“I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.” – Donald Trump 2019
For the last three years we’ve been watching an American media production of a 16th Century commedia dell’arte performance, and the masks worn by the players have been surpassed only by the remarkable performances of the players themselves.
The world has been transfixed by the notion that American democracy was experiencing a 20th Century shift toward authoritarianism and possibly fascism. Screaming headlines and slogans like “Jews will not replace us” awakened homegrown militiamen – so enraged, so paranoid, that they heard the 2nd Amendment call them by name to defend a white nation from imaginary enemies living right next door.
But as what has turned out to be the 19th season of The Apprentice approaches, and we are still transfixed in front of our media feeds, the long-awaited denouement of this made-for-TV play is beginning to take center stage. We are gathered in front of our news delivery devices, and the popcorn and pearls to clutch have been passed out. History whispers that this performance will go down in the records as the best historical tragicomedy of all time, a theatrical production made in America by Americans (plus a few stunt men from Russia). And the crowds have literally gone wild for three years. But although the medium has changed from the flea pit stages of the 16th Century, it’s pleasantly ironic to note how derivative Trump and Company are of this classic form of improvisational theater.
For three years we’ve feared a return to the last century’s tyranny, fueled by a corrupt Vichy-style Republican Congress and a Christian Fundamentalist – dominated Supreme Court. We gasped at what we thought was a rough beast slouching toward America – as colluding with our enemies, and thievery so flagrant, so conspicuously illegal, became normalized in government at every level. While this has, indeed, been serious drama reminiscent of Shakespeare himself, it is also the return of The Apprentice, albeit a bigger, more consequential Apprentice than ever before – but a cheesy reality show nonetheless.
Our 2016 presidential election was, in fact, the 16th season of Trump’s portrayal of Il Capitano – a stock character in all commedia dell’arte productions: the “a vainglorious, deceitful and braggart soldier, dressed in a bright and colorful uniform… [for our performance he’s dressed in a red tie that’s way too long] His part usually involves him boasting of great exploits of war, but he is also the subject of pranks and jokes from the other characters”.
The commedia characters were classics in the reality show of human comedy in the Italy of the 16th Century: bloviating military officers with false bravado like Il Capitano, cunning and deceitful associates like Scaramouche (yes, you read that right), greedy Machiavellian types like Pantalone, and the Innamorati – so in love with themselves that they lack the ability to love others.
In 2016, the stock characters of Trump’s improv company were cast, and we congratulated Donald Trump for being cast as Il Capitano, and we were delighted to see that the role of Scaramuccia was to be played by himself, and we marveled that Rudy Giuliani was superbly cast as Pantalone, and of course, we were thrilled to hear that Stormy Daniels was to play a porn star as the female lead of the Innamorati.
The curtain rose, and the show began. There are usually ten stock characters in a commedia, but since this tragicomedy is all about small government at its worst – so small, in fact, that it literally can be “drowned in a bathtub”, most of the characters in our play had to have numerous understudies just in case one had to be summarily killed off or removed for cause. This is improvisational theater at its best.
Too soon? I think not. Trump’s hour has come round at last, and with Kurds dying in the sands of the desert, and Vladimir Putin smiling his rictus sneer of evil, Il Capitano is about to be summarily hoist with his own petard.
Goodbye, Mr. President. We’ll see you at the polls.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, provocative, or controversial, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs