Send in the Clowns

The circus was actually under a tent when I was a kid. It featured wild animals jumping through fiery hoops, high-wire acrobats a hundred feet or more in the air, and of course the clown car. I loved watching a dozen or so people emerge from a small red coupe, and the crowd roared in delight.

You know where this is going, right? In the Select Committee hearings the Trump lackeys are bailing out, repudiating for the world the Big Lie they all formerly endorsed, emerging en masse from Trump’s red coupe. How they all could manage to fit in that car, with such doubts about their boss’s sanity, is the mystery. Yet finally it is no mystery that they are trying to save their skins.

Like so much of what passes for politics now, I find this full of comic overtones—like something Kafka could have written. Our late-night comedians have big problems getting laughs from Trumpian politics. So many clowns have jumped out of the car that the gag just isn’t funny anymore. “But there is also a sense, as the president talks openly about defying the results of the election, that satire has not accomplished what its champions believed it could. Even the professionals seem disillusioned.”

Satire works best as a dark form of irony that makes its object look ridiculous. The audience must be in on the joke, or the attempt falls flat. One can cite Jonathan Swift, as I did regarding guns, and most people either don’t know who Swift was or they find the comparison bogus. Such are the perils of irony. If you mock Trump with humor you’re up against some sixty percent of Republicans who continue to believe the Big Lie.

But I still like the metaphor of the circus. For those who pay any attention to it, politics has become entertainment for the masses. The media could not survive without it. The poet Juvenal said this in Roman times: “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.” Are the Select Committee hearings merely a distraction or a diversion for most people? They aren’t “blood sport” for most people, as in ancient Rome, though they might lead to that.

Folks like Rudy Giuliani can also be expected to provide comic relief, as when the old drunk urged Trump to contest the results on election night. Or the wonderful press conference he hosted at the Four Seasons Landscaping Service. John Eastman, chief clown to the president, kept pushing for a plan to kick the election back to the states, even while he acknowledged its illegality.

For many, the very gravity of the hearings indicates that real dangers are lurking. So do the words of the witnesses. Yet a strong sense of artificiality often pervades. We hope the acrobats don’t slip and fall, even as we expect that they might. That tension is part of the circus appeal. Here we hope the clowns will go to jail though we know they may not.

A Modest Proposal for the Gun Predicament

Some of you may remember Jonathan Swift’s grand satire on how to deal with the Irish potato famine. He proposed selling babies of the starving poor as food for the greedy rich. Present-day Republicans have gone Swift one better, allowing children to be killed so they can have their guns. And they do this with none of Swift’s irony.

As one of a few who realize how far gone we are, Michelle Goldberg writes:

Guns are now the leading cause of death for American children. Many conservatives consider this a price worth paying for their version of freedom. Our institutions give these conservatives disproportionate power whether or not they win elections. The filibuster renders the Senate largely impotent.

Others express “an overwhelming sentiment” too that nothing is going to change. McConnell’s proposal to look for compromise with the Democrats is just smoke that will dissipate in testy negotiations. Far-right Republicans have proven they prefer violence over compromise. Goldberg  again:

the more America is besieged by senseless violence, the more the paramilitary wing of the American right is strengthened. Gun sales tend to rise after mass shootings. Republicans responded to the massacre in Uvalde by doubling down on calls to arm teachers and “harden” schools.

The history of gun control attempts in this country is a pathetic tale of one failed attempt after another. When I worked in Washington, I recall meeting with the people who worked so hard to get the Brady Bill passed. It did pass in 1994 and the NRA mobilized to kill it four years later. Despite the carnage in Uvalde and Buffalo, I can’t imagine any serious gun control legislation making it through Congress.

Efforts by Republicans in Congress have a long history of universally shooting down every legislative attempt to attack the problem. Every sensible person knows this, yet even now they talk about fig-leaf proposals that cannot properly address the problem. Background checks and red flags will never begin to eliminate the deep culture of gun violence in the U.S. The sorry history of all this is well documented here, and the Supreme Court has long thrown up major impediments and will continue to do so.

And yet, as many of you know, most Americans want very much to “do something” about gun violence—now more than ever. But Republicans are overwhelmingly captive to their conservative, mostly rural, constituents who could conceivably vote them out of office for waffling on guns. Toadies like John Barrasso of Wyoming say things like, “We don’t want to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

So the many people like him, who have been obstructionists to gun reform for as long as I can remember, are the problem. And they will never vote to reform the filibuster, which keeps their minority in power.

So my modest proposal is: just throw the Republicans out. Vote them all out. What else is there to do? They will not change their goal of holding up any and all attempts at gun control, and they have proven that you’ll get no realistic gun reforms while they hold the legislature at bay.

To accomplish this and win back at least the Senate, Democrats will have to make gun reform the absolute centerpiece of their campaigns in the midterms and beyond. Joe Biden and others with any clout will have to speak out in every kind of forum and at every opportunity. For once, they will have to get nasty and loud, and stop playing games of reconciliation with the enemy.

Who knows if this long-shot strategy would work? There is no more real collegiality left anyway. Maybe the voters would finally appreciate some straight talk about how one corrupt party would sacrifice their kids for more guns.