Moving Beyond Irony

Irony can disappear. It disappeared after twenty-five years of living in the middle of Hollywood. It was easy enough to smile, knowingly, at a place built on every possible cliché about good and evil, where ambitious men with no other talent become ridiculously wealthy assembling those clichés into preposterous movies with mutant superheroes facing off against fantastic villains about to end the world, or the universe, with a beyond-beautiful scantily clad sweet young thing caught between the two.

This is comic book stuff. Everyone knows it. The actors in these movies, asked to be a living cliché for a few months, add their own irony when they can, with a sly wink now and then. They’re not idiots. They get the joke. It’s all a joke – but there’s money to be made here. They do play along. As many have said about Hollywood, if you can fake authenticity you’ve got it made. The irony disappears.

The irony lives on in the streets. On the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Theater there’s always a Superman impersonator or two. There are the five or six Spiderman impersonators. There’s a Darth Vader or two. There’s always a Marilyn Monroe, or three or four. The tourists pose for photographs with them. It’s only a few bucks. The shortest route to the grocery store is down Hollywood Boulevard. There they are, every day. It’s like living in a comic book. It’s not ironic anymore, not after all these years. It is what it is. Superman rescues kittens from trees. Lex Luthor giggles as he tears the wings off flies and plots his revenge – Superman will die this time, for sure. So what else is new?

Anyone who lives here gets used to this and shrugs. Anyone who lives here has moved beyond irony. Let it go, but somehow the rest of America became Hollywood. America became comic book stuff. John McCain became Superman. Donald Trump became Lex Luthor. America seems to be living in a comic book. Every possible cliché about good and evil is in play.

Those were playing out on this particular day in late August:

Vice President Pence lavishly praised the “lifetime of service” of the late senator John McCain during a speech Thursday to a veterans group that criticized President Trump this week for not immediately issuing a proclamation to lower U.S. flags in his honor.

Donald Trump was being Lex Luthor – let the guy rot – he, unlike Trump, was never the president after all – and Mike Pence was doing clean-up:

Speaking to a national conference of the American Legion in Minneapolis, Pence said he wanted to address “a particular veteran that I know is on the hearts and minds of people all across America.”

“He came from a long line of service in uniform,” Pence said of the Arizona Republican. “He served in the Vietnam War. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, and he did not yield.”

Pence then praised McCain’s service in Congress, calling him “one of the most unwavering advocates of our Armed Forces to ever serve.”

“I can assure you, America will always remember and honor the lifetime of service of United States Senator John McCain,” Pence said. “By honoring him, we also honor all of you.”

In short, pay no attention to that man in the White House. That might have mollified these guys, or not, but Pence’s remarks in Minneapolis came as services were getting underway in Arizona for Superman McCain, and there McCain was the superhero:

Former vice president Joseph R. Biden and NFL star Larry Fitzgerald hailed John McCain as an authentic American hero Thursday at a memorial service marked by tears, some laughter and a send-off to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way.”

Biden and Fitzgerald headed a lineup of a half-dozen speakers at the service at North Phoenix Baptist Church, the second of five days of events celebrating the life of McCain, who died of brain cancer Saturday at age 81. The ceremony was attended by more than two-dozen of the Arizona Republican’s current and former Senate colleagues as well as former vice president Dan Quayle.

Fitzgerald, who has known McCain for years and visited the former Navy pilot’s jail cell and the site where he was shot down in Vietnam, described him as someone who “celebrated differences” and cared about “the substance of my heart, more so than where I came from.”

Larry Fitzgerald is black. He’s one of those black NFL payers Trump has called sons-of bitches who should be fired and maybe should just get the hell out of the country. Larry Fitzgerald and John McCain had been close friends for years. There was a hero here, and there was a villain:

In what appeared to be a veiled swipe at President Trump, Biden said some believed McCain lived by “an ancient, antiquated code where honor, courage, character, integrity and duty were what mattered.”

“But the truth is, John’s code was ageless – is ageless,” Biden said. McCain’s code, he added, was “grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness, the intolerance for the abuse of power.”

Superman believed in “truth, justice and the American way” and so did John McCain, but this was almost over:

On Friday, McCain’s body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. The following day, former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush are among those expected to deliver tributes at a memorial service for McCain at Washington National Cathedral. On Sunday, the senator will be buried in a private funeral at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

McCain had his last wishes. Bush and Obama were asked to speak at the memorial service. Trump won’t. He said he’d send his people. As for the private funeral, Sarah Palin wasn’t invited. She wasn’t asked to speak at the Arizona memorial service or the one at the Washington National Cathedral. Even superheroes make mistakes.

And then there’s the evil villain. The New York Times’ Katie Rogers reports on his day:

As Senator John McCain’s coffin was being loaded onto a military plane bound for Washington on Thursday afternoon, cameras from major American TV networks beamed the coverage around the world, allowing a rapt public to witness the next leg of his four-day funeral.

Back at the White House, President Trump aggressively tried to wrestle back the attention.

“Throwback Thursday!” the president exclaimed on Twitter, posting a video of celebratory Fox News clips of his unlikely route to the presidency just as Mr. McCain’s coffin was heading for Washington…

He was making a point. The day was about him, damn it:

Conspicuously absent from the president was any acknowledgment that a nation was remembering the contributions of Mr. McCain, a Republican war hero and two-time presidential candidate. Clues to how Mr. Trump might feel about having the attention diverted from him lay not in what he said – and on Thursday, he certainly had a lot to say – but in what he did not.

Earlier in the day, as Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president, gave an emotional eulogy to Mr. McCain in Arizona, Mr. Trump, who months ago had been excluded from any of Mr. McCain’s memorial ceremonies, tweeted about witch hunts and fake news. He sat for an interview with Bloomberg, in which he dangled the prospect of keeping Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early believer turned political piñata, in his job until November.

“I just would love to have him do a great job,” the president said.

He would love to have him fire Mueller and send Hillary Clinton to Guantanamo of course, but he said he wasn’t a bad guy:

In the interview, he was defiant about how he handled the senator’s death: “No, I don’t think I have at all,” Mr. Trump said when asked whether he had missed a chance to unite the country.

“I’ve done everything that they requested,” he said, referring to his decision to let Mr. McCain’s family have the military transport the senator’s remains from Arizona to Washington, and to have service members as pallbearers at his funeral.

McCain’s family got a free plane ride and he allowed some service members to do a few things. What more did these people want? He said this did unite the country, but there was this:

Mr. Trump appeared to mock Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his press secretary and one of the aides who pushed him to issue an official response to Mr. McCain’s death days earlier than he did.

When he declined to indicate whether Mr. McCain would have made a better president than Barack Obama, Mr. Trump dangled his lack of response over Ms. Sanders, saying that she must be “having a nervous breakdown.”

That was Lex Luthor giggling as he tears the wings off flies. He had tortured Sarah Huckabee Sanders and he loved it. She wanted him to do the decent thing. He showed her a thing or two.

This really is comic book stuff, which meant he then flew to southern Indiana to attend for one more of his red-meat political rallies:

Since the campaign, the rallies have offered Mr. Trump instant gratification, reassurance and, perhaps most important, an opportunity to wrest back control of a narrative he has felt strayed too far away from him. He was particularly happy to get to Evansville this week, several people close to the president said. They said Mr. Trump, an avid follower of news headlines, was behaving as if he had been cornered, and was lashing out at the negative coverage of his administration.

By the time Mr. Trump opened the rally, he made it clear his mood had changed from defiant to rally-energized, delivering classic red-meat fare for his supporters.

Rogers reports how he talked about how he had humiliated Mexico. They gave in to all his trade demands, and they will pay for that wall. They say they won’t, but they will, and he talked about how he’ll humiliate Canada next. They’ll give in to all his trade demands too or he’ll put massive tariffs on all cars coming in from Canada. – on every single Ford and Chrysler and General Motors SUV and car assembled there, more than half the production of those three car companies. The crowd went wild. That would hurt the Canadians, bad. They hadn’t thought this through. That would ruin Ford and Chrysler and General Motors. That would throw tens of thousands of Americans out of work, but this wasn’t a night for thinking:

Mr. Trump pulled out his most reliable heels: journalists and Democrats. He started a screed about the news media, which he castigated for reporting, among other pieces he found unflattering, that he was concerned that a rally in West Virginia last week was less enthusiastic than usual. He spent several minutes complaining that the coverage of a rally did not sufficiently capture the enthusiasm of his supporters, and repeatedly returned to the topic.

And everyone was talking about that loser McCain too, which just wasn’t fair, but it was what it was:

Outside the rally, a line of the president’s supporters wearing t-shirts and waving Trump flags snaked around several downtown blocks, cheering and contributing to a festive atmosphere. But nearby, members of a group who had gathered to protest Mr. Trump’s policies said they were upset and angered by the president’s behavior toward Mr. McCain.

“A person of McCain’s caliber needed to be honored in his death,” Lydia Johnson, a retired public relations executive, said as she stood in the hot sun.

She said she did not agree with everything the Arizona senator believed. But, Ms. Johnson added, “He would say sorry when he realized he made a mistake.”

Trump was told he doesn’t make mistakes:

After the rally, Mr. Trump was immediately told by White House staff members that the event had broken attendance records.

So it was, after all, his day, not McCain’s.

He knows it wasn’t his day. It never is his day. That enrages him and he lashes out. He WILL make it his day:

President Donald Trump lashed out Thursday morning at top media executives from NBC and CNN, continuing his tirade against media coverage that he considers unfair from outlets he has labeled “fake news.”

“The hatred and extreme bias of me by @CNN has clouded their thinking and made them unable to function. But actually, as I have always said, this has been going on for a long time. Little Jeff Z has done a terrible job, his ratings suck, & AT&T should fire him to save credibility!” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to CNN chief Jeff Zucker.

The relationship between Trump and Zucker dates back to the former’s time as host of “The Apprentice” – the hit reality TV show on NBC which Zucker once ran. Their relationship has turned frosty since Trump’s emergence on the political stage, with the president regularly bashing CNN, the network for which he seems to hold special disdain.

CNN hates him. That’s why he has bad days, or it’s this:

Trump went on Thursday morning to attack NBC News, suggesting without evidence that an interview he sat for with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt had been doctored…

Trump’s interview with Holt, in which he admitted he fired former FBI Director James Comey over the bureau’s investigation into allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign, has been a sore spot for Trump. That Russia investigation, now led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is believed to be probing obstruction of justice allegations against the president focused in part on his decision to fire Comey.

Trump has since claimed his decision to fire Comey had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, contradicting what he told Holt in an interview days after Comey’s dismissal.

So he never said that to Holt. NBC doctored the tape. The entire Lester Holt interview, the raw tape with all the outtakes and do-overs and pauses for small talk, has been posted on NBC’s website since May 2017, so Kevin Drum adds this:

This was basically an admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. It’s been out there for more than a year, just sitting around for everyone to hear over and over and over: a bald admission that Trump obstructed justice. For some reason Trump never seemed to understand just how badly he had incriminated himself in this interview, but it sounds like maybe one of his lawyers finally got through to him. So now there’s a new story: Lester Holt fudged the tape!

This is, needless to say, ridiculous and unhinged. Trump must be completely freaked out at this point, and after telling this absurd lie about fudging the tape his lawyers must be freaked out too. Telling an obvious tall tale in an effort to discredit a piece of damaging evidence does nothing except make the evidence even more damaging in a court of law.

This whole thing is really starting to come unraveled.

Of course it is:

In a third Thursday morning tweet, Trump blasted the use of anonymous sources by news organizations, a familiar refrain for the president, and also slammed “fake books” written about his administration. Such books, including some written by former members of the administration, have proven to be especially incendiary and damaging to the president even as their credibility, in some cases, have been called into question.

“I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them; they only have their hatred & agenda. This includes fake books, which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!”

Now add this:

President Donald Trump said that Democrats shouldn’t try to impeach him, citing a strong economy, his performance on foreign policy and the danger of setting a precedent making it too easy to remove future presidents.

“I don’t think they can impeach somebody that’s doing a great job,” Trump said Thursday in a White House interview with Bloomberg News. “You look at the economy, you look at jobs, you look at foreign, what’s going on with other countries. You look at trade deals. I’m doing a great job.”

And he’s the real hero, not that loser John McCain. He is. He really is. Don’t pay attention to that totally insignificant dead man.

This is the scene in the Hollywood comic book movie where the evil genius madman villain actually goes mad. That always seems to happen, and the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker describes that scene:

Over roughly the past day, President Trump has decried the “totally dishonest” media, with its “fake news” and “fake books.” He has argued that Google is biased against conservatives. And he has accused NBC News of “fudging” the tape of an interview with him that has been available online for more than a year.

The president has even declared there is no chaos in his White House, which he claimed is a “”smooth running machine’ with changing parts,” despite the tumult that emanates almost daily from within its walls.

Trump’s assertions – all on Twitter, some false, some without clear evidence – come just over nine weeks before the midterm elections that could help determine his fate, and they are bound by one unifying theme: All of his perceived opponents are peddling false facts and only Trump can be trusted.

The president and his supporters are under siege, the tweets imply, from pernicious forces conspiring against them.

This is textbook paranoia, not all that remarkable, but for the odd details:

The president’s tweetstorm late this week reflects a certain agitation with the news swirling around him, according to people close to Trump, including a growing anxiety within the White House about the possibility of the “I-word” – as the president sometimes refers to impeachment – and what a Democratic takeover of the House would mean. His tweet warning that “fake books” about his administration are “pure fiction,” for instance, was viewed by some as an effort to mitigate any possible damage from Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Trump’s latest social media proclamations are not premeditated, poll-tested strategy, these people added, but rather the president’s raw, visceral response to incoming challenges, and messaging to his base.

That creates a self-reinforcing paranoia loop that only grows more and more intense, which isn’t helped by all the talk, the same day, of a man whose code “was grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness, the intolerance for the abuse of power” – the man whose day it really was – the Superman to this Lex Luthor.

There it is. Hollywood is a place built on every possible cliché about good and evil, and somehow the rest of America became Hollywood. That’s ironic, but irony does have a way of disappearing. Good and evil aren’t clichés. They’re real enough. America isn’t a comic book just yet.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Moving Beyond Irony

  1. barney says:

    Ashamed and embarrassed for America.

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