In the months leading up to Halloween, there has been a rash of scary clown sightings across America. While many reports are mere urban legend, individuals have been arrested for filing false police reports, making threats, and even chasing children while dressed as a clown.
I don’t think I could find a better metaphor for this year’s presidential election campaign. In the early days of the presidential primaries, Donald Trump’s candidacy was considered nothing more than a joke. His outrageous comments, orange hair and skin, and cartoonish bluster all pointed to a buffoon whose primary purpose seemed to be entertainment. But as his candidacy picked up steam, the ugliness of his rhetoric and of the way a certain segment of the American people really think started to come to light.
While many people think of clowns as funny slapstick figures in circuses, many others are genuinely afraid of clowns. Numerous sources estimate that about 12% of the population suffers from coulrophobia, a pathological fear of clowns. Turns out that clowns have always had a dark side. According to a recent New York Times article, one of the earliest forms of the clown was the Harlequin, who first appeared in literature as a denizen of the underworld. Subsequent scary clowns throughout history include “the baby-bashing, wife-beating, serial-killer clown Punch,” the murderous clown in the opera Pagliacci, and more recent killer clowns, such as in Stephen King’s frightening novel It. (“What Do the Scary Clowns Want?,” The New York Times, Sunday, October 16, 2016.)
The NYT article goes on to explain that the figure of the jester has historically been “the only person who could speak truth to power.” Indeed, many supporters and even detractors see Donald Trump in this role. The problem is that Trump’s malevolence overshadows any perceived truth telling. In recent months, he has threatened press freedom, vowed to sue or imprison his critics, and encouraged violence against his opponent.
So while Trump’s appearance and demeanor, his crazy ramblings both during and after the debates, and his willful ignorance about world affairs all make him ripe for mockery, his sinister threats and the disturbing rants of his followers make him a very scary clown indeed.