You either love him or hate him. In any given hour of the day, his name is on the lips of some politician or media talking head. I haven’t seen this much celebrity notoriety since Charlie Sheen launched his incomprehensible “My Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour to an incredulous public. Winning was never like this. Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration may not have that Lindsay Lohan mark of sensationally shabby repute, but no one can deny he’s created a media firestorm that’s taken a life of its own.
You may have seen a few political cartoons depicting him as the GOP’s court jester. Or perhaps you heard Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer make the amusing comparison between Trump and a rodeo clown. This might give you the impression his detractors aren’t taking him seriously. It hasn’t occurred to them yet that it’s Trump that doesn’t take them seriously.
Let the facts be submitted for the record: The court jester and rodeo clown are both respectable professional occupations. Both have served important functions in their particular fields, and have provided valuable services to their respective clientele. In all of their due respect, perhaps Donald Trump’s role as a presidential candidate deserves a new look.
In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, the jester, or “fool” was a position of privilege and status within a royal or noble household. Aristocrats employed them as entertainers who typically juggled, performed music, and told jokes and riddles. Much of the entertainment was performed in a comic style that included contemporary jokes in word or song about people or events well known to their audiences. Additionally, they served not simply to amuse but to criticize their master or mistress and their guests.
Though many of the stories may be apocryphal, the fool does occasionally appear within the pages of the history books. Some are remembered both by name and deed. Triboulet was a jester to kings Louis XII and Francis I of France. His exploits were chronicled by Francois Rabelais as well as Victor Hugo, whose work Le Roi s’amuse was the basis for Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. William Sommers was the court jester for Henry VIII of England. Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister appreciated that Sommers sometimes drew the King’s attention to extravagance and waste within the royal household by means of a joke.
Today’s rodeo clowns don’t always dress up in circus-like garb and makeup as their predecessors did, but their function in bull riding competitions remains the same. Also called “bullfighters,” their primary job is to protect a fallen rider by distracting the bull and providing an alternative target for the bull to attack. These are skilled and experienced rodeo professionals who expose themselves to great danger in order to protect the cowboy.
In recent times rodeo clowns have become formally recognized for their daring feats by several rodeo associations. The National Finals Rodeo hosts a Bullfighter of the Year contest, and the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association designates a Bullfighter of the Year annually. Other titles include the American Cowboys Association Freestyle Bullfighting Champion and the Ultimate Challenge Freestyle Bullfighting Champion.
If nothing else, Donald Trump seems to be standing with good company.
One thing is for sure. Trump is drawing public ire that would normally be reserved for other GOP candidates. For better or worse, Trump’s fellow presidential candidates would be getting much of the scrutiny now being focused on Trump. In one sense, you might say that Trump is baiting the furious bulls, while keeping the rest of the field from being severely gored. Consequently GOP candidates are for the moment not getting overwhelmed with media criticism, some of it probably well deserved. In effect, Trump may be giving them time to catch their breaths so they can get back on that ornery bull that is American politics.
If Donald Trump is indeed the court jester of the GOP, he’s certainly making the most of it. Not only is he brazenly challenging the political status quo, he’s saying the sorts of things that many people are thinking but aren’t willing to say. Of course if Trump were to have performed his political schtick before the royal courts of old, he probably would have been eventually beheaded by some angry king. But we live in modern times and deal with our political and social critics in a more civilized way. We hold them up to public ridicule and condemnation, and destroy their careers, reputations and livlihoods. Just ask Donald Sterling, or anyone that’s refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Trump appears more than up to the task of withstanding this kind of onslaught.
Make no mistake, mocking our modern-day royal aristocrats can get you in plenty of trouble. In Trump’s case it’s costing him money that by some estimates is well in excess of fifty million dollars. NBC will no longer broadcast the Trump-sponsored Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. In one particular moment of irony, he was fired from “The Celebrity Apprentice,” the reality TV series based on the show that Trump created. Macy’s decided to drop Trump’s fashion line from their clothing merchandise. And each day, the public criticism continues across the entire political spectrum.
Big ego and hair to match aside, Trump isn’t difficult to criticize. His brutal but frank remarks about immigration have probably made him a permanent pariah to all liberals in politics, media, and those afraid to be connected to his business interests. Others within the DC establishment have tried to minimalize Trump by shrugging him off as nothing but an irrelevant media grandstander that deserves no credibility.
As you might guess, criticism has been coming from congressional Republicans and conservative media. Some are warning us that Trump’s outlandish antics are cheapening the presidential campaign and interfering with the “legitimate” candidates. Maybe so. Or maybe they’re worried that Trump is reaching voters in ways that the GOP establishment isn’t willing or able to do. And maybe what they’re really worried about are Trump’s increasing poll numbers.
Of all the candidates, Donald Trump is certainly the fly in the political ointment. But should he be the one to blame? The media chooses to provide him with 24/7 publicity because they can’t resist a sensational story. And should Trump’s campaign endure long enough to adversely affect any of the Republicans’ bid for president, it’s only because the GOP has become too feeble and wishy-washy to stand on their own principles. Either way, Trump can walk away with no regrets. That is, of course, unless he happens to win the GOP nomination. That might make for a modern opera to rival even Rigoletto. One question, though. Would it be a comedy or a tragedy?