It has come to my attention that there are still a few people in the world that I have not offended. I’d like to fix that by endorsing Donald Trump for president. But not for the reasons you might think.
This morning I read a news item saying that some folks at NBC think Trump might be pretending to run for president to boost ratings. The story noted that ratings for his TV show are up 20% lately. I laughed out loud because sometimes I forget that at least half the country doesn’t realize he’s just screwing with the media.
The magnificent part of this whole thing is that he’s putting no effort whatsoever into concealing his prank. That’s what I love about the guy. He knows that no level of clownery in a field of clowns will single him out as the one clown that doesn’t really mean it.
Take Trump’s recent empathy with the so-called birthers. That’s the most brilliant part of his plan. It’s a dead giveaway that he’s just screwing with the media, and it has the added benefit of concentrating most of their attention on that one trivial issue. He doesn’t even need to study up on the other issues. While Romney is writing position papers, Trump is golfing.
If you are not a student of practical jokes, you might not know they have a specific formula. A proper practical joke is more than a surprise or a lie. The magic part of the prank formula involves leaving enormous clues that are obvious to everyone but the target of the prank.
For example, if you have a coworker who likes to whistle little tunes in his cubicle, his blind spot is that he imagines other people are impressed and delighted by his whistling prowess. You could use that blind spot to engineer your prank. For example, you might have a friend call this fellow at work, pretending to be the director of the local symphony. Your co-conspirator could say the symphony is looking for an accomplished whistler to do a solo when the President of the United States’ is in town next month. The payoff is getting the whistler to show up at the local symphony and ask the receptionist where he should go for the whistling audition.
The thing that makes the prank work is that no one in the solar system, except for the whistler, would find this scenario credible. He alone could imagine that word of his whistling talents have started to get around town. And he alone would imagine that the President of the United States would want to hear his whistling solo.
Back to Trump. He’s a graduate of the Wharton School, which means his intelligence is in the genius range. He’s a world-renowned businessman with attention to details. He’s also famous for a trademark form of self-parody that has boosted his brand for decades. There isn’t the slightest chance that this man hasn’t looked at the birther evidence. He knows the President of the United States is American. That’s the hiding in plain sight part of this prank. It isn’t the least bit credible that Trump thinks the birther issue is real.
Some of you are thinking he’s gone too far with the joke. Or maybe he went too far when he said we should take Iraq’s oil by force as payment for a war they didn’t ask for. This is not a man who thinks he might someday debate serious politicians in a public forum. This is a man who is winking at the camera and daring you to see the obvious.
Normally I wouldn’t call out a prankster while the prank is in play. But this is a special case because the people who think he’s serious have made up their minds. In order for them to accept that this is a prank, they’d have to accept that they can’t tell the difference between a real candidate and one who is yanking their chains. Brains are not wired for that sort of 180 turn. In the history of humankind, no one has ever said, “I thought I was a brilliant observer of politics but this new information proves that my brain is the size of a tiny mouse turd.” Trump’s prank literally can’t be exposed by anyone but him.
Trump is smart enough to never admit that his presidential aspirations are no more than marketing. To admit the trick would damage his brand. But he has no need to ever expose the prank. Trump, the magnificent bastard, has figured out a way to have his cake and eat it too. The people who are in on the joke find it entertaining. The people who will never know it’s a joke have raised their opinion of him so much that he’s the leading Republican presidential contender. And his TV ratings are up, so from a marketing standpoint it’s working.
Granted, many people are turned off by Trump’s pomposity. He knows that. But he also knows that success doesn’t come from bland acceptance by the entire world. It comes from the ability to inspire the few. He’s nailing that part. I just spent my morning writing about him.
The other genius part of his marketing is that he knows people are influenced by repetition more than reason. The attention he gets for his alleged presidential ambitions allow him to tell you over and over again that all things Trump are amazing. That part of the plan is working too.