Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Have Been Here Before: Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, and America’s Insatiable Appetite for Infantilism


To the reader, I issue this scriptural reminder: we have been here before – Ecclesiastes 1:9-10.

In Minnesota’s 1998 gubernatorial race something unimaginable happened, and I was an eyewitness. The better known candidates who were running for governor, Norman Coleman (R) and Hubert Humphrey (D), had to face off in the political ring with former professional wrestler: Jesse “The Body” Ventura. It seemed as though a cloud of incredulity hung over the entire state in view of such a strange spectacle. Ventura’s political advertisements were clownish, featuring children who battled each other with action figures made in the likeness of Ventura and nameless career politicians. It was all good for a chuckle, especially as we watched the cringe-worthy awkwardness of conventional politicians having to deal with someone who was so desperately unconventional. It was funny, that is, until Ventura actually won the election. Just days after the election, my wife and I ran into Mrs. Ventura in a bookstore where she openly admitted that neither she nor Jesse expected they would win the election.

Well, neither did we.

Ventura ran the government like a genuine WWF wrestler, and for this reason it soon became apparent that head-butts and pretzel-holds aren’t the best way to lead and motivate people. Ventura’s rise to power came amidst a perfect political storm consisting of three key factors: 1. An angry and disaffected electorate that was exhausted with an ineffectual government; 2. Timid political contenders whose talking points sounded like dry reruns from the past; and 3. An emerging desire for something different… anything different. For Ventura, the slogan - "Don't vote for politics as usual" – rang true for enough people to win the election. At the time, I remember wondering when such an odd experience would visit the national stage. In light of our nation’s current primary-parade, I no long wonder. It would appear as though we are now headed towards another perfect political storm, but this one is on the national level replete with a disaffected electorate and a growing desire for something different. In particular, Donald Trump’s rise to prominence has had all the political pundits spinning ad nauseam, while the nation watches in either hopeful eagerness or morbid interest. Few of us know what to make of all this or what will come in the future, but one thing is for certain: there is great danger that comes whenever people recklessly vote for something different… anything different.

The surprising mass of Donald Trump supporters reveals that many “conservatives” agree with much of what he is saying. It also seems that people are enjoying the aggressiveness of Trump’s approach and his eagerness to fight in order to “make America great again.” Yet, one must wonder what a President Trump would discover about the persuasive campaign rhetoric that got him elected. As Ventura came to realize that head-butts and pretzel-holds are ineffective tools for leadership, would Trump learn that the president is not a CEO who simply fires Congress or the Supreme Court in the face of a conflict? Will he come to terms with the fact that, despite all his bloviations about Mexico paying for a wall, he is not a monarch who can issue mandates to sovereign nations? Though many are responding favorably to such blustering rhetoric, there is this wee-little-problem of what we call: living in the world of reality. Remarkably, Jesse Ventura was able to sway voters using infantile ads with action figures, yet, the adult-like realities of leadership and governing issued a rude awakening for those who voted for “The Body.”

That was 1998. We can now only wonder what America’s disaffected electorate will serve up in 2016.