I've started to believe that a lot of Trump voters didn't care about building the wall as much as they cared about being given permission to hate the people the wall would supposedly exclude. That's why they felt so much joy chanting about the wall and doing "Who's going to pay?" "Mexico!" call-and-response. They'd love to have it, but they were delighted just to be able to say out loud that they wanted it. They were in a safe space where saying that was not permitted, but encouraged. Even if Trump never gets the wall built, they'll always be grateful to him for that.
As a couple of Steve's commenters pointed out, for WWE Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Trump, that's the definition of "political kayfabe" according to sociologist Nick Rogers writing in the NY Times.
Although the etymology of the word is a matter of debate, for at least 50 years “kayfabe” has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.
To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage brawl was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. You may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast whether he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car. The artifice is not only understood but appreciated: The performer cares enough about the viewer’s emotions to want to influence them. Kayfabe isn’t about factual verifiability; it’s about emotional fidelity.
Although their athleticism is impressive, skilled wrestlers captivate because they do what sociologists call “emotional labor” — the professional management of other people’s feelings. Diners expect emotional labor from their servers, Hulkamaniacs demand it from their favorite performer, and a whole lot of voters desire it from their leaders.
The aesthetic of World Wrestling Entertainment seems to be spreading from the ring to the world stage. Ask an average Trump supporter whether he or she thinks the president actually plans to build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it, and you might get an answer that boils down to, “I don’t think so, but I believe so.” That’s kayfabe. Chants of “Build the Wall” aren’t about erecting a structure; they’re about how cathartic it feels, in the moment, to yell with venom against a common enemy.
Voting to repeal Obamacare again and again only to face President Obama’s veto was kayfabe. So is shouting “You lie!” during a health care speech. It is President Bush in a flight suit, it is Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse, it is virtually everything Kim Jong-un does. Does the intended audience know that what they’re watching is literally made for TV? Sure, in the same way they know that the wrestler Kane isn’t literally a demon. The factual fabrication is necessary to elicit an emotional clarity.
If that isn't the best definition of the Trump era, I don't know what is. Facts no longer matter because they're not supposed to, emotions do. It's politics as showmanship, and there's no better showman around than pretend billionaire Trump. It's politics as two-minute hate, and no emotion is easier to elicit than hatred of the Other. Trump and the GOP base were made for each other. We're not being governed, we're being played.
And the people love it.