Gary Percesepe ~ Trump’s WrestleMania

It occurred to me today that The Occupant is like a pro­fes­sion­al wrestler. His con­tin­u­ous­ly aggriev­ed per­sona is devoid of any inte­ri­or­i­ty, a boom­ing, buzzing con­fu­sion of self-ref­er­en­tial signs con­tin­u­ous­ly sig­ni­fy­ing. His face is a mask, as in antiq­ui­ty, meant to sig­ni­fy the trag­ic mode of the spec­ta­cle; his sup­port­ers form the cho­rus. Like any pro­fes­sion­al wrestler, he needs some­one to tan­gle with in a ring of his own rig­ging. The func­tion of the wrestler is not to win so much as to enter­tain, to unfail­ing­ly per­form the role assigned, going through all the motions which are expect­ed of him. His ral­lies are a per­for­mance of his great­est hits, his best moves—the forced sub­mis­sion ges­tures: ham­mer­hold; the attack moves: fly­ing drop­kick, the arm twist rope­walk chop, dri­ving clothes­line, cof­fin drop, frog splash, the div­ing dou­ble axe han­dle. His per­for­mance as pres­i­dent is pre­cise­ly that, a per­for­mance sig­ni­fy­ing the exhaus­tion of ideas, which have become com­plete­ly reduced to pure form, with­out remain­der. The physique of the wrestler is the most basic sign of all, which like a seed con­tains the entire match: The Occupant is Hair I Am: above his cor­pu­lent body is a set of dia­crit­i­cal signs expressed as smirks, sneers, curled lip dis­tain, con­ceit­ed smiles, but always the grum­bler, end­less­ly con­fab­u­lat­ing about his dis­plea­sure, his every griev­ance a rage-tweet­ed spec­ta­cle in itself, metic­u­lous­ly cov­ered by a trained media, whom he nonethe­less taunts as he ges­tures toward their cages. Professional wrestling is a sum of spec­ta­cles, and the American Presidency has become the great­est show on earth.

Truth has become a func­tion entire­ly of pow­er and sub­ject to Spectacle. There is no more a prob­lem of truth in wrestling than there is in pro­fes­sion­al pol­i­tics. The Occupant cul­ti­vates the image of The Bastard: essen­tial­ly some­one unsta­ble, who accepts the rules only when they are use­ful to him and trans­gress­es the for­mal con­ti­nu­ity of atti­tudes. He is unpre­dictable, aso­cial, and law­less. He takes refuge behind the law when it is in his favor and breaks it when he finds that to be more use­ful. He feels free to reject the for­mal bound­aries of the ring (does any­one expect him to adhere to “debate rules” in the three upcom­ing match­es v. Biden?) and goes on hit­ting an adver­sary legal­ly pro­tect­ed by the ropes. When nec­es­sary, he reestab­lish­es these bound­aries and claims the pro­tec­tion of what he did not respect just a few moments ear­li­er, then lis­tens with glee to the howl­ing media. This incon­sis­ten­cy, far more than treach­ery or cru­el­ty, sends his tag-teamed oppo­nents into a mimet­ic rage: offend­ed not so much in its moral­i­ty but in its log­ic, it con­sid­ers log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion of argu­ments the basest of crimes. For his fans, The Occupant has an ide­al under­stand­ing of things; the eupho­ria of Whiteness raised for a while above the con­sti­tu­tive ambi­gu­i­ty of every­day sit­u­a­tions. He need only con­tin­ue to per­form his base­ness with­out apol­o­gy. They will not quit The Occupant in the way that Hulk Hogan nev­er lost a fan (unless and until he failed at last to be Hulk Hogan, ceas­ing to sig­ni­fy correctly).

What lib­er­als and “pro­gres­sives” have not seemed to notice is the mech­a­nism by which they have become mere spec­ta­tors, part of the Spectacle itself, as with each tweet they groan, they ges­ture, they com­plain, they occu­py new dai­ly pos­tures and pos­es of out­rage, when the point is not to be a spec­ta­tor but rather the pro­duc­er, can­cel­ing the show. There is no pow­er in being a spectator.

Meanwhile, The Occupant goes on sign­ing, the wrestler vil­lain, with his mop of orange hair, his mouth in a pouty O, his face con­tort­ed into the very image of suf­fer­ing— like a prim­i­tive Pietà, he exhibits for all to see his face, exag­ger­at­ed­ly con­tort­ed by an intol­er­a­ble afflic­tion (Roland Barthes, Mythology).


Gary Percesepe is the author of eight books, most recent­ly The Winter of J, a poet­ry col­lec­tion pub­lished by Poetry Box. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing. Previously he was an assis­tant fic­tion edi­tor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Christian Century, Maine Review, Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, Wigleaf, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, Solstice, and oth­er places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teach­es phi­los­o­phy at Fordham University in the Bronx.