Life In Trump's America: The Political Thriller Of Our Lifetimes Is Also Theater Of The Absurd

Our inner animals knew it instinctively even as the tide was turning election night 2016. We were being told something that every fiber of our being knew was untrue — or knew was truth complicated by layers of deception, deceit and treachery — that Trump had “won” the presidency.

Ever read the details on exactly what happened chronologically on election night in the Trump campaign — especially between Trump and his flotus to be? Trump wasn’t just “surprised” that he won, he was shocked. And not because he had “pulled it out”. Trump knew better than anyone that THAT was not what happened election night. Trump knew better than anyone that “The Boss” — Vlad Putin — had suppressed, propagandized or — via internet-connected-voting machines — literally stolen just enough votes in three key states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin & Michigan, three states for which Oleg Deripaska had received proprietary polling data from Paul Manafort) to GIVE Trump the EC victory.

Melania wept openly. She raged at Trump — who, per Steve Bannon, morphed from a “disbelieving Trump into a horrified Trump”. That’s disbelieving he could win to being horrified that he HAD “won”. Winning wasn’t part of Trump’s plan. Using a presidential run to platform launch a Trump-branded news network was. Winning — once victory was gettable (via cheating) — was absolutely Vladimir Putin’s plan. Putin saw a way to put Trump in the White House — the greatest intelligence coup in the history of intelligence — and he took it.

Keep in mind — Putin had already compromised enough of the Republican Party that he knew he could keep them in line. Take Lindsey Graham, for example. You can practically see the Kompromat Vlad’s holding over Lindsey play in Lindsey’s mind’s eye every time he speaks.

That’s where it starts crossing over from John Le Carre territory into Becket — from George Smiley realpolitik into waiting for a Godot who will never, ever appear. Our spy movie as real life beats anything any writer could possibly imagine — or get away with if they did imagine.

We’ve got intrigue and treason and cyber war and actual war and murders out the wazoo. We’ve got a handful of heroes and scoundrels by the bucket. And we’ve got a Main Stream News Media that makes an unsatisfying hash of the whole damned thing. We’ve got liars lying, rapists raping and con artists conning.

The feeling, watching this madness rush by on a daily basis, is a lot like watching an English pantomime (a Christmastime tradition in England). Based on old chestnuts like “Puss In Boots” or “Cinderella”, panto’s are very much the groundlings having a good time at their local theater — talking back to the characters on stage as if a fourth wall never existed.

One of the moments every panto must have — the villain (upstage) creeps toward the hero who’s downstage — while the audience tries to warn the hero. Every time the hero looks toward where the audience points — the villain ducks or disappears — then reappears the moment the hero has turned away again. It’s absurd, of course, because the truth is so apparent — and yet so impossible to hold onto.

It is numbing — by design — how far from “normal” we’ve shifted. It’s inconceivable that Donald Trump’s presidential bid didn’t end the moment he started it by telling us all how Mexicans were rapists. More absurdity compounded by pussy grabbing — compounded exponentially when “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” went back seat to “her emails” sitting in the front seat of the news media’s Scooby van.

Looking back today at “But her emails” — even Ionesco at his most obtuse couldn’t touch the absurdity of our news media obsessing over an abstraction over constant evidence of dubious, devious behavior. Despite three years of this madness, of Trump’s lying, deceitfulness and cruelty, our news media still wants to give him the benefit of the doubt — as if “this time”, Trump “could be” telling the truth.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve shouted far too often at the news “professionals” on your TV set — “FFS, don’t be absurd!”

Is it really asking that much to have our political theater be one thing and our theater of the absurd be something else entirely? Apparently so…

Dear America: You Can Have Baby Talk Or You Can Have Truth; You Cannot Have Both

Donald Trump being president (footnote – illegitimate president) has put America’s Main Stream News Media in a pickle. How do you report the Truth when the Truth speaks dirty words?

I could almost get nostalgic for the days when each TV Talking Head had to decide how they were going to handle “pussy-grabbing”. The thought of saying those words — yes, it’s absurd that we’re even having the conversation — it’s uncomfortable because every bit of this is so many light years beyond normal’s zip code. Trump’s presidency has relentlessly assaulted truth, our sensibilities — the language even. Maybe the language especially.

We all know that, backstage, political people talk just like everyone else — except worse. We pretend in public life that they do nothing of the kind. If they did talk dirty backstage and cut secret deals, it’d mean they were all liars. As if we didn’t know already. That’s another environment where we willingly accept the baby talk version vs the adult version. That can’t possibly end well for us.

Confession: I’ve always had a taste for darkness. I love Diane Arbus photos. Weegee. When I was 16, I worked as an orderly during the summer at one of the hospitals where my surgeon father had privileges. My best friend Danny and I (his dad was an orthopedic surgeon and Danny likewise orderlied) liked to play a game. We’d swing by the pathology lab where one of us would open a specimen jar or silver tray filled with diseased organs or other excised body parts — and the other had to guess “What Is It?”

Danny won the whole summer when he opened a large tray filled with… lots of yellow fat, a shrivel of skin to one side and — I gave up, having no idea “what is it”. Danny pointed to something floating in the muck — it was where the nipple had sloughed off from the rest of the breast. So — two 16 year old breast-obsessed boys gaped in awe, disgust and amazement at a female breast seen, kinda, from the inside.

Maybe that cold, hard slap of reality did something to me. What I saw didn’t turn me off, but it definitely informed me. You could call breasts anything you wanted after that — to me, it was the contents of that silver tray — flesh and everything beneath it.

We’re not talking here about excessive use of certain words (because I accept advertising on my pages, I moderate my language here with the understanding that my blog’s title already limits me with some advertisers — irony, she is cruel, no?) We’re talking about something more fundamental: how people react to those words. And why.

If I said “Quick — put the image of a bowel movement into your head”, you would picture a turd. Now, just as quick — what’s that thing called? Regardless of what you call it, the object doesn’t change. It’s still the same image, the same object. If I went on American television, I could — on, say, a news show on CNN or MSNBC — call that object a bowel movement. I could call it a turd or “poop” even. I can use that baby talk word. I could string it together endlessly if I wanted to — “Poop-poop-poop-poop-poop-poop-POOP!” But — up until very recently — if I called it “shit”, I’d be thrown off the air possibly even for good.

Donald Trump has challenged our news media in a million different ways. To our collective detriment, they’ve only just started rising to the challenge. We have a president whose obscenity only begins with the words he uses while conducting the Peoples’ business. It’s absurd to worry if repeating the word “bullshit” will get you suspended, fired or worse while we, as a nation, hold brown-skinned children in concentration camps.

Our problem with “curse words” is a symptom of a tragic disease. We worry about blemishes when there’s rot underneath. Our worrying about the wrong thing — that’s the disease.

It reminds me of one night when I was in high school. Mid-70’s. There were three networks — ABC, CBS & NBC. On CBS, they were running the last night of a blockbuster TV event, the climax of Helter Skelter, the dramatization of the Manson Family murders and prosecution. NBC counter-programed a movie premier (back then, it was “an event” when big feature films premiered on television — which meant premiering on network TV): the movie version of Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war masterpiece “Slaughterhouse Five”.

Being a kid, the Manson Family story was a dark blur. I didn’t know much about it — so didn’t watch the first two nights. Being a huge Kurt Vonnegut fan, I tuned in to watch “Slaughterhouse Five”. The book’s hero — Billy Pilgrim — is unstuck in time and floats freely between all the moments in his life — from birth to death (he’s murdered). Also included in these life moments — the time Billy spent while a specimen in a human zoo on the planet Tralfamadore. Billy shared an enclosure there with adult film star Montana Wildhack and together they have a baby.

Ya with me still? There are two important moments toward the end of the book. At the story’s climax, the Allies firebomb Dresden, Germany — a beautiful cathedral city with no strategic importance. At the ending, Billy watches a war movie where the firebombing happens in reverse — the fires go out as the bombs retreat back up into the bombers that dropped them.

Then Billy finds himself back on Tralfamadore — where he watches Montana Wildhack breastfeed their baby.

So — on Channel 2 (back then in Baltimore), CBS depicted the climactic scenes of the Manson Family’s evil. Being TV — American TV — in the 70’s, the murder and mayhem were handled tastefully. The point wasn’t titillation, it was truthful storytelling. It was still disturbing.

Meanwhile, on channel 4 (NBC back then in Baltimore), where hope for the future enters the story — the American audience never got to see Montana Wildhack breastfeed a baby because the censors at NBC cut it from the movie. Because breastfeeding a baby is obscene (cos it involves a naked breast).

I was probably 17 at the time but it made a real impression on me. I’m writing about it 40+ years later. NBC baby talked its audience that day.

It’s a very real relief to hear actual journalists use the words Donald Trump uses when they report on Trump. It makes it that much more jarring when a colleague resorts to baby talk instead of treating their audience like adults.

I’d like to make a deal with our Main Stream News Media. You treat us like the adults we are and we’ll treat you like journalists. Deal?

Integrity’s An All Or Nothing Proposition – You Either Have It Or You Don’t

In the movie Princess Bride, Wallace Sean’s Vizzini, confounded by their inability to outrun Cary Elwes’ Westley, repeats the word “inconceivable” with increasing consternation until, at one point, Mandy Patinkin’s Inago Montoya responds famously —

We have the exact same problem with the whole concept of INTEGRITY — never mind the word. A Democratic system of government relies on the integrity of its voting process. We think our voting system has “integrity”. That’s bullshit. There are several terrific citizen-journalist-investigators who’ve done deep, deep dives into the fact that our voting systems have pretty damned close to ZERO integrity (Jennifer Cohen and Mike Farb have been especially intrepid and indefatigable in their pursuit of the truth).

Our inability to see this core problem — this complete lack of integrity in a system — shouts volumes about our inability to see a lack of integrity in other humans. Isn’t that the way con men work, after all? The first thing they sell you isn’t a product, it’s bullshit — that they have integrity and you, dear rube, can absolutely trust them.

Donald Trump is a fabulist who has never understood that such a thing as “Truth” even exists. To a sociopath like Trump, the truth is whatever he thinks it is in that moment — whatever he says “the truth” is. Its connection to reality is irrelevant. Anyone who stands beside Donald Trump — knowing (and how can you not) that he lies as easily as he breathes — not only accepts Donald Trump’s lack of integrity, but demonstrates that they, too, have none. How can you stand with a liar and still have integrity?

It’s impossible. You just can’t.

When America stops standing by its word — when we pinball around erratically with no moral compass — we demonstrate that we AS A COUNTRY no longer have integrity (with the caveat being that our integrity has been under assault — if not completely DOA — forever and ever). Should we be surprised when Iran prepares for war against a schizophrenic foe whose word means nothing? Should we be shocked when every country with an agenda understands that with enough money, you can get the American government to do your bidding — even if it runs counter to America’s best interests?

Our news media doesn’t grasp how THEIR integrity lies in tatters. They don’t grasp that the moment they shrugged off “Mexicans are rapists” and then (as if that wasn’t enough FFS!) “pussy-grabbing” — they busted a cap in their own integrity as the final check on power. Even as every norm of behavior, decency, logic and longstanding tradition sloughed off around them, CNN, MSNBC, The WaPo, the NYTimes — pretty much our entire MSM — continued to turn a blind eye in the name of access. If they dared confront a blatant liar with his lies, they worried, he might not talk to them. Correction: he might not lie to them.

We’re living in an age where Joseph Goebbels’ famous “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” has, ironically, become a kind of truth. It’s how things “are” now.

Can we even spell “integrity” anymore?