Mike Daisey’s ‘The Trump Card’ at FringeArts (first review)

Big mouths strike again

In The Trump Card, liberal monologist Mike Daisey praises Donald Trump. I would have stated “oddly praises,” but it sounded strange enough to hear Daisey admire Trump for his presentness, his rhetorical skills, and his shamelessness.

Mike Daisey plays his 'Trump Card.' (Photo courtesy of FringeArts)

Perhaps the oddest way in which Daisey flatters the current Republican nominee for POTUS is that he spends much of his 100-minute monologue comparing his own life to that of The Donald’s (an inverse of the sincerest form of flattery, if you will). But in so doing, Daisey ruins his effort with a misguided attempt to draw pity.

Dog whistles and folk songs

Trump’s life receives the bulk of the biographical detail, which he contrasts to his life and that of the audience — with whom he continually identifies.

Trump’s father Fred, Daisey informs us, was a racist, denying black people any rental opportunities in the many proprieties he built in and around New York City (Woody Guthrie wrote a song about his landlord Fred Trump's racism). Fred’s shoddy business practices, allegedly handed down from father to son, receive an inordinate amount of mid-script bloat. 

Daisey’s grandfather also expressed racist attitudes, but these turned off his progeny, and Mike humblebrags his resentment of the old man. Daisey in no small way, flatters himself, and his audience with this moral achievement. 

But beyond a few similarities, the differences stand out. Daisey notes both he and Trump share a good ol’ American anarchist impulse that screams, “Fuck it” when cornered or stressed. But Daisey’s first iteration of that urge occured in middle school, as he consumed case after case of M&M’s he was supposed to sell for a school fundraiser.

The erosion of decency

I bring up these shortcomings, because Daisey’s work, which I found on the whole hilarious, attempts an apt and accurate theme: the erosion of decency in political and civic discourse, if not civic life. This theme hooks onto his overarching premise of telling the audience they’re “fucked and it’s their own fault,” and finds support in Daisey’s anecdote about his own mother’s political apathy. He relates that apathy directly to the collusion between Republicans and Democrats during the Clinton administration, with both their passage of NAFTA, and granting most-favored-nation status to China.

He bolsters his theme with humor worthy of a Daily Show reporter, referring to Sarah Palin as a "wolf-hunting superhero," and calling others a “free-floating aneurysm,” or “lizard person.” The epithets resonate, his vitriol finds justification, and his exasperation recalls comedian John Candy.

But there I’ve struck the disruptive chord. Within his legitimate criticisms of Trump, Daisey wants sympathy, again egotistically inserting himself into a parallel with racism when detailing a photo shoot in which he wore a Trump costume. Daisey refers to fat discrimination as our “original, unreconstructed form of discrimination,” and that caused me to balk.

I don’t accept the parallel between the relatively recent epidemic of obesity and its attendant discrimination, and the systematic, institutionalized racism perpetrated by the U.S. government and its citizens since this country was founded. In 1980, when Daisey was four, childhood obesity was at seven percent. The towel snapping, name calling and overlooked companionship Daisey suffered may have been terrible, but asking for pity here only disrupts the coherence and believability of an ego-inflated, but mostly enjoyable monologue. 

For Martha Steketee's review, click here.

Our readers respond

Tom Bissinger

of Pottstown, PA on July 27, 2016

Funny, I didn't see Daisey's "fatness" as a plea for sympathy and thereby diminishing Trump's racism. As a monologuist, Daisey's up front that it's all about him and that we are conspirators in our own liberal biases and superiorities to the Trump followers.

My take-away was two-fold: The "fuck it!" vote is the scary part— people who just want to register a protest for the hell of it — and second, the Roy Cohn influence. I know something about Roy Cohn's career, having directed a play about the Rosenbergs and Cohn's heavy handprints on their trial, which Daisey only partially covers. The thought that Cohn was Trump's whisperer for 13 years, as his lawyer, gives me chills.

I thought Daisey's bookending the opening Trump Game party and closing with it (I didn't see it coming) was brilliant. He did what all good dramatists do: He left you surprised and pensive as we headed into the night, pondering what comes next.

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