Back in 2008, there was a Simpsons episode called “E Pluribus Wiggum” that poked fun at the presidential primaries. In the episode, Springfield pushed up its primaries before New Hampshire so the candidates in both parties and the press descended onto the town. Disillusioned by the phoniness and cynicism of the presidential candidates, the citizens of Springfield elected a write-in candidate, Chief Wiggum’s eight-year-old son Ralph, as a mass protest vote. In response, both the Democratic and Republican parties badgered Ralph in order to convince him to run for president in their party.
The absurdity of the situation is obvious, right? Both of America’s major political parties seeking to pick not just a second grader, but this second grader as their presidential candidate is obviously ridiculous to everyone, right?
I have to pose this as a question because it feels like a lot of what would have been considered over-the-top absurd sitcommy scenarios back when The Simpsons was at its peak are now within the realm of reality if not already reality.
Who remembers The Boondocks episode “Return of the King”? Remember the way that episode ended?
This was supposed to be a joke.
Let’s go back to the 2008 election. The United States witnessed the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. Through all the subtle and unsubtle racist and xenophobic digs taken at Barack Obama throughout his campaign, he endured it all to secure a decisive victory over his Republican opponent John McCain.
The Republican Party was quite shaken by the loss they suffered that year. After spending the next couple of months recollecting themselves one of their first responses to Obama’s victory was to elect this man as the head of the Republican National Committee.
Remember Michael Steele? Obama’s ascendancy to president signaled to Republicans what Americans really wanted. An end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? The closing of Guantanamo Bay? A more fair and less costly healthcare system? Punishment towards the banks and Wall Street speculators that destroyed the economy to line their own pockets? Nope, a “jive” talking black man in a high position of power!
Surprisingly, this decision soon blew up in their face.
The Democratic Party similarly came away from the 2016 election shaken and distraught, so sure that their presidential candidate was a shoo-in into office and horrified that she lost to a crass carnival barker of a reality TV star with no political experience. And after months of supposed introspection of what went wrong for them, they think the answer to Donald Trump is their own billionaire TV star? If not Oprah Winfrey, they think rallying behind Mark Zuckerberg, Bob Iger, Mark Cuban, or Tom Hanks as Trump’s opponent in 2020 is any less moronic? Even if none of them actually go for this, the fact that this is being floated out there is damning enough.
Shenanigans like this are not actual responses to the legitimate antipathy millions of American citizens have towards the Democratic Party. Electing Michael Steele as head of the RNC was not an actual response to the legitimate antipathy millions of American citizens had towards the Republican Party. This is nothing more than marketing at its most tawdry and cynical. As cynical as a billionaire elitist from Manhattan successfully marketing himself as the champion of the common man. And as cynical as this #Resistance marketing itself as this elitist’s opponent.
I have little reason to believe that this so-called “Resistance” against Trump in Democratic party circles is nothing more than just a way to take advantage of Trump’s unpopularity to rally support for the same ineffectual politics that left so many voters and non-voters angry and disillusioned at the end Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s second terms. They’re already making this clear in their praise of monsters like John McCain and George W. Bush just because they’ve been critical of some of Trump’s policies. This economically privileged top-down “Resistance” just wants to put back in power the same Democratic elites that will continue to prioritize high-stakes standardized testing, the closure of public schools, perpetual war, offer little more than lip service to black, Latino, and Native American victims of police brutality, and ignore all of the impoverished working class neighborhoods they’re not interested in gentrifying. I don’t even believe that they’re an equal counterbalance to the white nationalist faction of Trump’s administration because a lot of them will turn into that dog from Up if you speak eloquently enough.
By the way, your favorite liberal comedic talk show hosts aren’t going to save us either. The economic interests of those comedians and the major corporations they work for more aligned with the people in Trump’s administration than with the majority of their fans. They’ll be comfortable doing nothing more than writing jokes for eight years about how stupid and backwards everybody who doesn’t vote Democrat is. The companies they work for didn’t hire them for anything more than that. If they do use their platform for a bigger statement, they’ll either go the Bill Maher route i.e. devolve into someone who, to quote a hilarious comment I saw on YouTube, will start voting Republican once weed gets legalized or go the Jon Stewart route i.e. gather millions of your fans for a big Kid Rock concert that champions a centrist apathy because the discourse is much more peaceful that way.
Plenty of people have compared our political culture to the Mike Judge film Idiocracy. As of late, I think this movie is more of an apt comparison.
For anybody that hasn’t seen it, Natural Born Killers is a film about how a serial killer couple played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis is elevated and glamorized in the media. This film was director Oliver Stone’s angry satire admonishing the sensationalism, vapidity, and willful amorality of American culture in the 1990s. I watched it several years ago and I really liked it. I thought it was brilliant and hit the nail on the head (by the end of the film, I was more disturbed by Robert Downey Jr.’s character than I was by the literal serial killers). With that said, this film was extremely uncomfortable to stomach and by the time I finished it I never wanted to sit through something like this again.
But what has been going on with our politics as of late has made me want to rewatch this movie. A film like this seems more cathartic to me these days than disturbing. Hell, our mass media isn’t glamorizing serial killers but they are currently glamorizing neo-Nazis. The dog-and-pony show our major political parties are trying to sell us may not get innocent people shot in the head (unless you’re a soldier or innocent civilian caught in the crossfire of one of our perpetual wars), but it’s going to lead to scores of dead bodies in the wake nonetheless.