How the regime wants you to be outraged about all the wrong things
For all of its horror, outright tyranny is always a bit buffoonish. Think of how easy it was for Charlie Chaplin to ridicule Hitler and Mussolini, without straying far from their actual characters. Our own insane regime was almost perfectly prefigured by Alfred Jarry’s 1896 psycho-slapstick Ubu Roi, or King Ubu, a reimagining of MacBeth where a hammy guy with a head like a Klan hood assumes power. The play, which showed the tyranny of absurdity as much as the absurdity of tyranny, caused riots when it premiered. That is our reality—a high-farce, postmodern president as reality show tyrant.
It seemed for a moment like the screams of children being separated from their parents at our border might break through the absurdist denial of reality by the Trumpists. And there was a moment where it was possible that reports that numerous detained kids were beaten while handcuffed and left naked in concrete cells might be enough to make all but the outright fascists balk.
That was when moderate Republican pressure caused the President to backstep, slightly, on the barbarous practice, signing an executive order seeming to reverse the policy of separating children from their parents who had been caught illegally entering the country—but it maintained the initial zero tolerance doctrine, which had caused the problem in the first place. It was for show, like the teleprompter statement stuck in the middle of the off-the-cuff “fine people” “both sides” remarks he made about Nazis in Charlottesville.
And then things got really weird. Here are some snapshots of the beginning of our summer of absurdity, the concentration camp as summer camp, where each member of the regime has laid their own layer of ludicrous across the suffering of children.
“I Really Don’t Care. Do U?”
As Melania left to visit the Texas, Mexico border, she became both more punk and more monarchical at the same time—Johnny Rotten, the Queen, and the fascist regime all rolled into one, when she boarded Air Force One wearing an army-green jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” faux-painted on the back. It takes the old avant-garde trope of showing contempt for your audience—spitting on them at punk shows—and turns it into pure politics. Spit on the separated children you are going to visit.
To add another twist, Trump tried to turn it into a commentary on the press—on Twitter, of course. “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!
“We’ll have the guacamole.”
As the border crisis continued, both Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and architect of zero tolerance and family separation Stephen Miller found themselves craving Mexican food.
In his remembrance of Anthony Bourdain, David Simon, the creator of The Wire, tells a story about eating at Le Bernardin, a fancy restaurant, only to see world-class war criminal Henry Kissinger at another table.
Simon later felt guilty about letting the moment pass and wrote to Bourdain.
“I could have done something,” he wrote. “I could have summoned Aldo, the master sommelier, and asked him for the most expensive bottle of Chilean red on the wine list. I could have had the bottle quickly decanted, taken a sip for myself, and then marched over to Henry Kissinger’s table and poured it over the bastard’s head: ‘Compliments of Senor Allende, you ratfucking murderer.’”
Bourdain called him a “pussy” for demuring.
The Democratic Socialists of America in DC didn’t quite pour a bottle of mescal on Nielsen’s head, but they disrupted the restaurant with a protest.
“How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum?” one person asked.
They chanted “shame.” But that is exactly what this administration lacks. Sure, perhaps, Nielsen was just clueless. But Stephen Miller’s presence in a DC mezcaleria was no more an accident than Melania’s jacket.
Again, no one poured anything on his head. Someone did call him a fascist—but it certainly wasn’t a Casablanca moment, drowning out the Nazis as they sang their anthem with a rousing rendition of the “Marseillaise.” Really, these people should not be allowed to eat at any restaurant.
But there was no cost to the DSA or the people who yelled at Miller. Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of the Red Hen, in Lexington, Virginia, put her own livelihood on the line when she asked White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave. The MAGA mob has attacked her online and the Red Hen was closed the next night.
“Give me my Sharpie”
Trump loves to put his name on things. Before he came to office, licensing his name earned his company $59 million. Last week, he held a press conference with the families of 14 people who had been killed by illegal immigrants. The family members held large photos of their lost loved one—signed by Trump.
Clearly, Trump held the event to try to change the narrative about immigration. He was using these people’s pain for his own gain—with the promise that it would help them. This is how politics work. But you don’t want to draw attention to it. Unless you are Trump. So you stand up there with them and you still make it all about you—and the media.
“Where is the media outrage over the catch-and-release policies that allow deadly drugs to flow into our country?” Trump asked.
Then on Sunday, he went even further on Twitter. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”
By the end of the week, Trump had bombarded us with such a feast of absurdity that he had created a hall of mirrors, in which he hoped the sound of those crying children would be lost.