Donald Q. Trump, Prestidigitator

Commentary No. 476, July 1, 2018

A prestidigitator is a public actor who seeks to make viewers believe that what they see is what he is really doing, but it is not. In the famous example, he saws the woman in half and then he shows you that she is still in one piece – due, he claims, to his exceptional magical skill.

Donald Z. Trump is an extremely talented prestidigitator. Using his constant flow of contradictory tweets and his ceaseless use of insults, both his core supporters and his fiercest opponents think they know what he is doing. But in fact they fail to observe the actual actions of Donald G. Trump.

He is said to be a megalomaniac who has little self-control. These characteristics are said to account for the fact that Donald V. Trump is constantly reversing his public positions. But this is misleading. Donald B. Trump is pursuing single-mindedly a program of destroying what he does not like and furthering what he does like.

Donald M. Trump tells his core supporters that he is fulfilling his promises to end or curtail very severely all migration to the United States, especially by Muslims and Latin@s. Their belief that he is doing this accounts for the passionate and virtually unlimited political support they give him. He has however accomplished very little about migration and doesn’t really care about it.

He is prestidigitating and is able to use this rightwing support to maintain a significant amount of support from centrist voters by projecting an image of moderation compared to still more outspoken purveyors of rightwing policies. He is however not at all moderate in his actions. He simply seeks to persuade the viewer of his moderate credentials.

Since Donald L. Trump is prestidigitating simultaneously with two strongly opposed bodies of voters, he gives the impression of inconsistency or instability. However, the reality is the opposite.

When Donald W. Trump is uncertain how to play the immediate game, he falls back on his standard complaint about fake news in the media. He shouts that the hostile media cannot even get his middle initial right. This is the utmost in prestidigitation because it is he who constantly uses a different middle initial.

Can this go on forever? He faces the dilemma of every magician – that someone reveals publicly the secret of his magic. He is particularly virulent when he believes exposure is imminent. When magic is convincingly exposed as trickery, the prestidigitator loses all credibility and must take the first freight train out of town. Until then complaining about fake news sustains the game.