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The (Debatable) Republican Imagination 1 of 4

September 19, 2015

Ouch. I decided to go to YouTube and watch the entire 3 hours. Why did I do that? Oh, yeah, because (1) I wanted to have a more comprehensive knowledge of Republican thought, which I figured I could get from their 11 best-polling candidates, and (2) I thought I’d try to get a sense of how Republicans imagine life, by attending especially to the candidates’ story lines and images—it’s a major job that I take on as narrator.

Paraphrasing Trump: On screen was the persona of Republicanism. How could anyone vote for that face?

Readers will quickly see that, while my presentation is an informed one, it is also interpretive, subjective, biased—I can only hope that there is truth in it.

(I knew from the post-debate reporting that I would not hear very much of Republican thinking on a number of issues that seem to me to be important, and that are important to the Dem candidates; e.g. income inequality and specifics of how to raise the incomes of the lower 90% (minimum wage and such), homelessness and poverty, especially children living in poverty; increasing union membership and job security; spending on infrastructure; Wall St and big banks; personal and family debt; campaign financing; trade policy; LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and in general problems with prejudice and discrimination (but sexism flared as an issue among the candidates); prison reform; voting rights; climate change; world refugee crisis;…

Actually, there was some, brief, attention to (or at least mention of) some of the Dem issues. For instance, several of the candidates voiced concern about struggling working class people. Their concern sounded genuine to me, but they didn’t really pursue it, and certainly not with detailed proposals for doing something about it.

CNN determined the topics to a significant extent, within its format designed to provoke entertaining clashes of the Titans (beginning the debate with the moderator’s “They are ready to face off”—CNN’s image); and maybe CNN was justified in addressing the issues that they thought would be especially interesting to Republican voters (?).)

The first image we see is a stage. We will be treated to a melodrama, with 11 characters played by 11 professional actors, each with considerable stage experience, each well rehearsed in his (or a rare exception, her) role—roles that they have conceived and written, themselves, with help from their handlers and contributions from major donors.

The scene is the Reagan Presidential Library, and the lone prop is a small, withered tree with one leaf—no, sorry, its an omnipresent image of the holy ghost of President Reagan, in the immediate visual form of his sleek, blue and white airplane. Before that plane the Republican 11, aspirant High Flyers, are arrayed in a line. In the center is a man with leonine or clownish hair (depending on your point of view), and to our right of him stands a man who is 6’ 3”, but who nevertheless, playing the historic patterns, stood on tippy-toes during the publicity photo. At the end of the line to our left stands #11, another, but shortish, redhead, who will be banished by the lion king or clown prince, at the beginning of Act One. Although he is the champion of the Libertarian clan, he has no rightful presence.

In the play’s introduction, one character, Gov. Kasich of Ohio, reveals that he may actually have flown in that very plane, with the President on board. I’m thinking that, in addition to giving the feeling of the presence of Republican greatness of spirit, the image evokes the current Republican nostalgia for power, esteem, self-confidence, and ability to fly high above the throng, to go somewhere, in style.

Thus the candidates stood in the aura of the Origin Myth—or at least legend—of Modern Republicanism, of the revolutionary-reactionary Hero, Saint Gipper, who rose out of the Old West to slay the dragon FDR, bringing with him the sun, that had not risen in America since…well they can’t really say Nixon, because his legend is still one of disgrace, and they can’t say Bush, because his legend is one of disgrace, and they can’t say Lincoln, because, as The Great Trump pronounced in this gathering of the clans, Lincoln could not get the nomination.

(The Dems have their own mythic origin story, of a Hero of the Revolution, Author of Independence Itself, the All-Wise Son of Jeffer, with his red hair and dark side of enslavement.)

Because of the dominance of Trump, in the polls and thereby on stage, the story he told was perhaps the biggest of the evening; it holds central appeal for all Republicans because it is a story of business success, wealth and power. For Republicans, this is a story of great personal ability and surpassing worth. It has been so since before the Republic, in the ideologies of both the Puritan aristocracy and the royalist plantation owner aristocracy, as God’s chosen ones:  God blesses His faithful with the abundance of His creation—and that’s how you can tell that those persons are His faithful.

For Republicans it is Aspirational, and even spiritual, telling of the Good Life of status and privilege, of separation from the masses, who live outside, somewhere on the streets below.

On that stage, Trump was the hero of that story. No one challenged his worth. And in a variation on the story that perhaps was puzzling to this audience selected from the Republican establishment, Trump exhibited a kind of noblesse oblige, not to say “compassionate conservatism” with his willingness to give up his own social security checks while protecting them for the masses (and of course there’s his dark side, his stooping to the shenanigans of pop wrestling and honest racism—bad form).

Indeed, Trump stood in the center as a living image of the glory, if somewhat ambiguous, of The Businessman—competent, confident, fearless, forceful, grandly successful in wheelings and dealings of the highest order, triumphant, central to American culture (and maybe world civilization, although Judeo-Christian religion was given its nod for bulwark of Western Civ), Talker to the World, self-manufactured and promoted, incorruptible, unflappable, Protector of Our Women and Slayer of the Dragon Upstart Woman, non-politician become public servant, ***Independent Billionaire*** (with that entertaining dark side in the gamble and the gambol).

A variation on that story was the story of Leadership, Lost and Found, in which a people have been led astray and are now crying in the wilderness for a leader who will restore their orderliness and return them to world pre-eminence. Reagan was a leader, big and bold, a reformer who took on the Washington special interests and restored America, the shining city on a hill. Now it has gone dark. Everything (and I mean everything) that has gone so terribly wrong, all of the darkness in contemporary America, is embodied in the void (of leadership), the O. But this moment in American history is an exception, a nightmare, a shudder. There is a son (or in rare exception, a daughter) of Right Leadership now standing on this stage, before his plane. Oh, America, Come Fly With Me, back to the Days of Yesteryear, the days of Old Blue-Eyed Exceptionalism. Soon. Oh, soon. [Sorry, got carried away.]

And there was the variation on this tale: of “luck and (especially) pluck,” rags to riches, only in America, with Fiorina telling it best, a secretary with a husband who drives a tow truck becomes CEO (indeed she might be the “candidate of pluck,” and good for her, if she weren’t so wrong-headed–and her parents weren’t well-to-do professionals). Rubio told it well too, with his grandfather who didn’t speak English (but that’s a risky model.

Well this has turned out to be even more interesting (for me anyways), than I anticipated. I’m going to post this first page of this episode, and then continue to develop it. I might even go back and listen to the whole debate again, and then do some polishing of the narrative.

(Dear Reader, I listened to the debate through yesterday afternoon and then worked on interpretation until I had to give up and go to bed. As I was waking up this morning, my memory of the night was that I had had three, long, disturbing dreams, of which I remembered no specific content except that one was rather nightmarish, in which a man was trying to kill me, and some friends or family with me. No shit. Beware the Dread Paranoia!)

[Page 2 (Foreign Affairs) /  Page 3 (Domestic Affairs); Page 4 will sum up my interpretation.  I try to explain this approach to analysis and interpretation in “A Note on Method.”]

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