Donald Trump is a festive panto that has gone on past its season.
He struts from podium to studio with the self-sacrificing gall of a celeb foregoing Beverly Hills for a stint of Mother Goose at a dreary middle England theatre. With each of his bombastic interventions there’s always the sense that he’s disappointed we aren’t more grateful. Long the Dame of US public life, Widow Trumpy’s political jaunt has this time cast him in a villainous role. His outlandish proclamations, from dog whistle discrimination to wolf whistle chauvinism, are choreographed to cue the hissing awwwws of liberal foes. In the wake of his proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the US, he’s managed to get his natural sympathisers running from the stage.
Banning Trump from entering the UK (and positively wrecking his plans to come see Marcus Brigstocke’s take on Captain Hook) is a gesture that fails to understand the bigger picture. Trump is the result of a broader phenomenon that has seen public life –political, culture and social- gravitate towards caricatures and set pieces. In order to be heard amid the “Oh, yes it is!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” of social media the only things that cut through are flamboyant set pieces and bravura performances.
Trump, who has done away with any pretense of developing a unifying programme for governance, is an ideal ‘story’ in the sense that his campaign is a series of shock and awful soundbites that a UKIP press officer could only dream of. The outraged ban-him petitioners ironically play straight into his strategy by keeping the story raging. He’s behind you? No, Trump’s way ahead- both in current polling and media coverage (one study showed that on Monday networks devoted 105 minutes to Trump compared to 3 minutes for Obama and barely seconds for the Paris climate change talks).
Trump knows his songbook well. He is opportunistically using the anti-Muslim card without himself having much of a history of racist or Islamophobic actions (as he’ll tell you, some of his biggest investments are in Gulf states). If we don’t like the show we don’t have to play along. To throw tantrums doesn’t undermine him but devalues our power to debate and protest. Arguably Home Secretary Teresa May has encouraged this intolerant approach by banning numerous disagreeable types from the UK. Like Trump many have been accused of indirectly inciting discrimination, a grey area into which many UK figures in politics and the media would easily fall into.
There are greater threats to Britain than this toupeed drag act. As darkly fascinating as it is imagining a future international summit bringing together President Trump, President Le Pen and Prime Minister Corbyn – perhaps under the watchful eye of Tsar Putin I- reality is rarely so perverse. The curtains will soon fall on the Trump campaign and by next winter the former reality TV star will be in need of a new adventure. Panto bookers take note!