But I hear that Sarah Palin has chosen Donald Trump.
Ted Cruz lost out, in spite of Palin’s history of endorsing him helpfully. (As he tweeted, “I love @SarahPalinUSA Without her support, I wouldn’t be in the Senate. Regardless of what she does in 2016, I will always be a big fan.”) Donald Trump took the rose instead. What happened in the hot tub? Was it the weird artwork? Was it the No-Minor-Ivies study group he had during his Harvard days? Was it the filibusters?
But perhaps there was something inevitable about Palin endorsing Trump. They are kindred souls. They are both reality-TV personalities with distinctive syntaxes and hairstyles. Cruz is in a different league. He’s entertaining for a senator, which is like being the best karaoke singer in a small dark basement room you have rented for your own amusement.
No way Palin picks him. She was Trump before Trump was: the person you couldn’t stop writing about, the person who was too much fun to ignore, who seemed to belong in the entertainment column, not the politics column, who filled the press corps with equal measures of guilt and glee (scratch anyone’s archives from 2011 and you will find an Impassioned Vow to stop writing about Sarah Palin), the shiny new toy, the candidate who is fundamentally indistinguishable from his or her “SNL” impression.
Just listen to the endorsement Palin delivered. Her syntax was always something else, but now it’s even more else and even less something. It is a catechism of clichés. It jumps from word to word in a free-associative fugue. It’s the verbal equivalent of a human centipede, with phrases stacked one on the other face to tail, forcing any thought to take the long intestinal path through before it can emerge into the world, largely unrecognizable. The words seem selected for sound, not for significance.
Here is a sample. “We all have a part in this and have a responsibility looking around at all of you, you hard-working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock-and-rollers, and holy rollers, all of you who work so hard, you full-time moms, you with the hands that rock the cradle, you all make the world go round and now our cause is one, when asked why I would jump in into a primary, kind of stirring it up a little bit maybe and choosing one over some friends who are running and I’ve endorsed a couple of others in their races before they decided to run for president, I was told, warned left and right you’re going to get so clobbered in the press and get beat up and chewed up and spit out and you know, I’m thinking and yeah like you guys haven’t tried to do that every day since that night in ’08 when I was on stage nominated for VP and I got to say yeah, I’ll go, send me, you betcha, I’ll serve, and like you all I’m still standing, so those of us who have gone through the ringer as Mr. Trump has makes me respect you even more that you’re here and you’re putting your efforts and you’re putting reputations, you are putting relationships on the line to do the right thing for this country because you are ready to make America great again, well I am here because like you, I know that it is now or never. I’m in it to win it because we believe in America and we love our freedom and if you love your freedom, thank a vet, thank a vet and know that the United States military deserves a commander in chief who loves our country passionately and will never apologize for this country, a new commander in chief who will never leave our men behind. a new commander in chief, one who will never lie to the families of the fallen.”
If I got this as an email, I would assume the sender had some sort of problem.
H. L. Mencken said once about someone’s speeches that they “left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork,” and although he was speaking about Warren G. Harding, it applies just as nicely here.
This is the speech of someone who cannot say “in it” without “to win it” and “gravy” without “train.”
“Drill baby drill down,” Palin urged, “and hold these people accountable!” What?
You get this kind of syntax in reality TV and in pageants, because the secret end-game is that there is no end-game. The pageant is all that counts. All you have to do is say buzzwords and smile for the camera. Nothing comes after. Miss USA, whatever her answer during the Question Portion, does not have to deal with Syria. If you win the Bachelorette and you actually get a successful marriage out of it, everyone is surprised and alarmed. Because the end of the TV game is a fade-to-black, cameras-off, you can promise the moon. The secret of reality TV is that you can say anything you like and it will not matter because the ostensible point of the show is not actually why you’re there. You’re just there to be seen.
The Palin endorsement drives this fundamental reality-TV-unreality of 2016 home. It feels as though Trump thinks he will get elected president and credits will roll. Things will be Huge and Great. Problems will work themselves out. Great, terrific, knowledgeable people will throng to fix things. There will be a montage, probably. There is nothing after November and certainly nothing after January. This is all high-stakes chicken. The Palin endorsement is just this week’s challenge.
Maybe I am wrong and there is substance to this. I hear that Palin has Deep, Golden Credibility in Iowa (“Palin’s brand among evangelicals is as gold as the faucets in Trump tower,” Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the New York Times) but — truly? Who is still hanging on her every malapropism?
The fact that Trump is impressed by this endorsement — and that we are impressed by this endorsement — is a little disturbing. Do we realize what we are getting into here? The person who wins this is going to have to be in charge of the whole United States for four years, a country where we will actually have to live and work. There are no roses involved.
Donald, if there was ever a time to lift up your hands and announce, “Listen, things just got very out of hand, and if elected, I would have no idea what to do,” now is that time. We will forgive you, mostly.