March 29, 2016

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Donald Trump

Timothy Birdnow

In the ‘70's British sci-fi comedy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" the interstellar government was ruled over by a two-headed alien named Zaphod Beeblebrox. Beeblebrox was elected President not because of his serious mind or his experience or capabilities but because the Presidency of the Galaxy was decided on popularity, rather like a prom-king, and Beeblebrox, a rather dull-witted "extreme" screwball, captured the imagination of a majority of voters. One of his acts as President was to steal an experimental starship he was christening.

Advanced technology had turned politics into purely a form of entertainment.

Now. this was a work of fiction, but Douglass Adams, creator of the Hitchhiker series, clearly saw the way the wind was blowing; modern technology was elevating the cult of celebrity, making positions of high profile such as the Presidency increasingly about appearances and media savvy to a happily ill-informed voting public.

It should come as no surprise that the types of people going into public service today are quite different than a hundred years ago. The 20th century saw huge leaps in the way people get their information, with first radio then television and now the internet replacing the old ink-on-paper and public speaking. Couple that with the increase in pure democracy, where more and more people have the vote and are encouraged to exercise it - whether they know anything about the issues or not - all but guaranteed the rise of the "celebrity politician", the public servant who looks good on camera, whose life is interesting and exciting, whose views on issues can best be described as variations on those held by the crowd. As Rush Limbaugh says, politics is show biz for the ugly.

Except that really isn't true anymore, either; politics is as much about looks as anything. We saw that in the election of 1960 where the eminently qualified former Vice President Richard Nixon lost to a less qualified pretty boy named John Kennedy largely based on his physical appearance during the debate. Appearances matter, and with the coming of the 24 hour news cycle and the endless analysis on the internet they matter more now than ever. So, too, does celebrity appeal, being "cool". Politics has turned into hipster theatre.

Many of our greatest presidents would never be elected today. Would toothless George Washington? Tiny little James Madison? Abraham Lincoln, who, when accused of being two-faced made the plaintive rejoinder "If I had another face would I wear this one?" None of these men had the glamour of celebrity about them.

America's first truly Beeblebrox President was William Jefferson Clinton. He was young, hip, cool, unserious. He played the saxophone and went on popular entertainment shows. He loved the camera and the microphone (indeed, he had to be virtually dragged off stage at the 1988 Democratic Convention leading to an appearance with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.) He admitted to smoking doobies. He was notorious for his sexual misconduct; his own wife had to head up a "bimbo eruption squad" to silence women Bill had used and discarded. Most of his supporters could not tell you what his policy positions were; they loved him because he was the national prom king Clinton's appeal came through the popular culture.

One of the puzzling things about Clinton was that his poll numbers rose when he was at the peak of his many scandals. It was no coincidence that Clinton's popularity grew when he did stupid or embarrassing - even criminal - things. He went from a job approval of 50% in his first term to an average of 61% in his second, with his high peaking at 73% in December of 1998, the peak of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The more degenerate and flawed Clinton was shown to be the more popular he became.

This was the era of Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, and other ugly parodies of American life. Television was riddled with deviancy, and the public could not tell the difference between what the President was doing and what they saw on "reality" television. What they did know was that Bill Clinton made them comfortable with their own sins.

You could never have had Bill Clinton prior to the era of wall-to-wall electronic media.

Which brings us to the election of 2016. On the one hand the public is furious with the elites from both parties, who made an unspoken deal with them decades ago; they would be allowed to run things provided they did so fairly well and remembered the people who allowed it. The increasingly insular nature of the ruling class and the declining fortunes of the flyover public under the current tutelage of those elites has infuriated people on both sides of the political divide. The elite grow richer and more powerful these days while the flyover people find themselves poorer and less respected. The elites, determined to liberate themselves from the plebeian class, are bringing in hordes of immigrants to take jobs and form new voting blocks. (One in five people in the U.S. were born outside of the country if you count illegal aliens, and 20% of households do not speak English at home. Job growth is taken entirely by aliens, meaning that unemployed and underemployed Americans cannot find good jobs. All of this has led to an election cycle driven by anger, and there is a strong push to find someone outside of the power structure, someone who will make a fresh start.

Enter Donald J. Trump. Trump is actually very much an insider in the power structure, but he has his own money and so is not beholden to the political machine. More than that, Trump is the equivalent of a Kardashian or Paris Hilton; a celebrity who has become famous for, well, being a celebrity. Trump is well known for, uh, somewhat sleazy undertakings. He builds casinos and brothels. He makes dubious land deals, often stealing the property of those of modest means through eminent domain. He has been married multiple times. He has fame from his reality television show. He is, in short, the perfect candidate for 21st century America; a man not of substance but of image, a man who can make Americans comfortable with their own shortcomings.

In short, Trump's appeal is very much like that of William Jefferson Clinton's. People are eager to hear what will come out of his mouth next, as they were eager for the next Clinton scandal. As with Clinton they were willing to excuse almost everything because "that's our boy!" Like Clinton, Trump is forgiven his mistakes because he reminds the public of their own weaknesses. He's the creation of the modern electronic age, as surely as was Bill. Even his bad hair can be forgiven, a cosmetic blemish to remind us that we ourselves have little flaws we want to hide.

That Trump is saying the right things helps a lot. Trump, like Clinton, is ready to fight to the death. He is not one to roll over.

Americans love a fighter.

Oh, and did I mention Trump is saying the right things? People are desperate for what Trump is peddling. People are sick of political correctness, and Trump is smashing that. They are sick of studied, careful politics. They want a regular guy, not a carefully crafted CGI image. Trump speaks extemporaneously. Trump is promising what politicians have become too worldly to offer; he wants America to be great again, to win.

His appeal is across the spectrum.

"clever, imaginative, irresponsible, untrustworthy, extrovert, nothing you couldn't have guessed".

That was the description of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Big Z, Galactic ex-President. It could easily fit Bill Clinton, or Donald J. Trump, could it not? By the way, the purpose of the Galactic President was to draw attention away from the true rulers. It makes one wonder if Trump is really as despised by the Establishment as they would have us believe. Certainly Trump has stopped Ted Cruz - an even more despised candidate - from walking away with this and the Establishment has railed against Trump despite the fact that his support grows with every attack. If Karl Rove and company REALLY wanted Trump to disappear they would have simply ignore him. I think they are smart enough to know that.

I am not saying we will be getting a second Bill Clinton; Trump appears to be faithful to his wife until he is not, unlike Mr. Clinton whose infidelity was the cornerstone of his marriage. He may be shallow, vain, vulgar, but at least he won't be dropping trou in the Oval Office or using those newly available Cuban cigars in a manner never intended by God or Fidel Castro. And one never knows; perhaps he will find something noble within himself. He is, at any rate, a better man than Hillary.

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