Like Hercules, Donald Trump is a work of fiction.1
Primed for miracles and wonders, Trumpsters in their thousands tilt their heads up toward the blue-black Florida sky. Behind the approaching thwack-thwack-thwack the electronic fanfare soars and above it now we hear the booming carnival barker’s come-on: “Now arriving out of the northwest sky, DONALD…J…TRUMP!” Thousands of upturned mouths gape as the three floating lights, turning slowly, majestically resolve themselves into the shape of the big helicopter, the inevitable TRUMP in signature Akzidenz-Grotesk font just visible on its tail.
Six thousand roaring voices—or is it seven thousand, or eight, or nine?—crash in a wave of sound against the raucous electro-brass salute. The ear-splitting blare is the theme to Air Force One, a cheesy late-1990s hit starring Harrison Ford as Medal-of-Honor-winning President James Marshall, whose Boeing is seized by terrorists. (President Marshall growling to an about-to-be-defenestrated terrorist: “Get off my plane!”) Can one imagine any other candidate using this as theme music? For Ted Cruz or John Kasich or any of the fourteen others who have wandered on and then off the stage, the irony—the lack of self-seriousness—would be unendurable. After all, they are—were—really running for president. With Trump we are already in the knowing half-grin world of reality television. All irony fits into the self-affirming profile of an inside joke.
No accident, that: it all began as such. “Almost a year ago,” writes the former communications chief of his Super PAC,
I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it. The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12 percent and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50 percent. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.2
A protest candidacy? Like, say, Pat Paulsen’s? No, no: much bigger than that. But alike in that there was no thought of actually winning. A celebrity making his protest run in part to bolster and increase his celebrity, for that is what celebrities do. Despite the hundreds of thousands of newspaper epithets marking him a “billionaire real estate magnate” or a “Manhattan developer,” these have not been the accurate or in any event the relevant words for at least a dozen years. I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV…
The celebrity in the distinctive modern sense could not have existed in any earlier age…. The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness.
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…. He is made by all of us who willingly read about him, who like to see him on television, who buy recordings of…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.