‘Of all the ways to try to understand Donald Trump, the one I keep returning to is professional wrestling,” CNN’s Chris Cilizza wrote on Thursday. He was responding to the president’s “stunning” decision to side with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on a debt-ceiling deal, which is the latest political brouhaha to hit the news. (It actually wasn’t that stunning at all, if you’ve followed recent D.C. shenanigans or the political career of Donald Trump, but to be fair, that might not matter to a wrestling fan on a column deadline.)
This wrestling metaphor is not new: Earlier in the summer, actor Aziz Ansari shared similar thoughts with GQ. “I was reading all this Trump stuff, and it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to get a better sense of what’s going on in the world and to enrich yourself by being aware. It seems like we’re reading wrestling rumors. It’s like reading about what happened on Monday Night Raw.“
For his part, Ansari decided to tune out of the sensationalized coverage. (“Guess what?” he cheerfully noted to GQ of his new life. “Everything’s fine!”) The rest of the nation, however, seems oddly addicted. “Like most pro wrestlers (and pro wrestling promoters),” CNN’s Cilizza continued, “Trump’s ultimate loyalty isn’t to one side or the other — it’s to the best, most watchable story.”
Now, I like professional wrestling as much as the next Gen-Xer who grew up with a weakness for Macho Man Randy Savage, but here’s where the much-loved wrestling analogy runs into problems.
First, Trump isn’t the only one promoting this questionable political drama. It’s pushed by a wide variety of political and media players on both sides of the aisle who share one common thread: They’re obsessed with Washington, D.C.
Second, with all apologies to professional wrestling, our current political programming is not “the best, most watchable story.” In fact, if I were asked to title this long-running show, I would probably suggest “Help, I Can’t Watch, Which Is Awkward, Given That I Have to Watch, Given That I Write About Politics.” The infighting! The mind-numbing merry-go-round of who tweeted whom! The endless political games, paired with the occasional grim realization that the swamp will likely never be drained! (On the upside, maybe we’ll get tax reform, which would be nice. Stay tuned! Or not!)
With all apologies to professional wrestling, our current political programming is not ‘the best, most watchable story.’
Anyway, if you’re a limited-government type like me, the constant, over-the-top D.C. drama is the last thing you want to watch. Alas, reality is reality: Government continues to grow, with relish. It’s consequential. It’s also hard to ignore. So if you simply can’t turn away, I kicked around some ideas for creative and more-enjoyable lenses through which to view the sometimes painful proceedings:
A 1990s soap opera. I was recently in an airport restaurant wedged next to a television, which, somewhat miraculously, was not tuned to CNN. Instead, it was tuned to a classic, long-running soap opera — the same soap opera, it turns out, that I watched for exactly one summer in high school.
“Look, kids,” I said, eyes widening. “See that lady? She once was possessed by a demon! It was terrible. And oh, hey, there’s that old scoundrel Stefano! I see he’s still up to no good.”
It was amazing: After years and years and years, the main characters were the same. So when someone like, say, Hillary Clinton just won’t go away — “I think she should just zip it, but she’s not going to,” a Democratic donor told Politico, somewhat hilariously, upon news of Mrs. Clinton’s upcoming and widely dreaded book tour —we can simply embrace her as a campy character in a teledrama. She’s like Stefano, that old rogue: She never knows when to leave. Problem solved!
An over-the top Evelyn Waugh novel. Ah, Evelyn Waugh, master of the ridiculous. Think of the characters in Vile Bodies, out of touch and absurd — “Adam felt a little dizzy, so he had another drink” — with last names like Outrage and Chasm. They bounce all over the countryside, vague and half-hearted, crashing cars and wasting money and giving vast fortunes to random drunk army majors who repeatedly and predictably disappear without a trace. If that doesn’t sound like political D.C., I don’t know what does. (The drunk army major reappears with the money at the end of the book, by the way — but by then, it’s been completely devalued.)
A painting by Claude Monet. In the classic ’90s movie Clueless, the main character compares the looks of one of her high-school rivals to a Monet: “It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s okay. But up close, it’s a big old mess.”
To be sure, the metaphor breaks down a bit: Our politics is anything but a serene pastel landscape flanked by copious water lilies. But for many Americans, I suspect this strategy — don’t follow the drama; don’t get too wrapped up in minutiae —is the best way to survive our messy political age. The alternative — in the age of Trump, Twitter, and approximately 5,000 political dramas a minute — is just too exhausting.
But for others, it’s clearly exhilarating. And the show goes on.