Way back in the day, my Grandpa Ben was a big fan of Portland Wrestling. A quiet man otherwise, he’d cheer on Dutch Savage and boo Bull Ramos. I was maybe 10, and I didn’t see the appeal. Looking back, I have no idea whether Grandpa believed the theater or enjoyed the parody. He also liked Westerns, so maybe scripted drama was his thing; it’s hard to say from this distance.
Some 40 or 50 years from now, Americans will wonder the same thing about their Republican grandparents. What did they really believe, way back in the “Teens” and ‘20s? Did they honestly think Donald Trump and the many politicians in his pocket were sincerely fighting for their well-being (without any policies of their own except to oppose the Democrats at every turn)? Or had they all become so cynical about government as a means to make our lives better that they cheered on the Capitol rioters and the Congressional obstructionists “flipping the bird” at the American people in every vote?
Way back in 1988, Donald Trump got his start in show business with a WrestleMania event supposedly taking place at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. Who would have imagined, back then, that Trump would go on to base an entire presidency on working up the crowds with deadpan ironic humor?
(My grandpa had probably never heard of Donald Trump, and I wonder if he would have gotten sucked in too. I’d like to think that his fervent devotion to our Senator Wayne Morse would have inoculated him against the Trump mystique, but who knows?)
I enjoy political satire as much as the next person, but satire is supposed to stand apart and above from its subject, giving us the perspective we need to think for ourselves. The challenge we’re facing is that Trump has set this appalling precedent of fusing the satire and the political power into the same person. It hasn’t ended with Trump, either – here’s a whole string of clips from today’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and others are diving right in to see who can claim the Trump mantle for himself.
I’m not sure what the answer is. At some point, maybe, a critical mass on the right will recognize that their needs are really not being met by their party leaders and rebel against it. Unfortunately, with Biden in office, quietly doing his job competently, it looks to me all too much like that stereotype of divorced parents, where the kids get so excited about spending time with Crazy Fun Dad and just take Hard-Working Mom for granted.
As Biden picks up the pieces of the wreckage Trump left behind, will the “kids” grow up in time to give him credit?