Stone Cold Donald Trump

by Ritwik on October 21, 2019

Donald Trump with Steve Austin

Donald Trump, before becoming President of the United States, made occasional appearances on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) broadcasts. In fact, in storyline terms, he narrowly avoided losing his signature blonde hair in a “hair vs hair” match on a WWE event. He is familiar with the world of professional wrestling and the characters wrestlers employ to connect with the fanbase (“gimmicks”). Linda McMahon, the wife of the promoter of the WWE and herself a former WWE CEO, served as the head of Small Business in Trump’s Administration. Despite these connections, it has generally not been recognized that there exist strong parallels between Trump’s political persona and one of the most enduring characters in professional wrestling.

           The character (“gimmick”) is that of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a blunt, no bullshit, straight-up brawling Texas redneck who has no mind space for the elite and their machinations, preferring instead to settle things with some in your face action. Even in the ring, Austin eschews scientific technical wrestling for arena brawling – laying an “ass whoopin’” -slang and vulgarity is an essential feature of the character – on his opponents. Indeed, most watchers are not aware that Steven Williams, who plays Steve Austin, is a skilled technical wrestler – so totally has he adopted a no-nonsense, brawling-heavy style as Stone Cold.

           During the extremely successful “attitude” era of wrestling (late 90s – early 2000s), the character of “Stone Cold” catapulted Williams to superstardom. Stone Cold became the figurehead of the WWE and one of the most successful wrestling personas of all time. This happened during a storyline with the real-life company founder, Vince McMahon. Austin was the ultimate rebel who would call out the boss for his duplicity and nepotism. Austin would stick for what’s right and very publicly not abide Corporate Bullshit. One of the iconic episodes in this storyline involved Austin having apparently “sold out” by donning a suit and appearing to do the boss’ bidding – in other words, seemingly being a good corporate face. The angle ends with Austin tearing off the suit and laying out the real life boss turned into reel life boss in the middle of the ring, affirming that he will never sell out. Indeed, Austin continues to be a successful podcast host and star attraction on WWE productions long after his retirement, with the same persona unchanged over decades. This is one of the rare wrestling gimmicks which has clicked so well that the real-life Steven Williams is always in character. He has even changed his legal name to Steve Austin.

           Trump’s political persona bears a striking resemblance to “Stone Cold”. Trump interacts directly with the public, bypassing and frequently attacking the mainstream media. Trump bypasses not only the platform of the mainstream media, but also the social graces widely expected of public figures in their public and diplomatic dealings. The latest demonstration of this is provided by the phrasing employed in Trump’s letter to President Erdogan of Turkey. This is not a one-off. There have been numerous instances of Trump behaving rudely and undiplomatically, e.g., with the Queen of England, calling some countries “shitholes”, frequently deploying offensive words on Twitter, and even in incorrect spelling and bad grammar in his tweets. Besides stratagems like claiming his favorite food is KFC fried chicken, which parallels, for the audience, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s beer guzzling.  Of course, the real life Trump is a born 1 percenter. He has lived in Manhattan in incredible wealth his entire life and received an ivy league education. That’s as Establishment as it gets, but Trump’s careful, and persistent, political messaging manages to portray him as a well-meaning, straight talking outsider to the world of high politics and intrigue. In other words, he portrays himself as Stone Cold Donald Trump.

            The general consensus amongst the commentariat, when evaluating Trump’s behavior, converges on a view of him as uncouth or possibly even deranged. While Trump’s behavior is certainly unusual, I argue that it is part of a consciously adopted and carefully crafted strategy of appearing one with the people, strikingly different from the well-spoken, polished and politically correct Establishment that supposedly runs things (“the swamp”). In other words, much in the spirit of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Trump is out to tell the truth, stick with the people, not embarrassed to exercise America’s great power, show other countries and leaders their place when necessary, and providing simple solutions (“wall”) to complex problems.

           Disaffection with the results of the late neoliberal world order, championed by technocrats, “philanthropist” billionaires, Fortune 500 corporations as well as by the power elites of both the major parties, can be observed all over middle America. On one hand this has revived interest in Democratic Socialism – witness the widespread grassroots support enjoyed by Bernie Sanders’ campaigns in 2016 as well as this year. The same disaffection, when mixed with doses of xenophobia and a nostalgia for a great past, leads to revisionist nationalism of the sort championed by Trump. Since the masses are disillusioned by the elites, it is relatively easy for a canny operator like Trump to adopt a mass-friendly, non-polished, salt of the earth persona to tap into the prevailing economic and cultural discontent, for his own political ends.

           The upshot of this is that any nuanced assessment of Trump needs to consider his smart political messaging. We must avoid lazily pigeon holing him as ill-mannered, out of control, crazy, etc. He knows what he is doing much more than he lets on. While his policies may have something to do with his enduring popularity, a big part is played by his canny political communication.


There is a relative paucity of content connecting tropes and storylines of professional wrestling with wider popular culture and patterns of media production and consumption. This talk by former World Championship Wrestling President and well known wrestling promoter Eric Bischoff partly removes the veil:

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