‘Oliver Stone: Donald Trump won. This is your fourth president, am I right? Clinton, Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama, and now your fourth one.
‘Vladimir Putin: Yes, that’s true.
‘Stone: What changes?
‘Putin: Well, almost nothing… everywhere, especially in the United States, the bureaucracy is very strong. And bureaucracy… rules the world.’
– The Putin Interviews
We came back to France in time for a wedding.
It was a marvellous ceremony, held in a 12th-century church, followed by a reception in an ancient chateau nearby.
What impressed us most was the headgear. Not since we went to Ascot many years ago have we seen such elaborate hats.
Exotic hats around the belfry
[Click to enlarge]
It is said that the typical Frenchman goes to church three times in his life — when he is baptised, when he gets married, and when he dies.
That is an exaggeration. He also attends the baptisms, weddings and funerals of others.
These events are followed by receptions at which the conversation inevitably turns to politics. It is at such events that people drink…and talk.
So there you find the real opinions of The People, unadulterated by the right-thinking fake news media.
And this year, the political figure who most seemed to interest the French was — guess — none other than Donald J. Trump.
Different sorts of heroes
Several times during the evening, we were asked: ‘What’s going on with Trump?’
Each time, the question was delivered with a wry smile. We understood the question; it was the smile we had a hard time interpreting.
Was it an invitation to Trump bashing? Was it a signal of Gallic superiority? (After all, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is at least housebroken.) Was it a smile of approval?
Donald J. Trump has been of great interest to us, too.
‘At first,’ we explained, ‘we had hopes he might shake things up. But he doesn’t seem to know what to shake.’
Last week, Mr Trump made headlines with some caddish remarks about a rival TV personality. Then, over the weekend, he sent out a video from a WrestleMania stunt in which he took down an opponent labelled ‘CNN’.
The whole spectacle must be amusing to outsiders — like watching a foreign head of state, in full regalia, slip on a banana peel.
Mr Trump is a hero to many Americans…and to himself. But there are many different sorts of heroes in fiction as in real life.
There are war heroes, such as Paul Bäumer in All Quiet on the Western Front. There are heroes of love stories, such as Cyrano de Bergerac or Romeo. And there are heroes who fight against their own psychological problems or fate itself, such as Oedipus.
In a sense, we all want to be the heroes of our stories. But if you want to understand a man’s character, you have to understand what kind of struggle he is engaged in.
Once, in the 1960s, we spent a summer helping an aged uncle on the farm.
He lived alone all his life in a ramshackle house heated with a wood stove. He had only one luxury — an old black-and-white TV. There, at night, he watched ‘professional wrestling’.
Once, he turned and asked: ‘Do you think that’s real?’
No. We didn’t think it was. But we weren’t quite sure what it was.
Professional wrestling is usually described as a performance art. The characters are never quite what they appear to be. Instead, they are like cartoon figures — good or bad…black or white…according to the script.
One of the bad guys is known as The Undertaker, with some shady connection to something called The Ministry of Darkness. And often, the bad guys are foreigners, such as The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.
‘Iran number one’; ‘Russia number one,’ they yell, endearing themselves to the plain people of Middle America in the audience. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the maths doesn’t add up…or that Iran is not an Arab country (so no sheiks).
No matter. The good guys play by the rules. The bad ones cheat. But they are all imposters. Their role is to keep the fans coming back…with bold and preposterous antics on stage…and ridiculous squabbles behind it.
They often concoct ‘feuds’ offstage, for example…so they can settle them in front of the fans.
Poppycock and vulgarity
Mr Trump’s genius was to realise that modern elections are more like wraslin’ than the Olympics.
The race goeth not to the swift…nor the battle to the strong. Nor is it the best informed or best prepared politician who wins.
Instead, he saw that he could suck up the media’s attention (especially CNN, which was run by the guy who had hired him for The Apprentice and knew ‘The Donald’s’ talent for reality TV).
Mr Trump saw, too, that the red states had more people watching WWE than listening to NPR. He saw he could win an election for president of the United States of America not with class and careful, well-considered opinions…but with gaudy displays of poppycock and vulgarity.
Just apply the lessons of the wrestling world. Pick fights with other politicians — ‘Low Energy Jeb’…‘Little Marco’…‘Lyin’ Ted’ — and with TV stars — ‘Low IQ Crazy Mika’ — and keep the public entertained with backstage shenanigans, insults and claptrap.
All of this, ‘The Donald’ must have instinctively realised, doesn’t really undermine democracy, detract from the dignity of the office, distract the people from the serious job of understanding the issues before them, or derail the government from getting the job done.
Instead, it focuses them on what modern government really is: an entertainment of the wraslin’ genre.
The serious business — of wrecking the economy, forcing people to do what they are told to do, and separating them from their money — is done, as Vladimir Putin pointed out to Oliver Stone, by the bureaucracy…
…aka the Deep State.
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