“Monsters, John! Monsters from the Id!”
That’s the warning delivered by a dying Warren Stevens to Captain Leslie Nielson just before the climax of Forbidden Planet. And he’s explaining the downfall of a civilization. Last week’s monster from the Republican Id stepped out all elbows and insults. Do I have to write his name? Sooner or later. He personifies the cliche “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” He even managed to make me feel solidarity with Charles Krauthammer. Just briefly, but yuck!
A number of the stories that I read about Trump concerned not the nature of his bombast, but its effect on the rest of the GOP field of candidates. He’s being called by many, the Id of the Republican party. He’ll probably land inside the top ten polling candidates, and thus be invited to the televised debates. If not, he’ll get mileage out of being excluded. It’s hard to imagine him passing on that massive exposure to bloviate.
And bloviate he did in declaring for the presidency: praising himself, insulting Mexicans, praising himself, insulting Obama, praising himself, insulting other candidates, praising himself… You get the idea. What has Republican strategists worried is how Trump will articulate out loud so much of the philosophical undercurrent that is spoken only in code, when in public. Like the Id in each of us, Trump knows no code. Every single “Mine is the best” is a straightforward boast. True or not, he believes it.
If you’ll recall from an earlier column, that defines Truthiness. You believe your own bullshit. Trump does not possess the persuasive powers of a Steve Jobs, but he understands well enough an opportunity when he sees one. He knows he’ll not only never be president; he knows that he’ll never be the nominee. And that’s OK. He’s done some math and figured how to make losing pay.
That attitude is not dissimilar from the added value that Newt Gingrich offered in his 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination. Newt took time out of each speech to hawk his over-a-dozen books. Brought his wife onstage so she could hawk her book. Pundits at the time called it a book tour. But let us not forget Newt’s straight-from-the-Id moment: “During my second term, we will have a base on the Moon. And it will be American!”
Actually, that’s something I expect from Trump. We will hear a lot more from Trump. That’s the Id part of a Trump candidacy, the part that worries serious candidates. He’s willing to speak out loud the hallmarks the class divide: wealth, privilege, influence. Superiority. His dehumanization of Mexicans could have been lifted out of a WWII propaganda textbook.
It’s not that he’ll say something that anyone takes seriously. He salts too much self-praise into the pitch for it to sound completely truthy. But he says in public, in plain English, the things that others say to each other in code, when in public.
Speaking of code, I must comment on the born-again movement to remove the Confederate battle flag from state grounds in South Carolina. That it took a mass murder to finally shame politicians like Governor Nikki Haley to call for the flag’s removal is horrific. But deep shocks, and in this case repeated deep shocks, seem like the only way to trigger significant acts like removal of that flag. But it must happen. And perhaps this time it actually will, because this time the news media is doing its job. How?
Many news outlets did their homework and covered the background of that flag’s modern-day usage: a symbol of resistance to desegregation and minority civil rights. Coding, and not especially subtle. Jeb Bush said back in in 2001 that the flag belonged in a museum, but he walked that back to the cowardly noncommital “The people of South Carolina should decide.” A classic failure of will when faced with the soul-crushing realities of campaigning. Even bigots get to vote.
Now Governor Haley’s declaration has made agreement with her acceptable among the candidates. Her bravery came qualified with the usual allowances that some people feel that the flag denotes respect. Watch Strom Thurmond’s own son dispense with all that fantasy and call it what it is in the plainest terms: “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Ben Carson was as usual unafraid to speak his mind but this time also unafraid to risk angering his own base. He said in part: “… youth will take cues from their leaders. If we teach them it is OK to deny racism exists, even when it’s plainly staring them in the face, then we will perpetuate this sickness into the next generation and the next.”
Back to the Republican Id…
A New Hampshire poll conducted by Suffolk University has Trump in second place. Like Carly Fiorina’s distastefully accurate view of how the business world works, Trump understands how campaigning works. As I’ve complained before (and will again): the real crime of our current system is that the skills you need to get elected coincide very little with the skills needed to actually govern. Maybe the real nightmare for liberal America would not be just any Republican in the White House while that party also owns the Senate and the House. The wake-up-screaming nightmare would be President Donald Trump.
Survivor is a reliable tool for teasing out the Id lurking in anyone who is willing to be filmed 24 hours a day. Campaigning for the presidency is Reality TV in the extreme, making missteps especially easy when you’re pandering to a narrow-minded interest group.
Just like on Survivor, players soon forget about those ever-present cameras, even as they are looking straight at them and conversing with the operators. That’s when you get classic video like George Allen’s clearly intentional labeling of a dark-skinned man with a video camera “Macaca,” or Mitt Romney’s infamous “47%” tirade.
As your campaign progresses, it gets even harder to hold your tongue. Candidates—not just elected politicians—live inside a bubble of sycophants. Yes, sir. Yes, M’am. It doesn’t take long to imagine that everyone in the world agrees with you. And that’s when the truth comes trickling and finally spilling out. Think of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy casually spouting racism as if it were common sense. Push a microphone at someone’s face often enough they’ll make themselves look foolish in some way.
Candidates know better, but total media exposure day after day misses nothing. And sooner or later, everyone will speak his mind. And of course the microphones will be there to pick it up. That kind of reality TV is why I’m watching the campaigns, and writing this column.
Ted Cruz, case in point: “Is there something about the left—and I am going to put the media in this category—that is obsessed with sex? … ISIS is executing homosexuals—you want to talk about gay rights? … Islamic zealots that crucify Christians, that behead children and that murder homosexuals—that ought to be concerning you far more than asking six questions all on the same topic.”
As a matter of fact, yes. I do want to talk about gay rights. Conservative opposition to gay marriage—that’s an obsession. I want to tell every Bible-thumper who claims that document as proof that marriage is between one man and one woman that the Bible is chock full of plural marriages. (Not to mention God-sanctioned murder, but that’s for another column.) How many wives did Abraham have? I haven’t counted, but I know it’s more than one. So drop the talk about that book; it was used to justify slavery.
And speaking of religion…
I wish Pope Francis would run for president! He’d be the perfect antidote to Donald Trump. Some news sources argue that he isn’t as radical as many think, but his arguments for societal advances were impossible just a few years ago. “The church must introduce in its teaching the sin against the environment. The ecological sin.” A year or more ago he argued for acceptance of gays. As if in response, Ireland legalized gay marriage last month.Those are results! It’s also fun to watch self-proclaimed Christians like Rick Santorum take the Pope to task for disagreeing with them.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal declared his candidacy with considerably less fanfare than Trump. He may or may not be better qualified, with familiar a record of cutting taxes without the predicted result of prosperity. Worse (for him), Jindal’s main shtick is his born-again Christianity, which will be a hard sell against so many other candidates offering same.
One last bit: Read here the Newsweek story about how Dick Cheney manipulated the national Id to get support for a totally unjustified war. He didn’t do it alone, but he did it in plain sight and against the wishes of so many. Do you recall the political cartoons of that time? Everyone knew that the WMDs were in Iran and Korea. Not Iraq. Two million people worldwide marched to protest the coming war. I remember a young girl shouting at us marchers, “It’ll be over in weeks.”
The war ended even quicker, but we lost the peace through astounding mismanagement and lack of planning. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld: “You go to war with the administration you have, not the administration you want.”
Political Survivor #7