I flitted away another evening in front of CNN following Primary results. This election cycle, at least as far as I’m concerned, is certainly proving compelling drama; terrible politics, perhaps, but it is making for great TV, filled with existential dread and eschatological foreboding – it’s like binge-watching season two of The Leftovers.
It says something about American politics at this moment in time that I find myself actively enjoying Wolf Blitzer – never has someone so boring been gifted such an exciting name – on TV.
I was concerned earlier this month that the sheer perversity surrounding 2016 was starting to diminish. For starters, Trump didn’t do as well as he might have expected in Iowa and there was talk from pundits that he may be suffering from a reverse Bradley Effect, but, thankfully – and I don’t write that in a tongue-of-cheek manner, more from a mixture of hysteria and rubbernecking – the grotesque madness has continued.
I mean, let’s just take stock of some of the events that have occurred over the last week or so:
Rubio’s team releases a video full of misty-eyed images of America the beautiful that embarrassingly was more Canada the beautiful.
Jeb! (or rather Jeb!’s team – I don’t think Jeb! is a natural tweeter) tweets a picture of his gun with the caption “America”. Of course, Jeb! being Jeb! it comes across as inauthentic pandering and hardly likely to sway those GOP voters obsessed with the Second Amendment. It’s in these moments that it becomes apparent that Jeb! lacks his brother’s folksy bonhomie and in comparison seems so stiff. Voting for someone on the basis that you can imagine yourself having a beer with is asinine, it’s the comment of a meathead, but it is an observation that you hear people make often enough, a good yardstick for a politician’s likeability. Despite being teetotal (and a recovering alcoholic) people could imagine themselves having a beer down their local with George, whereas Jeb! comes across as someone who’d embarrass you by ordering a white wine spritzer. And that’s the thing with Jeb! and his campaign – it just keeps making you feel slightly embarrassed. On the liberal side, no one could even bring themselves to be outraged by his gun tweet – all it got instead was derision.
Trump managed to slink low even for him, seemingly given credence to conspiracy theories around Scalia’s death. This was a reminder of two things: firstly, that Trump can seemingly say the unsayable without it having a negative impact; secondly, Trump is at heart a conspiracy theorist. His earlier actions around Obama’s birth certificate being a case in point, the man is a genuine birther loon. It wouldn’t be entirely unsurprising where he to announce in this week’s Houston debate that jet fuel couldn’t possibly melt steel.
Trump has even managed to find time, when he’s not busy pondering torture and mass killings of Muslims with pig’s blood, to get in a spat with Pope Francis. Although that does leave the intriguing thought of what might a Trump appointment as US Ambassador to the Holy See look like. Jesse Ventura could be an interesting choice, unless he is already earmarked for Secretary of State.
Is this really the best that the GOP can offer? Whatever you think of its political positions, you have to respect its history as a party and some of the political beasts that it has produced over the years. As it is, this lot seem to be bad parodies of politicians.
I recently watched Electric Boogaloo, a documentary about the 80s production company Cannon Films, purveyors of the sort of action schlock that were the mainstay of video rentals of the time. You know the sort of thing, cheap knock-offs of the Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies, but louder and crasser and with reliably unsatisfactory choices in action movie stars – an elderly, well-past-his-prime Charles Bronson, a wooden Chuck Norris (don’t be fooled by internet memes), and an entirely out-of-his-depth Michael Dudikoff. They were ersatz action stars, their presence succeeding in making an already bad film just that bit more … well, shit. They succeeded in making everything worse, and therefore more interesting somehow. It’s the beginning of that somewhat dispiriting idea so popular now that something can be so bad that it is good – crap movies that you ironically watch. That’s what this GOP field feels like to me, and Trump, in particular; he’s an ersatz politician making everything so much worse and yet we’re compelled by it.