by Tony Wyman
Donald Trump’s Act Is As Washed Up As Andrew Dice Clay’s Humor
Donald Trump got to the White House by insulting his political opponents and shocking the American people into believing he was something new, disruptive and refreshing. Unfortunately for the president in 2020, that act has lost its punch; people have simply stopped paying attention to the mad things he says and tweets every day.
To understand why, we need to look at the career of comedy’s version of today’s president.
The first comedian in history to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row was Andrew Dice Clay in 1990. The profane comedian from New York City was the biggest comedy act in the nation for years, dazzling audiences with his mixture of homophobic and misogynistic jokes that shocked Americans who had never heard such unabashed bigotry on a stage before.
“The Diceman” filled venues across the country with audiences mesmerized by his offensively brash and degrading act, a show filled with hateful, divisive and distasteful insults masquerading as jokes that relied on shock and controversy to get laughs.
Portraying himself as a victim of media bias and liberal censorship, Clay rode a wave of popularity as a tough guy from Brooklyn who didn’t care what anyone thought about him.
That wave came to a sudden and screeching halt after he melted down on the Arsenio Hall show, breaking character and tearing up in front of a cheering audience that didn’t realize he was being serious and honest about his feelings and fears that his act was growing stale with audiences.
In the weeks following his appearance on the talk show, and the disastrous failure of his movie, “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” which was little more than a cinematic version of his stage act, audiences started to shrink and, eventually, his comedy routine failed to draw crowds because it became just that, routine.
Donald Trump’s Act Has Grown Stale
The same thing is happening today to Donald Trump. Just as audiences grew tired of Andrew Dice Clay’s schismatic and repellent act when it lost its shock value and became commonplace, voters are no longer moved by the president’s increasingly strident language. Simply put, no one cares what Donald Trump says anymore.
Where is the proof that Mr. Trump’s shock jock approach to the presidency is no longer moving his audience to impassioned cheers or disgusted jeers?
Where is the proof that the president’s tweets and press briefing comments no longer have much impact? Just look at the most recent things the president has said and how quickly they died after being starved of press oxygen.
Over the past two weeks, Mr. Trump fired off a number of increasingly agitational and inflammatory attacks on his Democratic Party opponents. And the country yawned.
“He’s following the radical left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God,” the president ranted about Joe Biden. “He’s against God, he’s against guns,” Mr. Trump said in Ohio on August 6th.
On Fox Business News, August 13th, Mr. Trump claimed if the former vice-president is elected, America would have “no fossil fuels, which means, basically, no energy,” and that cities would have to be rebuilt “because too much light gets through the windows … let’s rip down the Empire State Building.”
He added that Mr. Biden’s concerns about the environment would threaten America’s dinner tables, as well. “They don’t want to have cows, they don’t want to have any form of animals.”
And, about Joe Biden’s running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Trump returned to his trope of stereotyping black women as angry and dangerous. “Sort of a madwoman, I call her, because she was so angry,” Mr. Trump said about Mrs. Harris, adding she is “nasty” and “disrespectful.”
Predictably, the president also questioned whether Mrs. Harris, a woman of Indian and Jamaican ancestry, who was born in Oakland, California, is legally qualified to be vice-president.
“I heard it today, that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump commented during a White House press briefing when asked by a reporter about a Newsweek opinion piece arguing that, because Mrs. Harris’ parents are both immigrants, she shouldn’t be qualified to be vice-president or president. “And by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.”
But Newsweek withdrew and apologized for publishing the piece, which was written by a right-wing lawyer named John Eastman, a member of the far right Federalist Society, who argued the Constitution doesn’t grant people born in this country birthright citizenship, despite the 14th Amendment doing just that.
The news magazine incredulously claimed they had no idea Republicans would seize upon Mr. Eastman’s editorial to use against the Biden/Harris ticket.
“This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize,” Newsweek’s editors Josh Hammer and Nancy Cooper wrote in a note attached to the online version of the opinion piece “We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized.”
How they could have failed to predict the GOP would use the piece in such a way defies credulity, especially since the editors knew Mr. Trump was a leading “birther” charging former President Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because he was black…I mean because he was allegedly born outside the country, a conspiracy theory known to be false.
But, what made Mr. Trump’s birtherism against Mrs. Harris significant is how predictable and, thus, ineffective it was.
“Unfortunately, this might have been inevitable,” Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, told NPR. He said, from the moment Mr. Biden chose Mrs. Harris as his running mate, Democrats on Twitter starting warning the Trump White House would start going after her with racist and sexist attacks.
“The problem with that is, [the Democrats] weren’t wrong and they weren’t wrong because this is where Trump went and Trump supporters went immediately,” Mr. Heye said.
All Style and No Substance
The problem with the predictability of Mr. Trump’s responses to arising political challenges, such as the appointment of Mrs. Harris, is they’ve become familiar, tired, worn out. Like the dirty nursery rhymes repeated over and over by Andrew Dice Clay, Mr. Trump’s attacks no longer have any zing or heft.
Instead of leaving a bruise, they just make us yawn. And that is the problem with the president being, essentially, all style and no substance: once everyone is tired of the style, they stop listening. Just ask Andrew Dice Clay.
And the media is noticing. The USA Today editorial board published this last Thursday:
“It seem eons ago now — though only a few years — that Donald Trump capitalized on the soaring stature of the Oval Office to shatter equilibriums with his brand of edicts and outrage. He would roil public discourse for weeks with his claims — that he won the popular vote in 2016 because millions voted illegally, enjoyed the largest inaugural crowd in history, was wiretapped by President Barack Obama, saw moral equivalency between white supremacists and those who oppose them, and threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea.
It was all false, phony or came to nothing. But the point was his towering ability back then to shock people.
And today? Not so much.”
It was an “attack…a bomb of some kind,” said Mr. Trump about the tragic explosion in Lebanon, claiming unnamed generals told him that, an obvious fabrication. No one was shocked when the Pentagon contradicted the president within hours, largely because no one paid much attention to Mr. Trump’s initial claim.
The president’s mid-July claim his administration would have a COVID-19 response plan “that’s going to be very, very powerful” fell on deaf ears. So did Mr. Trump’s claim he’d have an arms control deal with Iran within four weeks of his re-election.
The day after the president said he wouldn’t fund the U.S. Postal Service‘s request for funds to handle the expected surge in mail-in blots, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “The Postal Service will have the funding that it needs. We will make sure of that.”
The president’s luck isn’t any better on the international stage, either. Friday, the United States suffered a humiliating defeat in the United Nations Security Council when only the Dominican Republic voted with the U.S. to extend the arms embargo on Iran. Eleven of the fifteen nations on the Council abstained, including close American allies like the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Clay Reinvented Himself, Trump Can’t
“When I think of Trump, this guy stole my whole act to become president,” said Andrew Dice Clay during an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2017. “The bottom line, though, is what I do is an act. And when you’re the president of these united states, I have to agreed, we need to stay united. And somebody has to own up.”
“Own up” is what Mr. Clay did about his controversial and, often, offensive past act. He saw that it had lost its appeal, that the audiences had shrunk to just a core of Dice loyalists, and that, if he were to return to the center of the stage, he had to abandon the character he was playing and show a more genuine version of himself.
That re-invention worked. It earned him a role as himself on the HBO hit Entourage and in the Woody Allen drama Blue Jasmine, where his performance as Augie earned him widespread critical praise and rekindled his career as an actor capable of stepping out of his comedic stage character.
What Mr. Clay recognized is that, to be successful in the 21st Century, he had to evolve, he had to grow with the changing American culture that was becoming more inclusive, more compassion and less tolerant of the often ugly, bigoted and homophobic act that first made him a success.
He had to reinvent himself as a modern, more “woke,” if you will, performer who relied on talent and intellect to succeed, rather than one that just shocked people with ugly, dirty jokes and insults.
That re-invention is exactly what Donald Trump needs right now to save and rekindle his political career. The problem is, Donald Trump isn’t playing a character in the White House, he’s playing his true self. And people have grown as tired of his act as they did Andrew Dice Clay’s.
The political problem that Mr. Trump has to face, now that his hyperbolic and hysterical attacks on his opponents only find purchase with his shrinking base, is how can he close the gap between him and Mr. Biden with less than 80 days to go before the election?
Running on his record as president will not rescue Mr. Trump from defeat in November. The country, thanks to his failed leadership, is much worse off than it should be. As the president likes to say, everyone knows this, even his most passionate supporters.
The economy is in a shambles, our response to the virus is the worst in the world, our standing in the global community is much worse than it was before Mr. Trump took office. Again, everyone knows this, even his supporters.
So, the only thing the president can do is to double down on being Donald Trump. He’s not grown in the office; he hasn’t learned anything while sitting at the Resolute Desk; he hasn’t gained a grasp of policy or bothered to develop and understanding of America’s place in the world and the vital role our nation plays to keep the enemies of freedom at bay.
So, when he takes the stage next to taunt and insult and dog whistle, ignore him. You’ve seen and heard his act before. Don’t buy another ticket hoping you will see a new Donald Trump. You won’t.
Unlike Andrew Dice Clay, Mr. Trump can’t re-invent himself. He simply can’t.
You’ll just experience another view of Andrew Dice Clay as president.