After he usurped his father’s position as owner of Elizabeth Trump & Son in 1971, Donald Trump made quick work of his self-development into a personification of the American dream. Just three years after graduation from University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s in economics, he occupied the highest throne in his newly renamed Trump Organization and began making his architectural, high-profit mark in the city of Manhattan. While amassing wealth and creating an empire, he married two models and an actress who each bore him at least one of his five children. He became a reality television personality when he starred in the NBC show The Apprentice. Most recently and controversially, he has entered the world of politics by clinching the Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidential election. Power, wealth, sex, and fame are the zenith of American cultural idolatry, and Donald Trump possesses them all. He is not, however, an American hero. Rather, he is an American trickster whose stunning rise in popularity reflects a societal upheaval of status quo by declaring preference for a vain, loudmouthed, and openly bigoted moral counterexample over the carefully manicured appearance of good intention that masks the unsavory political behavior of his opponent.
Trump’s most significant trickster characteristics are his duality of personality and transgression of social and political boundaries. Leonard and McClure state that the trickster character, regardless of his culture of origin, “persistently displays humanity’s highest aspirations and our basest impulses” (Leonard and McClure 250). American society treasures acquisition of wealth and power alongside the company of beautiful women and, in that sense, Donald Trump has achieved our culture’s highest aspirations. However, because of his duality of personality, he also displays our animalistic impulse to freely express every thought and feeling without mediation from our evolved frontal lobe. The fact that he is up-front about his dualistic personality appears to be refreshing to American audiences simply because it is not predictable. While “establishment” politicians may adhere to the strict social guidelines of behavior and opinion that have been carved out by their party, Trump’s behavior and opinions defy expected party line parroting and thus appear nearly revolutionary.
A large portion of his display of base impulses, and his second major trickster characteristic, is his regular transgression of social and political boundaries. In politics, he has brazenly rejected the boundary of who a Republican nominee is supposed to be with his lack of Christian faith, neutral opinion on marijuana legalization, and extraordinary political inexperience. More significantly, however, is his transgression of social boundaries. He has no qualms with publicly calling Rosie O’Donnell “disgusting both inside and out” or promising Cher on Twitter that he won’t talk about her “massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work” (Chung) (Trump). He refuses to engage in “politically correct” dialogue to the point of saying “listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent,” in reference to Chinese imports (Neumann). He has referred to black voters as “the blacks,” accused Mexico of sending rapists across the border, and regularly retweets white supremacists (CNN Political Unit) (Neate) (McCaskill). He has even appeared on The View with his daughter, Ivanka, and stated that if she wasn’t his daughter, “perhaps [he] would be dating her” (Fusion). Despite blatant disregard for social boundaries, he has soared in popularity and become a serious contender for the position of leading the world’s last remaining superpower. Why?
Americans have become fed up with traditional hero narratives and instead wish to experience the catharsis of a trickster in action on a national scale. Every four years, Americans are presented with a small selection of groomed, polished, parroting politicians that compete for public favor based on their ability to talk the best talk. They promise to make things better for everyone, from the weakest members of minority groups to the most powerful members of the majority, treading carefully to ensure that every type of person believes that they are on their side. Because the United States government is not authoritarian in nature, a good portion of these promises are inevitably unfulfilled, which leads some members of the populace to believe that career politicians are inherently deceitful, corrupt, and out of touch with reality. Donald Trump breaks this mold. He appears to be straightforward in his distaste for minority groups, does not carry the perfectly polished appearance of a political hero, does not care for political correctness or pandering, and frankly does and says whatever pleases him regardless of the consequences like a trickster figure would.
In contrast, the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton attempts to maintain this carefully polished appearance of diplomatic heroism but utterly fails in doing so. From a track record of issue flip-flopping to history of policy missteps to mismanagement of classified information on a private server, her façade has been irreparably broken. American audiences have witnessed this problematic behavior and come to the conclusion that they would prefer to prop up a brazen trickster antihero instead. Trump is appealing not in spite of his poor character and trickster qualities, but because of them. Supporters of Trump admire his disregard for social rules, finding him entertaining and honest rather than bigoted and offensive. He serves the cathartic purpose of the trickster by saying and doing things in a public forum that most people are not willing to do themselves. Ultimately, he may prove himself to be a fantastic counterexample, demonstrating what damage unchecked vanity, narrow-mindedness, and thirst for power can do when it holds the highest position of authority in a culture.