Many professional wrestlers have entered politics, but few have done so successfully. One exception to that is Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota.
Another exception, it turns out, is President Donald Trump.
True, Trump has never been a professional wrestler, but it’s becoming clear that Trump’s public persona owes even more to the scripted antics of World Wrestling Entertainment than to his time hosting NBC’s “The Apprentice.”
This goes well beyond the president’s latest attention-hogging tweet, an animated image of Trump clothes-lining a man with a CNN logo digitally pasted over his face. It informs his public dealings with the news media — especially cable news — political opponents and even his ostensible political allies.
The tweet has dominated CNN broadcasts for days, with whether it should be taken as a serious threat and actual subject of serious discussion by alleged adults.
Trump has made many disturbing comments about the media, both as a candidate and as president, including saying he would “open up” libel law, but that tweet isn’t one of them. It’s a distraction from far more important issues: “Trumpcare,” the wars in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, the president’s trade and immigration policies, etc. All presidents control the nation’s narrative to a large — some might say outsize — degree, but Trump is a master media manipulator without even trying. He just has to tweet something “unpresidential.”
Astute observers noted the similarity between Trump’s public bombast and professional wrestling’s ballyhoo long before Trump became president, but that analysis fell by the wayside while everyone expected Trump to “pivot” to a more mainstream attitude — first when he became a serious Republican contender, then later when he got the GOP nomination, then later still when he won the presidency, and finally after he was sworn into office.
If anything should be obvious by now, it’s that there is no pivot, and why should anyone expect one when not pivoting has served Trump so well? Yes, his job approval numbers are dismal, but Trump is our president, and hardly anyone — probably not even Trump — expected that.
Now, with his wrestling tweet, Trump has encouraged political observers to revisit those articles comparing Trump to a pro wrestler.
Trump’s use of pro wrestling’s style is no accident. Trump’s tweet uses altered footage from a WWE event a decade ago billed as “The Battle of the Billionaires.” The story line set up a rivalry between Trump and WWE owner Vince McMahon, husband of former WWE CEO and current Trump administration Small Business Administration Secretary Linda McMahon.
Trump and Vince McMahon had business dealings and had been friends for a decade by the time of the Battle of the Billionaires, which pitted each’s chosen champion against one another in the ring, and, in a bit of trademark WWE scripted mayhem, Trump vs. McMahon outside it. Trump played the event for all it was worth, even subjecting himself, at the last minute, to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s signature finishing move, without the benefit of having rehearsed it first.
Now Trump has brought that sensibility to the most powerful office on Earth, and those in the know have taken notice.
“In our terminology, he’s playing it to the hilt,” former WWE writer Dan Madigan told The Associated Press.
This is nothing new to American politics. We used to call it demagoguery. But it is new to American politics in the age of globalized, instant 24/7 media, and when the president takes his wrestling heel routine into areas like international relations, it is indeed cause for concern.
But when Trump brings it to his feud with the media, the media doesn’t have to take the bait, and it shouldn’t. It is a distraction, whether Trump intends it to be one or not.
When “What Trump’s juvenile tweet says about (his) state of mind,” is an actual CNN topic, it says more about cable news’ state of mind than Trump’s.