By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
I confess that some years ago when I was a callow fellow, I went to a professional wrestling show in upstate Glens Falls, New York. It was great fun.
Here was an array of steroid-built muscleman acting out morality plays in the ring dressed in togs and flying across the canvass pulverizing one and other. Inevitably there were the good guys against bad guys.
As interesting as it was watching these wrestlers do their thing to the inevitable scripted conclusion, I was just as fascinated by the rapt attention of the frenzied fans, thousands, who filled the seats of these arenas. They were true believers. It occurred to me that most really bought into this imagery and reveled in the brutality. They bellowed at the bad guys and nearly fainted in exhaustion cheering on their favorites. This was their opportunity to vent in a big way and cheer on the wrestlers who would bring down the hated enemy. What was interesting and more than a bit scary is that most of the fans thought that this was reality. At the height of the loathing toward Iran following the hostage takings, Hulk Hogan, that all American example of virtue, won the championship from the hated Iron Sheik. Oh what a night! Oh what celebration! We felt good to be Americans again!
Watching a recent packed arena rally for Donald Trump I got the same feeling as I did all those years ago watching Hulk Hogan clobber his opponent. But Donald Trump is no Hulk Hogan, although his substance is about the same. But the fans…Oh my God the fans, they are reacting to “The Donald” in the same frenzied way that Hogan’s fans reacted to him. In both cases, they think that their hero is real. As Donald Trump blusters his way through the Republican primaries with provocative rhetoric, bragging and posturing, his fandom eats it up.
I cannot even begin to enumerate the many people and groups that he regularly insults. His anti-immigrant, religious intolerance, pro-torture and full throated embrace of simplistic answers to complex problems is more and more frightening. Is this to be the exemplar of America to the rest of the world? His temperament is closer to Mel Gibson than his new found paragon, Ronald Reagan. He is no conservative, nor is he a libertarian or any particular political orientation. He is a showman and an opportunist of the first order. I am truly amazed and scared that he has come this far in the political process.
But what scares me even more are his millions of supporters who are undeterred that Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States offers no real agenda other than “making America great again.” In fact, they seem to delight in the cartoonish quality of the campaign. His preferred tactic seems to be to pander to the worst instincts in people. It has an eerie and sickeningly familiar echo to Germany in the early 1930’s. The Trump supporters come out in very big numbers to applaud their leader, although they cannot tell you much of anything that their standard bearer will actually do if he is President, other than spit on their perceived enemies. But what they do know is that their man gives voice to every dark unspoken impulse that they harbor about all the “those people” in this country who they believe have denied them their personal success or denied this county its national success. It is easy to blame “those people.”
I still remember way back when while watching that wrestling exhibition in Glens Falls, several guys in the back row with red, white and blue bandannas holding a sign that said “Hulk Hogan for President.”
I thought at the time how funny that was. It is not funny anymore.