The Summer of Magical Thinking

For me, the internet can be like standing in line at the supermarket. Oh, those tabloids! My eye is also drawn to the lurid headlines under the end of an online article, or to the movement in the far right column. And I end up clicking.

One so-called article drew my eyes with a photo of Stephen Hawking and a cross superimposed over a cloud sunbeam. Biblical. And the caption: “Stephen Hawking announces the greatest event in human history.” Gotta click on that, right?

It turned out to be an extended ad for a dietary supplement, endorsed by Hawking and Bill Gates, among other luminaries. (Probably not, in real life.) Taking this supplement increased worker efficiency 300% in a factory! Taking this supplement would “…double your IQ!”

Two dozen scrolls later, at the bottom of the web page, this wonder drug that will change civilization is for sale—over the internet, with no prescription.

Yeah, right.

Campaigns always deliver plenty of promises, bombast, bullshit and straight-out lies. Some of it works on some of the people. With luck, enough of it works to get your candidate elected.

This year, we jumped the shark early on. Donald Trump is subjecting the electorate to superhero-level promises, comic book logic, bumper sticker slogans.

Even I, a partisan who wouldn’t vote for that blowhard if he were the only candidate on the ticket, cannot escape the cartoon craziness: I’ve been a technical writer for more than 30 years, and I just used—for the first time ever—the adjective “huge” to describe a mundane opportunity to collect data about your company’s phone calls. Thank you SO much, Donald.

Watching the Republican candidates try to get traction—or just gulp oxygen—when Trump is in the room, that has sooo lost its amusement value. In one poll last week, Trump was at 28% somewhere: Iowa, New Hampshire? Nationally? That’s 3% more than people who believe that the sun revolves around the earth. In a new poll, he’s over 30%.

Now I’m starting to worry that We the People want magical things to happen, like they do in the Marvel universe.

Or Joan Didion. Wikipedia’s review explains that her ‘‘The Year of Magical Thinking’’ is “…thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions, that an unavoidable event can be averted.”

Didion was talking about her grief over her husband’s death, but it sure sounds like the old white men who dominate the GOP base, watching their electoral domination slowly fade. Who wouldn’t grasp at a comic book solution?

First off the Island? If you wondered when we would ever get back to the Survivor metaphor, I did too. Now it looks like Rick Perry might be first off the island. Without a vote! Just a month ago, Perry sat at the head of the infamous Cat’s Table debate. Now his numbers are bad, donations have evaporated, and he’s down to just one paid staffer in Iowa.

But there are still hungry billionaires out there, eager to buy themselves a politician. So I won’t play Taps just yet.

A televised discussion of Trump’s contradictions today introduced me to this concept: What voters want—as expressed in the polls—can and does differ from what the so-called donor class pays their candidates to say. And the electorate falls in love with a candidate first, then accepts the policies and positions that go along with him or her.

That’s how Trump can give Hillary Clinton money, host her at his wedding, favor single-payer healthcare and other conservative heresies—and still poll double anyone else in Iowa; while Chris Christie hugs Obama just once, for giving his disaster-stricken state federal assistance, and polls at less than 1%. Both men can turn into assholes at the flip of a switch, so dislikability is probably an even comparison.

Christie’s candidacy is in such a shambles that he’s resorted to the outrageous, saying that he wants to track immigrants like FedEx packages: “It’s on the truck, it’s at the station, it’s on the airplane, it’s back at another station, it’s back on the truck, it’s at her doorstep, she just signed for it,” he said. “Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them.”

A New York Times podcast about the power of Trump’s “gravitational field offers some interesting details, such as 14th Amendment beneficiary Bobby Jindal now favoring an end to all 14th Amendment beneficiaries. So once in office, he would work to disqualify himself from the presidency?

Another of those NYT podcasters described a Trump rally in August, so passionate that Trump himself was taken aback. He’s always read his own clippings, often writing them as well. What probably started as a lark has turned into something far more serious.

As I write this, the breaking news is that Trump signed the Republican loyalty pledge. But MSNBC was quick to point out that the act also bound the Republicans to him. Consider that he loses to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, even Joe Biden in national polls. By a lot.

And yet…

Experience? I don’t gotta show you no experience! We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Experience!

A new Iowa poll puts never-elected Donald J. Trump into first place; never-elected Dr. Ben Carson, possibly the only other candidate less involved with government, is in second. Oh wait, never-elected Carly Fiorina is in third with 9%.

A headline further down the page proclaims: “New poll finds widespread voter discontent”. OMG, who knew?

Washington—in particular, Congress—has been dysfunctional for some time now. But one cause is the electorate itself. It’s an old—but very true—cliché that everyone hates Congress but loves their own representatives. “We have met the enemy, and he is us” …indeed.

Of course people disagree on the reason for Washington gridlock. This hard-case liberal blames the Republicans for their addiction to the filibuster. I mean the figurative filibuster that they’ve put on critical thinking and political discourse, and the actual one that they used like heroin in the Senate, while in the minority.

Jon Stewart famously went on the CNN show Crossfire in 2005, and told the two professional arguers that they were hurting America by never seeking any common ground. Well: it was television, for God’s sake, and these two were paid to remain contrary. But point taken, Jon. The show was broadcasting a bad example. CNN did cancel Crossfire in response to Stewart’s criticism, but did not replace it with a new show about adversaries who discuss things that they both like.

They knew inherently that I would not watch that show. Nor would you. No drama.

Speaking of drama, the discredited conservative propagandist James O’Keefe has been at it again, unsuccessfully. This time he’s filmed his own people trying to entrap Hillary’s workers. I’ve seen better acting on the internet. Oh wait, I just watched this on the internet.

One of the reporters covering this story wrote, “What did I do wrong in life, to be sitting at a James O’Keefe news conference?” O’Keefe played a huge part in bringing down Acorn in 2009, despite a clear discrediting of his product and methods. He’s failed at a few public tries since then, partly because of his own notoriety. But the sting on Hillary failed because of a shocking lack of self-awareness.

Is ignorance bliss? Let’s end with a little fun: a New York Times article “The Case for Teaching Ignorance” offers a positive look at not knowing things.

But beware, it’s the kind of ignorance that drives one to ask questions!

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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