Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Circus Spectacle of American Party Conventions


Doug French covers the American political convention spectacles that even from this distance have captured, and appalled, so many NZers.

This year’s American political conventions are not the stuff of 1924, when 103 ballots and 16 days were needed to select a nominee. Summarising that spectacle at Madison Square Garden, H.L. Mencken wrote

For there is something about a national convention that makes it as fascinating as a revival or a hanging. It is vulgar, it is ugly, it is stupid, it is tedious, it is hard upon both the higher cerebral centers and the gluteus maximus, and yet it is somehow charming. One sits through long sessions wishing heartily that all the delegates and alternates were dead and in hell – and then suddenly there comes a show so gaudy and hilarious, so melodramatic and obscene, unimaginably exhilarating and preposterous that one lives a gorgeous year in an hour.

I too am charmed, watching the goings-on in Cleveland and Philadelphia safely from my couch. I did have to remind myself that the mobs on the convention floors were adults. Grown men and women waving signs adorned with idiotic hats and, in some cases, glasses, shouting “Lock her up,” or lustily booing Ted Cruz for being Ted Cruz or booing Hillary and Debra Wasserman Schultz because they feel the Bern.

The various networks worked gavel-to-gavel creating drama while the Republicans created fear. Speaker after speaker told the howling mob that a Clinton Presidency will mean we will all have our throats slit in the night. “Politics under democracy consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos,” wrote Mencken in his Notes on Democracy. “The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witchhunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’”

The Elephant Show

To appease the evangelicals, the Republicans offered plenty of fire and brimstone from the likes of Darrell Scott and Jerry Falwell Jr. However, it was a strong, quiet type, Ben Carson, who went off script to draw a bright line from Saul Alinsky to Lucifer to Hillary Clinton. It must take the intellect of a neurosurgeon to connect Carson’s conclusion put forth to shock the convention hordes: Saul dedicated his book Rules for Radicals to Lucifer and Hillary wrote her thesis on Alinsky, therefore, Hillary worships Lucifer.

To appease the evangelicals, the Republicans offered plenty of fire and brimstone. Dr. Carson was serious as he mixed his faith with his politics. But Mencken contended,

The fraud of democracy, is more amusing than any other – more amusing even, and by miles, than the fraud of religion. Go into your praying-chamber and give sober thought to any of the more characteristic democratic inventions: say, Law Enforcement … If you don’t come out paled and palsied by mirth then you will not laugh on the Last Day itself.

Never has a candidate had so many family members speak in prime time as Trump. [Perhaps he could find so few others to praise him? – Ed.] The family plan went off pretty well excepting poor Melania who ended up with some of Michelle Obama’s old words stuck in her teleprompter. Women I know think Donald Jr. is just dreamy and Ivanka was certainly easier to listen to (and look at) than her father.  But the Trump family convention paled in comparison to the star power mustered night after night by the Democrats

Rachel Maddow and the rest of the MSNBC convention crew were genuinely befuddled by billionaire Peter Thiel’s appearance on the big stage while the TV cameras whirled – after all, as Maddow pointed out, he’s no fan of democracy.  Supposedly, he’s a libertarian, but he didn’t admit to that. Instead the point he stressed was that, like a seventies Tom Robinson, he was proud to be gay.

FrenchIn a 2009 essay, Thiel wrote, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." So what is Thiel thinking, supporting Trump?’s Jeff Bercovici has the theory that a Machiavellian Thiel believes Trump to be “a potential President so terrifying that a generation of Americans will come to fear the very idea of presidents – as well as the way that America elects them.”

If you believe that, then you’ll believe the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy story that Putin’s posse hacked into the DNC’s email system and blew the whistle on head DNC mistress Debra Wasserman Shultz’s systematic election-rigging for Hillary. People who support this theory say that Putin and Trump are close (reportedly) because Trump’s campaign guru Paul Manafort did work for some Russian oligarchs. To complete the improbable turn of events, after the “Bernie or Bust” crowd booed Wasserman Schultz out of the convention, she landed a spot on Hillary’s team.

Prancing Ponies

In Philadelphia, cameras panned through the crowd capturing young women weeping as Bernie Sanders spoke. It was reminiscent of old Beatles and Elvis footage, except Bernie is a curmudgeonly 74 year old who spews a continuous stream of socialist nonsense instead of hit songs.

I love to watch the carnivals of buncombe, but only from a very safe distance.The Bernie crowd especially believes in the power of the majority to have free stuff. “Democracy is shot through with this delight in the incredible, this banal mysticism,” wrote Mencken. “One cannot discuss it without colliding with preposterous postulates, all of them cherished like authentic hairs from the whiskers of Moses himself.”

It was Mencken’s view that Democracy fails for a lack of intelligence. “Physically, they become men, and sprout beards, political delusions, and the desire to propagate their kind. But mentally they remain on the level of schoolboys.”

Yes, the convention floors looked to be full of schoolboys and schoolgirls, jackasses worshipping jackals (to paraphrase the Sage of Baltimore). And while Democracy is failed and foolish, Mencken admitted, “I enjoy democracy immensely.” Me, I love to watch the carnivals of buncombe, but only from a safe distance.


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