We’ve never seen anything like the Trump candidacy. Or the Cruz subversion. Or the Bernie insurgency. Or the Hillary recapitulation. You can throw out all the rule books. We’re in uncharted territory. We’re off the radar. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, though we were in Iowa for a while. Throwing your hands up and shrugging has become the conventional wisdom of the punditocracy and the so-called establishment.
The absolute nadir may have been reached with the absurd joust between Trump and the heavyweight champion of right-wing media manipulators, Roger Ailes. He’s the guy credited with creating the New Nixon in 1968. He played a major role in the brutal ads that allowed George H.W. Bush to beat Mike Dukakis and he advised George W. after 9/11 that the public would stay with him as long as they were convinced the president was using the harshest measures possible. Hello, shock and awe and water boarding. And Ailes is the genius behind the creation of Fox News. He’s got a lot to answer for.
Trump wouldn’t agree to another debate if Megyn Kelly was moderating since “she is really biased against me.” Fox said candidates didn’t get to choose the journalists covering them. That should have given them the high ground, if only Fox really was a journalistic endeavor instead of a partisan propaganda mill.
It still might have worked if Ailes hadn’t proved Fox was biased by shooting off a tweet saying, “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly…” The mogul’s copious amour propre was outraged after reading it and, as Trump described his decision to boycott the debate, “I said, ‘Bye-bye.’” Fearing a Trump no-show would cause Fox News to crumble, empires to totter, and angels to weep, Ailes was soon on the phone trying to salvage the situation.
No doubt his panic came from contemplating what his Corporate Overlord, Darth Murdock, might do to him if he had scared away the goof that lays the golden ratings eggs for Fox. Grown people treated this episode, like the rest of the Trump circus, as if it were actually important. Really? A right wing battle of the tweets? It is doubly laughable because Ailes is now hoist on his own media petard.
This is the man who once explained TV coverage of the news like this: “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?” And now Trump is conducting an entire presidential campaign by falling into the orchestra pit over and over again, and American can’t stop watching.
No, we’ve never seen anything like this. Or have we? In fact, this primary campaign calls to mind a remark by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. During the height of the Vietnam War, which the anti-war novelist was not enthusiastic about, he learned that a girl he’d gone to high school with was a fan, and that she was now the wife of maximum hawk Defense Secretary Mel Laird.
This piquant fact caused bemused Vonnegut to say, “When you get to be our age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with…that life is nothing but high school…class officers, cheerleaders and all.”
The fact that some guy in charge of bombing the bejezzus out of Vietnam and screwing up American lives, fortunes and foreign policy for a generation is just a schmuck from high school is not only mordantly funny but has the advantage of being true. And it seems that the same notion occurs to anyone with a sense of the absurd. For example, John Cleese of Monty Python fame. He recalls dropping in on the Cambridge Union’s famous debating society when he was a freshman.
“I watched as a series of very young men…stood up and pretended to be fifty-five. They all spoke a weird, oratorical, bombastic language that was utterly unlike normal speech. Clearly, they were trying to create the impression of being promising politicians when, to the rest of us, they were so obviously inflated, self-satisfied, slow-witted duds. Even more astounding…several of these fatheads would finish up in John Major’s cabinet….The very group that was most disliked and belittled at Cambridge in the early ‘60s were running the country thirty years later.”
And here they all are, before our very eyes, seeking the presidency of the United States. Ted Cruz memorizing the Constitution to impress his elders. Carly Fiorina, the Stanford professor’s daughter. Trump, the loudmouth troublemaker who gets sent to military school to shape up. Hillary, the suburban Goldwater Girl. Bernie, the Brooklyn civil rights activist. Rubio, the upwardly mobile immigrant. Mean girls. Bad boys. Clueless jocks. Haughty preppies. Intellectual bullies. Queen bees. Overachieving strivers. Eddie Haskell. Student Council President runners-up. God help the United States of America.