Christopher Helton



Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

—Karl Marx

2016 has been the Year of the Plague for Western politics. We’ve had Nazis running hither and thither across Europe, making comfy nests for themselves in parliaments and assemblies like rats in the wainscoting, not least of all here, in our Slovak Republic of beloved memory. Then the UK decided to leave the only international organization that still matters in Europe—a move that, if the Scottish National Party has anything to say about it, might result in the dissolution of the UK as we know it, and the British might have to add one Elizabeth Windsor to their list of pensioners, and look to their future under President Theresa May (or Boris Johnson). Then, finally, this month, the American people decided to reenact the old story of Caligula appointing a horse to the Roman Senate . . . SPQR, indeed.

In a unhealthy year like this, a bitter millennial like myself gets nostalgic for an old tried-and-true degenerate like George W. Bush. Not to say that Donald Trump is worse than W.: far from it. Bush destroyed civil liberties like you and I swat flies, committed more war crimes before breakfast than Hermann Goering ever dreamt of in his whole career, and used the Constitution of the United States as toilet paper. Trump no longer has the opportunity to do the kind of damage George Jr. did—one can’t burn the same house down twice—and even if he had the opportunity, he doesn’t have the imagination. No, I get wistful for W. because he was to my generation what Nixon was to my parents’ generation: the avatar of all of America’s basest instincts, and Trump is nothing more than the run-off of that rain of pig offal that was the Bush administration. I miss railing against W. mostly because I must now rail against Trump, and there is far more dignity in railing against a real bastard than a total ass.

“Now just a minute, Helton! You’re not writing about Trump at all! You’re writing
him!” Yeah, maybe so. But how does one write about a nonentity? How does one penetrate to the heart of a bag of wind without being blown out the other side? The fact of the matter is, we have elected a two-bit real estate hustler and reality television personality, a man who has never even presided over a school board meeting, the Leader of the Free World. Had it not been for his daddy’s money, Trump would have been driven out of every town he ever entered in the back of a police cruiser, with a firm warning never to come back. He’s been bankrupt more times than all the Habsburgs combined. This is a man who doesn’t even have the sense to switch off the tape recorder before blabbering about grabbing strange women by the p****y, just because he can. When those tapes inevitably went public, not only did he not have the decency to get on his knees in sackcloth and ashes before his wife, daughter, and all the women of America abbbnd apologize, but he trivialized it by saying that all guys talk that way when they’re alone together (we don’t—at least, not past the age of 15 or so). And Melania actually defended him . . . and why not? She’s been given her ticket out of Slovenian obscurity; why rock the boat? Melania is a hustler herself, and you can bet the staff at the White House are going to be counting the silverware extra carefully for the next four to eight years.

His personal idiosyncrasies aside, Trump’s promises are so obviously empty that he has no policy to speak of. Building a wall along the entire Mexican border is as likely as building a transpacific bridge from California to Japan, and every Trump voter knows in his heart of hearts it’s a pipe dream. As for bringing all our old jobs back, and having everything made in America again, that would require tariffs that would benefit only those at the very top (like Trump), while the working class, as usual, would bear the cost. The average Trump voter, who likes his XXXL Hanes t-shirts, his two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, and his 20-piece Chicken McNuggets (the chicken straight from Thailand), and likes them cheap, isn’t going to be too thrilled when prices quadruple. In fact, Trump promises to bring a level of government regulation of the American economy that would make Krushchev think twice, and the Republicans have just betrayed their commitment to laissez-faire capitalism by standing behind him.

“Make America Great Again” means rolling back the clock: it means the auto factories of businessinsiderDetroit, the steel mills of Homestead, economic isolationism, and good old American ingenuity. (It also means canning your own beans, shingling your own roof, and sardine sandwiches in a lunch bucket instead of hand-delivered bento boxes, but that’s as may be.) The problem is, no one can roll back the clock, not even the President of the United States. What “Make America Great Again” really means for the majority of Trump supporters is “Make America Less Annoying Again”—make it so I can walk down the street without seeing so many brown faces I never used to see, and hearing so many strange languages I never used to hear. “Make America Great Again,” for so many, is the fear of change, the fear of getting old, the fear of dying.

To use Marx’s famous analogy, which I quoted at the beginning of this article,
Trump is the farce to Bush’s tragedy, and I don’t mean that just because the man is a buffoon in bronzer. Bush had rabid fanatics of every age and socioeconomic class behind him, the combined weight of Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress ready to do his every bidding, and an undivided bloc of evangelical Christians who accepted his religious credentials without the slightest scrutiny. Bush was the closest thing the world had seen to Dominus et Deus since the days of Justinian, and even the Prime Minister of Great Britain was a lapdog to him. Trump, on the other hand, has inherited a house divided, and the monolithic support of RElection Protests Washingtonepublicans and Christians that Bush could take for granted is not there for Trump. Christians have begun asking themselves the question, “Is there any situation where we won’t vote Republican?” Many of those same Christians were horrified at the torrid affairs of Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and insisted that the moral character of POTUS[1] was inseparable from his ability to do the job. Now, they are faced with the potential hypocrisy of taking a cynical realpolitik position vis-à-vis Trump, weakly protesting that they’re voting for a man to do a job, not for a man who is a moral example. Many of them have chosen to swallow that bitter pill, but many have not. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because the Bush/Trump juxtaposition shows just how monumentally asinine the moral priorities of American evangelical Christians are: they cheerfully accepted Bush, a man guilty of so many crimes against humanity it would make the Nuremberg prosecutors foam at the mouth with rage, but they have a problem with Trump because Trump’s sins are all-too-common, vulgar, and unimaginative . . . not to mention impolite. Trump is guilty of one of the greatest sins in American politics: being openly venal and stupid. It is precisely this guilt that makes his supporters love him, because it is precisely this guilt that sets him apart from the political snakes they no longer trust. Fair enough, but, being an old farm boy, I can say I might find a black snake revolting and terrifying, but I know he’s going to keep the mice out of my barn. An ass, on the other hand, is just going to sit in the yard and bray.

Trump’s problem, however, is that his supporters can no longer help him. Trump is in office, and he must now contend with the political machinery he has spent over a year alienating. The headlines are currently full of promises of Republican lawmakers to rally behind their president, but as Bertolt Brecht said, “Let no one deceive you.” This is an entirely predictable expression of exhaustion and resignation after the dirtiest party in-fighting since the death of the Whig Party in the 1850s. The numbness of the dissipating adrenaline will soon be over, and the open wounds and hurt feelings of the Republican old guard will still be there. Reports say that the mood at Trump headquarters was surprisingly somber as the election results poured in, and the orange man himself seemed pensive and withdrawn. I don’t blame him. He’s about to become the most celebrated lame-duck president[2] in American history, and even ISIS won’t be able to come up with an attack on America big enough to save him. The Republican old guard will stymie and embarrass him at every turn—when he’s not embarrassing himself—which will send legions of Trump supporters into frenzies of hatred for Congress. No matter; the old guard of both parties knows that Congress will always belong to them, because electing a clown president is easy enough (Trump certainly isn’t the first), but filling all 535 Congressional seats with clowns . . . well, that’s a task the American people are just plain too lazy to accomplish. The real danger Trump poses is to the American reputation, and let’s face it, that can’t get much worse. One of the biggest mistakes of both political parties, for most of American history, has been putting the vast majority of their energies and resources into winning a single office: an office that has more flash and less substance than most people think. A fascist slug like Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the US Senate, has more power to change America than any president ever will, and he’ll hold his job a damn sight longer. McConnell might be a wimp, but he is an enforcer, whereas Trump is nothing more than a street hustler waiting to get shaken down.

So welcome to Trump’s America, as tawdry and low-rent as the man who now runs it. No doubt Melania has already contacted decorators to install polished gold fixtures and mirrored black tiling in the White House wherever possible. Trump is going to end up a poor, lonely sap when he finally realizes he’s gone from feared entrepreneur to another salaried civil servant. I’m sure Daddy Trump never meant for little Donnie to end up a bureaucrat. No more Vegas buffet lunches, evenings at the roulette table, hobnobbing with Wayne Newton and David Copperfield. Time to exchange Vegas for D.C., a city as featureless and sinister as the marsh that threatens to reclaim it. Time to punch the clock, Donnie! Make America Great Again! Be the martyr we all need! You asked for this cup, now it cannot pass from your lips until you’ve drunk it to the dregs. Just try not to grab the nuclear arsenal button as eagerly as you grab a woman’s nether regions.

[1] Government acronym for “President of the United States.”

[2] “Lame-duck president” is the expression for a president who has the Congress against him, and thus cannot accomplish any of his political goals.

11 November 2016| text Christopher Helton foto businessinsider.com 


One comment

  1. ““Make America Great Again,” for so many, is the fear of change, the fear of getting old, the fear of dying.”
    You made a very interesting point there.


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