Washingwood: Donald Trump & Answered Prayers
The candidacy of Donald Trump serves as the supreme teaching tool to explain what is commonly referred to as Saint Teresa’s lament: “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers.”
By Steve Faber
What were our prayers? What are our prayers?
In the realm of the public forum, in the city of Washingwood, where media, entertainment, politics, and policy collide, we have been searching, and ostensibly failing in that search, for something called “authenticity.” We have slowly begun quenching that thirst with a parasitic water that first bubbled up in our culture with the advent of the “reality” show. Sulfuric half-hour bursts of “real” housewives consist of spats with other “real” housewives over lowest-common-denominator issues.
We meander through that particular hell and engage in a Roman Colosseum–style circus of acts chosen because the performer has actual talent or because the performer has no talent (America’s Got Talent, America Has No Talent, America Dances, America Sings, America Sings and Dances Fairly Well or Embarrassingly Badly). These are old-school talent shows with a twist: The viewer crawls right up the performers’ gut-wrenching psychoanalysis and is given the power to bestow success or failure, or, conversely, screams at the television that his or her Aunt Edna could do a better job singing or dancing.
We sang and danced our way to food and were graced with real chefs who, at first, explained how to cook a dish and then, in a Lord of the Flies kind of way, paired themselves (or were paired) with semi-real chefs, forcing them to cook food in 20 minutes while being berated. You know the rest. These “reality” shows cost the networks nothing and make a fortune in advertising and merchandise sales.
As we all know by now, these series are not real. They’re concoctions of people doing strange and, I suppose, “real” things for the purpose of entertaining an audience that was tired of the contrivances of the family drama and the sitcom (many of which I wrote for). Those shows wrapped up all of life’s problems into neat 24-minute bags, and, apart from the jokes, lessons were learned. Except for Married With Children, for which I was a producer and writer, sitcoms had a teaching moment that triggered, in me, a gag reflex.
Thus, the desire for authenticity brought us “reality,” which is provably scripted, non-union—one of the reasons the Writers Guild went on strike—visual explications of common experiences: cooking food, getting a job, getting fired from a job, cooking lousy food, buying a house (that no one can afford to buy now) and settling for that house’s flaws, settling for the idea that you can’t always have it your way. Television dictates our feelings. We take a vacation in other people’s misery or joy.
However, we’re not a stupid people. We know, deep down, this is all false. A Kardashian home experience doesn’t resemble your home experience. You’re not seeking the same jobs as those on the job shows, and (hopefully) not putting up with the hurricane of shit you hear from the man or woman who doesn’t want to hire you or dislikes the way you run your business. You’re not cooking in the million-dollar kitchen those “real” people are cooking in. We know, or feel, the falsity … and again we search for authenticity. No matter how difficult our search becomes, we still confuse “reality,” as proffered by our television culture, with authenticity, which requires no retakes, no contrivances, no filters, no settings to which the rest of us cannot relate.
Likewise with politics, authenticity does not a president make. Politics is a high art; the pursuit of the presidency is a calling. And simply saying what’s on your mind is of no more value than contrived reality. It may be one man’s or woman’s authenticity, but it is of no intrinsic value.
Donald Trump, to many, is alluring. He’s been cleaning up in the polls. He represents our confusion: Is he “real” or “authentic”? To the fictional city of Washingwood, he’s an orgasm, the perfect collision of foreplay leading to climax, a false entertainment meeting a political reality. When Trump says what’s on his mind, he’s telling you he has enough fuck-you money to say what’s on his mind with little to no regard for the consequences of doing so.
Take Trump’s remarks regarding Senator John McCain, saying the senator has failed veterans, has made the country less safe, and is not a war hero. I had the pleasure and honor of sitting down with Senator McCain and chatting for quite a while, and while I do not agree with much of his domestic agenda, he is honest, real, authentic, and, yes, a hero. To deny McCain’s heroism (without rehashing his agony in Hanoi) is either an exercise in ignorance or a gratuitous slap of disrespect at not only McCain and what he sacrificed, but at what countless other men and women sacrificed and continue to sacrifice in our armed forces.
Trump’s criticism of McCain was just plain stupid.
But in our desperate search for authenticity, Trump is (at press time) either leading or in second place in every national poll, apparently because “he says it as it is.” No, he doesn’t. He just says it. So does my neighbor when he’s drunk. Do you want him in the Oval Office?
A portion of the high art of politics is bullshit. We know our elected leaders soften, caress, and manipulate their opinions on matters foreign and domestic. That’s diplomacy. The good ones, well, their value lies in what they don’t say, in the policy they craft. Opening your mouth and spouting your unfiltered opinion on everything from Mexicans to captured soldiers advances neither a debate nor a cause … or, for that matter, a solution. The fact that you were able to make “great hotel deals,” destroying your competition, and express a willingness to tell everyone about it is just babbling (and arrogance and braggadocio).
Diplomacy and executive action are not the results of making great deals, but rather the art of massaging bad deals.
Trump doesn’t seem to understand this notion. He seems to feel the executive branch is one long oak table. We sit on one side, our adversary sits on the other, and we grind our adversary into submission. But the presidency is a delicate job. We learned that in 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to nuclear blows over the status of Cuba. John Kennedy understood finesse, Nikita Khrushchev was taught finesse, and both paid the ultimate price. Words, gestures, pontifications, and/or bloated reactionary answers to complicated questions cause wars. And unlike my drunk neighbor, I cannot tell the president he’s had enough and send him packing. Saying what is on your mind, damn the consequences, is not an art form. It is best left to the false reality show.
Every human being with a thought process has an opinion. People of power who simply express their opinion without examining the consequences care very little for those to whom they express it. They care that it is televised, publicized, argued over, agreed with (or not). Mostly, however, they care that they have the power of a platform from which to express it.
Many Americans live vicariously through reality shows. (Otherwise, why televise them?) However, substituting reality for authenticity in a man who has nuclear-launch codes, the ability to order other men and women into peril and death, the ability to send our political economy into the gutter, and a bully pulpit to denigrate other nations and nationalities? That is goddamn dangerous.
America, why do we ache for what we know is false? Why do we delude ourselves? Why are we unable to simply search for true authenticity and, if it is nonexistent, simply say so, instead of biting the apple we know is toxic? When did we give up on policy and substitute it with the obnoxious sound bite?
Which brings me back to Saint Teresa’s lament: Our prayers for authenticity may result in tears if those prayers are answered. Donald Trump is a prayer, trust me, that you do not want answered.
From the October 2015 issue of Penthouse