Buffoon – a witless person given to making coarse jokes
The definition of buffoon above, which I retrieved from the American Heritage Encyclopedia, seems harsh for Donald Trump, even in an era when political discourse has plunged to a new low in civility. But let’s follow the trail.
When I searched for the definition online, almost 200,000 results came up. According to some of the material, the term first appeared in the 16th century and referred to a “jester,” who amused with jokes and colorful costumes. It originates from the Italian word, buffone, which is connected to the verb buffare, which means “to puff.” From that, we get the current cant toward a person who is puffed up with importance and is not as amusing as imagined.
So much for the scholarly trail, but it does lead to the anecdote about Donald Trump that I referred to at the end of my last post. I happened on this moment back in about 2004 when I still had a TV and checked into his show The Apprentice. I caught a conclusion when he fired a young man. Trump clearly found humorous the experience of humiliating him, but the young man was shaken and seemed near tears. I immediately changed channels, having seen in Trump all I ever wanted to. And what do you know? Here he is back again.
His political ascendance must be due in part to a national appetite for reality TV, where dreams and egos are often crushed and the audience can sometimes be entertained by ignorance and vulgarity. Donald Trump made himself a TV star by tapping into that appetite and then turned himself into a political star by capitalizing on a discontent with government that the Republican Party has been cultivating ever since 2008.
But back to the term buffoon. It relates not only to the role of jester but also of the “fool,” as in King Lear. The interesting thing, though, is that the fool in the play was also a very important messenger, the agent of truth and warning who dared to try to save King Lear and his kingdom by “telling it like it is.” How many times has that phrase been repeated relative to Trump? And as with Shakespeare’s fool, his proximity to the “throne” of the presidency may also reveal the truth about how dreadfully awry our political system has gone.
The shorthand, I would suggest, is the two M’s–money and the media. Trump seems to have the wealth simply to “buy” the presidency. To what extent has he financed his campaign on credit, expecting to retire the debt when contributions gush in once he is recognized as “the winner?” Those seeking influence will undoubtedly become financially chummy at that point. The media have been all along, becoming complicit with Trump’s rise by exploiting his buffoonery for high ratings.
The elite of the Republican Party are now panicked about losing control, and maybe this is not a bad thing. Maybe the potential for political anarchy will encourage all of us to rethink how the process should work, what our values are, what the truth is, and what we need in a leader. And the foremost question at the moment seems to be, “What would it take in a candidate to bring out the best in all of us?”
Trump is a novelty whose appeal probably has an expiration date. However, if it carries him to victory, one wonders how he could endure being incarcerated in the White House, confined by duty and the tedious obligations of governing. His passion has always been the making of money, and government is not a corporation. Wouldn’t he be hugely distracted by the wheeling and dealing that would continue to be necessary to ensure the profitability of the Trump empire? Of course, he could use his position to enhance his wealth. Every president’s net worth soars after the White House, right?
But of course Trump would also have obligations in international affairs, and here comes the really scary thing about “telling it like it is.” To illustrate, I will imagine a few instances of expressing the disdain for which he has become famous–but this time for other leaders on the world’s stage. Here goes:
- “Vladimir Putin is just an undersized sociopath with big elbows. The only reason he still runs Russia is because the people are too drunk to get rid of him.”
- “Kim Jon-un wouldn’t survive a week at Boy Scout camp, much less a nuclear war with the United States.”
- “Bashar al-Assad’s place in history? Well, he’s currently the biggest living ass of A.D.”
And now let’s try the braggadocio:
- “I’ve had enough. I’m going to turn IS-IS into IS-ISN’T.”
That was fun. A little verbal venting. A little verbal irresponsibility. But I’m not anybody important. I haven’t endangered the country with it.
I think I’ve made my points, so I shall retire. And actually, I think I feel potential for compassion for Trump. If the high tide of his support quickly ebbs, he will find himself beached on the shore of his “vaulting ambition,” as Shakespeare put it. He is a very big man, and undoubtedly a heroic figure in his own mind. However, he could become a tragic one if he is forced to experience a humiliation infinitely greater than any he has ever inflicted. If so, he will clearly have asked for it.