The trouble with the style of politics being practiced by Donald Trump’s acolytes in Congress these days is its predictability, a quality most public figures—let alone the rest of us—try to avoid. Sure, such behavior was newsworthy during the heyday of their Great Leader, but its repetition in the face of two election failures, not to mention a full-blown insurrection whose adherents are even now being sentenced to lengthy prison terms, suggests a sorry lack of imagination, if not a political death wish.
This predictability played right into President Biden’s hands in the recent State of the Union address. Victim number one was Marjorie (must we keep adding Taylor?) Greene, whose performance during the session was as tiresome as it was petty. Wearing what appeared to be a mink stole, Greene held in her hand a white helium balloon in token of her hobby-horse du jour, the Chinese “weather balloon hoax” with which she sought to skewer the president on the occasion of his big speech.
The balloon was “right there in the sky where everyone could see it,” she jibed, contending that a vast majority of Americans were outraged by the president’s thoughtful decision to delay shooting it down in order to avoid exposing innocent bystanders to a hail of deadly debris. In fact, a clear majority of those present in the House chamber exhibited a decided preference for Biden’s response as opposed to Greene’s shoot-first-and-move-on-to-other-targets-later approach to current events.
What she and her ilk don’t seem to understand is the simple logic of the classic response to schoolyard taunts, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” In their haste to assert their newfound (and highly fragile) majority in the House of Representatives, these one-trick-pony legislators routinely abandon the first principle of effective public speaking: the element of surprise. As a result, their every word and gesture become foregone conclusions, highlighting a lack of anything resembling considered thought and working to their own discredit. Abandoning the opportunity to be reflective, they gravitate at once to the merely reflexive.
An even greater sin for these politicians is their assumption that this sort of behavior, the essence of Trumpism, is what the country is longing to restore to its rightful place in the halls of government—as if it were ever anything other than an aberration, the result of misplaced enthusiasms on the part of a misguided segment of the population. In fairness to them, the bubble they live in is not of their own making, but a carefully manufactured cocoon spun by right-wing media mavens to line their own pockets as much as to achieve their political goals.
The truly refreshing aspect of Biden’s performance was the ease and political grace with which he exposed their vengeful obtuseness, laughing openly in his signature “C’mon, man!” style at their attempts to shout him down. Instead, they were themselves humiliated by the absurdity of their own arrogance. The American people they pretend to represent don’t support such conduct any more than the voters of Long Island support the hapless hoaxer George Santos, whose constituents recently arrived in force at his Washington office to tell him so.
By any measure, Biden scored a big win, getting standing ovations and rounds of applause so enthusiastic that even Sorta-speaker Kevin McCarthy was obliged to join in, however tepidly and to the horror of his MAGA base. Meanwhile, whatever hopes he entertained of forcing concessions by refusing to raise the debt ceiling were demonstrably weakened by the president’s clear explication of the issues at stake.
Indeed, the speech was arguably a watershed moment; raising hopes that, for the first time since Trump’s godlike descent via escalator from the Olympian heights of his money-laundering condo complex, we might be witnessing the final moments of a false idol. The long, strange con, it seems, is finally over, and it remains only to witness the prosecution and imprisonment of a former Criminal-in-Chief.
Perhaps the most unfortunate moment for the MAGA cause was the lingering, iconic image of Marjorie Greene and her balloon, which, far from skewering the current president, served only to highlight her fawning devotion to the former one: a bloated gasbag who has been outsmarted and outclassed by a man of humble origins with a low-key style, making him a perfect foil for his predecessor in office.
More important, with Biden’s ascendancy—in effect his true arrival in office—we have an opportunity to see the Trump era in a context that promises to dispel much of the rancor of the past seven years. Trump himself is and always has been a tragic figure, someone to be pitied as a human being even as he was reviled as a public official. We need to see him as such not for his sake, much less for his deserving, but for ours.
In the end, there is consolation to be found in the work of the Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who sheds light on the nature of tragedy in a painting titled “The Fall of Icarus.” In it, an ancient farmer is seen casually plowing a field while in the middle distance a partly-visible winged figure plunges into the sea. Nearby, a sailing ship passes slowly on its way, with more important business to attend to than the death of someone who had foolishly flown too close to the sun.