BERLIN (AP) — U.S. Sen. John McCain is urging President Donald Trump to nominate a team of senior officials at the State Department to back up new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke Saturday during an event in Brussels. He pointed to “confusion” over whether Tillerson […]
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have struck the northwestern rebel-held city of Idlib, inflicting casualties. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Friday night attack struck a prison run by militants, killing at least 16 people including prisoners and prison employees. It added that women were among the dead as […]
BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — In the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group became infamous for its spectacular variations on explosive vehicles. For attacks in the West, it has advocated the use of the same tool but suggested a simpler method, encouraging its followers to use regular vehicles to achieve bloodshed. Experts say […]
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas police say they are investigating a burglary at a high-end retail store inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Police said in a statement Saturday that a preliminary investigation suggests that at least three people entered the store and one of them fired gunshots. No one was injured and a […]
RADFORD, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina sheriff says a newborn and the baby’s 2-year-old sister have been found stabbed to death. Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin tells WRAL (http://bit.ly/2n1S80h) the bodies of 4-day-old Genesis Freeman and 2-year-old Serenity Freeman were found Saturday near an intersection close to the city of Raeford. Before they were […]
By TEDDY WAYNE
For all the rational appeal of peace and stability, Americans have a powerful attraction to calamity and disruption. World War II veterans commonly speak of their time in the military, when they felt deeply connected to a meaningful goal, as the best years of their lives. For many baby boomers, the late 1960s, with all its sturm und drang over an unpopular war and antiquated social policies, remains on their personal highlight reels (the free love and drugs may have had something to do with it, too). People who came of age in the pacific ’90s just don’t speak as reverently of seeing Stone Temple Pilots play Lollapalooza as flower children do of watching Hendrix at Woodstock.
Now, as Donald J. Trump helms arguably the most turbulent presidency since Richard M. Nixon’s, the nation is entering an era of volatility unseen for decades (post-9/11 excepted). And for some people (even the president’s opponents), the climate of crisis inspires a perverse thrill.
It has been posited that a number of Trump voters supported him out of an anarchic desire to destroy a system that has not worked for them, or even just to see what would happen with the nuclear codes (or, as an Onion video headline in 2011 astutely put it, “Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters to Support Palin”). I doubt many liberals have similar inclinations.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere of Trumpian turmoil makes a lot of people across the political spectrum feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves.
“We’ve come to equate drama and crisis with history,” said Kevin Rozario, an associate professor of American studies at Smith College. “We know we’re in the presence of history when things are blowing up. There’s an intensification of emotions when you’re living in historical times, as if it’s more real.”
Indeed, political journalism — itself under attack by the president — hasn’t been this ardent since Sept. 11.
“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” wrote David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, in the final sentences of “How to Build an Autocracy,” his widely read article in The Atlantic. “What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”
When I read this Churchillian echo, I was duly scared — yet also stirred. Not being a member of the military, and generally opposed to its actions, I have never been called upon to defend the United States. Like most sheltered civilians, I’ve had no finest hours, just a streak of fine ones on the sidelines as others make far greater sacrifices. But now, with alarms clanging all around me, I can see why patriotism exerts such a strong pull.
Just about anyone opposed to the current president would gladly trade his administration for the no-drama-Obama years or even a monotonously efficient Mitt Romney reign. But consider whether you have ever looked through Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed, hoping to find something inflammatory, and been disappointed to see only mundane announcements. Or whether you’ve gotten giddy over the prospect of how “Saturday Night Live” will satirize his and his staff’s highly abnormal comportment during news conferences and interviews. Or even experienced an illicit frisson of suspense over the setting of this year’s doomsday clock.
Those who are under direct threat from the president’s policies or who have experienced firsthand the horrors of life under authoritarian regimes will find little titillation in any of this. There is also a major difference between executive orders and statements from Mr. Trump that affect the defenseless, and impulsively tweeted claims that compromise his own credibility and don’t necessarily hurt anyone. And sometimes laughter is the best way to hold off tears and speak truth to power.
The way liberals see it, the United States enjoyed eight essentially scandal-free years (conservative publications beg to differ) after the two previous administrations were embroiled in too many governmental and salacious kerfuffles to name. The Trump advocate and adviser Peter Thiel may have risibly overstated this idea when he told The New York Times that “no corruption can be a bad thing,” as “it can mean that things are too boring,” but he was onto something about the public’s ravenous appetite for shock value that propelled his choice for president into the spotlight and kept him there.
Moreover, without a military draft or a major economic downturn since the ’70s, the middle class, though it has certainly had its problems, has not had to deal with the pronounced suffering on a national scale that previous generations periodically faced. Those born into enough means and not from a marginalized demographic have been able to lead, relatively speaking, politically uneventful lives the past four decades in America. That wasn’t always the case in 1918, 1929, 1942, 1950, 1968 or even the Cold War ’80s; I would rather worry about an isolated ISIS attack than a Soviet nuclear strike. For all the fear it puts into the hearts of progressives, the news surrounding Mr. Trump will, to state it callously, make for fascinating history books in the future.
Hollywood has been preparing us for a presidency like this for years. Disaster movies have always been popular, but in the late ’90s, there was a conspicuous streak of threatening comets, asteroids, volcanoes and twisters. In a decade without an obvious foreign enemy, natural disaster functioned as both a convenient antagonist and reflected our anxieties over environmental depredation. This was the earth’s revenge for climate change, and we went to the theater to receive a visual lashing for not recycling.
Then Sept. 11 ushered in the era of the superhero, with desire for American might to overcome evil projected onto a single figure. Mr. Trump rode the wave of this jingoistic strongman fantasy to the Oval Office, frequently depicting himself as the only one able to rescue the country.
But a darker vision has simultaneously taken shape in the past 15 years: the post-apocalyptic and dystopian. If we childishly imagine that Iron Man will save us, then movies like “The Hunger Games,” “Snowpiercer” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” betray our concerns over where the world is actually heading: toward massive economic inequality and a barely habitable planet.
The common denominator in all these films is that we safely watch the cataclysm from afar. And nearly all of us saw the Kennedy assassination and other national tragedies on a screen, not in person. (A common observation after Sept. 11 was that the destruction of the World Trade Center seemed out of a movie.)
In Professor Rozario’s 2007 book, “The Culture of Calamity,” he argues that visual media transforms all events — even real-life violent ones — into entertainment, and that our fascination with disaster narratives stems from our barely repressed fear of death and a romantic desire to confront destruction. Onscreen calamities allow us a spine-tingling brush with death without subjecting ourselves to real danger, much like a roller coaster or horror movie.
But Mr. Trump himself is no Reaganesque star of the silver screen; he’s the as-seen-on-TV president. “Television has always been attracted to the intimacy of character or spectacle,” Professor Rozario said, adding: “He knows how to play that game. And he’s mesmerizing.”
He has mesmerically disrupted our other media devices, too. We can immediately access Mr. Trump’s latest diatribe on our phones, survey on social media the instant response to them, watch satirical mash-ups and GIFs and sketches. Never mind “S.N.L.”; 2017 more closely resembles some A.D.H.D. version of “1984.”
The running time is the length of a tweet. The genre is pre-apocalyptic and near dystopian. The entire country is riveted.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The first democratically elected president of the Maldives says he has signed an agreement with his one-time archrival and former strongman to try to restore democracy in the archipelago state. Former President Mohamed Nasheed said Saturday that the immediate target of the agreement, which was also signed by two opposition […]
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Congo’s government must cooperate with United Nations efforts to locate experts who have been missing in the violent Kasai region for nearly two weeks, Human Rights Watch said Saturday. Uruguayan peacekeepers and Tanzanian special forces who deployed to find the six people, including ones from the United States and Sweden, have […]
Everyday Canadians spent a year embracing Syrians in the world’s most personal resettlement program. Letting them go might be the biggest test yet.
For years, he was the frequent companion of the equally fabled Mrs. Astor. Then, in her final years, he also became her protector in an ugly, tabloid-ready fight with her son.