Of all the candidates in the 2011-2012 Republican Primary, it was Herman Cain who proved to be prophetic. In that campaign, he was
incredibly ill-informed, and willing to say ludicrous things, and people
loved him for it, because he was so easy to make fun of. The rest of
the candidates actually tried to sound intelligent. Staid. Stuffy. But Not Herman Cain.
He was too busy talking about U-beki-beki-beki-stan. He bowed out with a
quotation from Pokémon. Every time the man opened his mouth it was fodder
for another joke on the Daily Show or wherever. As a result, he gained a
lot of notoriety, more so than if his campaign managers had succeeded
in handling the man.
And now we have Donald Trump, this season's
Joke Candidate, actually winning primaries because he used the Herman
Cain school of campaigning to spread his name. Say something stupid,
cause laughter, get re-tweeted again and again.
racist, cause outrage, get written about in every newspaper and in all
corners of the Internet. All without spending a dime.
took the Herman Cain approach and refined it, gave it purpose. He turned
it into his greatest weapon. He became the Jester of the election
cycle. He said stupid things, and we laughed. He acted the fool in each
debate, but managed to make each candidate look like a fool, in turn,
and his audience laughed with him. Jeb Bush, the boring Straight Man,
didn't stand a chance against the jester.
Moreover, Jesters have
long been seen as being able to speak Truth To Power precisely because
nobody took them seriously. How much any single Jester made use of this
opportunity is another matter -- mostly they seemed to play the fool --
but as character archetypes they have become The Wild Card. (Thus the
presence of a jester in each deck of Poker cards.) Jesters are, to
modern eyes, the visual embodiment of Chaos. The Trickster God of our
And Trump has played this role to a hilt -- at every turn
defying the conventions his party has tried to impose upon him, at every
turn making the staid, orderly procedures of the Republican
establishment look like a joke. He has acted like the kid in the TV
shows who's cool and always gets away with making the teachers look like
boring old drones. Trump is Too Cool For School. He's the Class Clown.
The difference between a Class Clown and a regular clown is that a
Class Clown is essentially a jester. His jokes sometimes upend his
dignity, sometimes they don't. Regular clowns are based entirely upon
upending their own dignity. Herman Cain was a regular clown, making
pratfall after pratfall, but ultimately making no-one besides him look
like a fool.
This is why people like Jesters more than Clowns.
The Slapstick act gets old after a while. But a Jester can always find
new jokes to tell, and upending the dignity of The Authorities is
something Americans love.
But is the jester act over now that
Trump has to appeal to a greater audience? Will Trump have to put the
act aside so he can double down on his message of xenophobia? Or will he
take the opportunity to make Hillary Clinton look like even more of a
Boring Old Mom? For a Jester, she's an incredibly easy target.
This all assumes that Trump is aware of what he's doing. Maybe he isn't. Maybe he's been stumbling into this whole archetype, and just doing what pleases him. Which is, after all, what Chaotic figures do. They blunder their way into changing things. Like Charlie Chaplin, or Mickey Mouse, or Coyote, or Raven, or Anansi -- all who upset the plans of the mighty by wandering in and goofing things up.
And Trump definitely wandered into the election. He's been doing it for years -- announcing his candidacy and then dropping out, announcing again, dropping out again. This time he came back and he said "Let's get rid of all the mexicans" and...this time, he got stuck. His audience loved him this time around. He was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear. How could he pass up an opportunity like that? Trump was just doing what he liked, doing what was normal, and he wound up in a situation even HE didn't believe was going to happen. One speech to appease the racist rubes and suddenly his campaign's taking off like a rocket. Whaddayaknow?
But that's what distinguishes Jesters from the other tricksters. They know. They know the probable effects of their actions, and they're smart enough to fully weaponize their ability to defy convention. Where Coyote stumbles into changing the world. the Jester does it deliberately.
Is Trump a Coyote, or a Jester, then? Does he actually know what he's doing?
Because To my eyes, he's the very figure that Don Mclean sang about in "American Pie."
The Jester, who sang in a very familiar voice -- a voice he borrowed from the common people. Trump is not the Common People, but The Common People love him because he sounds like them. Brash, Bold, arrogant, defiant, rude, joking, un-articulate. The voice that has long been held as the essence of the American character -- rough and uncultured, but by gum the voice of an honest hardworking man.
Trump is neither honest nor hardworking. But Boy, he sounds like it! Tells the people what they want to hear.
What a shame that the figure who's been best able to upset the Establishment this time around has been the most racist, the most xenophobic, the most appealing.
I wonder, if Bernie Sanders had been able to win the Democractic primary, and face off against Donald Trump -- would his own anti-establishment voice have won against that of Trump? Bernie tried to be the jester too. That was basically his stated goal -- to force the Clinton campaign to adress issues it didn't want to address. To make fun of the queen, in other words. Sanders, too, wound up being carried farther than he expected, because he promised a lot of things to his audience -- as many, or more, than Trump did to his. But Sanders didn't really defy convention the way Trump did. So he wasn't as much of a Jester -- he was not a force of chaos in the race. Not really. Just a challenger. He never really tried to step beyond the walls of his world.
Meanwhile Trump is coming to debates and ignoring them as it please him, spending very little money on his campaign, insulting everyone, saying horrible things that every other candidate would consider a gaffe, basically doing everything wring -- and winning. Because his audience loves a Chaos figure. They love someone who will break all the rules. They love someone who will ignore everything the Establishment tries to make them do.
Trump has already become a Chaos God. How can he lose the election now? Now that his most probable opponent is an Establishemnt Fuddy-Duddy? All he has to do is keep acting like a rule-defying fool and he's got this in the bag.
Plenty of people hate him with a passion, for the things he has said, for the racism and the xenophobia he has stirred up. But do enough people hate him to vote against him come November? Has he well and truly established his reputation among the American people, or is it possible for him to say something new that will win over the undecided crowd? Is there anyone, by this point, who is undecided about Trump? That has been the great gamble of Trump's campaign. He has become so well-known among the entire American populace that it is possible there are no more voters left sitting on the fence. There may be no one left he can actually appeal to. And he can't backpedal now. His Primary audience won't let him. You can't say things like "We have to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans", win the crowd with racism, and then welch on the deal.
You can't sing with the voice of the common people and then stop. Such a mode of campaigning demands an appearance of utter sincerity. Nobody, NOBODY wants to hear a man talk like he's one of the common folk and then start talking like he thinks they're dumb. What happened to Dusty Rhodes in "A Face In The Crowd" will happen to Donald Trump if he ever, for one second, betrays his own audience. They are many, and their hearts are lifted by him. If he crushes that hope, they will leave him. He cannot back down from what he has said in the primary. Everyone with even a passing interest in politics has heard what Trump has said.
Tricksters love to gamble, right? And Trump has gambled big. The Primary's always a gamble, really, always betting that the Primary audience is small enough that betraying them by moving to the center won't matter. But this time around, Trump's audience has been basically everybody. The Herman Cain Joke Candidate approach has spread his name and his ideals to all corners. And he is most famous for his racism -- for his promise of a wall. It is what his Primary audience loves, and what everyone else uses to mock him.
He can win Middle America by appealing to economic policies. But everyone will be asking about the wall. He won't be able to avoid it.
In which case, Trump will have to double down on his committment to the thing, in order to keep the supporters he's gathered already.
There is no more room to maeuver, and no more room for randomness now. Now there's only the message -- Build A Wall. Deport The Brown People.
Will that be enough to win Trump the election? Is Trump's voice truly that of the common people? Or is it merely the voice of an especially loud minority?
Autumn will tell.