P.T. Barnum and True Believers

By Michael Willard

The ghost of showman P.T. Barnum would be royally flummoxed by cheeky liberals — dare I say we snowflakes — comparing President Donald Trump to this 19th Century impresario.

Donald, you’re not in Mr. Barnum’s league.

For we in the promotion business, Mr. Phineas Taylor Barnum is a talisman, of sorts. While Barnum sometimes romanced the product into the stratosphere, he was always respectful of his audience.

Given the expanse of Barnum’s life — with the exception of a few early dark hiccups — he was an upright guy, a civic-minded mayor, philanthropist and showman.

He was married to Charity Barnum for 44 years before becoming a widower. He then married Nancy Fish, four decades his junior, but all reports suggest a happy union for the remainder of his life.

Yes, he certainly exaggerated. To suggest that an elderly African American slave was 161 years old, and have her tell audiences that she nursed George Washington, was a provable whopper.

There were others, including various circus oddities to which he developed outrageous storylines, such as the dwarf who he named General Tom Thumb and a really big elephant named Jumbo.

However, the Washington Post has documented 10,000 lies Trump has told the American people. I don’t have first hand knowledge, but I doubt Barnum would have approved of Gatling-gun prevarication.

In the final analysis, few people were taken in by Barnum. They were simply entertained. He called his excesses, jokingly, “humbugs”. He dubbed himself the “Prince of Humbugs”.

Barnum acknowledged it was all a show, and would be astonished — if still alive today — to see that at least 40 per cent of Americans are true believers in the Trump reality show.

In Barnum’s words, “I am a showman by profession… and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me”. He never actually uttered the phase often attributed to him: “A sucker is born every minute.”

In fact, there is reason to believe the term “sucker” was not even used — at least generally — as a negative in P.T.’s era. He wasn’t a swindler. He was simply a promoter extraordinaire.

Given human eyeballs and television cameras that clearly demonstrate the truth, Barnum never would have sent an aide out to falsely proclaim that an inauguration crowd was the largest in history.

No, he would have stirred significant excitement leading up to the event so it would be the largest ever. He would have turned it into an extravaganza and advertised it like it was the Biblical second coming.

In other words, he wasn’t a phony.

Unlike the current president claims of himself, Barnum actually was a self-made man. He was the son of an innkeeper and tailor, and when his father died, it was left to him to provide for the family’s needs.

However, the man in the oval office was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; and, given his record of bankruptcies, gagged on it. He is rather adroit, though, like Barnum, in creating fantastical storylines.

This is not to say that the President’s base is made up of marks at the poker table. Trump’s base is neither fools nor, as Hillary Clinton once said in a gigantic campaign misstep, a confederacy of “deplorables”.

They are good, honest people. They are, in the words of the late longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer, “true believers”.

If I were to attach a foolish or sucker appellation to them, I would tarnish a number of my relatives. This could lead to my excommunication from various branches of my families.

Many, you understand, are Trump supporters.

Hoffer states that mass movements begin with a widespread “desire for change” from discontented people. They have no confidence in a future. True believers seek self renunciation, and are susceptible to a movement.

And then along comes not a P.T. Barnum crowd pleaser, but a Donald Trump business charlatan.

Toward the end of his work “The True Believer,” Hoffer writes: “All mass movements…irrespective of the doctrine they preach…breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance.”

When it comes right down to it, I believe the suckers — the foolish ones — are not ordinary citizens. No, they are the ones in power in Congress who know they should do something to correct this aberration in history. They refuse to do so out or fear.

It can lead to the destruction of the Republican Party, the party to which Barnum belong the second part of his life because it was opposed to slavery.

If around today, Barnum would sell tickets to this spectacular immolation of the GOP, because, as he once did say, “There’s a crowd in every silver-lining.”

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P.T. Barnum

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