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Trump & PT Barnum: Sucking in the Suckers

Updated: Jul 2, 2019



By CJ Waldron


“There’s a sucker born every minute” is a quote attributed, but never substantiated, to master showman PT Barnum. His unabashed deception at the expense of the public is legendary. There are striking similarities between Barnum’s showmanship and President Trump’s bombast. There are also stark differences.

Barnum saw himself as a master of deception and so does Trump. Like Barnum, Trump uses the “shiny object” approach to deflect from any negative publicity. The difference is, when Barnum’s hoaxes were exposed, he adopted the country-boy, “you got me” approach. Rather than being outraged that they’ve been duped, such as with the woman who claimed to be George Washington’s nurse, the public laughed along with him, acknowledging that they were party to the hoax.

And then there is Donald Trump.

When his hoaxes are exposed, he lashes out, labeling those who call him out purveyors of “Fake News”. He calls into his favorite propaganda network, Fox News, to get the support of his base, which unabashedly stands behind him, no matter what facts stare them in the face. Instead of responding with humor and good-natured acknowledgement of the facts, he and his followers attack, sometimes violently, as was done in Charlottesville.

As did Barnum, Trump views himself as a “larger than life” character and will do, anything to gain attention. If television were around during Barnum’s time, there is no telling how far he would have gone. It is this very medium that Trump exploits to feed his base.

Indeed, he views his time in the Oval Office as another season of his reality show. In a recent interview he kicked out his own Chief of Staff for coughing during an interview , then proceeded to do another “take”, as if the interview was just another episode of “The Apprentice”.

Barnum understood America. He knew how to tap into peoples’ interests and exploit them for personal gain. He did so, allowing the public to have full knowledge that they were being deceived. When spectators were directed to the egress, they thought they were going to view some exotic bird, but were instead duped into exiting through a gift shop. They discovered that “egress” and “exit” were synonymous, and laughed at themselves for being so easily fooled.

Trump understands that segment of America that agrees with him. He taps into their insecurities and foments their biases, be they racial, religious or related to sexual orientation. He surrounds himself with those who echo his beliefs, while punishing those who disagree with him or present him with unfavorable results.

Let’s hope that this election puts an end to this “reality show” and sense and reason returns. Otherwise, we all may be looking for the egress.


CJ Waldron is a retired English teacher from upstate New York. An adjunct instructor at Horry Georgetown Technical College, he lives in Conway, SC with his wife, Donna.

#PTBarnum #DonaldTrump #Charlottesville #TheApprentice

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