A Reluctant Astronaut

A Reluctant Astronaut

Howard Dean…Howard Dean. Oh, I know! Didn’t he play Andy Griffith’s kid in that Mayberry show way back when? You know, the one with the small-town sheriff, his bug-eyed deputy, and that harrowing barber who never moved his left arm? The show had a whistled theme song, and as you listened every week you’d watch scenes depicting small town life, the sheriff and his kid walking by some pine trees with fishing poles, then the kid skipping a rock across a country pond in a badly edited instance of “This Spoiled Hollywood Brat Can’t Even Skip his own Rock Across a Pond.”

No, wait. I’m thinking of Ron Howard, who went from Andy Griffith to Happy Days to Explosive Onset Pattern Baldness and thence to great success as a Hollywood Director. (Once you have the bald pate and shame-covering cause célèbre baseball cap, you’re just a hop and a skip away from those movie-set headphones and the director’s chair). Howard Dean was the 2004 presidential candidate whose disastrous, un-presidential troop-rallying yell at a political gathering utterly derailed his Presidential chances. What on Earth was he thinking, yelling like that on t.v.?! LOL. And I repeat: LOL! Dean’s poor showing in the Iowa caucuses that election season had inspired him to a post-Iowa attempt at inspiration-speak, and he let fly with a brief “forward march” monologue that concluded with a ragged little victory yell. It was the sort of pitiable yell someone’s dad might bark out in an attempt to appear simpatico with the young concertgoers surrounding he and his soon-to-be ostracized son in the DeadMau5 pit. Well. You know how voters can be. Or how they used to be, rather.

Your Footnote, Sir

By the next day, our blue-chip media, ever in pursuit of Cereal-Selling, were all over Dean with that drily-delivered smarm they hustle out on these occasions. Of course our highly conditioned B.F. Skinner electorate obediently walked its blank figure eight, right on command—followed the media’s signal as certain goldfish will follow a moving flame held near their entrapping little bowl. Within several days, Dean’s televised battle cry had been successfully blown up as a Disastrous Media Gaffe, and the “rinse and repeat” news cycle kept the phony controversy alive until Dean had been thoroughly drubbed out of the race.

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this shit’ll get you fired around here

We like our Presidential candidates to be…Presidential? Anything less and there’s gonna be a dogpile. And that is why the little-known name “Howard Dean” today comes with a footnote. Yeah, he…ran for President, I guess? Oh wait! But how’s about that funny yell, man? Oh gawd. The Dean Scream? LOL!!!

Fortunately, it takes quite a bit more to discomfit We the Weebles these days. We are a rough-and-tumble electorate now. A candidate happily hollering on t.v.? It’ll take more than that to give us pause. A helluva lot more. At this historical juncture it is unclear what exactly will give us pause. Back in January, then-candidate Trump said this: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And he said it in Iowa. We didn’t even tap the brakes.

Yeah, this most recent campaign season has been one for the ages, our current President Elect having comported himself like an elephant plowing at top speed through a carefully arranged display of Swarovski crystal. So we showed him the door. The door to the oval office. Take THAT Howard Dean. When in mid-January we look at any real-time orbital video of Earth, Real Estate Investor Donald Trump will be the most powerful human being on that large blue ball in the middle of the frame. Embrace the fact.

Chastened

At this writing, our newly anointed President-elect of the United States has emerged from the traditional pre-inauguration field trip to the White House, where he was shown around the nutty-looking mansion and (presumably) given the briefest glimpse of the bored and captive alien they keep in some sort of pen down near the Situation Room. Whatever Trump saw and heard during his private time with Obama, he seems to have been made thoughtful by the experience. And who wouldn’t be? Video of the President-Elect sitting uncomfortably in an armchair next to President Obama had the surreal gravitas of prisoner footage smuggled out of an undisclosed location.


If a candidate for the Second Cashier position at your local Home Depot had been overheard braying that adolescent shite, the jackass would have been quietly passed over for the kid with the retainer.


As a graying, relaxed-looking Obama said his stuff about his and Trump’s reportedly productive and “wide-ranging” private conversation, the unbroken squall of 60 press cameras in burst mode almost drowned out what the two guys were saying. And Trump wasn’t saying much. The seated mogul’s “I really gotta go to the bathroom” body language said a lot, though. The Donald’s manner was that of a chastened scaredy-cat; his long arms hung forward, his dimpled hands variously clasped and drooping, his squinting, sleepless-looking eyes casting about the room beseechingly with a mild vibe of “oh, shit”. Trump and his staff had reportedly been wowed by the scope of the administrative nightmare that is simply Running the White House, not to mention Obama’s Cliff Notes summary of Free World-Leading. There was a lot for Trump to take in. You could see it in his face.

Flaunting tradition, he’d flown to the transition meeting in his private jet, the better to flip the media the bird. The press traditionally accompanies the President-Elect on this jaunt to the transition thingy, chumming it up in-flight, laughing good-naturedly and providing lots of gladdened “behind the scenes” clips of our Fourth Estate appearing human and relaxed with a future President who, once he assumes office, will become their steak tartare, and the brightly shining object of their ratings-fueled henpecking. Well, Trump had been henpecked puh-lenty already, and took the millionaire opportunity to avail himself of his own private jet, thanks. He left the honestly bewildered media folk on the figurative tarmac, choking on expensive jet exhaust, blinking confusedly and fingering their lil’ press pass lanyards.

Sticks and Stones and Puppy Dog Tails

As for what got us to this pass – a lot was said this election cycle that I’m sure the candidates wish they could take back, if only to replace those earlier barbs with the crueler, more bitterly savage screaming they regret having holstered. Trump’s difficulty with extemporaneous speaking, though, meant that his wildly unmeasured broadsides often sounded like escaped brain flatus. From his early adoption and rabid championing of the birther bullsh*t to his flatly stated opinion that “…President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history”, The Donald’s unmediated, majestically bar-lowering jibberjabber may finally have gone to ground. His stunned expression on transition day suggested as much.

As a nation, we wanted “change”. Why we don’t just dig it out of the sofa like all the other starved losers is anybody’s guess. And as usual, our inability to articulate beyond the Pavlovian election-year sloganeering came to no good. When the “change” mantra gets going we are known to lustily toss the baby, the bathwater, the tub, and the deed to the house right out the freaking window. Blue districts go all red, people seem to change stripes overnight, and our cheap, lazy desire to feign engagement undoes the brutally hard work of those few in D.C. who actually toil.

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Jesus, a camel, and a needle’s eye. This picture says a lot,brah.

Yeah, we received the election results with all the freewheeling drama you expect from a well-off First World citizenry. A woman on the Staten Island Ferry hollered shrilly at the news camera and shook her hair. “Hillary deserves to go to jail! I want to see Hillary in Jail!” Somewhere between her work for the Children’s Defense Fund and her having beaten Vince Foster to death with a shovel, Hillary lost this voter. At the other end of the spectrum, a scattered crowd of Hillary supporters, garishly lit by the news camera lamps, were seen tearily shuffling out of Hil’s election night Glass Ceiling HQ like the outcast damned. Which about fits.

Trump’s hot mic “locker room talk” about assaulting women those years ago may have been only that; talk. But if a candidate for the Second Cashier position at your local Home Depot had been overheard braying that adolescent shite, the jackass would have been quietly passed over for the kid with the retainer. And Hillary’s stirring final remarks to all the “little girls”, exhorting them basically to not feel bound to the current “Grabbing Crotches is Power” ennui—it brought home the fact that we want and need leaders who seem like us, but a little bigger.

November Surprise

Trump now just seems surprised. At everything. The nation’s urban outpouring of protest scorn seems to jar him, and the spike in cracker incidents in the wake of his election drew from a visibly shaken Trump the Rodney King-like “Stop it. Just stop it.” Why is he surprised? Because Trump is not a racist, misogynist bigot, is not a deeply tactical Machiavellian despot, rubbing his power-paws and chomping at the bit to assume the throne and eat his enemies.

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pre-presidential id

He is neither Hitler nor Mussolini. All this cracker activity genuinely surprises him because he is just your ostentatiously wealthy, boorish neighbor who speaks instead of thinks: ”I’m scared of Syrians! Where is Syria? I love to grab women! Oooh, I’m so mad I’m gonna punch ISIS! That Obama is crummy at being President, really crummy! Hillary, you are going to jail, baby!!” Anyone listening even cursorily to the Donald’s 4th grade-caliber pronouncements will know straightaway that he is just a 70 year-old crank in a vacuum with shitty handlers. Oh, and hair like an irradiated rooster. That’s all. He’s not a “nationalist”, “isolationist”, or even a “conservative”. He doesn’t know what those things mean. He’s just a blustering loudmouthed everyman who hated being told he couldn’t do this one thing, and now he’s trapped.

In the fab 60s Don Knotts vehicle The Reluctant Astronaut, an everyman ride-operator from a theme park gets launched in an actual space capsule. After a whole reel of Knott’s particular brand of glandular panic, he manages to commandeer the space capsule safely back to Earth by reverting to his theme park persona, and so losing himself in the astronaut fantasy he becomes a Momentary Astronaut. May the same thing happen to our Donald, who seems awestruck that the thing is really happening. Whether or not he ever wanted the job, we need him to succeed. “We do want to win this. We do want to win it,” he notably murmured with downcast eyes as he and Melania cast their show-votes on election night. He looked pretty darned glum, and later as frankly stunned as the rest of us. So we may have some common ground after all. Let us pray.

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Trump and Circumstance: Making the Case

Trump and Circumstance: Making the Case

From sea to shining sea, the republic is taking a cold shower. And whether one partakes of said shower to snap out of a drunken fog or to come down from erectile servitude, it’s a bracing habit to adopt, a reboot. Jefferson famously said we would need a good revolution every so often to keep the national motor humming and lubricated, though he wasn’t so far-seeing that he used the word “motor”. But he may have been talking about Trump. The New York Times’ likably clear-headed conservative columnist David Brooks went so far as to characterize the current madness as the possible beginnings of an emergent new political movement, though in my view that flatters the restless sea of knuckleheads who have taken up Trump’s “cause”, or “causes”, or “Tourette’s Outbursts”. Full disclosure: I may be one of those knuckleheads.

Open Carry on 5th Ave

What the hell is going on? We know damn well what’s going on. A billionaire Alpha-Loudmouth has entered the field and we’re enthralled. Why? Our Tom Thumb pundits, seated around their nonsensical, outsized pundit tables, marvel aloud at the wildness of this electoral season, shake their shellacked heads in half-grinning wonder and offer non-stop analysis, or at least enough verbal flatus to keep the methane-fueled news cycle from collapsing like a foul soufflé. Trump is a gift to the media, who normally have to overgrill the staid facts of the Body Politic to get this kind of juice. Suddenly Hilary’s EmailGate (or whatever the hell they’ve been calling it) seems quaint and cozy. Is the press really going to bird-dog Hillary about her e-mail server when the likely next leader of the Free World is saying stuff like, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? Trump is a gift, and I don’t mean that sardonically. Yes, he bloviates like an inebriated 5th grader, hollers unanchored nonsense for the record, and wears the squinting, pursed facial expression of a guy preparing to be slapped. But in the current field of jackanapes and anointed bots, he is a change agent like no other. Trump is our Jeffersonian totem.

Room

Your high school social studies class with its bland descriptions of the three branches of lockjaw, I mean government, might have predicted this, though it seems to have caught the Fools on the Hill completely off-guard, variously stammering and posturing. Pipsqueak Harry Reid has been seen haughtily crossing his little arms while the Republicans run to and fro, rubbing their spotty hands together and worrying that Trump may make them look bad. Seriously. Conventional wisdom says Trump is the hideous Republican creature the GOP deserves, the freak-synthesis of all their wrongheaded Tea Party-cajoling and class warmongering. Trump is no more a Republican than Senator Mitch McConnell is an underwear model. Trump is an apolitical freak, a Talker on the stump without handlers, a script, or a lick of sense. It’s enough to pleasantly jolt the chloroformed American electorate into a sitting position. And why shouldn’t we be excited? You don’t have to like Trump to adore what he is doing – taking a hatchet to “American Politics” and the palsied wraiths in D.C. This Trump veneration is not a protest movement. It’s a mad rush for anything that looks like a cracked window in a room filled, for a hundred years, with suffocating smoke. This unlettered billionaire dimwit in purple silk tie and almost endearing lower middle-class flyaway comb over is a trickle of air in the sealed and smothering Room of political discourse in this country, and we’re clawing over each other to draw a breath. I mean, did you hear the crowd at the Fox-hosted debate on March 3? It sounded like a gallery of Mixed Martial Arts enthusiasts with beer bongs. The Donald seems to have awakened the collective electoral Mr. Hyde whose latency has actually long been threatening to kill our political spirit from within. Now that Trump has reanimated the once-supine corpse of American electoral politics we may see a little action.

Reflux Pageant

The Iowa caucuses were the canary in the coal mine. In that first so-so contest of the 2016 Presidential Decision, with the nation watching to see if a blabbermouth know-nothing billionaire could really win any of these state contests, the sanctimonious, worry-faced Ted Cruz “beat” the amusing curiosity that was Donald Trump. Cruz then swaggered up to the microphone and, dripping with the stilted theatrics of a just-elected 7th grade class treasurer, regaled us with the sort of gasping E Pluribus Sputum that characterizes the very worst of this country’s dumbass political tryouts. Sure that he was at the very beginning of a steamroll, Cruz wheezed and barked his way through a wave of clenching self-congratulation in Iowa while his wife, who is reportedly thrice as smart and gifted as her hubby, looked up at him with that American Political Wife expression of adulation. This is a mold we have long been aching to break. Every election cycle is a reflux pageant of cloying dullards saying nothing nothing nothing (nothing3) in a rain of colored balloons. This cycle promised to be no different. Then came the aptly named Trump.

Rogues and Pogues

Let’s glance quickly and dismissively at the other candidates and the howling vacuum into which the Donald has inserted himself. Hilary stands to become our first woman President, she of the over-rehearsed sing-song and scary doll cheeks and vaguely North Korean pant suits. Really? Her? No she didn’t kill Vince Foster (though Trump might if he saw him on 5th Avenue) but do you, reader, not have a brilliant and informed and articulate powerhouse of a woman in your sphere who couldn’t better Hil by a country mile? Ted Cruz, what to say? If you wanted Grandpa from the Munsters to be president you should have voted him in back in the 60s when his show was a hit. Marco Rubio – the Cuban Robert Redford. Some of his advisers are quietly suggesting he drop out before the Florida primary so as to avoid the embarrassment of being drubbed in his home state by a shouting new yorker with a rooster on his head. Rubio did handily win Puerto Rico, though. Stop the presses. John Kasich is said by all who know him to be a stand-up guy and a gifted politician. There is, however, a mild charisma deficit, such that he vanishes if you look straight at him. This could prove tactically beneficial in an international stare down – but at the end of the day a President who vanishes when you look at him is probably bad for the brand.

Taxes Toast

And then there’s Bernie…the unrepentant pinko from Vermont with the puzzling Brooklyn accent. He wants to give us everything for free by raising a few taxes on a small subset of industrialists and bluebloods. Hey, it works in Europe (more or less). Oh wait, that’s why we broke up with Europe a scant 240 years ago. We had to shoot our way out of that relationship. Yeah, that nasty split was all about dough. An old story. Come to think of it, the American Experiment began as a tax protest; colonists in politically incorrect loincloths and face paint throwing tea into a harbor, to be exact. As national pastimes go, tax hatred in the U.S. is second only to the consumption of canned peaches in heavy syrup. So…feel the burn. HELL yeah, we want free college and health care here in the states, but raising taxes on anybody here to pay for that stuff? Um, that’s Stalinism, bro. Besides, the tiny trillionaire cabal Bernie is determined to soak for the free stuff the rest of us will get? They’re the management company that maintains the White House. We love you, Bernie! C’mon, we’ll call you a cab.

Trump is not Republican excess personified. The truth is simpler and more interesting than that. He’s a cursing, self-contradicting, boorish, racist, Pope-poking genie who, whatever happens this election cycle, is never going back into the bottle. Now the GOP Backroom Brain Trust are openly cooking up a Kooky Convention plan to steal any possible victory away from Trump at the 11th hour; red meat and a vindication for the millions who are aligned with Trump simply because they can’t stand the deal-making machine that is now so publicly determined to stop him. Yes, the genius Republicans are hurriedly shoveling vitamins down the neck of their own insurrection.

Grab some popcorn and sit back. They may well have to take up torches and chase our new Candidate Karloff into the nearest burning windmill to wrap this strange little episode, but at least we and our fellow villagers will be able to look at each other with wild grins and say, “Wow! Wasn’t that something?! Let’s do it again!”

Go Donald.