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Wrestlemania in the White House

This Week in the Narrative 125

Nigel Clarke

It’s that time of year again — Wrestlemania season! The Super Bowl of professional wrestling! I would say, ‘I know you’re excited,’ but then I’d have to put an eye-roll emoji, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Still, like Christians think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, and Santa Claus at Christmas, Wrestlemania season is a time to recognize just how much like professional wrestling the political system has become.

It’s not just that while many people cheer whole-heartedly for their favorite person or team, the results, of elections and policy debates, often seem predetermined. And it’s more than the fake stories and fantastical narratives used to drive eyeballs to the product.

I think the moment, for me, came in 2008, when then-Senator Obama appeared on Monday Night Raw — professional wrestling’s flagship television program — to ask the crowd, in a voice that sounded eerily similar to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, “Do you smell what Barack is cooking?” For others, it might have been back in 1980 when an actor won the White House, and for others still, something even more recent …

President Trump receives many criticisms, most of them justified, but this week, how about a compliment. Strange, I know, but here it is:

The President of the United States is one of the greatest professional wrestling performers of all time. That’s not even hyperbole; Donald Trump is literally a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame, as in, he has been chosen by the industry’s monolith as one of the greatest ever in the art form.

Personally, I find it hard to disagree, whether talking about Trump in or out of the squared circle. His success in the medium comes from his mastery of what professional wrestling calls ‘cheap heat,’ essentially, when a performer says something unoriginal or low-brow which they know will get a reaction from the audience. Think of the person who says, ‘it sure is great to be here in Cleveland’ to loud cheers, or ‘I hate all the slobs here in Cleveland’ to raucous boos.

Trump has, in the past, admitted his reliance on this tool during speeches: “You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts,” he said to The New York Times in 2016.

As someone who has infiltrated a Trump rally in Georgia for scientific purposes, I can confirm this is exceptionally true. Whenever the President would find his crowd’s attention waning, he needed only mention the wall, or Hillary Clinton, or Socialism, or some other such thing, to set off a five minute interlude of ‘Build the Wall,’ ‘Lock Her Up,’ or ‘USA!’ chants.

But as his presidency has progressed, he has taken it to another level. Nowadays, his speeches read even less like presidential dissertations and more like pro-wrestling promos towards his enemies.

This week, Trump began describing enemy of the moment Adam Schiff as “pencil neck” — telling a crowd in Michigan, “he’s got the smallest, thinnest neck I’ve ever seen” — borrowing the line from notorious wrestling villain of the 1960s and 70s ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie, and even going so far as to start selling ‘Pencil-Neck Adam Schiff’ t-shirts in support of his 2020 campaign. Like any good pro-wrestler knows: merchandise your catch phrases.

He’s also started swearing during speeches, denouncing what he calls the “ridiculous bullshit” of his opponents — using a word that is unexpected, perhaps even culturally prohibited in that context, being one of the surest-fire ways to ‘cheap heat.’  

I guess the point is this: The political system, with its predetermined outcomes and fantasy-based storylines, is a lot like professional wrestling, and the President is literally, measurably, one of the greatest pro-wrestling performers ever. Thus, as Democrats search for a 2020 presidential candidate, shouldn’t they just choose ‘The Rock’ and get it over with?

Quote of the Week:

Written by Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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Wrestlemania in the White House