It is not usually good form to start a piece with a quotation but in this particular case I simply cannot resist. There are many variations of this quote but I choose to use the one expressed by Karl Marx from his brilliant critique of French politics in 1851-1852 called The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. [https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire] A discussion of this masterful pamphlet might be the centrepiece of another post, but for now, I am only interested in the opening.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. [my emphasis]
While the list of examples of this phenomenon are many, I wish to add a third incarnation which I would like to call the theatre of the absurd. In the current context of the Republican Party race with a double digit number of aspirants seeking to win the coveted primary nomination, such a label seems appropriate. From the very outset of this important right of passage to that eventual day when someone will become the party’s Presidential candidate, it now seems to many, both inside the party, and certainly its many distractors on the other side of the political aisle, that the whole process has been hijacked. And hijacked it has been, but not from outside the large tent that houses all manner of Republicans, but by self-styled spokespersons for a distinct, albeit loud, section that holds sway in the far right corners of that tent.
The earlier claims to front-runner status from insiders and pundits, the likes of Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, and especially Jeb Bush all now seem to be spent figures in this race. http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-national-gop-primary Some other candidates have already departed the race [Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal]. The announcement of the ultimate outsider with no experience in holding a political office of any kind, Donald J. Trump, on June 16th, 2015 proved to be the real beginning of this hijacking for the nomination.
The majority of the field currently hold or have held relatively high political office: Governors or former governors, Senators and Representatives. Into this mix of experience comes the Donald. There is no political experience per se and therefore no record to view and critique. Instead, this self aggrandizing, narcissistic businessman whose wealth accumulation had made him known to many before, became an instant celebrity with his domineering presence as the host of his former reality TV show aptly called, The Apprentice. His rise from newcomer in the race to clear front-runner was nothing short of meteoric. Barely two months into the race, Trump had shot passed all others to become the front-runner and in the process began to raise the curtain in this new theatre of the absurd.
So much has been written on this Republican primary campaign I will not even try to recount or review it here. The past few months have been dominated largely by Trump holding onto [for the most part] the #1 spot in the race. His belligerent positions on so many issues combined with his unrepentant stance, while causing many to ridicule or condemn him, has interestingly only cemented his popularity with a particular segment of voters inside that Republican tent. His performances at the debates while largely vacuous of meaningful policies, were hits in the sense that the talk afterwards was always about him. Fuelled by attention, his voice has only gotten louder and more provocative. His potential contenders have been forced to engage with him even as he sets the tone and direction of that engagement. How can someone separate themselves from the pack and at the same time cut into Trump’s lead in the polls. Only it seems by taking to the stage in this theatre of the absurd and making claims and statements that increasingly strain the minds of reasonable common-sense people. Here are a few examples of Trumpisms and then some of his closest contenders; you judge.
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. [this really started the ball rolling so to speak barely 2 weeks into his campaign.]
The wall will go up and Mexico will start behaving.
This is more than me, this is a movement going on. People are tired of these incompetent politicians in Washington that can’t get anything done, they can’t make deals, they can’t do anything.
“I obviously am not happy about the events that happened last week in Paris, but I think it’s a positive development [my emphasis] that it suddenly has forced Americans to confront more carefully the issue of national security.”[Marco Rubio after the November 13 attacks in Paris][Rubio later tried to deny this statement and pivot it towards a refocused campaign highlighting national security issues.]
I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed[Ben Carson on the failure of Germans in general, and Jews in particular, to stop WWII and the Holocaust]
One of the reasons that you find most of their clinics[Planned Parenthood] in black neighborhoods is so that you can find a way to control that population. Ben Carson[b]ecause a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight— and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question. [Carson’s homophobic claim that gayness is a choice.]
These and many other such comments made by Trump’s fellow contenders would be truly comedic if not for the fact that they are thrust out into the mainstream of public discussion [as if they are truly worthy of serious consideration] in their ongoing efforts to out do each other and undermine, if not outflank, Trump himself. As of the first week in December, a mere two months away from the first primary on February 1, 2016 in Iowa, Trump maintains a commanding [2-1 over his nearest competitor] lead in the polls of Republican voters. Even his most recent absurd comment
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. [December 7].
while generating a deserved whirlwind of denunciations from almost all quarters and corners of the planet, has not chastened him but only garnered all the media focus and conversation onto the Donald. Labelling Trump a fascist, a danger to America, an Islamophobe, etc. will not diminish his effort to seek the nomination. Nor for that matter will it scare off those voters who already see him as the only candidate capable of delivering them on his campaign slogan of Making America Great Again.
The early take on the Trump candidacy was that it was a ‘sideshow’, bombastic entertainment at best, laughable with no chance of securing the nomination. It would in short order simply fade from the more serious enterprise of selecting a viable candidate for the Republican Party to contend for the White House in late 2016. Much to the chagrin of the party leadership and insiders, and more especially to his nearest competitors, Trump continues to roll along from what was always from the beginning one provocative statement followed by another and another. Where will it end – only Trump knows but I guarantee his sight is firmly on Iowa.
In a very recent development [December 7 ] the Huffington Post owner has made a ‘significant’ decision to move the Trump campaign coverage out of its entertainment section and into its Politics section because of the danger his rhetoric poses:
[see this link for full text of Arianna Huffington’s decision: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/a-note-on-trump_b_8744476.html?utm_hp_ref=politics]
…an ugly and dangerous force in American politics. [my emphasis]
In closing, let me reiterate my assertion that this is history repeating itself only this time as theatre of the absurd. Demagoguery must always be confronted and not by silence, but by the constant glare of reasoned criticism lest we slip once again into barbarism. Remember the words of Edmund Burke [the British MP oft-times referred to as the ‘father of conservatism’]
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.