Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.
He promised the swamp would be drained,
Was elected, said “Rain!” and it rained
And the old crocodiles
Wore flesh-eating smiles
And the turtles were well entertained.
It’s a wonderful satire right out of Twain or Thurber. A minority of the electorate goes for the loosest and least knowledgeable candidate, certain that he will lose and their votes will be only harmless protest, a middle finger to Washington, and then — whoa. The joke comes true. You put a whoopee cushion on your father’s chair and he sits down and it barks and he has a massive coronary. You wanted to get a rise out of him and instead he falls down dead. Very funny.
Thank you, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for this wonderful joke. Voters in high dudgeon against Wall Street manipulators and the Washington aristocracy vote for the billionaire populist who puts tycoons in power and the Republican hierarchy who owned the logjam that the voters voted against. If Billy the Kid had been smart, he’d’ve run for sheriff.
And now we sit and watch in disbelief as the victor drops one piece of china after another, spits in the soup, sticks his fist through a painting and gobbles up the chocolates. Not satisfied with the usual election night victory speech, he stages a post-election victory tour and gloatfest, a series of rallies in arenas where he can waggle his thumbs and smirk and holler and point out the journalists in their pen for the mob to boo and shake their fists at. He puts the Secret Service through their paces, highways are closed, planes diverted, cities disrupted, just so the man can say how much fun it was to defeat Hillary Clinton and confound the experts.
I stood in an airport last Thursday and watched live cable news coverage of his first stop in Indiana where he toured a factory whose owner had been promised a $7 million tax break in return for not laying off 800 workers. In November, 178,000 jobs were created and unemployment fell, and here was a platoon of journalists in Indiana trailing a big galoot with a red tie who offered a corporation $7 million not to lose 800 workers. No gain, simply a non-loss. It was a classic TV moment, extensive live coverage of essentially nothing whatsoever and we all stood in a stupor and watched, like people mesmerized by drops of rain sliding down a windowpane.
Eighty thousand Trump voters in three states gave us this man, which goes to show you how much damage a few people can do. It takes 12 million to provide health care, 3 million to run the public schools, but 19 men with box cutters can turn the country upside down and empower the paranoid right and create the pretense for wars that will cost billions and kill a million people and give us a permanent army of blue uniforms yelling at us to take off our shoes and put our laptops into plastic trays.
He is a showman, and oddity has paid off for him, as it did for Lady Gaga and Gorgeous George and Liberace. But the public demands new tricks. Today, railing at the journalists who slavishly cover him is, like bear-baiting or lion-taming, entertainment enough, but by next fall he will need to pull canaries out of his ears, and by 2018 he’ll be diving on horseback from a high tower into a pool of water while playing “Malagueña” on a trumpet. Meanwhile, the Democrats wander in the woods, walking into trees. A wealthy San Francisco liberal is reelected as minority leader in the House, having flung millions into the wind and gotten skunked in 2014 and drubbed this fall, and a lackluster black Muslim congressman from Minneapolis is a leading candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee, the person who will need to connect with disaffected workers in Youngstown and Pittsburgh. Why not a ballet dancer or a Buddhist monk?
Meanwhile, the emperor-elect parades in the nude while his congressional courtiers admire him and the nation drifts toward the rapids. The one bright spot is the old draft-dodger’s newfound fondness for generals, including the one who talked him out of the idea of torturing prisoners of war. Military experience does encourage a certain respect for reality. There is hope that if the showman should decide late one night to incinerate Iran or North Korea and get it over with, someone might say, “Hold on. Let’s think this through.”