As we hurl toward an unpredictable and increasingly surreal election in November, Donald Trump’s persona is hard to avoid. Endlessly looped on news broadcasts and grabbing headlines each day with his latest provocations, he has finally achieved the level of ubiquity that many suspect compelled him to join the race just over a year ago. But how much are we really digging into what drives the man – and what his success says about the current state of our political climate?
For performance artist Mike Daisey (The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs), there is much more that needs to be wrestled with beyond the din of the latest news cycle. On the heels of performances in Philadelphia and New York, he brings his latest work, The Trump Card, to the city the mogul seeks to conquer. Premiering at Woolly Mammoth Theatre on August 2nd, Daisey illuminates Trump’s unlikely rise from the toast of ‘80s tabloids to populist insurgent vowing to turn back the dial on the 21st century.
What did you set out to accomplish with this show?
As a monologist, I set out to create pieces of art that illuminate the human condition. It’s not a goal or message-driven exercise. I wanted to explore Donald Trump as a figure. He fits comfortably with other megalomaniacal figures that I’ve focused on in my work. He is inherently fascinating, even before he emerged as a candidate. I began to develop the show a year ago when many still thought of his campaign as a joke. As it has accelerated since then, the election has become the lens through which he is viewed, but he was fascinating even before that.
You said you saw parallels between him and other figures you’ve highlighted in your work. Does that include Steve Jobs? Our country does have a tendency to hold up business leaders as the solution to every problem.
Certainly, as well as L. Ron Hubbard and P.T. Barnum. I‘m interested in figures who are larger than life. He is the first person to be famous for being rich – not for what he did to get rich. That’s the image he has cultivated in our culture.
What was your research like? How did you go about getting into his head?
As you can imagine, I read a number of biographies of him, of which there were no shortage even before the election. And there’s the election, as it has been evolving.
The Trump Card
August 2 – 7, 2016
Details and tickets
How does the show change with events throughout the campaign?
It has felt like a moving target. The wonderful thing about what I do is that I’m not a journalist. There are some traps for journalists that I’m immune to – the sudden shifts and changes in focus.
Were you glued to the convention last week?
No, I didn’t want to for the same reasons that I don’t subscribe to his Twitter feed. It’s better to let popular culture feed lots of coverage about it. I read coverage of the convention certainly, but both conventions are propaganda and I don’t feel a need to consume propaganda.
What does it say about the state of our politics and our democracy that someone like Donald Trump might win?
It’s the fruit of a lot of things. There is this populist rage, very certainly earned. Large numbers of rural communities have been disenfranchised by both parties.
People underestimated Donald Trump to their regret. They didn’t understand that power of celebrity. Donald Trump has been famous since I was a child – and I’m not a young man anymore. The Republicans understand that power of celebrity, similar to how Ronald Reagan used his fame.
We’re also seeing the party system break down on both sides. It’s easier for a disrupter to disregard the conventions of politics. Ted Cruz had the uncomfortable position of being a disrupter, who had also dared to be elected and even, to a degree, helped run the government. Donald has the advantage of having never held office. It’s a real race to the bottom, a very perilous time.
Even with the DNC convention, you don’t see a huge amount of party unity on both sides. The GOP seems to be more united, but you saw that even they have had a massive number of luminaries stay home from the convention. It’s emblematic of the breakdown of the parties.
How do you approach it differently for a DC audience who is presumably living and breathing these issues?
I first workshopped it in DC, so I’m excited to return there. I don’t think the content will be particularly different in terms of content, but there is an intensity. DC audiences appreciate the inside baseball of politics certainly and I anticipate the audience being very engaged.
In the event he wins or loses, how does that affect your approach to the show going forward?
This show is really built to be about this election and not what comes in after. There certainly is value in continuing to talk about Donald Trump but it may not be in this specific forum. It is very much a snapshot of this moment.
What I will be doing is making a transcript of the performance available, free of charge for anyone to perform, similar to what I did on The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.
After this, it may take another piece of art. There’s the scenario of Donald Trump continuing on as a private citizen – and the other outcome is so extreme, it would take a whole new piece of art to address it.
Anything else you would want the audience to keep in mind?
I hear from people that they find it very funny and very terrifying. We hear so much about the election that we think it’s over-covered, but there truly are so many angles not being discussed in terms of the human impact of this all. And what is the Left’s culpability that has made this possible? That substance is a very different question from the horse race of who is up and down in the polls.