Roger L. Simon

The Republican Debates as Japanese Theatre

Another week, another Republican debate victory for Donald Trump on the Drudge Poll.

What does this tell us? More than we think and less than we think — and not just because it’s an Internet poll, with all that implies.

Yes, there was a minor difference Thursday night. Kasich bumped up to three on Drudge above the increasingly hapless Rubio, auguring poorly for the senator’s chances in Florida.

But as I watched this evening, the repetitive nature of the event — the same questions with the same people, over and over for weeks, now for the eleventh time — made me think I was watching some new American form of ritualized Japanese theatre, somewhere between Kabuki and Noh (actually leaning toward the florid Kabuki because of the grandiose Detroit stage, a relic of that city’s better days).

And as in the Japanese theatre, each player took his prescribed role — Trump as the shogun, Cruz and Rubio (los hermanos cubanos) as junior samurai, vying for power, and Kasich as the scribe, off in a corner, rhapsodizing about the halcyon days of the Heian period, aka the Ohioan period.  The drama began with the traditional peroration, each man speaking his introductory soliloquy, warning his adversaries of his nearly transcendental powers — and then the ritualized conflict commenced…

Oh, shogun, thou has cheated the little people with your university, giving them diplomas worth less than parchment.

What, you little samurai know-nothing. You are less than a Kurosawa extra. Your sword is so tiny you couldn’t slice a cucumber — and you know what that means.

So it goes, on into the night. From Osaka to Kyoto and soon enough Miami (on March 10) for yet another performance. And since Japanese theatre is known to be inscrutable to us Westerners, fortunately we have Bill O’Reilly to explain it.  But unfortunately for O’Reilly, on this night, he basically vamped.  Because nothing had happened.  Or nothing new.  But then, it’s Noh drama.

Oh, yes, there was a prologue to this particular theatrical.  That great shogun from the Muromachi period, Lord Romney, appeared from the past to challenge the new Shogun Trump.  It seemed like it might be a fight to the death.  He even brought along his magic sword and a scroll with a list of the evils of Shogun Trump as long as the Noto Peninsula.  But the match never really started.  Too many in the audience remembered Lord Romney had been neutered four years ago by that witch from the North — Candy Crowley — melting before her during the tragic Benghazi period. He had lost his powers, with or without the sword, and Shogun Trump dismissed him from the stage.

So there we are.  Back to square one in our ritual performances with only twelve days to go until March 15 — the end, I regret to say, of this theatrical season.  From there, we must go on to a series of more intimate performances known as the Great Reconciliation. They promise to be tedious. Not even Shogun Trump can beguile us forever.

But do not fear, while this highly ritualized, and therefore rather boring, despite its supposed flourishes, theatrical season is about to end, one far more entertaining, and Western in its essence, looms before us.  A great Elizabethan tragedy, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (actually Jacobean) or perhaps even Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, is about to be performed before our very eyes. Mirabile dictu, Lady Clinton’s own computer scribe has been given immunity by the Department of Justice. What may transpire now is a play so unpredictable we should all be on the edge of our seats.  And it won’t be long before they pull the curtain.

(Artwork created using multiple sliced and diced Shutterstock.com images.)