On day 19 of the current US government shutdown, Donald Trump is headed to the country’s border with Mexico, where he will once again try to convince Americans that they absolutely need to spend $5.4 billion of taxpayer money to build a very long fence to protect them from people trying to enter the US from the southern border.
It hasn’t worked too well so far—not only is Congress nowhere closer to financing his plan, but most Americans are not sold on the project. Trump will need to step up his game if he wants to get people onboard, especially considering hundreds of thousands are paying for his stubbornness with their salaries.
Luckily for him, some suggestions might be found in his medium of choice: daytime television. Specifically, a TV western titled Trackdown, which aired on CBS between 1957 and 1959 at 8:30 pm (reruns have been airing during the daytime for the past few years) and followed the adventures of Texas ranger Hoby Gilman. In the 30th episode of the show, which aired on May 9, 1958 with the title “The End of The World,” an interesting character makes an appearance: a man named… Trump. Walter Trump.
Trump is a con man—we’re talking about the show—who comes to ranger Gilman’s town to warn people that the end of the world is nigh, and offering his services to prevent it. And how will 1958 TV con-man Trump, stop the end of the world? By building a wall, of course!
“I bring you a message. A message few of you will be able to believe,” Trump the con man shouts to townspeople gathered in the town square, “a message of great importance. A message I alone was able to read in the fires of the universe. But be not afraid my friends: I also bring you the means with which to save yourself.” But Gilman isn’t sold, and he goes around trying to stop Trump from conning the people of his town. He even tries getting the local judge to issue a warrant for the sheriff to arrest Trump.
Unfortunately, even though the judge believes Trump is up to no good, he doesn’t have enough proof that Trump’s intentions are evil. ”When we were kids we were all afraid of the dark, then we grew up and we were not afraid anymore,” says the wise judge about Trump’s con. “But it’s funny how a big lie can make us all kids again.”
So, at night, citizens of the town flock to the square—”like sheep they ran towards the slaughterhouse,” says the narrator.
“I am the only one,” Trump tells them. “Trust me. I can build a wall around your homes that nothing—nothing!—will penetrate.” A citizen asks, “What do we do? How can we save ourselves?” Trump’s answer is simple: “You ask ‘how do you build that wall?’ You ask, and I’m here to tell you.” And they fall for it.
Perhaps if (Donald) Trump were to wield a similarly apocalyptic tone, and exchange his business suits for the silky white robes embroidered with stars and planets of his namesake doomsday prophet, he too, might find success.
On the other hand, (Walter) Trump ultimately doesn’t get away with it. Despite gaining the people’s buy-in, hey’s eventually stymied by the authorities. Gilman manages to arrest Trump for “grand theft, fraud—I think a jury would find it stealing.”
The plot of this Trackdown episode might seem a work of comic fiction. It wasn’t—not completely, at least. As the show reminded viewers in the closing credits, the story was written based on real-life Texas ranger cases. Six decades later, things have come full circle, as people might soon have to be assured that it wasn’t a 1958 television show that inspired today’s political life.