Culture  /  Comparison

The Best Way to Explain the G.O.P. Is Found in the W.W.E.

Kayfabe — the knowledge that pro wrestling is fake — has a long history in American entertainment. It also explains something deep about G.O.P. politics now.

Old kayfabe was built on the solid, flat foundation of one big lie: that wrestling was real. Neokayfabe, on the other hand, rests on a slippery, ever-wobbling jumble of truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods, all delivered with the utmost passion and commitment. After a while, the producers and the consumers of neokayfabe tend to lose the ability to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. Wrestlers can become their characters; fans can become deluded obsessives who get off on arguing or total cynics who gobble it all up for the thrills, truth be damned.

Does all that remind you of anything?

Neokayfabe is the essence of the Republican strategy for campaigning and governance today. That’s no surprise, given Mr. McMahon’s influence on G.O.P. politics. His product, filled with bigotry and malevolence, was a primary cultural influence on countless millennials, especially during the W.W.F.’s late-century peak (in 1999, Gallup estimated that 18 percent of Americans, roughly 50 million people, counted themselves as pro wrestling fans), and those millennials have entered the Beltway — and the voting booth. Ms. McMahon has become a major Republican fund-raiser, candidate and official. And, most important of all, there’s the Trump connection.

Mr. McMahon and Donald Trump have been close friends for nearly 40 years. Even before he met Mr. McMahon, Mr. Trump had been a lifelong fan of pro wrestling — as well as a chronic dissembler — but it was Mr. McMahon who ushered Mr. Trump into the world of neokayfabe. Mr. Trump acted as the “host” of two installments of “WrestleMania.” Most spectacularly, Mr. Trump performed as himself in a story line where he and Mr. McMahon pretended to be bitter enemies, sending proxy wrestlers to engage in trial by combat at 2007’s “WrestleMania 23.” Mr. Trump is the first — though possibly not the last — member of the W.W.E. Hall of Fame to occupy the Oval Office.

Before he met Mr. McMahon, Mr. Trump had probably never worked a rowdy arena into a bitter, liberated frenzy by feeding it a mix of verboten truths and outrageous lies. But that skill, so essential in wrestling, would become Mr. Trump’s world-changing trademark.