American Emperor: The Harrison Bergeron Presidency

When The New Yorker published a cover presenting Donald Trump nude in front of reporters, some mainstream and social media commentary accused the publication of body shaming:

I had two different responses. First, the cover reminded me of Trump’s own repeated body shaming of Alicia Machado, Miss Universe, and then doubling down on that shaming when the issue was raised during the presidential debates. And second, my literary mind assumed the image was an allusion to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In the first case, the rush to defend Trump against behavior he himself has demonstrated fits into a disturbing pattern concerning Trump and the women he abuses. Every time Stormy Daniels is mentioned in the press related to Trump, she is slut shamed, while his many and varied transgression remain unmentioned—accusations of sexually violating his first wife (initially framed as “rape”), on-the-record boasting about being a sexual predator, and a series of marriages that ended after adultery (including Daniels and Karen McDougal admitting to affairs with Trump in the early years of his current marriage).

Trump has taken the Ronald Reagan Teflon presidency to an entirely new level.

The allusion to Anderson’s tale that has spawned “the emperor has no clothes” is particularly important in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting and the rise of teens protesting for gun control.

Yes, Anderson’s parable points a finger at the delusional emperor—no stretch seeing how this speaks volumes today about Trump—but also key is that the only person in the empire willing to say the truth is a child: “‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.”

As I have discussed before, the rise of Trump can be seen in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” a story often misread but that captures perfectly how a people’s irrational fear of totalitarianism, a militarized state, can lead to idealizing an equally dangerous option, the megalomaniac rugged individual.

In Vonnegut’s dark satire, the latter is Bergeron:

“Clanking, clownish, and huge” as well as “wear[ing] at all times a red rubber ball for a nose,” Harrison bursts into the story with “‘I am the Emperor!’”

In the U.S. currently, the latter is Trump, our American emperor.

However, as my premise for Trumplandia argues, Trump himself, the bombastic and hollow clown, is not the problem; all those so willing to defend and support him, that is the ultimate problem, possibly one that is unsurmountable.

Like those defending guns who are immune to facts, clutching their weapons almost entirely out of irrational fear and for symbolic effect, Trump supporters simply revel in lies.

Parkland, Florida student David Hogg, like the child in Anderson’s parable, has been one of many teens to speak truth to power, notably the NRA and Trump, since the most recent mass shooting at his school. As a result, these teens have been attacked, almost always through fake news and baseless slurs.

Hogg was, for example, accused of not being on campus during the shooting, a fake news story that someone posted on Facebook. I immediately posted a link explaining that not only was the story fake news, but also that the original post had already admitted such.

The response I received was a blunt “I don’t care” this is false, and then the poster called Hogg a series of slurs, none of which have any foundation in facts. Anyone viewed as a partisan political, ideology enemy is fair game to savage; anyone viewed as a partisan political, ideological ally is above any criticism.

This pattern, again witnessed in the gun control debate, occurs daily, fed by right-wing media, not just trolls. Laura Ingraham also attacked Hogg, and Meghan McCain launched into the Parkland protesters for profanity, although her Twitter feed has been exposed for the same language (her Twitter bio includes, for example, #FuckCancer).

And not inconsequential is the occasional hand wringing in the media about why Evangelical Christians, typically identified without the key element of “white,” continue to support Trump, pathological liar and serial adulterer.

In this time of the American emperor, it may be relevant to note that Easter in a few days falls on April Fool’s Day.

Delusion is a powerful thing, deluding others as well as self-delusion.

Religious dogma in the service of power, and not in the service of Good, has a long history, and therefore, when Easter and April Fool’s Day overlap on 1 April 2018, we may have come to the real national holiday of Trumplandia.

Trumplandia is a people who love their lies even when they know they are lies.

Even a child can see that.

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