Everyone knows the 1953 Samuel Beckett play – “two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), wait for the arrival of someone named Godot who never arrives, and while waiting they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters” – and Godot seems to be God. That would make this play about the meaning of human existence and the place of God in that existence, and the Big Guy never shows up. Maybe there is no Big Guy. And life isn’t a waiting room for something better that will happen later, or something worse for “evil” people. Waiting for what never was or is or ever will be, and certainly will not appear, is absurd in the Camus and Sartre sense. The play did premiere in 1953 Paris – their town at the time – but the play was also seen as an allegory of the Cold War or of French Resistance to the Germans. Or maybe is sexual in some way, or Freudian, or something. Beckett said no – “Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can’t make out.”
Okay. Life is waiting. All of life is waiting. For what? It doesn’t matter. Will “it” arrive? That doesn’t matter either. Expect nothing. Or whatever it is will not be what you expect. Deal with it.
But what are you supposed to do while waiting? That’s easy. Appreciate the ambient absurdity. It’s all around. Donald Trump seems to be in trouble but the nation is waiting for the actual impeachment hearings to begin. There has been public testimony as to the facts in question – and no one disputes those, or disputes the applicable law – but now it’s time to discuss what to do about those facts – in a few days – when the House is back from their Thanksgiving recess.
That should be dramatic – or boring – the current key Republican talking point. The press will report that something unprecedented and important just happened. Democrats will say it sure did and this man must go. Republicans will say something boring just happened and no one really cares. But until then, we’re all those two guys in the Beckett play, waiting and waiting and waiting, and sensing the rising absurdity all around.
Matthew Dessem senses that:
Scientists aren’t sure exactly how many sentences it is theoretically possible to construct in English in which every single word makes things unfathomably worse for everyone, but however many there were, now there’s one more: “Roseanne Barr will headline a Super Bowl gala at Mar-a-Lago for the Trumpettes.”
The Palm Beach Post broke the news, which has already prompted leading linguists to publicly ask whether the development of language was a terrible, terrible mistake. “Who are these … Trumpettes?” you almost certainly did not ask.
But yes, they seem to be a political cheering squad of sneering late-middle-age white Republican women – like the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes – metaphorically of course. But they are real:
The Trumpettes gala is scheduled for Feb. 1, the night before the Super Bowl, in hopes that President Trump will be in town to host his annual Super Bowl party. This is the third time the Trumpettes have hosted a gala at Mar-a-Lago, but the first time that disgraced comedian Roseanne Barr will be headlining it.
“Roseanne is a really loyal Trump supporter,” said Kramer. “If there was anybody who really put their lives on the line and said how much she loves the president, she is one of them.”
But there was the May 2018 controversy covered by Sam Adams here:
Roseanne Barr’s Twitter feed has long been a cesspool of right-wing conspiracy theories and dogwhistle racism, but early this morning she swapped out the dog whistle for a foghorn. In response to a tweet about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is black, Barr tweeted “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
ABC was appalled and threatened to cancel her new television show, about crude white working-class folks what don’t like blacks and Muslims and Asians and Mexicans and Jewish bankers, and get angry and say so, loudly, with no apologies. No one was going to push them around. It was a comedy. The first weeks’ ratings were great. Trump called Barr and congratulated her. Now he knew he had a friend in Hollywood, and so did Real Americans everywhere.
But Barr caved – “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.”
Adams covers the rest:
Barr’s apology is hardly sufficient: Comparing a black person to an ape is not making a joke about “her looks,” and falsely accusing her of belonging to a radical Islamist group nods to a long history of discredited rumors about Barack Obama being a secret Muslim. Even as the controversy around her Jarrett tweet was building, she was still tweeting disinformation about Chelsea Clinton being married to George Soros’ nephew and Soros himself being “a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth.”
ABC cut her loose and reconfigured her show without her and moved on. She was out of work for a time. But now she’s queen of the Trumpettes, providing entertainment for everyone waiting for what actually comes next, if anything.
But wait, there’s more. Daniel Politi notes this:
A majority of Republicans say Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln. According to a new Economist/YouGov poll, 53 percent of Republicans say Trump is a better president than Lincoln, who led the country through the Civil War. That feeling though is clearly confined to Republicans because when all Americans are taken into account, 75 percent say Lincoln was the better president and among Democrats the number is even larger – 94 percent.
The poll immediately caused a bit of an uproar on social media. “53% of Republicans apparently don’t even know who Abraham Lincoln was…,” wrote Billy Baldwin. David Rothkopf also expressed shock: “Many of these people have jobs. Operate heavy equipment. Move freely in society. Can that be safe?”
But no one should be shocked:
Trump has previously celebrated his approval ratings within the GOP, comparing his popularity to that of Lincoln. “You know, a poll just came out that I am the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party,” Trump said in an interview last year with the Sun. “Beating Lincoln. I beat our Honest Abe.”
Yes, compare the Gallup Polls from 1863 and 2019 and see for yourself. One does think of Beckett and the Theater of the Absurd way back then, updated. But look at it a different way. Lincoln freed “those people” and Trump said that if one more ungrateful uppity black football star kneels during the national anthem that “son of a bitch” should be fired and then kicked out of the country. What do these people want? We ended slavery. Make any more trouble and we’ll bring it back. Some seem to think that’s better than anything Lincoln ever did to address the racial issues here.
Some people don’t think that. Some people tire of the absurdity. The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak reports on that:
For decades, there was an unvaried rhythm to life in America’s suburbs: Carpool in the morning, watch sports on weekends, barbecue in the summer, vote Republican in November.
Then came President Trump.
The orderly subdivisions and kid-friendly communities that ring the nation’s cities have become a deathtrap for Republicans, as college-educated and upper-income women flee the party in droves, costing the GOP its House majority and sapping the party’s strength in state capitals and local governments nationwide.
The dramatic shift is also reshaping the 2020 presidential race, elevating Democratic hopes in traditional GOP strongholds like Arizona and Georgia, and forcing Trump to redouble efforts to boost rural turnout to offset defectors who, some fear, may never vote Republican so long as the president is on the ballot.
Barabak then offers anecdotal information – individual stories from Mesa, Arizona – but anecdotes are not data, and this is:
The erosion of support among suburban women began during the 2016 campaign – for many the breaking point was the “Access Hollywood” video, in which Trump boasted of grabbing women by their genitals – and increased dramatically in the 2018 midterm election, costing Republicans control of the House.
The trend continued in the recent off-year elections, in suburbs from Wichita, Kan., to northern New Jersey to DeSoto County, Miss. Democrats won two of three gubernatorial contests, in Kentucky and Louisiana, in good part because of their strength in those Republican redoubts.
The sentiment extended down ballot as well. Outside Philadelphia, Democrats took control in Delaware County for the first time since the Civil War. In suburban Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., the party won every state House seat in Fairfax County, a shift nearly on a par with the 2018 Democratic sweep of congressional seats in Orange County, California.
“It’s amazing the change, in just the last few years,” said Q. Whitfield Ayres, a pollster who has spent decades strategizing for Republican campaigns and causes. “It’s not any one place. It’s everywhere.”
It seems that some people have had just about enough of the nonsense:
Surveys have consistently shown most suburban women have little regard for Trump.
The exodus stems not so much from his policies – many of which are standard GOP fare, like cutting taxes and regulations – but rather the president’s behavior: the bullying, belligerence and ad hominem insults.
“Sometimes I want to print out every single one of his Tweets and tape them to people’s doors,” said Christie Black, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom who abandoned the GOP and voted independent in 2016 rather than support Trump. “I want them to see in writing that these are the things he’s saying. Those are worth tax cuts to you?”
“Yeah,” her brunch companion, Kaija Flake Thompson, chimed in sarcastically. “We have no moral compass, but, hey, we have conservative judges!”
So they look to alternatives:
Neither lapsed Republican has decided on a 2020 candidate, though both like Pete Buttigieg, the youthful mayor of South Bend, Ind. Black, a self-described conservative, said she could even vote in good conscience for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with her vision of a vastly expanded federal government.
“We would still have our checks and balances,” Black said, which she fears are steadily eroding under Trump. “I think right now the most important thing is to get those principles of democracy tied down, get that return to regular order, and then we can worry and get back to squabbling about conservative versus liberal.”
But then there’s this:
Trump is not ceding the suburbs. While relying heavily on massive rural support to win reelection, the president and his political team hope to win back many disaffected women by leaning into the strong economy and promoting issues like paid family leave, school choice, female entrepreneurship and aggressive efforts to secure the border with Mexico.
Trump will rely heavily on that last one. Mexican Banditos are coming to rape you and murder your children, but there is one more thing:
Perhaps most crucially, Trump and GOP strategists are counting on Democrats fielding a nominee whom women voters, whatever their feelings toward the president, will find even more off-putting.
But no one knows who that would be, and Fareed Zakaria is worried:
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a secular celebration of America, and as an immigrant, I feel I have much to be grateful for. I am an optimist who tends to see the story of this country as one of addressing its shortcomings and making progress. Lately, it has been tough to maintain that sunny outlook. America’s greatest assets – its constitutional republic and its democratic character – seem to be in danger of breakdown.
Listen to the language of the president. “Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage,” he thundered at a June rally to kick off his reelection campaign. “They want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
That’s a warning sign:
Words such as “treason” and “coup” are now casually tossed around in political discourse. Some had imagined that the impeachment inquiry might provide evidence and facts that would cut through the spin and fantasies, but in fact the opposite has happened. It’s clear now that the intensity of polarization is so great that everything is viewed through a partisan prism. Can America survive through such poisonous times?
Ah, it can survive that:
The American republic is an extraordinary creation, built to accommodate very different people with utterly different ideas and values. It has survived the battles between slave owners and abolitionists, the First Red Scare and McCarthyism, Vietnam and Watergate. All of those struggles were high-stakes affairs, each aroused passions, and each eventually ended, though not without bitterness and disappointment. History, even the history of a powerful and successful country such as the United States, is not a collection of merry tales with happy endings. It’s full of fights, with wins, losses and draws.
Or else it cannot survive this:
Could this time be different? Yes, says Yoni Appelbaum in a thought-provoking essay in the Atlantic titled “How America Ends.” Appelbaum argues that “the United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority – and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests.” Ezra Klein notes a related transformation: “Almost 70% of American seniors are white and Christian. Only 29% of young adults are white and Christian.”
So here we go again:
It took a civil war to end slavery and then almost 100 years of struggle to end Jim Crow. The United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and interned 120,000 U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent before opening its gates to immigrants from all over the world. Women had to wage a long campaign to secure the right to vote, and gays had to overcome systematic discrimination and persecution before gaining acceptance. Today, the country is locked in a new battle over sweeping demographic shifts.
And that may not end well, and while waiting for either Godot or Trump’s impeachment, Zakaria notes one of the things the impeachment is about:
Whatever you think of the charges against President Trump on Russia or Ukraine, his position of resolute noncooperation with Congress should trouble you deeply. If Congress cannot exercise its core oversight capacity, obtain documents and subpoena administration officials to testify, the essential system of checks and balances has broken down. The presidency will have become an elected dictatorship.
Trump is working on completing that long-term project:
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote about “The Imperial Presidency” in 1973. The legislation and culture after Watergate led many to believe that matters were under control. People actually began worrying about a weakened and emasculated White House. In fact, as Schlesinger noted in a 2004 reissue of his book, the presidency in recent years has become stronger than ever. The fear after 9/11 proved to be the gateway for an out-of-control executive branch. The president gained the ability to snoop on private Americans, use military force at his whim, torture prisoners and detain people indefinitely. The president can now order the execution of American citizens who are deemed – by him – to be terrorists, without due process.
And that’s how some think it should be:
In Attorney General William P. Barr, Trump has found an extraordinarily useful aide, who appears to believe, despite all this history, that the great problem in the United States is that the presidency is too weak. He has enabled a policy of stonewalling and silence, in which top administration officials almost behave as though Congress does not exist.
People often ask themselves what the founders would think of America today. It seems to me that the greatest shock to them would be the incredible growth of presidential power. Congress and the courts are recognizable from their times; the White House is not.
Zakaria is deeply worried, and Robert Reich sees this:
Not even overwhelming evidence that Trump sought to bribe a foreign power to dig up dirt on his leading political opponent in 2020 – and did so with American taxpayer dollars, while compromising American foreign policy – will cause Trump to be removed from office.
That’s because there’s zero chance that 20 Republican senators – the number needed to convict Trump, if every Democratic senator votes to do so – have enough integrity to do what the constitution requires them to do.
These Republican senators will put their jobs and their political party ahead of the constitution and the country. They will tell themselves that 88% of Republican voters still support Trump, and that their duty is to them.
It does not matter that these voters inhabit a parallel political universe consisting of Trump tweets, Fox News, rightwing radio, and Trump-Russian social media, all propounding the absurd counter-narrative that Democrats, the “deep state”, coastal elites, and mainstream media are conspiring to remove the Chosen One from office.
So if there’s no chance of getting the 20 Republican votes needed to send Trump packing, is there any reason for this impeachment proceeding to continue?
That’s the question. Those two characters in the Beckett play wait and wait and wait for Godot, for something, anything, to resolve matters, and nothing will ever be resolved. This may be like that, but Reich does see reasons to impeach the guy anyway:
The first is the constitution itself. Donald Trump has openly abused his power – not only seeking electoral help from foreign nations but making money off his presidency in violation of the emoluments clause, spending funds never appropriated by Congress in violation of the separation of powers, obstructing justice, and violating his oath to faithfully execute the law.
A failure by Congress to respond to these abuses would effectively render the constitution meaningless. Congress has no alternative but to respond.
The second reason is political. While the impeachment hearings don’t appear to have moved Republican voters, only 29% of Americans still identify as Republican.
That could change things:
The hearings do seem to have affected Democrats and independents, as well as many people who sat out the 2016 election. National polls by Morning Consult/Politico and SSRS/CNN show that 50% of respondents now support both impeaching Trump and removing him from office, an increase from Morning Consult/Politico’s mid-November poll.
Presumably anyone who now favors removing Trump from office will be inclined to vote against him next November. The House’s impeachment could therefore swing the 2020 election against him.
So pass the articles of impeachment, even if the Senate won’t convict him. And perhaps that’s absurd. But’s it’s all absurd now. And here we wait.