A common reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency has been a sense that reality has outstripped even the most feverish fiction. The only thing to do when the world has come to feel like the implausible output of a genre-hopping television show is to cover it that way. Welcome to our recaps of “The Trump Show.”
“The Trump Show” has been playing around a bit with tone and format in recent weeks. It mired us in the agonizing aftermath of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner; raised the meta question of whether its main character is actually boring, and with it, whether our obsession with him says something damaging about us; and teased the prospect that President Trump might actually emerge as a global statesman of world-historical caliber. This being “The Trump Show,” of course, it’s impossible to tell whether the writers actually intended to pursue any of these angles to their logical conclusion. And it’s no easier to discern whether this week’s episode, a relative return to chaotic form, is meant to indicate that we should disregard the recent whiplashing we’ve taken.
It’s odd to say an episode of “The Trump Show” like this one should feel comforting, but by the standards of the bizarre ride we’ve all signed up for, it was at least full of familiar story beats.
Among the most dramatic was the return of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, two characters who have been largely marginalized in the show’s second season. To a certain extent, the decision the writers for “The Trump Show” made to undermine their expected arc was a refreshing bit of storytelling: Rather than having the pair be credible but embattled fighters for a sane, restrained presidency, they were revealed to be feckless and utterly out of their depths, not merely in Washington, but in their own internal family dynamic.
Their plot line in this episode only reinforced that impression. Kushner and Trump were dispatched to Jerusalem to celebrate the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to that city. But while the pair may have been in a festive mood, their smiles made for a disconcerting juxtaposition with the ongoing violence between Israeli security forces and protesting Palestinians at the Gaza boundary fence. While I sometimes wish “The Trump Show” would provide some psychological insight into Ivanka Trump, I suppose there’s something radical about the show’s implication — even if only by omission — that there simply isn’t much there to explore, that she compartmentalizes to the extent the inside of her brain matches her glossy, bland exterior.
The contents of her father’s mind, by contrast, is the same writhing bag of snakes it has always been. “The Trump Show” plunged us straight back into that particular pit during a scene set during an event on immigration enforcement in which Trump, appearing to talk about members of the MS-13 gang, declared “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out.”
The fallout was predictable, with some characters suggesting that Trump had referred to all immigrants as “animals,” and others suggesting it was morally blind to say that we can’t condemn violent criminals in the strongest possible terms. The point of this plot line, though, didn’t really seem to be to settle that particular debate, but to remind us how Trump sees the world: as a violent jungle populated by humans and other classes of creatures, that “maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done,” and that Mexico is deliberately exporting mass numbers of rapists to the United States.
That view of the world is profoundly disorienting to a lot of people who watch “The Trump Show,” myself included. But then, what about “The Trump Show” isn’t? If we’re expecting all of this to resolve in a traditional narrative fashion, or for an alternate logic of the series to suddenly become clear, I think we’re deluding ourselves. “The Trump Show” is an experiment in dislocation. Whether we can accustom ourselves to that, and whether we should, is up to us.