At some point the Federal Government became a separate entity from the people of the United States. It’s difficult to say when it happened. Maybe it’s a natural evolution, officials, who are only human, after all, find power irresistible. It could be the press, cameras, microphones, bright lights, who wouldn’t feel compelled to assume an identity? Possibly, it always been this way, history only tells us so much. All the world’s a stage, and DC is the greatest show on earth. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Richard Nixon was a natural. He acted like a cautious, careful statesman. He acted a if he was a presidential candidate opposed to the war in Vietnam. During the campaign Nixon sent Anna Chennault, an aide, to the South Vietnamese Embassy to encourage the government of South Vietnam to walk away from negotiations with Hanoi, refuse to deal with Lyndon Johnson and prolong the war. Nixon felt, correctly, as a candidate who promised to end the war, he would have a much better shot being elected and ending the war if the war was still in progress.
Despite fervent, frequent public demands to end the war, Nixon sent troops into Cambodia, mined the harbor at Haiphong and increased the number of bombing sorties. American soldiers continued to die. Vietnamese peasants perished under high explosive detonations or starved to death. In the end, the war became another heroic tale in the long history of Vietnamese resistance to foreign invaders. Peace with honor rang as a hollow excuse for failed policy. And the curtain closed on Nixon’s career with the wonderful finale provided by a bungled burglary attempt.
Nobody was any better at showmanship than Ronald Reagan. He was an actual commissioned cavalry officer who never saw combat, he never even left the country. In several war department films, though, he acted as if he were going off to war or coming home on leave. Later, after his acting career withered and died, he would talk about the happiness he felt when coming home from the war. These accounts were taken directly from movie scenes. Reagan’s theater of operations was an actual theater. At the time he was an acting democrat, later he converted and acted like a republican. When he was offered the role of his lifetime, a chance to act like the president, he couldn’t resist.
He acted as if he were a likable, genuine man of the people, who cared for the needy, the old and the weak. He acted as if he could help the poor by giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy, slashing the corporate tax rate, and eliminating government regulations protecting worker rights, the environment, and the nation’s economy.
Thus, was born “Reaganomics” though that wasn’t what he called it, his false modesty and down-home stage persona would never allow such vanity, he called it “trickle-down economics.” He acted as if it would spur profits and growth and eventually there would be so much money it would roll down the sides of the upper class to the poor and weak. It helped large corporations increase profits, deregulation helped them create pollution, lower standards of living for employees and generate wealth for members of the board of directors and top officials. It also allowed the national debt to triple during Reagan’s time as president.
Enter Stage Left, Donald Trump. His act is a little more primitive, it carries an older message. He acted as if there had been a golden era, and he alone had the way back. It was all an illusion. It made a compelling passion play, though. Acting as if he could fix problems that didn’t exist allayed the fears of so many. It worked, too, people found a remedy to ills the country didn’t have. Which is exactly what Trump wanted. It’s so much easier to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. In speech after speech, he extolled the virtues of Trump, the solution offered by Trump. It was perfect, all he had to do was talk about what he was going to do. He never had to do anything.
In the end it was too much for most voters. When he lost, he finally found a problem. Losing. It was more than he could handle. He has been complaining about it ever since. Another non-existent problem he could promise to solve, his followers are still eating it up.
Now, our government has completely given over to theater. Commissions investigating committees. Jim Jordan, a journeyman actor, is made Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where he acts as if he cares about the truth. Marjorie Taylor Green, who acts like a Q-Anon enthusiast, though it may not be an act, is on the Homeland Security Committee. This despite her caustic, Trumpish comments about the 9/11 attacks being an elaborate hoax. The very attacks that prompted the formation of The Homeland Security Agency. There is no shortage of irony in Washington today.
Lately, though, the act is wearing thin. January 6th, 2021 introduced a new danger to the complicated plot. Everybody who participated claims to have been invited, though the person who invited them wasn’t there, and it was more of a command than an invitation. The rest of us are stuck, in the audience, hoping for an intermission, but fearing the final curtain.