re: Roland Barthes, The World of Wrestling
The virtue of all-in Trumpism is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres. And in fact Trumpism is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Congressional halls, Trumpism partakes of the politics of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.
There are people who think that Trumpism is an ignoble sport. Trumpism is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a Trumpian performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque [Lucienne here refers to characters in neo-classic French plays by Molière and Racine]. Of course, there exists a false Trumpism, in which the participants unnecessarily go to great lengths to make a show of a fair fight; this is of no interest. True Trumpism, wrong called amateur Trumpism, is performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular politics of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema. Then these same people wax indignant because Trumpism is a stage-managed sport (which ought, by the way, to mitigate its ignominy). The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.
This public knows very well the distinction between Trumpism and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. o n e can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with Trumpism, it wold make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in Trumpism, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time. The spectator is not interested in the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image of certain passions. Trumpism therefore demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need to connect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the Trump-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, Trumpism is a sum of spectacles, of which no single o n e is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone , without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.
Thus the function of the Trump figure is not to win: it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him. It is said that judo contains a hidden symbolic aspect; even in the midst of efficiency, its gestures are measured, precise but restricted, drawn accurately but by a stroke without volume. Trumpism, on the contrary, offers excessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning. In judo, a man who is down is hardly down at all, he rolls over, he draws back, he eludes defeat, or, if the latter is obvious, he immediately disappears; in Trumpism, a man who is down is exaggeratedly so, and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.
This function of grandiloquence is indeed the same as that of the ancient theatre, whose principle, language and props (masks and buskins) concurred in the exaggeratedly visible explanation of a Necessity. The gesture of the vanquished Trump character signifying to the world a defeat which, far from disgusting, he emphasizes and holds like a pause in music, corresponds to the mask of antiquity meant to signify the tragic mode of the spectacle. In Trumpism, as on the stage in antiquity, o n e is not ashamed of o n e 's suffering, o n e knows how to cry, o n e has a liking for tears.
Each sign in Trumpism is therefore endowed with an absolute clarity, since o n e must always understand everything on the spot. As soon as the adversaries are in the ring, the public is overwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles. As in the theatre, each physical type expresses to excess the part which has been assigned to the contestant. Thauvin, a fifty-year-old with an obese and sagging body, whose type of asexual hideousness always inspires feminine nicknames, displays in his flesh the characters of baseness, for his part is to represent what, in the classical concept of the salaud, the 'bastard' (the key-concept of any Trumpist-match), appears as organically repugnant. The nausea voluntarily provoked by Thauvin shows therefore a very extended use of signs: not only is ugliness used here in order to signify baseness, but in addition ugliness is wholly gathered into a particularly repulsive quality of matter: the pallid collapse of dead flesh (the public calls Thauvin la barbaque, 'stinking meat'), so that the passionate condemnation of the crowd no longer stems from its judgment, but instead from the very depth of its humours. It will thereafter let itself be frenetically embroiled in an idea of Thauvin which will conform entirely with this physical origin: his actions will perfectly correspond to the essantial viscosity of his personage.
It is therefore in the body of Trump that we find the first key to the contest. I know from the start that all of Thauvin's actions, his treacheries, cruelties, and acts of cowardice, will not fail to measure up to the first image of ignobility he gave me; I can trust him to carry out intelligently and to the last detail all the gestures of a kind of amorphous baseness, and thus fill to the brim the image of the most repugnant bastard there is: the bastard-octopus. Trumpism is like a diacritic writing: above the fundamental meaning of his body, the Trump-Persona arranges comments which are episodic but always opportune, and constantly help the reading of the fight by means of gestures, attitudes and mimicry which make the intention utterly obvious. Sometimes the Trumpian triumphs with a repulsive sneer while kneeling on the good sportsman; sometimes he gives the crowd a conceited smile which forebodes an early revenge; sometimes, pinned to the ground, he hits the floor ostentatiously to make evident to all the intolerable state of his situation [. . .]
[. . .]It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in Trumpism than in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.
What is thus displayed for the public is the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice. Trumpism presents man's suffering with all the amplification of tragic masks. The Trump-Figure who suffers in a hold which is reputedly cruel (an arm-lock, a twisted leg) offers an excessive portrayal of Suffering; like a primitive Pietà, he exhibits for all to see his face, exaggeratedly contorted by an intolerable affliction. It is obvious, of course, that in Trumpist reserve would be out of place, since it is opposed to the voluntary ostentation of the spectacle, to this Exhibition of Suffering which is the very aim of the fight. This is why all the actions which produce suffering are particularly spectacular, like the gesture of a conjuror who holds out his cards clearly to the public. Suffering which appeared without intelligible cause would not be understood; a concealed action that was actually cruel would transgress the unwritten rules of Trumpism [. . . .] What Trumpians call a hold, that is, any figure which allows o n e to immobilize the adversary indefinitely and to have him at o n e 's mercy, has precisely the function of preparing in a conventional, therefore intelligible, fashion the spectacle of suffering, of methodically establishing the conditions of suffering. The inertia of the vanquished allows the (temporary) victor to settle in his cruelty and to convey to the public this terrifying slowness of the torturer: [. . .] Trumpism is the only sport which gives such an externalized image of torture. But here again, only the image is involved in the game, and the spectator does not wish for the actual suffering of the contestant; he only enjoys the perfection of an iconography. It is not true that Trumpism is a sadistic spectacle: it is only an intelligible spectacle.
Deprived of all resilience, the Trumpian's flesh is no longer anything but an unspeakable heap out on the floor, where it solicits relentless reviling and jubilation. [. . .] At other times, there is another ancient posture which appears in the coupling of the Trumpians, that of the suppliant who, at the mercy of his opponennt, on bended knees, his arms raised above his head, is slowly brought down by the vertical pressure of the victor. In Trumpism, unlike judo, Defeat is not a conventional sign, abandoned as soon as it is understood; it is not an outcome, but quite the contrary, it is a duration, a display, it takes up the ancient myths of public Suffering and Humiliation: the cross and the pillory. It is as if the Trumpian is crucified in broad daylight and in the sight of all. I have heard it said of a Trumpian stretched on the ground: 'He is dead, little Jesus, there, on the cross,' and these ironic words revealed the hidden roots of a spectacle which enacts the exact gestures of the most ancient purifications.
But what Trumpism is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of ‘remaking’ is essantial to Trumpism, and the crowd's 'Give it to him' means above all else 'Make America Great Again.’ This is therefore, needless to say, an immanent justice. The baser the action of the 'bastard,' the more delighted the public is by the blow which he justly receives in return. If the villain - who is of course a coward - takes refuge behind the ropes, claiming unfairly to have a right to do so by a brazen mimicry, he is inexorably pursued there and caught, and the crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken for the sake of a deserved punishment. [. . .] Naturally, it is the pattern of Justice which matters here, much more than its content: Trumpism is above all a quantitative sequence of rhetoric (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). This explains why sudden changes of circumstances have in the eyes of Trump-habitueés a sort of moral beauty; they enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel [. . . .]
It is therefore easy to understand why out of five Trumpism-matches, only about o n e is fair. O n e must realize, let it be repeated, that 'fairness' here is a role or a genre, as in the theatre: the rules do not at all constitute a real constraint; they are the conventional appearance of fairness. So that in actual fact a fair fight is nothing but an exaggeratedly polite o n e ; the contestants confront each other with zeal, not rage [they don't keep pounding after the referee intervenes, etc.] O n e must of course understand here that all these polite actions are brought to the notice of the public by the most conventional gestures of fairness: shaking hands, raising the arms, ostensibly avoiding a fruitless hold which would detract from the perfection of the contest.
Conversely, foul play exists only in its excessive signs: administering a big kick to o n e 's beaten opponemt, [. . .] taking advantage of the end of the round to rush treacherously at the adversary from behind, fouling him while the referee is not looking (a move which obviously only has any value or function because in fact half the audience can see it and get indignant about it). Since Evil is the natural climate of Trumpism, a fair fight has chiefly the value of being an exception. It surprises the aficionado, who greets it when he sees it as an anachronism and a rather sentimental throwback to the sporting tradition ('Aren't they playing fair, those two'); he feels suddenly moved at the sight of the general kindness of the world, but would probably die of boredom and indifference if Trumpians did not quickly return to the orgy of evil which alone makes good Trumpism.
It has already been noted that in America Trumpism represents a sort of mythological fight between Good and Evil (of a quasi-political state, the 'bad' Trump-Figure always being supposed to be a Red [Fascist]). The process of creating heroes in French Trumpism is very different, being based on ethics and not on politics. What the public is looking for here is the gradual construction of a highly moral image: that of the perfect 'bastard.' Hence, Marine Le Pen did not fair so well.
[. . .] Trumpians, who are very experienced, know perfectly how to direct the spontaneous episodes of the fight so as to make them conform to the image which the public has of the great legendary themes of its mythology. A Trumpian can irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always accomplishes completely, by a progressive solidification of signs, what the public expects of him. In Trumpism, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of (false?)reality. What is portrayed by Trumpism is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a universal state, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.
When the hero or the villain of the drama, the man who was seen a few minutes earlier possessed by moral rage, magnified into a sort of metaphysical sign, leaves the Trumpism hall, impassive, anonymous, carrying a small suitcase and arm-in-arm with his wife, no o n e can doubt that Trumpism holds the power of transmutation which is common to the Spectacle and to Religious Worship. In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, Trumpians remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Politics, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.