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Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Hilarity Of American Electoral Politics–Grand Guignol, Faux Gladiators, Stanched Bloodlust, And Hysterical Believers

Not that long ago Presidential candidates were chosen in ‘a smoke-filled room’, a private enclave of Party leaders to select the most winnable candidate for election.  It was bottom-line politics and had nothing whatsoever to do with the circus of today’s popular democracy; and yes, there were many hidden agendas behind the final selection.  Political debts had to be paid, promises kept, and rewards offered; but still it was a far simpler and much saner way of nominating candidates than the sideshow of today.

Image result for images 19th century American political smoke filled room

Is there anyone who has watched the Grand Guignol of the Democratic debates who has not wondered whether the endless primaries; the fat list of candidates; the smarmy, self-serving ad hominem smears; the barnyard squabbles, and hysterical yelling is really worth it? Whether democracy is being served? Is it worth all this nonsense to increase popular participation in the electoral process?

Image result for images grand guignol

Probably not, since the debates are little more than down-card prize fights.  After bleeding cuts are greased, swollen eyes packed with ice, teeth rattled, noses broken, the only question is who was more aggressive, more able to hurt, disable, and humiliate?   And most importantly, who was left standing?

There is nothing civilized let alone genteel about the American electoral process.  American politics have always been crude barfights, and the only real difference between today’s elections and those of a hundred years ago are the number of candidates.  It was one thing to watch John Q.  Adams and Andrew Jackson slug it out in the campaign of 1828, considered as and commonly referred to as “the dirtiest presidential campaign in U.S. history”, another thing altogether to watch the outrageous performance of 10-20 candidates over a period of almost two years.

Image result for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson Election

In the 1828 campaign Jackson and Adams traded heated attacks. Adams supporters accused Jackson of murdering six of his own militiamen. Jackson supporters accused Adams of using public funds to buy a pool table and gamble in the White House. Jackson’s wife - who had been previously married - was accused of sinful adultery. Adams was accused of using prostitutes to gain favor in Russia during his time as ambassador.  This seems tame compared to Democrats’ hysterical claims of racism, homophobia, misogyny, moral corruption, and personal infamy leveled at Trump and at each other with still eight months to go before the election.  There seems to be no bottom of the barrel in this contest, nothing held in reserve, no respectful distance, no consideration, no listening, no appreciation.  Just a bloody brawl, an event to hurt, maim, disfigure and hopefully disable all rivals.

Of course this gory Punch and Judy show exists only because the American electorate wants it.  If we ever had gentility, good manners, and reasonableness, we lost them long ago.  Temperance, breeding, and rational judgment seem antiquarian, common only to Beacon Hill, Rittenhouse Square, and Park Avenue .  Patience and civility can no longer be virtues, social activists claim, when the stakes are so high.  The country is run by a dangerous, destructive psychopath; and he must be removed by any means necessary.  Accuracy, sensibility, and rationality are too Victorian, too godly, and too considerate when dealing with a madman.  Trump himself has distorted the ethos of Enlightenment America, tossed the principles of good governance, ethical principles, morality, and justice aside, and ruled like a corrupt African despot; and since the American electorate is still just as cannibalistic as the most primitive Congolese tribe, then why not be savage, pagan, and bloody?

Image result for images punch and judy 19th century

Once one has gone down this devilish path, there is no end.  The same Democrats who have run through the forest hunting Trump with spears and poisoned arrows, have turned upon themselves.  It is human nature in all its brutal ugliness on display; and the voters clamor for a ringside seat.  They look forward to being spattered with blood, covered in spit, and smeared with sweat.  

There is a perfect consonance between politicians and voters.  Both are motivated by the same primitive human nature. One group is anxious to get into the ring and do battle – to bloody, savage, and destroy – and the other eager to watch.

The Romans were at least honest about bloodlust.  Every individual – then and now – harbors violent, bloody thoughts; but the idea of collectivizing this bloodlust among 60,000 rabid, hysterical onlookers, was genius.  The human sacrifices on the altar of Pre-Columbian gods sacrificed one victim to satisfy the gods, to expiate all sins, to stave off divine anger, were nothing compared to the multiple killings in Rome.  One gladiator after another was slaughtered by opponents, ripped apart by lions, savaged by wolves and jackals.  The sacrifice of Christ to redeem all the sins of the world – necessary because man’s sins were so many and so great that any individual confession would never do – was no different from the individual human sacrifices among the Aztecs and Mixtecs; but the double-, triple-, and quadruple feature of slaughter at the Colosseum was another thing altogether, unparalleled as the perfect expression of humanity’s bloody intentions.  

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Although American politicians may see themselves as tribal hunters, gladiators, and noble warriors, they are by comparison pitiful, sad, and laughable.  If the electoral stage has the trappings of the Roman arena, it is more suited to the grossest form of American entertainment – a lowbrow, glitzy, Las Vegas caricature of culture; a combination of standup comedy, Hollywood melodrama, and daytime television.  It cannot be taken seriously.  It is slapstick.  Men slipping on banana peels, clowns with Clarabelle horns, and sideshow freaks.  It is religious evangelism and snake-oil.  Big tent preachers, holy rollers, and quick-fix cures. 

Progressives, however, are taking all of this very seriously.  They regard Trump as the incarnation of evil when he is only the best carny barker, circus headliner, vaudevillian, and showman in political history.  The Donald Trump show is not to be missed, the event of the new century, worth every penny of the price of admission, a glorious celebration of American excess, glamour, and Wild West mystique.   Since politics is a hilarious sideshow; since truth is up for grabs, and since the whole idea of statesmanship went out long ago, why not enjoy  politics for what it is -- the most American,  Hollywood, Las Vegas, New York glitz, glamour, fantasy show on earth? What could possibly top the combination of faux-gladiatorial combat, Las Vegas burlesque, comedy, low humor and a claque of hysterical moralists who don’t get it?

Image result for images las vegas showgirls dancing

There is no shame in being low-brow.  We are, after all a low-brow society becoming even more so as the likes of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Rousseau are forgotten; as we lose their sense of principled ethos; and as our universal national integrity is diluted by a come-one-come all ‘inclusivity’.  As Americans, born and bred in a culture of Hollywood, Las Vegas, soap operas;as  readers of People, E!, and Entertainment Today; sports fanatics; and lovers of cultural excess everywhere, we deserve the politics of today.  It embodies that unique combination of Grand Guignol, faux gladiatorial combat, vaudeville, and bad daytime television.  Imagine any of the clowns competing for the Democratic nomination in the Oval Office and the low-brow, vaudevillian image is complete.

It is no shame either to revel in our human nature.  Hard as it may be to admit, we prefer bloody, bare-knuckle free-for-alls to boring facts and figures.  We love Trump’s zingers and Democrats’ wounded outrage.  We love his innuendos, fake news, and un-PC, outrageous persona; and we love the Democrats’ personal attacks, the dirtier, the closer to the bone, the more ridiculous the better.  Better for soundbites, better to go viral, better to repeat in the rec room over highballs.

The true American patriot would never want to be outside the country in a presidential election year.  The electoral process is even more fun today than it was when Adams and Jackson squared off, when Michael Dukakis appeared with a funny leather helmet peering out of an M-1 tank, when Mark Sanford chased after his Argentine firecracker, when John Edwards lied about cheating on his wife, or when every single President had a photo-op with the greatest lowbrow showman of them all, Billy Graham.  We have the Internet where the most ridiculous and absurd claims go viral and end up as truth.  The hilarity of the debates can be shared among millions, re-posted and re-tweeted until it is even more ridiculous. 

Image result for images george dukakis in m-1 tank

Europeans sniff at our crude electoral process and lack of culture; but like Tocqueville, they have to view us objectively.  An election year is America on display and for anyone paying attention, they will see what we are made of.

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