I confess. I have overdosed a bit lately on Rachel and Chris and Steve and Joy. I even mixed a bit of Lawrence and Mika into my news cocktails. And then I had a few NPR chasers. So, like the rest of politically junkied Americans, I keep experiencing this cycle of trumpin’ stupors and hillarish hangovers. The one saving grace: there is a clear end in sight for this destructive spiral: November 9th.
The most aggravating part of the 2016 election is the constant drumbeat of false equivalencies. The media in their state of perpetual drooling cannot stop themselves from gnawing on each and every bone Trump throws them. After amplifying his message by endlessly rebroadcasting videos of his most outrageous statements, some commentators rage and emote, others joke and smirk, and they all analyze far too long in front of cameras, until they realize – wait! – we are supposed to be fair and balanced! Let’s go find something about Hillary that we can cast into doubt for an equal amount of time. So we hear about emails and Benghazi and “appearances” for the 100th or 200th time. So what if there’s no there there? – it sure doesn’t look good!
The last time I got this obsessed over an election was 8 years ago. But back then everything was different. Hope was hopeful, not desperate. Change was also grounded in ideas, not only feelings, and it had an identifiable direction. 2008 was not like this year’s bizarre and degrading spectacle with all the trappings of a reality show except for the reality part. The media was just as hysterical, but at the very least, their attention span for today’s outrage lasted beyond tomorrow’s new soundbite. Sometimes they even discussed things like policies and platforms. And then there was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to do the “turd mining”, highlight the hypocrisies and provide the entertainment while the candidates stayed fairly earnest.
I miss those two guys desperately this time around and can’t help but feel that they might have made a difference.
But it is an entirely different comedic writer I have been thinking about even more.
Most people know him from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, but I once heard him say in an interview, that “Last Chance to See” was his own personal favorite among all his works. I have to agree. And in that book, my own favorite chapter was about the Komodo “dragons” (lizards, actually). All day long I have been thinking about this election while envisioning it as a scene from that chapter: Dragon Trump devouring Goat Clinton.
The background: Adams and his co-author, biologist Mark Carwardine, traveled around the world looking for the last few specimens of animal species that were on the verge of extinction. In the Komodo dragons chapter (titled “Here Be Chickens”) they go to the island expecting a dangerous jungle adventure. Instead they are led by a guide pulling an uncooperative goat on a rope down a well-trodden path with a group of tourists. They are brought to a sort of arena and watch while the goat is slaughtered right in front of them and fed to the fat, lazy and lethargic dragons in a pen for the entertainment of the group. Douglas Adams describes the scene in the minutest and goriest of detail.
Later in the day, he reflects on the scene with a lot of remorse and self-incrimination.
I was feeling pretty raw about my own species because we presume to draw a distinction between what we call good and what we call evil. We find our images of what we call evil in things outside ourselves, in creatures that know nothing of such matters, so that we can feel revolted by them, and, by contrast, good about ourselves. And if they won’t be revolting enough of their own accord, we stoke them up with a goat. They don’t want the goat, they don’t need it. If they wanted one, they’d find it themselves. The only truly revolting thing that happens to the goat is in fact done by us.
So why didn’t we say something? Like: ‘Don’t kill the goat’!
Well, there are a number of possible reasons:
– If the goat hadn’t been killed for us it would have been killed for someone else – for the party of American tourists, for instance.
-We didn’t really realise what was going to happen till it was too late to stop it.
-The goat didn’t lead a particularly nice life, anyway. Particularly not today.
-Another dragon would probably have got it later.
– If it hadn’t been the goat the dragons would have got something else, like a deer or something.
-We were reporting the incident for this book and for the BBC. It was important that we went through the whole experience so that people would know about it in detail. That’s well worth a goat.
– We felt too polite to say, ‘Please don’t kill the goat on our account.’
-We were a bunch of lily-livered rationalising turds.
The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.
I see almost every aspect of the 2016 election and its coverage in this scene. Every rationalization of the American public and the news media coverage for why we have collectively let it come this far. I am in awe of Hillary Clinton for being willing to go through this awful process day after day for more than a year now. She is our goat.
But she is not the only one.
I have asked students to read this chapter many times over the years. One question that always generates a lot of discussion is “What does the goat symbolize?” What follows is a long litany of all the groups of people or the things that are in some way victimized in our system – the list has included everything from minimum wage workers to the rain forest, from refugees to polar bears. We know these things are going on, we see them. And then we shrug our shoulders and ask “What can be done?” We say “If I had to care about and suffer along with every single goat on this planet, I would lose my mind.” So we block out the African children working in mines and replace our cell phones with a newer model. We try not to think about oil pipelines running through Native American lands as we fill our gas tanks with lovely cheap gas. We lament on how corporate power can disappear one small independent business or farm after another and then stop at Starbucks for a latte on our way home from Walmart. With the money saved by buying the cheaper brands of coffee and chocolate, we write a check to a charity that feeds starving Ethiopians. I could go on like this for a long long LONG time.
We do all this because we, too, are goats. Donald Trump has been pointing this out to us one grouping at a time. Mexicans, undocumented immigrants, Muslims . . . all goats. Black people, people with disabilities, people with ovaries . . . goats. Moderate Republicans, military generals, attorneys general, judges, journalists not employed by FOX . . . goats! goats! and more goats!
I keep telling people that “There is no math” that gets Trump to the White House. You can’t possibly alienate such huge swaths of the electorate and still win. Then I ponder the latest swing state polls and my confidence wanes. Logic and Truth are now goats too. The dragon ate them along with Fairness and Balance.
– – – – – – – –
I listened to some election news reports while filling out my new application for an absentee ballot today. After the third such comment fell, I became aware that the reporters seemed to be doing something new. They were finally questioning their own culpability in Trump’s ascension. It caught my attention. Could it be that they were having a Douglas Adams moment? Will our tour guide journalists stop bleating for a second and recognize the ropes around their own necks? Will I one day turn on the evening news to hear something like this:
“The Republican presidential candidate said something uninformed and untruthful again today about X which is not worth repeating. So let’s turn to the Democratic candidate’s detailed policy position which has been on her website for over a year now . . .”
Okay, that’s not likely to happen. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll decide to stop feeding the lizard. Find a different path that leads away from its mouth.
Rachel, Chris, Steve, Joy, Mika . . . all of you – please don’t kill the goat.