On Thursday night I flipped back and forth between the movie, “This Is Spinal Tap” and D.T.’s speech to the RNC in Cleveland. One show was a cynical but funny drama with lots of braggadocio and self-delusion, and the other was a movie by Rob Reiner.
The mockumentary rockers in Spinal Tap, who revealed themselves to be mediocre musicians and songwriters, built a career out of swagger and pointless gestures that their fans, for reasons unknown, accepted as the real thing. The “loudest band out of the UK” thrust their hips, waggled their tongues, and head banged on stage as if they were rebels delivering the unvarnished truth about sex, drugs and rock and roll. But the theatrics were derivative, and the lyrics were nothing but inane drivel.
Trump’s performance mirrored Spinal Tap’s cliched artificiality. He squinted like Clint Eastwood in a Dirty Harry movie when making a manly point. He nodded his head to the applause and sign waving (he approved their adulation) like Mussolini at a rally. He led the crowd in a chant of “USA, USA, USA,” as our cheerleader in chief. He frequently stepped back from the podium to bask in the waves of praise and approbation he received from the crowd, and when he returned his face would squinch up at the eyes and mouth into a grotesque mask of hollow satisfaction. He looked like a porn star faking pleasure.
The speech itself was a tossed salad of wild accusations, lies, threats, contradictions, baseless assumptions and vague promises. But the underlying message was that the country and the world was in a mess and needed a savior: Donald J. Trump. He’s the Man, the Big Daddy, the John Wayne tough guy who’ll lead us through.
I fell asleep before the end of the movie, but did manage to stay awake through the commentary following the speech. I believe that David Brooks said that Trump had taken us to a dark, dark place. I agreed and was thankful that someone else thought that. I’ve sometimes felt that our existence on this planet is something of an absurd joke, a pointless exercise that always ends badly. But I’m never happy when corroborating evidence shows up that proves my worst suspicions correct.
George Carlin used to say that the world is a freak show, and that he felt no urge to fix it. He was too old to give a shit any more and was willing to sit back and watch the spectacle. The freak show has begun to go beyond the limits of the endurable. I can’t stand watching a slow motion train wreck, the onset of an epidemic of anti-science, anti-reason blindness. And if Trump gets elected I won’t be able to follow George’s example of looking at the world from a position of amused detachment. Things stop being funny when the worst possible scenario comes true.