Are you ready to bid farewell to the Trump Show? Are you sure? Now that the world’s most popular unpopular psychopathopolitical reality TV series has been officially cancelled by the electoral college, some of us will be forced to consider what to do with the unhealthily large portion of our waking consciousness that it has occupied for the past 4½ years. It’s going to be tough. I’ve already deleted several podcasts: anything with the “T” word in the title has to go, obviously, along with a host of other websites and social media feeds.
The reality hit home this week when I realised I’d lost three-quarters of an hour listening to a discussion about what certain appointments might mean for the prospects of achieving incremental improvements to US health insurance programmes at the state level under a Biden administration. No offence, but this was not the demented apocalyptic clowncar ride I signed up for.
Part of the president-elect’s pitch to voters was that if they elected him they would no longer have to think every day about what was happening in Washington DC. Judging by the evidence, he’s already delivering on that promise.
Some will protest that the fact he will be evicted from the West Wing doesn’t mean that Trump is exiting the stage. There’s every chance he will continue to troll the American public in general and the Republican party in particular with mass rallies, incessant tweets and teases about running again in 2024. But frankly, none of that particularly matters. For at least two years, we are free of him. All of which, obviously, is to be celebrated. The 45th president has been a stain on his country’s political history, and his defeat marks the most significant reverse for the modern strain of right-wing demagoguery since it raised its ugly head a decade or so ago.
Cliffhangers and payoffs
And yet, there's no gainsaying the existence of that nagging sense of emptiness you get when a long-running series rolls its credits for the last time. As the two cops say at the end of The Truman Show, "What else is on?"
It’s been common practice during the Trump presidency to compare its narrative rhythms to those of longform TV drama, with all its ebbs and flows, its cliffhangers and payoffs. So season one ended on the we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore surreality of election night in 2016, while season two climaxed with a big close-up of James Comey’s face as he realised he’d just been punked. By that reckoning, we’re just wrapping up season nine, a good run for any primetime show (albeit with a little help from the US constitution and Republican senators).
The strength of the series was never in the writers' room (sloppy plotting, woeful dialogue) but in its inspired ensemble casting: Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, Robert Mueller, Javanka, the Conway marriage, Steve Bannon, Roseanne Barr, Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions, a comic chorus of befuddled generals, a snarl of press secretaries . . .
Some of these will inevitably show up as guest stars on other series in the months and years ahead. And there is also inevitable talk of spin-offs, mostly centring on the political ambitions of Ivanka and Don jnr. But these are surely too obvious, too much of a rehash of earlier plotlines. Better to take an underestimated, underdeveloped character who offers greater potential for new dramatic arcs in a fresh new setting.
Step forward, Melania “who gives a f--k about Christmas” Trump, the woman who took the patronising nonsense that is presidential spousedom and – unconsciously or not – recast it as a mittel-European mash-up of Frozen, Zoolander and Borat.
Since the initial speculation she would be a princess-in-the-tower figure ebbed away, interest in Melania has been sporadic and usually confined to parsing the semiotics of her wardrobe in search of unlikely messages about the issues of the day. But one message has been received loud and clear; like the majority of American voters, Melania Trump is none too keen on the company of Donald J Trump.
This opens up the potential for a Frasier Crane-style relocation to an interesting new setting, maybe even a Schitts Creek-style encounter with the American heartland (there is something of Catherine O’Hara’s character in that show about the soon-to-be-former first lady). At last, despite so much compelling evidence to the contrary, Melania will be able to show that she actually has a soul. Or, even better for comedic purposes, perhaps not. It is, after all, clear by now that, like Succession, the Trump Show was always a nihilistic farce masquerading as a Shakespearean tragedy.