Is he with Howard?
February 17th 2020
Trump wrote in a tweet Friday, “Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to foresee the lesson of the Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump. ‘When you strike at the King, Emerson famously said, ‘you must kill him.’”
Now, I don’t for an instant believe Trump wrote that. It’s unlikely he’s ever even heard of Emerson, let alone be able to quote any of the man’s writings. He may have heard the Prohibition-era quip that strong drink will make you shoot at ‘revenooers’ and miss. He may well think that assassination is a viable political tactic, since Hitler said, “Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future.”
But even he might think twice about making a remark about his potential assassination that some people could take as a challenge. Unpopular leaders and even popular ones don’t, as a rule, suggest to potential assassins that competence in their craft is a desirable feature. For obvious reasons, right?
One of Trump’s hirelings doubtlessly thought the Emerson quote would be good braggadocio, a kind of a “we can do whatever the hell we want” statement in the wake of the shameful and sham trial in the Senate.
But Trump’s cabal—and this is their one saving grace—is that they are riddled with morons and incompetents. Even leaving aside the utter lunacy of a public figure saying what amounts to “Come shoot at me if you’re hard enough,” there’s the fact that very few American politicians ever gained much mileage out of comparing themselves to kings. With the exception of Huey Long (“Every man a king”) most politicians prefer to avoid the term altogether, since memories of English tyranny, rightly or wrongly, are a part of the American DNA.
Braggadocio usually backfires. George W. Bush is still trying to live down “Bring it on!” which got several hundred extra American troops killed in the middle east. About the only time it’s warranted is when the circumstances are so dire that only over-the-top persiflage will do. Churchill’s splendid rallying speeches in the darkest days of the Battle of Britain would have been deemed utterly ridiculous if the threatening invader was only Denmark, or Tonga.
People don’t like braggarts, outside of pro wrestling matches. Perhaps Donald thinks of the country as just another part of his pro wrestling empire. It’s hard to say. Even pro wrestling has a term for that sort of posturing: kayfabe. It’s a part of the act, just there to entertain the schmucks. But apart from the resolutely stupid people who still support Trump, Americans aren’t schmucks.
It’s dumbfounding that Trump’s people would even want to put the notion of assassination on the table for public consideration. It’s a horrifying concept on the face of it, right?
But then I thought of an American movie that was made in an entirely different America some 45 years ago: Network.
Directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall, this brilliant 1976 satire featured such things as doctors advertising their medical corporations, and news anchors who were loud, opinionated and dishonest. This was still the era of Cronkite, when newscasters were respected and trusted, and there were still firm restraints on corporate depredations. So the idea of a mad television anchor, Howard Beale (Finch) shouting things like “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” was very foreign to American sensibilities of the time. This was a era when nobody could imagine the Rush Limbaughs and Faux News, and the populist shouters and screamers in sideshow religious and neo-nazi reactionary movements were relegated to small, lightly regarded AM radio stations out in the boonies.
Network executives realized that Beale was developing a following amongst the dissaffected, and rather than sacking him (their first impulse) they kept him on, and he got crazier and crazier and his ratings rose.
However, he turns on the corporate entities that own his network, and exposes corrupt Saudi dealings behind many of the corporate buyouts. Beale is ordered to evangelize in favor of corporate globalisation, and his ratings drop. People want crazy populists, not grimly efficient corporations that are out to suck them dry.
Finally, it’s decided: the only way to eliminate Beale and restore the ratings up is to arrange to have him assassinated, live on TV, during his news show.
Thus, he is assassinated on screen, the most watched TV show in history. Beale dies a hero, a martyr to causes that he himself despised.
Now, it’s widely reported that people in the White House, despite endless purges and cleansings, famously regard Trump as out of control and uncontrollable, a danger to himself and others. More than one “insider” book has claimed that there is a cabal, a resistance, dedicated to preventing Trump from effectuating some of his loonier and more destructive impulses. Clearly this resistance has had little effect, and Trump is consolidating his power. The fact that the front runner against Trump is Sanders may increase the level of desperation of this resistance, since the only thing worse, in their eyes, than a mad, stupid Hitler is a democratic socialist.
So this tweet might not be just bad judgment on the part of some flunky: it may be a signal that persons in the administration may be getting ready to Howard Beale Trump’s ass. It wouldn’t be hard to take the ensuing chaos, confusion and outrage and turn it to their own advantage. President Pence would be a hero who ‘saved America’ by tracking down the head of the evil conspiracy that took the beloved leader from us: Bernie Sanders. Yeah, yeah, I know. Doesn’t matter if he had any involvement or not, though. He would be a serviceable villain for the Trumpkins, though. Rally the base, all that.
Think it’s far-fetched? Gawds, I hope so! I think it’s far-fetched myself.
But go rent a copy of Network and watch it.
Then ask yourself if it’s a possible scenario – or not.