A Nice Gooey Cluster

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It sure is clustery.

I’ve been a gavel-to-gavel convention junkie since 1972. I admit that most of the time it is tedious, pretentious, and a towering load of bullshit. The joke that “politics is show business for ugly people” has been around as long as I can remember, and my enjoyment comes from my uber-geeky obsession with US history and politics. Growing up under the Nixon raj was like living in a Shakespearean tragedy, so I’ve always found it damned entertaining and compelling. Mea culpa.

Conventions are tightly scripted reality shows, a cross between Survivor and those cheesy behind-the-athlete vignettes that have made the Olympics all but unwatchable. Predictable, cliched kitsch with an occasional surprise twist. But sometimes, the machinery breaks down and the mask comes off to reveal the reptile aliens underneath. It happened in ’68 and ’72 with the Democrats, and in ’64 and ’76 for the Republicans. It reveals much about the national id and the undercurrents of tension and conflict that are behind the events that we always scratch our heads over and think, “how could such a thing happen?” here.

This year’s Republican National Convention has been a parade of reptile aliens. It almost beggars analysis.

What can you say when the speaker who displayed the greatest integrity (maybe the only speaker who displayed any integrity) was a charmless theocrat from Texas who frightens his own children?

No, Daddy, no! Icky Daddy.
No, Daddy, no! Icky Daddy.

What can you say when the convention attendees act as though they are in a remake of The Crucible?

The delegation from Mississippi.
The delegation from Mississippi. Burn the witch!

I could go on, and I have. I ‘ve twitterized to excess this week, one-liner bon mots flowing like cheap wine. The spectacle is perfect for it. Moose and squirrel. Quisling taint lickers like Walker, Christie, and Little Marco. The weaponization of grief. The cynical intonation of MLK in defense of state’s rights. Rudy Nosferatu.

A verb, a noun, 9-11.
A verb, a noun, 9-11.

What this week’s spectacle does not lend itself to is any kind of extended, coherent analysis. It is simply too fractured, a broken mirror reflection of what at least 40% of our nation perceives as reality, with so many overlapping fault lines as to defy focus. And that, truly, may be the point.

It may be that the splintered, kaleidoscopic texture of the past three nights was intentional. So many shiny objects! So many “did you see that?” diversions! And such a cavalcade of stars! Duck Dynasty! Chachi! GE Smith!

It’s every bit as dazzling as the 4 a.m. shift on the old Jerry Lewis Telethons. Yeah, I watched that, too, every year. Why? Well, it was one night when the electric picture radio box had more than a test pattern after midnight, and it was a holiday, and if you were lucky, some hapless Vegas crooner would lose his toupee mid-song, or Jerry would doze off or start hallucinating and babbling and crying. Just like this year’s RNC.

Actual photo of Chris Christie thinking "My god, what have I done?"
Actual photo of Chris Christie thinking “My god, what have I done?” Jerry Lewis at 4 a.m.

Horrific displays of stiff Caucasian dancing and call-and-response insanity? Stagecraft gone awry? Valium-addled rantings, video screens and microphones misfiring, speakers crying? Messrs. K and H assure the public their production will be second to none. I love it.

When I go to a concert and the wheels start to come off, I get a thrill. How will everybody respond? Sometimes, the recovery takes the performance to a level nobody had imagined, pure magic. Other times, recovery is rough, but respectable. And sometimes, nothing can be done, everybody just has to pretend things are okay, while the band plays Waltzing Matilda. Onward to death and glory!

I’ve pretty much avoided writing about He, Trump, aka The Donald, The Short Fingered Vulgarian, &c. It all pretty much gets written without my help. The rest of the GOP clown car? So much protoplasm, so little substance. The entire campaign was like watching a circus camp for incontinent toddlers, like watching a stubborn remnant refusing to go away no matter how many times you flush. Fascinating, but more than a little revolting. Just not terribly interesting to write about.

Plus, also, too, it’s easy to get distracted by trivialities like i) Natasha’s plagiarized speech or ii) whether a professional gasbag did or did not give a Nazi salute to Trump.1i) Who cares? and ii) No, she didn’t. Just stop. Why do the Trump lads look like understudies in an off-off-Broadway production of American Psycho?2Because Patrick Bateman is a role model. Duh. Will Tiffany ever get her Daddy’s attention?3Tragically, no. Does Marcocito’s suit retain its shape through a wire frame or by hot gas inflation?4Bet on the gas.

One almost forgets that the reason this shitshow is happening at all is because one of our two choices for president is a litigation happy megalomaniac who lies as easily as most people fart. A grandstander who has no qualifications, a grifter, a phony, a narcissistic horror. He knows nothing of policy, or how governance works, or even the basic facts of America’s role in the world. He’s the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, the sot at the end of the bar that everybody moves away from. A barking mad street ranter waving pamphlets and yelling “I’ve got evidence!”

You may hate her, and her policies, but Hillary is at least qualified to serve. Lawyer. Senator. Secretary of State. You gotta go back to Madison for that kind of resume cred. Trump? It’s laughable on its face. A sane electorate would not elect this guy King of Cartoons. And the polls say he’s pretty much a snowball in hell.

But it’s not enough to let me sleep soundly. I’ve seen elections go wrong before. It can happen here.

For a generation or three that has grown up with the electric picture machine, Trump is a familiar amalgam of years of iconic representation. He’s Ralph Cramden and Fred Flintstone and Archie and the predators of the reality show circuit. He’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and a towering member of the glitterati club. He’s been in your home, in one form or another, for decades. 5Hilary has been the star of a reality show for 25 years, too. She’s inevitably cast as the villain. He’s Dallas and Falcon Crest and All My Children. Especially All My Children.

Back in the days of Reagan6He ruined everything, you know. You can look it up. and Flock of Haircuts, one of my guilty pleasures was this daily soaper. It was overwrit and overwrought, pretty plainly terrible in every measurable way. But it knew the future. Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci for 41 years7Respect!!!!, was a centerpiece character, a “celebrity” who was “famous” and who had legions of “fans”, but who never seemed to actually do anything to become famous. She was simply famous for being famous. This is decades ahead of a Kardashian or a Housewives of… scenario.

This, my friends, was Philip K Dick level prognosticating. It’s no accident that a considerable percentage of the convention speakers gained their fame through reality teevee.8Plus a few grifters from the pyramid marketing realm, a little celebrity subset of its own. But I digress.

These day, celebrity qua celebrity is so commonplace as to be unremarkable. Viral videos, reality shows, all that. It means that anybody can be famous, qualifications be damned. And here’s a goodly chunk of the Trump appeal: anybody, by damn, can be president!

“So what that he don’t know NATO from NAFTA…he’s got common sense, dalgurnit, and he’s ain’t beholden. Why, he’s just like me! Now hold my beer and watch me shoot this skeeter offa ma nose!”

An actual Trump delegate. No, really.
An actual Trump delegate. No, really.

There is an unmovable base that thinks that what is going on in one of the only two parties that matter9Get over it, Greens and Libturds. is fine and fucking dandy, a really good direction for our commonwealth to pursue with fanatical vigor. Trump has tapped into something deep and toxic, and he is not shy about letting the beast out to play. He knows how to cultivate the resentment and fear that motivates a big portion of our population. Higher angels? What do their Q ratings look like? Losers.

On top of that, there is another significant percentage of people who will stroke their chins thoughtfully and say, oh yes, certainly, that Trump fellow is a bit rough around the edges, but oh my fucking god that Hilary Clinton, at least Trump didn’t {hide emails, smuggle cocaine, kill Vincent Foster, help Bill rape women, &c.} AND SHE IS EVIL AND SHE MUST BE STOPPED. People who, more in sorrow than in anger, will vote to Make America Great Again.

10Sure and okay, Hilary and the Dems have a solid 40% to start with, too, a base that marches just as obediently. Tribal markers and all that. I’m not blind to the faults of the other sideI’ll be watching their shitshow just as closely. I imagine there will be plenty of high-larity and contumely to share.

Here’s where shit gets real.11as the young people say, via emoji, apparently, but whatevsDespite the fact that, by any reasonable measure, there is only one major party candidate that is fit to occupy the office of presidency, this is actually a competitive race. There are purportedly “reasonable” people (looking at you JEB!) who refuse to say, “Country above party! This is a nightmare. Wake up!” It ain’t gonna happen, the tribal markers are too sharp.

As with the last several elections, it comes down to what are quaintly known as “low information” voters. People of the land. The common clay of America.

You know....morons.
You know….morons.

Here’s where it can go all wrong. In 2000, there was the idea going around that Bush would be someone you’d rather have a beer with. He was a regular guy, just like me! Already you can see the effort to cast Trump and his spawn as salt of the earth jes’ folk, with Hilary as the epitome of elitism.

Ah, but he’s a businessman. A celebrity businessman. A rich12Perhaps. celebrity businessman. Trifecta jackpot! The cult of the business titan works in his favor, even as we are asked to think of him as a regular guy. And he’s rich, just like I could be if it weren’t for that Obama fella. In a Kardashianized world, simply being rich and famous is qualification enough. The details will get cleaned up in post-production.

Give him points: he’s the savviest manipulator of the media monkeys we’ve ever seen. A bona fee-day organ grinder with a chain attached to all their nose rings. He played his opponents and the party grandees like a tent full of chumps at the carnival. The Trump Rollicking Medicine Show rolls on, and we can only hope that enough people will see the con and outnumber the marks. There’s no guarantee, so step right up…

I’ll tune in again tonight, a chump at the edge of my seat waiting to see what kind of weaponized resentments he will offer to a crowd that looks all too ready to roll some tumbrels and pitch some forks. I’ll curse and tweet and go to bed ennervated and distressed, hooked on this year’s reality teevee spectacle. The ratings will be boffo.



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