The Death of Political Satire
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Many years ago mathematics professor and musical political satirist Tom
Lehrer demurred when asked to return to satirical songwriting and performing. His reason for refusing? Henry Kissinger having been awarded the Nobel Peace prize was the last word in political satire and that absurdity had made any further attempts unnecessary. Lehrer is now eighty nine years old and has long since retired from both stage and lecture hall; one wonders if he still feels that politics can’t get any more ridiculous.
Late night talk show hosts and stand-up comedians have been buried in raw material for their monologues and club acts for over a year now; the Trump ascendancy has been a bottomless source of raw material and they have benefited mightily from the insanity in Washington since Trump first descended on his gilded escalator to warn threaten announce his candidacy for the presidency. Every day, it seems, the American president says or does or tweets or neglects to do something that is so outrageous that one can’t help but suspect for a moment that the report is satire and not an actual piece of news. The debacle that is US politics could not have been foreseen by the most cynical and pessimistic satirist. Tom Lehrer used to say that he always followed a friend’s advice: “Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.”
Nevertheless what is actually happening in Washington staggers even a prophet’s imagination.
Donald Trump and the GOP spent years and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money investigating and desperately seeking evidence of criminal behaviour in Hillary Clinton’s handling of her official emails. Despite coming up dry, the Republicans tried to enact legislation that would refuse the former Secretary of State access to classified material as, in their view, she was too careless to be trusted with the nation’s secrets. And yet, as I write this, there is no indication that any Republican in Congress or any White House staffer sees the irony in the recent disclosures of Donald Trump’s farcical fuckups over highly classified intelligence.
As we know, it started with reports of Trump banning any journalists from attending an unprecedented meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Any journalists except Russian state media, that is. And at least one of those officials is known to be an intelligence officer. The White House said they were “tricked” into allowing Russians and their photographers free rein in the Oval Office. But the story didn’t stop there. It turns out, as more and more information leaks out of the rather porous White House, that Trump actually disclosed to the Russians some top secret material that came from the highest levels of Israeli intelligence, and that it compromised at least one undercover agent who had infiltrated ISIS, almost certainly condemning him to a very unpleasant death. How do Republicans respond to this outrage? They remind us of the fact that the President has the authority to declassify anything at any time; hence he wasn’t sharing classified material. Shades of Nixon’s view that if the president does it, it’s not illegal!
No satire, no humorous dystopian fiction, no pessimistic prophet could top what’s happening as a result of a large number of fearful white voters casting their ballots for an ignorant, racist, mentally ill billionaire. This could never have been written. Not for laughs and not as a dire warning. Nobody actually thought this could happen.
The impeachable offenses committed by Donald Trump and his loyalists are piling up; nothing like this has ever been seen before. In just the last few weeks, we have seen abuse of power, rent-seeking, influence peddling, perjury, and now treason. Of course treason has long been suspected of Trump and his campaign; further investigation will almost certainly bring those details to light. But now it’s overt, and in-your-face. And yet the Republican party line is: Get over it and move on. No situation in American history has so clearly demanded an impartial investigation than the current one, and yet Republicans steadfastly refuse even to consider a special commission, much less the special prosecutor they insisted upon when it looked like a Democratic president had been on the receiving end of an intern’s blowjob. Never has a political party worn its venality, its disdain for rule of law, its contempt for the country and its citizens, and its breathtaking hypocrisy so blatantly on its sleeve. The GOP isn’t even pretending very much anymore to believe in truth, in justice, in the constitution, or in anything other than their sworn mission to dismantle the fabric of the US government and to transfer as much wealth as possible from the majority into the endlessly greedy hands of the 2%. Their obstructionism in the face of the obvious criminality of their leadership reminds me of a bad guy running for the exit with his bag of swag and twitching furniture behind him into the way of his pursuers. They know that this assault on the nation can’t last forever; so on their way out, they’re running roughshod over social programs, environmental initiatives, education, health care, human rights legislation, and every other good thing their predecessors have done – all to finance the greatest upward redistribution of wealth the world has ever seen.
The question used to be: What will it take to shake the GOP out of their sullen refusal to uphold their oaths of office and put their country before their party? That is no longer a reasonable question, because by their inaction the Republicans have answered it. There is nothing whatsoever that Donald Trump can do that would alienate his solid base of support. He said it best when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a single voter. Except it’s not voters who will stand by him; it’s members of Congress. The GOP has such contempt for the people of the United States that they don’t even care about the 2018 midterms or even the general election in 2020. As long as they fill their pockets and offshore accounts between now and then, they will not turn against Trump. Some believe they can carry the con even further and survive a vote; others don’t care and are happy to retire in insulated wealth while the country crumbles into 3rd World chaos.
In the world of political punditry, rumours of sealed indictments by several grand juries are circulating. We now have to wait and see. If those indictments are real and if they are indictments of Donald Trump and others in the White House, there will be an unimaginable constitutional crisis; what would actually happen if federal marshals were to serve the papers on the President and slap the cuffs on him? What kind of an upheaval can we expect if justice is served and those at the very top of the food chain in US politics were to be charged and arrested for their crimes? No one knows. But we are now at a point where it has to happen and we will find out; or we can sit on the sidelines and watch the United States of America collapse under its own greed.