Professional wrestling provides a decent template for understanding an important aspect of the Trump presidency — and not just because the commander in chief circulated a video of him body-slamming Vince McMahon, only with a CNN logo superimposed on his opponent’s face.
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Perceived slights are everywhere. The violence is actually less than meets the eye. And — while he is very much operating in real life — Trump acts as if everyone is sort of in on the big joke.
One can argue about whether his latest tweets constitute an incitement to violence. Even he is acknowledging that he’s not being presidential in the traditional sense; “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL” is how he described his use of social media in a tweet over the weekend.
What is established beyond argument, though, is that Trump has a signature move that his crowd seems to love: bashing the press.
Trump thrives on fights he seeks out and sustains. It’s not simply that he’s offering up distractions; it’s that the actions themselves put him in a comfort zone where he can attack enemies as familiar to the fans as wrestling’s bad guys.
An NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist poll released Monday — taken before the latest presidential attacks — hints at how Trump hears the roar of the crowd. More than 90 percent of Republicans say they have little or no trust in the media, and the trust among Trump voters is even less.
His actions earn him constant condemnation by political enemies, up to and including suggestions that he’ll shoulder blame should his verbal and video-mashup attacks inspire someone to launch a real one.
His allies’ contention that he counterpunches rather than strikes first blows overlooks the fact that the White House gives him the most powerful platform in the history of civilization with which to malign enemies.
But a man who virtually never apologizes will take all that blowback, with his fans cheering him on and looking forward to his next move. To Trump, it’s performance art intended to create frenzies, inside of which he has typically flourished.
More problematic to his political allies is the lack of focus his approach brings. There’s an opportunity cost to the media oxygen he’s consuming with the video of a body slam, with the Senate deep into health care talks and a foreign trip on deck during which Trump will meet Vladimir Putin for the first time.
If this is all part of a plan, that may make some in the Republican Party more uncomfortable, not less. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Sunday he’s concerned that Trump is “trying to weaponize distrust” in his verbal assaults on the media.
“We have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts,” Sasse told CNN Sunday.
This White House, of course, introduced the term “alternative facts” to the discourse. The woman who made that phrase famous, Kellyanne Conway, said Monday that she’s confident the public will see through media coverage of tweets as press-driven attempts to distract.
“The American people see they’re trying to interfere with the president communicating directly through his very powerful social media network channels,” she told Fox News. “Also, they noticed that they don’t cover the substance of the issues.”
But to Trump, as in pro wrestling, the sideshow is often the main event. The ring Trump plays in is as big as any known to man, but the moves are as predictable as ever.