Monday, September 19, 2016

A monkey with a machine gun

In the October issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows, the magazine's national correspondent, has some tips on what to look for in the upcoming Clinton/Trump debates.


When I asked [former Maryland Governor Martin] O’Malley how he would be preparing to debate Trump if he’d won the nomination, he said, "I’d start by thinking of him as a monkey with a machine gun." By that he meant an adversary who is all the more dangerous because you can’t predict which direction he’ll be facing when he pulls the trigger.


In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

In her book My Life With the Chimpanzees, Goodall told the story of “Mike,” a chimp who maintained his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he moved down a road, creating confusion and noise that made his rivals flee and cower. She told me she would be thinking of Mike as she watched the upcoming debates.


On his “Talking Points Memo” site early this year, the political writer Josh Marshall argued that Trump’s debate and campaign approach was best understood as embodying what he called the “bitch-slap theory of politics.”
The essential purpose of any encounter is not to “solve problems” or “advance an agenda” or anything else C‑span-worthy. Instead the constant goal is to humiliate a foe. Humiliation is the central concept here: inflicting it on others, avoiding it oneself. Midway through the Republican-primary debate cycle, I finally saw the 2007 video of a WWE pro-wrestling showdown whose climax was Donald Trump shaving the head of rival promoter Vince McMahon after Trump’s wrestler beat McMahon’s in a match. You wouldn’t need Jane Goodall or Sigmund Freud to see in this spectacle every ritual of dominance, emasculation, ridicule, and humiliation—even with all allowances made for the phony melodrama on which pro wrestling is built. Once I had seen that video, it replayed in my mind every time Trump stepped onto a debate stage.

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