Repeatedly, we’ve heard that Donald Trump needs to “pivot.” He even seems to know that, as shown in his willingness to give a couple of teleprompter speeches. But even he found them boring. Whenever he can and especially in front of a live crowd he reverts to form.
Why can’t Donald Trump adjust to his status as the likely presidential nominee? Because he has typecast himself as a character named “Trump.”
Republican leaders seem to think that if they can just keep their presumptive nominee in the fold they can manage him, at least just a little. But their efforts are doomed to failure because their assumptions are wrong. For the same reason, his 16 primary opponents also failed to grasp what they were dealing with.
The politicians are coming from a world of leverage, but Trump is coming from a world of theater.
Donald Trump can no more change his public character than Woody Allen can change his. Like many actors Trump has created a persona that he created and from which he seems unable to escape. Trump has become “Trump,” a caustic, macho bully who never loses, regardless of the cost. Even the presidency.
No matter what kind of role he is in—builder, salesman, TV host, politician—he is always “Trump.” The character works well as long as it works. But when it doesn’t the actor gets stuck, as appears to have happened now. Adaptation seems to be beyond his imagination. Where there was once creativity there is now insufficient spontaneity.
Typecasting is a familiar problem for actors. John Wayne and Christopher Walken are two famous examples. The problem has been fueled by a culture of celebrity from which even the performers can’t escape.
In the early 1920s Peter Lorre, who later played the creepy guy in Casablanca, was a member of my father’s theater troupe in Vienna. The young Peter loved playing sadistic murderers. He was so good at it that, in spite of my dad’s warnings, he refused to give it up. And it worked well for him until he became a caricature. By the end of his life he was a cartoon character with Bugs Bunny.
“Trump” has already been a cartoon character on The Simpson’s. His cartoonish self is so recognizable that he doesn’t even need to be identified as “Trump.” Leave aside the fact that “Trump” has worked so well for Trump in such diverse domains, he is now indistinguishable from Trump.
It’s a nice question whether there is a Trump beneath the “Trump.” Perhaps there was once but now it is hard to know, probably even for Trump/”Trump.” Here psychology blends with metaphysics.
There is one glimmer of hope for the leaders of the Republican Party. They could call in a psychodramatist and help their likely nominee create a different role. They might set up a couple of chairs, like Clint Eastwood did at the last GOP convention, and Trump could confront “Trump.” Maybe he could learn how to be presidential.
But “Trump” would never go for that. I hate to tell you.
Copyright Jonathan Moreno