Letter to the editor: The President explained through musical comedy

With all the 24/7 Trump news coverage and endless “talking head” analysis, I am surprised that I have not heard any comparisons between our current political reality show and the more benign American musical theater. Love him or loath him, there is no question that President Trump is at heart a song and dance man.
The most obvious comparison is with the slick con man Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” Like Trump, no one seems able to explain how he has always been able to stay one step ahead of disaster. In the opening scene, the other salesmen wonder how someone who “doesn’t know the territory” can survive:
I don’t know how he does it
But he lives like a king and he dallies and he gathers and he plucks and shines
and when the man dances, certainly boys, what else?
The piper pays him!
Of course, like Hill, one of Trump’s strategies is to create a problem and then take credit for solving it. Hill convinces the residents of idyllic River City that they have “Trouble” and points out that “The idle brain is the devil’s playground.” So the obvious solution is to give them something else to think about. Those who buy into this sleight of hand fall into the “Music Man syndrome.” Rather than actually teach his eager students how to play their instruments, Hill boasts of the “think method” by which one must only think of the tune and those thoughts alone will come out of the instrument as music. In the finale, even though the fraud is exposed, the adoring parents beam with pride as their children honk and squeak through a cacophony of the “Minuet in G.” Similarly, although it is unlikely that Trump ever even read Paul Ryan’s tax bill and ignores years of economic growth, he gleefully takes credit for the booming economy.
As Trump continues to dominate the Republican Party, the more traditional functionaries find themselves with the same dilemma as the bosses in the 1959 musical “Fiorello!”
The bum won
Even without our help, look at the way he won!
Everyone sold him short!
We’ve got a winner, but what good is that to us?
Not if he doesn’t feel grateful for our support!
Who’d ever guess that the people
Would go to the polls and elect a fanatic?!
People can do what they want to,
But I got a feeling it ain’t democratic!
Although comparing Trump to LaGuardia is probably insulting to both, they certainly share charismatic personalities that overwhelm mere political parties.
Part of that charisma is an outsized sense of exceptionalism. For Trump everything is either the best or the worst. He gives himself an A+ for his performance despite endless controversy and low approval polls. This may be simple arrogance as in “Anything you can do I can do better,” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” but is probably a much deeper sense of self-importance like the title character in “Pippin.”
I’ve got to be someone who lives
All of his life in superlatives
When you’re extraordinary
You gotta do extraordinary things
And don’t make me think about everyday things
They’re unnecessary
To someone who is very
Like me!
While many of his supporters see this as confidence and being authentic, it remains to be seen if the outcomes will justify the hype. Perhaps, like Pippin, he may even find out in the end that the lust for wealth and fame alone is a hollow prize.
In addition to Trump’s effort to convince us that we’ve got troubles only he can solve, he also relies upon our faulty memories and sense of nostalgia to “Make America Great Again.” This is, of course, a common political gambit. It is easy to engage most people in a reverie about the “Good Old Days” as the devil does in “Damn Yankees.” However, Trump’s privileged background and lifestyle have insulated him from most of the realities of the past. He is much more like the aristocratic character, Sir, in “The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd” when he muses:
There are so many things I remember
From the deeply revered days of old
When living was gentle and gracious
And working folk did as they’re told.
They were wonderful days, I remember,
When a feller could live like a king;
And children were working in coal mines
And life was a beautiful thing.
The America Trump points to is the George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin version, not the reality that the vast majority of people actually experience. Trump’s American past is a bubble like the nightclub in “Cabaret,” where the Master of Ceremonies encourages his audience to:
Leave your troubles outside!
So – life is disappointing? Forget it!
We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful…
Trump can do this because he is, as he claims, the ultimate salesman. He uses selective memory, diversions, unrealistic expectations, sleight of hand, and a fluid interpretation of reality to “Razzle Dazzle” us just like Billy Flynn in “Chicago”:
Give ’em the old hocus pocus
Bread and feather ’em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?
Show ’em the first rate sorcerer you are.
Long as you keep ’em way off balance
How can they spot you got no talents?
It is hard to know how and when this will end. Those who pay close attention find it hard to escape the conclusion that perhaps “Anything Goes” and that:
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
While it may not be that bad, it certainly feels like we are all playing roles in a national performance art piece with President Trump as the ringmaster. So as we began, love him or loathe him, we cannot deign that the Trump phenomenon is as American as musical comedy.
Richard Isenberg

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