Put your politics aside for the length of this column. Not that today's subject necessitates a suspension of political beliefs, really. But its popularity does require a suspension of disbelief. I'm going to be talking about Donald Trump. He transcends business, wealth, and politics. He is a figure beyond traditional modes of classification. Though, gun to my head, if I had to choose a label for him most of us could agree on, it would be "asshole."
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Or "ripe honeydew melon."
Still, that does nothing to familiarize us with Donald Trump, the man beneath the easily mocked cotton-candy comb-over. Most of what we see of Trump's life feels like a show. If upon his death it was revealed he was a French clown satirizing America's elite, a billion people would shout, "I FUCKING KNEW IT." That's why any time he injects himself into politics, the same question is asked: Is all of this simply self-promotion for the Trump brand? That was asked to Trump's face when he was recently grilled by Chuck Todd on Meet The Press, a one-on-one interview with a presidential candidate that's actually worth watching because A) Todd asked tough questions and Trump genuinely attempted to answer some of them, and B) even in 16x9 HD wide-angle shots, Trump's head still takes up a quarter of the screen.
The real Donald Trump is a mystery. There may not even be a real Donald Trump. He may be a flesh husk filled with 300 well-coordinated snakes. But I refuse to believe he is snakes. I know there's a person in there, and I think I've found that person's favorite hiding spot: commercials. Over the years, Donald Trump has starred in various TV spots shilling whatever thing a company paid him the most money to promote. That, paradoxically, is where his humanity shines through. He's rich as shit. He doesn't need an advertiser's money. That means he must genuinely love everything he promotes. So when Donald Trump stands beside Grimace to sell a $1 hamburger, he must feel like a kid at Disney World who just took a picture with Mickey Mouse.
Donald Trump isn't as dumb as most of us would like to believe. People don't dumb their way into billions of dollars. His deal, along with plenty of other billionaires, is that he really doesn't know how to be a human. All he seems to know is business and money and how to business and money harder than most of us. That's what makes his commercial work so special: It shows that he's in on the joke that is Donald Trump. In the McDonald's ad above, he asks Grimace how McDonald's could sell a burger for only a dollar. Of course the man knows why it's only a buck. All of the burger's individual components add up to less than the loose change clanging in a dryer. Trump damn well knows McDonald's would still profit if they charged only a dime and a smile for that sad sandwich lump. But he's so wrapped up in the business mechanics of selling a burger for a buck that he's blind to the fact that he's trying to pry corporate secrets out of a fuzzy purple triangle. That's the public perception of him, and he's been rolling with it for years.
Same thing shows up in a pair of Trump-centric Pizza Hut commercials. In one from 2000, we're treated to more winks and nods at the larger-than-life Donald Trump persona, this time presented through the prism of baked dough:
Trump read the script for the commercial and saw he would be comparing himself to Napoleon and Alexander The Great, and then he approved that script and said those words into a camera. That commercial then played on millions of TVs for millions of people. If he cared about people thinking he's too arrogant, he would have vetoed that joke. But he okayed the script because that's a public perception he can live with and, frighteningly, maybe even agrees with. In other words, he wants people to think a hotel magnate deserves to be discussed in the same vein as legendary military leaders who shaped global history.
The other is a 1995 Pizza Hut ad for the then-new stuffed crust pizza:
The ad features an appearance by Trump's first ex-wife, Ivana. They had been divorced for more than two years by that point, a divorce that made the penises of gossip magazine editors pop with glee and confetti. Two years later, Donald and Ivana were using the tattered remains of their star-crossed love to sell pizza with rubbery goo running out of its butt. When you're turbo-rich, divorces aren't family-ruining nightmares of tears and misery. They're potential fodder for Pizza Hut's ad department.
The stuffed crust pizza is a food concept that only recently reached its frightening final manifestation that borders on self-parody. Eerie, considering the exact same thing could be said of Donald Trump.