Commentary: Trump campaign straight from the playbook of professional wrestling
It's not for nothing that Donald J. Trump was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013. The billionaire braggart's entire presidential campaign is straight out of the WWE "Wrestlemania" playbook -- all preposterous boasts, racialized taunts and simulated mayhem that threatens to turn into the real thing.
And wouldn't TV news networks just love it?
Back last summer, when this column first took note of his uncanny impersonation of 1950s charismatic bleach-blond bad guy Dr. Jerry Graham ("I have the body that men fear and women adore"), I was unaware of Trump's enshrinement.
Having outgrown professional wrestling after eighth grade, I'd never witnessed the 2007 "Battle of the Billionaires" between Trump and WWE impresario Vincent McMahon.
Anyway, if you want a laugh, Google the fool thing. Sure, it's several minutes of your life you'll never get back, but watching Trump posing, preening and throwing what a Rolling Stone reporter accurately characterized as "some of the worst punches in wrestling history" might wise you up to the game.
Alternatively, you could be a chump and show up at one of his campaign events to scream insults at some similarly deluded fool, or even get cold-cocked by a 78-year-old patriot and watch it being broadcast in an endless loop by CNN.
"I'd like to punch him in the face," Trump said of a protestor at an earlier event, one of several similar incitements.
Yeah, well, the guy would probably survive.
For all The Donald's penchant for sleeping with friends' wives and bragging about it (Chapter 11, "The Art of the Deal"), I doubt he's had much pugilistic experience. Very few guys with full-time butlers also have educated left hooks. Surrounded by bodyguards most of his life, Trump appears to enjoy watching them bully people.
But could things get out of hand as the campaign proceeds? Sure they could. This is the USA. Riots-R-Us. Scaring people into supporting a strongman is Trump's only real hope of running this scam all the way to the White House.
"For the Manhattan billionaire," MSNBC's Joe Scarborough commented in The Washington Post, "manufactured chaos is just as profitable for his brand as Paris Hilton's sex tape was for hers."
Never mind that Scarborough and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski until quite recently fawned over Trump almost daily. He followed former Obama White House chief of staff (and son of Chicago Mayor-for-Life Richard J. Daley) in suggesting that the candidate scheduled a campaign event on the inner-city University of Illinois-Chicago campus precisely "for the purpose of provoking protests that would energize Trump's own supporters."
Let's you and him fight. Worked perfectly, too. Does it matter that the students who boasted of their ability to shut the Trump rally down are Bernie Sanders supporters? No, but it figures.
As Scarborough also correctly observed, they're political naifs who got played, giving Trump a fine opportunity to whine "on cable news channels about how his First Amendment rights were being violated. He was doing all of this while reaching a far larger audience than he could have ever done while actually speaking at a rally."
Sanders would do well to emphasize to supporters his own reverence for free speech rights, which I do not doubt. Why give the bully a chance to play at being the REAL victim?
On his Esquire Politics blog, my man Charles P. Pierce addressed the issue with characteristic understatement: "Let's all stipulate that chanting for Bernie Sanders while you're shutting down a Trump rally is just about as stupid a political move as there is."
You want to protest? Fine. Pierce suggested setting up picket lines outside the arena. "Stop being played for such suckers. Stop enlisting yourself in his bloody vaudeville."
Meanwhile, let's remain calm, shall we? This is nothing close to 1968, that annus horribilis in American life. No Vietnam War, with its hundreds of conscripted dead every week. No cities in flames, and prayerfully nothing like the Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations that broke the nation's heart.
A handful of hotheads at Trump rallies shouldn't blind us to the fact, as President Obama recently pointed out, that the angriest people in America are those without a clue about what's actually going on.
Asked if he bore responsibility for the nation's "incredibly polarized political climate," Obama was scathing.
"I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things," he said, "but being blamed for their primaries and who they're selecting for their party is novel."
"Think about it: If somebody told you seven years ago we'd have 4.9 percent unemployment, 20 million newly insured, gas at a buck-eighty, deficits cut by three-quarters, marriage equality a reality, bin Laden out of the picture, Wall Street reform in place -- you wouldn't have believed it ... Imagine what Trump would say if he actually had a record like this -- instead of selling steaks."
And shadowboxing with college kids.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.