“The 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.” (“Trump: The Art of the Deal,” 1987)
We are all watching something beautiful and incredible unfold in the world right now. We are experiencing something akin to the creation of Michelangelo’s David or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. What I’m speaking of is the ongoing piece of performance art played out by Donald Trump. It is one of the most fascinating pieces of artwork to appear in human history. It is a theater of the absurd, harsh satire, political irony, it is off the cuff and in the moment. It is brave. It is absolutely phenomenal. I just hope that, by the end of this election cycle, people see it for what it is and rise as one with steaming tears glistening on their cheeks to applaud a man who has transformed from business tycoon to avant garde provocateur extraordinaire. In short, the man is an unprecedented genius. This is the most experimental work of art we have ever seen as a society. His brain is working on a meta-societal level that most people cannot comprehend, and he has created a labyrinth of the mind through which we all crawl in the dimness, squinting, perceiving that the hallways are all lined with portraits of Trump. Not so. This is a hall of mirrors, and Trump is making America stare long and hard at itself.
The media is playing its part just as he anticipated. Trump has always hated the media, even before his foray into politics. They cannot see the social experiment he is purveying on our nation. Every two-bit journalist and op-ed scrawling hack who has been jealous of true artistic talent ever since their father was honest with them about their crayon drawing they brought back from kindergarten and threw it in the trash because ‘People don’t fucking have three fingers on each hand’, and ‘Feet aren’t shaped like balls’ have been spitting acrid vitriol at Trump since day one of his campaign. They are all missing the point. The trucker hats with cheap slogans, the helicopter flybys, the brash self-aggrandizing, it is all exactly what we want deep down inside, and it doesn’t matter if it comes in the form of politics or entertainment, because they are one in the same. The media is falling for him hook, line, and sinker, and he knew that they would.
Trump is showing us something very valuable about power, and we would be wise to heed the moral of his artistic exercise. He has, thanks to the aforementioned media, entirely cemented himself into our psyches. It does not matter what he is saying, because he does not believe any of it. He contradicts himself frequently because he is merely looking for that next controversial statement that will keep him securely ingrained in our present awareness. Trump is showing to all of us the extremes we will go to in defending or refuting an idea he thought of off the top of his head, and how the media will push us to take a side, even on something patently ridiculous. He knows this because he is an expert businessman, and media is no different than any other for-profit enterprise. Trump takes five seconds to make an outlandish statement and the next forty-eight hours are wall to wall coverage of his statement. Like his campaign itself, he invests little and reaps exponential visibility, exponential slovenly devotion, and exponential scorn. He is showing us the darkness contained within the American Id, the need we have for a powerful figure to cling to or a nebulous oppressor to struggle against. He is playing to the extremes of both side of the aisle. Love, hate, devotion, anger, he wants all of it, regardless of which: it is all power over the mind. Every minute you spend ranting to a coworker about him is a minute he controls your life.
He is knocking down tent-pegs on the right and the left. Republicans are wringing their hands about how he could destroy the party and foul-up their play for the next election. They lose sleep over him, spend millions plotting to bring him down. They are obsessed and they are terrified. He is drawing out an angry and bigoted fringe-right that was normally quietly festering away. Now he has drawn them out into the limelight and put them on full display. He is singlehandedly bringing about an existential crisis in the GOP and complete pandemonium to their side of the election. He is getting people to stand by issues that are unconscionable in the face of rational conservatism and constitutionality.
He is also making things uncomfortable for the left as well, garnering ahistorical comparisons to Hitler and cries of fascism. What are they doing about it? Nothing. He is revealing the sanctimonious progressive crusaders for the paper tigers they are. In the face of ‘fascism’ they merely shout and spit contemptuously and write more editorials. If there is a true concern that he could pose a dictatorial and authoritarian threat to the future of the nation, then the response has been weak, to put it lightly. He has given them the blundering, backwards, and bigoted straw-man they have always claimed conservatives to be, and they just point fingers and complain. They have no concerted response beyond shaming rhetoric.
Trump has cowed both sides and been in complete control of the political conversation. Banning Muslims from entering into America is ridiculous, so then why are we all talking about it? He is proving that, regardless of party, political discourse in America is determined by the lowest common denominator. The people who hate him the most are only solidifying the staying power of his Magnum Opus. He is the bull in the china shop of our superficial sound-byte based tit-for-tat election cycle which was an embarrassment long before Trump threw his hat into the ring. He has people questioning how it is possible that someone who should have only made it a few weeks into the election is still in first place. He has people questioning why the media gives him so much attention, despite his antics and because of them as well. This is the key: he has people questioning. Trump’s whole performance-art-social-experiment is to put a mirror in front of the process by which we choose our leaders and the media’s role in that as well. He is trying to enlighten us all and provide a warning and a lesson, and most people are not seeing the forest for the trees. I am very glad that Trump is in the race, and I am glad that he has the nation’s best interest in mind. In order to learn from his project, we must recognize his undertaking as artistic and be mindful of the greater sociopolitical narrative which he is weaving almost effortlessly. I, for one, cannot wait to see what act he has planned for us next.