It’s easy to rip the press for turning the GOP campaign into the latest episode of The Apprentice. Rather than obsess on Trump’s personality, though, it’s more constructive to think about Trump in sociological terms — in other words, as a symptom.
He’s a symptom of a political system in which politicians are as productized as they are bought and sold, their humanity botoxed.
Sure, Trump’s abominable. But he’s abominable in a way in which his virtuoso ear for the sour note, his running “off script,” reveals how much other candidates are all script. As long as Trump is in the race (and, maybe the damage has already been done), he seriously diminishes the two establishment candidates, legacy-Clinton and legacy-Bush, exposing them as high-crafted, recycled tools.
Of course, of course, the photo shoot, like Trump himself, is total kitsch. And credit to TIME, I guess, for being so Trump-ish themselves, running with a concept that is not just cheesy-cheap, but thoroughly unoriginal. Just Google image “Trump” and “eagle” and you’ll see how many dumb GIF’s and cheap t-shirts have already mated these feathers.
In any other case, were the feature to offer a statesman or someone with any patriotic cred at all, there would be a true symbolic connection between man and bird. Appropriately sad in this pairing — relegating the American bald eagle to little more than a circus monkey — is that the two are mostly connected by physical resemblance.
If you get too (or completely) distracted by Trump, though, either through offendedness or amusement from the farce, you’re going to miss the deeper take-away here — that as lunatic as Trump comes off, the eagle, by association, comes off worse. Unglued from the flagpole, it’s the debasement of the bird that showcases how low America’s democratic expedition has swooped.
And then, if we can look past both jester and bird for a second, if you can find a way to do that, the real offer here is the entree into that office, the mogul’s inner sanctum.
Of course, of course, the office is a junk temple of trophies, sports memorabilia, pictures and other ego prisms. In keeping with the branding of Trump as America’s dirty laundry, it’s also strikingly not-striking neither Trump nor the the photo team would bother, as is the absolute standard in these types of exercises, to even try and tidy up.
And sure, the immediate reflex is to see the waste dump of clutter as the reflection of a chaotic or megalomaniacal or solely-consuming mind, but as I cautioned above, we mustn’t fall into the trap of glitching on the personality.
Instead, we must try to look soberly at how much the carnival distracts us from the deadly serious reveal here. If you can do that, what you can see is how much liberty has been transferred … ha, ha, ha … to the suites of the billionaires and the CEOs.
See 9 photo slideshow here.
(photo 1: Martin Schoeller; photo 2: Paul Moakley)