Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pop Star Populist

We've seen singers and actors who took up causes to become factors in the world of politics. There have been exceptions but in most cases it didn't last long. Since the advent of movies and the broadcast industry a few entertainers have used their show business notoriety to help them get elected to public office -- B-movie actor Ronald Reagan being the most obvious example. Still, Reagan was hardly at the top of his career as an actor, such as it was, when he first ran for governor of California. Whereas, Donald Trump is now in the process of going directly from being a high-profile presence on a popular network television program to running for president -- no stops in between.

It was bound to happen. That it has turned out to be Trump says something damning about the way politics and popular culture have merged seamlessly in the new millennium. Whatever else you might want to say about Trump's presidential campaign, he is creating a story that Americans want to watch.

Moreover, Trump has puffed up and seized control of the ultimate Reality TV show. Nobody knows where it's going, including the pop star populist who's directing and producing the show. In the doing, he's taking America deeper into the cynical terrain of catering to the low-road aspects of human nature than it's been in a while -- deeper into the amoral swamp Paddy Chayefsky imagined was in the future for us when he wrote "Network" (1976).

Unlike office-holder candidates with constituencies and fundraising responsibilities, Trump isn't beholding to anybody but his fans. Fans who want the swaggering billionaire to rock the GOP's boat. For their champion they want an untamed monster, one who breathes in paranoia and alienation like it is air, as he feeds on the hypocrisy and greed of establishment gridlock politics. Their voracious monster -- the Bluster Meister, himself -- laughs haughtily at danger warnings. He recognizes no boundaries.  

Trump's comments about whether McCain ought to be seen as a hero have drawn some criticism from some of Trump's fellow Republicans. So after jabbing at the campaign trail opponents he felt like toying with, Trump attacked John McCain with a right-cross. Trump questioned whether getting captured and held as a prisoner of war is all that heroic.

In Trump's show business world-view, heroes don't stay captured. They win their wars. Although some of Trump's opponents have mildly rebuked him for his remarks to that effect, most of Trump's fans don't seem to care all that much about military heroes in a war they see as boring history.

Since Trump's rise in the polls his rivals have been waiting for a safe way to bash him -- a way that doesn't touch on issues in a way that might offend the GOP's tea party elements. But this rally-around-the-unassailable-hero avenue is only safe because those Republican hopefuls who've squawked don't care about appearing to be hypocrites. Remember the "swift-boating" of John Kerry in 2004? What did Jeb Bush say about that shameful episode?

Bottom line: A lot of conservatives view McCain as a geezer who's a sellout -- a "Republican in name only." Mostly, Trumps fans love it that their monster seems to be striking more and more fear in his cowardly opponents' hearts. The Bluster Meister doesn't apologize.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

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