The Pop Tart of American Politics: Why Voting for Trump is like Voting for a Tube of Colgate Toothpaste

What you stand for is not what you symbolize. It is possible to stand for nothing and be a powerful symbol.

 The lesson of Trump

  Gorgeous George

During my youth, I often visited my Aunt Dorothy in McArthur, Ohio. It was a one-stop light town of around 1400 people. We knew everyone. After her spouse, my Uncle Ray, the sheriff and clerk of courts, passed, Aunt Dorothy took on his unfilled term at the courthouse, then, before she became the editor of the county newspaper, The Republican Tribune, she was the manager of the county telephone exchange. 

She lived above the exchange offices and, when I visited, I enjoyed a sumptuous bedroom with windows that looked out across Main Street at a tavern. My after-bedtime entertainment was watching the characters stumbling in and out of that bar. 

By the day, I visited Miss Mott. Miss Mott lived in a small apartment just off the downstairs switchboard room. 

Being a small county, about 10,000 when I was a child, the switchboard was small. 

Miss Mott took her turn at plugging the cords in and out and wearing the headset that carried requests for connections from customers who lived as far away as Zaleski and Hamden. Not far, in fact.

Miss Mott had only to walk a few steps to go to work which was good because she was quite large and preferred sitting in her lounge chair in her tiny living room eating chocolates, reading Tales from the Crypt comic books, and watching television wrestling.

Not only was I not allowed to indulge in any of those activities in my own home, but no one would have thought to forbid them. They were all beyond the pale. 

Miss Mott introduced me to Tales of the Crypt and television wrestling. It was the era of Gorgeous George. He was a phenomenon and made television and television wrestling a thing. Just an ordinary guy at the beginning of his career, he dyed his hair blonde….and  “strolled to the ring under a purple spotlight, wearing a sequenced robe with a personal red carpet beneath his feet. Accompanying him was “Jeffries”, his ring valet who held up a mirror while spreading rose petals at George’s feet. All of this while ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ sounded through the venue. “

Television wrestling became more and more extreme as more characters emerged: arrogant, loud, costumed extravagantly, and fake athletes. By 2007, Donald Trump had joined the cast (as an entrepreneur and symbolic stuntman) and had a good run practicing being a loud mouth and learning all the moves that make spectacle. He was the guy in the suit, while wrestlers with names like The  Hammer, Valentine, Mad Dog Vachon, and The Snake did the sweating.  It was and is a world of performance, big talk, ugly taunting, name-calling, “no holds barred,” and unsavory menace. People love it.  Well, some people. Many people. Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame. He outdid them all and didn’t have to use a chokehold. Money and flamboyance. The brand.

Television wrestling and other television programs helped Trump create and build his brand, because Trump is beyond all things a brand, like Mustang and Jeep and Colgate and Coke. These are instantly recognizable bits of Americana that Americans tend to trust and buy and embrace, like Santa Claus and the flag.

The Trump audacious performance style and brand draws from another historically American- pleasing spectacle, evangelism. It is not that present-day evangelist churches embrace Trump’s sins, it is that they can’t turn away from his stage presence. It is part of their history. And sins can be pardoned, grace can come down upon anyone, no matter their good or bad deeds.

Consider Billy Sunday and George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards: all drama and all born again in the style of Trump.

And isn’t the rhetoric that condemns America to chaos and doom if the opponent is elected very much akin to threatening hell to the unsaved?

It was Jonathan Edwards who roared to American Colonists that they were all, “sinners in the hand of an angry god.” Woe be to thee and thine if you don’t get yourself saved or if you don’t vote for me.  You will be cast into hell. Along with your country.

George Whitfield was a minister during the Great Awakening in the 1740s. He, “was charismatic, theatrical and expressive. Whitefield would often shout the word of God and tremble during his sermons. People gathered by the thousands to hear him speak.” He knew how to move a crowd and  how to paint a future you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.  

And then Billy Sunday, a former baseball player, turned Evangelist in the late 1800s, “attracted the largest crowds of any evangelist before the advent of electronic sound systems.” And there were “Some religious and social leaders (who) criticized Sunday’s exaggerated gestures as well as the slang and colloquialisms that filled his sermons, but audiences clearly enjoyed them” .[41]

Sunday was said to espouse the midwestern American values of “individualism, competitiveness, personal discipline, and opposition to government regulation.”  There it is, that familiar refrain.

Liberal intellectuals deplored him. But he was invited into the homes of some mainline and elite politicians even though he regularly received donations from the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Some good people on both sides, you might say.  He praised Klans men “who assisted the police in vice raids.” But he was beloved and drew massive crowds. 

So Evangelism and Wrestling, two significant and long running fibers that run through American life, embedded, perhaps, in the DNA of a large percentage of the American population, have informed and elevated the brand of Pop-Tart Trump. Nothing new here. Nothing we haven’t seen if we search our history. And nothing surprising.

Many Americans enjoy the flowery gestures of bombastic men with a flair for the theatrical and it doesn’t seem to do much with what they actually say. 

Now couple the spectacle with branding itself and you have a pretty doggone unbeatable combination. 

Branding. Not as in burning the flesh of a cow, but as in putting together a package, distinctive and unique. Identifying.  A way in which a personality is imprinted on objects and the psyches of others. 

Branding as it is now practiced has evolved with the market place and capitalism. It involves exaggeration of difference between one brand and another. It manipulates a public into buying objects and ideas it doesn’t really want or need. 

Its manufacturers are well aware of what they are doing.

…..

TRUMP AS A BRAND

Most Americans of the first quarter of the 21st century have witnessed the evolution of the Trump brand. It began before the turn of the century with real estate. It expanded: large gold letters that spelled TRUMP on tall buildings. Trump Tower officially opened in 1983 amidst a flutter of lies and exaggerations and loans that paid for the thing.  He was an effective liar, Forbes magazine said. Shameless.

But he was on the rise and continued to draw interest in more ways than one. 

He moved on to more television and more exposure.  He polished his brand. Bigger, louder, unbelievably entertaining to so many.

He put his brand on products..but only those that were consistent with his brand. What he was selling was the fantasy of wealth, not the things themselves.

Wine

Vodka 

Universities

Golf clubs

Watches

Clothing

Books on getting rich

A casino named Taj Mahal

Steaks

Then politics.

Red hat, red tie, white shirt, blue suit. He has claimed the colors of the flag of the United States. No one else can claim them except by wearing those little tiny flags on the lapel of a modest suit. Hardly visible.

Red. Color has its meaning. Red is the color of the blood. And has been associated with “sacrifice, danger, and courage” as well as heat and activity.  It is not a color chosen randomly.

You see, everything about him speaks and is part of the brand. 

Hair has a language. His is dyed blond, the color associated with glamour, Hollywood stars of the past, vitality, youth.  Yes, it can be laughable. But the brand reads blond and it is intentional and meaningful.

His weight. Yes, by most of today’s standards he is overweight. But weight has been associated with opulence and  with high status and on his over six-foot frame, he is read as a big man. Big man is something with which to contend. Not a man who backs away from a fight. Domineering when he enters a room. Pushes smaller men aside, literally. Someone you want on your side. Someone that makes the more gentile of us cringe. 

Women. Flashy women. Blond women (see above). And with names easy to associate with a brand like MAGA. Ivana, Ivanka, Melania, Marla. Lots of Ms and As. Even the clever animated Mara Lago.  I invite you to say these names aloud. The As stay in your mouth, roll off your tongue. In a way, the words are interchangeable. Meant to be. They are simply part of the brand. 

Hillary and Kamala are not a brand and are so outside of the Trump brand that there is nothing to talk about.

Liberals like our political women, including wives, to read, to write, to create, to be smart. There is  no point in comparing them with Trump branded women.  These wives with four inch heels are what big men, tycoons, have and it is part of their privilege.  And a lot of Americans respect that privilege.  Oh, the female Trumps might do a little product sales now and then. But it is all on brand. Whatever self-motivated intelligence they might have is hidden from the public.

Having women who are simply there and attractive is another symbol of wealth. Chinese foot binding was an example. She doesn’t have to work. Status. Being painfully thin. She does no heavy lifting. All symbolic of her status and her spouse’s.

Affluence, ostentatiousness, conspicuous consumption, brashness. The liberals critique it all, the intellectuals write about it with disdain,  the left analyze it but don’t move the dial. 

It is all show business and show business sells. Brands sell.  And analysis is fruitless.

This would be president, apparently the choice of millions, is a brand. He stands for nothing because he doesn’t have to. He is simply familiar and shares characteristics of the grandiloquent types who have always attracted millions of Americans. He is not much more than a carefully packaged Pop Tart, devoid of nutrition but oh so attractive to so many who don’t care about substance.

 

 

 

About Llyn De Danaan

LLyn De Danaan is an anthropologist and author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She is currently a speaker for Humanities Washington.
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