Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Wrasslin' Trump



I first thought the Sunday morning video clip of President Trump wrestling was something from one of the many parody accounts on Twitter. If you have not seen it, Trump attacks and punches the WWE's Vince McMahon, only the CNN logo is superimposed over McMahon's head. It is only a few seconds long, but the message is clear: Trump is giving CNN an old fashioned ass whoopin'.

Immediately, Trump supporters began sharing and praising the video while his critics quickly and loudly denounced it, claiming it promoted violence against the media. Many of us wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from the world in shame. No question the video clip is inappropriate and completely lacking in dignity, but Trump supporters, both the enthusiastic and the reluctant, did not elect him for his dignity and class. Though they seem to forget losing their minds over former first lady Michelle Obama daring to wear sleeveless dresses. I guess either the definition of class has shifted for some in the past few years or suddenly the whole idea of dignity became unimportant.

Either way, critics of Trump need to understand that many people are amused and entertained by wrestling. I sure was. As a kid growing up in Northeast Arkansas, Saturdays were spent watching Memphis wrestling or "wrasslin" as it was known. Jerry "The King" Lawler, Jimmy Hart, Junkyard Dog and "Ravishing" Rick Rude were superstars to me and my friends. We knew it was fake, but didn't care. We wanted someone to root for and someone to root against. We needed the hero and we needed the heel.

Although, much of the characterization of the left being elite and out of touch is part of a narrative that some pundits and politicians have played up to their advantage, I see signs of it in some of the backlash against the video. Some called the participation in wrestling "tacky" and "unpresidential." But that's where the two sides differ. If you know wrestling, then you know it's fake. It's violent, but considered by supporters to be in good fun, as much as violence can be in good fun. And don't forget a lot of celebrities have spent time in and around the ring in some capacity, including Alex Trebek, Aretha Franklin and Muhammad Ali. Top wrestlers make millions of dollars a year. Attacking the entire wrestling entertainment empire will get progressives nowhere.

Standing alone, the video could be compared to Bill Clinton wearing sunglasses and playing the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show," Richard Nixon appeared on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" to deliver the famous "Sock it to me" line, or President Obama appearing on the odd online show "Between Two Ferns" to promote the Affordable Care Act. All were designed to show a human side and all were criticized at the time as being "unpresidential."

When viewed in context along with all of the statements, social media posts and actions banning or belittling the press by the president and White House, it is clearly another blow in the current administration's undemocratic and deeply concerning attempt to discredit mainstream media. To what end, we still don't know. Trump's attack on the press is downright terrifying. In light of Trump's narrative that the media is an enemy he must battle, this video goes beyond something that would be played at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner for shared laughs. It is especially concerning coming so soon after Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte admitted to assaulting a reporter. It also seems especially hypocritical after Trump and his supporters accused the left of inciting violence in the wake of the recent shooting at the Republican Congressional softball practice.

Time will tell if we can ride it out or if the damage to our democracy is irreparable. As long as Trump is the hero to his base and the media, as in the wrestling world, is the "heel," these attacks and baseless accusations will continue. Just like in wrestling, they will probably get more and more bizarre. As many fans of wrestling know, logic and reason just don't sell. Wrestling is like politics: Theatrics and hyperbole rule the ring.

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