In a critique of President Trump’s recent State of the Union address, New York Times writer James Poniewozik described the speech as “a dumbfounding, stunt-laden spectacle, less a presidential address than an ‘Apprentice’ finale wrapped in an Oprah episode stuffed inside a viral YouTube video and dropped into the middle of a WrestleMania match.”
As one who has watched more than a few WrestleManias, let me be clear: the State of the Union wasn’t that cool. How dare Poniewozik raise the hopes of those who hadn’t yet had heard the president’s remarks.
Certainly, Poniewozik is not wrong that this year’s State of the Union had more political theater than we normally see. However, the drama Trump infused into this year’s address was, for the most part, of the feel-good, happy-cry variety. He gave scholarships to children, medals to cancer patients, and surprise soldier returns to military families.
So yes, as Poniewozik notes, it’s the kind of drama Oprah doled out on her TV show. Yes, it’s the kind that we seek out during insomnia-driven 2 a.m. joy-seeking sessions on YouTube. But Hopscotching Hulk Hogan on a hot dog? It’s not the kind of drama you find in WrestleMania.
WrestleMania is not pretty drama. It’s not eloquent drama. No, WrestleMania is big, fat, sweaty, growling drama. It’s pure good versus evil struggle. It’s primal drama, rooted in a mathematical formula that can best be summed up as Shakespeare – Substance + Steroids.
It’s monstrous men with cartoonish personas shouting about how strong and good they are, in contrast to their opponents, who are weak and wicked. WrestleMania drama is the kind where you never take the high road and always rub your enemy’s nose in his failings. It’s overflowing with oafish self-aggrandizing and juvenile name calling.
In other words, WrestleMania is the kind of drama you get from President Trump on Twitter. It’s the kind of drama you get from him at his rallies and on the debate stage. With the recent humiliations of his political opponents littered around his feet, it absolutely, positively could have been the drama we got from President Trump at the State of the Union.
But alas, it wasn’t. Not even a little bit.
For years, the president’s political opponents have vowed to remove him from office. But as we all knew, the moment congressional Democrats voted to impeach him, Senate Democrats didn’t have enough strength to pull off the impeachment body slam—something that became official less than 24 hours after the speech.
But did President Trump mock them for their impeding failure in his State of the Union address? Did he strut into the chamber of the House of Representatives wearing a crown, insisting that the sergeant at arms call him “King Potus”? Did he commission Ted Nugent to write him a piece of entrance music called “Unimpeachable”? Did he light a fireball in Chuck Schumer’s face and tell the Senate minority leader, “Better luck next time?”
No! He didn’t do any of this. While trying to toss the president on his back, Democrats tore a tricep, herniated a disc, dropped the president on their face, and split their trunks in half. Despite all this, however, the president didn’t go for the pin. He didn’t point at his opponent and laugh. He didn’t even acknowledge the impeachment in his speech. What a snooze-fest! Ric Flair never would have let us down like that.
Likewise, on Monday night, Democrats were supposed to take their first step in selecting their hero who would step in the steel cage, fell King Kong Trumpy, and walk away as champion of Washington come November. Instead, thanks to party ineptitude (or, for the conspiracy theory aficionados, corruption), Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders were still backstage fighting over who got to wear the Speedo by the time the State of the Union speech rolled around.
Did President Trump mock them for this? Did he grab the microphone and humiliate them like the Rock telling John Cena that he dressed like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles? Did he seek to divide and conquer his foes by pitting them against each other, barking that this was another instance of the Democratic National Committee betraying Bernie Sanders?
No! He said nothing about it. Not a single word. Randy Savage, Rick Rude, the Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect, Big Boss Man, and the approximately 6,000 other prematurely dead WWE wrestlers I watched as a kid must all be rolling over in their graves.
President Trump is without excuse. He’s performed in the WWE. He knows more about using pro wrestling drama to his advantage than any other politician alive. He’s used it to destroy the Fabulous Bush Brothers, to triumph over the Clinton Machine, and to crush the Little Marcos and the Lyin’ Teds who stood in his way. This brutish form of performance art comes naturally to him. Failing to employ it is unforgiveable.
Instead of barking out self-promoting catch phrases, the president honored Tuskegee Airmen. Instead of singing “You Can’t Get What You Want” three inches from Nancy Pelosi’s face, he sang of the God-given dignity of all life and urged Congress to ban late-term abortion. Instead of screaming divisive rhetoric, he spoke a soaring ode to the beauty of the American idea. That stuff may be theatrical and dramatic, but it’s not nearly as fun as the lunkhead theater and doofus drama you get in the WWE.
Granted, some might say there’s value in this approach. Perhaps they have a point. Was it good that President Trump demonstrated a strong ability to squelch the flames of partisan bickering on Tuesday night? I suppose. Was it helpful to our nation that President Trump brought more light than heat by striking an irenic tone and ignoring the impeachment squabble? I guess.
Was it beneficial, be it just for one night, to have President Trump show mercy to his humiliated opponents and paint a beautiful picture of a prosperous and free nation that belongs to all of us? Yeah, fine. Did it, in some way, offer us a chance to heal, to forgive, to move forward, to find peace with each other again? Sure, whatever. All that stuff is great.
But don’t for a second tell me that it’s WrestleMania.