First published in April 2020.

It was last Wednesday when the news dropped in front of my face on Twitter. New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked Donald Trump if he would consider pardoning Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic, one-time big-cat collector, star of NetFlix’s Tiger King documentary series and current felon serving out a twenty-two year sentence for murder for hire (a culmination of his longtime feud with animal sanctuary owner and animal rights activist Carole Baskin) as well as various violations of the Lacey and Endangered Species acts. Asking Trump for a pardon is just one of the many insane actions he is somehow working on from behind bars.


I enjoyed the human train wreck that was “Tiger King”. It was the only show I ever recommended to my Mom that she actually watched. It was the first show I ever rode the zeitgeist of as it was happening. It was exciting to read texts from friends who were also binge-watching it.

Now Trump has been asked this ridiculous question during, of all things, a coronavirus press conference. And the Trump Virus ended a long journey from Trump, to the media, to the American people, to Joe Exotic, all the way back to President Patient Zero. We can only guess the results.

Now I feel as bad as I might have if I gave my girlfriend the coronavirus. All I wanted to do was watch a show. Now I feel like I helped spread an entirely different illness.

It’s been written that the term Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) – an invented diagnosis now liberally used online in reaction to anyone criticizing the current administration – can be traced all the way back to 2003 when it was first called Bush Derangement Syndrome after the 43rd president. I never heard Bush Derangement Syndrome until recently, and Obama Derangement Syndrome never even caught on enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page. Since Trump’s victory, however, there’s been ample evidence of Trump’s base suffering from false feelings of empowerment. It seems that TDS would be better applied to these supporters and hangers-on. Furthermore, it’s likely better to rethink TDS as a group of symptoms linked to what I previously called the Trump Virus, a dangerous mind-altering ailment that has slowly been overtaking our country for years and is now starting to prove very fatal.

Yes, there were Trump-haters who ranted about going to Canada if he won, but by and large there haven’t been reports of extreme behavior like a mass exodus out of America (unless you count deportations, which I don’t). For Trump’s supporters, examples of newfound entitlement and fever-induced behavior started as early as December 2016, just a month after Trump won the election.

On December 8, Connecticut politician Christopher von Keyserling allegedly pinched the genitals of Greenwich town employee Lynn Mason shortly after saying on Trump’s win, “I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct.” In addition to being an ongoing court case, von Keyserling lost his election in 2017.

And there have been others. Looking past his voting base simply living vicariously through Trump’s bad behavior, past extreme cases like the man arrested in New Mexico for groping a woman during a flight and saying the President of the United States says it's ok to grab women by their private parts, even looking past the hate-marchers clearly fueled by Trump’s presence in the White House, there are still others.

Men like Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, men who must have looked at Trump falling upward to the White House, caught the Trump Virus, and thought, Why not me?

Exotic displays signs of a pure strain of Trump Virus. His own why-not-me attitude, his vilifying of women – or one particular woman in this case – right down to his use of the alt-right playbook in how he harassed Baskin for years. It’s easy to see how he saw Trump’s jump for the brass ring and decided to make a go of it.

In fact, his attacks on Baskin is incredibly reminiscent of the Gamergate movement that focused their hate on a handful of women and their imagined crimes. I will not say outright that Baskin is a saint, but watching “Tiger King” shows me that Baskin is also a survivor. Had Don Lewis not disappeared, it is likely that she would have been just another groomed 17-year-old girl turned doomed woman, discarded like Lewis’ previous wife and children.

In fact, isn’t it telling that the other big-cat collectors will spit venom against Baskin but are silent when it comes to the potential grooming habits of others? Bhagavan Antle has already done interviews to counter the testimony of Barbara Fisher (and other “Tiger King” cast members), but the evidence that Exotic kept his prior male lovers through drugs is particularly damning. Instead of anyone focusing on that, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chroniste made another appeal for evidence.

From the comment section on Fox's story on the TMZ special.

For all his fire and all the people he convinced to work with him, Exotic made the one mistake all the aforementioned Trump-deranged victims made. They didn’t realize they weren’t Trump. Seems obvious, really, but that’s why the word ‘deranged’ is not used lightly here.

Trump is able to behave and act the way he does because he possesses power comprised of wealth, his cult of personality and his symbiotic relationship with the media (who only now at least seem like they’re pulling back from his insanity while the country is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic). Exotic put the cart before the horse, deigning to exercise what he perhaps perceived to be limitless power without having anything to back it up.

Exotic became a negative version of Trump, presenting himself as a Randian renaissance man while boasting a business that is still having corruption uncovered and courting artistic talent that was all a lie. On top of that, he saw himself as a type of Alex Jones figure, without the decades of Jones’ empire building and only one target in mind. Whereas Gamergate trolls thrived on their anonymity and/or low profiles, Exotic went after Baskin with both guns blazing and made sure his name was put on everything (including Baskin's own logo) until the most logical outcome came out of his very deliberate and transparent harassment: He lost his money in legal battles.

In that way, “Tiger King” could be described as liberal porn for me and numerous others in America. We got to binge-watch and witness someone receive their comeuppance for their criminality, cruelty and misogyny. Then again, I’m sure there were those who watched Trump’s time on “The Apprentice” ironically. And now we have someone in the White House who can not only influence bad actions, he can encourage them by way of pardons. Joe Exotic could very well be the latest in a line of freed thugs.

Last year I mentioned how Trump was pardoning people to help build a literal army. Now I see it as Trump working to reopen floodgates and let his Trump Virus overtake as many people as possible. Our self-proclaimed Tiger King could be the latest and the worst if he’s allowed to act on his new fame with Trump as enabler. The Trump Virus toll would be unfathomable.

Joe Exotic is not a well person. In fact, the one bad side about his conviction is that others should have gone to jail with him. It might be tragic if he dies in prison, but it’s better today that he is incarcerated until his own viral presence passes.

The trouble is, Trump has made it known that he doesn’t care about sick people.🔷

[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/The White House. - President Donald Trump during a Coronavirus briefing. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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