The closing month of the 2016 presidential campaign is a tragedy playing out as farce—only unlike Karl Marx’s declaration about history repeating itself “first as tragedy, second as farce”—it’s the first time this degrading drama has occurred.
I’m referring to the Donald Trump sexual predator scandal for which we have now seen the dropping of the second, third, fourth and fifth of what may be a series of shoes extensive enough to accessorize a centipede.
It’s never happened before and it’s a farce. But as in Marx’s cycle, this farce takes the structure of Greek tragedy. There is the protagonist with hubris. We see rising action and falling action. The chorus is enormous, comprising the news media. And perhaps most significantly, we—the audience—knew what was going to happen as soon as Trump issued his short and whimpering denial that he never did to women what he said he did on tape.
The other shoes dropping is an event that we expect to occur as the natural result or progression of another event that just occurred. When a big company buys your employer, a massive layoff is the “other shoe dropping.” When the media reveals a celebrity has had an affair, his wife filing for divorce is the other shoe dropping.
Need another example? How about Trumpty-Dumpty, who is running to be America’s sexual predator in chief? (He would also like to be its racist, misogynist and nativist in chief as well!).
First came the videotape in which Trumpty-Dumpy bragged about actions that all but Trump factotums and core fans consider to be sexual predation. Second came Trumps’ denial that he actual grabbed women’s genitals without consent or stalked them into corners.
From the moment of that denial, the entire world—and especially the news media—have been expecting the other shoe to drop.
And drop it has. Again and again and again and again.
Almost overnight, four women have come forth to describe various types of sexually predatory actions Trump committed against them—walking in on women nude, putting his hand up dresses, squeezing behinds, forcibly kissing.
And we’re just getting started. There may turn out to be a mall full of shoes in Trump’s sexual predator closet. I don’t know what the line in Las Vegas is, but I’m betting Trump’s final count will exceed that of Bill Cosby.
Thanks to Trumpty-Dumpty, we now have a quick test for racism: If you condemn Bill Cosby on the existing evidence but do not condemn Donald Trump on the existing evidence, you, sir or madam, are a racist!
Speaking of assault, I’ve had an epiphany about the 25-year assault the mainstream news media has made on the character of Hillary Clinton, presenting her as inaccessible, manipulative, lacking empathy, ethically challenged and unable to connect with people. Her performances in debates, in front of committees, in interviews, at town hall meetings and working with others virtually always belie this depiction, but the media persists.
I already knew that many don’t like her because her spouse is Bill Clinton and that others have always applied a double standard to her because she’s a woman.
But reading one word in Jill Lepore’s pedestrian essay on the general topic of presidential debates in a recent New Yorker gave me a sudden jolt of recognition: One of the decades-old themes in mass culture is to denigrate intellectual achievement and “book smarts” and no one represents intelligence more than Hillary Clinton in today’s political arena (although Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and a few others come close). Lepore clearly composed her piece before the first debate occurred.
I’ve written often about the undercutting of intellectual achievement in the mass media since the end of World War II; for a few examples, see blog entries of March 12, 2015; February 3, 2015; January 22, 2014; October 27, 2013; and January 27, 2013. Saying math is hard or that learning is not fun, touting celebrities who didn’t finish college, belittling education, calling devotees of serious theatre snobs, assuming beach reading has to be escapist, equating genius with madness—the barrage of subtle digs at intellectual achievement in the news media proceeds on a daily basis.
In presidential campaigns, when “smarts” has been an issue, the mass media has always influenced the public to prefer the candidate seen as “less smart.” Examples include the 1952 and 1956 election in which both Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower were both educated and studied men, but the media primarily depicted Ike as a “nice guy war hero” and Stevenson as an intellectual (and “smarter”) and subtly marked him down for it. Then there was smart Jimmy Carter versus dumb Ronald Reagan in 1980 and smart Al Gore versus dumb George W. Bush in 2000. In both these elections, the media used all the derogatory ways we have to say “smart” to describe the losing candidates, while extolling the people skills of the winning candidates.
My epiphany came when reading Lepore’s gratuitous characterization of Hillary in a description of what she expects in the debate in which Lepore’s tone reflects a snarky world-wear criticism: “Hillary Clinton will be there, overprepared.”
Overprepared? That means she hit the books too hard and studied too much. But is there any such thing? Let’s see… If she prepared for questions or comments that would never be asked, e.g., “What do you think of the cancellation of Hill Street Blues?” that would not be overpreparation, but stupidity. If she prepared so much that she neglected to eat or sleep and therefore performed poorly, that would be inadequate preparation, because she focused on just one aspect of what it takes to get ready. If she practiced her facts and messages to the point that she delivered them robotically, as if muttering the rosary, that would be a poor performance, perhaps suggesting, again, that the cause was not overpreparation, but poor preparation for not focusing enough on the performance aspects of debating. The more we study the possible meanings of “overpreparation,” the more we must conclude that there’s no such thing, except as a stand-in for something else.
In short, all references to “overpreparation” are nothing more than a derogatory way to refer to a good, smart student. Interestingly enough, the concept of “overpreparation” is similar to that of “overachieiving” in that the mass media sees it as a virtue in athletics, but a vice in intellectual endeavors. If you think I’m wrong, monitor the sports pages and news sections for a few months. Athletes are always praised for their hard work (especially if they are white and can be contrasted with “natural athletes” assumed to be of color).
With the current election, the news media is in a triple quandary: It usually subtly shapes coverage to help Republicans (see the Congressional 2010 election coverage for a case history) and it usually subtly puts down the candidate who is more intellectual, more educated, more studied—the egghead, as they called Stevenson. But by doing so in 2016, they risk unleashing a monster on the world.
The third part of the triple quandary. Do I even have to say it at this point? It’s sexism, which plays out less in candidate preferences and more in the strict media adherence to condoning a subtle but explicit double standard that exists throughout American society regarding men and women in the workforce.