We’ve Been Trumped

Donald Trump by Noel Nunez

Mike Daisey deals the Trump card to lift the curse of the white liberal.

This review of The Trump Card, performed last Sunday at Newmark Theatre, attempts to build a narrative concerning the artist in connection to his subject while conveying an editorial that threads it all together. It will contain story spoilers. Do not read beyond the first page if you want to avoid them.

Mike Daisey is a haunted man. He’s haunted by the megalomaniacal men that he takes into himself only to expel into the minds of audience members attracted to his obsessive public display. He is haunted by himself. He never gets through a monologue without breaking the fourth wall, because he does not divide himself from his subjects, or his audience. He’s haunted by his past as well as the uncertain but increasingly dystopian future.

Daisey’s performance style is magnetic, utilizing a full dramatic toolset within the confines of his signature set: a desk, glass of water, and handkerchief sopping up a sweaty brow. It’s like you’ve hired an eccentric consultant to give a two-hour presentation. His face projects what you need to feel, his body expresses action but it lever leaves the chair. His voice swells and softens with great dynamic — sometimes the most urgent statements are delivered at a whisper.

Mike Daisey performs "The Trump Card" at the Cape Cod Theatre Project. (Photo by Ursa Waz)

Mike Daisey performing at the Cape Cod Theatre Project. Photo by Ursa Was via American Theatre.

In the age of Ted Talks and multimedia-based theatre, his candid, minimal approach is a refreshing break from false objectivity, powerpoint presentations, and complex-yet-dumb concepts. The power of his work is that he can relate to difficult people and subjects and transmit an informative, compelling story. But there is also something about him that you want to watch. And he loves to tell stories about people similarly charismatic.

I have attended six Mike Daisey monologues and have listened to many recordings, over the last seven years. I remember when he worked without a microphone, his body the only amplifier. I was there for All the Hours in the Day, his 24-hour performance that happened only once, for the T:BA festival in 2011, putting me with one or two dozen people in the world who consistently stayed awake with him inside what is now Revolution Hall (it was packed at the beginning and the end.)

That story began as a plausible personal narrative, but through the night, he spun a psychedelic web so convincing that I half-believed every word, and the more bizarre his fabrication got, the brighter the tapestry became, and the more I wanted to believe it. And I think this is why Daisey admits his vast admiration for Trump, not as a person, nor businessman, but as a performer.

And I think this is why Daisey admits his vast admiration for Trump, not as a person, nor businessman, but as a performer.

Daisey’s 24-hour monologue added to a towering career, built on the foundation of The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (2010). While Daisey told Ira Glass on This American Life that the story was absolutely true, Daisey was building a house of cards. He fabricated misleading details about his actual trip to China to investigate Apple’s manufacturing labor. Only men like Donald Trump can live within their lies, men like Daisey, who target wealthy megalomaniacal men, must be buried.

Daisey addressed his own ethical choices, in a short-lived piece called Journalism, by rationalizing that he was not a journalist, and that even so, journalists are well-known to fabricate details for the benefit of their stories. By using corrupt ethics to whistle-blow Apple’s manufacturing ethics, which leads to poverty and sometimes suicide, I personally feel he did exactly the right thing. The honest thing does not always bring about results.

Daisey describes Donald Trump as an honest man. Many people confuse honesty with truth. In The Trump Card, it becomes clear how far from the truth Trump resides. What makes Trump honest is that he is an extemporaneous performer, like Daisey, and when Trump says he is going to build a border wall at Mexico’s expense, Trump honestly feels that, in that moment. Once he gets the web spinning and the audience responds to it, he keeps it going, and to deliver on it, he needs to believe he can actually build that wall.

While Steve Jobs was the perfect muse for Daisey, at one time (maybe all time), I see now that Trump is his perfect match for this moment. Trump may also be tempting for a monologist who, in past works, has openly discussed his own struggles with suicide. If fucking with Apple has gotten Mike Daisey in trouble before, I cannot imagine what wrath Donald Trump would bestow upon him if this new work were to skyrocket like the Steve Jobs piece did.

It is worth noting that The Trump Card has been released as an “open source” script. You, or anyone, can perform those monologues however they want to. This was his innovation after the controversy over AGONY/ECSTASY. He says that almost 200 productions of that piece took place. Daisey also went on to podcast a 29-part series called All The Faces of the Moon, recorded live, one per night. The podcast moniker is All Stories Are Fiction.

Daisey began researching Trump just around this time last year, when Trump announced his candidacy. He began pouring into Trump, watching dozens of speeches in full, studying his performative style. This is where the presidential candidate entrances and is entranced, both becoming a spectacle and coopting the minds of his voters. Wherever his mind wanders, it is guided by them, their wants, their frustrations, confusion, and conditioning. It then fuses with his savvy, brilliant personality for the complete ritual to take effect.

Mike Daisey as Trump. Photo © T Charles Ericsson via American Theatre.

Mike Daisey as Donald Trump in front of The White House. Photo © T Charles Ericsson via American Theatre.

His obsession with Trump goes at least as far back as The Apprentice. He describes himself sitting at home eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes yelling, “This is everything that’s wrong with capitalism!” and imitating himself gorging on sugary morsels.

By the time that show went on-air, Trump had already bankrupted and rebuilt the empire that he created in the 80’s, over-leveraging himself on a lofty investment into luxury casinos and hotels. The television show especially served the image of Trump as a powerful businessman. It also gave him routine practice as a performer.

His father, Fred Trump, impressed the notion to always appear rich, because if you do, people will listen to you. Donald is a man that was raised like a prince of the ghetto to value money and winning at the expense of others. The real estate empire that Donald inherited was not “super-classy” as Daisey likes to describe those foppish constructions the Trump name is gilded onto now. Fred Trump (the Father) built an empire of substandard housing in Brooklyn during an era of lax regulations. It was Donald’s innovation to go super-classy in Manhattan.

Daisey currently lives in Brooklyn, and I think he is acutely sensitive and can actually see the slumlord (Fred Trump) in the streets where he would toss pennies out of the window of his Cadillac so that poor neighborhood kids would wash his car. Donald is the son of this Trump, whose business practice was to scheme his way out of invoices.

Donald is the son of a Ku Klux Klan member in New York. Colored people were never rented to. It was a clear policy. Yet, he had no problem renting garbage to white people either.

Daisey relates to generational racism by remembering his own “spectacularly racist” Grandfather. Grandpa had a lot of love for Mike and vice versa, and they would spend time together, talking, and he would tell Mike about things that he knew about. But then the conversation would turn toward government and bridge into race. Grandpa would say, “Niggers do their things. I’ll tell you, oh I’ll tell you about niggers.” Daisey remembers gravely, that something felt wrong inside.

At this moment in the theatre, two people stood up from their seats and began walking out. I feel like I’ve always observed walkouts at his shows, because Daisey has a filthy, real, human mouth. Language, I believed, offended some white liberals and they had to go. Once they were out the door, a woman popped her head back with the most Portland-polite disruption ever, modestly yelling from the shadows, “Vote Trump!” I still don’t know if they were being ironic.

Trump is the curse of the white liberal. Daisey opens the play with “You, my friends, are fucked.” He fully qualifies how we are as a minority of well-read privileged theatre goers who cannot understand why anyone would vote for Trump. He points out the smugness of the white liberal, because they know they’re the smarter crowd, so other perspectives are disregarded. But they can’t see beyond their bubble. To them, Trump’s popularity doesn’t really exist.

This detail was crucial to my arrival at a positive review, because it is important to understand the reason that Donald Trump is going to be the next President. I watch these disdainful anti-Trump messages emanate from the Clinton camp and repeat through the social media propaganda system, and it reminds me of the clown that liberals made Bush out to be, just before he was elected to the White House. They persistently denied Bush’s electability. While comparing Hillary’s situation to that of Al Gore, Daisey screams, “That guy was beaten by a FUCKING RUTABAGA.”

Insulting the man is satisfying. On some level, we might be keeping him close, just to get that satisfaction of feeling smarter than him.

White liberals continue on with this denial of Trump’s popularity, denial of a social emergency, of actual living racism, of crippling economic inequality, and a disdain for the liberal status quo felt by the majority. They read Mother Jones and listen to NPR as though observing the problem ipso facto resolves it. They simply hurl insults at a relentless target and Trump’s voter base gets larger and more resolute.

Insulting the man is satisfying. On some level, we might be keeping him close, just to get that satisfaction of feeling smarter than him.




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  1. Kathleen Dolan

    I remember when those people interrupted and yelled out “Vote Trump”. It was when Daisey was describing how his Grandfather’s hateful words sounded, what hate speech actually feels like inside the mouth, as it leaves the mouth like “a liturgy”. People who hate speak, enjoy it, he said and you can hear that “in the oily quality” of the words. When he said “oily”, he imitated the hate speech and I could hear Daisey’s mouth in the mic, not just his words, but the sounds around the words. They were slippery and wet. Oily was the best way to convey it. Just then, those people interrupted. And I’ll admit, it was slightly hard to stomach Daisey’s imitation (just like it was hard for Daisey as a kid.) like watching someone drool lasciviously or something. I wonder what those words sounded like in those people’s mouths, the ones that interrupted the performance with their clear, clean declaration: Vote Tump.


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