Much has been written about the last four whirlwind years in American politics, mostly focusing on political division and a Pandora’s box of contradictory messaging, policies, anecdotes and leadership. It was a boon for political, news and comedy writers. You sure didn’t have to wait long to find something to write about. In fact choosing which fetid piece of bizarre-itude out of the maelstrom of choices was the central problem. It went something like this:
President: (says incoherent stuff for about 20 minutes until the entire press corp is numb from the onslaught of subject changes and then says he’d love to be a dictator)
Press: (rubbing neck from whiplash) Whew. Ok… so do we write about:
- the actual content of this presser, the surprise corn surplus in Iowa,
- the fact that the president ignored everything about corn or Iowa,
- that point when he appeared to hit on his daughter,
- when he went on a five-minute rant over the water pressure of indoor plumbing,
- his hatred of grape juice,
- his love of orange juice,
- when he took credit for all professional sports teams who won last week,
- when he made fun of disabled people,
- when he took an unprovoked swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger,
- when he took an unprovoked swipe at Meryl Streep,
- when he took an unprovoked swipe at The New Yorker,
- the fact that millions of people apparently don’t see any problem with this, or
- the fact that he just wished himself to be dictator?
When faced with so many choices and limited column space, it’s a lose-lose situation. No matter what you pick, you’re ignoring the fact that the man with the nuclear football is standing in front of modern-day professional journalists rambling like your great-grandpa Huck, who used to compulsively collect used toilet paper tubes and build likenesses of confederate generals out of them until he couldn't find the door to his house. Even if you did write the “meta-story” fully half the readers would cheer him on, rather than stare at their phones in horror like they just watched a #covidiot tagged YouTube video of someone who did “The Clorox Challenge” recovering in the I.C.U.
This, as weird as it seems, created the context for nearly an entire nation all but ignoring an active coup attempt, while the rest of the world, presumably, laughs at our comeuppance. Such bizarre behavior has been indulged for so long, that a sitting U.S. President can openly mount a coup attempt while everyone sloughs it off. Generally trying to overthrow a lawfully elected government is taken somewhat seriously. Jim Garrison in J.F.K. wasn’t howling with laughter in the courtroom, and Tommy Lee Jones only smiled when it was particularly sinister.
Then again, the omnipotent diabolical forces portrayed in J.F.K. were competent, organized, and secretive, whereas this latest coup attempt was seemingly put together on the back of a bar napkin written in “Just For Men” hair dye and televised each day on every news outlet. Comical execution aside, we should probably take seriously someone trying their damnest to overthrow the government, even if “their damnest” sucks, particularly when that someone is the President of the United States and that government is the oldest democracy in the world.
Reality really is more bizarre than fiction. Particularly if we’re talking coup d’états.