A regular correspondent of this blog likes to harp on Donald Trump's association with Vince McMahon as a performer for McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment. I tended to dismiss such comments, attributing them to the writer's obsession with wrestling. Now, however, the President himself has invited comparisons by retweeting an animated GIF showing himself manhandling some WWE personality, over whose head is superimposed a CNN logo. What followed further illustrated the cultural divide in the country. The liberal media, along with some establishment politicians, predictably recoiled in horror and disgust, drawing the equally predictable conclusion that Trump was promoting violence against the media. Little of this outraged commentary showed any awareness that the GIF was no more than a variation on memes that have been around for some time and have nothing to do with advocating violence. You'll see what I mean if you look at comment threads on the popular sports news websites. Whenever someone or some team beats someone else in decisive fashion, you'll often see GIFs much like the Trump vs. CNN graphic. People like to take clips of the wrestler Randy Orton using his finishing move, the RKO, "out of nowhere!" on an opponent, and superimpose heads or team logos over the heads of Orton and his victim. With the President, whoever created the CNN GIF has the advantage of footage showing Trump himself as a sort of wrestler. That GIF no more advocates violence against CNN on Trump's behalf than any of the Randy Orton GIFs advocate violence against the person or team symbolically taking the RKO -- because the victim in all these GIFs has already been defeated. The Trump GIF was clearly meant to signify an apparent Trump victory over CNN last week, when the news channel retracted one of its stories about links between Trump people and Russia, leading three reporters to resign. I suspect that at least some media people understood this, but still found Trump's recourse to retweeting GIFs and memes, the practice Trump himself now describes as "21st Century Presidential," beneath the dignity of his office. This only allowed Republicans to score more points, as they have for years now, against liberal/Democratic humorlessness.
Those chiding the President over the GIF, one of his supporters told CNN this morning, need to stop taking everything (especially themselves) so seriously. He also cited the self-evident fakery of professional wrestling to dismiss any thought that the GIF incited actual violence. I doubt he changed any minds, as liberals are hardwired, it seems, to believe that Trump and the people who support him are inherently violent, just as the values they espouse are inherently cruel. I want to elaborate on the important distinction between"cruelty" and "toughness" in the near future, but it's enough for now to note that this latest outrage over a presidential tweet exposes something about the President's critics (as distinguished from his opponents) more than it exposes the President himself. They do take a lot of things too seriously, just as their opposite numbers refuse to take seriously a lot of things they should. What Trump does on social media could be equated with wrestlers cutting promos, boosting themselves while belittling their antagonists in order to keep viewers (or followers) interested, but you could just as easily say that about social media as a whole: a lot of chest-beating trash talk with hardly any genuine threat behind it. Depending on the measurements you use, professional wrestling has declined steeply in popularity from its modern peak in the late 1990s, -- though I've found the evolution of wrestling fandom increasingly fascinating -- but that may be because public life has become so much more like wrestling in our time, with people getting "worked" at every level of their lives, that the actual matches hardly seem special anymore. Rather than a poor imitation of sport, it's become a poor imitation of life, while the Trumpster lays the smack down for real from coast to coast.