"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Grand Guignol, Operatic Bombast, Melodrama, And Bathos–Anyone Not Enjoying The Trump Vaudeville Show Must Be From Mars

“Yes”, I said patiently, “you have a point” – the usual opening to a political discussion of the old school; but for Sandy the Sicilian Defense to expose the intentions of his opponent.  The old-time friend, classmate, and colleague actually had no point at all, none but talking points repeated over years of frustrated opposition. 

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The crunch had come with the inauguration of Donald Trump, a man more unworthy of the office than any of the 40-some presidents before him; a man of gross rudeness, insensitivity, and the worst, most malicious, and dangerous retrograde thinking since…well, since ever.   Political Armageddon had come sooner than anyone had thought.  The Antichrist in silk suits had taken residence at 1600 before anyone knew what had happened.

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It has been over two years since Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton; and not only had he not offered an olive branch to her and her supporters, he piled on.  Her defeat was inevitable, he believed.  There was no way that an  arrogant, self-entitled, hopelessly out-of-touch woman could possibly have beaten him, a man of populist sentiment, whose fingers were on the pulse of the American people; and it would be pointless to extend a hand to such a political nobody.

Progressives have whined and moaned ever since that fateful election in 2016, blindsided by a political rube and gutter fighter.  Yes, there was some measure of comeuppance in the results of the mid-term elections, but not much.  The Trump juggernaut was in full inertial movement, another Supreme Court appointment was in the wings, and there was little that old-fashioned,  by-the-books judicial inquiry and pressure, aided and abetted by over-the-top media reporting could do.  Trump was in it for the long run, perhaps even for a full two-term eight years.

The pain, suffering, angst, and existential crises of the Left were not sympathetic, but only the stuff of soap opera, a weekly reprise of the former episodes of jealousy, pruned desire, deception, arrogance, and ambition.

The reason why Turkish soap operas are so popular is not because of the beauty of the female leads (stunning), the suspense of the cannily-devised plots, the comeuppance of the bad, the recognition of righteousness and right action, and the victory of love; but because what happens every week in Istanbul can happen anywhere in America whether on Wall Street, Washington, or Dubuque….Especially Washington, for Turkish tales of greed, ambition, and impossibly immoral action could only happen here. 

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Unfortunately, too few people watch the Trump soap opera with as much delightful anticipation as they do Kara Para Aşk. If they could willingly suspend disbelief, disassociate themselves from the supposedly ‘serious’ development and dénouement of the events in Washington, they would be as devoted to the American serial as Turks are to theirs.  What will happen to Elif?  Will she escape the malicious set-up engineered by her uncle and aunt? Will Omer solve the case and win Elif’s heart? Will the dastardly be caught and put behind bars?  Will Trump be caught in a web of lies, sabotaged by his own confidants, exposed for all his wrongdoings and evil intent?

Donald Trump loves all of this – he is the center-stage, high-stepping vaudevillian, carny barker, trapeze artist, and sideshow attraction all rolled into one.  He loves the attention, and loves it even more when his critics cry for blood.  His critics, schooled as they are in old, archaic modes of opposition (policy, logic, defined purpose, values) are hopelessly outmatched.  They refuse to wrestle in his ring, object to his rules, and are beaten before they enter the arena.

What is the point of living in Washington, after all, if it isn’t for the grand guignol of national politics.  Washington is center stage, not for serious political inquiry or debate, but for melodrama, soap opera tears and remorse, and best of all vengeance, vendetta, and retribution.

Yes, I know, I have heard it all before.  It is irresponsible if not immoral to  think this way, to ignore the potential damage to the body politic, democracy, climate, women, and society at large.  Yet how can one possibly take it seriously when these entertaining shows just keep on coming. There was nothing to match Bill Clinton debating the definition of sexual encounter and parsing grammatical construction.  JFK had Secret Service complicity in his affairs, and LBJ was rumored to have had them pimp for him. Only in America would we waste so much time on a president’s dalliances with an intern, minor peccadilloes, and simple infidelities. At least the indiscretions of Mitterrand and Sarkozi had style and panache, goes with the territory, nothing to be upset about as long as governance is not neglected.

Grant’s administration was one of the most corrupt ever, and scandals were nothing new to American presidents  - Teapot Dome, Black Friday, Star Route, Whiskey Ring, and Andrew Jackson’s ‘marriage’ are the most memorable.   Watergate and the endless Clinton affairs, aired as they were in a more media accessible age, seem more on the order of Trump’s vaudeville; but they were no different.

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I turn on the television not to hear the truth or a sane, reasonable, and temperate parsing of world events; but to tune into the best soap opera since As the World Turns .  I cannot wait to find out who did what to whom; who was fired, what secrets were linked, what international espionage happened. 

In some ways, the goings on in Washington are tame by comparison to the old days.  There are fewer assignations with international spy seductresses– no Mata Hari, East German line dancers, or Russian princesses.  Yet their stories are still compelling.  Who can resist reading more about JFK and Marilyn Monroe and the intrigue surrounding his and her deaths?  Or the many paramours of Martin Luther King, inexhaustible leader for civil rights by day, Lothario by night? Or FDR’s quiet, devoted ‘secretary’? Or Eisenhower’s true love.

What makes the Trump era so fascinating and compelling is the fact that all scandals and the scent of scandals are happening at the same time.  While sex is being played second fiddle for the time being (i.e his assumed liaisons with Hollywood starlets, Miami Beach beauties, and the rich and glamorous of Europe); and while political melees have moved front and center, there is always the feeling that anything can happen.  Donald Trump does squire arm candy, did have importunate affairs in his youth, had unseemly dealings with developers, financiers, and globalists, and is unapologetically proud of his past, his character, and his personality.

So what is there to get? Trump is an unabashed skirt-chaser,  a lover of bourgeois pleasures, an unreformed street fighter, a man of unmitigated will and ambition, an arrogant, supremely confident, uber-male.  Of course he is a pain in the ass to the Washington establishment, both Left and Right.  They would have a far easier time of it if he simply played by their rules; but he does not.

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There has never been a president like this one, and their may not be one like him in the near future.  On the other hand, Donald Trump has shown America and the world that there is no such thing as one single idea of an American President – there are only versions, and he has broken the mold, thrown away the pattern.

The United States will do quite well on its own, regardless of who is in the Oval Office.  We have had our ups and downs but we have always managed to survive; and we will now and today.
So the best thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the show.  There will be none like it for a long, long while.

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