What professional wrestling can explain about Donald Trump

National Post, 23 August 2019

Wrestling has changed significantly to become mainstream. But our culture has moved, too, and met it more than half way.

TORONTO — For some years now I have been arguing that to properly understand Donald Trump – which is a cultural phenomenon that has political consequences — it is necessary to understand professional wrestling.

The connections are there. It was from professional wrestling that Muhammad Ali learned that a fighter who could talk trash, who could be extravagant and flamboyant, brash and arrogant, demeaning and degrading to others, even trafficking in a little racist invective — well, that fighter could be enormously popular, even with people who don’t care much for the fighting.

Ali made all that mainstream — calling Joe Frazier a “gorilla” — in the 1970s. By the end of Ali’s career, wrestling had learned anew what it had taught Ali, and it exploded into the mainstream in the 1980s. In burst into the first rank of popular culture at “Wrestlemania” in 1985, held at Madison Square Garden with Ali himself involved in the main event. By the 1990s, Donald Trump would show up, realizing that wrestling, with its scripted storylines, was perfect for a man who has a scripted version of himself to sell. Not long after, reality television — the pop culture child of professional wrestling — would make Trump a massive cultural presence. And eventually president.

Those who don’t pay attention may not know that wrestling draws week in and week out an impressive following across Canada and the U.S.A. Last week in fact, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) brought “SummerSlam” — the “biggest show of the summer” — to a sold-out audience in downtown Toronto’s hockey arena. Indeed, it staged four nights of shows at the Scotiabank Arena.

I went over to check out SummerSlam, a venture in cultural anthropology. I was interested in the people it attracts rather than the wrestling itself, as I am no longer up to date on the latest storylines.

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