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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey White House

It’s all fun. It’s all a circus. It’s all a rodeo. [It’s all a professional wrestling arena.] Until it smacks of racism.” David Letterman on Trump’s birther movement (quoted in “Chemistry, with Complications,” NYT August 16, 2017 paper copy).  Above, a segment from 2012 in which Mr. Letterman mocked Mr. Trump for outsourcing his clothing line to Asia (credit Worldwide Pants Inc. photo from 10/7/16 online and 8/16/17 paper copy).

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is a storied star of American cultural and entertainment history. In its various configurations it brought joy and happiness to millions as it traveled the country by road and rail. Finally after serving the American population for 146 years, it brought down the tent for the final time on May 21, 2017. An era was over.

Although the Ringling brothers received first billing in the corporate title, the best known name was Barnum, P. T. Barnum (1810-1871). Barnum was a legendary figure in his own lifetime. He was a politician who served as mayor of a city and a state legislator. He was a businessperson who succeeded in the world of entertainment. And, of course, he was a showman, who if he didn’t actually say “there is a sucker born every minute,” he certainly lived it. If there was a Mount Rushmore for the giants of people who know what the public wants and how to exploit it, he would be enshrined there.

There is a saying that when God closes one door, He opens another. The closing of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus coincided with the opening of a new circus. This one opened in the D.C. expanse as the greatest show on earth. It was so funny, the comics scarcely could keep up with all the guano it produced. Newscasters broadcasting live would toss their proverbial papers in the air as the circus parade kept coming and coming. Never before in the history of the United States had so much comedy persisted in such strength for so long from one location. The SHOW was non-stop so much so that there was sensory overload.

In some ways, the White House Circus didn’t matter much to normal Americans living in the real world. The biggest actual difference in the lives of many Americans during the first six months of the circus was that the value of their investments increased. Otherwise, for the most part, the White House Circus was a Beltway phenomenon of little direct relevance. But as it turns out, there did come a time when the person with the title of President needed to act as President, to actually govern. The real world can be avoided for only so long.

The turning point when the White House Circus began to interact with the real world on a sustained basis occurred when a belittled former hero stood in the Senate and gave the President the finger with a thumb down. Historians may debate the moment when the real world pierced the tent of the White House Circus, however, the image of the warrior in the arena signaling his disapproval with a finger gesture is a real world image even Gladiator can’t match. From that point on, the White House Circus has failed again and again in the real world, a world that isn’t going away.

How many ways did the White House Circus fail, let me count the ways.

1. Repeal and Replace Obamacare

The failure of our legitimately-elected immature-child President to do either exposed his simple-minded inadequacy. Despite all his talk about a “beautiful, beautiful” plan coming together, as it turned out, he lacked the mental necessities to contribute anything to the discussions beyond hot air platitudes.

Every Republican Representative who entered the White House Circus to discuss healthcare left knowing that the ringmaster is a blithering idiot.

Every Republican Senator who entered the White House Circus to discuss healthcare left knowing that that ringmaster is a blithering idiot.

Republicans saw the truth closeup, the curtain was pulled back, the shortcomings were revealed and everything changed. Congress passed sanctions against Russia against the will of Putin’s President. Congress remained in session during the vacation to prevent that President from short-circuiting the investigation into the Putin collusion. From this point forward Congress pretty much will ignore his ravings and will handle the budget, the debt ceiling, and maybe tax reform and infrastructure as if there were no President in the White House.

The election dynamics for 2018 have changed too. Can any Democrat candidate for Senate in Texas in 2018 out do Ted Cruz in the ridicule and abuse he will heap on the incumbent President? The insults will be nonstop and not just limited to Saturday Night.

2. Reducing the State Department Staff in Moscow

Here we have a classic example of the 7th-grade smart-aleck/dumb-aleck at work. When this student wakes up, it is not as if there is a plan of what nonsense will be blurted out later. The student doesn’t even know what the teacher will say. The student plays it very loose and goes to class each day and just sees what develops.  When the opportunity arises, the smart-aleck/dumb-aleck spontaneously erupts with an unplanned zinger based on what by chance just happened to have happened. There is no strategy, there is no planning, there is no thinking, just an immature child tweeting a zinger on the spur of the moment because that is the limit of his mental necessities. We witnessed his childlessness in on the staffing in another one of his unprecedented actions as President.  So besides the fact that he will always defer to Macho Machoman, we saw an immature child who doesn’t know and doesn’t care what the effect of his words would be on the staff in Moscow, on the rest of the State Department, or anyone who works for him. Everyone in the real world knows that he will not stand up for them, he will never have your back, he couldn’t care less about you. He prefers to perform in the White House Circus where it is always about him.

3. North Korea and Venezuela

“[Jinder Mahal] exorts the crowd with statements of cultural confrontation…The heated rhetoric often sounds like it would be home on a cable news panel rather than a wrestling ring.” Sopan Deb, “A Cross Cultural Body Slam” NYT August 19, 2017, paper copy; photograph by M. Scott Brauer


Here again we have a classic example of the immature child at work.  The venue changed from the classroom to professional wrestling/campaign arena, but the mind is the same one. Now instead of the smart-aleck/dumb-aleck, we have trashtalk smackdown.  Just as South Korea has learned to ignore the trashtalk from North Korea, so North Korea, China, and the rest of the world are learning to ignore the trashtalk smackdown from the immature child performing as the ringmaster in the White House Circus. The comic book “BAM, SOCK, POW” works great in the professional wrestling arena but, of course, that venue is scripted. So are Hollywood movies. Many of his supporters who love his trashtalk are under the mistaken impression that professional wrestling arena trashtalk is the real world. But just as Congress is learning to ignore the rantings and ravings of the legitimately-elected immature-child President so is the military. Nothing happened as the result of the President’s trashtalk. He can unleash his fire and fury and be locked and loaded all he wants inside the White House Circus, in the real world it counts for nothing. He is incapable of being briefed on the consequences of his comic book trashtalk on the leaders of North Korea and Venezuela and how it backfires. He has made the United States an object of global ridicule and he doesn’t know it, care, or both. Sad.

4. Charlottesville (and Barcelona)

One of the jobs of the President of the United States is to be the comforter in chief. It is not an official constitutional task the way commander in chief is. It is an unofficial but expected responsibility like being leader of the free world, another task he refrains from even attempting to fill. My own feeling long before the election was that he would fail in this task. I didn’t know when and I didn’t know how, but I knew at some point there would be a trauma that required the President to act as Mayor Giuliani did on 9/11 or President Obama did in Charleston. I could not understand how a thin-skinned narcissist with no sense empathy or sympathy could perform this task. Never in a million years did it occur to me that in a moment of trauma the President of the United States would talk about his winery. The mind boggles. Just when you think the White House Circus can’t become even more ridiculous, it does. He then starts bragging about the penis size of his winery…and he’s lying about that too! There literally is no limit to the absurdity of the White House Circus but there is a limit to how long it can play in the real world and it is not 146 years. A passionless tweet to the beautiful beautiful people of Barcelona is the limit of his compassion. Sad.

There are limits as to how long you can live a lie. Sooner or later the real world trumps the alternate one. The Soviet Union survived for decades as the wave of the future who would bury us. And then it couldn’t get away with pretending and it collapsed. Quickly. Republicans in Congress have seen the truth. The American military has seen the truth. The White House staff has seen the truth. The American people are seeing the truth. He didn’t get to hurt them with his mean healthcare plan and he probably won’t get to hurt them with his mean budget which Congress will ignore. Still, he has been unleashed, he has exulted in being unleashed, he has been exposed for being unleashed. He’s not just an immature child.  He’s not just a narcissist. He’s not just an ignorant stupid moron. He’s not just a simple-minded superficial embarrassment. He’s a con artist who feeds on the legitimate insecurities and fears of others by pouring oil on the fire.

We know how this story ends because we have seen it before. Over one year ago, back in August, 2016, I wrote:

“Since everything you need to know you can learn from Star Trek, it is appropriate to turn there for insight. In the episode, The Children Shall Lead, the children on an outpost are rendered orphans but display no trauma over the horror of losing their parents. The cause is a beast called “Angel” by them and named Gorgan. The richly-costumed sleekly-haired human-looking monster is skilled in exploiting their   pain to service his gain. He dominates them and in the ways of science fiction takes control of the Starship Enterprise.

“Not to worry. Kirk’s dedication to the spirit of Star Trek prevails. His hero and role model is, after all, Abraham Lincoln. He takes back his ship. He takes back his crew. He returns the Enterprise to its rightful path. He defeats the monstrosity that has temporarily commandeered them. In the final showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, Kirk calls on the deceived children to see the ugliness of the monster who led them astray. He tells them:

Without you children he’s nothing.
The evil remains within him.
Look how ugly he really is.
Look at him and don’t be afraid.

“With each phrase, the children see more and more of the truth and the image of the monster becomes uglier and uglier. In the end, Gorgan is revealed as the grotesque monster he always was underneath his superficial exterior. There will come a time when even the Republican base sees the truth. As befitting Gorgan’s debased nature, when exposed for the disgusting ugly incarnation of evil that he is, he issues a hissy fit tweet to his former admirers and all Republican candidates who now spurn him:

Death to you all!
Death to you all!
Death to you all!”

How long will we remain trapped in the White House Circus? Who will be our Captain Kirk to destroy it and boldly lead the city on a hill as the last best hope of humanity?