Dave Hannigan: Trump’s long links to wrestling’s carnival of buffoonery

Florida reclassifying WWE as “essential industry” only possible in weirdest of times

 Donald Trump gets taken to the mat by ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Trump  featured so often in cameo roles in the WWE  that he was eventually inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame.  Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Donald Trump gets taken to the mat by ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Trump featured so often in cameo roles in the WWE that he was eventually inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame. Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

 

Hours after the coronavirus death toll reached and then quickly passed 52,000, president Donald Trump tweeted his 78 million followers his latest thoughts about professional wrestling.

When any other incumbent of the White House might have felt it timely to dispatch a national message of condolence, empathy or some sort of consolatory acknowledgement of the humanitarian disaster in our midst, Trump decided it was more important to declare “Triple H is a total winner!”

A pre-pubescent fan boy of a leader praising a steroid-fuelled pantomime artist celebrating 25 years of accomplished fakery. The acrid flavour of the times.

On April 1st, Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, went on television and belatedly issued an executive stay-at-home order shutting down all but essential businesses across the state.

Just over a week later, with no fanfare or public announcement, the stringent rules were quietly tampered with so World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) could be reclassified as an “essential” industry.

This freed the company to continue to record live promotions in order to fulfil the exact terms of their broadcast commitments to NBC and Fox. Failing to do so would have meant forfeiting a chunk of $400 million from their annual contracts. The only thing it was essential to is their shareholders’ bottom line and the only explanation for it is WWE’s weirdly symbiotic relationship with Trump.

DeSantis owed his election in 2018 in large part to Trump’s influence and has been in his debt ever since. The same day the governor mysteriously re-evaluated wrestling’s place in the commercial universe and somehow reckoned it as necessary for society’s survival as a grocery store, Linda McMahon announced that America First, the committee she heads up on behalf of the president’s re-election campaign, would be spending $18.5 million in advertising across Florida.

Formerly CEO of the WWE, a position currently held by her husband Vince, McMahon also served in Trump’s cabinet from 2017 to 2019. Not even one degree of separation here.

When Trump first jump-started his run for office in 2015, pundits considered the grotesque tone of his outré candidacy and christened it the first WWE presidential campaign. In his bizarro world, no finer compliment.

His links to wrestling’s corrupt carnival of buffoonery (the list of performers who end up prematurely dead or addicted to drugs is long and growing) stretch right back to 1988 when he persuaded the McMahons to bring Wrestlemania IV to the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.

Rancid pageants

Over the ensuing decade, he featured so often in cameo roles across their various rancid pageants that he was eventually inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame, the kind of ersatz accolade that only appeals to the truly narcissistic or imbecilic.

They had to formally recognise those memorable contributions, so much mediocre role-playing, wallowing in all that simulated combat schlock. Like the night he pretended to purchase “Monday Night Raw” from McMahon and promised to make it great again. Or the evening he boasted about his immense wealth and showered the audience with cash, most of which turned out to be fake. Not to mention his “Battle of the Billionaires” against his buddy Vince, the prototype of the pretend strongman with whom he’s always been curiously in thrall.

If the recurring theme of financial braggadocio suggested the scriptwriters knew the calibre of person they were working with, the suits at WWE made seven-figure donations to Trump’s foundation, a charity so notoriously profligate that it was eventually dissolved by order of the court because of misuse of funds.

Which brings us to events in Florida earlier this month and the granting of an exemption not afforded any other major sport or branch of the entertainment industry.

Despite the fact that two employees had already tested positive for the virus, Governor DeSantis said it was fine to fly in grapplers and commentators from all over America to film live shows at their training facility in Orlando. Why?

“I mean, if you think about it, we’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve such had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm,” said DeSantis.

“But I think people, to be able to have some light at the tunnel, see that things may get back on a better course – I think from just a psychological perspective I think it is a good thing.”

He neglected to mention the potential impact on the McMahons’ psyches given that WWE stock has shed over 50 per cent of its value in the last year and their latest offshoot enterprise was a victim of the pandemic.

Just days after Florida decided gimcrack pro wrestling bouts were the lifeblood of civilisation, the XFL, a grid-iron league in which they were major shareholders, went bankrupt owing millions to creditors. That was almost as Trumpian as their next move.

The very same week they restarted their schedule of live events, the WWE laid off dozens of employees, including 22 wrestlers, in a cost-cutting measure.

Against the background of so many negative headlines, how fortunate then that one of the company’s biggest supporters was able to give the outfit a positive shout-out on Twitter, a social media platform also presently rife with fresh allegations about McMahon’s part in covering up Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s role in the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983.

Snuka remains in the WWE Hall of Fame. Alongside Trump and Triple H. Illustrious company.

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