Did the WWE and wrestling help get Donald Trump elected?

Trump was right at home in world of professional wrestling, but to what extent did the WWE and its owner Vince McMahon make his prejudices acceptable?

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The Independent Online

As the US election neared, I read endless stories about Donald Trump and his many misdemeanours. But to me, one fact has stood out - the president-elect is a WWE Hall of Famer.

Although I am a wrestler, I have found this the most terrifying aspect of all. Trump has always been essentially a wrestling gimmick embodied in a real life person - like wrestlers, politicians aren't 'real' so can say what they want. Even at its most popular, the WWE was reported to​ espouse harmful racial and gendered stereotypes, but this was dismissed as ‘just wrestling’, and arguably this dismissal has meant Trump’s America has been broadcast into homes for 30 years.

Trump’s close friendship to WWE owner Vince McMahon is no secret. McMahon has supported Trump for years, even allowing him the honour of receiving a Stone Cold stunner in front of millions of fans. To many, it was McMahon and Trump that allowed WWE to decline, becoming a mouthpiece for harmful and damaging ideas about black people, queer people, women – well, the list is endless. How many better-off-forgotten characters have there been in its history? Despite a recent move towards gender and racial equality in their performers, the WWE cannot deny its symbiotic relationship with Trump.

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Ultimately, even if you are not a wrestling fan, just watching a video of Trump from his WWE days is disturbing. It is a sign that life truly imitates art, but to what extent did wrestling contribute to his victory?

Firstly, we need to consider McMahon. I believe McMahon has always been loathed by WWE fans, mainly because he realised that the person his fans would hate most would be the boss of the company. He chose to cultivate hatred - as recently as 2007 he used the n-word on live TV while talking to John Cena, a wrestler adored and watched by billions of kids worldwide. He is an employer, some of whose retired employees live below the poverty line, often after long struggles with drink and drugs. To me, he is the Margaret Thatcher of wrestling. He may have brought shows to millions of people, but he is a deplorable human being.

Trump in the squared circle with 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin in 2007 (Getty)

McMahon has always openly supported Trump financially and since ‘Hulkamania’ in the 80s, Trump has become involved as a fan, as a corporate sponsor and eventually as himself in storylines. In 2009, there came the story that he had bought the company but then dropped it as their stock values fell (scarily, since his election they’ve risen by 5 per cent). Then, in 2013, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his corporate support. But to me Trump, like McMahon, has moved from pretend monster to real monster.

Most political commentors would dismiss 'low culture' such as wrestling to not be a true reflection of society. These people should read some Roland Barthes. Wrestling is actively consumed all over the world, and as a performance art it can do great things – inspire kids to grow up stronger; allow adults an escapism that is akin pantomime. Like all art-forms, it is varied and in itself is not problematic.  But it can also normalize violence against certain groups, say, black people or overly-sexualised women. When promoters write in awful characters or stories, wrestling then can become a platform for hatred. Though you can still find examples of this on indie shows too, there is no bigger culprit than the WWE for using wrestling as a tool to incite socio-political propaganda.

Over the last few years, the WWE have championed their female combatants. They’ve recognised that consumers want superstars from Japan and Mexico, not the same fake tanned 'roid-boys' it’s consistently pumped out. It is becoming vastly more progressive. But how are the WWE representing their luchadores like Rey Mysterio or Eddie Guerrero by supporting someone that is so offensive to South American citizens? Mick Foley, one of the most-loved WWE stars worldwide, even pleaded to followers not to vote for Trump, likening his rise to power to be like Kristallnacht.

Trump speaking at a press conference with WWE owner Vince McMahon (Getty)
I for one do not want politics and wrestling to be the same thing, as great as it would be to see Merkel and May fight it out in leotards.

But despite these changes, a few women and a smart guy with a beard does not suggest there has been a sea change in the values of the WWE. Likewise, having a number of black or female supporters does not offset Trump’s bigotry. The problem is that wrestling, like politics, thinks it knows ‘the people' and what they want. The WWE still does not seem to think its fans are ready for LGBTQ characters or inter-gender wrestling, which the wrestling community already consumes in increasing numbers outside of the WWE. It still does not realise that wrestling can be a tool of subversion of outdated stereotypes and can act to show their young fans a better version of justice, rather one that is grounded in existing social barriers.

Ultimately, McMahon's gross stereotyping and increasingly offensive storylines have lead to a massive downfall in popularity. The company is now trying to offset many years of misguided and offensive writing. It is not what wrestling fans want, and more importantly, it is not what our children should be watching. There has already been a petition to remove Trump from the Hall of Fame, that seems to speak volumes.

Wrestling and politics both rely on over the top characters to clamour for popularity in outrageous PR stunts, the outcome already decided. I for one do not want politics and wrestling to be the same thing, as great as it would be to see Merkel and May fight it out in leotards.

At the end of the day, I’m willing to bet money that the people who voted in Trump for the wrong reasons - xenophobia, Islamapohobia, homopobia, sexism – all watch the WWE. But the WWE is one of America’s largest cultural exports and this election result presents a rare chance to denounce its ties to Trump and its old ways. If it does not, it will continue to alienate many, and more frighteningly, warp people’s minds to ignore the reality of what they are watching and who they are supporting.