Tuesday, July 21, 2015

American political theatre: entertaining but hardly inspiring

The American political theatre never fails to entertain. Today, and for the foreseeable future, we have the spectacle of one of the most articulate, sophisticated, intellectually gifted and accomplished president, Barack Obama, relaxing with his family in Central Park, an art museum and a Broadway play on the weekend. After leading his country into an historic agreement over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, opening diplomatic relations with Cuba following a half-century freeze, opening up the potential of prison and sentencing reform through another historic visit to an Oklahoma prison, another first for any American president, and watching the American economy begin to rebound from the “mat” it faced in 2008-9 when he took office, Obama is marching to a legacy worthy of his person and presidency, through the highly appropriate “end-run” around Congress.

On the other side of the stage, the Americans (and the rest of the world) are being treated to The Donald’s (Trump) bloviating parade to the top of the opinion polls among the platoon of potential and declared candidates for the White House allegedly espousing a different political ideology. Denigrating former presidential candidate John McCain for being imprisoned, “I like those who are not imprisoned!” Trump knew would lob an incendiary device into the campaign backrooms of his competitors. Defending the “crazies” in Arizona, thousands who showed up for one of his political diabtribes, and were dubbed “crazies” by that same McCain, Trump also knew would generate public sympathy among the masses.

And of course, the  media, loving the “show” much more than the substance of a debate on issues, playing to its “base” motive for ratings, is delighted to record and replay comments like “unfit to be commander in chief,” and “jackass” and “a disgrace to the Republican party” from Trump’s rivals....adding the predictable rhetorical fuel to an already burgeoning swamp fire of much more heat than light.

Here is another edition of the classic “class war” pitting the self-appointed sophisticates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and potentially Marco Rubio, against the deliberately unpolished, unsophisticated and unrehearsed and deliberately manipulative Trump, on the Republican side, while on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is showing his colours as a “one-trick” pony attempting to reduced the inequality gap while being shouted down by those who find his record on race relations hollow (whether that charge is warranted or not) and Hillary Clinton keeps to her script as the “youngest female ever elected to the White House”.

Along with the media, Trump has others in his supporting cast including Senator Ted Cruz, the evangelical Cuban-Canadian, who apparently earned high praise for his intellectual heft from his Harvard Law professor, Allan Dershowitz, and a bankroll that could and just might sink his opponents, in the long run, if he chooses to stay in the race. Adding to his supporting cast, of course, is the chorus of angry, disenchanted, inarticulate yet highly explosive mass of voters who are disgusted with the bowel obstruction that has plagued Congress for the past eight years, and who are struggling with low incomes, or even no incomes, in a recovery that has favoured the very wealthy at the expense of the many.

Trump’s recipe of “more jobs than any other candidate,” more push-back to China and Iran and North Korea than any other candidate,” “more Latino voters than any other candidate come election time,” played against the background of his many “deals” (many of which went South, by the way) offer a diet of “fast food” in an economy in which only the sharks survive. Whether the American people want a shark in the White House, that is an admitted and gloating and hubristic and inflated shark, when compared with the highly restrained political ambitions of the mainstream candidates on both sides, is still an open question. They certainly know, even if they do not read the papers, or watch the television, or follow the thousands of nuanced blogs and columnists, that the world is a very dangerous and unfriendly place. They also know that the Pentagon is not and will never again be the sole source of American or even western power. They know that Obama’s rarefied and homiletic paragraphs of analysis and defence of his policies float high over their heads. They buy some of the “macho” simplifications of the Donald, as a prescription like all their other drugs, to potentially relieve their pain. And, even if the relief is only for a moment, like most addicts, that is sufficient to attract their attention.

As the representative for Netflix explained yesterday on CBC Newsworld, in defending his company’s casual approach to the millions who are pirating his company’s service, “we just want to develop an army of addicts to our service”, the marketing world has an insatiable appetite for “addicts” to whatever it is attempting to sell, and to some significant extent, each candidate wants a frenzied band of “addicts” to their candidacy. Whether he is selling a reality television show, or cleaning up from the mess his loud mouth has generated through the abandonment of major corporate accounts, Trump is Horatio Alger on steroids.

Trump knows the inside of this world better and more immediately than any of his opponents on both sides. Not only is the uber deal-maker, he is also the creation of the world of the unfettered capitalism of which his deals are the ultimate consummation. He openly and readily admits that he “gives money to everybody” including Hillary Clinton, because that is how the system works. When he needs some political influence, no matter whether a Republican or a Democrat, local, state or federal, he has already paved the way for whatever political favour he needs. So not only does he “play the game”, he also openly tells the world, “that is what’s wrong with the system!” He knows how to play while simultaneously despising the game. He once favoured a woman’s right to choose, but now tells an interviewer he is pro-life. He raised funds for McCain’s presidential bid in 2008, and how tells the world he is not a war hero because he was captured.

Calling his closest opponent, Jeb Bush, “out of touch” (whatever that means), Trump seems to play all the rhetorical cards in the deck whenever and wherever he feels drawn to a particular expression. Spontaneous might be one word for his stump portrait; however, is it really spontaneity, or extreme contempt for the political process, linked to a bank vault in his name? He knows just how crass and tarnished politics has become; he also knows that in order to even contend for the nomination in the Republican Party, he has to generated excitement, crowds, media attention, and perhaps sometime, even consider some serious policy proposals. He has not openly espoused a federally financed campaign law, that would remove the tsunami of cash from donors who, like him, seek political favours. Of course, even such a law would not prevent him from underwriting his own campaign.

As an archetype of the American financial culture, Trump is, to most people merely an “object” to be toyed with, permitted a gig as entertainer, and as the stir-stick in the cocktail, an agent of mixing up the political cocktail currently on offer.

Not surprising that he has “never asked God to forgive him” given his inordinate hubris that blinds him to anything in his life requiring the forgiveness of a deity. Depicting Mexicans as drug addicts, and rapists, (contrary to the facts which never seem to impede his voluble steam-rolling tongue,) and denigrating McCain’s war hero status, calling his opponents losers, while telling audiences he “likes Obama” speaks to the strategy of a candidate whose strong-man image plays with the emotions of his audiences, including the media whom he counts on for their co-dependent role in his epic charade, “enhancing his brand” as some would put it. But this is no Ross Perrot on steroids; nor is it Ralph Nader on opiates; nor it is Teddy Roosevelt in a suit and pseudo toupe (that really is his hair!). Barkers like television ‘host’ Geraldo Rivera, or Glenn Beck, are names that come to mind, each with his own persona, and it is the persona that Trump is “trumpeting”.

The Persona, as Jung saw it, is a Mask, a cover-up for the ego of the person, and when the ego and mask remain undifferentiated, Jung called that enantiodromia. Whether or not Trump has separated his ‘persona’ from his ‘ego’ in clinical or technical terms, the world is now his fixated audience, (although hardly addicted), and the duration of his “15 minutes of fame” will depend on his Shadow, that part of his unconscious that will ultimately rear its less than endearing head/voice and the world will wonder what happened. Right now, the world struggles to discern who Trump really is, given that authenticity is still in the mix of voter motivation.

However, the “reality television” meme has so consumed the American public, that prior to robots taking over, we may have to endure a transition into a Pinocchio/Gepetto duet playing in an auditorium near everyone, confusing and toying with his audience starved for some inexpensive stage show, in the hinterland, now that Broadway ticket prices have soared beyond the average voter’s pocket book.  Jeff Dunham’s puppets are another evocation of The Donald, given their extreme red-neck observations, regardless of their physical image, or perhaps it is really the other-way-round: The Donald has taken his cues from the Dunham puppets.

It is also a meme in American pop culture, that extreme fame resides in a “single-name” identity: Cher, Madonna, Mantle, Elvis, Hillary...and Donald has even blown that meme apart, adding his regal “The” to his persona. Is he a sign of the complete atrophy of the American huckster culture or a foreshadowing of the future of Brave New World, when the people are so ‘drugged’ into unconscious that they no longer care?


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