In the past couple of weeks, Donald Trump has suggested that as president he’d close down mosques and create a national database to track Muslims. He’s doubled and tripled down on a blatantly false story about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11. He retweeted false, racist crime statistics originally published by neo-Nazis, cracked jokes about a black protestor beaten by attendees at one of his rallies, and mocked a reporter’s physical disability in front of a crowd of people. Pundits and politicians are saying that Trump is sounding more and more like a legitimate fascist. When I look at what Trump’s been up to lately, though, I don’t think about fascism – I think about an episode of Rokko’s Modern Life.
Most episodes of Rokko’s Modern Life focused on Rokko, a well-meaning Australian wallaby, and the trouble his numbskull friends Heifer and Filbert get him into. But in the episode I’m thinking of, Rokko and his friends take a backseat to the story of Ralph Bighead, the adult son of Rokko’s neighbor and lifelong nemesis, Ed Bighead.
Unlike his father, who works at a huge evil corporation and spends most of his time trying to think of ways to kill Rokko, Ralph is a sensitive artistic type who has created an extremely popular animated TV series called The Fatheads. After making over eight hundred lowbrow episodes, Ralph is ready to quit so he can fulfill his lifelong dream of creating real, meaningful art: A gigantic sculpture of fruit, carved into the side of a mountain.
Unfortunately for Ralph, he’s locked into a contract at the studio that requires him to create a new pilot. In a ploy to get out of his contract, Ralph puts Rokko, Heifer, and Filbert in charge of concepting, writing, and directing his new show, certain that these three idiots will make something so unwatchable that he’ll be fired and set free to pursue his passion.
As expected, Rokko, Heifer, and Filbert screw up at every turn, producing an incomprehensible sitcom about lunchmeat called Wacky Delly. Ralph is certain he’ll be given his walking papers – but the studio heads inexplicably love the pilot and put his show into full production, helmed by Rokko and his friends. Despite being crass, ugly, and almost painful to watch, Wacky Delly somehow becomes the most popular show in America overnight. People go crazy for every new episode, each one dumber, louder, and cruder than the last.
This is bad news for Ralph. The more popular the show gets, the longer he has to keep doing something he hates. He’s created a monster, and to try and kill it he starts taking a more active role in the show’s production, making the worst possible suggestions in hopes of tanking it.
He barges into the editing room and insists that an episode consist entirely of a static shot of a jar of mayonnaise, accompanied by a loud dial tone – but the episode winds up being a critically-acclaimed smash hit. He purposefully overexposes an episode’s film and orders Rokko and the gang to broadcast it anyway – audiences go nuts for the completely dark, featureless episode. Mobs of adoring fans begin to surround the studio.
Every time he tries to destroy his creation by taking it too far or making it so unappealing that no rational person could like it, it only makes his fans love the show more fervently. He’s trapped – a prisoner of his innate ability to pander to the lowest common denominator.
Donald Trump isn’t stupid. That’s why I’m fairly certain he has no interest in being president. Running for president suits him well, because it affords him a gigantic audience and considerable legitimacy to talk about how awesome he is. Being president means he’ll have to find a way to explain to his supporters why he can’t do all the impossible, unconstitutional things he’s promised to do. Then his credibility will be shot with the only people on Earth who still find him credible.
I think that The Donald, as much as anybody else, was sure that his presidential run would fizzle out after a few months once he’d had his fun, allowing him to go back to being a billionaire C-list celebrity with a newly broadened and energized fanbase. As summer turned into fall and his campaign showed remarkable staying power, he was delighted that he’d been able to prove so much of the Washington chattering class wrong. But with the field narrowing and his numbers remaining steady, Serious People are starting to warn that Trump is a legitimate threat for the Republican nomination.
Trump sees that too, and I’d wager that deep down it scares the shit out of him. So he’s trying to pump the brakes on his popularity by flirting with ideas that he figures should be repulsive to any rational person. It’s one thing to slander illegal immigrants – politicians have been doing that for centuries with great results. But promising to close down mosques, create a registry of Muslims, and then shrugging off the suggestion that you’re aping Adolf Hitler is something I feel like Trump thought would scare away even the die hard supporters who stuck around through all the previous racism, misogyny and other trash.
But Trump has underestimated the monster he’s created. His unwavering support at the polls is a sign that his adherents are so committed that they’ll line up behind just about anything he says, so long as it’s littered with four-letter words and hostility toward Washington. Now he can’t stop what he’s started – short of quitting the race while he’s the frontrunner, which his ego will never allow. At this point he’s essentially a hostage of his fanbase.
Look, I could be full of shit about this. Maybe Donald Trump really is just a proud, wealthy fascist speaking from the heart. But it’s worth remembering that he wasn’t always this way.
To be sure, Donald Trump has been a first rate piece of shit his entire life, but his politics didn't get this extreme until recently. In 2012 he criticized Mitt Romney for alienating Latinos by taking a hardline stance against illegal immigrants. In 2000 he was pro-choice and supported a Bernie Sanders-style universal healthcare plan. In 2009 he repeatedly praised the newly-inaugurated president on his blog, saying “The world is excited about Barack Obama and the new United States. Let’s keep it that way!”
So maybe he’s experienced a seismic change of heart on every issue at the center of the GOP psyche in the past couple of years. Or maybe he’s a bored rich jackass whose attention-getting ploy spiraled out of control. Your guess is as good as mine.
Eventually, Ralph Bighead accepts that he can’t kill Wacky Delly, and instead resolves to channel his creative energies into making this show the piece of great art he’s always wanted to create. He pours his heart and soul into making an episode of Wacky Delly he’s actually proud of, which proves to be so unpopular the show is cancelled in ten seconds.
If Trump really wants out of the race, all he has to do is run his campaign based on the things he believed as recently as the third season of Mad Men. Once his fans hear him praising the Wall Street bailout, he’ll be out of Iowa and back to hosting WWF events in no time.