Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Wet, Hot & Hairy American Political Season


Photos: Bernie Sanders, courtesy of; Donald Trump, courtesy of Bloomberg Finance LP

Who knew? 

Well, okay, we ALL knew on some level. We knew in our tired, aching bones that when Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Queens native Donald Trump ($10B) began simultaneously surging in the national polls, this was not going to be any ordinary American Political Season. Once again, the story would begin and end in New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice. 

The city that so embodies the hot, wet American Dream that we never tire of being reminded of it. The city so wealthy that it owns the American Dream. 

The city so central to the welfare of the capitalistic infidel West that the kamikaze jihadists in 2001 never seriously considered flying their hijacked bomber squadron to any other destination.

The city so vitally connected to the power lines of the world that when Hillary decided to get herself some political street cred, serenading her husband with: "I get allergic smelling hay / I just adore a penthouse view / Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue...," Bill's only comment was "I love silk hotel sheets, Hill, I won't miss the hay."

But it looks like the Countess of Chappaqua and that other scion and New York carpetbagger/financier, J.E. Bush, brother of G.W. and son of G.H.W., have been learning the dreadfulest lesson in American public life. When one aspires to this country's Presidency, noblesse oblige demands only one real priority, and that is a sincere desire to serve. Being served is the perk. 

Hillary, exit stage left. Jeb, exit stage right. Or in the event either is feeling honest today (haha), exit center stage. If Jeb and Hillary need half as much brushing-up on their stagecraft as it appears, what this means in real terms is taking an early header over the footlights and into the crowd.  

But who's kidding who? Telling a presidential aspirant who has the kind of well-heeled vested interests Jeb and Hillary have behind them to leave the race before the money runs out is the equivalent of asking a junkie to leave before the stash is gone. So you'll probably have to wait until the New Hampshire primary before the Wall Street backers realize they've been betting on two losers. But don't feel sad. There's plenty more cash where that came from.

More Good News

The good news is that this leaves the two real New Yorkers. Two bare-knuckle brawlers who are itching for a fight. Can they both keep hanging in there? Can Bernie get any real support--financial, emotional, or electoral--from anywhere but the Left Coast and his adopted state of Vermont, or the NYC nexus of Boston, Philly, Newark, etc? Can he really re-write Act II and shed his East Coast elitist/socialist typecast role in time for Keokuk?

Can the Donald convince recession-weary Detroit autoworkers living on half a paycheck that a man with more money than Croesus understands their plight so well that he can pass unscathed through the eye of a needle to move out of whatever penthouse suite he lives in at the moment, then take up residence in the relatively modest digs of the White House? Can he come up with a substantive enough plan to convince anyone at the New York Times (besides Maureen Dowd) that he's for real? 

Could either of these guys convince the DNC and RNC bosses that he could be trusted with the keys to the front door, let alone the proverbial red phone? If so, would the nominating conventions soon descend into brokered chaos at the very idea, whilst all the partying and banner-waving Republican and Democratic national delegates shit down both legs?

More than that... if it got that far, and if either Trump or Sanders were elected... you know, before being mysteriously shot or run off the road in the middle of the night... could either of them actually pull off being President of the United States? Could either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders lead this country?

Of course. Of course! 

Not only is this the only country in the world where either of them could be elected its leader, this is the only place where one or both could do the job successfully. Because it's the only sovereign nation on this mudball called Earth where it is possible to actually elect and control its leaders by the will (or minimal apathy and lack of will) of the people. At least in theory. And all without too much politically motivated bloodshed or imprisonment.

The "National Debate"

I don't know how much of the discussion you've been listening to. It's been fairly inescapable if you've been anywhere near a television or internet browser. 

Personally, I've been all over it. Much too all over it. And now, so over it that it's been depressing the hell out of me until just recently. A funny thing happened on the way to this forum. 

My wife has been watching a lot of political television coverage over the last couple weeks. It varies greatly, and can be commentators from any source on any related topic at any given time, people from the Wall Street Journal, Politico or the New York Times, to MSNBC, or Fox, or whatever. No Jon Stewart lately, which has seemed odd. What I noticed is that, as I would walk through the living room where she was watching some commentary, I'd hear a snippet, a sentence or a phrase. But instead of being able to immediately determine whether it was Sanders or Trump who was being discussed (except Hillary, who for the last ten days has been uniquely identifiable) I would have to stop and listen a while to determine who had been heckled or called "foolish" or "vague" or "thin-skinned" or "ideologically divisive" or... 

Or the flip side, there were the discussions of who it was today who had drawn a large crowd or surged again in another set of polls, or who was being discussed in that weird, condescending way news reporters have of needing to discuss someone they want to dismiss--badly want to dismiss--but now adopting a respectful tone, because once again, their snarky remarks about the candidate over the last months have looked unprofessional, even unsportsmanlike. Can't have that and still maintain the patina of objective journalism.

Because Bernie Sanders and Donald just aren't going away. Every week the predictions are delivered in stentorian, self-satisfied tones. "Ahem. No matter what else happens, Donald Trump will never be his party's nominee." Or "Harrumph. Bernie Sanders, as much as we admire his brave forthrightness, could never be elected President." 

Oh, yeah?

I know what you're thinking. At least I know what many, many, many of you are thinking. Which is, WHAT CAN YOU POSSIBLY BE THINKING, CARL? 

Well, here it is. These people are as for real as any of the others, but unlike the plodding parade of wannabes and life-long political hacks, these two guys have things to say that people want hear. Both are followed and recorded, then misquoted, edited, spliced and hacked, and their sound bytes bitten, gutted, beheaded and repackaged in every way possible by clever engineers on their nice editing bays. Both have been characterized as elitists, racists, and charismatic charlatans. Both have been sneeringly dismissed as jokers and clowns who are not, indeed, enjoying the irony of it all. But the people who are showing up at these rallies and voting in the polls don't care.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the same person!  

Figuratively, of course. As opposed to literally, which now is accepted to mean both figuratively and literally. Literally. According to the Oxford dictionary. (If such linguistic rabbit holes are too confusing, another way of saying it is that Sanders was born in 1941 and Trump in 1946, so technically and genealogically, they are twin brothers from different mothers, born a few years apart.)

A vote for either of them is simply and only a vote in favor of what was once called the American Dream, the dream of being able to improve conditions in life for oneself and one's fellows, and a vote against the American Nightmare of caving in to the degradation and misery of failed goals and a life of lowered expectations. If you have to ask what that means, I hope you begin to educate yourself soon. If that seems like a lot to ask, I hope you're not registered to vote--or if you are, that your poor grounding in your own culture means you couldn't find a polling place with a flashlight and a map. 

Here is a short, illustrative scene from 1981's My Dinner With Andre, a powerfully simple little film consisting entirely of a long dinner conversation between actors Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, in what might be described as New-York-reality-meets-thinly-disguised-global-reality-meets-stark-staring-personal-reality. 

Let's review. Literally, the boroughs from whence Donald and Bernie first sprang are sections of the very same New York City, the same metaphorical prison without walls that Andre is describing to his raptly attentive friend Wally... the storied, historic cell blocks for his vividly described, dystopic American Nightmare. These two New York actors are contemplating their own versions of a realistic Shawshank Redemption. Just like the two presidential candidates.

As Glenn Frey Sang, We Never Even Know We Have the Key

Here's a little Zen puzzle for you. The reason this prison is such a perplexing place is that it truly is without walls. Education and observation are the keys that unlock your cell. Hidden in plain sight is the concept that if you want to get educated and understand what is happening with Bernie and Donald and all their supporters, you need only spend 30 seconds examining how tired you are of the machinations of the three branches of this gargantuan, decaying, overgrown old oak that is laughingly seen as the Tree of Life. The U.S. federal government isn't governing or guiding so well these days. The disappointment and disillusionment run deep.

For every right decision the Supreme Court has made, I'm sure you can think of one that has pissed you off. Which is pretty weird, considering the nine justices of the court are constitutionally enjoined to only interpret the law of the land but not write it. The second branch, the U.S. Congress, seems unable to enact a law, and the President looks to be incapable of leading them. 

That's why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are flush with victory at the moment, and the rest are a lot of pale, stuffy cowards who want desperately for you to like them so that they can win the Big Job and be relevant, but are putting you to sleep. Bernie and Donald, well, right now they don't care much about whether you or the press like them as much as they care about standing and delivering. They're the same person! Think of them as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jekyll.

Like I said, technically they are twins born four years or so apart. If they combined forces as running mates, they'd have to form a sort of 21st Century schizoid... gulp... third party. Pretty scary stuff.

If Hillary isn't doing hard time by opening day of the Democratic convention, her best shot could be to try the same approach by getting Carly Fiorina to join the ticket. They could split the whole country on gender lines. The numbers would be in their favor, although they would probably need to reshoot that awful Snapchat video. They could even combine their names phonetically and rebrand the Chillary koozie as Killary.

Well, maybe not. 

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