For starters, both Joe Exotic and Donald Trump have catastrophic hair. Credit: <i>Tiger King</i>

When I started watching Tiger King—the hit Netflix series—I was like the rest of you, hooting and howling at the show’s weird and wacky characters.

I’m still laughing at them. I mean, the show is funny. And the characters are weird. No, they’re insane. That’s the word that fits. It’s a nuthouse of colorfully kooky characters who shamelessly pose for the camera, oblivious to how ridiculous they seem.

It’s like they think they’re TV stars but they don’t realize we’re really laughing at them. Like they’re not in on the joke—they don’t get it that we’re superior to them.

But having seen the final episode I realize that directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin were on to something greater. Tiger King is a parable for politics in the age of Trump.

Don’t laugh too much at these characters, folks. They’re not really all that different from the people you’ve been voting for. Not much different than you and me.

OK, if you haven’t seen the show, be warned: spoiler alert!

Even if you haven’t seen it, you probably know—it’s a seven-part documentary about people who love big cats (lions, tigers, and man-made hybrids like ligers) just a little too much.

If the show has a protagonist, it’s Joe Exotic. In the Tiger King universe, he’s Donald Trump—a buffoonish charismatic caricature of himself. The Hillary Clinton of Tiger King is Carole Baskin, Joe’s nemesis, in all her oily, insincere, and sanctimonious glory.

Of the two, I must confess I like Joe more than Carole. Though in the real world of politics, I voted for Hillary—and would do so again. 

It’s just that Joe seems a little less frightening than Carole. Which is odd, as he’s the one serving a 22-year sentence for hiring a hit man to kill her. Not the other way around.

Like Trump and Hillary, Joe and Carole have their followers. Though here the roles are reversed. If Carole reminds me of Hillary, her followers behave like straight-up MAGA hatters.

Not that any of them literally wears the hat. Just that they’re awestruck devotees who gobble up any old bullshit Carole feeds them. And she feeds them a lot.

Remember how Trump bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes”? Well, there’s reason to suspect that Carole killed one of her husbands (she’s had three). And still her fans volunteer their time to her Big Cat Rescue park. 

She’s selling them something they really want to buy—in this case, the notion that they’re saving the big cats they actually keep in cages.

Joe’s followers are a little more cynical, more pragmatic. Think of the Democratic operatives who worked for Michael Bloomberg’s ill-fated presidential campaign. I doubt they really believed in Bloomberg—but his money was too good to turn down.

OK, so Joe’s followers aren’t making anything resembling Bloomberg cash. He gave them little more than pocket change, a place to crash, and food—albeit old meat discarded by Walmart.

They took it because they had no choice—many had just gotten out of prison or rehab. They certainly had no illusion that Joe was anything other than a shameless, self-promoting con man. 

Shamelessness, self-promotion, and con jobs are just some of the things Joe and Trump have in common. These two are so similar, it’s like they were separated at birth.

They both have bad hair. They’ve each been through wretched marriages. At one point in the series, Joe, who’s gay, is married to two men who are not. It’s a long story.

OK, so at least Trump’s no polygamist. But he’s played around on every wife he’s ever had—Melania included.

And say this about Joe—no one’s ever accused him of rape. As far as I know. There are 23 women who have accused Trump of everything from sexual assault to rape—not that the MAGA-hat crowd seems to care.

Politically speaking, Trump and Joe are raging egomaniacs who have settled on a probusiness, anti-government, lower-taxes, guns-for-all ideology largely because it’s a pitch they know their audience wants to hear. Who knows what they really believe in.

Joe ran for office twice. In 2016, he ran for president as a Libertarian. John Oliver had a field day making fun of his campaign antics.

But then the media made fun of Trump when he launched his campaign. Back in 2015, the Huffington Post announced it was only going to cover his presidential campaign in the entertainment section.

For years, David Letterman and Howard Stern were Trump’s enablers, inviting him on their shows so he could build his brand in front of millions.

Letterman and Stern were laughing at Trump—just like Oliver laughed at Joe. And then, Trump was president—and the joke was on them.

In 2018, Joe ran for governor of Oklahoma. He finished third in a three-man race, winning 19 percent of the vote.

To be clear, that’s 19 percent of the vote in the Libertarian primary. So it’s not as impressive as it looks when the filmmakers flash it on the screen. All told, he got 664 votes.

But before you laugh at those 664 yahoos in Oklahoma, remember this: in 2018, a neo-Nazi named Art Jones won more than 57,000 votes running as a Republican for Congress in the Third District of Illinois, which runs from Bridgeport to the southwest suburbs.

You could argue that, in contrast, Oklahoma’s voters showed more restraint.

The point is—we’ve entered an age where the abnormal is the normal. Any lunatic can aspire to any office, including the highest in the land.

Is Joe more insane than Trump? Hard to say. Though last I heard, Joe had been put in isolation after another prisoner tested positive for COVID-19.

Laugh all you want at Joe Exotic, but at least he knows the pandemic is not a hoax.  v