Empathy for the Donald
Monologist Mike Daisey makes Santa Monica great again with ‘The Trump Card,’ a search for the man behind the persona
By Christina Campodonico
What makes Donald Trump tick?
From political pundits debating on TV to think pieces and polls that speculate on the odds of a Trump presidency, it’s a question that the media has been trying to figure out since the outspoken billionaire and real estate tycoon announced his bid for the presidency in June 2015.
For critically acclaimed monologist Mike Daisey — who performs his one-man show “The Trump Card” at The Broad Stage next Thursday — the notoriously candid Republican presidential nominee is almost like a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to quote Winston Churchill, because his personality is so surprisingly impenetrable.
“One of the interesting things about him is that he has almost no depth whatsoever,” says Daisey, who read everything he could about Trump while preparing his 100-minute manifesto about the man who’s taken American politics by storm.
“You can read all the biographies and all of the pieces that people have written about him and you can read the ones where people have spent tremendous amounts of time with him and write about what it’s like to be with him day after day, in some cases decades, and you can read about people who’ve spent a single weekend but are trained journalists, who are good at getting a story, and everyone does not come back with like, ‘The Life of Donald Trump.’ So you can take that to mean either he is very crafty — has an intensely rich inner life that we’re all just not seeing — or [this] sociopathic life.”
While some might consider the Donald completely unfiltered, Daisey finds Trump’s imperviousness to be strangely, almost alarmingly “consistent.”
“Out of all the people who’ve been in my shows over almost two decades performing, I don’t think I’ve ever had a subject who is so consistent that way,” continues Daisey, who’s tackled the larger-than-life personalities of P.T. Barnum, L. Ron Hubbard and Steve Jobs in his monologues. “No matter what direction you read about him, from his childhood, to when he was a young adult, to the arc of these different business projects, like no matter what direction you read about Donald Trump, he’s really, really consistent. He’s the same person for all 70 of his years, like the same guy.”
Such a protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your political views) without a dynamic storyline may seem like a boring subject for a master storyteller like Daisey — The New York Times dubbed him “one of the finest solo performers of his generation” — or an opening for attack.
But the monologist says he prefers to find entry points for empathy within his work, even for figures as polarizing as Trump.
“It actually is my job to discover points of empathy with the people that I talk about in these shows, because it’s fundamentally rarely interesting to do otherwise,” says Daisey. “For instance, sometimes what journalists don’t talk about very often with Donald Trump, they don’t delve into the material of his father and father’s business practices and his intense racism … and how early he was absolutely funneled into being exactly the person he has become, which when you really break it down, really raises questions about how much opportunity this person in their formative years gets to actually be anything else.”
I ask Daisey if his play asks us to feel sorry for Trump.
“We should be able to feel empathy for any human,” he says. “It’s through empathy we actually understand in a deep way that actually goes beyond the intellectual and actually pierces.”
Yet there is one thing regarding Trump on which Daisey is certain.
“What will happen for me, I can assure you, at 12:01 a.m. on Election Day I will stop performing ‘The Trump Card’… ‘cause I will never perform it again. … Now, will I ever do a show about Donald Trump again? That could happen. But I’m sure that regardless of what happens with the election, it will be a while before I ever talk about Donald Trump again. … I think we’re all going to need a break from talking about him.”
Mike Daisey performs “The Trump Card” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $32 to $60. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit the broadstage.com.