A professional wrestling term, "kayfabe" means presenting staged events as if they're real. Pro wrestling is theater, not sport. But it thrives on the illusion that it is the latter, not the former.
This twilight realm is Trump's bailiwick. His business empire was built on the maxim "fake it till you make it," feeding bogus stories to copy-hungry tabloids. His gift partly stems from believing his own bull. When asked under oath how he measures his net worth, he explained that it depends on his personal feelings.
Trump also believes in the kayfabes of others. He reportedly once called the headquarters of the WWE to find out if CEO
Trump is a bit like one of the shackled mortals in Plato's cave: He thinks the shadows on the wall, or his TV, are the real thing. Before it became politically inconvenient, Trump used to brag that he knew Russian President
This twofold tendency -- to believe the story and to believe that the story is more important than reality -- goes a long way toward explaining why Trump believes in conspiracy theories, thinks lavish summits are their own reward, and makes bold announcements via Twitter that would be great if they were actually true.
"There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from
Our dilemma: how to deal with our kayfabed world. Some boosters just go along with the act. They say he's the "world's greatest negotiator" because that's the story of Trump's brand -- and id.
"Fake news" isn't necessarily news that's untrue, but news that inconveniently breaks the fourth wall of the kayfabe. When the Sun reported Trump's criticisms of British Prime Minister
For many in the administration, the challenge is to humor the kayfabe while doing your job. In June, following the G7 summit in
Meanwhile, Trump's biggest detractors retreat to a kayfabe all their own, in which they constitute the heroic opposition to an authoritarian monster -- "literally Hitler!" If Trump were Hitler, they'd be in jail.
Journalists are caught between these narratives and often succumb to their audiences' delusions. Many of my colleagues at Fox tell viewers what they want to hear: Trump can do no wrong. Many at
In each case they're doing Trump a favor. Every wrestling storyline needs a villain and a hero, and every promoter/producer sees good ratings as their own reward. That's why the news media gave candidate Trump $2 billion in free media.
It's an ugly spectacle with an obvious solution: See the kayfabe for what it is; don't fall for the performance.