—New York Daily News cover page, 20 January 2016
‘WHOOPEE the Ice Queen,’ also known as Sarah Palin,
favors a Manhattan billionaire-bigot-blowhard for president—
‘reality TV’ tycoon Donald Trump. Satirists are not amused.
The Orthodoxy of Unreality
America Through the Looking Glass
‘We don’t need no stinkin’ facts’
NEW YORK, near America
On the first honestly cold winter’s day of the year, my friends Pam Trelstad and Frank Esser came visiting from the charming university town of Cedar Falls, Iowa. They had some pleasant business to conduct in New York, with the added bonus of escaping greasy hordes of politicians campaigning back home in advance of the February 1st Iowa caucuses, the nation’s first preliminary rumble en route to November’s general election for president of the United States. Besides politicians, the Iowa festivities attract hordes of semi-attractive newspaper folks and their semi-journalistic brethren—television personalities with hair helmets, phosphorescent teeth, and jabbering broadcasts about the dubious significance of a regional popularity contest.
Schlepping forth from their midtown hotel with two fine bottles of wine, Frank and Pam arrived at Chez Adcock on Monday evening the 18th of January. My wife, Kim Sykes, served up a splendid dinner of poached salmon, roasted redskin potatoes, vegetable mélange, and a fresh-baked blueberry tart. Frank served up a table question for un discours drôle:
What will cause the eventual end to American empire?
My answer: Widespread belief that what is viewed on television is real.
Affirmation came the following evening, madly and sadly via live programming on the great black mirror of American life, the television screen. The nation watched as Sarah met Donald at center stage of a campaign spectacle in Ames, Iowa. There was She—right-wing nincompoop from Alaska who quit elective politics for fame and fortune in the oxymoronic industry of “reality TV.” And there was He—established reality TV tycoon from Manhattan, real estate mogul, self-referential blowhard, and unabashed bigot. Together at last, these two have established a new low-water mark in U.S. election history.
For it has come to this: Politician turned reality TV star endorses reality TV star turned politician, the latter with zero political experience yet heavy favorite for winning the Republican Party’s presidential nominee—and, to the horror of old-line Republican éminences grises, of the White House itself. Thus, a polity subsumed by the ludicrous personages of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. Neither is notable for erudition or factual rhetoric—or even coherency in the case of “Whoopee the Ice Queen,” as Alaskans call their screechily hyper-kinetic ex-governor. To paraphrase a Palinesque line from a rogue character in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film—“Facts? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!”
Vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 2008 and a contender for the top spot herself in 2012, Ms. Palin now co-stars in the theatre of vulgarian hubris that is Mr. Trump’s once inconceivable campaign for White House tenancy. Never mind what the punditocracy has claimed since June—Trump, feh!…He’s just running his mouth, he’ll never actually throw his hat in the ring…The Republican establishment won’t allow it…He simply can’t win in Iowa, the people are too nice…President Trump?…Preposterous!
In this department of CulturMag, I have expressed alarm at the resistible rise of American fascism in the person of Donald Trump; until recently, I have been journalistically alone—at home and abroad. Recently, the news magazine Der Spiegel, the German equivalent to Time magazine here in the U.S., has taken note with a cover story describing Mr. Trump’s vituperative campaign as wahnsinn, or madness. Prior to Der Spiegel’s awakening, Mr. Trump bashed Time in December for placing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on its cover as its 2015 “Person of the Year.” Tweeted an irked Mr. Trump: “I told you [Time] would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite (sic) They picked person (sic) who is ruining Germany.”
AND THE ‘GODLY’ WINNER IS…
Ted Cruz! (at left), with papa Rafael Cruz & bearded homophobe Phil Robertson
Victory in Iowa went not to “The Donald,” but to his chief Republican rival—Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz, a first-term U.S. senator from Texas roundly despised by his colleagues in Congress. The senator trumped Mr. Trump by four points, a mini-transcendence thanks to the influence of two right-wing homophobic Christianist video troupers—Ted’s very own TV pastor papa, the Reverend Rafael Bienvinido Cruz of the Purifying Fire Ministries; and Phil Robertson, paterfamilias of a Lousiana redneck clan that forms the cast of America’s most popular reality TV show, “Duck Dynasty.”
While in Iowa on January 13 to stump for candidate Cruz, Mr. Robertson extolled the senator as a “godly man” who “fits the bill” as an ideal American president. Which the unkempt reality TV star described as a man who can “kill a duck and put him in a pot and make him a good duck gumbo.”
At one Iowa campaign stop, Mr. Robertson said of himself, “A fellow like me looks at the landscape and sees the depravity, the perversion—redefining marriage is not between a man and a woman? (sic) Come on, Iowa! It’s nonsense. It is evil. It’s wicked. It’s sinful. …We have to rid the earth of [homosexuals]. Get them out…Ted Cruz loves God.”
In response, Mr. Cruz told the crowd: “How about Phil Robertson? What an extraordinary human being. I mean, listen—God makes every one of us unique, but some are uniquer (sic) than others. What a voice Phil has to speak out for the love of Jesus. What a joyful, cheerful, unapologetic voice of truth Phil Robertson is.”
Elsewhere on the Iowa campaign trail, the Rev. Rafael Cruz expanded beyond his usual homophobic sermons to a bit of old-time religion. “The tentacles of communism,” Cruz père revealed, “have been infiltrated all across this land.”
Cruz fils aside, the major U.S. opinion polls have The Donald leading his intramural rivals for the Republican nomination by a country mile. When party panjandrums assemble for their quadrennial nominating convention in Cleveland, seven months hence, it is quite possible that Mr. Trump will be anointed to go forth unto battle for the White House—against whomever the Democratic Party names as its man (Senator Bernie Sanders) or woman (ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
—NOTE: Ms. Clinton was pronounced “winner” of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, by an underwhelming 0.4 percent. Next up on the preliminary calendar is the oxymoronic primary election in New Hampshire, where Mr. Sanders is projected to win by a thumping plurality.
Meanwhile, Messrs. Trump and Cruz continue apace in stoking nativist fears, economic anxiety, blatant racism, homophobia, misogyny, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee hostility—ugliness that is obligingly echoed by their co-religionists, and dutifully chronicled by corporate media. Such ingredients are diversionary tools useful to a swinish élite with snouts firmly in the money mash. American apostates are left embarrassed by one-half the country’s political establishment, namely the Republican Party, in thrall to wealthy TV buffoons the likes of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Phil Robertson, and the Rev. Rafael.
Trumpalinism, if you will, is the disturbing Zeitgeist. It has given rise to a societal malady I would call the Orthodoxy of Unreality.
My fellow Americans, we have gone through the looking glass, per the eponymous satire of Lewis Carroll, né Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). We have tumbled down into the rabbit hole of absurdity, where empires invariably go to die. Contemporary satirists are not amused.
What may we say of a culture dominated by the alluring glow of light emitting diodes, a culture in which every TV network in the land deemed Sarah Palin worthy of live coverage on the evening of January 19th for all twenty bizarre minutes of her alphabet soup speech in the cause of Donald Trump? Try untangling these excerpts from the recorded transcript:
- “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, O.K.?”
- “You are just going to get beat up, and chewed up, and spit out. You know, I’m thinking, And? You know, like you guys haven’t tried to do that every day since that night in ’08, when I was on the stage nominated for VP, and I got to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go, send me, you betcha. I’ll serve.’ And, like you all, I’m still standing.”
- “We, you, a diverse, dynamic, needed support base that they would attack. And now, some of them even whispering, they’re ready to throw in for Hillary over Trump because they can’t afford to see the status quo go; otherwise, they won’t be able to be slurpin’ off the gravy train…Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now what they’re doin’ is wailin’, ‘Well, Trump and his, uh uh uh Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’ Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservatism?”
- “[Y]ou only go to war if you’re determined to win the war. And you quit footin’ the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re payin’ for some of their squirmishes (sic) that have been goin’ on for centuries. Where they’re fightin’ each other and yellin’ ‘Allah Akbar’ (sic) callin’ Jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let ‘em duke it out and let Allah sort it out.”
Goodness, gracious indeed. Can this woman who proclaims herself “Mama Grizzly” be real? Or is she the matriarch character in a TV soap opera? Squirmishes?
As she delivered her speech, so to speak, Mama Grizzly’s 26-year-old boy cub, the oddly named Track, was back home in an Alaska in a jail cell. There, he awaited arraignment on criminal charges of beating up a girlfriend found hiding under a bed in the Palin family manse at Wasilla; police said she trembled in fear for her life as her drunken, cursing swain stumbled around with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. Meanwhile, Mama’s elder girl cub, the oddly named Bristol—recently relieved of her job as spokeswoman for a nonprofit Christianist organization advocating sexual abstinence until marriage—was nursing the second of her two babies born out of wedlock, sired by separate fathers. Or perhaps she was plotting a successor video venture to her flop reality TV show, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” about her she and her oddly named first-born lad. And undoubtedly, the oddly named younger girl cub Willow was busy with her Instragram account, which she uses for transmitting slurs against gay men.
Earlier, in October, the whole Palin tribe participated in a lawn party mêlée that Anchorage authorities said was high-volume and alcohol-fueled. According to police reports, a drunken Track came to the rescue of drunken sister Willow after a drunken non-family celebrant called her a “cunt.” Thence did Track engage his party host in fisticuffs, assisted by drunken sister Bristol and Papa Grizzly Todd Palin, a monosyllabic snowmobile racer. Meanwhile, Mama stood aside the sparkling white limousine she’d hired for the day—courtesy of flash money from her reality TV show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”—and shrieked to all within earshot, “Do you know who we are?”
Following Whoopee the Ice Queen’s argle-bargle oratory, candidate Trump told reporters he was “proud” to have her seal of approval because “Sarah is a friend, and a high-quality person whom I have great respect for. Great family!” Further, he said he would “love” to appoint Ms. Palin to a major post in his administration.
Prior to all that, Mr. Trump was blessed by a dead man—the swaggering Hollywood actor John Wayne (1907-1979), né Marion Morrison of Winterset, Iowa, celluloid hero of shoot-em-up cowboy movies and manly combat films, and pitchman for Camel cigarettes and Ronald Reagan (1911-2014). Mr. Wayne’s daughter, Aissa, delivered campaign blessings from beyond the grave—accompanied for the occasion by a life-size wax figure of her mythological father. Just as The Donald dodged the army draft in the Vietnam War era, John Wayne wimped out of military service in World War II.
Trumpalinism is by no means the only tenet composing the Orthodoxy of Unreality. For instance, we Americans have become inured to personal income disparity unseen since the Gilded Age. We are numb to rampant religious fraud, unpunished Wall Street shenanigans, corporate ownership of the political class, the disease of gun violence—and, of course, stupidity, which my actor/painter friend Lucy Avery Brooke sees as “the commonest of sins.” Following are a (very) few examples of received normalcy:
- Jamie Dimon, chief executive of the giant Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase & Company, was given a 35 percent pay raise last year—amounting to a compensation package totaling $27 million (€25 million), according to mandatory filings with the federal Securities Exchange Commission. Three subordinate honchos were likewise rewarded: pay bumps of $1.5 million on top of $17 million for both Matthew Zames and Daniel Pint, bring their annual totals to $18.5 million (€17.13 million); and a cool million dollar boost to $11 million (€10.19 million) for Marianne Lake. Mr. Dimon and his three underlings were responsible for JP Morgan’s substantial rôle in the Great Recession of 2008, a Wall Street-induced economic disaster that would have destroyed the U.S. and world economies if not for a Washington bailout; JP Morgan’s share of emergency corporate welfare was $12 billion (€11.11 billion).
- During her 2001 congressional confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton promised to take “extraordinary steps…to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest” regarding her positions as foreign minister and senior confidante to President Barack Obama. Shortly thereafter, according to a survey by the Wall Street Journal newspaper, her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, was paid a total of $8 million (€7.4 million) in speaking fees by twenty-two corporations and non-government organizations that promptly filed business pleadings with his wife’s State Department. Fifteen of the twenty-two paid as much as $15 million (€13.9 million) to the New York-based Clinton Foundation. Together, Bill and Hillary Clinton have earned in excess of $125 million (€115.8 million) in speaking fees since leaving the White House in 2001, according to the New York Times; the bulk of this largesse from Wall Street. Now as the slightly leading Democratic candidate for president, Ms. Clinton’s standard one-hour speaking fee is $275,000 (€256,000); by comparison, the median American annual income is $59,000 (€54,600). Ms. Clinton refuses to provide reporters with transcripts of pricey speeches commissioned by Wall Street. (Daughter Chelsea has taken up the Clinton family trade. She was formerly employed by a Wall Street hedge fund. Now on the lecture circuit, she collects honoraria at $65,000 a pop (€59,670).
- Michael LeRoy Bickle, pastor of a Kansas City-based militant Christianist TV show, is the most prominent evangelical supporter of Senator Cruz, who says he is “grateful to have [Mr. Bickle’s] prayer and support…[to help] fight the good fight.” Pastor Bickle especially battles homosexuality—in the belief that it “opens the door to the demonic realm”—and TV chat show queen Oprah Winfrey as “harbinger of the antichrist.”
- As America’s once great middle class has withered over the past four decades—the combined low-income and high-income population now exceeds middle-class earners, according to a Pew Research Center report—New York Times coverage of shmata for people with too much time and money has increased exponentially. Molly Young, a fashion writer, recently reported on her discovery of a new Madison Avenue boutique: “I pulled out an obsidian polyester-silk dress—$3,370 (€3,120)—that was lurking in men’s wear. Raw-edged and sleeveless, it iridesced like a beautiful oil slick. ‘Is this…?’ I asked the salesman. ‘A men’s dress, technically,’ he said, ‘but we don’t privilege one gender over the other. Both sexes can wear it. It’s all about duality.’ I tried it on. The dress was sheer and threw the barest watery scrim over my various parts. It was like swimming naked the ocean at night. What a look!”
- On January 26, a Tennessee couple left their four children in a car with a loaded gun; boys will be playful boys; their 8-year-old fatally shot their 7-year-old. In mid November, a middle-aged Michigan woman active in the Christian Motorcycle Association and Republican politics accidentally shot herself to death with a .22 caliber pistol as she attempted to adjust the brassiere holster where she kept it; local police said Christina Bond was “looking down at her bra” when the gun went off and struck her in the eye. On the lighter side, a clumsy gunslinger licensed to hide pistols and revolvers in his clothing had a painful experience on January 22 at the Davis Street Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Writing for the church Facebook page, student pastor Dustin Barrett explained: “As you may have already know (sic), one of our concealed license handgun carriers accidentally discharged his gun last night in our Family Life Center. The bullet pierced his foot and nothing else. …Thankfully, no one else was injured. Monty Tipps will be addressing safety concerns with our security team on Sunday morning after the service.” In Texas, there are nearly one million such secretive gunslingers. Amen.
- In early January, a gang of heavily-armed martyrs in search of a cause commandeered a deserted federal bird sanctuary in the Pacific Coast state of Oregon. Demand number one from gang chief Ammon Bundy—dubbed “Captain Jackass” by residents of rural Harney County—was that civilians pony up a prescribed list of supplies that included French vanilla coffee creamer and unspecified “snacks.” Among Mr. Bundy’s force of thirty or so louts—men with more tattoos than teeth who professed hatred of all things governmental—was one LaVoy Finicum, self-described “father” to eleven foster children the government pays him to shelter when Captain Jackass doesn’t sound the bugle; Mr. Finicum acknowledged that government-paid foster care was his sole source of income. On January 26, the Bundy gang’s adventure sputtered to an end during a brief exchange of gunfire with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Captain Jackass was arrested, his brother Ryan Bundy was wounded, and Mr. Finicum was shot dead. Remaining louts were arrested by the FBI and locked up in a federal prison awaiting trial; because none could afford private counsel, they were assigned government-paid defense lawyers.
My fellow Americans, please recognize that the world beyond our borders looks upon all the foregoing (and so much more) in utter disbelief. Reality is a created condition. So, too, is unreality.
Donald Trump is an accomplished sideshow barker in the grand carnival that corporate media and endless presidential campaigning have become; arguably, the “reality TV show” that both lucrative industries have become.
He calls Mexican-Americans “murderers” and “rapists,” women detractors “fat pigs,” and African Americans “lazy.” He dismissed the second of his three wives as having “great tits, no brains.” A Presbyterian, Mr. Trump rarely attends Sabbath services and publicly states that he has never had reason to ask God for forgiveness. He advocates a restrictive anti-Muslim immigration policy, complemented by a federal registry of Muslims already arrived, and touts Jews as cunning negotiators. He admires President Vladimir Putin as “a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” despite the Russian president’s occasional executions of pesky journalists and former KGB cronies who discuss his dalliances with comely little boys.
All the spittle that drools from The Donald’s pouty lips is breathlessly chronicled because he “gives good quote,” as it’s said. Which amounts to one-half the American media game. Good quote—the more outlandish the better, especially in an election year—sells papers and attracts eyeballs to TV screens. In return, Mr. Trump gets a collective free pass in the area of ignominious family background. Which is why the following is seldom cited:
Mr. Trump’s immigrant grandfather was the pimp Friedrich Drumpf (1869-1918) from Kallstadt, Palatinate. When he attempted repatriation, German authorities accused Herr Drumpf of tax fraud and deported him back to the U.S. The Donald’s father was Frederick Christ Trump (1905-1999), he who Anglicized his name and founded the family’s New York-based real estate enterprise, thanks to his inheriting a fortune in pimp revenues.
In the early 1970s, Daddy Trump was sued by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for race-based discrimination in apartment rentals. The case was settled with no admission of Trumpian guilt; court-ordered leasing policy was amenable to prospective tenants of dark complexion.
Three years later, the government had reason to re-litigate, resulting in a similar settlement at the federal level in tandem with oversight by New York City’s Human Rights Commission. As a younger man, Daddy Fred was placed under arrest during a massive brawl between Ku Klux Klansmen and police officers during a 1927 parade in Manhattan. The Donald frequently credits his father as a moral compass.
The legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was briefly a tenant in a whites-only Trump development in Brooklyn called Beach Haven. He vacated his apartment in 1952, in disgust, leaving behind a song titled “Old Man Trump,” with the refrain:
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just cain’t pay this rent.
My money’s down the drain
and my soul is badly bent.
Beach Haven looks like Heaven,
where no black ones come to roam.
No, no, no! Old man Trump,
old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
The Donald ascended to the Republican pantheon seven years ago when he launched the “birther movement,” shorthand for the fevered fantasy that President Obama is an alien. Mr. Trump claimed to have hired a squadron of private detectives to snoop into the early life of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential candidate with a name that sounded suspiciously “foreign.” According to Mr. Trump’s insinuations—based on what he termed the “shocking” findings of his snoops—Barack Hussein Obama’s American birth certificate is a counterfeit. Instead, posits Mr. Trump, the president was born in Kenya. Further, Mr. Obama’s diplomas from two prestigious Ivy League schools—Columbia University and Harvard Law School—are obvious forgeries, based on what Mr. Trump represents as evidence: “Nobody knew him there.”
Actually, quite a number of Mr. Obama’s contemporaries at Columbia and Harvard proudly referenced friendships with the future president, supported by photographs and scholastic documentation. Names of the Trump detectives, on the other hand, are unrevealed to this day; ditto their “shocking” discoveries.
While Mr. Trump’s allegations are demonstrably false, the skeletons in his family closet are entirely true, documented, and relevant. The Donald has chosen to live in a “reality” devoid of objective fact; so, too, his mama grizzly cheerleader. Theirs is the world of unreality, in which America is invited—more accurately, enjoined—to share the faith.
We don’t need no stinkin’ facts.
Mr. Trump and Ms. Palin are “reality TV” performers, on and off the small screen. We are fascinated by their antics; we cannot not pay attention to them. Which is the whole point of control by a swinish élite with snouts firmly in the money mash: a constant state of unreality is camouflage for the real American disgraces. Among these: crime in the suites of Wall Street, corporate control of government, racial and religious bigotry, economic injustice, the ubiquity of guns and godsters.
The Donald closed out the month of January with a boast about the true-believing ethos of his gullible electoral base, those millions of congregants invested in the Orthodoxy of Unreality. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” said Mr. Trump, “and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
For once, he spoke the facts.
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag