Just this week, in reaction to the recent terrorist killings in San Bernardino, California, Donald Trump proposed banning all Muslim entry into the United States. Predictably, the outrage coming from both Republicans and Democrats, from the media, and from the Internet has been immediate and blistering, with nearly everyone condemning him for his unAmerican Islamophobia. Even Dick Cheney got in on the act, calling Mr. Trump’s comments “contrary to everything this country stands for.” And when Dick Cheney accuses you of xenophobic speech, almost certainly you have a problem. What seems somewhat curious, though, in listening to all the talking heads on cable television and reading journalists in the press, is how few of them are suggesting the possibility that Mr. Trump, while actually believing what he is saying, may at the same time be trying to put one over on us.
In asking this question, I suggest you reference Spike Lee’s brilliant, satirical movie from 2000 Bamboozled. In it, a black producer at a major network played by Damon Wayans, wanting out of his contract, decides to produce the most insensitive, racist show he can think of for the express purpose of getting himself fired. Hiring renowned African-American tap dancer Savion Glover to appear in blackface and bright red lips, and to dance in a watermelon patch for a studio audience accompanied by Aunt Jemima and other racially incendiary characters, Wayan’s character Pierre Delacroix figures that this should easily do the trick. However, to his initial surprise, and even dismay, the show becomes a huge hit. Then, as ratings continue to go through the roof, and Wayan’s character begins to revel in his success, he reaches the point toward the film’s end where his office is seen scattered with the worst sort of racist nic-nacs and porcelain statues from a previous time in our history.
So it seems the question has to be asked: Might this be what is happening here? Is it possible that Donald Trump is simply bamboozling us by not wanting to really be President, but at the same time wanting to see just how far he can go before the electorate turns on him? Is he in fact feeding off the racism and xenophobia of others simply because, like Pierre Delacroix, he has found out how far it gets him in the polls? Did he really anticipate beforehand that he could say the things he has said about women, Mexicans, and now Muslims and still be successful? And will he be able during the course of his campaign to convert large numbers of Americans, who might previously not have agreed with him, to his particular world view as he continues to be successful in his campaign to become President?
During the second half of Bamboozled, an entire studio audience is seen wearing blackface, big red lips, and using the n-word to describe themselves. It seems possible that in going this far, Spike Lee may have been making an important point about what might transpire in our society if the veneer of proper behavior were removed from people’s lives. That is, if they were encouraged to allow their real beliefs and values to come to the surface; and the danger inherent in doing so. In other words, one of the most disconcerting things about Mr. Trump’s campaign might be that he could be unintentionally giving people permission, as few politicians before him have ever done, to indulge in the sort of primal fears which are best dealt with within the privacy of one’s own psyche, rather than in the public arena where they risk becoming codified into the majority opinion.
What is also more than a little disconcerting about Mr. Trump’s campaign is the thought that certain people might support him simply because they are curious to see what he will do next, and just how far he will go if he is able to stay in the race. That is, for pure entertainment value. For isn’t that the essence of the whole reality TV craze that has arrived in our culture like a plague as viewers in TV land watch The Real Housewives of whatever just to see how far people will go in ripping each other apart? And of course, Mr. Trump is one of the kings of reality television. We already have far too many children bullying each other in our schools, so we don’t need to encourage this further in the media or in political campaigns like Mr. Trump’s.
In Bamboozled, Savion Glover’s character Manray finally realizes that he is being exploited and so defiantly announces that he will no longer wear blackface. So aren’t those people who may have previously supported Mr. Trump’s campaign now in the exact same position? That is, they need to turn away from his campaign before they risk losing the better part of themselves simply because they may have succumbed to being bamboozled by a Presidential candidate who may indeed be putting one over on us for his own entertainment.