This is now the third installment that frames the presidency of Trump as a real-life Harrison Bergeron, the often misread totalitarian clown in Kurt Vonnegut’s eponymous dystopian short story.
For the U.S., February 4, 2020, now stands as the peak moment of converting the Republican Party into the Trumpublican Party. No longer are we citizens of this so-called free country confronted by empty-suit politicians or even an emperor with no clothes, but by the most brazen and crass reality that the very worst types of adolescents now run the country bolstered by a loyal base that revels in believing that being stupid is cool and that bullies are funny.
Two moments calcify this new reality of U.S. gotcha politics—Nancy Pelosi ripping up the State of the Union address behind Trump as he spoke and Trump awarding the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh.
Instead of using the Pelosi ripping meme either to demonize Pelosi (see Trump supporters) or to lionize Pelosi (see partisan Democrats), we would all be better served to pause at this reduction of democracy to the cult of celebrity that ultimately distracts from the real politics of government policies that directly impact people’s lives.
Let me turn again to Vonnegut, his brilliant novel Cat’s Cradle, as I have discussed before:
Readers soon learn that Bokonon creates a religion “’to provide the people with better and better lies’” (p. 172), foma, and a central aspect of that strategy involves the fabricated war between the government of San Lorenzo and the religion, Bokononism. Readers discover that this plan fails:
“’But people didn’t have to pay as much attention to the awful truth. As the living legend of the cruel tyrant in the city and the gentle holy man in the jungle grew, so, too, did the happiness of the people grow. They were all employed full time as actors in a play they understood, that any human being anywhere could understand and applaud.’” (pp. 174-175)
The false choice between McCabe and Bokonon in the other world created by Vonnegut happens to represent well the delusion of choice that exists in the U.S. (not to be examined here, but McCabe/Bokonon reflect the false choice currently in the U.S. between Republican/Democrat; it’s a fake fight, and a false choice).
Pelosi and Trump are the current actors of the moment in the false war between Democrats and Republicans.
However, with Trump, we are not treading the same worn path, but down a newly cut road to hell.
I certainly concede that Trump is a disturbingly know-nothing anti-intellectual president, seemingly having no redeeming qualities that qualify him for this role as leader of the U.S. But many presidents have been noticeably less bright than even the average American—George H.W. and George W. Bush, for example.
And while it is true that Trump is also relentlessly crass and incapable of rising above his essential urge to lie and bully, Trump is no more crass and profane than other presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson.
We mustn’t also omit that Trump is a serial adulterer and abusive to women—not unlike Bill Clinton.
Trump is unique, though, in that his most crass and abusive qualities are front-and-center in his public and private lives; other presidents were able for much of their careers to be empty suits, presenting one mostly dignified persona in public while being vile men behind closed doors barricaded by a loyal machine.
Never just an empty suit, Trump is a totalitarian clown 24-7, much like the high school star athlete flaunting his free pass daily while coaches and administrators contort themselves to keep the player in school and eligible for the big game.
You see, for Republicans in 2020, there is only the ends—winning—regardless of the means—Trump in his disgusting and brazen role as the emperor with no clothes.
That brings us to the Medal of Freedom bestowed upon Limbaugh who recently confessed he suffers from advanced lung cancer.
Limbaugh himself has been a cancer on celebrity media and U.S. politics for decades. On the radio, Limbaugh seemed to represent the worst case scenario of the free market producing celebrity.
His racism, sexism, and general gluttony attracted U.S. conservatives, including a harbinger of things to come; the religious right also became ditto heads despite Limbaugh’s hedonism and (brazen and crass) unethical and immoral lifestyle.
Many, I think, would have never thought that the same dynamic that created and sustained Limbaugh would be how the U.S. elected Trump president in the wake of audio evidence of him making the infamous “grab them by the pussy” comment.
Trump awarding Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom has nothing to do with policy, Limbaugh’s contributions to the U.S., or even politics; this was just another way for Trump to play gotcha with so-called “liberals,” as a ploy to pander to Trumpublicans who revel in such high school idiocies.
Peak Trumpublican Party is upon us and everything has now been fully reduced to celebrity sport, including how the mainstream media (above the consequences of all this in many ways) cover the game without bothering to step back and make some effort to end the hollow us v. them distraction.
As a life-long resident of South Carolina, I have lived my entire adult life in a solidly Republican state; most of my trips to vote have been wasted time in which the vast majority of races had only one person running, empty-suit Republicans who somehow kept their clown selves mostly at bay while running for office (but not while in office).
So as I scroll through Facebook posts by a local news station, I read comment after comment about impeaching Pelosi, about the many crimes and failures of Obama, and about the wonderful state of the country because of Trump. SC political leaders recently called to name an interstate exchange after Trump, the pussy-grabbing president who treated Limbaugh equally to Martin Luther King Jr.
The State of the Union Address of February 4, 2020, was all theater, the most extreme and debased theater of the absurd, in fact.
Except there are real consequences to all the theatrics, Pelosi overacting just behind the orange menace spouting his usual litany of lies.
In January of 2016, Trump proclaimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Crass? Yes. Outlandish for a politician of this magnitude? Absolutely.
And even then, we were warned about the consequences of such an unhinged president: Trump couldn’t be prosecuted if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, lawyer claims.
We aren’t quite there, but we are pretty damned close.
The U.S. Senate, with a majority of Republicans, will insure that Trump takes one more step toward that hypothetical, except slightly reversed here as Trump is dodging the impeachment bullet.
Beware looking too hard and cheering too loudly for our current McCabe/Bokonon—Pelosi, the speech shredder, versus Trump, the high school bully.
This is by far the worst reality TV yet, and as Trump himself believes, there appears to be no promise of it being cancelled any time soon.
I’d stay away from Fifth Avenue, in fact, just in case.