Listen- Drumpf has been called a clown for years now. Pretty much everyone who calls him that that means it as an insult. I think it’s true that he is a clown, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it as a term very grudging respect.
I know and love many clowns in my life. I’ve worked semi-professionally as a clown (there’s not much money in it- the people that do it full time do it because they have) and I’ve been lucky enough to work with and be trained by amazing clowns.* There’s a power to clowning when it’s done well.
I know, I know. Clowns get dismissed because most folks think of Krusty the Clown, hawking his products with his cigarette voice, the silly hobo spraying seltzer water down his pants, or a man in white face making balloon animals for scared children.
Or serial killers. A lot of people think clowns are serial killers.
But that’s not a lot of clowning. A lot of clowning is beautiful, ambitious, fantastically mischievous art that fills the audience with a sense of wonder, impishness, and awe.
And Donald Drumpf, that bastard uses a lot of those same skills, just for evil. Let me explain, with a little bit of clowning theory.
So, first off, what is clowning? There are a lot of schools of clowning, and they’ve been around for a long time. They’re tricksters, sometimes fools, and trying to find a unifying theme is a bit of a fool’s errand.
So, here are some unifying things to most clowning- at its heart, it is about getting away with something. I think, if you wanted to boil down clowning to its essence- it is setting up a world, a way in which things are going to go, and then the clown violates those rules. And get away with it. And to do that, the clown brings the audience into their game- it connects with the audience, and makes them complicit in the violations of the norms. that the clown is about to do. Sometimes these norms are just the basic rules of the world- say, a tattoo of a dog on Harpo Marx coming to life, and barking at the audience.
It’s a time of participatory theatre- clowning doesn’t work nearly as well without an audience to play off off. You feed off of what the audience is giving you, and you make them part of the clowning.
It’s a lot of fun watching someone get away with something. You have the order of the world, you have a norm that must not be violated, and the clown does it anyway. Don’t spray seltzer water down your pants. Don’t steal an audience members hat.
Don’t brag about the size of your penis during a Presidential debate.
Donald Drumpf did a lot of norm breaking during the campaign. He did things that no Republican candidate was thought to be allowed to do, and then he did things that no general election candidate could do and survive. He made fun of a disabled reporter, he called most Mexican immigrants rapists, advocated for mass torture of detainees, because they deserve it, once speculated about the size of his one year old daughter’s future breasts, once bragged about committing sexual assault, referred to a non-existent article in the constitution, said a Federal Judge in born in Indiana couldn’t be a fair judge to him because of the Judge’s Mexican heritage, and so on. I can’t bear to try to remember that campaign, but we lived through it. We remember all of that awful shit.
He exposed himself as a monster in the campaign. And he won- he got just enough votes in just enough places to defeat Hillary Clinton.
There are a lot of reasons why people voted for him. A lot of people really disliked Hillary Clinton. Cynical people like Paul Ryan are hoping to lower taxes on the rich and guy regulation. Race had a lot to do with it- his campaign dripped of racism, sometimes dog whistled, other times just whistled. There are a lot of true believers out there- I think he was right when he said he could shoot someone and get away with it, at least for a fair number of his followers, particularly the white working class people that he seem to be his most fervent believers.
Part of it (only part of it- good lord, this America, and he ran a racist campaign for a lot of racist people) is that is fun to watch him get away with things. I wasn’t immune to this during the Republican primary. I remember watching a Republican debate, and I wanted to see those asshole traditional Republicans get their asses kicked by him. I wanted Drumpf to lose the election, lose very badly, but I wanted to see him take down Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and all the rest. I wanted to see him misbehave, rub their face in the dirt, and kick them in the balls. They were awful, each and every one of them, and I wanted someone to beat them at their own game. They set up the rules, and here was a little mischief maker breaking their rules and being rewarded for it.
Shame on me. He was a monster, I knew it, but I wanted him to humiliate those guys.
And he did. All were crushed and humiliated in turn. He was playing by different rules, and he made the audience complicit in his misbehavior.
His rallies played by the same rules. He was dull when he stuck to the script, dull sometimes when he didn’t, but he learned that the quickest way to get the crowd geared up was to have them participate. Wait for a protester to show up, have them escorted out by the audience chanted his name. Turn the audience on the press- make them the enemy where everyone could, all together with the clown, participate in the theatre.
And to the people in that devoted base of his, who have not done well in this world, whose place in society was being threatened, in their minds, by immigrants, minorities, and Muslims, here was a man who was going to overturn the world order. He was going to bring in some chaos to those study elites who were rigging the game. He was going to fight for them, and shatter every norm that existed in the American political world.
This was a form of clowning. It was an evil, malevolent form of it, but it was using the same skills that good clowns use on stage. To start with- look at the man. He is a caricature of himself.
That hair! The too long tie tapes to itself with Scotch tape. The chins! The poorly fitting suits! The orange skin! He needs no make up to join the circus- he is complete, as he is, perfection indeed as the sinister clown he might eat your niece if you turn your back upon him. Alec Baldwin does not exaggerate him, he need only imitate him to make us laugh in horror.
And when he was campaigning- oh, the status games he played! He somehow made this gold covered “billionaire” from Manhattan the underdog- the champion of the working class, who claimed to understand what it was that the working class was going through. He alone was your voice, laid off coal miner, he alone, in his penthouse in New York, understood what it was like to be powerless. It was a transformation- based on a lie of course, but he can’t help but lie- but a powerful one. When he mocked the disabled reporter, he was cheered!
Considering how many defects the man had, the self inflicted wounds that he inflicted, and the absolute monstrosity of his proposals, this dark transformation had power to it. He tapped into, and led something awful in that campaign of his. Something monstrous within the American Republic- our worst selves, brought up on stage to insult, mock and slander the opposition. He was getting away with something, something monstrous, but he got away with it non-the-less. ‘
And he is now the most powerful man in the world.
Yet- campaigning is very different than governing. When you have to set up the rules, manage healthcare plans, quibble about the tax code, clowning loses its luster. Once you are compared to yourself, and have to make the world presentable, these clowning tools lose a lot of their power.
The first week of this clownish Presidency has been a disaster. I think it’s going to keep on being a disaster. I think that unless President Drumpf finds someone to blame, and quickly, it’s going to fall apart. He’s tried to blame the press, but it hasn’t stuck. His lies have been too transparent, his games too poorly constructed. I don’t know how long he can keep this up- he apparently wanted to Shock and Awe the country with his executive orders.
Of course, after the Shock and Awe came the insurgency. He doesn’t have Hillary Clinton to point the finger at anymore. He’s flailing right now, his powers evaporating, day by day, as the masses of people see what kind of a world he intends to bring in. He’s going to need a crisis- something terrible to give him something to point his finger at. And even then- I don’t know if it will work. He is unpopular and desperately insecure. This are unstable times.
Everyone can laugh at the clown in charge of things till he burns the theatre down. You may laugh when he says he’s going to do it, but clowns are typically more serious than they let on.
You get the sense that either his Presidency is going to fall apart, or the Republic will. His rule breaking will bring him down- he knows no bounds, and has been encouraged. He will double down, double down, and double down again till he breaks, or the bank does.
I’m sorry, I prattled on for too long, and I’m sorry to have dragged you back into the muck of Donald Drumpf, and to drag the good name of clowning into it. But to defeat him- as I think this country must- you have to understand what you’ll dealing with. You’re dealing with a rule breaker who has to set the rules. You’re dealing with a monstrous clown who has caught the car with his teeth, and now has to worry what to do next. God help us all.
Below is my favorite speech from movies. I wish, I wish that the people cheering for his refugee ban could be moved by this speech from Chaplin.
“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….”
Chaplin was a clown of course. And yet, this is beautiful:
“The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.”
We must band together. We must use our decency to break his hold upon his followers. His cruelty will cut both ways- I believe this. We are not an entirely indecent people, and he will go too far. We must find the common ground with the other side, and learn to fight for each other, even those that have empowered Donald Drumpf. We have to fight for each other, because no one else will.
God bless, and thanks for reading. I’m sure I’m wrong on some counts, feel free to tell me, preferably as gently as possible.
*About me and clowning- I’ve trained at Aloft Circus arts for odd years, doing trapeze, tightwire, acrobatics, and clowning. I’ve worked gigs with them and part of what I call their D-Team, I’ve worked gigs on my own, I’ve run a backyard circus for 7 hours, I’ve hosted numerous circus shows as part of the Amazing Prizzini Brothers, and so on. I do it in my spare time because it is fun. In my day job, I’m an insurance consultant, and at night, I attend law school. I’ve found clowning to be more useful than you’d think at law school- there are similar skills in both. Lawyers are story tellers, and so are clowns. They want to make the audience complicit in the stories that there are telling, and the ability to hold a stage is useful when forced to stand up and articulate an argument.
There are many, many better clowns than me. I’m fortunate to know them. My primary trainer of clowning has been Amanda Crockett, a former lead Cirque du Soliel performer. She is astonishing on stage, and would never use her clowning for evil.
Every other clown I know wouldn’t either. They are all generous, kind people who want to make people happy. In that respect, they are the opposite of Donald Drumpf, who seeks, in my small opinion, to make himself happy through flattery and indulgence. He is not a clown, just someone who utilizes clowning skills for vicious ends. In case this post wasn’t clear enough, I think he’s a monster advocating for monstrous things. I struggle with what to do with his supporters- a lot are good people, and when he does something truly terrible, we’re going to need some of them to help fight him.
Be kind to as many of them as you can. We’ll need all the help we can get, and while it is natural to want to lash out at them, hesitate at that notion. We hate each other enough, and we partial got into this mess because both sides stopped being able to talk to each other. God knows I’ve been guilt of that online, and I would urge, is possible, to show more decency to each other, particularly in the face of nastiness.