A new production is attracting tremendous attention as it plays out on the national stage. It’s called “The Entertainer,” and is about a flamboyant and somewhat unscrupulous real estate developer who can never get enough attention and acclaim for his professional exploits and personal prowess. Having made his mark in the métier to which he was born, he seeks to venture into others. First, he tries entertainment where he achieves ratings breaking success. But that is not sufficient to stoke his ego; so, seeking new venues in which to burnish his brand, he decides to try politics.
True to form he decides to run, not for mayor or governor, but for President of the United States. As his motivation is vanity and not ambition, vision or politics, and should he actually win would have to sacrifice financially (receiving a government salary and having to place his investments in a blind trust), he views his campaign as a star-turn, and neither expects nor actually wants to be elected. But his candidacy catches on like wild-fire and his debates and rallies in the primaries attract record numbers of viewers. When, against all expectations and his wishes, he is nominated to be his party’s candidate, he must find a way to lose the election. So he conceives a strategy inspired by a play which he remembers seeing years ago, “The Producers”.
In Mel Brooks’ hit play, a flamboyant and somewhat unscrupulous theatrical producer, Max Bialystock, who is down on his luck, seeks new ways to pry money from unsuspecting investors. He decides to produce a play that is so bad that it has no chance of being successful and will close after one performance, enabling him to pocket the investors’ funds. However, much to his surprise and chagrin, the play is a hit and he must find a way to sabotage its run and close it.
You have probably guessed by now that The Entertainer is based on the campaign of Donald Trump. The main difference in the two productions is the motivation of the protagonist. For Bialystock, it was money, but for “The Donald” it’s public approbation or fame. It’s a reflection of what our society has become. Fame has superseded wealth and accomplishment as the currency by which we measure success in this country. It matters less why someone becomes famous, than the fact that you are publicly known.
History has witnessed how people were willing to break laws and engage in all kind of outlandish schemes for money. Now we watch TV on any night and see how people will seemingly do anything, however humiliating, for fame. Witness programs like The Bachelor and Bachlorette, Survivor, Jerry Springer, the Housewives of every major city in America and, of course, The Apprentice.
How is it that the most powerful position on earth has become a platform for self-promotion? What does it say about our political systems and parties that the presidency is so vulnerable to being hijacked? How have so many people in America become so dissatisfied at the dysfunction and disingenuousness of politicians, and the news media that covers them, that they would support, for president, a boorish showman who gives voice to their disaffection?
Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But there is another quote by a lesser-known political theorist, Joseph de Maistre, in which he said, “In a democracy, people get the leaders that they deserve.” If such is the case, I hope that we are not electing an entertainer, at the expense of electing a leader.
Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., Chair of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Psychiatrist in Chief, New York Presbyterian Hospital; past President, APA; author of Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry