Culture

Trump: The Series — the Comedy We Want Invites Tragedies We Don’t

President Trump arrives in the East Room of the White House (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Clowns are exposed by wilier players on the international stage. Let’s take our leadership more seriously.

So Anthony Scaramucci walked out of our lives forever.

There has hardly been a more cinematic week in politics than the last. Scaramucci was hired as White House communications director by President Trump, apparently with the approval of Jared and Ivanka. Scaramucci’s entry prompted the exit of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who emerged from 180 days of excrement-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine — or maybe I just don’t want to. Spicer is now sitting on a beach in Zihuatanejo, sipping a beer.

Scaramucci immediately gave one of the most memorable press conferences of all time — a mashup of LeFou from Beauty and the Beast and Mini-Me from Austin Powers. Trump, he said, is “the most competitive person I’ve ever met. I’ve seen him throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden, he’s standing in the key, he’s hitting foul shots and swishing them. He’s sinking three-foot putts. I don’t ever see a guy under siege. . . . We’re gonna do a lot of winning.”

And the winning began immediately, with Scaramucci accusing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus of leaking information to the press — particularly information that was already publicly available about his financial disclosures. With all the subtlety of Luca Brasi, he went on CNN and said that he and Priebus might be like Cain and Abel. Then he did an on-the-record interview with The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that seemed like an outtake from American Psycho, with Scaramucci as a coked-up Patrick Bateman: He begged Lizza to out his sources for the sake of the “American country,” then threatened to fire everybody, then suggested that Priebus was a “paranoid schizophrenic” and that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon wanted to ride Trump’s coattails and focused on performing feats of tantric sexual yoga that Sting could only dream about.

That prompted Priebus to resign, bowing his head before Trump on his way out the door, praising the boss who allowed him to be publicly humiliated like Kevin Bacon being spanked with a fraternity paddle and then asking for seconds.

Meanwhile, news broke that our intrepid hero, The Mooch, would be divorced by a wife so unhappy with his social climbing that she didn’t even want him at the hospital when she gave birth to their newest child. It was hard not to see shades of Kaye arguing with Michael about the future of their family in Godfather II.

But, as it turned out, Scaramucci wasn’t Michael — he was Janos Slynt, the once-grand King’s Landing lord reduced to penury and finally executed for following the wrong man too sycophantically.

Trump, like the TV salesman from Robocop, grinned his way through this entire enterprise.

Politics is no longer about channeling values toward policy; it’s now about The Bachelor­–style vicarious enjoyment.

I’m not the only one stretching for Hollywood comparisons for this administration. This week, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal compared President Trump unfavorably with Woody Allen. Kevin Williamson of National Review hilariously compared Trump — again unfavorably — to Wall Street bros who sit around reciting Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry Glen Ross speech to one another. I myself tweeted regarding the ouster of Scaramucci that this was my favorite episode yet of Trump: The Series.

But there’s a fair bit of truth to all the joking. Trump’s presidency is a Hollywood presidency — and it’s a comedy. Our obsession with Hollywood narrative has addled our mind when it comes to politics. We search for heroes and villains as opposed to trustworthy representatives to carry out their promises. We thrill to their rhetoric. We identify emotionally with them. And then we elect those who best manipulate our emotions to high office. Politics is no longer about channeling values toward policy; it’s now about The Bachelor­–style vicarious enjoyment.

Now, politics was always both comic and tragic: comic because our politicians so often fall short of our aspirations for them, and tragic because those shortcomings have such dire consequences for so many. The possibility of comedy met its match in the possibility of tragedy — and voters focused more on averting tragedy than on enjoying the comedy. But in a country that is wealthier than any in human history, freer than any in human history, more blithe than any in human history, we want the comedy. We want celebrities we enjoy on television. Better that than listening to stodgy politicians drone on about crises they exaggerate for purposes of their own power.

And so we entertain ourselves with politics, and elect to high office those who entertain us best, and cheer when those people select the most entertaining aides. Thus Al Franken. Thus Donald Trump. Thus Kid Rock, prospectively. Thus Anthony Scaramucci, a man who once reportedly dropped $100,000 just to appear as a bit player in Wall Street 2.

And we’re sad to see The Mooch go. After all, he was the breakout character for this season — and who wants to dump The Wall Street Fonz?

As the distinctions between Hollywood and the real world blur, however, we’re likely to draw closer and closer to tragedy. We don’t live in a comic world — and if we do, that’s out of both luck and the caution of prior generations who knew that tragedy lurked just around the corner. In real life, it’s rare for young Prince Hal to transform into Henry V; it’s particularly rare for 71-year-old Falstaffs to transform into Churchillian figures. It’s not rare, however, for clowns to be exposed on the international stage by players more wily and serious. Which is why we’d better start taking our leadership more seriously soon, lest we entertain ourselves into a vulnerability from which we cannot recover.

READ MORE:

Anthony Scaramucci’s Swearing Normalizes Vulgarity

Anthony Scaramucci’s Firing is a Cautionary Tale

Anthony Scaramucci Leaves the Trump White House

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