Isn't he rich? / Can that be his hair? / He got public-minded this late in his career
So where is the clown? / Quick, swear in the clown / Don't bother / He's here...
Many have been arguing that the media did not rise to the challenge posed by Donald Trump’s candidacy, allowing his offensive and mendacious behavior to go largely unchallenged. Oddly, those making this argument are usually themselves in the media, but they generally exclude themselves from the criticism.
Regardless, it’s hard to argue with this summary of our current plight:
The problem here is that for a variety of reasons—some commercial, others cultural—the media is not up to its task. In the first place, there is the most obvious critique: the media is owned by international corporate conglomerates whose interest frequently conflict with those of the larger public. Equally troubling are a series of more subtle barriers to honest communication, such as the role of journalistic “objectivity”. Almost everyone seems to agree that objective reporting is something to which journalists should aspire. Yet the rules of objective reporting often prevent the media from providing exactly the kinds of contextual information that would allow a reader to understand what is truly going on. This not only impedes our ability to judge a story’s significance but it also gives politicians enormous latitude with the truth. Much of even the most conscientious objective journalism consists simply of the “misstatements” that politicians would prefer their constituents to believe.
The media is not wholly to blame, but it certainly contributes:
Our economy, our security, and most particularly our democracy are imperiled by the decrepit state of our national political discourse. We lack the ability, as a nation, to conduct a simple, sensible, and civil conversation about the choices we face. Unless we diagnose the disease and begin to treat it, the sick state of the American body politic will certainly worsen. The net result will be not only the amplification of what George Will calls the “tawdry ferocity” of American debate but the increasing paralysis of our political system in the face of what is certainly the most daunting set of challenges America has faced since we slept through the birth of fascism… A community that lacks the means to detect lies, Walter Lippmann once noted, also lacks the means to preserve its own liberty.
What "daunting set of challenges" do we face?
America is a nation undergoing an unacknowledged but wrenching transition. We have lost our role as the world’s engine of economic growth and guarantor of financial stability, and replaced it with empty boasts of power…but nothing resembling a coherent vision of America’s role in a troubled world. Our inability to put our financial house in order, to train and educate our workers, to protect our environment, and to provide for our children reveals an unspoken crisis of confidence beneath the surface of American public life. Our economic prosperity and environmental security are withering under sustained attack, and our leadership—guided and tutored by the punditocracy’s anachronistic ideology—has abdicated its responsibility even to think about, much less provide for, the common good. The result of this malign neglect has been the slow degradation of the economic, social, and political foundation for the sustenance of the American Dream.
Clearly, the need for action is urgent:
These problems derive from a common foundation: the deadly combination of right-wing belligerence and intellectual irrelevance that dominates our political discourse. “Ignorance is correctable,” notes the social critic Neil Postman, “but what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?” By allowing the punditocracy to determine the content of its political dialogue, the American political system has committed itself to a path that all but guarantees the acceleration of the destructive pathologies that threaten our common future.
This is undeniably where we find ourselves on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and Eric Alterman, author of the above passages, deserves full credit for his succinct assessment.
The thing is, the above passages are taken from Alterman’s book SOUND AND FURY, which was published in, um, 1992—before the election of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump.
You can say that Alterman was prescient and that “the sick state of the American body politic” has indeed worsened over the past twenty-five years; but you could also say plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
I am not recommending complacency in the face of threats to our democracy from the incoming President. I am merely cautioning against overreaction. Trump may represent an unprecedented threat; but on the other hand he’s merely the latest in a series of unprecedented threats.
It will do us no good to panic, fume, or fulminate. Since it became clear a year or so ago that Donald Trump’s candidacy, against all odds, had a chance of succeeding, I have believed that there is only one weapon which can be effective against him, and that weapon is laughter: Donald Trump cannot take being laughed at. Laughter, scorn, ridicule, and derision directed his way will reveal our new emperor’s nakedness faster than anything else; besides which, laughter is well known for its medicinal qualities, and I have the feeling that having Donald Trump in the White House is going to make an awful lot of us sick.
So my plea to the media covering President Donald Trump is this: for the love of god, laugh at this man. Laugh right in his face. Laugh at his stupidity. Laugh at his hypocrisy. Laugh at his inflated ego, his pretentiousness, and his bad taste. Laugh at his lies, which are legion. Laugh during his inaugural address. Laugh every time he opens his mouth, every time he shows his face in public.
The man is a clown. He deserves no respect: clowns are for laughing at. If you show up at the presidential inauguration on Friday, bring along a classic "laff box," a set of chattering teeth, and have yourself a hilarious time. Let laughter ring out over America, from sea to shining sea, as we swear in a clown.