The Death of American Rigor, The Rise of Donald Trump

Though Donald Trump has received more media coverage than any other presidential candidate by an absolute country-mile landslide (more than both Democrats combined, as reported by the Washington Post), I feel an obligation to give him just a little bit more–even if it’s only on this small-time (if it even qualifies as that) blog. The man’s ego is so fragile he might even end up reading this, stumbling up on it while zealously poring over the millions of Google search results for his own name.donald_trump_by_gage_skidmore_2

I will not attempt to warn you about the dangers of a Trump presidency. If you truly, truly think the man will save the nation (and not bring about its cataclysmic demise)–if you’ve really busted out your intellectual spade and dug deep into the man’s “policies,” then more power to you. You are entitled to your beliefs and you are entitled to vote as you please.

What I (the admittedly whiny liberal bookworm blogger pontificating from my frail-legged high horse which I have shoddily constructed all by my lonesome) am going to address is just how we’ve gotten to where we are as a nation (and how we can attempt to backtrack). How we went from “oh, Trump’s campaign won’t last,” to “yeah, Cruz can rally–totally,” to “Donald J. Trump will be the Republican Party nominee.” What it comes down to, is a parasitic American laziness–the death of rigor in the general populace.

I am guilty of revering and gushing over David Foster Wallace (like a cheerleader gushing over the captain of the football team) more than many people think I should. But looking at the Trump spectacle, I can’t help but see DFW as a bit Nostradamus-esque with regard to the current state of America. He saw the dangers of mind-numbing entertainment and the consequences that would come of it. It’s the whole premise behind his magnum opus, really.

With so many easy alternatives available, people have lost any desire to read a book or a newspaper. They’d rather watch reruns of Happy Days and be lulled to sleep by the laugh track. I get it, it’s hard, if not impossible, to see the appeal of cracking open A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when “Sunday, Monday, Happy Days!” serenades you with its siren-song from the television, announcing another thirty minutes of spittle-riddled non-thought spent drenched in blue light.

This initial choice–i.e. Happy Days > James Joyce–by the individual has no real ramifications outside of the self. At first, at least. You miss out on a few hours of exercising the brain, so what? But when so many individuals make the same choice, it becomes a group choice. And when the same group choice is repeated, over and over and over again, it becomes a habit. And the habits of the masses become the wont of a population.

Americans have made a habit out of turning away from rigor. Anything hard has been deemed unnecessary if an easier option is available. Thus, we have stagnated. Regressed, even. We’ve lost our ability to reason, to think critically, to take on the necessary rigors of being a part of a larger whole, a citizen within a country, a country within a world. People can fire off the names of the entire cast of That 70s Show, but can’t tell you the name of their representative in The House. We’ve lost our awareness. We’ve forfeited our abilities to analyze and comprehend for want of pleasure.

These losses have opened up the avenues that Donald Trump has navigated so deftly to his current position as the Republican Party nominee.

Trump’s speeches, his debate answers–the amalgam of insincere promises (gilded  with Hooked-on-Phonics level adjectives) that constitute D.J. Trump himself, are the verbal equivalent of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Little tasty bursts of brief fiery satisfaction that provide no real nourishment whatsoever.

But, man, do they taste good.

You can eat a bag easily–as much of America is right now–but once the bag is gone, you’re left still hungry, probably a little bit sick, and with a rough time on the john ahead of you.

What I’m getting at is–you’re gonna pay the price for those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And America will pay the price for devouring a bag of Donald Trump.

Worth it?

While you’re snacking on Cheetos, yes, they’re fantastic. I, myself, am a huge fan. You get everything you want out of them: the crunch, that flamin’ hotness, the convenient bite-size of each little piece, the easiness of opening up a bag vs. cooking your own food, and you even get to lick the Cheeto dust off your instantly-gratified profoundly-American fingers.

Short-term–yeah, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: worth it.

But imagine trying to survive with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos as your only means of sustenance.

1. You’d die.

2. You’d be miserable.

3. You’d realize the idea was a huge mistake, no matter how great Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are within their intended context: a snack.

Pretty clearly not worth it.

Continuing with the food analogy: America as a whole has already shown–more than amply–hard evidence of its predilection toward the easy. Just look at fast-food chains and obesity etc., etc.

McDonald’s is easy. It tastes good. It’s cheap. It’s convenient in every conceivable way. But if you eat it every day you’re gonna get fat, have a heart attack and probably have a backside rampant with hemorrhoids. This is a reality for a number of Americans (I will not get into the economic circumstances that often force Americans to eat fast food daily, though it is an issue worth discussing in the future, perhaps warranting a post in its own right).

The prospect of taking an hour to cut veggies, cook them, boil water for pasta, marinate meat, cook it, set a plate, sit down, eat something that might not even taste good, clean the plate, put it away…etc.–it’s a modern American nightmare. But the thing about the alternative–always choosing convenience–is that it isn’t good for you. It isn’t good for anyone.

The same laziness and preference for the easy and convenient that Americans take toward their entertainment choices and dietary habits has now slithered and seeped into the sphere of politics. It’s infected the last place where convenience is a priority.

Politics isn’t meant to be easy. It is one of those things that can’t afford to be replaced by an easier, mindless alternative. Some things aren’t meant to be sitcoms. Some things are real, with real consequences which have implications that extend to the entirety of the globe.

Running a country as great as we claim ours to be isn’t a god damned picnic. Running anything is hard. Commissioners of fantasy football leagues pull their fuckin’ hair out just trying to collect yearly dues–so try to imagine the ’round-the-clock relentless hell of running the U.S. of A.

Our Congressmen, Senators and our President accept the rigorous responsibility of ensuring that the wheels of America remain well-oiled (not saying any of our politicians are perfect) and that the engine runs smooth. As citizens, we should take it upon ourselves to be just as rigorous when electing government officials–most notably the Commander in Chief.

But we’ve fallen into a trap. Elections are, by nature, rigorous. Big-deal issues are discussed at length, confusing policies are condoned or condemned, candidates flip-flop and contradict themselves–the voter usually has no choice but to strap in for the ride and make the best decision they believe they can. Rigor.

Trump has afforded us the option to opt out of said rigor.

The Republican Party started off with more presidential candidates than you could count on both of your hands. The employment of toes became necessary. And in the midst of all the deafening and dull political buzz–foreign policy this, domestic policy that–immigration this, military spending that–there was a lot to listen to and try to comprehend. As usual, and as it should be.

Each candidate was a metaphorical television channel broadcasting his/her documentary presenting their ideas re how to save the country from eight years of Democratic damage at the hands of golf-loving Barack Obama and a potential (god forbid) four more with the she-devil banshee we know as Hillary, starched stiff in her pantsuit.

One channel though, Trump channel (surprised that’s not an actual endeavor of his–yet) offered an alternative. Happy Days. A safe haven from actual substance and rigor. Public shaming of Jeb Bush in front of a national audience, night in night out. Would you rather watch Jeb squirm in the spotlight as big bad Donald twists his arm and waits for him to say “uncle”? or would you like to hear an actual, actionable proposal to improve the current state of America?

“I’ll take the former and a large popcorn, extra butter please.” -U.S.A.

All that’s missing is the laugh track.

Why think about what the man’s saying, when we can just laugh at how he says it? Why listen to Jeb drone on and on about facts, when we can just listen to Donald shit on the guy? Who the fuck is Rand Paul? Why is that little Jiminy Cricket looking Libertarian even on the screen? Trump says he shouldn’t even be on the stage! Show us Trump! Look! He’s making a funny face! Ha! Carly Fiorina is ugly and Chris Christie is fat! Listen! He’s telling us how big his dick is! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

To refer to Trump’s show as Happy Days would be erroneous. Politics à la Trump became The Jerry Springer show. Maury. Dr. Phil. Judge Judy. The Apprentice. The list goes on.

Trump offered this to the people, and being the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto-loving Americans that we are, we bit. The hook is set, and now we’re being reeled in to be gutted by the tiny little oompa loompa hands of a maniac, all because we chose to tune into reality TV and tune out our future. The country’s future.

It really is just a reality TV show–Americans just don’t recognize that they’re the ones punking themselves. And it won’t be Ashton Kutcher coming out to laugh at us in the end. It’ll be the buffoon we voted in. It’ll be the rest of the world.

And so here we are. Jeb and Rand and Robot Rubio and Lyin’ Ted all still warm in their graves, Donald’s fratboy disciples patting their shovels on the fresh dirt.

Here is what I ask of you, America. Going forward, do your homework. Be rigorous. Turn off Happy Days. Hear the phrase “big beautiful wall,” but rather than taking it at face value, think: “Is Mexico really going to pay for it? Is that even possible?” Remove all the empty adjectives and redundant adverbs from Trump’s sentences. What’s left? (Hint–not much). Take his open-endedness and do your best to close it. Decide if you like what you see.

Or don’t listen to me. Who the hell am I, anyway? Just some precocious twenty-something with a loose grasp on the ins and outs of WordPress. Screw me. Watch more of the mind-melting dreck that is Trump’s campaign, his rallies. The violence and the bigotry. The regression and the hate. Watch it and let your brain curdle in your skull. Crack it open and spoon it out, plop it in a bowl. Eat it like cottage fucking cheese–it’s not like you’ve been using it anyway. You don’t need it to keep passively watching, slack-jawed, hand drenched  with artificial butter, popcorn salt stuck to your lips. Sit there just as you have been since small-mitted face-contortionist playground-king Donald set out to make America “great” again.

If you’re lucky, when he’s elected, you won’t be neurologically capable enough to be cognizant of the fact that Donald Trump is ruining America. That he’s already ruining it, right now, the sleazy bastard. Without even holding office. You won’t be able to forge the synaptic connections to understand that it was you–yes, you. Us. We the people–who enabled him.

There is hope. I believe so, at least. Maybe I put too much faith in my fellow countrymen (though the preceding paragraphs would indicate otherwise), but I think Americans have the character that will allow them to bounce back and fix this–if they find the motivation. The onus falls on us.

If you’ve taken the time to read a 2,329 word blog-post, you’re on the right track. You’ve probably never veered onto the wrong track and probably weren’t part of the problem to begin with. And that’s an issue in itself. This piece will probably never reach the audience that it’s been written for, that needs to read it most.

And I, the author, am guilty of the fact that if my intended audience did read this piece, I’ve gone about it all wrong. I’ve condescended, been dismissive–I’ve been flat out mean. Such is the way of the young, hip liberal. Accusations: “it was you–yes, you.” That’s just as backwards as Trump.

That’s the other half of the problem. There can be no us/them. There can be no good guys/bad guys, or educated/uneducated, or rigorous/lazy. There can be no halves of the problem! That’s what we (see I’m even doing it–“we”–that’s how hard it is to avoid) need to understand. Just because we see through Donald’s facade doesn’t mean we can condemn those who don’t.

Don’t try to elevate yourself, don’t try to elevate others, don’t try to dumb yourself down, don’t accuse others of being dumb. That’s really the key, is to forgo the divisiveness that both parties exploit and suckle. Because in the end, as citizens, all of our votes count the same. We are all held accountable. And we all call this country home.

Between now and election day, let’s all of us guide the wide-winged phoenix of analysis and thought out of the pile of ashes left by our own striking of the match. America is better than Donald Trump. We are, every single citizen of this country, better.




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