Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fear itself

Well, that was fun.

It started on a note of high comedy, when we were assured that a Slovenian underwear model would deliver a speech of her own composition.  Nobody believed  that until it turned out to be a crib from the speech Michelle Obama delivered just eight years ago.  Surely there were less obvious Democratic sources she could have stolen from -- an Eleanor Roosevelt column, say, or Grover Cleveland's second inaugural address.  No one would have spotted those for weeks.  It's not nice to humiliate your own green-card bride that way.  But her husband pronounced himself pleased because it was the most famous speech of all time, or something, the implication being that the plagiarism was not only deliberate but a stroke of brilliance.  The tone was set. 

Next came the charges.  Did you know that Hillary Clinton is guilty of Bengazi, Boko Haram, the Zika virus, the murder of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, treason, piracy, Windows 10 and the disappearance of that Malysian Air flight?  I was surprised when no one accused her of witchcraft, because someone has clearly put a spell on Rudolph Giuliani. (Perhaps she tried to turn him into a Newt but remembered they already had one.)   I have watched conventions for years, sometimes with the help of Gordon's excellent gin, and I can't remember one quite so suffused with what Hunter Thompson -- how we need him! -- called "fear and loathing."  We were promised something different and we got it, not feel-good celebrations of the past and rosy promises of the future but a four-day character assassination.  Dr. Goebbels would have implored them to dial it down.

There was one moment of deja vu, when Ted Cruz submitted, Christ-like, to the jeers of the mob.  He repeated all the depressing reactionary formulas that have characterized his career, but in the end, he refused to kiss the stubby orange fingers of the man who insulted his wife and slandered his father, and the mob, which cares nothing for ideology, turned on him.  Understandably "Vote your conscience" is heard as an insult by those devoid of one.  I flashed back to the Goldwater convention of 1964, when Nelson Rockefeller was booed by terrifying Republican women in San Francisco.  In those days, children, Rockefeller represented something called the "liberal wing" of the party, people who wanted low taxes and smaller government but were generally not racist or isolationist.  But that wasn't the sticking point for the ladies.  You see, Rockefeller was embroiled in a messy divorce, and back then divorce was unforgivable.  "Lover!" they shrieked.  Not until Ronald Reagan and his second wife came along would that change.  Gotta love the bottomless hypocrisy of the right.

Maybe it was the Gordon's but by closing night I was sure I was watching a movie.  All day we heard about the downfall, cushioned by millions of Murdoch dollars, of Roger Ailes.  The allegations of employees hinted that Ailes fancied himself the Alfred Hitchcock of Rightzi media, except that Hitch was more than a fat guy who hired a lot of blonde women (and, it has been suggested, sexually harassed them).  His women had talent and he had genius, two words nobody would associate with Poxy News.  Anyway, I was in the mood for a celluloid dream long before Hank Quinlan -- I mean Joe Arpaio -- took the stage.  Like Quinlan, the corrupt, Mexican-hating sheriff played by Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, Joe really needs to knock off the candy bars.  I may have closed my eyes for just a brief interval, but I opened them convinced I was watching that prescient classic Citizen Kane.   

Not content with the power that comes from his newspaper empire (and really just craving the love of The People), Kane runs for governor.  He makes all the right noises about his plans to lift up "the working man and the slum child," but the cornerstone of his campaign is a promise to prosecute and imprison Boss Jim Gettys.  It's an obsession, a mania, what we now would call Gettys Derangement Syndrome.  "I'm gonna put you in Sing Sing, Gettys!" he bellows dementedly.  Of course, it doesn't work out.  On election night his paper readies two possible headlines:  KANE ELECTED GOVERNOR and FRAUD AT POLLS!  (When Trump lost a primary or straw poll it was always because the process was "Corrupt!  Unfair!  Fraud!"  Imagine if Kane had had Twitter...)  At last we see Kane wandering around his hideous Florida estate under the eye of his sinister butler, abandoned by his wives and the few friends he has managed to make, smashing up furniture like a furious child and mumbling about Rosebud. 

Trump is no Charles Foster Kane.  There's a tragic grandeur about Kane that keeps us studying the film after seventy-five years.  "You know, Mr. Thatcher," he tells his old nemesis in a moment of insight, "if I hadn't been born rich I might have been a really great man."  If Trump hadn't been born rich he'd be the retired manager of a Wendy's, or possibly trying to put together a half-assed Madoff-type pyramid scheme.  There is no grandeur and certainly no capacity for insight, just greed, ego, malice, vanity and the black hole described by Tony Schwartz, the actual author of The Art of the Deal, perpetually unfilled.  Which would be bad enough if all he wanted was to be a governor.   


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