Friday, August 26, 2016

Trump is Andy Kaufman

This is the week of Trump’s “flip-flop” on immigration. What is being missed is how much of the commentary is off base, is applying a standard that is largely irrelevant. The problem is of the if you are  a hammer all problems look like nails variety. In this case, our political commentators can’t help but analyze a campaign speech for its policy implications, but with Trump this concedes too much.

It was Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson who offered up the big reveal when she said “he hasn’t changed his position on immigration, he’s changed the words that he is saying.” So embedded is the analysis template that this statement was largely mocked but Pierson was merely stating what should’ve been clear from the beginning. What I take her to be saying is that Trump hasn’t changed his position because he’s never really had one (hence my putting flip-flop in quotes). In his speech on immigration Trump was doing what he’s always done, putting words together in some sort of order.

A Trump speech or interview is a performance. The words aren’t meant to put across policy ideas they’re the act. A Trump speech is closer to an Andy Kaufman bit than a political statement. Take a look at this Kaufman appearance on SNL and tell me it isn’t essential Trump (go ahead its short, and I’ll wait:

Kaufman’s later extended joke where he challenged and later wrestled woman also anticipates Trump who just substituted media personalities for women as his foil. No doubt there were Kaufman fans, like Trump adherents who took Andy to be a champion of male power and thought he was taking on political correctness (though his act pre-dated the concept). And, if memory serves, Kaufman whined and complained when he lost wrestling just like the Donald.

The Trump campaign is I maintain part con, part the pursuit of self-esteem. His words derive from the mark not his views on politics. He doesn’t want to be president, he just wants people to say that he’s “here to save the day.” Analyzing Trump statements for political content is a category error, it is, in an important way, to miss the con.

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