Donald Trump: America’s Jesse Ventura moment?

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Though their actual politics are almost entirely different, Trump and Ventura share more than a few similarities.

CBS said it, so it must be true: Donald Trump now leads the rest of the dozen-odd Republicans who’ve announced their presidential ambitions.

And I do mean “dozen-odd.”

An implied horde of Americans on the political right are vigorously bobbing their heads as he expounds, pounding the bar and invoking the time-honored rebel blessing, “an honest man who really speaks his mind.”

If only he had one. But while cooler heads are soothing us by noting it’s far too early to take polls seriously … and while my Democratic friends are almost literally drooling over his prospects for running against their candidate (anyone at all) in 2016 … some of us back here in the sober Northland feel a chill breeze from deep in our political past.

All America seems to be having a Jesse Ventura moment.

Yes, Jesse — the blustering stage-named hero of the common man who, to the amazement of the great calm majority of Minnesotans, topped two excellent traditional candidates in 1998 to become perhaps the weirdest governor in American history.

Though their actual politics are almost entirely different, Trump and Ventura (née George James Janos) share more than a few similarities. As young men, Jesse and the Donald laid foundations for their legends as tough, take-no-prisoners, bare-knuckle fighters — Jesse as a Navy SEAL, Trump as a merciless mogul. Each is the spitting image of his parents, Jesse raised by Minneapolis military vets, and Trump sired by an uber-rich real estate tycoon in New York City.

Both men made their chops in the entertainment world, abetted by network TV’s penetration — Jesse as a cartoonish professional wrestler, Trump as a cartoonish business titan. Both mastered the art of talking loud and fast first, and seldom later spitting out the feet they’d planted firmly among their molars.

Both are deeply entrenched in arcane fringe conspiracies. Trump still clings to his birtherism nonsense and seems to believe his rapist/murderer/disease-vector rant about undocumented Latinos, to the approbation of far-right broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh. Ventura earns a substantial part of his ample livelihood promoting far-out theories about 9/11, secret government plots and the Kennedy assassination in popular books and among talk-radio outliers like Alex Jones.

Both are blunt, crude and lawsuit prone, from Jesse’s successful libel suit against “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle to Trump’s currently threatened actions against most everyone who’s dumping their business connections with his companies.

Their coiffures even draw commensurate attention. Jesse’s shaven crown came early in the tough-guy trend toward glamorizing bald and beefy. Donald’s hair? Need I say more?

What the two really share, though, seems to be an absolute gift for energizing the angry white men of America.

Historians point out that we’ve always had a taste for outlandish firebrands who “speak the unvarnished truth to power,” even when the facts are entirely otherwise. When you multiply their charismatic personalities with television … and now compound it daily via the Internet … you’ve set the stage for breath-taking political theater.

The Donald, like Jesse, taps into the deep vein that made Archie Bunker a sensation 50 years ago. When “All in the Family” debuted on CBS back in 1971, its creator and cast believed they’d created a tidy little satire of know-nothing blue-collar bigots. It ranked No. 1 in the TV ratings for five consecutive years, but perhaps not for the enlightened reasons that Norman Lear imagined: It resonated mightily in those days of social turmoil not so unlike our own. When ignorant, narrow-minded Archie was skewered for his anti-black, anti-women, anti-gay, pro-Vietnam dogma, a huge wave of support rippled skyward independent of Hollywood among cheering middle-American males: “You tell ’em, Arch.” (And it did always seem to be men.)

Archie was performing the same magic that would later carry Jesse to the statehouse and Trump to the top of the polls. He tackled topics that normal people avoided. He dared to shout in bare, black-and-white terms what cooler heads discussed in better-informed and more nuanced conversations. He pounded the arm of his recliner with his beer and spewed the darker venom that reasonable people (no matter what their political inclinations) would never be so foolish to express, at least in such easily debunked bumper-sticker aphorisms.

Archie-Jesse-Donald is an interesting character, all right. I’d suggest, though, that rather than reveling in the chaos Trump is bringing to his party, Americans of the liberal persuasion heed the lesson of Minnesota: Sometimes, just sometimes, the long shot hits the target.

Minnesota was pretty much stunned with its election results in 1998. Thirty-seven percent of Minnesota voters chose Reform Party Jesse over Norm Coleman (Republican, 34 percent) and Skip Humphrey (Dem-NFL, 28 percent). The people I know who voted Ventura protested after the fact that they’d only cast their ballot as a protest against what they perceive as “business as usual.” They certainly hadn’t expected him to win.

Some of Ventura’s libertarian ramblings turned out to be positive. His views on LGBTQ equality, reproductive rights and ending the Drug War, for example, resonate better today than during his single term in St. Paul, and we all happily spent our tax rebate checks. His legislative impact, though, remains minute compared with his legend. The Legislature, split between the two established parties, mostly worked around him until his interest flagged and he went away.

Trump may get some things right, too, beneath the swagger and circus-ring bravado of his blowhard proclamations — at least among Republican voters. But unlike Jesse’s, his candidacy for a major party nomination entails genuine threat to reasonable government

The danger is that, in cheering the rabble-rousing instead of real substance, voters could enact another Minnesota “miracle.” Voting for a blunt, charismatic loudmouth because he’s refreshingly honest (though xenophobic, egotistical and utterly free of logic) may make a dash of sense in the moment. But as our history documents, it just might backfire big-time.

Sometimes, the dark horse wins. Just ask a Minnesotan who remembers Jesse: Yep, those were the days.

This post was written by Nancy Edmonds Hanson and originally published in After Thought on Unheralded.Fish.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/13/2015 - 11:05 am.

    Not really

    Ventura flew under the radar, and he didn’t make so many idiotic statements. Remember Ventura’s campaign as: “Jesse the Thinker?” Trump has already blown that opportunity. And being the front runner among 17 other clowns isn’t really that much of an accomplishment.

  2. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 07/13/2015 - 12:10 pm.

    Trump and Ventura are not the Bobbsey Twins, no,,,

    I wouldn’t simplify by comparing the two. Boa feathers or not Ventura brought out the youth vote…many voting for the first time and they have grown from there. We need their input; their world, their future, eh?

    Trump brings out the old timers like Joe and Johanna Blow whose circle of national or global concern stops at their own doorstop. They are the followers not the thinkers.

    Once had neighbors who went south of the border, down Mexico way as the song goes…two Nordic types who came back round in the belly and burned to a crisp brown…almost didn’t get home again since border agents didn’t recognize their I.D. cards.

    Way to go folks and they blamed that on the ‘govamint’ and will probably back Trump.

    Maybe it isn’t just the crazy guys running for president as much as the condition of our blind populace, who knows…

  3. Submitted by Gini johnson on 07/13/2015 - 01:26 pm.

    Jesse Ventura

    In Jesse’s favor I say he appointed excellent State Commissioners and appeared to my surprise to be serious about running a mostly good government in spite of his narcissistic personality.

  4. Submitted by Nick Lansing on 07/13/2015 - 01:52 pm.

    Ventura Yes, Trump No

    Gov. Ventura was a package deal. In exchange for ridiculousness like his XFL broadcasting, we got a plain-spoken governor who did a good job and did what he said he’d do.

    Gov. Ventura increased special ed funding. Like Gini Johnson wrote, the Governor appointed skilled underlings and let them do their jobs. Remember his administration surprising the Legislature by delivering his first budget weeks early?

    Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems more brash than a leader. That’s fine when you run a company. That stinks when you have to cooperate with an elected Congress and the Judiciary. Businessman Trump can fire dissenters and hire people in line with his vision. President Trump can’t fire Congress. Governor Ventura had served as a mayor before winning the Governor’s Mansion. I’d feel better about candidate Trump if he’d at least been a sheriff or city councilor somewhere.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/13/2015 - 01:59 pm.

    Bad comparison

    Jesse is a blowhard and believes in a lot of nonsense, but he is not a hater. Trump, as he has proven again and again in recent weeks, is a bigot of the first order. On that very important point, these two men could not be more different.

  6. Submitted by Scott Walters on 07/13/2015 - 02:59 pm.

    Lousy Comparison

    The “real” Jesse comparable in this election is the independent (who is running for the Democratic nomination). As others have noted above, Trump appeals to the angry “get off my lawn” demographic. Bernie Sanders appeals to the first time voter, disproportionately young. The same demographic that propelled Jesse Ventura into the Governor’s Mansion.

    Both my wife and I voted for Jesse, and compared to either of “the two excellent traditional candidates” I’d vote the same way again. We were amazed to see the line of Hamline University students out the door, completing their same-day registrations, on their way to vote for Jesse.

    I hope we are fortunate enough to see history repeat itself, and see the Jesse-type Bernie Sanders in the White House.

  7. Submitted by jeff Hachlowski on 07/13/2015 - 08:45 pm.

    What a stretch

    jesse was elected in part because he was the moderate candidate, and he governed that way. His bombast was a personality disorder, not a political one. He was a better governor than Pawlenty, and maybe Dayton. Legacy? How about the about the Blue Line, which lead to the Green Line.

    Try again. How about a Trump/George Wallace comparison?

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