The Trump administration is often described in the punditry as a “Clown Car”, which seems apt a lot of the time. You gotta admit, watching President Chuckles lurch from disaster to disaster, tripping over his tongue and stepping on rakes as he goes, would be uproariously funny if he was in charge of, say, Lesotho, instead of the United Fucking States. I contend that it’s healthy and natural to find it funny anyway. After all, day after day it’s a pie in the face and a fish down the trousers. You want to give him a bicycle horn to honk. Sure, you get a bit numb after a while, fatigued even, but there’s always the wonder in watching the Doofus-in-Chief take it to the next level, just when you thought there could be no further levels to reach.
I think it’d be natural to assume, were you watching Herr Donald from afar without benefit of context, that you’d stumbled upon a new genius of satire, a great wit engaged in elevating the art of parody. Almost anything he says would suit as an example, but within the cornucopia already on record, after these six short months, his various dissertations on history seem especially likely to be mistaken for masterpieces of dry and knowing humour. He never misses a beat, whether he’s extolling the good works of Frederick Douglas as if the man was still with us, and doing something good, one supposes, whatever it is he does (Frederick Douglas is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice), or lamenting the failure of the various States to solve their problems, back whenever it was, and avoid a war that nobody seems to have thought much about since (People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?). Why not indeed? And why has no one ever given this any much-needed thought? You get down to it, the Civil War was a really big deal, huge, not many people know that but listen, folks, you wouldn’t want another one. Believe me.
I’ll give you a perfect example: way back in 1930, the writers for the British humour magazine Punch wrote a series of articles presenting a hilariously garbled and misunderstood account of English history, as if remembered by a glib but essentially stupid fellow who hadn’t paid attention in class, later published as 1066 and All That. Here’s their take on Ethelred the Unready, and his travails with marauding Danes (“Vikings” in the popular consciousness):
Ethelread the Unready was the first Weak King of England and was thus the cause of a fresh Wave of Danes. He was called the Unready because he was never ready when the Danes were. Rather than wait for him the Danes used to fine him large sums called Danegeld, for not being ready. But though they were always ready, the Danes had very bad memories, and often used to forget that they had been paid the Danegeld and came back for it almost before they had sailed away. By that time Ethelread was always unready again.
Compare and contrast with the Trumpian account of visiting Napoleon’s tomb with President Macron, and learning of the relevant history:
TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather?
His one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death.
Can you tell the difference? Me neither.
Do you suppose the wags at the Onion could muster up anything funnier than El Supremo’s nightly shit storm of tweets? Something more ludicrous than Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes on the White House lawn, hoping to avoid the press? Is there even any point in trying to make fun of Kellyanne Conway? Or how about this exchange between Chris Wallace of Fox News and Jay Sekulow, the hapless lawyer sent out recently to face the slings and arrows on Trump’s behalf; in the excerpt below, Sekulow has just insisted that The Donald is by no means under any sort of investigation for obstructing justice or anything else, no way, no how, when he launches into a soliloquy on how unfair it is that Trump is, after all, being investigated:
SEKULOW: The president takes action based on numerous events, including recommendations from his attorney general and the deputy attorney general’s office. He takes the action that they also, by the way, recommended. And now he’s being investigated by the Department of Justice… So he’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the termination. So that’s the constitutional threshold question here. That’s why, as I said, no investigation —
WALLACE: Well, I — what — what — what’s the question [inaudible]. I mean you — you stated — you stated some facts. First of all, you’ve now said that he is getting investigated after saying that you didn’t.
WALLACE: You — you just, sir, that he’s being —
SEKULOW: No, he’s not being investigated!
WALLACE: You just said that he’s being investigated.
SEKULOW: No, Chris, I said that the — any — let me be crystal clear so you — you completely understand. We have not received nor are we aware of any investigation of the president of the United States, period.
WALLACE: Sir, you just said two times that he’s being investigated.
– Boiled Down to its Essence –
WALLACE: Did too!
SEKULOW: Did not!
WALLACE: Did did did!!
SEKULOW: Not not not!!
What could it possibly have been, other than an arch sense of humour, that led to the appointment of poor, beleaguered Sean Spicer as Press Secretary? (Oh, Spicey! How we shall miss you! Whatever is Melissa McCarthy to do, now you’re gone?) What else can account for the appointment of neophyte Anthony Scaramucci, a.k.a. “the Mooch”, as White House Communications Director? What fun! Fill a crucial post with an oily practitioner of patter that looks as if he should be the emcee of the latest smash-hit prime time game show, Name That Greaseball! Hyuk! If something besides a perverse delight in absurdity is at work here, how do you account for the menagerie of idiots and hucksters that wallow in the swampy bogs of Trumplandia? Whether it’s guys like Paul Manafort, who ought to have the sort of mobbed-up nicknames bestowed upon the supporting players in Goodfellas and the Sopranos – maybe Paulie “Walnuts” would suit him, or Paul “the Salamander” – or apparent caricatures of failed Dick Tracy characters, like the pointy-faced General Flynn – easily envisioned as Hatchet Head, friend to Pruneface and ally of the dreaded Pucker Puss – this crowd seems to reflect casting criteria that skewed heavily towards an innate gift for gleaning the yuks.
Here’s Rick Perry, lately of Dancing With the Stars and now Secretary of Energy, who famously forgot during a candidate’s debate that the Department of Energy was one of the ones he intended to disband (“oops!”, said he): “If I’d known what the Department of Energy actually did, I never would have recommended it be disbanded.” Rim shot! See, the DOE isn’t a just bloated bureaucracy that regulates pipelines and funds silly research into useless alternative power sources. Mainly it oversees America’s vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. OOPS. Or here’s our boy on the immutable economic laws of supply and demand: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” It was presumably on this basis that Ford Motors once flooded the auto market with Edsels. I can hear the pitch now: Advertise? Why? All you gotta do is crank ‘em out and wait for the dough to roll in, gentlemen, it’s as simple as that.
C’mon. You’re laughing yourself silly through the tears. You can’t help yourself.
Hey, I’m not saying it isn’t scary too. Never said such. When the President publicly excoriates his own Attorney General, obviously unaware that he’s complaining that his minion chose obedience to the law over protecting his Dear Leader, all the while grousing about lack of loyalty as he tosses the poor bastard under a speeding Greyhound, sure, it’s frightening. It’s chilling when he orders that same Attorney General to investigate his defeated political opponents. I mean look, just the capacity to do something heinous enough to make you feel bad for Jeff Sessions is in itself terrifying. I know. When you consider the Constitutional conflagration that will follow his termination of the Mueller investigation, then O.K., you’ve got grounds for concern. Or maybe his recent address to the Boy Scout Jamboree, which seemed an awful lot like a harangue Der Führer might have delivered to an assembly of Hitler Youth, put you off your feed for a bit. I get it. I get that you conduct little thought experiments, like gaming out a substitution of Trump for JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and piddle all over your Buster Browns. I get that. I do. You think I’m not upset? You think I never entertain my darkest fears? Listen up, kid, I’m cursed by both inclination and academic training to pay close attention to current affairs. You’re just a foot soldier in the Piss-Your-Pants Brigade. I’m up here watching the pieces being shifted around on the plotting board in Supreme Headquarters, Allied Excrementary Forces.
I’m just as full of hopeless dread as you are. But look, even if we know the score, we can still die laughing, right?