just retribution. Trump’s tactics root themselves within the need for control and fit squarely within classical definitions of propaganda. Bartlett (1940) discusses similar actions in his book on political propaganda and its techniques. He asserts a propagandist must keep in check an opponent’s “strong element of negative criticism” (p. 80) if they seek to maintain a successful platform in the long term. In addition, “the political propagandist wants to stir up anger, rage and hate against other groups and nations” (Bartlett 1940, p. 77) by advocating “‘[y]ou must hate and destroy these groups, for they have won what we ought to have had’” (Bartlett 1940, p. 77). Specifically, propaganda is “the manipulation of collective attitudes by the use of significant symbols (words, pictures, tunes) rather than violence, bribery, or boycott” (Lasswell 1935, p. 189). Donald Trump trades on these manipulations in rallies, imagery, and even tweets, but in this situation, he aims at creating a completely believable scenario where all his actions were perfect and his

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

47

perceived antagonists were perpetuating a hoax or falsehood (even though he is actually the one approving the fabricated message). In early 2020, Donald Trump and his allies began to push an acquittal narrative to help counter the reality of his impending (and eventual) impeachment. The House of Representatives holds the power to impeach the president. Within Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, the Senate is granted the power to try the impeachment. However, no place in the Constitution does it contain language for a judgment of not guilty. The Senate penalty simply involves the removal of the president, but not a judgment over the crime. The House of Representatives judged the president and technically impeached him. The Senate lacks any capacity to remove that judgment. These nuanced differences are specifically what many senators alluded toward when they did not argue against the guilt, but insisted it did not rise to the threshold of removal (Wire 2020). The president, on the other hand, attempted to immediately gain media advantage by positioning a narrative of acquittal equating total vindication and erasure of guilt (“White House Declares” 2020). The president had a narrow window to reframe the impeachment into a storyline favorable toward his goal of defining himself as the victim. “The greater the state of public tension, the greater appears to be the opportunity to profit from the undetected lie, or even, perhaps to reap advantage from the story which large numbers of people suspect, though few know, to be untrue” (Bartlett 1940, p. 95). Donald Trump turned to classic wrestling narratives to help advantage himself in this situation. Jenkins (2005) puts forth the idea that wrestling “celebrates and encourages working-class resistance to economic injustice and political abuse” (p. 64). The administration worked to recast President Trump as the victim of a nefarious plot constructed by his enemies to destroy him as well as all who believe in him. In order to accomplish this assertion, the president worked to distract and shift attention away from the facts at hand. Albig (1939) maintains the best way to change opinion is to create diversions elsewhere. He believes “few opinions are changed by being disproved. Much more often, attention is simply diverted to something else” (Albig 1939, p. 216). The Trump administration did not strongly argue the innocence of the president. Instead, they pursued a position of justifiable actions based upon concerns over the behavior of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau. Though the president was accused of withholding Ukrainian aid as a way to strong-arm information on political rivals, his team worked to recast the situation with a patriotic flair.

48

S. B. O’BRIEN

After the Senate voted against removing President Trump from office on February 5, 2020, he took steps to encapsulate these above concepts in both actions and words. He maintained the phone call he held about the aid was “perfect” and any accusations were a Democrat hoax (Diamond 2019). In a very real sense, these assertions are examples propagandistic kayfabe. His repetition of his claims matters because it affects recall and perception. People who read biased content are more likely to inculcate the attitudinal direction as well as retain it months later (Albig 1939, p. 222). French theorist Jean Baudrillard grapples with situations when realities become illusionary. In his view, “[T]he only weapon of power, its only strategy against this defection, is to reinject the real and the referential everywhere, to persuade us of the reality of the social, of the gravity of the economy and the finalities of production” (Baudrillard 1994, p. 22). In other words, in order to retain power, the president has to sell us on his version of reality. The understanding of kayfabe is critical to comprehending why the president prefers to treat the lines between truth and perception. Donald Trump’s early mass media exposures to professional wrestling indelibly impacted his views of managing the public sphere. Furthermore, kayfabe is not just “pretending wrestling is real,” but it “extends beyond the physical space of the ring and the stadium to the discourse and media around the event” (Chow and Laine 2014, p. 6). It creates “the illusion that professional wrestling is a genuine athletic contest” (Jansen 2018, p. 636). Wrenn (2007) contends within wrestling, the “audience pleasures hinge on… the sustained balance between belief and doubt that allows fans and performers to remain engaged in the game” (pp. 164– 165). The president exploits these ideas within the realm of Twitter with extensions into the executive branch. Twitter does a far greater job at achieving at going public than previous presidents could have dared to envision. Twitter almost functions as the president’s internal dialogue rambling unfiltered from a psychiatrist’s couch as an exercise in reactive commentary. When President Trump belittles, mocks, demeans, questions the intelligence of others, or spreads misinformation or falsehoods (Hasan 2019; Kessler et al. 2019; Thiessen 2019; Goldberg, n.d.), these actions exist as gambits within wrestling. We cannot look at our president and suggest these behaviors are anything except strategic. They are atypical to traditional Washington, state, or local politics, but normalized activities within the theatrical universe of professional wrestling. Faith Popcorn also

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

49

suggests people who unable to envision a future seek out emotions by turning to reality television (Abrams 2017). President Trump (as well as professional wrestling) provides a proxy for an emotional release many are unable to express in their daily lives. His brash comments and statements play against the “angels of our better nature” while also externally venting many of the internal emotional sentiments most have to hold their tongue over within their personal interactions. Deeter-Schmelz and Sojka (2004) explore World Wrestling Entertainment as a distinct and coherent subculture. Their research study found several core values present in their sample of fans of the medium. Specifically, they found a “sense of belonging, selfrespect, and the alternatives of fantasy adventure, small indulgences and fun/enjoyment/excitement” (Deeter-Schmelz and Sojka 2004, p. 137). In addition, they also found several key attributes and consequences within the respondents. Many couple well with the perceived behaviors of Donald Trump and may help explain the fervent loyalty of his fan base. Three of the six key attributes are amusing, dramatic, and sexual while three of the consequences are vicarious living, fan loyalty, and role model (Deeter-Schmelz and Sojka 2004, p. 137). Though this study was limited in scope, it does perhaps lend insight into why many Trump supporters seem unbothered by his affairs, brash behavior, and attentiongetting activities. Donald Trump existed (and perhaps continues to exist) as a regular presence within the WWE subculture for decades. Many people associated with this profession tend to thread the line between kayfabe and reality. Within wrestling, he existed as “Mr. Trump” who shifted between the role of protagonist and antagonist primarily against the owner, Vince McMahon. Many of their theatrical arc interactions (e.g., Battle of the Billionaires, Trump purchasing RAW) play into these fan attitudinal results. They indulge in vicarious dramatic situations where provide loyal viewership while also enjoying their comeuppance. In many of these storylines, both key players (McMahon and Trump) function as dual antagonists pitted against each other with Trump perhaps slightly more protagonist given the antihero McMahon prefers to craft as part of his persona. However, has Donald Trump had problems “separating fact from fiction” (Margolin 2017, p. 109) within the kayfabe universe of WWE? In 2007, there was a storyline where Vince McMahon’s limousine violently explodes without warning. “Following the broadcast, Donald Trump called the WWE to inquire if McMahon was OK, an incident recounted by Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, son-in-law of Vince McMahon, on the

50

S. B. O’BRIEN

Opie & Anthony Show” (Margolin 2017, pp. 109–110). Fans of the WWE program are expected to buy into the possible scenario of grievous injury which will help propel the next story arc. Donald Trump had already been associated with the world for over twenty years. He had been integral in multiple WWE storylines during that time. These comments suggest Trump even as early as 2007 did not have good boundaries telling the difference between fantasy and reality. His inability to recognize a dramatic action within an entertainment program as fantasy leads toward uncomfortable speculation about his capability of administration within the executive branch. If an American president has issues discerning the fundamental differences between factual events and fantasy narrative, it does not bode well for his filter and perception in more serious situations. Stories are fun and frequently more palatable than factual material. Within wrestling, the talent always understands when they are using kayfabe to sell a storyline to the audience. The more convincing their performance, the more likely the wrestler will continue to be involved in the story. If President Trump cannot delineate between the person and the fictional performance, then how much of his behavior is persona and how much is actual person? Successful politics at its core relies upon bargaining and compromise (Bianco and Canon 2019, p. 11), yet wrestling demands characters never (or rarely) back down and use aggression for advantage. Moreover, it is well-documented the president watches a tremendous amount of television (Carter 2017; Morrow 2018; Ragusa 2018) on a daily basis. He typically watches four to eight hours a day. The concern, however, is not always the fact he watches television but the content he chooses to watch. Many sources suggest he primarily watches programs like Fox & Friends , Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro, among others (Haberman et al. 2017; Morrow 2018). These programs are all opinion-based shows with their hosts providing their own commentary and views upon the news. Does President Trump clearly differentiate between factual news and opinion? Opinion programs have the ability to speculate upon ideas without strong verifiable grounding. Ted Koppel conjectured the American public may have trouble distinguishing between opinion and fact (Koppel 2017). Others, such as Sean Hannity, counter that “[W]e have to give some credit to the American people that they are somewhat intelligent and that they know the difference between an opinion show and a news show” (Farhi 2017). If the Donald Trump sincerely believed an injury occurred

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

51

to Vince McMahon on a televised entertainment program he was intimately familiar with behind the scenes, it raises serious concerns about his ability to distinguish dramatic narrative from factual accounting. Many of these opinion-based shows are aware the president watches them (Barden 2018; Wilstein 2018; Hains 2019; Melendez 2020) and it very likely impacts the way they present information to help gain loyal viewership and sponsorship. These ideas matter because of the way Trump presents himself and the populations he activates within society. Bruce Miroff posits a spectacle asks “not only how a president seeks to appear but also what it is that the public sees” (Miroff 2000, p. 302). Audiences have to be receptive to a message in order to be mobilized by it. Donald Trump has concocted an image based upon the media and its portrayals of him and transitioned that into a political voice. In The Art of the Deal, Trump asserts “[T]he final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular” (Trump and Schwartz 1987, p. 58). Thus, the spectacle of the presidency and wrestling are appealing because while they do not merge, they run on parallel paths that play well for Donald Trump and his rhetoric. He developed a media persona centered on the perception of success and wealth. “The celebrity is a person who is known for his wellknownness. His qualities – or rather his lack of qualities – illustrate our peculiar problems. He is neither good nor bad, great nor petty. He is the human pseudo-event. He has been fabricated on purpose to satisfy our exaggerated expectations of human greatness” (Boorstin 1987, pp. 57– 58). While propaganda overtly “makes judgments for them” (Boorstin 1987, p. 34) shoving people in a specific direction, pseudo-events behave in a more insidious fashion. They offer breadcrumbs of truth within a carefully constructed frame to encourage the audience to draw their own, albeit manipulated, opinions. Donald Trump epitomizes the pseudo-event which allows him to dismiss allegations of propaganda while “winking” to his supporters who feel they have done their own research by perusing information from carefully curated and biased sources. They often maintain a semblance of objectivity while presenting material in ways that guide them towards preferred conclusions. In a sense, it’s a bit like a carnival game on the midway. It looks straightforward on the surface, but

52

S. B. O’BRIEN

in reality, it has been subtly manipulated and rigged to heavily shift the odds to favor the house. As Donald Trump blends exaggerated and unfiltered reality into one, social confusion over boundaries has occurred. Theatrical norms when applied to daily life generate vastly different reactions than within the artificial confines of an arena. It is not simply a muddling of public and private. Rather, it is a jumbling of theatrical and generalized social standards. When President Trump personally attacks individuals on Twitter, he weaponizes going public in ways previous administrations never engaged in the public sphere. Historically, institutions like Congress were fair game for criticism, as well as their leadership who function as their proxies. Organizations and other macro-level groups were often mentioned by presidents as a way to express frustration or dissatisfaction with policy decisions or directions. President Trump, however, uses it on the microlevel to verbally aggress toward specific targets when he feels slighted or angered. Through directed and often demeaning insults and mockery, he attempts to use the public platform to compel abeyance. After repetitive attacks upon the national news media, an August 2018 Quinnipiac poll indicates 51% of Republicans agree with the president indicating “media is the enemy of the people rather than an important part of democracy” (“U.S. Voters” 2018). Donald Trump exploits wrestling attributes and has integrated them into his persona, campaign, and presidency. Americans less familiar with them dismissed them, but failed to see them as a way to connect with an audience at their comfort level. Outsiders see personal attacks as abhorrent, while wrestling fans see it as part of the game. While wrestling has often drawn a line between the professional and the personal, Trump has blurred them and we have seen the president as well as private citizens engage in activities that do not transcend into public life well. Racially charged events like the Unite the Right event on August 11–12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia exemplify these distorting boundaries. White nationalists march and aggressively vocalize a separationist agenda along with preferential treatments toward their race and perception of history. After breaking laws, they express shock and fear over their arrests and consequences of their actions. The spring and summer of 2018 saw several news articles of racial minorities attacked, arrested, challenged, harassed, or intimidated in public spaces (Eliahou and Zdanowicz 2018; Griggs 2018; May 2018; Riley 2018; Victor 2018). When the accuser faced public humiliation or arrest for their activities, they often

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

53

appeared flabbergasted or upset their actions had legal or professional consequences. Their surprise has a certain rationale from perspective of professional wrestling. By utilizing professional wrestling tactics in public life, Donald Trump has given race-baiting or overblown stereotypes validation and tacit approval. When in the ring, these actions rarely face serious punishment beyond jeering. Storylines conclude and the same wrestlers move forward with new protagonists and antagonists with little lingering history. However, when average people behave in similar ways in their private lives, reactions are wildly different with often legal penalties. The American president is often referred to as the public opinion leader for the United States. Their thoughts, ideas, and positions shape what is considered salient and important to the general public. They not only set the agenda but also its tone. Average citizens look to the president as a gauge for both acceptability and limitations. President Trump behaves as an unfiltered improvisational actor more invested in the reaction than the actions. His supporters among the citizenry often do not place distinctions between showmanship and governance. Instead, they see his actions as normalized and acceptable standards for etiquette. Confrontational and aggressive behaviors toward individuals are appropriate because they are in line with the actions of their president. Distinctions between performance art and daily existence need to be asserted to help reforge boundaries. Otherwise, we risk distractions dominating discourse reducing truth to the loudest rather than the most accurate.

References Abrams, M. (2017, January 19). Faith Popcorn Predicts the Trends of 2017, Including Micro-Clanning. Observer. https://observer.com/2017/01/trendforecaster-futurist-faith-popcorn-2017-trends/. Albig, W. (1939). Public Opinion. New York: McGraw-Hill. Alexander, D. (2017, April 20). Why Is WWE Listed as the Trump Foundation’s Biggest Donor? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danalexander/2017/ 04/20/why-is-wwe-listed-as-the-trump-foundations-biggest-donor/#73e44b c35f90. Altimari, D. (2016, August 12). Trump to Make Appearance at Sacred Heart Saturday. Hartford Courant. http://www.courant.com/politics/elections/ hc-donald-trump-fairfield-20160811-story.html. Baker, P. (2020, February 6). Trump Lashes Out at Impeachment Foes and Pelosi Hits Back. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/ 06/us/politics/trump-prayer-impeachment.html.

54

S. B. O’BRIEN

Barden, D. (2018, October 10). Trump Gives Shout-Out to His ‘Great Friends’ at Fox News During Iowa Rally. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ trump-iowa-rally-fox-news-friends_n_5bbd7830e4b028e1fe42dffd. Barthes, R. (1982). The World of Wrestling. In S. Sontag (Ed.), A Barthes Reader. New York: Hill and Wang. Bartlett, F. C. (1940). Political Propaganda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation (S.F. Glaser, Trans.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Bianco, W. T., & Canon, D. T. (2019). American Politics Today (6th Essentials ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. Boorstin, D. J. (1987). The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Atheneum. Carlisle, M. (2020, February 8). Trump Gave a Scholarship to a 4th Grader ‘Trapped’ in a ‘Failing’ Public Education at the State of the Union. She Reportedly Attends a Top Charter School. Time. https://time.com/578 0459/state-of-the-union-school-choice-charter-school/. Caron, C. (2018, August 4). Trump Mocks LeBron James’s Intelligence and Calls Don Lemon ‘Dumbest Man’ on TV. The New York Times. https://www. nytimes.com/2018/08/04/sports/donald-trump-lebron-james-twitter.html. Carter, B. (2017, December 9). Trump Watches Up to Eight Hours of TV Per Day: Report. The Hill. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/364 094-trump-watches-at-least-four-hours-of-tv-per-day-report. Chow, B., & Laine, E. (2014). Audience Affirmation and the Labour of Professional Wrestling. Performance Research, 19(3), 44–53. Concha, J. (2020, March 20). NBC’s Alexander: I Gave Trump ‘a Softball’ Question as Opportunity to ‘Reassure’ Americans. The Hill. https://thehill. com/homenews/media/488674-nbcs-alexander-i-gave-trump-a-softball-que stion-as-opportunity-to-reassure?fbclid=IwAR3N0I2TGZyM5FVlGYHzBD BrXg6bykxk0AubO0IFfVzRVDSvD6mP_f7CrvE. Costa, R., Johnson, J., & Fahrenthold, D. A. (2016, October 4). The VP Debate: Kaine, Pence Get into a Bitter Dispute Over Trump’s Comments About Undocumented Mexican Immigrants. The Washington Post. https:// www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-vp-debate-will-be-all-about-clintonand-trump/2016/10/04/957a6f62-8a1f-11e6-b24f-a7f89eb68887_story. html. Deeter-Schmelz, D. R., & Sojka, J. Z. (2004). Wrestling with American Values: An Exploratory Investigation of World Wrestling Entertainment TM as a Product-Based Subculture. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 4(2), 132–143. de Garis, L. (2005). The ‘Logic’ of Professional Wrestling. In N. Sammond (Ed.), Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling (pp. 192–212). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

55

Diamond, J. (2019, November 4). Trump Focuses on ‘Perfect’ Ukraine Call Despite Allegations of Broader Pressure Campaign. CNN. https://www. cnn.com/2019/11/04/politics/donald-trump-ukraine-perfect-call-defense/ index.html. Eliahou, M., & Zdanowicz, C. (2018, June 29). A White Woman Allegedly Hit a Black Teen, Used Racial Slurs and Told Him to Leave a Pool. Then She Bit a Cop. CNN . https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/29/us/pool-patrolpaula-south-carolina-trnd/index.html. Farhi, P. (2017, March 29). Do You Know the Difference Between Opinion and News TV Shows? Sean Hannity Thinks so. nj.com. https://www.nj.com/opi nion/2017/03/do_you_know_the_difference_between_opinion_and_new. html. Fernandez, G. (2020, April 15). Donald Trump ‘Tired of Watching Old Games,’ Adds Team Owners, Dana White, Vince McMahon to Advisory Group. CBS Sports. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/donald-trump-tired-of-wat ching-old-games-adds-team-owners-dana-white-vince-mcmahon-to-advisorygroup/. Glueck, K. (2016, August 13). Trump Run at Blue Connecticut. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/trump-connecticut-why-is-hecampaigning-there-226959. Goldberg, J. (n.d.). 50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/unthinkable/. Griggs, B. (2018, May 12). A Black Yale Graduate Student Took a Nap in Her Dorm’s Common Room. So a White Student Called the Police. CNN . https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/09/us/yale-student-napping-blacktrnd/index.html. Haberman, M., Thrush, G., & Baker, P. (2017, December 9). Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/us/politics/donald-trumppresident.html?_r=0. Hains, T. (2019, June 14). Full Interview: President Trump Calls into “Fox & Friends.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/ 06/14/full_interview_trump_calls_in_to_fox__friends.html. Hasan, M. (2019, December 19). The A to Z of Things Trump and Should Have Been Impeached for. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2019/ 12/19/a-z-trump-impeachment/. Investor Presentation. (2015, December). World Wrestling Entertainment. http://corporate.wwe.com/~/media/Files/W/WWE/documents/events/ 1500078394.PDF. Jansen, B. (2018). ‘Yes! No!…Maybe?: Reading the Read in Professional Wrestling’s Unreality. The Journal of Popular Culture, 51(3), 635–655.

56

S. B. O’BRIEN

Jenkins, H., III. (1997). ’Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama. In A. Baker & T. Boyd (Eds.), Out of Bounds: Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity (pp. 48–78). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Jenkins, H. (2005). ‘Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama. In N. Sammond (Ed.), Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling (pp. 33–66). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Kerrick, G. E. (1980). The Jargon of Professional Wrestling. American Speech., 55(2), 142–145. Kessler, G., Rizzo, S., & Riley, M. (2019, December 16). President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims Over 1,055 DAYS. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/16/presid ent-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/. Koppel, T. (2017, March 26). The Great Divide: Politics in the Age of Trump. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-great-divide-politics-in-theage-of-trump/. Krieg, G. (2016, March 4). Donald Trump Defends Size of His Penis. CNN . http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/03/politics/donald-trumpsmall-hands-marco-rubio/. Lapin, T. (2020, February 4). Military Wife Reunited with Army Sergeant Husband at Trump’s State of the Union Address. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2020/02/04/military-wife-reunited-witharmy-sergeant-husband-at-trumps-state-of-the-union-address/. Lasswell, H. D. (1935). The Person: Subject and Object of Propaganda. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 179, 187–193. Leverette, M. (2003). Professional Wrestling, the Myth, the Mat, and American Political Culture. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press. Margolin, L. (2017). TrumpMania: Vince McMahon, WWE and the making of America’s 45th President. Self-Published. May, A. (2018, June 27). ‘Permit Patty’ Resigns as CEO of Cannabis Company Following Viral Video Backlash. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/ story/news/nation-now/2018/06/27/permit-patty-resigns-ceo-cannabiscompany/737298002/. Melendez, P. (2020, January 24). Trump to Sit Down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity for Super Bowl Interview. The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailyb east.com/donald-trump-to-sit-down-with-fox-news-sean-hannity-for-superbowl-interview-report-says. Miroff, B. (2000). The Presidency and the Public Leadership as Spectacle. In M. Nelson (Ed.), The Presidency and the Political System (6th ed., pp. 301–324). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Morrow, B. (2018, April 19). The Crazy Amount of Time Donald Trump Spends Watching TV. The Cheat Sheet. https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/ donald-trump-time-spent-watching-television.html/.

3

WRESTLING WITH THE PRESIDENCY: HOW DONALD TRUMP …

57

Perrett, C. (2020, February 9). Trump Shared a Doctored Video of Pelosi Ripping His Speech That’s Been Viewed Millions of Times, and Democrats Are Outraged Facebook and Twitter Still Won’t Remove It. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/pelosi-ripping-speech-videodemocrats-facebook-twitter-wont-remove-2020-2. Politico Magazine. (2016, November 5). The 155 Craziest Things Trump Said This Election. Politico Magazine. https://www.politico.com/magazine/ story/2016/11/the-155-craziest-things-trump-said-this-cycle-214420. Quilantan, B., & Cohen, D. (2019, July 14). Trump Tells Dem Congresswomen: Go Back Where You Came From. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/ 2019/07/14/trump-congress-go-back-where-they-came-from-1415692. Ragusa, G. (2018, November 3). How Much Time Does Donald Trump Spend Watching TV? The Cheat Sheet. https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/ how-much-time-does-donald-trump-spend-watching-tv.html/. Rahilly, L. (2005). Is RAW War? Professional Wrestling as Popular S/M Narrative. In N. Sammond (Ed.), Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling (pp. 213–231). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Restucci, A., Johnson, E., Isenstadt, A., & Lippman, D. (2019, March 29). Linda McMahon to Leave Cabinet for Trump 2020 PAC. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/29/linda-mcmahon-toresign-as-head-of-small-business-administration-1243495. Riley, P. (2018, May 16). Stanford University Reacts to BBQ Becky Calling Cops on Black People. News One. https://newsone.com/3799344/stanford-univer sity-allegedly-jennifer-schulte/. Schwartz, I. (2015, August 7). Trump on Megyn Kelly: ‘There Was Blood Coming Out of Her Eyes, Blood Coming Out of Her Whatever’ During Debate. Real Clear Politics. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/ 2015/08/07/trump_on_megyn_kelly_there_was_blood_coming_out_of_ her_eyes_blood_coming_out_of_her_whatever_during_debate.html. Tamborini, R., Chory, R. M., Lachlan, K., Westerman, D., & Skalski, P. (2008). Talking Smack: Verbal Aggression in Professional Wrestling. Communications Studies, 59(3), 242–258. Thiessen, M. A. (2019, December 30). The 10 Worst Things Trump Did in 2019. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ 2019/12/30/worst-things-trump-did/. Timm, J. C. (2020, February 7). Trump Falsely Claims Pelosi Did Something ‘Very Illegal’ by Ripping Up His State of the Union Speech. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-fal sely-claims-pelosi-did-something-very-illegal-ripping-his-n1132656. Trump, D. J., & Schwartz, T. (1987). The Art of the Deal. New York: Random House.

58

S. B. O’BRIEN

U.S. Voters Dislike Trump Almost 2-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Media Is Important to Democracy, 65% of Voters Say (2018, August 14) Quinnipiac University Poll. https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/us/us0 8142018_unvt25.pdf/. Victor, D. (2018, May 8). A Woman Said She Saw Burglars. They Were Just Black Airbnb Guests. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/ 05/08/us/airbnb-black-women-police.html. White House Declares ‘Vindication’ as Trump Plans Impeachment Statement. (2020, February 5). RadioFreeEurope. https://www.rferl.org/a/u-s-senateseen-acquitting-trump-in-vote-likely-to-follow-strict-party-lines/30418833. html. Wilstein, M. (2018, April 26). Trump Interview Devolves into Random Shouting as ‘Fox & Friends’ Hosts Sit There Stunned. The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-interview-devolves-into-random-sho uting-as-fox-and-friends-hosts-sit-there-stunned. Wire, S. D. (2020, February 4). Sen. Susan Collins Says She Will Vote to Acquit Trump. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/202002-04/senators-impeachment-trump-partisan. Wrenn, M. (2007). Managing Doubt: Professional Wresting Jargon and the Making of ‘Smart Fans’. In C. Calhoun & R. Sennett (Eds.), Practicing Culture (pp. 149–170). London and New York: Routledge.

CHAPTER 4

Going Re“public”an: How Donald Trump Uses Speeches to Target Audiences and Mask Reality

Abstract This chapter explores the speechmaking patterns of Donald Trump at midterm. Most important, it found that the Trump administration has systematically omitted almost every one of his public rallies from inclusion in the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents. The omission of these speeches raises troubling questions about the public record of this administration. Donald Trump uses Twitter aggressively with the lowest average daily speech totals in 30 years. Through an examination of speeches via media markets and Electoral College results, he is a president who primarily only focuses on places with his strongest support. As a result, he has also regularly gone to some of the smallest cities for rallies in decades when compared to other presidents. Keywords Midterms · Electoral College · Media markets · Speechmaking · Going public

When a president speaks, people listen. People like to place faith in their leaders for accurate information. Their words are powerful and carry weight with their constituencies. In March 2020, a woman was hospitalized and her husband died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate because, in her words, “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure”

© The Author(s) 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6_4

59

60

S. B. O’BRIEN

(Associated Press 2020) and they trusted him. They used a version typically used to clean pools and not a medical-grade formulation of the drug. While extremely tragic, it highlights the power the president’s words have over people. Decisions over what they say, endorse, rebuke, or even acknowledge gives an audience to ideas. Each administration has unique speechmaking fingerprints. Their patterns of location choices often tell us about constituencies they value more than others. The presidency of Donald J. Trump displays complications never previously encountered in the modern presidency era going back to 1945. The data presented here is collected from the Public Papers of the President as well as the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents. According to the National Archives, their official bound copies contain “the papers and speeches of the President of the United States that were issued by the Office of the Press Secretary during the specified time period” (Public Papers, n.d.). In addition, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and its successor, the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, have been available since 1965 to provide material on “a more timely basis” (Public Papers, n.d.). The numbers for the Trump administration do not accurately reflect his public speaking events throughout his administration. All 2017 public speeches are accurately recorded in the Daily Compilation with the exception of a March 20 rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Any record, proof of existence, or transcription of this speech is missing in the public papers though readily available on multiple news outlets in its entirety. All other 2017 rallies are documented in the papers. The real concern emerges with the accounting of rallies 2018 onwards. In 2018, 45 public speeches out of a known total of 426 are not documented in the Daily Compilation. Every Trump rally from March–December 2018 is missing in the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents with the exception of one on June 20th in Duluth, Minnesota. These are public presidential events with multiple print and video news outlet coverage of the president’s speech. There does exist within the Daily Compilation short references of these upcoming speeches during reporter exchanges (often en route to Air Force One), but the actual speeches themselves are missing as if they never occurred. It is not a case of slow recording on behalf of the Press Secretary’s office. All other events within these time frames are documented by the administration, including impromptu White House exchanges. These are notable because without them, the administration appears to travel significantly less and conduct mostly routine daily business of a presidency. Missing

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

61

speeches place research using governmental records in a quandary. The public speaking record of the American president should be available for all to read, review, and examine. The Trump administration provides only a partial public papers record with a significant chunk of his speechmaking missing. In an attempt to be fully accurate, both numbers in this chapter are presented to show the official record as well as the actual one. The records with “adj” indicate adjusted records which include the speeches missing in the Press Secretary’s reporting of the president’s public speechmaking. Their existence was ascertained by cross-referencing them on multiple media outlets to confirm them. It is unclear why the Trump administration has decided to remove these speeches given the Public Papers should include every public incident of presidential speaking from formal speeches to spontaneous press exchanges. The analysis in this chapter just goes through the midterm. Even though this chapter does not include it, it is important to note all 21 rallies in 2019 are missing as well as the 11 rallies through March 2, 2020. Each and every one of these missing events has multiple print, video, and online news sources documenting the occurrence with transcriptions. It is possible these are mere oversights, but given specific missing typologies, it is also possible the administration may be attempting to cultivate a specific vision of its legacy. It raises serious questions of intentional manipulation of public records to nurture a particular image of an administration. These speeches are where the president uses his more colorful analogies and language. Their removal makes the overall speeches of the administration appear more neutral, less confrontational, and not as stridently partisan. It suggests they are attempting to discriminate between the candidate as a private citizen and the president as a public one. However, it is nonsensical for a sitting president to assert the difference. The elected president is an active government official and his public campaign activity should be included within the official public record. Their omission suggests the Trump administration has tried to establish a dichotomous identity for the president. The public president and the private candidate concurrently existing as different entities. Their activities, while happening simultaneously are distinctly separate and need to be handled in an unconnected manner. Any attempt to realistically make this assumption about a current American president is absurd. All public activity while president is a matter of public record. Intentional overt manipulation of the record to promote a different reality is dangerous and unethical. To date, the administration

62

S. B. O’BRIEN

has been quiet on the exclusion of these speeches and their absence has not been publicly noted. These missing speeches lend credence to the concept the administration employs a tremendous amount of dramatic license over the perception of the Trump presidency. It fits within the larger context of theatrical narrative because if you control the message, you can control the story. It also couples well with the overall concept of the president’s kayfabe presidency albeit flipped a bit. Within kayfabe, wrestlers maintain the fantastical is reality and utterly believable, even when it strains the seams of authenticity. By removing the speeches from the public record, the administration takes reality and morphs it into a fabricated image. They bend the factual reality into a more professionally palatable narrative for the record while continuing the carnival atmosphere of the rallies.

Presidential Speechmaking The natural breakpoint of any administration is the midterm. Through an exploration of the Trump administration speeches up to this point, it is possible to see their emergent patterns and locational speech strategies. Midterm elections occur toward the end of the second year of a presidential term. Between 1946 and 2018, there have been thirteen first-term midterm elections. Four administrations saw their party gain Senate seats at midterm (Kennedy, Nixon, George W. Bush, Trump) and only one (George W. Bush) in the House of Representatives. People expect the president’s party to falter at midterm. This critical halfway point affects the composition of Congress for the next two years. Presidents can use midterm campaign speeches as a way to cultivate a Congress favorable to his policies (Cohen et al. 1991; Keele et al. 2004). Congressional seats won or lost alter the effectiveness for a president to develop policy and give incentive to encourage favorable midterm election outcomes. The ability of the president’s party to control Congress has long-term impacts upon policy agendas (Edwards 1989; Bond and Fleisher 1990; Peterson 1990). Hoddie and Routh (2004) find predictable patterns with presidential midterms not unlike presidential campaign behavior (p. 264). Strategies employed in a presidential election are mimicked at midterm for their own party. Presidential popularity and competitive races are strong indicators (Hoddie and Routh 2004) that drive midterm campaign stops. Does Donald Trump behave in a similar manner compared to previous administrations? When looking at his speeches through the lenses of

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

63

media markets and the Electoral College, are his patterns unique or do they look like other presidencies? Presidents often act differently when comparing their overall patterns to campaigning periods. Most presidents function as base reinforcers while a few (notably George W. Bush) attempt base outreach during campaigning periods right before an election. In 2002, George W. Bush was very active in supporting candidates at midterm with great success. Between inauguration and midterm elections, he “spent 241 days in 43 different states” (Sellers and Denton 2006, p. 411) supporting other Republicans. Presidential attention to states has importance beyond the candidate. According to Sellers and Denton (2006), Bush used these speeches to “strengthen his electoral coalition” and “bolster his supporter’s commitment in others” (p. 429). Bush utilized Senate midterm campaigning trips as a way to reinforce his own bases for reelection “in states with numerous electoral votes, regardless of their chances of winning” (Sellers and Denton 2006, p. 429). For the 2010 midterms, Barack Obama had very different results. He referred to it as a “shellacking” (Berman 2014) with the Republican Party gaining 64 seats in the House of Representatives. Scholars have attributed several reasons for Obama’s lack of 2010 electoral success including, but not limited to, high levels of partisanship (Aldrich et al. 2014; Nyhan et al. 2012; Koger and Lebo 2012), the Tea Party (Jacobson 2011) and backlash from Congress in general (Jones and McDermott 2011). Donald Trump’s first-term 2018 midterms appear to be somewhat in between the success of Bush and the losses of Obama. The Republican Party lost at least 41 seats in the House of Representatives1 but gained two seats in the Senate. Turnout was high for the 2018 midterms with the Democrats winning with the largest difference between the two parties in four decades (Price 2018; Misra 2019).

Daily Speeches Presidents want to communicate with the public. It helps provide support and allows them to see an administration is responsive to their general concerns. One way to explore an administration involves looking at its speech totals. The number of speeches by the president on an annual 1 North Carolina’s 9th District’s election was voided. A special election to fill it occurred in September 2019.

64

S. B. O’BRIEN

basis has increased over the last several decades. The best way to assess a president’s dialogue with the public requires the entirety of it to be catalogued. Most presidents give more speeches in year 2 over year 1 though these numbers are not absolutes and have exceptions. Barack Obama gave 36 fewer speeches in 2010 than in 2009 and Donald Trump gave 46 less in his second year. The only comparable modern era president with any significant speech decline between first-term year 1 and 2 is Richard Nixon. Nixon had a decrease of about 40 speeches between these two years. Bill Clinton gave 3 fewer speeches in year 1 over year 2 but that is essentially negligible. The Trump and Obama significant decrease of total speeches runs counter to a trend that has been in place since 1945 with the Nixon exception of 1969–1970. Donald Trump’s first- and secondyear total speech levels closely resemble those of the George H. W. Bush administration. Both gave over 400 but less than 500 speeches for each of their first two years if you use the adjusted numbers that account for the missing Trump rallies. Specifically, George H. W. Bush gave around 443 speeches in year one and 483 in year two, while Donald Trump had 471 in the first years and 426 in the second. If you use the official Trump year two numbers, his second-year speeches drop precipitously to 381. In comparison, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama all had annual speech totals for their first two years in the 500s or 600s. Starting with George H. W. Bush, the number of daily speeches goes up compared to Presidents Truman through Reagan. On average, Bush 41 gave 1.30 speeches a day which was an increase from Ronald Reagan’s 0.92. However, presidential daily speechmaking during the first two years peaked in the Clinton administration. Barack Obama’s speechmaking averaged 1.48 speeches per day in his first two years with fewer speeches per day than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was the most verbose at 1.93 speeches every day. George W. Bush gave fewer per day (1.61) than Clinton, but in truth, Clinton was a talker. He routinely would give short statements or quips to the media en route to other events. However, the Trump administration’s patterns look like they belong in an earlier era. The daily percentage with the Trump administration looks more like George H. W. Bush’s administration in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Trump’s numbers are even lower when examining a standard pattern for this administration. For the last 30+ years, most presidents give public speeches almost daily. President Trump breaks with this convention in a fairly dramatic fashion. March 2017 is a good exemplar of his regular behavior. He gave one speech on both the 2nd and 3rd of the

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

65

month, skipped 4 days, gave a speech on the 7th, skipped 1 day, spoke on the 9th and 10th, followed by no speeches on the 11th or 12th. There were 3 speeches on the 13th, skipped the 14th, followed by 2 speeches on both the 15th and 16th, followed by 4 speeches on the 17th. The remainder of the month follows a very similar pattern. Trump’s numbers are lower because he regularly does not hold any public events for days at a time. When looking at the actual calendar dates, the Trump administration appears to take long weekends off from speechmaking reminiscent of the Kennedy and Nixon presidencies. As a point of comparison, George W. Bush’s March 2001 numbers paint a very different picture. President Bush spoke every day from March 1–17th giving usually 2–3 speeches almost every day. President Obama’s March 2009 numbers are similar to President Bush, though Obama did skip speechmaking on every Sunday of that month. If we omit Washington, DC speeches and international locations, these numbers reaffirm some patterns, but also raise some new observations. Barack Obama still gave fewer speeches in his first two years than either Clinton or George W. Bush. However, Obama’s speechmaking volume did increase, rather than decrease, during his second year in office. This suggests while Obama may have given fewer speeches, his generalized domestic pattern was not dramatically different from previous administrations. In fact, with the exception of Truman (controlling for Ford), every administration since 1945 has given more domestic speeches outside of Washington, DC in their second year when compared to their first. Truman actually had the same number, 7 speeches, in each year. The only quandary in this overall pattern involves the Trump administration. Their official numbers (99 in year 1 and 92 in year 2) show a decrease, the first in the modern presidency era. However, their actual numbers (100 and 137, respectively) conform to the generalized pattern of all previous administrations since Truman. Beginning with George H. W. Bush, presidents significantly increased overall speeches throughout the United States. For example, Ronald Reagan gave 35 speeches throughout the United States in his first year and 95 in his second. George H. W. Bush had 104 in the first year and 148 during the second. Midterm elections are important because the president needs to rally party support and a “campaign appearance mobilizes voters, rather than converting them” (Cohen et al. 1991). Personal contact and visits are an important key to election success (Mahew 1974; Fenno 1996; Shaw 1999; Jacobson 2001). Most presidents after Eisenhower gave approximately

66

S. B. O’BRIEN

30–60 more speeches in their midterm election year when compared to their first (assuming we are using Trump’s adjusted numbers). George W. Bush radically increased second-year speechmaking in ways unusual for other administrations. With a growth of 95 speeches, George W. Bush took midterm speeches seriously and “went public” on a regular basis. It is possible to contend Bush was attempting to change the way presidents communicate with America. The reversion of Obama to previous presidential patterns makes Bush look more like an outlier than a new trend. The Trump administration’s manipulation of public speeches creates a dilemma. If we believe their official numbers, it upends decades of expected behavior. However, if all the speeches are included, they conform to expectations. Though President Trump has not been active giving public speeches, he has regularly employed the use of the social media platform Twitter to express his opinions. Trump tweeted 2227 original tweets as president in 2017 and 2843 in 2018 (Politico 2018) averaging just over 7 each day. These numbers also appear to be increasing. From January–December 2019, the president tweeted 7776 times with an average of 21.3 tweets a day (“Trump Twitter” 2020). During the impeachment process, his daily numbers averaged around “three dozen times a day” (Parker and Rucker 2019). He appears to prefer electronic over physical communication which likely contributes toward his lower daily public speech numbers. These tweets allow him to create or address topical concerns and often circle the discourse back onto him. Evidence suggests it may have value. A July 2019 study found 19% of American Twitter users follow President Trump and 26% follow former President Barack Obama (Wojcik et al. 2019). In a very real sense, Twitter has allowed the president to fully realize the idea of permanent campaigning. All events become fair game for his reactions. It creates a platform to push his point of views to help strengthen his presidency. Neustadt (1960) maintained a president is only as strong as his persuasion power. Donald Trump uses Twitter as a weapon of persuasion and media conversation. His words often create controversy, but also drive attention toward him. His actions and reactions become the center of attention while dominating most conversation. He uses Twitter as a weapon to compel abeyance from others. Many fear the spectacle of negative attention when impugned by the president so they bow toward his rhetorical demands. In a very real sense, it is an exemplar (albeit half a century later and on a completely different media outlet) of Neustadt’s presidential persuasion power.

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

67

While important, tweets are not always the same as person to person interaction which can be achieved through remarks, rallies, or addresses in particular communities. Charnock et al. (2009) find presidential visits are “a valuable commodity… that presidents are increasingly deploying for electoral purposes” (p. 336). Looking at domestic speeches outside of Washington, DC but inside the United States may offer some value. Where does campaigning end and governing begin? Speechmaking is critical to the modern American presidency. Orstein and Mann (2000) argue the line has essentially disappeared. Presidents spend enormous amounts of time and energy focused upon branding themselves to the public. It seems the goal of modern administrations is to develop a brand loyal voter base. A “share of customers” approach to marketing has direct relevance to targeting voters. Peppers and Rogers (1996) refer to this technique as “one to one” (1:1) marketing. Businesses aim at increasing product loyalty over anything else. Consumers bypass other options because they have been conditioned to reject any alternatives. What are the political implications of this technique? Some suggest selling a candidate or political party may not be all that different from other types of more conventional products. “Over the past few years, thanks to technological advances and an escalating arms race between the parties, Republicans and Democrats have gone to great lengths to make campaigning more like commercial marketing” (Gertner 2004). Donald Trump, in many ways, epitomizes these perspectives. He inculcates the ultimate expression of the permanent campaign. His “Make America Great Again” rallies offer carnivalesque reinforcement toward his base while aiming to buoy himself, and at times, other officials. The first post-inauguration rallies started on February 18, 2017, less than a full month after he took the oath of office. These rallies fall somewhere between campaigning and self-aggrandizement. Many (especially the 2017 ones) fall outside the normal cycles for traditional campaigning, but all have the primary goal of buffering Donald Trump’s popularity thus making the speeches fall into the realm of the permanent campaign. The administrations after Ronald Reagan have increased the average number of speeches they give per day during the first two years throughout the United States if you omit the Washington, DC and foreign speeches. Ronald Reagan gave 0.18 speeches a day. George H. W. Bush gave significantly more speeches (0.35/day) than all his predecessors and the numbers reflect it. A surprising finding involves the near-identical averages for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (0.49/0.50). Bush gave

68

S. B. O’BRIEN

more year 2 speeches while Clinton gave far more year 1 speeches averaging the two within a hundredth of each other. Considering the relative failure of the Democrats in midterm elections in 1994 versus Bush’s Republican successes in 2002, these differences may pick up on a strategy to concentrate resources in strategic geographic areas as noted by several authors when referring to reelections (Bartels 1985; Brams and Davis 1974; Colantoni et al. 1975). Furthermore, Bush may have been more inclined to “enter races where they feel that their campaign appearance may help their candidate win the election, in close races” (Cohen et al. 1991, p. 176). It appears that daily speechmaking peaked in the Bush 43 administration and has been on a slow decline in the last two presidencies with Obama averaging 0.39 a day and Trump 0.27 (official)/0.33 (adjusted). Focusing upon the adjusted numbers, the Trump average is very close to the George H. W. Bush administration. Presidents still have a higher daily average since the 1980s, but it is possible the vast permeability of social media has impacted these numbers. The variety and ease of online outlets allows the public to have targeted information in the palms of their hands. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all encourage brand loyalty from followers. That is, the “liking” or “following” of a person or entity allows their content to arrive unfiltered at its intended target. Local speeches compete with directed online content for personal rapport with constituencies. They can most certainly be utilized in conjunction with each other to amplify and motivate populations, but the driving need to always travel may be waning with the ability to stream video content in a modernized handheld fireside chat. However, that has not stopped the Trump administration from eliminating certain types of media content. The Trump administration eliminated the weekly radio address with its last broadcast in August 2018. The daily press briefing was ended by the Trump administration on March 11, 2019 (Kwong 2019) and not resumed until early 2020. The press corps is increasingly forced to rely upon Trump’s direct Twitter feed, speech remarks, or written statements. While written statements from specific executive branch offices are important, coordinated regular Oval Office addresses and press briefings can work both ways. They allow the press to get direct information, but also allow the president’s office to help disseminate a carefully constructed message on their terms. The president began press briefings on COVID19 in March 2020 which many speculate he turned to with his inability to hold stadium rallies during the crisis (Grynbaum 2020; Kruse 2020). These events have been a combination of the administration briefing

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

69

the country on virus updates with the president occasionally venting his opinions regarding current topics on his mind. If travel matters, where does the Trump administration go? There have been several scholars who have looked at presidential travel (Hart 1987; Tenpas 1997, 2003; Kernell 1997; Ragsdale 1998; Doherty 2007). Doherty (2007) suggests that travel “does target large, competitive states” (p. 770). Charnock et al. (2009) find some presidents trend toward uncompetitive states (Reagan) while others like George W. Bush leans toward larger competitive states. Electoral College numbers seem to factor into travel schedules more than just to encourage going to likeminded constituencies. George W. Bush sought local media (Barrett and Peake 2007; Eshbaugh-Soha and Peake 2006) and employed a “going local” strategy with mixed results finding the most favorable coverage in areas already supportive where an emphasis was on descriptive, rather than analytical stories (Eshbaugh-Soha and Peake 2008). Tenpas and McCann (2007) look at presidential polling. They found presidents do more around elections but recent administrations “polled more diligently the longer they were in office” (p. 365). Cohen and Powell (2005) look at state-level presidential travel and find presidents receive “a modest boost in state-level approval through strategically crafted public appearances” (p. 23).

Media Markets By looking at speeches by two categories, Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and the Electoral College, we can see patterns within administrations. Electoral College regions rely upon the state borders to contain them. Presidents will often choose specific states to either reach new constituencies or reinforce bases of support. Market areas offer flexibility for nuances lost with geographical boundaries. Certain locations like New York City are physically within one state, but their market area extends as far as rural Pike County, Pennsylvania with a population of less than 50,000. When presidents give speeches in a city, the news coverage can often extend across several cities and even states. Media markets help explain information penetration to a region. Designated Market Areas help see the sizes of cities presidents prefer to give speeches when collated together into general sizes. Market areas reveal if presidents seek maximum media saturation in speeches outside Washington, DC or prefer to go places with smaller audiences. Gimpel et al. (2007)

70

S. B. O’BRIEN

found “low income voters are more likely to develop an interest in the campaign when they reside in states that both parties have targeted as battlegrounds” (p. 795). In conjunction with these findings, they also find the “geographic concentration of the poor enables activation and mobilization because television and radio remain constrained by geography of electronic signal propagation” (Gimpel et al. 2007, p. 795). Speeches in media markets matter because voter activation matters. It is imperative to reach voters. Television coverage reaches audiences who are not attending rallies and events. It brings the campaign to the average citizen and functions as a key source of information. These media markets are calculated by Nielsen (n.d.) using the number of television households within each one. The top 25 are the largest markets in the United States. In 2018, they range from about 7.1 million to about 1.1 million. The fiftieth largest market has about 624,000 households, and the 75th has 383,000. The smallest television market in America is Glendive, Montana (ranked 210) with about 3500 households. While the number of households within each quartile has grown over time, the general ranking remains relatively stable for the majority of cities. When certain cities grow, they will move up in rank, but the majority tends to all increase together with only minor rank-ordering changes. Of the top 25 ranked markets in 1982, 22 of them are still in that range in 2018. The three that have moved lower than 25 (Baltimore, Indianapolis, and San Diego) are currently ranked 26, 27, 28. The three that moved upwards (Orlando, Raleigh, and Charlotte) were all ranked in the 30s in 1982. Table 4.1 gives the annual percentage of first- and second-year speeches broken down into major media market ranges. Table 4.1 shows many presidents gravitate toward larger markets with significantly more speeches in year 2 over year 1. On average, presidents gave about 55 more speeches in year 2 (though George W. Bush gave 95 more) with the exception of Donald Trump. If one uses the numbers provided by the Press Secretary’s office, his speechmaking decreased in the second year. However, if one uses the actual numbers calculated based on other records of public speeches, Trump’s numbers increase, but not as much as other administrations (with the exception of George H. W. Bush). As a general rule, speechmaking in the midterm year increases throughout the United States. This finding should be expected and is in line with what even casual observers notice about most presidents in their second year. Many presidents (with the exceptions of Richard Nixon, George W. Bush)

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

71

Table 4.1 Percentage of year 1 and year 2 speeches in media markets by year and by ranked size President

Year

1–25

26–50

51–75

76+

Total

Nixon Nixon Carter Carter Reagan Reagan Bush 41 Bush 41 Clinton Clinton Bush 43 Bush 43 Obama Obama Trump/Trumpadj Trump/Trumpadj

1969 1970 1977 1978 1981 1982 1989 1990 1993 1994 2001 2002 2009 2010 2017 2018

40.5 43.9 51.1 46.5 65.7 49.5 55.6 54.5 75.4 68.9 43.6 45.6 61.9 60.4 51.0/51.0 51.6/39.7

8.1 18.3 15.5 22.8 22.9 16.5 12.1 18.9 11.6 16.3 23.3 20.2 10.4 16.7 30.2/30.0 26.4/22.8

8.1 7.3 22.2 15.8 8.6 15.4 10.1 9.8 9.4 4.7 17.3 10.9 7.6 11.8 5.2/6.2 2.2/8.8

43.2 30.5 11.1 14.9 2.9 18.7 22.2 16.7 3.6 10 15.8 23.2 19.6 11.1 13.5/13.4 19.8/28.7

37 82 45 101 35 91 99 132 138 190 133 228 92 144 96/97 91/136

gave over 50% of their speeches in the largest markets in either year 1 or year 2. The exceptions are intriguing because they preferred smaller media markets to the larger ones. Each gave less than 50% of their total domestic speeches in markets smaller than the top 25. The case of Richard Nixon is interesting, but his number counts are substantially smaller than Bush. George W. Bush spent a considerable amount of time in the smallest markets. Barack Obama’s first two years are equally interesting because of their sharp change in speechmaking from the previous Bush administration. His speechmaking patterns more closely resemble Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan for the preference toward larger markets. In his first two years, approximately 60% of all Obama’s domestic speeches occur in the top 25 markets in the United States (when controlling for Washington, DC). Obama embraces a large market strategy working to reinforce bases loyal to the Democratic Party. Over 50% of the speeches given by Barack Obama in 2009–2010 were in the largest American media markets within states that voted for him in 2008. The domestic speechmaking strategy for Barack Obama relies upon the largest media markets in supportive states and areas. In contrast, the top 25 media markets in 2001 were also in 17 states. In 2001, George W. Bush gave 58.3% of all speeches in the

72

S. B. O’BRIEN

top 25 markets that did not support him in 2000. That number increased to 65.1% in 2002 for speeches in the largest markets in states that did not support him. Donald Trump’s patterns look similar, yet distinctly different than George W. Bush. Using the adjusted numbers since they are truly the most accurate, President Trump’s first year shows an administration that spent about half of its time giving speeches in the largest media markets within the United States. In his second year, however, the adjusted (and more accurate) number falls to only 40% of the largest media markets in the United States. It is percentage-wise slightly lower than Nixon, and by far the smallest number for any president in the last 40 years. In fact, 21% (28 speeches) of the top 25 markets in 2018 were either vacation locations, Andrews Air Force Base, or obligatory meetings at the United Nations in New York. He spoke in these places because of compulsory circumstances, not choice. Donald Trump appears to be a president who shuns large markets. He gave a substantial number of his speeches in the smallest markets within the United States. During 2018, 28.7% of his speeches occurred in markets ranked 76–210. This number is the highest for any president with the exception of Richard Nixon. More important, it is the highest raw number total seen for administrations since these numbers were collected. Specifically, 11% of these smallest market speeches had fewer than 150,000 television households. Donald Trump used these markets as a way to target his base with 85% of these speeches in states that supported him in the Electoral College. The smallest media market occurred in July 2018 when Trump spoke in the Great Falls, Montana with has approximately 56,000 television households. Most administrations focus on larger markets with the exception of George W. Bush and Donald Trump. When we turn to the specific fundraising and campaign speeches, we can see other effects. Bush gave few fundraising speeches his first year in office, but changed in his second year. In 2002, George W. Bush gave the most campaign speeches (63 speeches) in a midterm election year for any president at that point. He also gave a full 1/3rd of all his campaign speeches in media markets ranked 51–210. In comparison, Barack Obama gave only 2 campaign speeches in these smallest markets in 2010. Both were in states (Wisconsin and Virginia) he carried in 2008. In 2002, George W. Bush gave 24 campaign/fundraising speeches in the same sized markets in 14 different states. Eight of those 14 were states he did not carry in 2000. These two presidents have different campaign speechmaking styles in their first

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

73

midterm elections. George W. Bush went into smaller markets and often in states that did not support him in 2000. Barack Obama preferred the largest media markets and in states he carried in 2008. Donald Trump also pursues a campaigning strategy that focuses upon the smallest media markets in places generally supportive of him. It is these campaigning numbers where the concerns for the numbers released by the Press Secretary’s office are most salient. For 2018, 1 speech was included in the Daily Compilation that qualifies as a campaign speech in 2018. Based upon other media (print/video/online) sources, there are 45 other speeches missing from the records and not part of the official accounting. These missing speeches are critical because they completely alter the perception and focus of the Trump presidency within the media markets. With the adjusted numbers, Donald Trump gave the fewer number (volume or percentage) of campaigning speeches in the largest media markets in over 40 years. In fact, he gave only 1 campaign speech in a top 10 market. It occurred in October 2018 in Houston, Texas when he campaigned on behalf of Senator Ted Cruz in an unexpectedly close reelection contest. President Trump has given more campaign speeches (adjusted) in the smallest markets (volume or percentage) than any other president in the modern era. In 2018, 47.8% of all campaign rally speeches were in media markets ranked 76–210. These smallest markets were in thirteen states with almost all of them in the Midwestern or Southern states. The largest city in these smallest media markets was Chattanooga, Tennessee. Donald Trump focused attention almost exclusively on smaller areas that were supportive of him in 2016. He actively worked to reinforce his base of smaller areas to the point of almost shunning the larger markets. The result is a unique pattern unlike any other previous administration with its rejection of the larger markets in favor of smaller ones. He targeted small cities in states that most strongly supported him in the 2016 election campaign. These findings fit with other scholars who assert presidents prefer locations where they are buffered by support rather than battered by detractors. Jacobson et al. (2004) argue presidents (in their case, Clinton) used campaign stops as payback for support (p. 179) over supporting marginal candidates (p. 180) for office.

74

S. B. O’BRIEN

Electoral College Media markets allow for looking at targeted locations by population size, but the Electoral College results show partisan distributions. During reelections, presidents only have a finite amount of time and tend to focus on battleground states during election seasons (Althaus et al. 2002). This situation encourages presidents to use battleground states where their party has an edge (Althaus et al. 2002). The organization of the Electoral College means they need to worry less about population sizes and more about state allotments. Presidents need to appeal to enough voters in the right locations in order to win elections. Electoral College distributions are useful for looking at presidents during their two years in office. When presidents head into midterm elections, do they look prefer places with strong support, or do they seek to extend their influence? The Electoral College helps indicate whether presidents prefer to speak to more or less partisan friendly audiences. Frequently, the Electoral College is divided into Republican and Democratic Party states. Its label designation depends on whether or not that party carried the state in the presidential election. When looking at public speeches in highly contested elections, these two categories may be too simple. By separating swing states into their own category, it is possible to see if presidents concentrated speeches in these areas. This creates two different groups for the swing states: one that eventually went Republican and Democrat. Swing states are those where the presidential election was highly contested. They are states where the popular vote was decided with less than 5% of the total vote. Swing states are the focus of the candidates and political parties. In contrast, the base states constitute ones carried by a candidate with more than a 5% margin in the popular vote. Table 4.2 shows the percentage of speeches presidents give in year 1 and 2 by Electoral College results during the last 40 years. Presidents trend toward states their party carried in the previous election. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were the most notable exceptions. Carter gave about 40% of his year 1 and 2 speeches in states won by the Republican Party. Bush gave 39% of his year 1 and 2 speeches in places carried by the Democratic Party. Both Carter and Bush spent a considerable amount of time in swing states. These swing state numbers in Table 4.2 suggest both men were attempting to build constituencies and recruit support. In 2002, George W. Bush gave approximately 40% of all his speeches in

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

75

Table 4.2 Percentage of year 1 and year 2 speeches by Electoral College results President

Year

GOP Win

GOP Swing State Win

Dem Win

Dem Swing State win

Indep Total

Nixon Nixon Carter Carter Reagan Reagan Bush 41 Bush 41 Clinton Clinton Bush 43 Bush 43 Obama Obama Trump/Trumpadj Trump/Trumpadj

1969 1970 1977 1978 1981 1982 1989 1990 1993 1994 2001 2002 2009 2010 2017 2018

28.9 31.3 10.6 15.4 77.1 78.9 60 57.2 0.7 4.4 45 38.6 7.9 12.2 25.5/26.2 24.2/38.2

42.1 39.8 34 23.1 17.1 15.8 20 25.5 9.9 20.1 19.9 18.6 1.8 4.3 26.5/26.3 28.6/26.5

10.5 12 31.9 44.2 5.7 0 7.6 8.9 68.9 64.7 23.2 22.9 74.6 70.7 43.9/43.4 40.7/27.9

5.3 10.8 23.4 17.3 0 5.3 12.4 8.3 20.5 10.8 11.9 19.9 15.8 12.8 4.1/4.0 6.6/7.4

13.1 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

38 83 47 104 35 95 105 145 151 204 151 236 114 164 98/99 91/136

swing states. He gave more speeches in swing states than in Republican base states. Presidents since Reagan (excluding George W. Bush) gave a majority of their year 1 and 2 speeches in states they most easily won in the Electoral College. Obama in his first two years gave most of his speeches in the Democratic base states. Barack Obama’s patterns suggest a president who prefers giving speeches in places strongly supportive of the Democratic Party. He trends toward states with large electoral votes. Doherty (2010) observes between 1977 and 2004 non-fundraising speeches focus on states with large Electoral College incentives (p. 169). Barack Obama appears to fall in line with these findings. In 2009–2010, he gave an average of 3 speeches in the 15 states with fewer than 10 Electoral College votes. For states with 10–19 Electoral College votes, he gave on average 5.8 speeches in these 13 different states. He visited 7 states with 20 or more Electoral College votes. On average, he made 16 visits to these 7 states. Obama gravitates toward large states with friendly audiences. He works on reinforcing bases over building new areas of support.

76

S. B. O’BRIEN

Donald Trump’s Electoral College patterns demonstrate a president who reinforces his bases though the superficial story suggests otherwise. However, with context, the patterns are not unusual. Trump gave most of his general speeches in states he won in the Electoral College. However, both years show a large percentage of speeches in states won by the Democratic Party in 2016. The reality is his low numbers mask the full picture. Over 80% of all the speeches in the Democratic category (90.5% in 2017 and 71.1% in 2018) were given in either at the United Nations, Andrews Air Force Base, or at Trump-owned properties in these states. These reflect a combination of mandatory obligations and de facto vacation locations and do not align with personal choice. If the speeches surrounding the California wildfires are also included, the percentage is even higher. Trump’s numbers appear somewhat skewed because of his low volume coupled with verbal exchanges at his personal properties in New York and New Jersey. President Trump adheres to a speaking pattern that rewards electoral loyalty. The top three states he traveled to the most in his first two years are Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Though many of the speeches in Florida intermingle with travel to his personal vacation location, all three are traditionally considered swing states with competitive elections. The 4th most traveled to state is Nevada, a state narrowly lost by Trump in 2016 and he aggressively campaigned there for incumbent Senator Dean Heller who ultimately lost his reelection bid in 2018. The next 5 states, West Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee were all handily won by President Trump. For example, Trump traveled to West Virginia 8 separate times for a total of 10 speeches. The state supported him with over a 41% margin. For the other states, the smallest margin of support was Texas with only around a 9% difference. The others were all at least double that number. Trump does not really engage in base outreach. He heavily reinforces his strongest areas of support and only speaks in Democratic Party areas when there is a competitive election or required compulsory speeches. As expected, presidents give the majority of campaign or fundraising speeches in states they carried in the previous presidential election. Fundraising is often concentrated in locations supportive in the last election (Doherty 2010, p. 169). In their midterm election years, Clinton, Obama, and Trump gave over 80% of their fundraising speeches in these states. George W. Bush stands out as a mild exception. He gave fewer speeches in Republican states, but his percentages were still over 60%. Presidents tend to avoid fundraising speeches in the states strongly held

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

77

by the opposing party. Barack Obama only gave 3 fundraising speeches in 2010 where the Republican Party won in 2008 with over 5% of the vote. All three were in cities (Atlanta, Dallas, Austin) where he carried the majority of votes for the county. In 2002, George W. Bush gave 18 speeches in strong Democratic Party states. Within those states, only a third of those speeches were in counties Bush won in 2000. The other two-thirds were all in locations with strong Democratic Party support like Boston, Trenton, and Los Angeles. Trump gave only 6 campaign speeches (rallies) in states that did not support him in the Electoral College. The three states, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nevada, all had Republican candidates in close races. Specifically, he campaigned on behalf of 3 candidates in Illinois, 7 in Minnesota, and 3 in Nevada. He did the best in Illinois with 2 of the 3 winning their contests. In Minnesota, 4 lost their elections while in Nevada, all the candidates he campaigned for were unsuccessful. Percentage-wise, Barack Obama and Donald Trump almost look like two sides of the same coin. They both heavily reinforce their bases, paying little attention to other places unless there is a potential vulnerable election. The raw totals do show Donald Trump did not truly pursue heavy campaigning during his first two years in office. His numbers are higher than Clintons, but far lower than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Presidents generally go to their strongest areas of support when fundraising. If they venture into states won by the opposing party in the previous election cycle, it is often areas that are more supportive of their own party. Barack Obama and Donald Trump focus primarily successful regions for their party. George W. Bush gave more speeches in a wider range of areas in his first two years in office. Bush went aggressively into more Democratic Party states than Obama into Republican ones. Obama ran counter to many other presidents by actively fundraising during his first year in office and Donald Trump began giving rallies as early as February 2017 to help shore up support, financial and electoral. President Trump seems to commit to continuous campaigning in an exurberant way. Donald Trump appears to love campaigning, but merely tolerate governing. In both 2017 and 2018, President Trump held rallies in 9 of the 12 calendar months. He skipped a rally in January and February each year as well as one in November 2017 and December 2018. He gives rallies as a way to energize himself and his core constituency. While they function to shore up his base as well as his own support, they look to often be someone between the line of governance and overt campaigning.

78

S. B. O’BRIEN

Their goal ultimately functions as galvanizing electoral support, yet in many, Trump seems to be campaigning for himself out of cycle. In the Trump administration, the line between governing and campaigning was never drawn and all but evaporated over time. Presidential speeches are an integral part of any administration. Where and to what audiences a president chooses to speak inform us about their priorities. The first two years of these presidencies give us an idea of how a president communicates with the public and travels around the United States. The last three presidencies have been similar and unique in their own ways. Obama gave a large number of speeches in the largest media markets, and preferred states he carried in the Electoral College. George W. Bush gave a considerable number of speeches in smaller media markets every year of his entire administration. He also gave more speeches in swing states than in Republican base states for almost every year he was in office. Donald Trump appears somewhere between Obama and Bush. Trump, much like Obama, acts as an aggressive base reinforcer. At the same time, he gravitates toward the smallest markets, akin to George W. Bush. President Trump does not give speeches throughout the United States, with totals more in line with administrations from almost 30+ years ago. Trump prefers social media which supplants an aggressive speech schedule with an almost obsessive posting of short thoughts on Twitter. President Trump seems to prefer using his personal social media as a forum to control message. He uses Twitter to gain public attention to help crowd out dissenting voices. Other media sources are attacked as biased when they fail to parrot his branded messages. In August 2019, memos have leaked about proposed executive orders that would attempt to extend control over what is considered acceptable content on social media platforms (McGill and Lippman 2019). The Trump administration and campaign have threatened to sue media outlets for stories they disapprove of and take issue with content (Easley 2020; Grynbaum and Tracy 2020). Troubling questions emerge with the Trump administration and the documenting of speeches within the National Archives. The omission of so many campaign and rally speeches significantly alter the perception of the administration by the abstract numbers. The remaining speeches promote an image of a serious and routine presidency with little “off the cuff” commentary. By redacting them out of record, President Trump does not appear to engage in campaigning in 2018 or travel to small

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

79

media markets. The reality is far different with the president in October– November 2018 vigorously campaigning for many candidates, especially in small media markets. These patterns of omission extend well past the midterm through the second half of his presidential term in office. These exclusions within the national government’s log for presidential speeches are problematic and disconcerting. The president is openly and overtly manipulating the public record for their own personal advantage. The strategy of the Donald Trump administration focuses upon strongest areas of support and doggedly reinforces them. This approach is not unique and echoed by most previous administrations in some form. Donald Trump does appear, however, to lean into areas of support with more frank preference than other presidents in recent memory. Most important, the missing materials in the Daily Compilation raise serious questions that vacillate between the need for accuracy and potential manipulation of factual documentation. There are concerns given many of these speeches should have been made available long ago, it is not a mere oversight. Instead, it may be an approach pursued by the Trump administration to subtly alter history’s accounting of his years in office. If the administration is willing to alter the record on speeches are easily found in full on YouTube, NPR, Fox, CNN, and so on, what other documentation are they not maintaining? As scholars, we should all be concerned about the accuracy because our work relies upon factual information with conclusions drawn from the information. As citizens, we should be outraged at either the incompetence of the administration or their brazenness to manipulate the public record.

References Aldrich, J. H., Bishop, B. H., Hatch, R. S., Hillygus, D. S., & Rohde, D. W. (2014). Blame, Responsibility, and the Tea Party in the 2010 Midterm Elections. Political Behavior, 36, 471–491. Althaus, S. L., Nardulli, P. F., & Shaw, D. R. (2002). Candidate Appearances in Presidential Elections, 1972–2000. Political Communication, 19, 49–72. Associated Press in Phoenix Arizona. (2020, March 23). Arizona Man Dies After Attempting to Take Trump Coronavirus ‘Cure’. The Guardian. https:// www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/coronavirus-cure-kills-manafter-trump-touts-chloroquine-phosphate. Barrett, A. W., & Peake, J. S. (2007). When the President Comes to Town: Examining Local Newspaper Coverage of Domestic Presidential Travel. American Politics Research, 35, 3–31.

80

S. B. O’BRIEN

Bartels, L. M. (1985). Resource Allocation in a Presidential Campaign. Journal of Politics, 47, 928–936. Berman, R. (2014, November 14). The President Concedes. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/11/Barack-ObamaDemocrats-Midterm-Elections/382423/. Bond, J. R., & Fleisher, R. (1990). The President in the Legislative Arena. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Brams, S. J., & Davis, M. D. (1974). The 3/2s Rule in Presidential Campaigning. American Political Science Review, 68, 113–134. Charnock, E. J., McCann, J. A., & Tenpas, K. D. (2009). Presidential Travel from Eisenh to George W. Bush: An ‘Electoral College’ Strategy. Political Science Quarterly, 124, 323–339. Cohen, J. A., & Powell, R. (2005). Building Public Support from the Grassroots Up: The Impact of Presidential Travel on State-Level Approval. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 35(1), 11–27. Cohen, J. A., Krassa, M. A., & Hamman, J. A. (1991). The Impact of Presidential Campaigning on Midterm U.S. Senate Elections. American Political Science Review, 85, 165–178. Colantoni, C. S., Levesque, T. J., & Ordeshook, P. C. (1975). Campaign Resource Allocations under the Electoral College. American Political Science Review, 69, 141–154. Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents. (n.d.). Office of the Federal Registrar, National Archives. Retrieved April 5, 2020 from https://www.archives. gov/federal-register/publications/presidential-compilation.html. Doherty, B. J. (2007). Elections: The Politics of the Permanent Campaign: Presidential Travel and the Electoral College, 1977–2004. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 37 (4), 749–773. Doherty, B. J. (2010). Hail to the Fundraiser in Chief: The Evolution of Presidential Fundraising Travel, 1977–2004. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 40(1), 159–170. Easley, J. (2020, March 25). Trump Campaign Threatens Legal Action over Liberal Super PAC Ad. The New York Times. https://thehill.com/hom enews/campaign/489555-trump-campaign-threatens-legal-action-over-lib eral-super-pac-ad. Edwards, G. C., III. (1989). At the Margins: Presidential Leadership of Congress. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Eshbaugh-Soha, M., & Peake, J. S. (2006). The President’s Speeches: Beyond ‘Going Public’. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. Eshbaugh-Soha, M., & Peake, J. S. (2008). The Presidency and Local Media: Local Newspapers Coverage of President George W. Bush. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 38(4), 609–628.

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

81

Fenno, R. (1996). Senators on the Campaign Trail. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Gertner, J. (2004, February 15). The Very Personal Is Political. New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/15/magazine/ the-very-very-personal-is-the-political.html. Gimpel, J. G., Kaufmann, K. M., & Pearson-Merkowitz, S. (2007). Battleground States Versus Blackout States: The Behavioral Implications of Modern Presidential Campaigns. Journal of Politics, 69(3), 786–797. Grynbaum, M. M. (2020, March 25). Trump’s Briefings Are a Ratings Hit. Should Networks Cover Them Live? The New York Times. https://www. nytimes.com/2020/03/25/business/media/trump-coronavirus-briefings-rat ings.html. Grynbaum, M. M., & Tracy, M. (2020, February 26). Trump Campaign Sues New York Times Over 2019 Opinion Article. The New York Times. https:// www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/business/media/trump-new-york-timeslawsuit.html. Hart, R. (1987). The Sound of Leadership: Political Communication in the Modern Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hoddie, M., & Routh, S. R. (2004). Predicting the Presidential Presence: Explaining Presidential Midterm Elections Campaign Behavior. Political Research Quarterly, 57 (2), 257–265. Jacobson, G. (2001). The Politics of Congressional Elections. New York: Longman. Jacobson, G. (2011). Legislative Success and Political Failure: The Public’s Reaction to Barack Obama’s Early Presidency. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 41(2), 220–243. Jacobson, G., Kernell, S., & Lazarus, J. (2004). Assessing the President’s Role as Party Agent in Congressional Elections: The Case of Bill Clinton in 2000. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 29(2), 159–184. Jones, D. R., & McDermott, M. L. (2011). The Salience of the Democratic Congress and the 2010 Elections. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44(2), 297– 301. Keele, L., Fogarty, B., & Stimson, J. (2004). Presidential Campaigning in the 2002 Congressional Elections. PS: Political Science and Politics, 37 (4), 827– 832. Kernell, S. (1997). Going Public (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press. Koger, G., & Lebo, M. J. (2012). Strategic Party Government and the 2010 Election. American Politics Research, 40(5), 927–945. Kruse, M. (2020, March 25). Trump Turns a Crisis into His New Nightly TV Show. Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/ 25/trump-coronavirus-white-house-briefing-room-press-conference-147571.

82

S. B. O’BRIEN

Kwong, J. (2019, June 13). When Was Sarah Sanders’ Last Press Briefing? Press Secretary Leaves After Record Presser Drought. Newsweek. https://www.new sweek.com/sarah-sanders-last-press-briefing-1443932/. Mahew, D. (1974). Congressional Elections: The Case of the Vanishing Marginals. Polity, 6, 296–317. McGill, M. H., & Lippman, D. (2019, August 7). White House Drafting Executive Order to Tackle Silicon Valley’s Alleged Anti-conservative Bias. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/07/white-housetech-censorship-1639051/. Misra, J. (2019, April 23). Voter Turnout Rates Among All Voting Age and Major Racial and Ethnic Groups Were Higher Than in 2014. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html. Neustadt, R. E. (1960). Presidential Power, the Politics of Leadership. New York: Wiley. Nielsen. (n.d.). https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/. Nyhan, B., McGhee, E., Sides, J., Masket, S., & Green, S. (2012). One Vote Out of Step? The Effects of Salient Roll Call Votes in the 2010 Election. American Politics Research, 40(5), 844–879. Ornstein, N., & Mann, T. (2000). The Permanent Campaign and Its Future. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute. Parker, A., & Rucker, P. (2019, October 14). ‘I Sort of Thrive on It’: The Impeachment Crisis Shines a Spotlight on Trump’s State of Mind. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/i-sort-of-thr ive-on-it-the-impeachment-crisis-shines-a-spotlight-on-trumps-state-of-mind/ 2019/10/14/10fb345e-eb9e-11e9-85c0-85a098e47b37_story.html. Peppers, D., & Rogers, M. (1996). The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time. New York: Doubleday. Peterson, M. (1990). Legislating Together: The White House and Capitol Hill from Eisenhower to Reagan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Price, G. (2018, November 21). Midterm Election Results Saw Republicans Suffer the Worst House Defeat in U.S. History based on Popular Vote. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/republicans-midterms-popular-voteworst-ever-1226441. Public Papers of the President. (n.d.). Federal Register. National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/publications/presidential-papers. html. Ragsdale, L. (1998). Vital Statistics on the Presidency: Washington to Clinton. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press. Sellers, P. J., & Denton, L. M. (2006). Presidential Visits and Midterm Senate Elections. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 36(3), 410–432.

4

GOING RE“PUBLIC”AN: HOW DONALD TRUMP USES SPEECHES …

83

Shaw, D. R. (1999). The Methods behind the Madness; Presidential Electoral College Strategies, 1988–1996. Journal of Politics, 61(4), 893–913. Tenpas, K. D. (1997). Presidents as Candidates: Inside the White House for the Presidential Campaign. New York: Routledge. Tenpas, K. D. (2003). Campaigning to Govern: Presidents Seeking Reelection. PS: Political Science and Politics, 36, 199–202. Tenpas, K. D., & McCann, J. A. (2007). Testing the Permanence of the Permanent Campaign: An Analysis of Presidential Polling Expenditures, 1977–2002. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71(3), 349–366. Trump Twitter Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2020, from http://www.tru mptwitterarchive.com/archive/. Trump’s Twitter Year of Outrage and Braggadocio. (2018, December 31). Politico. https://www.politico.com/interactives/2018/interactive_don ald-trump-twitter-2018-analysis/. Wojcik, S., Hughes, A., & Remy, E. (2019, July 15). About One-in-Five Adult Twitter Users in the U.S. Follow Trump. Pew Research Center. https:// www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/15/about-one-in-five-adult-twi tter-users-in-the-u-s-follow-trump/.

CHAPTER 5

Why Does Any of This Matter?: What Can We Learn from These Strategies?

Abstract This chapter examines going public and other presidential rhetorical tools to help highlight why it is important to explore how Donald Trump uses language to maximize his advantage. The chapter explores some of his more outrageous statements and how he intentionally does this to appeal to specific audiences. This chapter examines him from the perspective of Barber’s presidential typologies and also through the lens of populism to help explain why so many people find Trump’s message attractive. This chapter provides an overview and summarizes some of the more salient findings. Keywords Donald Trump · Presidential rhetoric · Manufactured reality · Wrestling · Populism

Richard Neustadt spent much of his career looking at the persuasive power of presidents (Neustadt 1960). Individuals are considered powerful because others accept them as such. It is not enough to simply say the winner of a contest or election automatically achieves loyalty or clout. Rules can be changed, laws can be modified, and authority can be contracted to control a person or system. True power lay not within the text of the laws, but often within the hearts of the populace. Fidelity from people rests upon the leader’s ability to persuade them to embrace © The Author(s) 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6_5

85

86

S. B. O’BRIEN

his authority, vision, or direction. Men “must be convinced in their own minds that he has the skill and will enough to use his advantages” (Neustadt 1990, p. 50). Trump persistently uses dominance rhetoric assigning superlatives toward himself to encourage the perception of authority. “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning” (Jerde 2015). “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created” (“Here’s Donald” 2015). “I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators” (Lippman 2015). Trump cites an unverified poll claiming he has the highest poll numbers in the history of the Republican Party, topping both Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan (Anapol 2018). He utilizes the persuasion power of media and rhetoric to project a veil of success. Presidents also “go public.” Presidents appeal for support by bypassing Congress to speak to the American people (Kernell 1997). They ask them to contact elected officials to voice agreement with the president who then use the public as their rhetorical muscle. Social media has shifted how presidents interact with the country. Trump goes public through Twitter often multiple times a day using it as a truncheon to mock, attack, and retaliate against perceived threats. He weaponizes going public into a tool of mass media distributed destruction. It becomes a way to threaten other actors to fall in line through obloquy. As Tulis (2017) points out, “Twitter enables the president to deliver messages in his own unfiltered words ‘over the heads’ of the mainstream media” giving him more control over the message (p. 234). Donald Trump built an administration using language and rhetoric rarely observed in American politics. His blunt and provocative nature turned the potential negatives of his rhetoric into positives by attacking the messengers, other candidates, and even average citizens tweeting comments at him. Trump attacks any commentary about the negatives to shift the discussion and morph them into positives while simultaneously representing himself as the victim, not the aggressor. “The news cannot tell you what to think, but can tell you what to think about” (Han 2011, p. 97). Donald Trump has been vocal on how he has used his position to change focus. “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration” (Strauss 2015). Trump primes audiences to shift the focus into areas he can exert influence. “Priming occurs when media attention to an issue causes people to place special weight on it when constructing evaluations of overall presidential job performance” (Miller and Krosnick 2000, p. 301; Iyengar et al. 1984). Trump finds significant traction with immigration issues and worked to frame much

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

87

of the conversation in that direction. “Priming also has an impact on the audience, which means that the news media have a substantial impact on how Americans view the political system and its participants based on which stories are emphasized; priming by news media draws attention to some aspects of political life at the expense of others” (Han 2011, p. 97). Donald Trump embodies many of the traits of an active-negative president within James David Barber’s typology though with several passive-negative aspects. He fits within passive negative because Barber describes them as “unwillingly involved in his political work, in continual retreat from the demands office imposes on him” (Barber 1992, p. 170). While many other aspects of the passive negative may not be as accurate, Trump has spent a considerable amount of time away from the White House. A December 31, 2019 report found he spent 31% of his entire presidency to date at Trump-owned properties (Bump 2019). As of March 2020, he had taken at least 249 visits to golf clubs since his inauguration (Germain, n.d.). Assuming he travels to one golf club at a time, it averages about 21.5% of his administration in those locations. Active-negative presidents have a high level of energy, but display “continual, recurrent, negative emotional reaction to that work” (Barber 1992, p. 81). In 2017, President Trump stated the presidency was “more work that my previous life. I thought it would be easier” (Adler et al. 2017). Active-negatives tend to embrace an all or nothing quality (Barber 1992, p. 81) which has been this administration’s default position on many issues like health care, North Korea, and the border wall among others (Dopp 2018; Baker 2019; “Trump Clings” 2019). This view also extends toward people who he lumps into good or bad categorizations. “Their dichotomous worldview requires them to confront unbelievers and the unconvinced in order to implement their vision of a good society” (Lowney 2003, p. 427). Trump’s presidency centers around the theme “Make America Great Again.” This idea also profoundly resonates with the moral entrepreneur because they “legitimate words and deeds by means of a worldview that despairs over the present but believes there can be a better future, one that can be reached through their guidance” (Lowney 2003, p. 427). Throughout his entire public life, Trump has used negative racial terms at times to describe people (Micek 2019). He has branded the Democratic Party in very broad and hostile terms (Baker 2019; Baker and Karni 2020; Egan 2020; Hains 2020) while simplifying his own campaign into a positive moniker and his reelection as “Keep America Great.” His general pattern of behavior involves

88

S. B. O’BRIEN

avoiding responsibility for anything negative, no matter the situation (Frank 2018; Obeidallah 2019; “Trump Blames” 2019; Little 2020; Wilkie and Mangan 2020) highlights his approach of expansive credit claiming while sloughing off any perceived criticisms. Persuasion power is key for profound change. Trump behaves much like a moral entrepreneur because, “[T]he existing rules do not satisfy him because there is some evil which profoundly disturbs him. … Any means is justified to do away with it” (Becker 1963, pp. 147–148). Trump attacks the media, Democrats, special counsel investigators, and even fellow Republicans when the news has not been favorable in his direction. An aspect within these moral entrepreneurs is the rules enforcer who believe that it is necessary for the people he deals with to respect him. If they do not, it will be very difficult to do his job; his feeling of security in his work will be lost. Therefore, a good deal of enforcement activity is devoted not to the actual enforcement of rules, but to coercing respect from people the enforcer deals with. This means that one may be labelled as deviant not because he has actually broken a rule, but because he has shown disrespect to the enforcer of the rule. (Becker 1963, p. 158)

Trump has epitomized the rules enforcer on numerous occasions. In the Republican primaries, Jeb Bush said “Trump’s not a serious candidate. He’s one part unhinged and one part foolish” (Walker 2015). Donald Trump retaliated by mocking Bush and then saying, “we don’t need a weak person being President of the United States. That is what we would get if it were Jeb“ (Fox 2016). In another speech less than a month after his attack on Bush, Trump also stated “A lot of people have laughed at me over the years, but they’re not laughing at me anymore” (Alemany 2016). As president, he attacks various individuals and industries. He targets insults at so many individuals, industries, and places The New York Times keeps a running list which as of May 2019 has 598 separate entries (Lee and Quealy 2019). These personalized attacks are commonplace within wrestling, but also reference back to Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. In particular, his thirteenth rule says “[P]ick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it” (Alinsky, p. 130). In other words, single out a particular individual, ignore others for the moment, and engage in a vigorous personal attack. When taken together with Alinsky’s fifth rule espousing ridicule, Donald Trump appears to be a person who embraces

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

89

Alinsky’s rules wholeheartedly. Social media allows him to directly engage the public on his terms creating the perception he can exert personal control over his own image. He attacks celebrities like Alec Baldwin and LeBron James as well as political targets such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, North Korea, and Puerto Rico, referring people who criticize the administration’s hurricane response as “politically motivated ingrates” (Colvin 2017). During the impeachment process, he attacked Nancy Pelosi, saying “her teeth were falling out of her mouth” (Demirjian 2019) and suggested the former Dean of the House, John Dingell, was in hell after his wife, Congresswomen Debbie Dingell, voiced support for the impeachment process (Kane et al. 2019). He retweeted an altered image of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in Muslim garb to suggest Democrats supported terrorists (Sargent 2020). The Trump campaign attacked the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff in the impeachment process by selling “Bull-Schiff” shirts with the neck “elongated to match the immature nickname Trump has bestowed on him, ‘pencil neck’” (Wade 2019). He also referred to his critics within the Republican Party as “human scum” (Jackson 2019) heavily suggesting that anyone within his political party that did not support him was deeply and unforgivably flawed. Trump’s thematic American-centric rhetoric fits well with status politics research that looks at how a “cultural group acts to preserve, defend, or enhance the dominance and prestige of its own style of living within the total society” (Gusfeld 1986, p. 3). Donald Trump sees the immigration on our Southern border as a threat to America’s way of life. “I would build a great wall. And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall” (“Here’s Donald” 2015). In a June 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court also upheld his presidential ability to ban “travelers from certain majorityMuslim countries if he thinks it is necessary to protect the United States” (Barnes and Marimow 2018). He added six additional countries in early 2020 (Kanno-Youngs 2020). Donald Trump uses populist tactics and widespread generalized anger at the government to help fuel his popularity. A March 2016 poll by AP-GfK finds 78% of Americans are angry at the way the federal government is working (“The AP-GfK Poll” 2016). “Republicans are far more likely to be angry – half of all GOP voters, compared with about one-quarter of Democrats or independents – and those Republicans are much more supportive of Donald Trump, the front

90

S. B. O’BRIEN

runner for the party’s presidential nomination” (Webber and Swanson 2016). Anger has been an effective tool for presidential campaigns over the years. In Middle Class Dreams, Stanley Greenberg explores the attitudes of Macomb County, Michigan Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. These were disillusioned, angry voters, but they were not Republicans. They spoke of a broken contract, not a new vision. Their way of life was genuinely in jeopardy, threatened by profound economic changes beyond their control, yet their leaders, who were supposed to look out for them, were preoccupied with other groups and issues. These voters wondered why they weren’t the central drama of the Democratic Party. They should be honored, not shunned, by a party that was now uncomfortable with, maybe even contemptuous of, their values, their fears, and their simple suburban ways. (Greenberg 1995, p. 34)

Greenberg also states that “[T]hese workers saw themselves as members of a new minority class that was ignored by the government but forced to support social programs that did not benefit them” (Greenberg 1995, p. 38). Donald Trump’s campaign activated similar touchstones. CNBC reported “he’s been creating a new coalition of angry voters, crossing ideological and party lines, creating historic Republican primary turnout and propelling himself to historic victories in the process” (Novak 2016). Trump has actively solicited the middle class and has positioned himself to be their advocate. “I’m about the middle class. I want the middle class to be thriving again. We’re losing our middle class” (Tankersley 2015). These similarities matter because Reagan was able to transcend traditional political divides based on emotional appeals to average, working-class voters. “Reagan’s association with their small world bought the Republican candidate an enormous amount of slack from voters who were self-consciously populist” (Greenberg 1995, p. 47). In Donald Trump’s self-orchestrated idealized world, his actions must always be framed as exemplary situations without fault. Within the world of professional wrestling, the wrestlers who want to claim moral authority never apologize under any circumstances. Apologies portray weakness and thus a character flaw. The truth rests upon the veracity of the assertions. The more forcefully you argue a position, the more truthful it is. If you backtrack, apologize, clarify, or anything that connotes clarification or modulation of a statement, you position yourself as weaker. This concept

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

91

is key to understanding Donald Trump’s behavior. He never apologizes or admits wrongdoing in any circumstance. If he attempts anything less, it is considered a fault and ultimately a failure. It helps create the mythos associated with the idea he always wins. The reality is he does not often win, but he never admits, owns up to, or publicly accepts defeat. Failed business ventures simply wither away with a wisp without commentary while victories are heralded as triumphs worthy of an epic saga worthy of Joseph Campbell. These mannerisms have extended well into the presidency. When a person implicates the Donald Trump in wrongdoing or presents him a negative light, that individual is almost always dismissed as inconsequential or a tangential person the president barely knows (Colarossi 2020; Gregory 2020). Despite photographic, video, and often transcription evidence, Trump will contend he does not know the person or disavow any knowledge of the activity. This conduct makes complete sense if one accepts Donald Trump’s worldview has been indelibly shaped by the retcon story crafting that exists with the drama of professional wrestling. Most people think of their lives like a stream or a river that meanders and turns, but tends to continuously run in one direction. Theater, however, behaves entirely differently. It engages in actions that are in arcs. A story begins, arcs into conflict, and ultimately has a resolution. Within wrestling, the wrestlers often then tabula rasa, or blank slate, into a default state when they can engage a new storyline with new antagonists and protagonists. Older conflicts that are no longer useful for the continuity of a storyline are forgotten, while new contentions may be created in order to drive a narrative. When individuals are no longer advantageous, their “storyline” within Trump’s world is recast into one of an outsider or an untrustworthy person. Others have picked up on this blank slate concept, but not tied it back to the importance of wrestling. For example, some have noted that many supports see “Trump not as an individual, but a tabula rasa which their biggest hopes could be projected” (Coaston 2019). This perspective gels well with Jenkins contention that “melodramatic wrestling allows working-class men to confront their own feelings of vulnerability, their own frustrations at a world which promises them patriarchal authority but which is experienced through relations of economic subordination” (Jenkins 2005, pp. 42–43). Donald Trump functions as a human echo chamber for the frustrations of segment of American society that feels betrayed.

92

S. B. O’BRIEN

The downwardly mobile lower middle class bought into the American Dream. They are true believers. To hear them tell it, if they worked hard, played by the rules and paid their taxes, they, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, could buy a home and provide for a family. … that Dream became a nightmare of downsizing, job loss, outsourcing, plant closings, closing the Ma and Pa store when Wal-Mart moved in, losing the family farm. These men feel like they are seen as failures; they are humiliated—and that humiliation is the source of their rage. (Kimmel 2017, pp. 2–3)

These are Americans who have seen the economy change without the means to thwart it. As factory work shifted overseas, many saw the primary income sources for their communities disappear with it. With the arrival of the big corporations like Wal-Mart, many of the small local businesses saw themselves priced out of work. The people in these communities increasingly live in education deserts. The number of people who get a high school diploma in urban and rural communities is roughly equivalent, but the gap for college educations is wide and getting larger (Harris 2019). “In the 2016 election, 66 percent of non-college-educated white voters voted for Trump, compared with just 48 percent of white voters who did have a college degree” (Harris 2019). Trump’s message resonates with their deep-seated fears of further economic and social erosion. Within polls, Trump supporters hold views of hostility toward Latinos and Muslims (McDaniel and McElwee 2016). They also show support for the statement “immigrants threaten American customs and values” (Malone 2016). Many people attracted to Donald Trump feel ignored by the country and its elites. This particular feeling of having no voice better predicts Trump supporters than education age, income, or other measurement (Thompson 2016). Many Americans want improvement and change, but feel disillusioned by the policies from both political parties over the last half-century. When Donald Trump ran for president, his entire message centered around the concept of actually seeing these people. His platform targeted many of their concerns while playing upon their hopes for the return to a glamorized past. His entire campaign was about recapturing what was perceived as lost with “Make America Great Again.” Most important, a political leader targeted them with their message. “When people in similar economic positions organize around common symbols and through associations, they assume a degree of unity and organization.” (Gusfeld 1986, p. 14) These impacts are exacerbated

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

93

in modern America by what Faith Popcorn refers to as micro-clanning as well as digital cocooning, or rather when people gather groups of friends based on similar beliefs…[and] only follow [digital] accounts that won’t make them anxious” (Abrams 2017). Status discontents are likely to appear when the prestige accorded to persons and groups by prestige-givers is perceived as less than that which the person or group expects. The self-esteem of the group member is belied by the failure of others to grant him the respect, approval, admiration, and deference he feels that he justly deserves. This may occur when a segment of the society is losing status and finds that prestige-givers without expected deference. (Gusfeld 1986, pp. 17–18)

The brand of Donald Trump positions itself as an aspirational label with the trappings of flamboyant success. Wrestling has strong appeals to populations he counted on as his base of support. The tropes of wrestling play well for many people who enjoy the blurring lines in this form of entertainment. “Spectator sports have become narratives in which conflict is ritualistically reenacted. All modern sport is a spectacle, a struggle between good and evil, between one’s ‘team’ and its despised rival” (Kyriakoudes and Coclanis 1997, p. 11). Wrestling revels in the interplay between good and bad guys. Their push–pull conflicts drive story arcs that have drawn ardent fans for decades. Thus, it should not be surprising then that on February 6, 2020 after the impeachment, the president said the process “was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars” (Gittleson and Phelps 2020) as well as “it was all bullshit” (Gittleson and Phelps 2020). Many politicians, newscasters, pundits, and even average citizens have been perplexed by Donald Trump. His comments have been often overly generalized, aggressive, and disrespectful. Populism of the nineteenth century carried similar concerns echoed today of immigration, eroding economic conditions, and social values. Populists often saw the problems of the country as direct personal attacks, rather than larger macroeconomic forces at work. “The reformers then sometimes measured the effectiveness of an issue not in terms of its social and economic value to human beings but in terms of driving evil from the world” (Palmer 1980, p. 137). These attitudes fueled skepticism of people they did not believe were part of their America. “Everyone remote and alien was distrusted and hated – even Americans, if they happened to be

94

S. B. O’BRIEN

city people” (Hofstadter 1955, p. 82). Populists of yesterday are not entirely dissimilar to the audiences attracted by Trump today. His moral entrepreneurship and use of verbal aggression play into fears of their America disintegrating before their eyes. Trump wants to “Make America Great Again” by restoring an idealized past regardless of its basis in reality. Professional wrestling has been a fertile training ground for Donald Trump to learn how to appeal to an audience and effectively win their attention. “The populist imagery of melodramatic wrestling can be understood as one way of negotiating within these competing expectations, separating economic vulnerability from any permanent threat to male potency, translating emotional expression into rage against political injustice, turning tears into shouts, and displacing homosocial desire onto the large social community” (Jenkins 1997, p. 75). Hofstadter (1955) says “that Populist thought showed an unusually strong tendency to account for relatively impersonal events in highly personal terms” (p. 73). They were concerned about the rapid immigration to the United States and how it affected our overall country. The Populist Party platform of 1892 asserted “we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin” (“Populist Party,” n.d.). They wanted to return the government to the “plain people” while also resolving to “condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system which opens our ports to [immigrants including] the pauper and the criminal classes of the world and crowds out our [American] wage-earners… and [we] demand the further restriction of undesirable immigration (“Populist Party,” n.d.). The descendants of these early Populists are still here today in America. Many of our most lasting and salient values pass over the dinner table. Families are some of our earliest and most lasting sources for political socialization. These perspectives can impact generations as frustrations are aired time and time again within homes, and later on, their children’s homes, and so on. While topical political events may fade, the deep personal resentments remain and find new targets and outlets, generation to generation. Jenkins (1997) asserts that modern professional wrestling is a fascist spectacle of male power, depicting a world where might makes right and moral authority is exercised by brute force. It engages in the worst sort of jingoistic nationalism. It evokes racial and ethnic stereotypes that demean groups even when they are intended to provide positive role models… It celebrates and encourages working-class resistance to economic injustice and political abuse. (p. 75)

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

95

These depictions perpetuated within wrestling are important because they highlight how hyperbolic descriptions can be used and implemented in the political arena with great effectiveness. The appeal to racial stereotyping, which had its progressive dimensions in the creation of champions for various oppressed minorities, resurfaces here in a profound xenophobia. Arab wrestlers are ruthless, Asian wrestlers are fiendishly inscrutable or massive and immovable. While America is defined through its acceptance of diversity, foreign cultures are defined through their sameness, their conformity to a common image. (Jenkins 1997, p. 73)

Donald Trump has used wrestling tactics to push over overdrawn caricatures in speeches and interviews about a variety of groups. Countries and often people are reduced to two-dimensional simplistic negative portrayals that embrace superficial labels. The following are direct quotes or accounts of some Donald Trump’s statements: We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing. (Diamond 2016) When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. (“Full Text” 2015) …why he would want ‘all these people from shithole countries’. (Davis et al. 2018) Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out. (Carter 2018)

If we dismiss these typologies and tactics as irrelevant or tangential, we miss the way Donald Trump uses them to appeal to many Americans. Trump encourages chants of “Lock her Up” (La Miere 2018), “CNN Sucks” (Miller 2018), and others including “Animals” (Holmes 2018) referring to members of the MS-13 gang. In July 2019, crowds at his rallies chanted “Send her Back” about Michigan congresswoman Ilhan Omar who arrived in the United States as a child refugee (Samuels 2019). The “Lock her Up” chant was used in February 2020 with reference to Nancy Pelosi following the State of the Union address (Samuels 2020). Professional wrestling allows things not commonly expressed by the media or politicians to be aired in a stylized environment. Wrestling

96

S. B. O’BRIEN

simultaneously becomes a pulpit and a stage for concerns, grievances, and attitudes to be aired without serious repercussions. “The plots of wrestling cut close to the bone, inciting racial and class antagonisms that rarely surface this overtly elsewhere in popular culture, while comic exaggeration ensures that such images can never be fully taken seriously” (Jenkins 1997, p. 66). Theatrical events allow for emotional expressions within a contained environment. Humans have long sought release via proxies. We also enjoy stories as a way to convey information and communicate beliefs. Our histories, myths, and values are all passed through these narratives. People watch movies, television, and live performances to step into the shoes of other lives for a moment. They allow us to feel love, power, terror, hatred, happiness, and a myriad of other feelings through the eyes of another. These mediums provide a confined space, both physical and within a time frame, to experience them. These vicarious situations allow us to feel the expression of emotions in a safe, time-limited situation. We are then allowed to return to our regular lives without consequence. They also allow us as a society to have unified experiences via mass media. Popular plays, television shows, or movies give us commonalities across wide social diversities. From this lens, professional wrestling exists almost as a master class for emotive exchanges. Heroes and villains are often borderline caricatures with little to no gray or ambivalence within their portrayals. On television or in person, people watch these programs to cheer and jeer heroes and villains. They are larger than life characters that interact with audiences and frequently speak directly to the cameras. “Wrestling’s power, and the reason for its popularly, clearly has the ability to make comprehensible and complex events of everyday life. This is, for all intents and purposes, how one would define myth” (Leverette 2003, p. 183). These exaggerated roles make orchestrated “going public” appeals to win over or intentionally incense the audience. The reactions are often far more important than their actual actions. Wrestling is almost always about stories within a confined space. Audiences tune into watch them unfold. They are given the chance to vent strong emotions through these characters. Racial and social stereotypes are regularly exploited to provoke reactions. However, at the end of the performance, people return to their lives and these characters live on only in the ring at certain times during the week. Donald Trump inculcated many of these lessons to command an audience with rhetoric. He gives speeches that suspend reality as well as the

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

97

need for truth and accuracy. In wrestling language, the most important thing to do is “sell” your act to the audience. Factual exactness matters less than your presentation. However, the lessons from within the ring do not always translate well into the larger world. Their storylines have characters baiting and badgering each other for rhetorical superiority. They work well as moderately improvised theater with foreordained conclusions. Audiences understand the game and respond as part of the experience. The arena creates a controlled atmosphere where these attitudes are normalized and accepted as part of the overall situation. Broad statements, personal attacks, and self-aggrandizement are all tools within the repertoire of a professional wrestler. Few topics are off-limits with wrestling often exploiting racial, ethnic, and social stereotypes to mock or push forward certain characters to extract reactions. Donald Trump has spent a lifetime hawking a manufactured reality to the American public. He promotes an image of absolute success and derides any person who dares challenge it. Failures and shortcomings are not learning experiences, but intentionally forgotten and ignored as if they never existed. He has crafted a rhodomontade personality that meshes well with the theatrical mannerisms of professional wrestling. Understanding these tactics and techniques helps lend insight into the way Donald Trump approaches and manages his administration. Most public verbal exchanges are viewed as contests with either winners or losers. From this viewpoint, the victor gains the rhetorical advantage and wins a position that carries weight. Effective personalized emotive performance matters more than honesty. His use of these wrestling tactics simultaneously attracts and repels the public. People unfamiliar with the medium find the behaviors perplexing while habituated viewers appreciate the antics. Elected office is a public service. People should seek these positions because they want to help all citizens, not just certain demographics. Elections always involve making appeals to some groups over others, but the business of government should always be for the total population, not personal favorites. Donald Trump has spent decades in the public eye as a histrionic personality. He has cultivated a larger than life image built upon a partial façade of grandeur and success. Some achievements have been earned, but many have merely been products of creative marketing. Television shows, like The Apprentice and WWE help validate the image of success by their character creation using Donald Trump

98

S. B. O’BRIEN

playing an exaggerated role of himself, or at the very least, only highlighting portions of his personality. These depictions are central to the concept of kayfabe within the presidency of Donald Trump. The personalities he portrays have become indistinguishable from the actual person leaving us with an exaggerated figure who relies on wrestling’s theatrical tactics of storytelling while insisting even the most hyperbolic events are absolutely authentic occurrences. Moreover, these theatrical contrivances work best within the controlled narrative of a stage or television screen. By utilizing them as regular presidential tactics, Donald Trump has created deep confusion over acceptable behaviors within American society. He has cracked the enclosed space of the theater and turned loose its techniques upon the world at large. Trump’s usage of the tactics of stage upon the public sphere creates an environment where others believe they have de facto approval to mimic these exaggerated actions without consequences. It has contributed to the demonization of any person or party not perceived as a loyal ally. Their existence must be publicly denounced and any defenders must likewise be reviled as enemies. The Trump administration’s overt omissions of rallies from the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents suggests this administration encourages and even abets the manufacturing of presidential image that does not always adhere to the verifiable reality. These behaviors work well in scripted and contrived fictional worlds, but are difficult to maintain within daily life. When supporters believe these actions as truths, it becomes almost impossible to truly discern fact from fantasy. These difficulties challenge our founder’s hope of open and transparent democracy governed by, and accountable to, the people.

References Abrams, M. (2017, January 19). Faith Popcorn Predicts the Trends of 2017, Including Micro-Clanning. Observer. https://observer.com/2017/01/trendforecaster-futurist-faith-popcorn-2017-trends/. Adler, S. J., Mason, J., & Holland, S. (2017, April 27). Exclusive: Trump Says He Thought Being President Would Be Easier Than His Old Life. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-100days/exclusive-trumpsays-he-thought-being-president-would-be-easier-than-his-old-life-idUSKB N17U0CA. Alemany, J. (2016, January 29). Donald Trump on Skipping Republican Debate: ‘I Took a Chance.’ CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donaldtrump-on-skipping-republican-debate-2016-iowa-i-took-a-chance/.

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

99

Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for Radicals. New York: Random House. Anapol, A. (2018, July 29). Trump Claims His Polling Numbers Among GOP Higher Than Lincoln’s. The Hill. http://thehill.com/homenews/administr ation/399379-trump-claims-his-polling-numbers-are-higher-than-lincolns. Baker, P., & Karni, A. (2020, February 28). Trump Accuses Media and Democrats of Exaggerating Coronavirus Threat. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/28/us/politics/trump-accusesmedia-democrats-coronavirus.html. Baker, S. (2019, March 27). Trump’s All-or-Nothing ACA Gamble. Axios. https://www.axios.com/affordable-care-act-strikedown-supreme-court-don ald-trump-24cae902-8b20-4e07-a911-a6b9c2d0d9a2.html. Barber, J. D. (1992). The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Barnes, R., & Marimow, A. E. (2018, June 26). Supreme Court Upholds Trump Travel Ban. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/ politics/courts_law/supreme-court-upholds-trump-travel-ban/2018/06/ 26/b79cb09a-7943-11e8-80be-6d32e182a3bc_story.html. Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press of Glencoe. Bump, P. (2019, December 30). Nearly a Third of the Days He’s Been President, Trump Has Visited a Trump-Branded Property. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/30/nearly-thirddays-hes-been-president-trumps-visited-trump-branded-property/. Carter, B. (2018, January 11). Trump to Lawmakers: ‘Why Do We Need More Haitians?’: Report. The Hill. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/ 368640-trump-to-lawmakers-why-do-we-need-more-haitians-report. Coaston, J. (2019, July 19). The Trump Racism Spin Cycle. Vox. https://www. vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/7/19/20699261/trump-conservatismomar-racism-rally-send-her-back. Colarossi, N. (2020, January 28). 20 People Who Trump Has Personally Known and Then Claimed He Didn’t. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider. com/people-trump-said-he-didnt-know-but-did-photos. Colvin, J. (2017, October 1). Trump Scoffs at ‘Politically Motivated Ingrates’ After Maria. Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nation world/ct-trump-hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-20171001-story.html. Davis, J. H., Stolberg, S. G., & Kaplan, T. (2018, January 11). Trump Alarms Lawmakers with Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-shitholecountries.html. Demirjian, K. (2019, December 15). Trump Goes After Pelosi’s Teeth as the House Gears Up for Impeachment Vote. The Washington Post. https://www. washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-goes-after-pelosis-teeth-as-the-house-

100

S. B. O’BRIEN

gears-up-for-impeachment-vote/2019/12/15/51aacf46-1f8d-11ea-a153-dce 4b94e4249_story.html. Diamond, J. (2016, May 2). Trump: ‘We Can’t Continue to Allow China to Rape Our County.’ CNN . http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/01/politics/don ald-trump-china-rape/. Dopp, T. (2018, February 28). Trump Says Border Wall Is All or Nothing After Court Ruling. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/ 2018-02-28/trump-says-the-border-wall-is-all-or-nothing-after-court-ruling. Egan, L. (2020, February 28). Trump Calls Coronavirus Democrats ‘New Hoax.’ NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/ trump-calls-coronavirus-democrats-new-hoax-n1145721. Fox, L. (2016, January 14). Donald Trump Straight Up Called Jeb Bush ‘Weak’ to His Face (Video). Talking Points Memo. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/ livewire/donald-trump-calls-bush-weak. Frank, J. A. (2018, September 25). I Used Applied Psychoanalysis to Access President Trump: The Diagnosis Is Frightening. STAT . https://www.statnews. com/2018/09/25/donald-trump-applied-psychoanalysis-diagnosis/. Full Text: Donald Trump Announces a Presidential Bid. (2015, June 16). The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/ 2015/06/16/full-text-donald-trump-announces-a-presidential-bid/. Germain, S. (n.d.). Trump Golf Count. https://trumpgolfcount.com/. Gittleson, B., & Phelps, J. (2020, February 6). Trump Declares Victory over Impeachment: ‘It Was Evil.’ ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Pol itics/trump-respond-senate-trial-acquittal-noon-remarks-white/story?id=688 00473. Greenberg, S. B. (1995). Middle Class Dreams: The Politics and Power of the New American Majority. New York: Random House. Gregory, A. (2020, January 17). Trump Repeatedly Denies Knowing Key Impeachment Figure Despite Being Photographed with Him. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/ trump-lev-parnas-impeachment-giuliani-ukraine-evidence-msnbc-interviewa9288411.html. Gusfeld, J. R. (1986). Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (2nd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Hains, T. (2020, February 7). Trump: There’s “A Lot of Evil” on Democratic Side; “They’ve Gone Totally Crazy.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/02/07/trump_theres_ a_lot_of_evil_on_democratic_side_theyve_gone_totally_crazy.html. Han, L. C. (2011). Off to the (Horse) Races: Media Coverage of the ‘Not-SoInvisible’ Invisible Primary of 2007. In M. Bose (Ed.), From Votes to Victory: Winning and Governing the White House in the Twenty-First Century. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

101

Harris, A. (2019, July 1). The Education Deserts of Rural America. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/07/educat ion-deserts-across-rural-america/593071/. Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech. (2015, June 16). Time. http://time.com/3923128/donald-trump-announcement-speech/. Hofstadter, R. (1955). The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. New York: Vintage Books. Holmes, J. (2018, May 30). We’ve Reached a Horrifying New Stage. Esquire. https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a20961787/trump-rally-animalscrowd-chant/. Iyengar, S., Kinder, D. R., Peters, M. D., & Kosnick, J. A. (1984). The Evening News and Presidential Evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 778–787. Jackson, D. (2019, October 23). ‘Human Scum:’ Donald Trump Has Harsh Comments for ‘Never Trumper’ Republicans. USA Today. https://www.usa today.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/23/donald-trump-describes-rep ublican-critics-human-scum/4076555002/. Jenkins, H., III. (1997). ’Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama. In A. Baker & T. Boyd (Eds.), Out of Bounds: Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity (pp. 48–78). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Jenkins, H. (2005). ‘Never Trust a Snake’: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama. In N. Sammond (Ed.), Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling (pp. 33–66). Durham and London: Duke University Press. Jerde, S. (2015, September 9). Trump: ‘We Will Have So Much Winning… You Will Get Bored with Winning’. Talking Points Memo. http://talkingpo intsmemo.com/livewire/donald-trump-so-much-winning. Kane, P., Flynn, M., Horton, A., & Dawsey, J. (2019, December 19). Rep. Debbie Dingell Thanks Colleagues for Support After Trump Suggests John Dingell Is in Hell. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/ nation/2019/12/19/trump-john-dingell-debbie-dingell-hell-backlash/. Kanno-Youngs, Z. (2020, January 31). Trump Administration Adds Six Countries to Travel Ban. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/ 01/31/us/politics/trump-travel-ban.html. Kernell, S. (1997). Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Kimmel, M. (2017). Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. New York: Nation Books. Kyriakoudes, L. M., & Coclanis, P. (1997). ‘The Tennessee Test of Manhood’: Professional Wrestling and Southern Cultural Stereotypes. Southern Cultures., 3, 8–27.

102

S. B. O’BRIEN

La Miere, J. (2018, August 3). Trump Responds to Hillary Clinton ‘Lock Her Up’ Chants: ‘Some Things Just Take a Bit Longer.’ Newsweek. https://www. newsweek.com/trump-lock-her-hillary-clinton-1056282. Lee, J. C., & Quealy, K. (2019, May 24). The 598 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/28/upshot/donaldtrump-twitter-insults.html. Leverette, M. (2003). Professional Wrestling, the Myth, the Mat, and American Political Culture. Ceredigion, UK: Edwin Mellen Press. Lippman, D. (2015, September 16). 10 Ways Trump Says America Will Be Greater. Politico. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/donald-trump2016-america-greatness-213646. Little, B. (2020, March 20). Trump’s ‘Chinese’ Virus Is Part of a Long History of Blaming Other Countries for Disease. Time. https://time.com/5807376/ virus-name-foreign-history/. Lowney, K. S. (2003). Wrestling with Criticism: The World Wrestling Federation’s Ironic Campaign Against the Parents Television Council. Symbolic Interaction, 26(3), 427–446. Malone, C. (2016, March 23). Why Donald Trump? FiveThirtyEight. https:// fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-donald-trump/. McDaniel, J., & McElwee, S. (2016, May 16). Trump Supporters Have Cooler Feelings Towards Many Groups, Compared to Supporters of Other Candidates. TheWPSA. https://thewpsa.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/trump-sup porters-have-cooler-feelings-towards-many-groups-compared-to-supportersof-other-candidates/. Micek, J. L. (2019, May 22). These Are the Worst Things Donald Trump Has Ever Said. PennLive. https://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2017/08/these_ are_the_15_worst_things.html. Miller, H. (2018, August 1). Donald Trump Promotes Video of Supporters Chanting ‘CNN Sucks’ at Florida Rally. Huffpost. https://www.huffingto npost.com/entry/donald-trump-cnn-sucks-video_us_5b61b0e6e4b0de86f4 9cc0ca. Miller, J. M., & Krosnick, J. A. (2000). News Media Impact on the Ingredients of Presidential Evaluations: Politically Knowledgeable Citizens Are Guided by a Trusted Source. American Journal of Political Science, 44(2), 301–315. Neustadt, R. E. (1960). Presidential Power, the politics of leadership. New York: Wiley. Neustadt, R. E. (1990). Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan. New York: The Free Press. Novak, J. (2016, May 5). Trump Reveals Plan to Ride New ‘Angry Voter Coalition’ to the White House. CNBC. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/05/

5

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER? …

103

05/trump-reveals-plan-to-ride-new-angry-voter-coalition-to-the-white-housecommentary.html. Obeidallah, D. (2019, October 6). Trump Will Blame Everyone Else for Impeachment. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/06/opinions/ donald-trump-plays-impeachment-blame-game-obeidallah/index.html. Palmer, B. (1980). ‘Man over Money:’ The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. Populist Party Platform, 1892. (n.d.) Retrieved August 6, 2018, from http:// www.pinzler.com/ushistory/popparplatsupp.html. Samuels, B. (2019, July 17). Trump Rally Crowd Chants ‘Send Her Back’ About Ilham Omar. The Hill. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/453 633-trump-rally-crowd-chants-send-her-back-about-omar. Samuels, B. (2020, February 10). Trump Rally Crowd Chants ‘Lock Her Up’ About Pelosi. The Hill. https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/482427trump-rally-crowd-chants-lock-her-up-about-pelosi. Sargent, G. (2020, January 13). Trump Retweeted Pelosi in Muslim Garb: The White House Made It Worse. The Washington Post. https://www.washin gtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/13/trump-retweeted-pelosi-muslim-garbwhite-house-made-it-worse/. Strauss, D. (2015, August 6). Trump Takes Credit for Immigration Debate. Politico. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/republican-pre sidential-debate-donald-trump-immigration-debate-121123. Tankersley, J. (2015, August 27). Republicans Are Going to Hate What Donald Trump Wants to Do to Rich People. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/27/rep ublicans-are-going-to-hate-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-to-rich-people/. The AP-GfK Poll March 2016. (2016, March). Associated Press. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from http://ap-gfkpoll.com/main/wp-content/uploads/ 2016/04/March-2016-AP-GfK-Poll-FINAL.pdf. Thompson, D. (2016, March 1). Who Are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really? The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/whoare-donald-trumps-supporters-really/471714/. Trump Blames ‘Airports’ Gaffe on Teleprompter. (2019, July 5). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/48885319. Trump Clings to ‘All or Nothing’ Strategy on North Korea. (2019, September 3). France24. https://www.axios.com/affordable-care-act-strikedown-sup reme-court-donald-trump-24cae902-8b20-4e07-a911-a6b9c2d0d9a2.html. Tulis, J. K. (2017). The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Wade, P. (2019, November 22). Schiff Sounds Kinda Like ‘Sh!t’ and the Trump Team Thanks That’s Worth a T-Shirt. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingst

104

S. B. O’BRIEN

one.com/politics/politics-news/schiff-sounds-kinda-like-shit-and-the-trumpteam-thinks-thats-worth-shirt-917166/. Walker, H. (2015, December 23). A Frustrated Jeb Bush Unloads on Donald Trump. Yahoo! News. https://www.yahoo.com/news/a-frustrated-jeb-bushunloads-on-donald-trump-135217135.html. Webber, T., & Swanson, E. (2016, April 16). AP-GfK Poll: Americans Happy at Home, Upset with Federal Government. Associated Press. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from http://ap-gfkpoll.com/featured/findings-from-our-latest-pol l-38. Wilkie, C., & Mangan, D. (2020, March 13). Trump Blames Obama for Lack of Coronavirus Tests: ‘I Don’t Take Responsibility at All.’ CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/13/coronavirus-trump-saysi-dont-take-responsibility-at-all-for-lack-of-tests.html.

Index

A Albig, William, 47 Alinksy, Saul, 2 American Medical Association, 24 Hygeia, 26

B Baldwin, Alec, 89 Barber, James David, 87 Barnum, P.T., 16, 44 Barthes, Roland, 41 Bartlett, Frederic, 46 Baudrillard, Jean, 48 Biden, Beau, 47 Biden, Joe, 47 Brinkley, John R., 6, 7, 19, 22–27, 30 Brinkleyism, 25 Brinkley Pharmaceutical Association, 24 goat testicles, 22, 23 medical license, 23, 25 radio station, 23

revoking of license by Kansas Medical Board, 25 run for governor, 25 U.S. Senate run, 27 voting irregularities, 26 Bush, George H.W., 64, 65, 67, 68, 70 Bush, George W., 62–78 Bush, Jeb, 88

C Campbell, Joseph, 91 Carlson, Tucker, 32 Carter, Jimmy, 74 Cena, John, ix Charnock, Emily, 67, 69 circus, 3, 15–20, 22 bandwagon, 21 Clinton, Bill, 64, 65, 67, 71, 76, 77 Clinton, Hillary, 44, 73, 89 clown, 16–20 CNBC, 90

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 S. B. O’Brien, Donald Trump and the Kayfabe Presidency, Rhetoric, Politics and Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50551-6

105

106

INDEX

CNN, 79 Cohen, George, 44 Cohen, Jeffrey, 69 colonel, Kentucky, 21 Coughlin, Father Charles, 6–8, 19, 28–30 defrocking threat, 29 Union Party, 28, 29 Union Party presidential bid, 28 Cruz, Ted, 73

D Davis, Janet M., 17 Deeter-Schmelz, Dawn, 49 Denton, Laura, 63 Designated Market Areas, 69 Dingell, Debbie, 89 Dingell, John, 89 Disney, 6, 7, 12–14, 30, 31 cast members, 30 suspension of disbelief, 12 Doherty, Brendan, 69, 75 Duggan, Jim, ix

E Eisenhower, Dwight, 65 Electoral College, 63, 69, 72, 74–78 Eltz Castle, 16 ESPN, 41 eugenics, 17

F Facebook, 68 fake news, 22 Federal Radio Commission, 24 Fishbein, Morris, 24, 26 fool. See clown Fox, 32, 33, 79 Fox & Friends , 32, 50

Freud, Sigmund Id, 7

G Geertz, Clifford, vii Gilens, Martin, 4 Gimpel, James, 69 going local, 69 going public, x, 2, 3, 7, 40, 41, 48, 52, 66, 86, 96 going directly public, 2, 28 Google, 41 Greenberg, Stanley, 90

H Hannity, Sean, 50 Hartford Fire of 1944, 21 Heller, Dean, 76 Hoddie, Matthew, 62 Hofstadter, Richard, 94 House of Representatives, 29, 47, 62, 63

I Ingraham, Laura, 50 Instagram, 68 Intintoli, Michael, 31 Iron Sheik, ix

J Jacobson, Gary, 73 James, LeBron, 44, 89 Jenkins, Henry, 41, 42, 47, 91

K Kaine, Tim, 44 Kansas Medical Board, 24, 25

INDEX

Kaufmann, Karen, 69 kayfabe, vii–ix, 3, 4, 12, 18, 19, 32, 42, 46, 48–50, 62, 98 Kelly, Megyn, 44 Kennedy, John F., 62, 65 Kernell, Samuel, 2, 73 Klapp, Orrin, 15 Knight Foundation, 31 Koenig, David, 13 Koppel, Ted, 50

L Lazarus, Jeffrey, 73 Lemke, William, 28 Lemon, Don, 44 Leverette, Marc, 41 Levesque, Paul, 49 Limbaugh, Rush, 45 Lincoln, Abraham, 2, 22, 86

M Mann, Thomas, 67 manufactured reality, x, 6, 7, 12, 14, 15, 30–32, 97 McCann, James, 67, 69 McGee, Charles, 46 McMahon, Linda, 40 McMahon, Vince, 41, 49, 51 media markets, 63, 69–74, 78, 79 Miroff, Bruce, 51 Mooney, Edward, 29 Murphy, George, 8

N National Archives, 60 Neustadt, Richard, 66, 85 NFL, 41 Nielsen, 70 Nixon, Richard M., 62, 64, 65, 70–72 NPR, 79

107

O Obama, Barack, 30, 63–66, 68, 71–73, 75–78 Omar, Ilhan, 95 one to one marketing, 67 Opie & Anthony Show, 50 Orstein, Norman, 67 Ouyang, Yu, 2 P Page, Benjamin, 4 Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna, 69 Pelosi, Nancy, 14, 44–46, 89, 95 Pence, Mike, 44 Peppers, Don, 67 permanent campaign, 66, 67 Pirro, Jeanine, 50 Polluck, Jackson, viii Popcorn, Faith, 48, 93 populism, 1, 2, 7, 15, 19, 25, 26, 41, 42, 93, 94 Populist Party, 94 Populists, 94 Powell, Richard, 69 propaganda, 5, 46 R Rahilly, Lucia, 43 Reagan, Ronald, 8, 64, 67, 69, 71, 75, 86, 90 Retcon. See Retroactive Continuity Retroactive Continuity, 46 Revolutions of 1848, 20 Rice, Dan, 6, 7, 19–22, 30 presidential bid, 21 Rogers, Martha, 67 Rogers, Will, 20, 44 Romney, Mitt, 14 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 2, 29, 30 Routh, Stephen, 62 Rubio, Marco, 44

108

INDEX

Rules for Radicals, 2 S Schiff, Adam, 89 Schumer, Chuck, 89 Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 8 Sellers, Patrick, 63 Senate, U.S., 14, 27, 47, 48, 62, 63 Shakespeare, William, 16, 17, 19 Shapiro, Robert Y., 4 Sojka, Jane Z., 49 Speeches missing from public papers, 60, 61, 73 Spring of Nations. See Revolutions of 1848 Stahl, Leslie, 5 T Tamborini, Ron, 43 Taylor, Zachary, 21 Tenpas, Kathryn D., 67, 69 Theater, 3 Truman, Harry, 65 Trump, Donald, viii–x, 1–8, 11–16, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27–32, 39–53, 60–70, 72, 73, 76–79, 86–98 The Apprentice, 26, 27, 40, 97 The Art of the Deal, 51 coronavirus, 28, 32, 45, 68 drain the swamp, 26 fake news, 5, 31 impeachment, 47 Keep America Great, 87 Make America Great Again, 12, 67, 87, 92, 94 truthfullness, 4 various enterprises associated with him, 11

WWE Hall of Fame, 42 Trump, Melania, 45 Trump, President, 47 Tulis, Jeffrey, 86 Twitter, 2, 7, 41, 46, 48, 52, 66–68, 78, 86

U Uncle Sam, 22 Unite the Right rally, 52

V Ventura, Jesse, 8

W Wal-Mart, 92 Warren, Elizabeth, 44, 89 Waterman, Richard, 2 Waters, Maxine, 89 West, Mae, 44 White House Correspondents Dinner, 25 Wilde, Oscar, 44 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), 40, 42, 49, 50, 97 Wrestlemania 23, 42 Wrestlemania IV, 42 World Wrestling Federation, 41 Wrestling, Professional, vii–x, 2, 3, 7, 15, 18–20, 22, 32, 40–44, 48–50, 52, 62, 93–96 argot, 18 World Wrestling Entertainment, viii

Y YouTube, 79