[[This post originally ran in 2014 on the website, The Last Word on Nothing. To see it there in a slightly better form, click here]]
For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” – Stuart Chase
Over the past few months, I’ve vaguely been aware that Donald Trump has been stirring up ideas that vaccinating children causes autism. Trump points out that many kids who get vaccinated also get autism. This is true, in the same way that many people who drink tequila get Alzheimer’s and many people with brown hair are serial killers.
Like most of my colleagues in the science writing community, I was exasperated by this ignorant babble from our nation’s greatest ignorant babbler. It’s hard enough to cover the sciences under normal circumstances but it’s doubly hard when public figures spread pseudoscience.
But then I looked closely at a couple photos of “The Donald” and in a split second, everything changed. All this time, people have seen him as this evil clown on whom we hang our frustrations about the world’s selfishness and greed. Well the joke is on us. Because Donald Trump is not actually Donald Trump at all.
Did I just blow your mind? If not, just wait, I will.
For those who haven’t seen the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, Andy Kaufman was a visionary comedian of the late 70s who created crazy personas that mocked not only himself but also the audience as well. Long before the uncomfortable comedy of Will Farrell or The Office, there was Andy Kaufman.
But the greatest thing about Kaufman was he never cared if anyone got the joke. His buffoonish, racist, and often moronic characters never stopped to tell the audience it was all an act. Actor Jim Carrey (a huge Kaufman fan who played him in the film) once pointed out that Kaufman went to sleep every night with his fans wondering whether he was serious or not.
I believe that Kaufman created his Donald Trump character sometime around 1972, as a precursor to his equally jarring Vegas lounge singer, Tony Clifton. As the comedian gained fame and money, he worked doggedly to build a back-story for Trump, making him the son of a New York real estate agent, a graduate of the Wharton School, and giving him a stint in military school.
As both Kaufman and his Trump character became more successful, the comedian had to increasingly rely on his brother Michael and collaborator Bob Zmuda to take turns playing Trump. In 1983, exhausted and frustrated that he couldn’t dedicate more time to the Trump project, he made a decision. He would fake his death, undergo reconstructive surgery, bleach his hair into an elaborate comb-over, and become Trump full time.
Since then, “Trump” has only dropped a couple hints about his real identity. His voice, face and Vegas casinos are an obvious reference to Clifton. In his biography, he claims to have flirted with the idea of film school and his performances on The Apprentice are pure Kaufman irony. And to this day, no one has ever produced an undoctored photo of Donald Trump and Andy Kaufman in the same room at the same time.
And who is Trump’s partner in anti-vaccination hysteria? TV host, model, and (I guess?) actress Jenny McCarthy. Who used to live with – get ready for it – Jim Carrey. Right? She’s in on it. It all fits!
You’re probably thinking, “Erik, this is just ignorant. There are reams of evidence proving these are not the same people.” Okay, they were supposedly born in different years and, okay, plenty of people claim to have known Trump in college and childhood. But remember, though his persona may be fake his money is real. Kaufman has now had almost three decades and an unlimited budget to create a seamless background to his character, including photos, actors portraying friends and family, and even a few Trump children who were born pre-transformation.
Why, you ask, would a successful performer like Kaufman throw away all he’d worked for in order to impersonate some rich blowhard? For art. Trump gives him the chance to shine a light on the ridiculousness of American consumerism by taking it to a ridiculous extreme. I may not agree with his analysis, but you can’t fault his performance.
In this light, the latest episode with the anti-vaccination crowd is a brilliant, ironic take on the contradiction of such widespread ignorance in a so-called information age. It’s so perfect. It fits so well, frankly, no evidence you show me will convince me I’m wrong.
All of this leaves only one question. Will he reveal himself before he dies? Will Andy – that immortal trickster – pull back the curtain at the very end and let us all in on the gag? A part of me hopes he does. That on his deathbed “Donald Trump” lifts his head, looks at the camera (naturally there will be cameras in the room, right?), winks and says, “Gotcha” in that wonderful Latka voice he used for six seasons on Taxi. Then he passes away, leaving us all stunned.
But the other part of me – if I’m honest, the bigger part – hopes he doesn’t. That part hopes Kaufman takes his secret to the grave.
After all, it would only ruin the joke.