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Were Donald Trump's days in wrestling a dress rehearsal for being President?

“As a wrestler your objective is to take these people and convert them to whatever you are selling.”

Earlier this year Donald Trump tweeted a GIF of himself beating up a figure with a CNN logo for a head, which was taken from a Wrestlemania event the President of the United States really had taken part it. While the tweet didn't do much to bolster Trump's reputation among those who doubt his suitability for the country's highest office, it did serve as a reminder that Trump's long career as a celebrity included a stint in one of the US's foremost forms of theatre - pro-wrestling.

The connections between politics and wrestling in the US are surprisingly numerous. Jesse "The Body" Ventura (a wrestler from the 80s) became Governor of Minnesota. Rhyno, a legend from the 90s promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling, ran for the Michigan house of representatives as a Republican campaigning on the issue of above ground swimming pools, though was unsuccessful. And Kane – the Undertaker's storyline brother, who “had his life destroyed in a fire” and who literally sets the ring alight during his entrance, is currently in the middle of a campaign for Mayor of Knox County.

And while Trump wasn't in politics when he was in wrestling, other politicans have made efforts to reach out specifically to wrestling audiences, as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain did back in 2008, with extremely pun-heavy results.

Yet Trump stands out. He is after all the only politican to have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and, up until his presidency, he considered it his greatest honour.

The period between January and June 2009 that earned Trump his place in the hall was geared up towards a face-off with WWE owner Vince McMahon billed as “Battle of the Billionaires”. Each picked a wrestler to represent them in a fight that would result in the losing “billionaire” being shaved bald. Like any other television soap opera, every character, of course, is scripted. To this day, Trump remains close friends with the McMahon family, who donated $7m to his campaign. Vince's wife Linda is now Administrator of the Small Business Administration in Trump’s White House. 

Court Bauer, a WWE writer during the time Trump was one of its stars, describes him as "pretty much reliable, predictable and easy to work with which, in my role when you're doing live TV, is just about all you can ask for.

"He'd have some hostile crowds that would reject anything that was not pro wrestling crowds and, just like his time running for office, you couldn't rattle him in that environment, which was interesting looking at the parallels.”

Could that experience have helped Trump get to where he is today? During his time on WWE, Trump was performing in front of live, sometimes confrontational, crowds for the first time. On one occasion, in a bid to bring the crowd on-side, he had hundreds of dollars with his face printed on them showered on to the audience from the rafters. In the wrestling storyline, he even went on to “purchase” WWE - until the stock market freaked out and they moved the storyline in a different direction. 

There are also parallels between Tump's current fondness for talking about and creating fake news, and his time in WWE. When he was wrestling rather than governing he still blamed the media for issues such as lying about his hair being a wig. He also turned to his own polling when Vince McMahon referred to real polls among celebrities showing 95 per cent wanted Trump to be shaved bald. Trump countered, citing the "newest polls" showed 95 per cent of "Hollywood" actually wanting Vince to be shaved. Having only one celebrity's opinion to draw on was no barrier to making the claim.

And if you thought Trump bringing up his and his opposition’s manhood in front of live crowds was an anomaly arising from his poltiical career, think again. Instead of comparing “hand sizes” with Marco Rubio, he talked about the size of his "Trump Tower" compared to Vince McMahon’s “grapefruits”.

All of these theatrics are about one thing - manipulating the crowd, something that is as necessary in wrestling as it is in campaigning for the presidency.

“As a wrestler, your objective is to take these people in attendance, these viewers, and convert them into whatever you are selling by the message you are putting out there,” says Bauer. “And they are either going to need to cheer for you or boo for you by design. You need to figure that out and it's the art of manipulating a crowd.

"So, the qualities, the DNA is so similar in both the running for office and being a politician and being a pro wrestler. Essentially it is a popularity contest and it's trying to send a message that you are the hero, the saviour, the white knight in shining armour or you're the dastardly villain. And obviously in politics you're trying to position yourself as hope. You're the guy that's going to save the day. It's a lot of bravado and those qualities are evident in pro wrestling no matter what league you watch.”

And what of that now-infamous moment that inspired the CNN-headed fight GIF, what can that tell us? Bauer remembers the moment when “Donald jumped right on him and got physical. I was expecting Donald to be a little prissy but he wasn't so I was surprised by that.

"I guess if I was to go back and watch all of the different things we did with him, it's just surreal to see where America is going into the next four years.”

In wrestling, when characters are successful they describe them as taking their own real personality and “turning the dial up to 100”. As President, Donald Trump has certainly done that.

Dan Higgins is host of The World According To Wrestling podcast. The latest episode exploring Donald Trump's relationship with the sport in depth will be available from iTunes on 18 September.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.