[A version of this piece was published in The Satirist on Feb. 10, 2018]
The man who’s now President of the United States, with authority to call together two houses of Congress for a State of the Union address, is more aptly seen roaming the earth as a predator whose bite is fierce and who has a keen sense in tracking his prey. That he is the most powerful man who lords over the most powerful nation on earth is testament to his dominance over his species.
Yet, he’s mocked for having small hands, a big rump, a massive head, and a brain, though itself much more advanced than people want to admit, that contains a cerebrum (associated with thought and higher brain function) that is tiny.
That is the textbook description of the Tyrannosaurus, or T-Rex, as we’ve come to call it.
Other dinosaurs had more complex social behaviors. What made T-Rex so daunting is it would strike hard and fast; get in, take down his prey and get out.
Though the similarities between T-Rex and T-Rump are uncanny for metaphorical purposes, the world has evolved in 65 million years.
T-Rump uses the cunning of an evolved species to take down his prey. T-Rex was a dinosaur, after all. T-Rump is a con artist, a much more highly evolved reptile.
T-Rump marks his prey
T-Rump is driven by four core impulses – power, money, attention, and rubbing the noses of everyone who thinks they’re better than him or smarter than him. They are his prey, and there are enough prey to feed a mammoth appetite.
Over the years, they were competing real estate moguls, businessmen who boasted of greater wealth, a TV industry and critics that mocked reality shows. T-Rump could claim to make the biggest deals, be richer than the rest, and be the most talked about talent behind the most popular TV show. And he has made those claims.
But claims are one thing. They’re open to dispute. The louder he claimed the mantles, the more people mocked him. More prey made him salivate. Politics presented an arena teeming with prey who ridiculed him. Not just any politics but the Presidency where it’s hard to dispute “most powerful man who lords over the most powerful nation on earth.”
The prey fall into T-Rump’s trap
The prey came at him, one at a time and in packs. Democrats, particularly the Clintons and Obama. The GOP establishment who ran against him for President or who awaited him in Congress. Political pundits who keep dissecting what he says and who try to snare him on inconsistencies. Activists who call him “the worst president ever” or “racist.” And the media (news and entertainment) who can’t find a way to find anything right in anything he does or says, even if he lumbers into it.
All his prey use common sense metrics that just don’t matter to a T-Rump who thrives on power, money, attention, and rubbing the noses of the prey who think they’re better or smarter than him. They act like they don’t know who they’re messing with.
The first and only time I heard the term T-Rump was in an inspirational rap by Adam Gottlieb, a young Chicago poet and musician. In his poem, This Is The Year, he envisions 2018 as “the year we turn off the reality television show that governs us and start to govern our own reality.”
Come one, come call: Ultimate Three-Card Monte is under the Big Top
To do govern our own reality, we first have to recognize what we’re up against, the roles we’ve played, and the nature of the game. The reality show is The Grand Con, often known as the street hustle: Three-Card Monte. T-Rump has been playing it for years, and now that he has mastered the craft, he is tempting the gods and staking out his claim to be the most masterful ever.
Three-card monte has three key actors:
The dealer or con. That of course is T-Rump, now as President.
The marks. They’re the prey who play the game and think they can outsmart the dealer because they can keep their eyes on the one card that matters. They’re the Democrats, the GOP establishment, the pundits, the activists and the media.
The rest of us are the crowd that gathers around them. We are not key actors. We are bystanders, and we are fascinated by the game. How does the dealer do it? We seem to see every move clearly. The game is right in front of us.
What goes unnoticed is the work of the shills. The shills are the other key actors. They are situated in the crowd like all of us and they appear to be rooting for us – the people – to beat the dealer at his own game. But the shills are actually working for the dealer, building a false confidence in the marks and distracting attention so the hustler can work his sleight of hand even better.
Shills traditionally get a take of the action. They do it wittingly. The sheer brilliance of T-Rump’s game at the Presidential level is how he’s gotten the marks to become his shills, wittingly or not, and make no mistake, they are getting a piece of the action. The Democrats, the GOP establishment, the pundits, the activists, and particularly the media get a cut of the attention T-Rump covets and distributes.
The shills lay the bait, we got for it
The shills rant about the eccentricities T-Rump dangles as bait – calling immigrants people from “shithole countries,” mispronouncing Namibia, hiring and having falling outs with the Bannons, Sessionses, Flynns, Manaforts and Tillersons of the moment, the publication of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” (the “tell-all you could ever want if you’re Trump” book), and fomenting a debate on whether T-Rump is “a racist.” Each tweet beckons: Look over there. No, there. No, there.
Now there’s a memo by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes challenging a FISA court’s decision and casting suspicion on the FBI. The Nunes memo beckons. Look over there. The FBI can’t be trusted, federal judges are patsies, Justice Department officials are biased and should be fired. Listen to the pundits. They say it defies logic. Not the logic of diversion. It’s textbook.
Sometimes the distractions are so Freudian that they’re too luscious even for Freud. Before the Nunes affair pulled us away again, we were treated to T-Rump’s boast after a meeting he had on the immigration policy impasse:
“It was a tremendous meeting, actually it was reported as incredibly good, and my performance, some of them called it a performance, I consider it work. But it got great reviews by everybody other than two networks who were phenomenal for about two hours.” The Grand Con show is hot.
T-Rump’s son Eric ventured into the “look over there “ racist diversion with a comeback on Fox and Friends that his father is not a racist. “My father sees one color, green. That’s all he cares about. He cares about the economy.”
Power, money, attention, all rolled into the greatest show on earth.
The public is educable: One way out. Don’t play, engage
Don’t we get that framing his actions and statements as “unprecedented” in political terms makes them all the more priceless on the attention spectrum? Don’t we get that even though catching the President on brazen changes in position is needed, to T-Rump, it’s reruns and residuals. If we pay attention to a fulmination the first time, it’s money in the bank. If we replay it as often as the issue stays alive and fresh, it’s an investment in his pulsating notoriety. If we move on, there’s yet another rabbit and another hat.
Don’t we get that invoking his “unprecedentedly” low favorability rating to make the point that the GOP is at risk in the mid-term 2018 elections is a carcass to a T-Rump who revels in watching the GOP establishment squirm as they try to play him. Don’t we get that distraction, any distraction is music to the hustler. The louder, the better. The fresher, the better. The Nunes noise jolts the nerves. Twitter is the golden goose. The marks-turned shills have no recourse but to take the bait.
Check out the YouTube video to see how three-card monte works. Remember the invocation at the end: “Don’t gamble. You can’t win. End. These guys just take your money and run.”
One bright spot is that three-card monte is the classic short-term con. By taking the game to the Presidential level, T-Rump counts on keeping it up long enough to emerge with aspirations intact – to be the most powerful, the wealthiest, and the most talked about human ever.
If only we bystanders could figure out a way to mobilize the march to T-Rump’s extinction.
Jack C. Doppelt is a journalism professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, founder and publisher of Immigrant Connect and SJNN (Social Justice News Nexus) and author of this failed attempt to appeal to the Republican conscience – If Trump Makes It One Year Without Impeachment, Then Let’s Talk Supreme Court Nominees