Blood sport was also entertainment, of course, but with a political purpose. By extolling violent victory in battle as the highest aesthetic value, the Romans kept the populace committed to imperial expansion (many of the most popular games were “reenactments” of glorious Roman victories). By legitimizing and glorifying cruelty, emperors had a convenient tool for terrorizing their enemies, keeping the people in line, and satisfying their own sadism, as when Commodus tied prisoners together and clubbed them to death, pretending that he was Hercules slaughtering “giants.” Or when a heckler in the stands jeered at one of Domitian’s favorite gladiators and the emperor responded by having him pulled from his seat and thrown to wild dogs in the arena.
.. With the exception of MMA and boxing, which are weak substitutes for watching dudes disembowel each other with pikes and swords, we don’t have literal gladiatorial games in America today. But we have plenty of figurative ones. Lots of movies, video games (“Finish him!”), and TV shows all serve a similar function, even if our political rulers don’t play anything like the kind of role the emperors did in dictating the stories they tell.
.. we carry ideas across all of these borders, in part because that’s just how language works. (For instance, sports, journalism and politics are a battleground of martial metaphors: campaign, over the top, ceasefire, crossfire, besieged, firestorm, salvo, hotshot, friendly-fire, launch, collateral damage, decimated, firestorm, and on and on).
.. Well, have you noticed how ads from the NRA and gold bugs have changed their tone of late? No doubt in part because a Republican-controlled government poses little plausible threat to gun rights, the NRA is now investing heavily in partisan tribalism and paranoid fear of social unrest.
.. Now, I should say, there’s a lot I agree with in the ads, but the tone and overall message strikes me as exploitative and creepy coming from a gun-rights group. I have the same feeling about this odd battleships-and-bullion mash-up of patriotism, nostalgia, militarism, and paranoia from our friends at Rosland Capital.
.. When you lower the barriers between politics and entertainment you get more politics in entertainment, but you also get more entertainment in your politics. It’s like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, “Hey, you got your politics in my popular culture!” “You got your popular culture in my politics!”
..Donald Trump leapt into politics from the worlds of reality shows and professional wrestling. In those worlds, the most important thing is holding the attention of the audience. In wrestling, if you can be popular playing the “face” — the good guy — great. But it’s far better to be a ratings-grabbing “heel” — the bad guy — than to be a boring face. The same goes for reality shows. Puck from the Real World and Richard Hatch from Survivor proved long ago that compelling a**holes are better than boring nice people. As far as I can tell, all of the Desperate Housewives are horrible people.
.. Most of the people who voted for Moore don’t actually agree with him. They find him entertaining.
.. I have no doubt that many of the people who voted for him are decent people. I’d also bet lots of them don’t agree with Moore’s shtick. Do all the patriotic Alabamans who voted for Moore believe that 9/11 was God’s wrath on a sinful America? Or that America is “the focus of evil in the world?” I very much doubt it. Do they all think evolution is “fake”? Some? Sure. All? No way.
.. Moore is like a right-wing version of the “Progressive Liberal” heel. I’m sure many like his brashness and forthrightness and his unapologetic defense of Christianity. And while I haven’t run a focus group or anything, I strongly suspect his real value-add is that he horrifies all the right people. Like that other political stock character with the same last name, Michael Moore, his appeal lies in the fact he’s a living Internet troll.
.. we also know that Moore won in part because voters were led to believe that this would be a hilarious way to screw with Mitch McConnell and “The Establishment.”
.. The Republican brand will be tarnished even more as mainstream media outlets and late-night comedians gleefully broadcast Moore’s asininity to the broader public. But, yeah, sure: It’ll be entertaining for people who now follow politics like it’s one long pro-wrestling kayfabe.
.. The more unproductive and dysfunctional Washington is, the more it seems irrelevant to, or incapable of improving, the lives of regular people, the lower the stakes become in treating politics like entertainment. If “The Establishment” can’t deliver the goods, why not just treat it like the straight man for clowns like Moore?
Millions of white voters began to see themselves more openly not as white supremacists but as white identified.
It is no secret that the president has capitalized on the increasing salience of race and ethnicity in recent years. The furious reaction to many different historical and cultural developments — mass immigration; the success of the civil rights and women’s rights movements; the election and re-election of a black president; and the approaching end of white majority status in the United States — has created a political environment ripe for the growth of white identity politics.
The vast majority of white Americans who feel threatened by the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity are not members of the KKK or neo-Nazis. They are much greater in number, and far more mainstream, than the white supremacists who protested in Virginia over the weekend.
.. total of 36 percent of whites described their racial identity as either “very important” (16 percent) or “extremely important” (20 percent), according to an American National Election Studies survey in January 2016. Another 25 percent said it was “moderately important.”
.. The survey, they write,
asked four questions that captured dimensions of white identity: the importance of white identity, how much whites are being discriminated against, the likelihood that whites are losing jobs to nonwhites, and the importance of whites working together to change laws unfair to whites. We combined those questions into a scale capturing the strength of white identity and found that it was strongly related to Republicans’ support for Donald Trump.
.. In a separate essay on the Post’s Monkey Cage site in March 2016, Tesler and Sides explained that
Both white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.
.. What are the views of “white identifiers”?
According to Jardina, these voters
are more likely to think that the growth of racial or ethnic groups in the United States that are not white is having a negative effect on American culture.
And they are
much more likely to rank illegal immigration the most important issue facing the U.S. today, relative to the budget deficit, health care, the economy, unemployment, outsourcing of jobs to other countries, abortion, same-sex marriage, education, gun control, the environment or terrorism.
.. Perhaps most important, Jardina found that white identifiers are
an aggrieved group. They are more likely to agree that American society owes white people a better chance in life than they currently have. And white identifiers would like many of the same benefits of identity politics that they believe other groups enjoy.
In other words, most — though by no means all — white identifiers appear to be driven as much by anger at their sense of lost status as by their animosity toward other groups, although these two feelings are clearly linked.
Tesler argued last November, after the election, that the
Trump effect combined with eight years of racialized politics under President Obama, means that racial attitudes are now more closely aligned with white Americans’ partisan preferences than they have been at any time in the history of polling.
.. Podhoretz recognizes Trump’s adamant refusal to alienate his most dogged backers:
If there’s one thing politicians can feel in their marrow, even a non-pol pol like Trump, it’s who is in their base and what it is that binds the base to them
.. He did so, Podhoretz argues, by capitalizing on media and organizational tools disdained by the establishment: Alex Jones’s Infowars; the American Media supermarket tabloids, including The National Enquirer, Star and the Globe; the WWE professional wrestling network where “Trump intermittently served as a kind of Special Guest Villain.”
.. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.
.. Direct and indirect references to threats to white identity continue to shape Trump’s rhetoric. In his ongoing drive to demonize the media, Trump declared during his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday that “they are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”
his supporters think that whites and Christians are the most oppressed groups of people in the country.
.. No one doubts that it has been unsettling for many Americans to adapt to an increasingly interconnected world. Still, history has not been kind to those who have unequivocally yielded to racial grievance — to our local agitators, the David Dukes and the Father Coughlins, as well as to the even more poisonous propagators of racial hatred overseas. As Trump abandons his campaign promises
- to end endless war,
- to provide “beautiful” health care,
- to protect Medicaid,
- to restore American industry, jobs and mines,
- to make Mexico pay for a border wall,
he has kept his partially veiled promise to focus on white racial essentialism, to make race divisive again. He has gone where other politicians dared not venture and he has taken the Republican Party with him.
Mr. Dhesi, the first WWE champion of Indian descent, is a heel (wrestling speak for a villain), so it is his job to turn crowds into booing, angry mobs. As part of his persona, he exhorts the crowd with statements of cultural confrontation: that Americans are too clueless to realize that greatness comes from immigrants (and therefore, himself). The heated rhetoric often sounds like it would be at home on a cable news panel rather than a wrestling ring.
.. WWE performers have long relied on patriotism and “us vs. them” narratives. In the 1980s, a tag team featuring the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff waved the flags of Iran and the U.S.S.R.; in the 1990s, Sgt. Slaughter, a onetime patriot, switched his sympathies to Iraq. Recently, Miroslav Barnyashev, a Bulgarian athlete who competes under the name Rusev, wrestled John Cena in a so-called “flag match”; the Stars and Stripes prevailed. But Mr. Dhesi has been elevated by the company at very specific moment. One of the pillars of President Trump’s campaign platform was to cut down on undocumented immigration, and his charged language often linked immigration with crime, spurring protests all over the country.
.. The WWE is looking to expand into India, a country where sports entertainment is already popular, with a potential audience of 1.3 billion people. Its programming is available now in 180 countries and in 650 million homes, according to a spokesman. It is a publicly traded company and has attracted many big name sponsors, including Snickers and Mattel.
.. “We keep our finger on the pulse of pop culture,” said Paul Levesque, an executive vice president and a longtime performer, known as Triple H. “But we’re more worried about entertainment and pop culture than we are about politics and pop culture.”
.. While the matches are merely performances according to executives and athletes alike, the WWE has become entwined with politics. Linda McMahon, a co-founder of the company, was picked by President Trump to lead the Small Business Administration. President Trump himself took part in WrestleMania in 2007, and in the 1980s, the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City hosted the event twice. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. In July, he tweeted an edited video clip of himself at WrestleMania punching a figure whose head had been replaced with the CNN logo.
.. Mr. Dhesi arrived at the WWE in 2011 and spent three years as mostly enhancement talent or more impolitely: a professional loser. In wrestling parlance, he was a jobber: a performer who exists almost entirely to make other performers look better.
.. But Mr. McMahon made a change: He wanted Jinder Mahal to talk about his immigrant roots and an America in decline. Mr. Dhesi, who first visited India when he was 10, was uncomfortable at first but dutifully carried out his boss’s wishes. At the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines he addressed then-champion Randy Orton.
“Randy, you’re just like all of these people!” Mr. Dhesi said, shooting his opponent a piercing glare. “You disrespect me because I look different! You disrespect me because of your arrogance and your lack of tolerance!”
He was wearing a turban. And then he spoke Punjabi. The crowd expressed its disapproval.
“The reaction was great; I heard the crowd that day,” Mr. Dhesi said. “I was elevated to star status just within that one promo.” With more eyes on his giant, rippled physique came speculation that he is using steroids (Mr. Dhesi has passed all of his drug tests mandated by the WWE).
.. We really are no different than a great book, a great play, a great movie, an opera and even more applicably, a ballet,” said Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer of the WWE, as well as an occasional performer. “We tell stories of protagonists versus antagonists with conflict resolution. The only difference is that our conflicts are resolved inside a 20-by-20-foot ring.”
.. Since then, the WWE has shifted toward a more family-friendly approach and is making an effort to include more South Asian performers.
.. As lifelong wrestling fans, both have watched Mr. Dhesi’s rise with pride. “India is getting exposure in this company that it never got before,”
The Battle of the Billionaires takes place at WrestleMania 23
Featuring Donald Trump