Donald Trump is the older man our mother warned us about dating. He’s bad to the bone, but that’s what we like about him. His propensity for evil is fascinating to us and the brazenness of his rebellious behavior is intoxicating. We can’t seem to get enough, even after he fired the FBI director to cover his ass. Trump has the charisma of a flickering flame, dangerous, hypnotic, and orange. We can’t help ourselves, lured to Trump like a moth to that same flame or a human to the lukewarm glow of a TV.
And that’s the problem of living in the Age of Entertainment — we’re unable to turn away from the spectacle of Trump, rubber-necking our way through his train wreck of a presidency, craving the rush of adrenaline that comes with every news cycle. Trump is stranger than fiction, less predictable than a season of Game of Thrones, and we’ve become addicted to the drama. (Note: Whenever I talk about “we,” “us,” or “America,” what I really mean is “me,” “myself,” and “I.”)
Art imitates life. Life imitates art, and the President is a reflection of the (pop) culture that elected him. Our country has been conditioned by TV, movies and even sports to expect men of Trump’s questionable character to occupy positions of power. Walter White, the Joker, and Bill Belichick are some of the most influential figures on the public imagination. We lionize them. As a result, a male, Machiavellian, ego-manic president was inevitable. Trump is the prince that was promised, borne forth by the self-fulfilling prophecy of our TV programming, his White House a perfect mash-up of the absurd incompetence found in Veep and the casual malevolence of House of Cards. There is a reason why parents don’t allow their children to play violent video games or watch dirty movies. They fear that the immoral behavior their kids are exposed to will become normalized within them and affect their behavior for the worse, but President Trump is proof positive that the adults aren’t immune from the psychological suggestions themselves.
Anti-heroes thrive in the Entertainment Age because they are the most entertaining of all the character archetypes. They can grab a hold over a person’s imagination and never let it go. What makes them so mesmerizing is their intrigue. That’s the moneymaker, because intrigue is what keeps us watching after the commercial break.
Take Jesus, for example. He’s a good guy and probably would have made an excellent president, but he makes for a lame main character to follow in this day and age. You’d never run him out during sweeps week. He’s boring. If you present Jesus with any choice between good and evil, then it’s no choice at all. We know what Jesus would do. But take Jamie Lannister on the other hand… he’ll sacrifice himself, not for the sins of humanity, but for the chance to screw his twisted sister. Now, that’s something worth watching! Because curiosity doesn’t only kill cats, it comes after our morality too.
Besides a sense of mystery, another common trait shared between all anti-heroes is their singular talent in their respective career field. It’s their one redeeming quality from which the public derives their respect and admiration for these figures, despite their flaws. Nobody produces purer meth than Walter White, or writes better copy than Don Draper, or drives better than the Driver from Drive. That’s the trick with Trump, however. By nearly every measure, he’s a terrible president. His genius lies in his previous career. No, not real estate, but marketing, which is the issue.
Marketers are judged upon one basis: how good they are at manipulating your emotions into buying a product that you don’t want or need, and that’s not a trait you want in your commander-in-chief. Trump sees the world through this lens of marketing, which is why he views the American public as marks and treats the under-educated rural folk as rubes. And nobody will be more disappointed than rural Trump voters once they figure out what everyone else has known for a long time, that Trump is a reboot of the Wizard of Oz, the smoke and mirrors anti-hero. (You can expect Trump voters to go through all five stages of grief to get over this betrayal. In fact, many have begun the process already, but I do wish they would hurry up and move past denial.)
Because we live in the Age of Entertainment, President Trump’s White House is playing out before us as a drama, and this last week will be remembered as that story’s mid-point. With the firing of the FBI director, we have truly reached the point of no return – that much is obvious. But how will it end? Is our presidential protagonist acting out inside a comedy or a tragedy?
The answer is always the latter. Anti-heroes never ride off into the sunset, despite the second act montage where they accumulate their money, their power and their women, in that order. The movie doesn’t end there, however. They still have to go through that pesky final act, where everything that went up must come down, like facedown in a pool, otherwise known as how Tony Montana finished Scarface, or how the Wolf from The Wolf of Wall Street ended up broke, or how Kanye West married Kim Kardashian.
Remember that fact the next time one of Trump’s antics freaks you out. At the end of the day, these people are born losers. Karma will tell this fuckboy of a president to fuck off. And once Trump is gone, America will have learned its lesson. I am hopeful. There are already signs of our maturation when the feel-good Stranger Things dominated the public discourse last summer. Eventually, we’re going to grow up and settle down and elect a new president, one who is smart, one who cares about how our day went, one who won’t be running game behind our back with the Russians. He or she will be good, and mother will be so proud of us and so will the founding fathers.