Circus Circus: Welcome to America’s Reality Clown Show

The Wilderness | Issue .52 | 7 . 9. 2015 |
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In 2008, egged on by a media swooning with romantic feelings of hope and change, the country made a willful decision to elect an unqualified celebrity to the Oval Office. Since then, America’s number one export has been fame and its politicization: we have politicized fame. Advances in social media have made intolerable and talentless pop stars and D-list cable attention leeches alike into permanent fixtures of pop culture, and have rendered the concept of “statesmanlike decorum” extinct. Now a President slinging a selfie stick or a candidate doing Simpsons impersonations are just a web-click away. Pop singers are humanitarians. Reality TV stars are political scientists. And funny (albeit creepy-looking) clowns in bowties are climatologists. The 2002 California gubernatorial recall race, which if you recall saw Arnold Schwarzenegger beat out a porn star and and a muppet resembling Arianna Huffington, turns out to have actually been a prescient instruction manual for our national politics.

The cumulative product of this suppurating confluence of culture and politics into one befouled cesspool is Donald Trump. He is the candidate that only this country, at this point in time, could create. The media phenomenon surrounding Trump didn’t just materialize overnight. It’s been metastasizing for years in the bowels of Fox News, E! and NBC. Donald Trump is basically the (somewhat) humanoid embodiment of that river of pink mood slime growing and flowing under the streets of New York City. (Note: that’s two pieces in a row I’ve had to make a Ghostbusters II reference, so I’m probably retiring from blogging after this.)

He’s an unlikeable buffoon blowing air out of the hole that occupies the oleaginous center of his putty-mushed melon. He waves his arms in the air and throws money at any click-monger with a camera or microphone. But that’s not the point. The point is, looking at the cable TV landscape, that this same description also applies to any MTV Jersey Shore star or E! Network debutante living under a Kardashian roof.  Somewhere in the recent past, not too long ago, Americans decided to start worshiping the loudest and least talented people among us in films, music, sitcoms and cable news. So why wouldn’t politics naturally follow suit?

Ariana Grande can lick donuts and say “I hate America” and can still amass 24,000 retweets for a purple heart. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 stated the exact same thing on NBC’s The Voice and was rewarded with a contract extension. By any measure Kanye West has the personality of a gay fish, and is showered with compliments as pop media culture eats his albums up. Beyonce’s songs are written by men but she is somehow a feminist icon. Lena Dunham can’t interest more than 200,000 people weekly to watch her HBO show but she is nevertheless forced down our throats via endless magazine covers and web profiles. American Idol cast-off Clay Aiken, with no serious job experience or policy agenda to his name, unsuccessfully ran for Congress and oh by the way just happened to film it all for a “gay candidate in the South!” TV show he was pitching to cable networks. TLC basically throws the words “Midgets,” “Triplets,” “Monstrously Obese,” “Double Amputee” and “Amish” into a hat and then creates shows based on whichever three it randomly pulls out. Studios and networks made the decision that they were going to train their cameras on our perceived realities by reflecting the worst qualities among us and we were all too happy to participate because we thought we weren’t part of that freak show. Except now we are.

Just call Donald Trump “Caitlyn.”

“The Apprentice” was NBC’s number one rated show for a time, netting millions of viewers a week at its height. People tuned in breathlessly to see what antics a passel of otherwise unemployable D-list celebrities would get into, or if this would be the week that Gary Busey finally went on that naked cannibalizing rampage he’s been implicitly promising us since 2005. Trump didn’t partake in any of this. He simply mediated the proceedings. He created the circus and then sat at the head of the table and decided who got to stay or go. And that’s exactly what he’s attempting to do with the 2016 election: Trump thinks he can put himself in a position to oversee the circus, judge the contestants and decide who will stay or go. And a sensationalist, click-driven media is all too happy to let him do it. Trump knows a profitable show when he sees it.  He’s been happy to take NBC’s sponsor money just as he’s been happy to take CPAC attendees money. In both cases what Trump was getting from the deal was simple: a platform where Trump can be Trump, with an appreciative audience willing to cheer on whatever car wreck was placed in front of him.

This has nothing to do with political solutions and everything to do with entertainment factor; this is the culture we as a people chose when we went to the voting booth in November of 2008. We decided showmanship, stage-fainting, snake oil and promises of ocean level decreases were more important than substantive policy ideas and solutions. We elected a President based on what Hollywood studios and corporate branding experts told us, and those same people haven’t stopped giving us their opinion in the form of tweets or slogans written on hands ever since. Conservatives, desperate to join a culture that has all but decided to pass them by (or force them out completely), aren’t so much looking for an articulate salesman to get them back in the conversation as they are looking for an indestructible tank to bust through the wall and take it instantly by force.

The talk-radio powered part of that base thinks they’ve found it in Trump.

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Americans are addicted to the show, and Conservatives, as much as they relentlessly deny it, are arguably more so.  We exist almost completely in a world whose contours are shaped by–and at the mercy of–leftist talking points, and are beaten repeatedly over the head with them. Little wonder then, that when a snake-oil salesman of our own comes along, saying the things we want to hear, it’s like sweet endorphines are being released into a media saturated hemisphere.  (That Trump has–as recently as 2008–been on the record endorsing such progressive dreams as single-payer healthcare, maximized corporate taxation, and First Female President Hillary Clinton is, frankly, irrelevant; his fans weren’t reasoned into their support for him in the first place, so you’re not going to reason them of out of it by pointing out that his only true political conviction seems to be Whatever Is Good For Donald Trump.)  Conservative pundits and talk show hosts are just as eager to catch Donald Trump in a blustery gaffe as their liberal counterparts. This is what establishment conservative media either doesn’t understand (or does understand and is just rolling with the joke). The promises Trump is making about walls, China, Iran and Mexico are at their core no different than the type of free-shit promises Barack Obama makes to his base. But the entertainment wing of the Right is going to allow it, for now, because it offers at least a pale simulacrum of what Obama offered to his loving throngs of admirers. That’s how desperate for cultural relevance we are.

The problem is that Barack Obama knew how to sell his politics. Donald Trump does not. Barack Obama is true believer in the ideals he promotes. Donald Trump is not.

For all the blustering of the conservative Twitterati over the incompetence of Hillary and the craziness of Bernie Sanders, there isn’t one discernible difference between Donald Trump’s campaign and Bernie Sanders’. Supporters of both candidates talk about how political culture is “tired of all the political bullshit” and how the “Washington establishment” has sold America out. Both teams of partisans agree on little else, but they would both happily talk your ear (and/or your eyes) off about how the system is rigged toward the political elite.  If I described a candidate by saying “he’s getting them to talk about issues that nobody else in the party wants to talk about,” you wouldn’t know whether I was referencing Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Progressives see their incomparable idol getting ready to exit stage left. Conservatives are desperate for theirs to enter stage right.

But there isn’t going to be another Barack Obama. Not in Ben Carson, not in Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz and certainly not in Donald Trump but as long as there are PACS, political conferences, and radio talk show hosts eager to take our money, the show will go on.

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I fully understand the value for “blunt objects” in politics, especially in the place where politics collides with culture, but that interaction has to be nuanced and clever. Andrew Breitbart was a master at recognizing where this intersection existed and he happily guided the traffic. Politically, Newt Gingrich was a bit better at it. Ultimately the biggest problem with Trump’s incoherent message is not what he’s saying, it’s his complete inability to articulate it with any humor, grace or authority. Trump is just playing “angry” for his schtick. Monochromatic anger doesn’t sell, except to people who are themselves already angry. Just like rock always breaks scissors, humor always defeats anger. The first GOP candidate to tell Caitlyn Trump to put his opinions where the monkey puts the nuts in that manner most likely will be the one to win the nomination. This is the most diverse and youthful group of candidates running in American history. Their solutions on how to nuke ISIS can wait until a debate with whichever 65-year-old white person the Democrats nominate.

Their first priority should be figuring out how to Nuke Trump and do it with a confident smile on their face.

Right now the GOP field is like that baseball team Mr. Burns assembled to win a bet with a corporate rival. A can’t-miss collection of All-Stars who, one by one, all fall ill/into another dimension of space-time and miss the game, leaving the Clueless Oaf to win it by an accidental hit-by-pitch in the last inning. That’s the only way Trump wins a debate, a primary, or an election. But the talk radio-powered hydra is all too happy to humor him for ratings, and drag the most electable candidates into Hades to debate Trump on the level of an angry, senile C-SPAN caller ranting about contrails and fluoridation — because it’s all part of the show.

Ultimately, conservatives who entertain the idea of Donald Trump, or encourage his continued participation in a generational election, are no different than Occupiers dropping corporate dollars for their Guy Fawkes mask off eBay. They don’t really care what Trump believes (just as the Left doesn’t really care what Hillary Clinton believes), only what he says. But people don’t tune into the Kardashians on E! every week, or day, to hear what any given member of that family of manatees believe. We ceded academia and culture long ago before Donald Trump was appearing with Hulk Hogan and on the David Letterman show promoting his book.

Our media is demanding coliseum-style entertainment and they will flock to the showmen that are willing to give it to them. Barack Obama is more than happy to appease them. Someone needs to fill that void when he leaves office and Trump believes it to be him. Conservative critics of Trump who drop their money at conferences or tune into his television show need to realize that they are part of the show as well. As long as we’re willing to abide a circus of politainment, there will always be someone auditioning to be the ringmaster. Right now that ringmaster is Donald Trump.

And the circus isn’t leaving town any time soon.

 

 

– SM –

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  1. jkpalmdale Reply

    You are 100% spot on. I cannot for the life of me comprehend why Conservatives like him and completely ignore everything he has ever done. 
    They remind me of the dems who ignored everything about Obama before he was elected.  The blind following is scary. Keep up the great work. 

  2. Fred Reply

    The problem is that Trump regardless of his past, is still a better choice than the feckless RINO Republicans that are running. Didnt you hold your nose and vote for Romney(and the retard McCain before him)?
    He certainly is a better choice than the criminally corrupt Clinton.

  3. mr burns Reply

    Obama and Trump are shades of Jean Jacques Rousseau . They need not offer any plans or achievements. They sell the innate natural goodness of
     their listeners and a the simple and easy solution to societies problems, namely destruction. Get the bad guys, burns down the evil institutions
    which deter our natural beneficence and abilities and then we put the guillotine aside and bask in our new found utopia .

  4. Dantes Reply

    We gave the GOP Congress. They do nothing. Obama tramples us, the government tramples us. Trump speaks for us yahoos in flyover land.

    The problem isn’t Trump, moron.

    • BeevaloBill Reply

      Your first four premises are correct. The fifth is not. As a fully credentialed yahoo in flyover land, it is my view that Trumps speaks only for his own interests and ego. Trump is not, and never has been, a conservative.  He is a camellia  survivor who will use whatever expedient artifice available to advance HIS interests.
      Your final point is mixed. It is true that the problem is not Trump. But he is a manifestation of the problem – metastasized cancerous government reaching far too deeply into every aspect of life — creating dependency, not prosperity and fostering crony economics (of which Trump is Exhibit A). Finally, Stephen Miller may be wrong at times, but he is hardly a moron.  

  5. martel Reply

    One part of his appeal I think you overlook is his seeming obliviousness to the opinions of the elites.

    Republicans are attempting to balance their desire to promote their message with a deathly fear of pissing anybody off.  These same Republicans get perpetually spanked in the culture wars, media, policy implementation, and presidential elections.

    But Trump doesn’t give a damn if Whoopi Goldberg finds him offensive.  He fearlessly says what he thinks, and we’re refreshed at the contrast.

    Thus might not matter souch if the focus group smoothies actually got some substantial victories, but they don’t.  So let’s give Trump a try.  He can’t be any worse.

    I agree that he shouldn’t be the nominee and with everything you say about our culture.  Still, at least one of the other candidates better figure out how to replicate some of his fearlessness.  Ironically, the best way to find out who’s got what it takes might be gfearlessly going up against Trump himself.

  6. Voyager Reply

    I would argue that the conservative candidate to win the next presidential election won’t be the guy who picks a fight with Trump. It’ll be the guy who picks a fight with the left, and wins it.

    The news media loves to play games of “let’s you and him fight” with us, and then wanders by to go knife the winner. Let’s focus on the guys who are actually out for us.

  7. barb Reply

    Outstanding! But I am enthralled with Trump, even if he is angry. Not serious as a Presidential candidate though. 

  8. section9 Reply

    The problem is not Donald Trump.
    The problem is a GOP that soaks its members for swag and then turns around and enables a lawbreaking President. We were promised something Oh-so-different if we
    would just put the Leader’s gavel back in the hands of Mitch McConnel.
    We were lied to. And not for the first time. 
    Trump is an opportunist made possible by a GOP Establishment that is more comfortable hanging out at the Palm Restaurant with Obama functionaries than with
    rank-and-file Republican voters and conservative activists they can’t stand. As long as the only thing these “All-Stars”, as you call them, really believe in is whether or not
    your check has cleared their bank account, then Trump will not only be a possible, but necessary evil.

  9. paul Reply

    I get your lament.  The GOP just regularly abandoning their constituents is the problem.  Trump is the GOP’s fault. Unlike the left, certain people dont like being lied to

  10. Zakn Reply

    I would never support or vote for Trump, but I heartily endorse giving any and all Vapors to the “GOP Elite”. If Scott Walker or Rick Perry or God Forbid Jeb would cowboy up and slam him for the clown he is it could help them.
    But I am glad that He’s at least brought up the Sanctuary Cities stuff and The Left is running from it. It’s Toxic stuff that only trolls can deal with.
    Unfortunately for the Right it’s still Pander Pander Pander to the Chambers of Italian Fascism.  
    Fuck Those Guys. You assholes sell us out every chance you can. Elect Tom Emmer they Say! Then he promotes shit like the Ex/Im Bank because he’s nothing but a shill that talks good to the base.  
    Fuck this “partnership” where all you do is lie to your voters and then sell them the fuck out as quick as you can. That Senate Majority sure has made Obama uncomfortable with all those Vetos he was gonna have to do.  
    Burn the mother fucker down. 

  11. EVA-04 Reply

    You’re not going to get rid of Trump unless you’ve got someone better. When you find a GOP candidate who’s successful in their last job, filthy rich, knows how to make and how to play the media, and who isn’t afraid to fight and take risks, please let us know.

  12. Lisa Reply

    If the Left always wins because they know how to play the media game, playing the game their way may be the only way to win. While the presidency should not be about people like Trump or Obama, if that’s what it takes to wrangle our government out of the old wrinkled hands of Democrat & Republican elites then so be it. One thing is fairly certain, Trump may not be what you’d consider presidential material, but there is little doubt he will do what is necessary to bring America’s finances to order. After all, if the economy crashes we are screwed.?

  13. Susan Reply

    I don’t know that ppl are fans of Trump, as much as they’re wary of dedicating themselves to any of the others, and Trump is the absolutely only one speaking about illegal immigration, which was the major reason Repubs re-took the Senate. And I wouldn’t doubt his sincerity on that issue, because of the hits he keeps taking from former partners. Yet he’s not backing down. 

  14. morgan Reply

    “They don’t really care what Trump believes…only what he says.”

    the problem is the rest of them not only don’t say what we want to hear, they reneg on even what they do say. paul supports mcconnell, rubio betrays on immigration, all of them tiptoe around and never directly address some of the most obvious political opportunities in ages.

    are we supposed to believe that all the other guys are hidden geniuses but just missed out on addressing the crummy economy and reality of our illegal immigration situation, and that donald, who addresses so many peoples’ real concerns bluntly, is the idiot? 

    our country is absolutely a circus right now. describing it accurately makes a person sound absurd. but name the other candidate that’s either describing or understanding what real people are seeing?

  15. Karen Reply

    This kind of thought gave us Cantor, Boehner, McCain, Graham and McConnell – people who make a living “punching conservatives in the face”. Gallup showed lowest GOP party affiliation in a decade – that was before the Donald went on his rant. TPA and funding the executive amnesty. Democrats in their primary are pandering to their base. Jeb and Marco are running against the GOP base. 

  16. Paul Reply

    We’re losing. We won the House, we won the Senate, and look around…we lose at every turn. Which establishment GOP candidate would you like us to back, like we did with President Romney? Much like Obama’s Mid-East policies created ISIS, the vapid, vacuous GOP created The Donald. That’s not my fault.

  17. RickZ Reply

    Love or hate Trump, one has to doff one’s cap to Trump for singlehandedly getting started a national conversation on illegal immigration, giving the eGOPs and the Fainting Couch Media the vapors (which is always a good thing). I’ve said for many years now that I am tired of professional politicians running for and being elected president. Given the last 6-1/2 years under President Boyfriend, how could Trump do any worse? At least Trump loves America, a concept at which the grifter President Hissy Fit merely guffaws while hopping on his “spiffy ride” to fly about the country to haughtily pontificate to us rubes. How many other presidential candidates use their own money, or even take a personal financial hit, when running for president? At least Trump puts his millions where his mouth is. All the nattering nabobs of negativism concerning Trump’s run are , well, nattering nabobs of negativism.

  18. Evi L. Bloggerlady Reply

    Trump is not the problem, Trump is filling a vacuum. 
    And this “talk-radio powered part” is presumably a reference to Rush Limbaugh and others who have noticed the effect Trump is having. I can’t speak for all of Talk Radio, but my take is Rush is not saying we should support Trump, but that GOP candidates need to recognize these issues and take them on with the overtly hostile media.

  19. Evi L. Bloggerlady Reply

    If this were October 2016, I would be pulling my hair out and needing a “Donald” combover. 
    What attracts people to Mr. Trump is he is having a Howard Beale, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.” It is theater, it is summer, and so the Donald is on a roll. He will eventually get bored, or perhaps he will run as a third party and be a spoiler. 
    But here is the real issue: We have a President who conspires with the IRS and other government agencies to take out political opponents and the press does nothing, Bernie Sanders has a history of insane comments and is not called on it, Hillary flouts laws that would land any Republican in the clink and the media ignores it. The supreme court is some star chamber that can rewrite the constitution or ignore it on a case by case basis. If this situation does not change fast we are heading to a very bad place. 

  20. Jose Reply

    Trump and the confederate flag are litmus tests for the real candidates. So far Cruz has excelled and Walker has passed, barely.  The idea that any politician has to pander to foreign criminals, in spanish, to get elected is offensive to anyone with a brain and a spine.

    • Clayton Cramer Reply

      Sorry, but the media tell most Republican officeholders what to think, and settles the matter on illegal aliens.

  21. Mark Reply

    Trump’s greatest dream is to make boatloads of publicity/money and split the GOP vote (or at least increase fracturing of the GOP) to help Hillary become President and people are falling for it big time.

  22. Clayton Cramer Reply

    Trump is a clown, but he is saying something most other Republicans are afraid to say, and which resonates not only with Republicans, but many Democratic voters:
    letting in illegal aliens drives down wages for those lawfully here. When the Republican Party stops being whores for corporate interests (like the Democrats) we can win elections.

  23. Deserttrek Reply

    trump is a good show to pass the time and does speak to a frustrated populace …. a clear choice will emerge and the establishment will destroy that person in favor of jeb …. the Republic is screwed

  24. Jayne Reply

    I got a real charge out of Trump telling the media to get stuffed. Man, I loathe the media. But then I notice that the media, in an odd variation of its slobbering love affair with BHO, seems to dote on Trump. This reminded me that every four years, the media molds public opinion and their machinations give the GOP their nominee.  So, now I am wary. But would someone else please take the ball and run it through the media’s line and criticize the left?? Please.

    Also, as of this date, the two candidates who came out swinging against Trump, Rand Paul and Rick Perry, are fading away in the polls. Coincidence?

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