Biden baits Trump into a debate trap

Joe Biden brilliantly understands that Trump is a man who is notoriously thin-skinned

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 7, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump vs Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump vs Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

If you truly appreciate professional wrestling on a deeper level, you can gain insights into the Age of Trump that leave little about our current calamity a surprise. In many ways, understanding professional wrestling makes our politics utterly predictable.

Much of the Age of Trump is a story about a fake right-wing authoritarian populist insurgency that is rooted in rage against the elites. Historically, professional wrestling has been one of the most authentic forms of so-called low culture. Similarly, the relationship between stories, emotions, and audiences explains why the other personalities in the MAGAverse have such a powerful hold on their public. Of course, there is the essential qualifier: The consequences of the Age of Trump and the larger democracy crisis and ascendant neofascism will involve the lives and futures of hundreds of millions of people in the United States (and many more around the world).

The mainstream news media and political class, with its obsessive focus on policy, polls, focus groups, “the economy," institutions, normal politics and the folk theory of democracy, instead of on emotions and imaginaries and stories, helps to explain why even after eight years they have mostly been unable to explain the neofascist MAGA movement's appeal and power over many tens of millions of Americans.

In a recent conversation with me here at Salon, political scientist Steven Fish explained the role of emotions and storytelling in contemporary American politics and the Democratic Party’s inadequacies in the following way: “If you want your message to resonate, you can’t be dull, and the Democrats have become more than a little boring. Their low-dominance risk-aversion, fear of offending, distaste for “othering” anyone, and skittishness about using provocative, transgressive language, are a big part of why so many voters, especially young ones, experience the Democrats’ policy appeals as bloodless, boring bromides.”

The recent announcement that there would be two presidential debates between President Biden and Trump further exemplifies how today's politics mirror professional wrestling. The first presidential debate will take place on June 27, and will be hosted by CNN. The second presidential debate will take place on September 10 and will be hosted by ABC News. In a cringeworthy and laughable moment – and I say that as someone who supports him – President Biden issued a challenge to Trump, invoking the classic line from Clint Eastwood's iconic Dirty Harry character, “Make my day." 

Trump, a man who is notoriously thin-skinned, an obvious narcissist and egomaniac, and generally very emotional, took President Biden’s bait. Trump, the professional wrestling heel, as he did in 2020, will likely protest that the presidential debates are rigged and that Biden should take a drug test because he is supposedly using special brain-enhancing performance drugs. Donald Trump will likely also continue to tell the ridiculous lie that President Biden gets commands and prompts through an earpiece because he is incapable of out-thinking and out-debating him without outside help.

For most of the history of modern professional wrestling (until the 1990s), in public the heroes and villains (“the faces” and “heels”), generally acted like they hated each other. In private, however, they were often friends or at the least collegial with one another. By comparison, the animosity (or in professional wrestling terms, “the heat”) between President Biden and Donald Trump is very real. Trump has repeatedly threatened Biden with death and prison, and, of course, attempted a coup on Jan. 6.

The stagecraft and professional wrestling presentation of President Biden and Donald Trump’s presidential debates would greatly benefit from having the WWE’s Samantha Irvin or boxing icon Michael “Let's get ready to rumble!” Buffer announcing the respective political combatants. 

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Over the last eight years, there has been a wide range of essays, articles, and books about Donald Trump, the Trumpocene, and professional wrestling. Unfortunately, most of the writing in the news media on these questions reads more like a summary written by someone who was a fan of professional wrestling when they were a child. In all, so much of the writing about professional wrestling and the Age of Trump in the mainstream news media lacks real insight and understanding about the intangibles of why the art and physical storytelling of professional wrestling is so captivating and enthralling for the audience when it is presented at the highest level.

This points to the much larger failure by the American news media in the Age of Trump to understand the role of emotions and storytelling in politics and then to use those insights to highlight the stakes and not the horserace, and how a second Trump regime, with him as the country’s first dictator, would hurt the day-to-day lives of the American people in ways that most of them cannot imagine.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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