A Cavalcade of Campaign Comedy
This presidential campaign has the mother lode for comedy writers. Beginning over a year ago with 17 would-be candidates, the clown car analogy was inescapable. One of them even had his own fright wig. On June 17th of last year, Donald Trump made his announcement after descending a golden staircase at Trump Tower (where else?), like some American Pharaoh. We already had one of those, the horse who won the Triple Crown that year. This American pharaoh is a horse’s ass. The early GOP debates brought public discourse to a new low, with 4th grade level playground taunts and name calling, and Trump insisting that there’s nothing wrong with the size of his, uh, legislative package.
No one could match Trump’s hyperbole as he insulted every demographic but cats. He was going to build a Great Wall to keep out the raping and murdering Mexicans, then make Mexico pay for it. I think he missed an opportunity by not promising to also build a great wall of mosquito netting to keep out the Zika virus, and making Brazil pay for that one.
This last July was the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where it wasn’t just the lake that was Erie. The highlight of Monday, the first night, was Melania’s speech. Normally the nominee doesn’t make an appearance till Thursday but we’re not dealing with normal anymore. Trump appeared, backlit with stage fog, like it was some World Wrestling Entertainment event, introducing the former Slovenian pole dancer. She gave a pretty good speech, but Michelle Obama gave almost exactly the same speech at the DNC Convention in 2008. It prompted Bill Mayer to quip that the blackest thing at the convention was her speech. Other than that, the rest of the convention was a gigantic hate and fear fest, with Rudy Giuliani nearly foaming at the mouth, screaming about terrorism.
Neurologist Dr. Ben Carson proved you don’t really need a brain yourself to be a brain surgeon. He told how Hillary Clinton had been an early fan of Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals. The good doctor then mentioned Alinsky’s Preface, which acknowledges Lucifer as the first radical, then asked if the audience wanted to vote for someone who liked someone who once referenced Lucifer. Of course they didn’t. Physician, heal thyself. Donald Trump, Jr. spoke. He talked about what a regular guy his father was, how he didn’t just sit in his ivory tower, but was right down there with the workers, pouring drywall and hanging, then he caught himself, pouring concrete and hanging drywall. Ah, anybody can make a mistake on the big stage.
On Wednesday, day 3, a protester outside the Quicken Loans Center tried lighting a flag on fire, and ended up in flames himself. In the audio you can hear a police officer yelling, “You’re on fire, stupid!” Thursday night Trump made his “Law and Order” acceptance speech (borrowing heavily from Nixon). In a piece of grand irony, as Trump walked away from the podium, the piped in music played the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It summed up the feeling of establishment Republicans, terrified that Trump is going to destroy the party. A metaphor seemed to augur that possibility: during the week, a photo emerged online of Donald Trump, Jr. on an African Safari. He was standing next to a dead elephant (the party symbol), and holding a bloody severed tail in one hand and a knife in the other. Speaking of metaphor, here’s another: a female protester in the crowd was holding up a sign: “No racism, no hate,” and a Trump supporter held up a large American flag to block the camera’s view. He was holding it upside down, the symbol of distress. I’ll say.
The Democratic National Convention was the following week, in Philadelphia. The weekend before WikiLeaks had released 20,000 emails hacked from the DNC, Democratic National Committee, showing what most people already knew: the DNC had been in the tank for Hillary from the beginning. The city of brotherly love had a lot of surly Berniecrats. The VP nominee, Tim Kaine — zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, oh sorry, I dozed off. Seeing that name does it every time. He gave a speech. He’s a Mr. Rogers for the 21st Century. Bernie protesters paraded a 51 foot long joint down the street at one point, which comic Seth Meyers said “is the amount you’d have to smoke if you think voting for Trump over Hillary is a good idea.” Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” printed gag T-shirts and handed them out on the convention floor, each with the Hillary logo: “I can live with that,” “She believes whatever we believe,” and “Unless Bernie is still an option.”
Other organized Bernie supporters staged a Fart-in on the convention floor. It had originally been planned during Hillary’s acceptance speech Thursday, but it happened the day before. Organizer Cheri Honkala had 100 cans of beans cooked up outside hours earlier. If the name isn’t familiar, and it wasn’t to me, she was Jill Stein’s running mate for the Green Party in 2012. The DNC had its own irony. Nancy Pelosi, not a great speaker, droned on about getting money out of politics, from the main podium at the Wells Fargo Arena. Of course the star turn was President Obama’s speech Wednesday. He is one of the 21st Century’s greatest orators, and he soared over the high bar set by earlier speeches. Bill Maher parodied Fox News’ headline: “Black man steals show.” Hillary’s acceptance speech Thursday was anticlimactic, but good, for her. She’s not an effective public speaker, and admits it. But she hit the points. I kept hearing chants of “Hillary!” coming from the floor, but found out later it was to cover the protests.
I have to talk about the logos, which tell their own stories. Earlier in the campaign, Ted Cruz’ logo was TRUSTED. The TRUS was in white and TED appropriately in red. It wasn’t long before someone recognized that TRUS is an acronym for Trans Rectal UltraSound. Hillary’s now includes . . . I can’t say his name because I need to stay awake. But the “H” is the same; the uprights are one color and the cross bar is an arrow pointing to the RIGHT! What the hell? Actually that’s right, though. These aren’t your father’s Democrats; they’re your father’s Republicans. That’s how far right the Democrats have gone since the early 1990s. And the Republicans have gone “right” over the cliff. While denying and decrying what Trump has been doing, he’s really expressing their inner hatred and bigotry. The other big logo story was after Trump named Mike Pence as his running mate. Trying to imitate the American flag, the T and P were blue, upper left. There were four or five red stripes to the right and below. But the vertical tail of the T was penetrating the top of the P and someone quickly animated the T screwing the P. I think that logo lasted one day.
Another irony worth mentioning concerns the contrast between the two conventions. At the RNC the runner-up, Ted Cruz, was booed for not endorsing Trump. At the DNC the runner-up, Bernie Sanders, was booed because he did endorse Hillary. I have never seen anything like this campaign in my lifetime, where the two candidates are maybe the most distrusted and disliked Americans in the country. It’s entirely likely that many more people will be voting against a candidate, rather than for one.
Just to show you how this shit writes itself, here are three examples from the week just before I had to submit this piece to my webmaster. Six identical life sized Trump statues appeared in major cities, with the title “The Emperor has no balls,” which they don’t, and a tiny little penis besides. They were quickly taken down, but not before a spokesman for the New York City Parks Dept. said this: “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erections in city parks, no matter how small.” Rudy Giuliani was on TV playing out the meme that Hillary Clinton is sick. He said to “go on line and put in ‘Hllary illness’ and you can watch the videos for yourself.” So on his show “Late Night” Stephen Colbert Googled “Hillary Illness” and the first match was Giuliani telling people to go on line and . . . there’s a kind of loop — I thought of a mobius strip. And as Trump was bouncing back and forth (it’s called a pivot now) on immigration faster than a ping pong ball in a Chinese table tennis match, his campaign spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, was on cable news saying: “He hasn’t changed his position on immigration. He’s changed the words that he’s saying.” Honest to God, you can’t make this stuff up. How do you parody self-parody? And there have been fresh neologisms like Trumpster fire, Trumpelthinskin, and for his followers, Trumpkins. Yes, there’s never a shortage of comedy in this campaign, but do you know who’s having the biggest laugh of all? The rest of the world. And they’re not laughing with us, they’re laughing at us.