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Saturday 16 December 2017

Donald Trump using wrestling tactics to floor media and political enemies

Donald Trump raises the arm of wrestler Bobby Lashley
Donald Trump raises the arm of wrestler Bobby Lashley

President Donald Trump's attacks on television personalities, journalists and political rivals come straight from the wrestling ring.

Grapple fans say the president, who has a long history in the game, has borrowed the tactics of the ring to cultivate the ultimate antihero character, a figure who wins at all costs, incites outrage and follows nobody's rules but his own.

"In our terminology, he's playing it to the hilt," said former World Wrestling Entertainment writer Dan Madigan.

On Sunday, Mr Trump's apparent fondness for wrestling emerged in a tweeted mock video that shows him pummelling a man in a business suit, his face obscured by the CNN logo, outside a wrestling ring.

It was not clear who produced the brief video, which appeared to be a doctored version of Mr Trump's 2007 appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

It was tweeted from the president's official Twitter account.

Mr Madigan was first struck by the parallels last summer when Mr Trump was introduced at the Republican National Convention.

There was a backlit Mr Trump, unveiled in stark silhouette, who then sauntered onto stage at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, just like wrestling's most infamous antihero, The Undertaker.

"His demeanour, duration of his walk to the podium, his playing to the crowd..Pure Undertaker," Mr Madigan said.

Mr Trump's tiger-like pacing on stage behind Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate last autumn in St Louis resembled the way wrestlers stalk their opponents during pre-match taunting sessions.

In subsequent months of Mr Trump's tweets and public feuds, it became clear to Mr Madigan and other former WWE writers that, consciously or not, Mr Trump was channelling professional wrestling in his politics.

"The parallels are uncanny," said Domenic Cotter, a producer who in the mid-2000s worked on backstage segments for WWE.

Depending on your political affiliation, the writers said, Mr Trump is playing one of two classic wrestling characters: The "heel", or ultimate bad boy, who wins at all costs; or the modern-day wrestling protagonist, dubbed a "face" or "baby face", in wrestling parlance.

"I think of Donald Trump as the ultimate baby face," Mr Cotter said, "almost in the ilk of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, who was this rage-against-the-machine, anti-authority and establishment figure."

Mr Cotter saw Mr Trump employ a classic pro wrestling tactic during his first news conference as president-elect, when he ordered CNN reporter Jim Acosta to be quiet and barked: "You are fake news!"

"In wrestling terminology, he cut a promo on that CNN reporter and got over him, basically," Mr Cotter said.

Mr Trump hosted back-to-back WrestleMania events in his Atlantic City, New Jersey, Trump Plaza in 1988 and 1989.

And then, most famously, there was a mock Battle Of The Billionaires in 2007 when he body-slammed and then shaved the head of WWE boss Vince McMahon.

Most recently, he picked Mr McMahon's wife, Linda, who ran twice unsuccessfully for the US Senate in Connecticut, to head the Small Business Administration.

In wrestling, writers create season-long dramas that turn the mat into a stage for fantasy.

Narratives pit good against evil, stronger personalities win over more subdued ones, and announcers legitimise the at-any-costs tactics of the "heels".

When Mr Trump publicly supports Russia's Vladimir Putin, depicted by the US intelligence services as a sort of global "heel", he is effectively playing the role of the announcer who builds up the bad boy in the ring, justifying his alpha-dog behaviour, Mr Madigan said.

And when Mr Trump assigns prefixes to his political rivals' names (think "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" Brzezinski or "Crooked Hillary" Clinton) he is effectively emulating the longtime wrestling announcer Bobby "The Brain" Hennan, who cheered on "heels" over rule-following "baby face" wrestlers he disparaged.

"The hero is boring. He does the same vanilla thing," Mr Madigan said.

"You always watch what the bad guy says and does."


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