News & Politics

America in the 21st Century, by Salvadore Dali

America in the 21st Century, by Salvadore Dali
Artist Salvadore Dali in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

Russia is engaged in a massive build-up of troops in Armenia that threatens Turkey, a NATO ally.  Donald Trump assured the world that there was “no problem” with his penis size.

China has militarized the South China Sea.  The GOP frontrunner became incoherent when trying to defend his lies and flip-flops on Trump University and a host of other business failures.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has told his military to prepare to use nuclear weapons.  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz turned a presidential debate into a feces-flinging contest between monkeys.

It’s possible that only the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí could capture the essence of the vulgarity, the stupidity, and the childishness of a night where the Republican Party descended to depths unknown for more than a century of political combat.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times captured the spirit of the night:

One of the moderators upbraided Marco Rubio (rightly) for abandoning incessant pledges of a positive campaign, answering Trump’s schoolyard taunts with adolescent jokes and jabs of his own, and even going so far as to claim that Trump had wet his pants under the pressure at the prior debate.

Trump butted in to take special issue with one of Rubio’s digs.

“He hit my hands,” Trump said, alluding to Rubio’s assertion that they were small and correctly noting that Rubio had insinuated that “if they’re small, something else must be small.”

Trump lifted his chin. Puffed up his chest.

“I guarantee you there’s no problem,” he said. “I guarantee.”

There is absolutely a problem, and I’m going to be careful here not to characterize it as big or small or use any adjective related to size. The problem is that Trump, Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich were on the stage in Detroit to debate their qualifications for the most powerful job in the world, at the helm of its most important democracy, and Trump and Rubio weren’t just hitting, but also dwelling, below the belt.

Surreal. Sickening.

So, yes, the size of Trump’s penis matters — or, rather, what matters is that it was an actual subject of discussion; that it reflected and set the tone of the encounter; and that this tone favors Trump, because it’s where he lives, it’s his kingdom, and if rivals join him there, they merely become his subjects.

It would be wrong to assume that this is the nadir of political debate in American history.  The 19th century was far worse as far as bare-knuckled, rough-and-tumble politics is concerned.  Lincoln was an “ape” and possibly had black ancestors.  Andrew Jackson was a bigamist.  John Adams was a secret royalist who wanted to return America to English rule.  Vote-buying was rampant.  Ballot box-stuffing, “lost” votes – both sides did it, which made elections roughly equal in corruption.

Most of us thought we had outgrown those kinds of antics and attacks.  But last night’s debate was just an extension of a campaign that Donald Trump has turned into a reality TV show.  His low-information voters see politics as entertainment – not at all different from Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Real Housewives.  There are good guys and bad guys, pathos, humor, lots of bleeped conversations, and drama, drama, drama.

Thoreau from “Walden’s Pond”:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

This is America of the early 21st century, a place of growing desperation where many people lead lives empty of meaning, needing constant stimulation to remind themselves they’re alive.  Faces buried in their smartphones, obsessed with celebrity, they have cut themselves off from the rest of humanity and now reside in a nether world — not quite real, not quite fantasy.

Are these voters really angry? Or are they just so oblivious to the world around them and so ignorant of history, tradition, and custom that they find it perfectly natural for a presidential candidate to assure us he’s got a big penis?

Trump succeeds in attracting those whose emotions are easily manipulated and whose fears are easily fed.  He is very good at enabling hatred at the same time as engendering fear and loathing of political opponents and those who are different from the safe, comfortable white middle class that has been under siege for decades.

The world is blowing up all around us – crisis upon crisis, with no America to lead and a current administration that sees American leadership as evil or unnecessary. Will we substitute the naive belief that we shouldn’t accept our role as a leader in the world with a shocking ignorance of what that leadership should be?

It’s becoming more possible every day.