The rise of P.T. Trump

The legendary huckster of the 1800s, P.T. Barnum once hired a man to walk around with an armload of bricks, stopping now and then to mysteriously stack them on street corners.

Today, maybe no one would notice. But back in pre-Jerry Springer times, crazy people were still interesting, so folks chased along to ask what he was up to. He refused to answer.  Each time his flock grew large enough, he would veer into Barnum’s museum with the crowd fishing out dimes to follow him, and Barnum grew steadily richer on their mindless curiosity.

Like him or hate him, Donald Trump is the heir apparent to Barnum’s peculiar brand of genius. This week he hijacked the 2012 presidential race, with a Barnum-like series of claims, assertions and indignant retorts. And, mind you, he did all this without even declaring his candidacy.

Many serious political analysts, at least privately, dismiss Trump as a clown. President Obama seemed to have him in mind when he referred to the so-called “Birther Movement” as a parade of “sideshows and carnival barkers.” And yet, in releasing copies of his original long-form birth certificate after all these months, the president also gave Trump an easy victory. “I got him to do something that nobody else could get him to do, and I’ve been given great credit for that!” Trump trumpeted.

Maybe Trump will be what the punditocracy expects — a comedic juggler to whip up the voters before the real circus stars appear. But he has already displayed that powerful populist skill of reducing complex policy arguments to a “Why can’t they see how simple this is?” approach. The angrier voters are with Washington, the more such polemics resonate.

Barnum, like Trump, was a New York businessman with a big mouth, bad hair and no shame. If a competing showman came up with an unbeatable attraction, Barnum would copy it and proclaim the original a fraud.

The only thing he seemed to fear was losing his grip on the American imagination because he knew then what Trump knows now: Success begins by just getting people to tag along, saying “I wonder where that guy is going?”

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages. Opposing viewpoints are welcome. Send 300-word submissions to letters@metro.us.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.