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Election 2016: Image World (2)

A. D. Coleman, January 2015. Photo by Anna Lung.Dumb and Dumber, Dumber and …

With the Republic Party’s candidates already seeking their toeholds on the starting line, we have a guaranteed 16 months’ worth of what Neil Postman dubbed “crazy talk, stupid talk” ahead of us.

So far, a disproportionate amount of it has come from — or has come in reaction to — America’s most prominent comb-over, Donald Trump. Rand Paul taking a chainsaw to the tax code, Lindsey Graham puréeing his cellphone, Rick Perry releasing a country-rap campaign theme song, Mike Huckabee comparing the pending nuclear deal with Iran to the Holocaust, Ben Carson playing the old board game Operation, Ted Cruz auditioning for The Simpsons and cooking bacon with a machine gun: there’s no cultural referent these fools can’t adopt maladroitly. One can only keep a chinstrap handy to stop the jaw from dropping at these and other frantic attempts to regain the spotlight that Trump’s buffoonery has arrogated to The Donald alone.

Donald Trump, 2015, screenshot

Donald Trump, 2015, screenshot

I couldn’t bear to watch more than morning-after snippets of the first Republic Party “debate” on Fox News. I preferred to simply read what they said, which makes it clear that no actual “debate” took place, simply a posturing-and-bloviation contest better understood as the political equivalent of the Miss America contest. Yet the fact that Trump somehow not only slid past the unexpectedly tough questions Megyn Kelly put to him but insulted her — and not only got away with that but turned it into a victory in the public-opinion polls and a triumph over Fox News itself — tells me that we face a long, long, long road to November 2016.

Tim Curry as Pennywise, "It" (1990), screensho

Tim Curry as Pennywise, “It” (1990), screenshot

I have come to think of Trump not only as exemplifying the Bad Clown but as embodying that prepubescent nightmare’s apotheosis; he has turned himself into the Republic Party’s version of Steven King’s demonic Pennywise. Indeed, these early days of the campaign resemble nothing so much as a remake of IT, with the rest of the pack banding together as The Losers Club, collectively intent on destroying the alien invader preying on its victims’ phobias.

Unfortunately, since they so clearly lack the real commitment to each other that bonded The Losers Club, while simultaneously sharing and battening on the same fears themselves, they will not likely achieve the ultimate demise of what The Donald represents. At best they will force it into a post-feeding frenzy hibernation, from which it will awaken all too soon. Steven King promises you that.

The Coward’s Way Out

Since I’m on the subject of Trump, a moment for his lawyer, Michael Cohen, who declared in an interview concerning Ivana Trump’s charge that Donald once raped her that “by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse. It is true. You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.” As Jeremy Diamond notes in a CNN report, “Marital rape today is illegal in all 50 states and non-consensual sex between spouses does in fact constitute rape.” So in fact that’s not true, by the very definition. Even if this doesn’t qualify as an outright lie, ignorance of the law — especially on the part of a highly paid lawyer — is no excuse. This officer of the court has disgraced himself by spreading this misinformation.

Mustela michaelcohenalis, commonly known as the Trump Weasel

Mustela michaelcohenalis, commonly known as the Trump Weasel

Not at all good for the image of Trump, who has adopted a tough-on-rapists posture in relation to illegal Mexican immigrants. That position brought up the decades-old acrimonious divorce from Ivana in which that charge figured — not the smartest move on Trump’s part. But Cohen then iced the cake with an apology for his own ridiculous statement, in which he claimed that “I made an inarticulate comment.”

I’ve written previously about the use of this particular word as a defining marker of the weasel. Add Cohen to the growing list. His comment was perfectly grammatical, perfectly articulate. The reprehensible legal position it represented, and the misogynistic mentality behind it, go back centuries. Makes absolute sense that Trump would hire as his mouthpiece a man with an antiquated attitude toward the power dynamic between the sexes, who, confronted with his own clearly enunciated position, takes the coward’s way out by pretending that he misspoke.

Return of the Know-Nothings

Native American Party flag, ca. 1840

Native American Party flag, ca. 1840

We can credit Trump with resurrecting yet again one of the zombie notions that, perplexingly, refuses to stay dead in this nation of immigrants: the xenophobia of the mid-nineteenth-century Native American Party, sometimes referred to as the Know-Nothings. (By “native Americans” they didn’t mean what they then called “Injuns” or “redskins.” They meant the children of white Protestant immigrants.)

Fear of furriners runs deep in the Murcan psyche; Peter Stuyvesant tried to bar Brazilian Jews from immigrating to New Amsterdam back in the 1650s. You can find incidents even prior to that, and of course many since. But The Donald’s braying on this subject has struck some chord with the Republic Party base, vaulting him to the head of the pack for the nonce.

To understand the appeal of Trump, and his consequent lead in the polls as I write this, I turn to Dallas Mavericks basketball team owner Mark Cuban. Using a proprietary, private, confidential messaging app called Cyber Dust, Cuban — who isn’t Cuban (not even “culturally Cuban”), but born in Pittsburgh of Russian Jewish descent — recently explained why he considers The Donald “probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long long time.” As Business Insider reported on July 28, Cuban opined,

“I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.”

Edgar Allan Poe, the "Stella" daguerreotype, 1849

Edgar Allan Poe, the “Stella” daguerreotype, 1849

The perfect intro for my recommended reading for the day: “No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong,” July 23, 2015 column for the Houston Press. Having explained to people for decades that while everyone’s entitled to an opinion (there’s no law against it) not all opinions have equal validity and thus merit equal consideration, I delight in coming across a total stranger of like mind. As Rouner writes, “Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.”

Just as the “theory” of creationism does not have equal standing with the theories of the Big Bang and evolution, so The Donald’s off-the-top-of-his-head opinions, though revered by Cuban as such, do not automatically trump the answers, prepared or spontaneous, of someone better informed. (Couldn’t resist the pun.) As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “Only the supremely rational can be truly spontaneous; all else is mere impulsivity.” Where, in your opinion, would Poe position Donald Trump on that sliding scale?

Iraq and a Hard Place

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell lying to the United Nations, February 5th, 2003

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell lying to the United Nations, February 5th, 2003

From the evidence so far, once things really get going some of the crazy/stupid talk will revolve around the invasion of Iraq of 2003, undertaken under false pretenses by the regime of George W. Bush. Many deliberate lies got told and many dumb things got said in the months leading up to that fiasco and the months after it began, and many more of each have been uttered since. But this one — the conclusion of “No honor in second-guessing war in Iraq,” an op-ed by Republican consultant William F. B. O’Reilly published in Newsday on May 14, 2015 — may take the (yellow)cake:

“Candidates for president are free to question strategic decisions made by predecessors, even with 20/20 hindsight. It’s obnoxious but fair game. But when asked whether a war that cost nearly 37,000 American casualties was a mistake, they’d darn well better answer ‘no.’

“The moment American blood was spilled in Iraq, the mission became worth it.

“No matter what.”

“American blood” has somehow become sacred, by this account, and its shedding in any situation, even one brought on by ourselves, sanctifies any action the U.S. government takes. This delusion, all by itself, suffices as a reason to keep these lunatics out of the White House forever.

(For an index of links to all posts in this series, click here.)

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