I watched my first Donald Trump for President rally today on CNN, the one held in Portland, Maine, and I think I understand now what makes him so popular with so many people. He combines the essence of Gene Hackman’s character, Senator Kevin Keeley, in the movie The Birdcage, with the emptiness of the old Seinfeld show.
In The Birdcage, Gene Hackman as Senator Keeley goes off on a long, meaningless monologue describing their drive from Washington, DC to Miami, rambling on in an incoherent description of the beauty of the land, this great country, the beauty of this great country, the trees, the beauty of the trees changing color in this great country, the roads, the beauty of the roads in this great country, the fields, the beauty of the fields in this great country, the beauty of this beautiful great country in this… It’s an absolutely deadpan send-up of the kind of empty garbage that politicians indulge in, politicians who have nothing to say and who aren’t smart enough to come up with anything original, and in Gene Hackman’s hands it becomes both hysterically funny and cringe-worthy, proving that he is one of the greatest talents America has ever produced.
That was what the first five minutes of Trump’s speech imitated: a pandering paean to Maine landscape. The Trumpster was nowhere near as funny as Gene Hackman, but he was even more incoherent and rambling, and it sounded as if he had lifted whole passages, verbatim, from the movie.
I was riveted to the spot. Darleen was trying to show me something on her computer, but I couldn’t tear myself away, and I am so glad I didn’t because then the Trumpster started the body of his speech and shifted into Seinfeld mode.
Do you remember the series, Seinfeld? It was the highly successful comedy created by the off-beat genius of Larry David, about a group of basically despicable and self-centered neurotics who never do or accomplish anything other than leaving a trail of disaster in their wake. Larry David himself described it as a show about nothing, which is in part why it was so successful: you could read practically anything into it because there was nothing there except laughter.
That’s Donald Trump, minus the laughter. Seinfeld’s empty and self-centered neurosis was entertaining because the show was well-written and the actors were very talented and it was, after all, a television show we could all laugh at, not real life. The Trumpster manages to capture the neurosis, the despicable and self-centered qualities, and he is certainly every bit as empty, but he adds to it a mean-spiritedness that Larry David’s show never had. Larry David asked us to laugh at his creations. Donald Trump asks us to laugh at and make fun of and belittle virtually everybody and everything that isn’t Donald Trump, and you can read practically anything into him because there is no substance to him. In an entire hour of speaking, he never once outlined a single policy or gave a coherent explanation of how he hoped to achieve any of the policies he never outlined. He never even finished an entire sentence: he speaks in strange, disjointed beginnings of thoughts that he himself then interrupts with parenthetical other thoughts that carry him off in some new direction toward some new destination he never achieves.
What you end up with, listening to the Trumpster, are poorly formed fragments of sentences that hint at even more poorly formed feelings of discontent and anger. He does not suggest policies, but vague, poorly formed and poorly expressed fantasies that border on revenge. Make America great again! Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it! Outwit the Chinese! Bomb ISIS and steal their oil! Force other countries to give us their oil! Make America sick of winning! Never lose again! Throw all the illegals out! Stop all Muslims from coming in! The only positives in his harangue are the positives that come from a mean-spirited reducing of everyone else: make America great again by making everyone else smaller and less than.
And between the incomplete and incoherent sentences that fail to express incomplete and incoherent thoughts, he contradicts himself in ways that made me think he must be unstable, naming famous businessmen as friends, as terrible people, as good guys, men who do terrible things, smart men he will work with as president, all in a single unfinished sentence that never led to any conclusion that had any link to the idea that had started him off.
And that too is part of the Trumpster’s appeal: because he is so incoherent, you can read into him practically anything you want, and if you are moved by his anger, by his discontent, by his fantasies, you will identify with him.