Cross-posted with permission of author
The problem with electing as president a habitually lying reality TV personality is that you sort of lose track of what’s real. Even after the national embarrassment of making Donald Trump president, I didn’t expect him to actually take office. He didn’t want that, right? He just wanted to win. Surely, in the days before anyone tried to swear him in, he would appear on television and give us all a stern lecture about the importance of taking our roles as informed voters seriously. Then he would hand things over to our next president, the real one. That’s not happening. Remember the jokes we all made two summers ago about how hilarious President Trump would be? That’s what’s happening. Today is Friday, and our intuitive sense of what’s real is not as reliable as we think. Won’t you dream that you woke up with me?
First, the good news: various branches of the US military have denied Trump’s request to have tanks and missile launchers in the inauguration parade. The bad news is he genuinely wanted that. What could be more fitting than a military parade for the kid who went to the New York Military Academy after he got kicked out of the Kew-Forest School and then developed bone spurs for the exact duration of Vietnam? Seriously, look how many medals they gave him in military school. If that doesn’t instill in a young millionaire the seriousness of war, I don’t know what could. Anyway, the Army declined to roll tanks through the streets of Washington DC to celebrate the election of our second megalomaniacal rich pussy president. They need to save those for emergencies, like if some Indians try to stop an oil pipeline.
Speaking of which: Republican legislators in five states have introduced bills to criminalize peaceful protests that obstruct traffic or interfere with commerce. “Economic terrorism” is the phrase Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen uses in his bill to make it a felony to protest in ways that disrupt transportation or commerce. Blocking railroad tracks? Economic terrorism. The anti-Trump protestors that shut down I-80 outside Iowa City in November? Economic terrorists. Montgomery bus boycotts? This is a gray area, but they disrupted commerce, didn’t they? Ericksen’s bill moves us closer to that golden day when literally every act of disobedience is terrorism.
You know what’s not terrorism, though, or even illegal? Lying. Our right to free assembly must subordinate itself to the needs of commerce, but other elements of the First Amendment fit right in. Scott Shane of the New York Times has written this fascinating profile of Cameron Harris, the recent college grad who made $22,000 during the election by selling ads on ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, a website he bought to publish fake news. His masterpiece was the headline “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse”—a story he fabricated from whole cloth, plus a picture he found of a guy standing next to a pile of boxes labeled “ballots.” According to CrowdTangle, this made-up news item was read by six million people. Be sure to catch the last few paragraphs of Shane’s amazing piece, in which Harris describes his behavior as “almost like an experiment.” I guess it was almost like that. It was even more like deceiving millions of during an election in exchange for money, though.
You should never trick people for money. You should only trick people to make a point, or maybe for your own amuzement. I know it’s a little long, but do us both a favor and watch this interview between Tucker Carlson and a man who (falsely) claims to run a protest-for-hire business:
Dom Tullipso—spoiler alert: not his real name—gives us a textbook example of TFD for the first couple of minutes, here, refusing to acknowledge that he is lying even though Carlson clearly sees through him. Old Dom winks around 4:45, however, when he expounds on his organization’s support for “national treasures such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Peyton Manning.” The next two minutes are the realization of our collective fantasy: a TV interview subject who is obviously lying finally admits that he is putting us on. It’s the unrealized third act of every interview with every Trump, Luntz, Rove and Eichenwald, a modern dream finally come to life.
That’s democracy: “the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles,” as E.B. White put it seven decades ago. In this time of national bullshit, let us find succor in the writings of dead people who prized clear speech and true claims. We are about to go on a long-planned ride. It’s like one of those haunted houses at the carnival you go through on a little cart, scary not because of the animatronic monsters designed to frighten you but rather the concern that you might die for real. We’re in the hands of carnies, now. Good luck, and god bless America.