In the beginning, Donald Trump was a source of endless inspiration for political satirists.
As one of my favorite pseudonymous political/economic commentators put it last year in a brilliant piece called “Organs without bodies: Symbolic reattachment & hystericization of American politics“, Trump is “the laughing stock of the entire world and a butt of every joke.”
But there’s something peculiar about Trump’s internal struggle to undermine his symbolic self. Here are some excerpts from the piece linked above:
The nonlinearity of his relationship with facts and his propensity to lie have reached alarming proportions; it is unlike anything we have seen in the public life of western democracies. The antagonism of the press and media, which seems to be continuing with unrestrained intensity, has created massive negative externalities for the entire administration. The absence of any foresight in his conduct is stunning: It does not take much thought to realize that this could have never produced any positive effects for his presidency.
Same goes for his compulsive divisiveness of the populace, and deliberate undermining of his allies, his staff, and supporters, which has isolated him to the point that no one wants to work with or for him. There is no one who takes him seriously any more — he is the laughing stock of the entire world and a butt of every joke. He seems to take some pride in helping in the process of the collective ritual of public denigration of his presidency. One can sense something almost vindictive in his pursuit of the symbolic self.
This has led directly to the death of satire and irony.
That is, it’s exceedingly difficult to add anything in terms of comedic value to Trump’s presidency because he unwittingly (or, perhaps consciously) transcends the abilities of even the best satirists just by being himself.
Everything he says and does is its own joke, a state of affairs that’s either emblematic of abject buffoonery or, if you adopt the framework laid out in the “organs without bodies” article mentioned above, a deliberate act of suicide from the ambush:
His presidency represents a rebellion of the hysterical person against his symbolic persona, an attempt of Donald Trump the citizen to take out Donald Trump the president — an assassination of the symbolic self – a desire to re-attach phallus to the body.
The latest example of this dynamic comes from an Axios piece published over the weekend. You might recall that it was an Axios “scoop” about the Trump’s ongoing antagonism towards the WTO that triggered a firestorm on Friday, including accusations of “fake news” from Steve Mnuchin.
The key bit from Axios’s Friday piece was this quote, attributed to Trump by a source:
We always get fucked by them [the WTO]. I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.
Mnuchin was correct to say it’s an “exaggeration” to characterize the Axios story as “breaking news”.
But only because Trump hasn’t pulled the trigger (and Congress would have a say).
Steve’s use of the term “exaggeration” accidentally confirmed the point of Axios’s story, which was simply to remind everyone that Donald Trump is still running around telling his aides and advisors that America is “always getting fucked” by the WTO.
As you might recall from Friday, Jonathan Swan (from Axios) was having none of it, tweeting this:
Aka — for the Twitter users going berserk — Mnuchin LIED. Trump has explicitly told his adviser he wants to withdraw from the WTO many times. Mnuchin has been in the room when he has said this. Every sentence in our story is accurate, including the way we framed the plausibility. https://t.co/drvJQqoAPZ
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) June 29, 2018
And so, over the weekend, Axios published the details of what it says is a “leaked draft of a Trump administration bill — ordered by the president himself — that would declare America’s abandonment of fundamental World Trade Organization rules.” Here are the key points:
Why it matters: The draft legislation is stunning. The bill essentially provides Trump a license to raise U.S. tariffs at will, without congressional consent and international rules be damned.
The details: The bill, titled the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act,” would give Trump unilateral power to ignore the two most basic principles of the WTO and negotiate one-on-one with any country:
- The “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) principle that countries can’t set different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements;
- “Bound tariff rates” — the tariff ceilings that each WTO country has already agreed to in previous negotiations.
“It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal,” said a source familiar with the bill.
Ok, so that’s clearly bad and one source who spoke to Axios suggested that the only saving grace here is that “Congress would never give this authority to the president” because the ask is simply “insane.”
But “insane” is Trump’s calling card. Or, coming full circle to the points made here at the outset about the internal struggle inside the President’s mind, it’s the calling card of the hysterical person “Donald Trump the citizen” who, again, is seemingly engaged in a never-ending quest to take out Donald Trump the president.
And in a testament to how this ongoing quest has had the effect of killing off irony and satire by making it impossible to add comedic value to something that represents satirical perfection on its own, do note the name of the draft bill referenced by Axios:
United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act
The acronym is: the U.S. FART act. And yes, everyone noticed – even “the Mooch”.
WTO has its flaws, but the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act," aka the U.S. FART Act, stinks. American consumers pay for tariffs. Time to switch tactics. https://t.co/OfyOFA1neU
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 2, 2018
As an editor who writes some headlines at the NY Post can I just say I’m really psyched about the FART Act
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) July 2, 2018
pass the US FART Act I don’t care what you have to do
— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) July 2, 2018
i’m trying to pass a fart act over here too if you know what i’m saying https://t.co/BPjtMjpvZx
— LB classic [balmy]: (@LydiaBurrell) July 2, 2018
Did they name it the “FART Act” to troll the president? https://t.co/kqTqzlOD0X
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 2, 2018
The thing you have to ask yourself here when you think about comments like the one above from Josh Barro, is this: Are the President’s aides and advisors trolling the President, or is the President actually trolling himself and pulling everyone else along for the ride?