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.