By Jacob Dziubek
Truth is stranger than fiction, in present-day American politics doubly so. Seemingly overnight, no source is credible, all news is political news–bad political news to boot–and the deceased gorilla of Cincinnati Zoo captured more votes than some of our still-living political candidates. It is into this truth that J. Bradley’s fiction, On the Campaign Trail, speaks with a candidate just as unlikely–and just as hairy–as Hirambe.
On the Campaign Trail tells the story of a mythological minotaur senator running for office in Florida. The book is told in six half-page blurbs, each serving as a vignette to one of Senator Minotaur’s campaign stops. Bradley utilizes this bizarre subject matter and format to make a rather deep point that is often forgotten in today’s ‘red v. blue’ political discourse: every candidate is a person, and no person is in secret what he seems to be in public.
Each vignette reveals one of two things about senator minotaur: what his campaign manager is trying to present him as to the Florida public and who Senator Minotaur really is when the press is gone and he’s by himself.
Publicly, Senator Minotaur is revealed to be a variety of things: he is revealed to be religious by managing his family life so as not to publicly do anything that wouldn’t be “accepted by [his] faith…,” patriotic by looking to adopt–as directed by his campaign manager–a young boy who is “what [his] country’s values [are] made of…,” and amenable to his constituents by his “position [that] … marriage is between a male and a female”. Privately, however, senator minotaur is revealed to be many other things: possibly violent, evidenced by the “blood stains” on his axe and the “careful” way his campaign manager approaches him, drunk while hiding “what remains of happy hour” from an officer who pulls him over, and bisexual by the flashbacks of his childhood in a “labyrinth orphanage”.
This compare-contrast that Bradley performs with the minotaur’s character shows the real-world reality of maintaining a campaign persona. The minotaur’s campaign manager is very careful to only allow the minotaur to be revealed in certain lights, and the public seems quite shocked when the minotaur is anything other than his campaign persona, as revealed in the gun control debacle. Though Bradley’s protagonist is a minotaur, the truths Bradley reveals about campaign personas come with obvious real-world implications: the candidates we vote for and support are not really themselves, but are carefully crafted facades of themselves, and as voters, we must remember that.
On a personal level, however, Bradley shows us the effect that these personas have on the individuals maintaining them. The minotaur hates his real self, wishing he could “fistfight with [god] for making him the way that he is,” and has nightmares about times in school when he feels that he was not accepted by regular Americans. The minotaur’s campaign persona is maintained out of personal necessity and the fear that if the minotaur was seen for who he really was, he would be rejected on a massive scale.
In conclusion, Bradley takes the absurd premise of On the Campaign Trail and uses it to explore the knotty reality of attempting to get popularly elected in a world that would despise the person you are beneath the facade. In a world where candidates make every choice based on what will help their “optics,” Bradley shows us that even our favorite candidates are not what they pretend to be, and he shows that we, the voters, may share some of the blame for that.
Jacob Dziubek is a senior at Carroll University majoring in business with an English Minor. He served as the Copy Editor for the 2020 issue of Portage Magazine. Free time–when he can find it–is spent watching his favorite movies with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Eliya, building scale model western towns, and cackling maniacally over reasons currently unknown even to himself.