Trump, Wayne, and the American Id

On January 19, 2016 a great convergence took place, the substance-free world of “reality’” entertainment that epitomizes the great American fantasy came full circle and the wall between reality and illusion came crashing down. On that day Presidential candidate Donald Trump, standing in front of a wax likeness of John Wayne, received the endorsement of Wayne’s daughter Aissa who proudly declared to Trump that her father would have been very proud of him.


John Wayne, of course, is the quintessential American hero. The cowboy hero who killed the outlaw and the Indian, saved the settlers, and won the wars. Donald Trump is the ideal capitalist, the deal-maker, the success story that the huddled masses yearn to imitate. What could be more awe inspiring and patriotic that the coming together of these two icons of the American dream. The problem comes when we look for any foundational truths beneath these mythic figures.

While the actor Marion Robert Morrison came to epitomize the consummate soldier and cowboy, he was in reality neither. For generations of men the fantasy that was John Wayne became the model of manhood, loyalty, and bravery. Morrison was neither cowboy nor soldier but rather an actor who, in his personal life, proved to be both a racist and misogynist. He is famously quoted as believing in white supremacy and held strongly to the concepts of Manifest Destiny when it came to America’s Indigenous population.

Donald Trump, similarly, is not quite the economic success story his publicist makes him out to be. While his net worth is north of $2 billion today it is not entirely due to his business acumen but is the result of an inheritance of many millions of dollars and favorable banking regulations that bailed him out of billions in debt in the 1990s. While he portrays himself as the outsider who can come in and change the politics of Washington it is his connection to the Washington D.C.-Wall Street dynamic that accounts for whatever success he’s had.

The hypocrisy is of course not the exclusive property of Mr. Trump but it is indicative of the entire political class the guides the government of the United States. Politicians with no real plans, no substantial accomplishments, and little or no effective experience are looked to as guides for the most militarily powerful nation on earth. Insightful commentary and decisive manifestos have been replaced by bumper-sticker slogans and empty rhetoric encouraged by a news media that is more interested in rating and profits than they are in any ideal of ethical journalism.

Decades of mismanaged or misdirected media and a subpar educational system has produced a voting population that is easily led down the path of least resistance. They are kept pacified by mind numbing entertainment that consumes what little time and attention they have to spare beyond the needs of their existence. Millions know the two football teams that will compete in this year’s Super Bowl but have absolutely no knowledge of the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement that congress will soon vote on and which threatens to degrade the economic reality of America’s poor and middle class.

What passes for political discourse and discussion on the subject of America’s part in the military campaign against Libya in 2014 has been focused narrowly on the death of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi. All of the rhetoric is about the role of former Secretary of State Clinton played in what happened and whether or not the Obama administration was negligent in their duties to protect the consultant’s diplomatic personnel. There is, of course, no debate over the illegality of the Libyan operation as a whole and the deposing of the legitimate government of a sovereign state. Despite our opinion of a nation’s government we are not sanctioned under international law to arbitrarily remove their leaders for our own ends. The crime portrayed is the death of a handful of American diplomats rather than the thousands of Libyans who have died and continue to do so because of the chaotic, failed state that was the foreseeable result of toppling Gaddafi.

Here in America politicians and media continue to perpetuate a gun culture based on that same cowboy mentality that elevated the image of John Wayne to mythical status. Misrepresentation of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the perpetual Hollywood action-adventure that glorifies the gun-wielding hero have resulted an altered state of reality and perception. There can be no discussion of any form of gun control legislation because in our altered state of existence possession of a gun has become synonymous with the rugged individual American. A leading presidential candidate recently extolled his purchase of a hand gun, fulfilling his duty as a first line of defense against the threat of terrorism against himself and his family.

The byproduct of this intellectual misdirection is a populous that is concerned with partially or totally false narratives that delay or prevent the obtaining actual solutions to real problems. I recently lost a good friend to a tragic traffic accident; several days before he regaled me of the details of a gun purchase for himself and his wife as they were both to become open-carry citizens for their own safety and self-protection. In the accident his death was attributed to being thrown from his vehicle because he chose not to wear his seatbelt. The tragedy of the loss cannot overshadow the irony of his choices.

So too in politics the intellectually unqualified narrative fuels the electoral contest and activism. For over seven years the political right has railed against President Obama because he was not a legal citizen, because he was a communist, because he was a Moslem, or because he was coming to take their gun. By concentrating on these false arguments the media didn’t have to cover his illegal military intervention in Libya, his record deportation of immigrants, the killing of hundreds of innocent people by his drone program, or the other actual failures of his administration.

So here we are in the 2016 election season talking countless hours about Trump’s latest sensational statement rather than obvious racism and xenophobia that fuel his campaign and its followers. We dismiss the likes of a Bernie Sanders as some kind of socialist without any thoughtful examination of what the term really means. If the political inquiry last more than a minute or two it is interrupting the latest ESPN examination of under-inflated footballs or the latest quest to be America’s idol. In the end the media only reflects the base personality of the population it is serving. Americans seek instant gratification and easy answers to complex questions involving race, religion, and politics. For the myopic citizen there are only the good guys and the bad guys and since we can be the good guys there is no need to look any further. So if taken to its extreme this perspective will perhaps not produce the leader America needs but it will produce the leader perhaps America deserves.

Michael "T. Mayheart" Dardar ( was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served 16 years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. He currently works with community-based groups advocating for the needs of coastal indigenous communities in south Louisiana. He is the author of Istrouma: A Houma Manifesto. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.