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."
Ben Gabbe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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.
Like stuffed crust pizza, Donald Trump began as silly and superfluous, an obnoxious but harmless artifact from the intersection of big business and pop culture. Since then, he's confused the media's mocking tones as encouragement. That made him dive deeper into the persona of Donald Trump and explore the depths of absurdity he could reach with this new character. And so we get gross feuds with Rosie O'Donnell, we get The Apprentice, and we get flirtations with politics that seem to serve no other purpose than to remind people he's just as much of a flesh sack of snakes as he was the last time he injected himself into headlines with a hepatitis-encrusted needle. It can't be a coincidence that Trump has evolved into Mecha-Trump at the same time Pizza Hut strained like crazy just to shit out a pizza with hot dogs for crust. Both feel like inevitable conclusions to bad ideas that should never have been greenlit in the first place.
Speaking of which, Trump has gained a reputation for proudly slapping his name on bad ideas. He'd swim to the bottom of the North Atlantic to paint "TRUMP" on the Titanic if he could hold his breath for long enough. Then he'd find the Heart Of The Ocean and turn it into his most prized ball gag. One of those moments of odd branding abuse is the Donald Trump line of Serta mattresses:
Someone lied to Donald Trump. With a completely straight face, someone looked him in the eye and convinced him that mattresses were the revenue stream of the future. Someone sold him on the idea that people would see a mattress embroidered with the name of a belligerent doofus and think, "I have to dream on that."
We see the recurring theme: Trump is very rich, very powerful, he's got a big personality, and yet he seems to have no clue what he's actually doing. Not only does he believe, in real life, that his blatant, unmelodic name should be synonymous with the thing people are most likely to fuck on, but in commercial world he believes that talking sheep are put to best use standing beside hotel rooms as glorified room-number plates. Commercial Donald Trump is a slaver, and real Donald Trump could not care less.
The advertising world is an echo chamber that bounces a magnification of Donald Trump's personality back onto him, which he then absorbs for the same reason Superman soaks in the rays of a yellow sun. All of that reaches its ludicrous peak in an Oreo commercial:
Sorry. My mistake. That's not an Oreo commercial. That's a Donald Trump commercial. That is the Trumpiest of all Trump commercials. The gloating, the narcissism, the vanity, the arrogance, the stupidity -- all of it is working in harmony and turned up to 11. His rich douchebag persona was splashed with radioactive sludge, came to life, and took the form of Darrell Hammond from Saturday Night Live. Trump is looking into the eyes of a funhouse mirror come to life, and he isn't flinching.
BECAUSE HE'S FINE WITH IT. He's looking right at everything that's wrong with him, and he doesn't show a drop of self-consciousness. That isn't an existential stare into a mirror. That's a passing glance at his reflection in a store-front window that makes him realize his hair looks wonderful today. That is Donald Trump.
And that's why some people love him. He's a big mean thing that has no introspection and no willingness to change. Why would he need to? He made billions being that person. So why stop at billions? Why not see how far this can take him? To the White House, perhaps? He's trying it, and currently leading all other republicans by a margin so wide you know it makes them all feel very, very bad about themselves.
But for those worried that we might soon be swearing in President Trump and Vice President Stack Of Money With Googly Eyes From Those Geico Commercials, listen to me: This is just a phase.
And Congress would be the Geico cavemen. Boom. Eat that, Congress.
We're well over a year away from Election Day. Nothing matters right now. Who's up and who's down in the polls is of zero consequence. All presidential races are filled with the corpses of candidates who were in commanding leads a year out from Election Day but were eventually slaughtered as the Tough Mudder to the White House trudged on. Look no further than Obama and Hillary in 2008. Trump is up in the polls because when reality and responsibility are way off in the distance, it's play time. Now is the time we photograph candidates eating phallic corn dogs at state fairs. It's all for our own amusement. If the one we elect as president turns out to be a shithead, at least we forced them to eat a deep-fried dick that one time.
But here's why Donald Trump is making play time feel different: We usually only make candidates eat the deep-fried-dick replicas. This time around, Donald Trump is the deep-fried dick, and we're savoring every second of him before he's gone.
It may be true that Donald Trump's real self is revealed in a McDonald's commercial, but the Donald we all remember lives on in 5 Reasons Why Donald Trump Is The Biggest Troll Alive. Check out If Every Politician Campaigned Like Donald Trump to get a glimpse into the post-apocalyptic landscape that is American Politics after Trump wins the election.
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