Going for broke

Published in The Express Tribune – cover art by R.A. Di Ieso

War. Recession. Race riots. Culture battles. Supreme Court hi-jinks. The great debate over guns and guard walls, abortion and immigration.

All that, over two American presidencies. Today, the United States is trying to crawl out of Afghanistan. There’s the warmed-over version of Iraq’s sectarian killing fields from 2005. Putin’s filled the void in Syria, pounding everyone except Assad.

One would think a new dawn’s nearing – the fate of the Free World hangs in the balance. And here we have the frontrunners: for the Republicans, we have an orange cartoon character from reality television (supplanted by Ted Cruz). For the Democrats, we have Lady Macbeth: Hillary Clinton, ice queen, warmonger, and mass email-deleter.

Dr. Ben Carson merits special mention here – he happens to be a number of extraordinary things at the same time: black and Republican, both brain surgeon and garden-variety racist.

The good news: the Perrys, Huckabees, and Santorums have already dropped out. The bad news: the rest of the lineup is the same as before.

That is, unless Mr. Santorum has his way – he announced he was backing gormless Boy Scout candidate Marco Rubio. And the question, posed by MSNBC anchors, was basic, ‘Can you name [Rubio’s] top accomplishment in the Senate?’

Mr. Santorum’s response would go on to become fodder for the Democrats, late-night talk show hosts, and at least one Bush Brothers attack ad: ‘I guess it’s hard to say there are accomplishments. I mean, tell me what happened during that four years that was an accomplishment for anybody?’

After more prodding, poor Rick finally let loose, ‘The bottom line is there isn’t a whole lot of accomplishments, Joe, and I just don’t think it’s a fair question.’ The anchors smirked.

At least there’s precedent for this sort of thing. When Eisenhower was asked about his vice-president’s accomplishments, he said, ‘Well, if you give me a week, I might think of one.’ It was a gaffe that helped flub Richard Nixon’s presidential hopes, but then again, there’s a ton of difference between that endorser and this one. As Supreme Commander of the Allies, General Eisenhower helped defeat Hitler. Mr. Santorum is an evangelical nutcase that even evangelical nutcases wouldn’t vote for (they like Ted Cruz).

And ‘no accomplishments’, at least in this election, is not only true, it’s also a big plus: the American citizen, we’re told, is fed up of fat cats in D.C. It’s time for an outsider, a shining white knight that makes America great again.

At least in the Republican Party, that vibe’s opened up a can of worms – it was Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi that gave words to what we were thinking:

Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump. And to give the whole thing a perverse gravitas, make the presidency really at stake. It’s Western civilization’s very own car wreck. Even if you don’t want to watch it, you will. It’s that awesome of a spectacle.

Now that the looming shadow of another Bush presidency seems fainter and fainter (for which we thank the Most Merciful), it may be best to assess the top three conquerors of the Iowa caucus – one of the whitest, angriest places around: Messrs Cruz, Trump, and Rubio.

For the longest time, the press enjoyed affording Mr. Trump – whom they called a ‘real estate entrepreneur’ – wall-to-wall coverage: as went the popular saying, he said the sort of ridiculous things you could only find on an Internet comment section – banning Muslims and barring Mexicans. The Donald called Jeb a ‘sad sack’, Ted ‘a nervous wreck’, and Rand Paul a ‘spoiled brat without a truly functioning brain.’

And people loved it (if by ‘people’ we mean the angry, disenfranchised, white working-class voters torn apart by Presidents Nixon and Reagan). But Mr. Trump is still the same con from cable television: he has no bill of goods, save the one that makes the biggest splash. His campaign is propped up on press cycles and awestruck audiences – those translate into big poll numbers, but struggle when butted against sophisticated ground campaigns.

Campaigns like Ted Cruz’s, perhaps the most dangerous creature running: he’s smart, electable, and not a little vile. Hopped up on Tea Party tactics, Mr. Cruz has somehow managed to make himself a rebel. For a former Princeton student, Supreme Court clerk, and George W. campaign aide, that is something of a wonder.

Yet Marco Rubio continues brandishing himself the heir apparent – in an election notable for not anointing any clear Republican heavy. Though by no stretch a moderate, the establishment’s grabbed him by the ankles, begging him not to abandon them to the other cowboys. It would seem saner voices need Marco more than he needs them.

But saner voices were never much on hand, considering there was only one candidate for gun control in either party for so long (Bernie Sanders is now joined by Mrs. Clinton, after the appropriate number of focus groups told her to).

Indeed just the opposite: the reds have tried the old trick – linking guns with the Second Amendment. Their ‘right to bear arms’ protects them from the state’s tyranny. Remember the Holocaust? asks Carson. Jews with guns would have ‘greatly diminished’ that sort of thing.

A theory thankfully blown away by author Jacob Bacharach: ‘ [The] myth of the weak cosmopolitan Jew going meekly to his demise [is] especially pernicious: it supports both anti-Semitism and Zionist extremism…[Indeed] the history of resistance in Nazi Europe puts the lie to the central myth of private armament. Guess what? An army wins.’

In any event, whoever happens to be swinging into the Oval Office this January, our Islamic Republic will be hearing from them soon enough. May as well root for Bernie, the Great Impossible (remain though, as he does, in favour of the drone strike).

Concluded Rolling Stone, ‘It may not seem funny now, because it’s happening to us, but centuries from this moment, people will laugh in wonder. America is ceasing to be a nation, and turning into a giant television show. And this Republican race is our first and most brutal casting call.’