I was first introduced to Donald Trump, not on television, but in a comic strip. Sadly unremembered in these Very Serious times was when cartoonist Berkeley Breathed wrote Donald Trump into Bloom County (the 2nd greatest comic strip of all time). In the comic, Trump is hit by the anchor of his own boat and his brain is placed into Bill the Cat’s body. He then begins an absurd rags-to-riches story where he attempts to regain his fortune and win Ivana (his first wife, remember?) back.
In the greatest finale of a major comic strip ever, Trump the Cat breaks the 4th wall and buys the Bloom County strip and rebrands it as “Trump the Strip” making it incredibly self-indulgent and unfunny.
In my humble opinion, Breathed is the only person to ever effectively roast Donald Trump. Even back in 1989, Breathed could see that it was fruitless to use his characters to directly criticize Trump for his clownishness and avarice (as the astoundingly unfunny Garry Trudeau did). It was pointless to imitate or mimic Trump’s boorish style or his toady visage, because what’s the point of making a caricature of someone who already is a caricature? It’s even pointless to direct hate at him, because to do so only fits him with “haters,” just the imagined opposition he needs to fuel his rise. Instead, the cast of Bloom County is genial towards him and aren’t especially perturbed by his vices or tackiness. They offer him courtesy and help and encouragement, which he inevitably brushes aside for his grand ambitions. They’re not especially perturbed by this, but regard him with a mix of pity and puzzlement.
Perhaps in a fit of prophetic vision, Breathed made Trump the star of his own strip; he let him invade his creative space. He could see that in America, men like Trump are inevitable: a vainglorious man fitted with enormous wealth, is destined to rise to the top and buy out the rest of us normies; precisely because we are not gripped with such outsize ambition and self-regard. Breathed understood that no matter how distasteful, men like Trump cannot be ignored or beaten back into obscurity. Instead, you can only hand them over the spotlight they need so terribly, let them marinate in their own narrow sense of self-satisfaction, and wait for them to blow over.
The reason that modern day comedians, satirists, and especially Trump’s political opponents cannot satirize Trump effectively is that they have already succumbed to Trump’s definition of validation and worth. The lives and careers of such people are validated by measures of attention, increasingly effervescent, in the form of likes and clicks and ratings. In a time where we all want to go viral, vainglory is the order of the day. The intensity of the outrage, fear, and disbelief directed at Trump can only be sustained by players in his own game; those who believe *they* are entitled to what Trump has gained for himself. But the uncomfortable truth is that men like Trump do deserve the fame and attention they seek, because they seek it at the expense of all else. The only way to be rid of Trump is to stop playing that game, but this is intolerable for the Instagram generation. Bloom County’s brilliant final arc was guided by a different set of values: that fame is a pauper’s meal and attention and affirmation are not the objects of our deepest yearnings and a place in the history books does not secure for us a place of significance in the cosmos.
It does no good to dethrone a man like Trump. He’ll only return in another body–maybe yours. We’re all living in Trump the Strip and the only way out is to change our own ways.