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One of the stranger things about the political system that has evolved since the end of the Cold War is the declining reality of politicians. No, not their declining grasp on reality, which is a real thing. It is the fact that our politicians are less and less like normal human beings and more like sketches of human beings. As the role of politician has become more of a role, performed by someone good at public performance, their back stories have grown smaller and less important.
Go back to the last two Cold War presidents and you see men with long and detailed back stories that were relatable. Reagan was the midwestern guy who went to Hollywood to become a star. He ended up on television as a pitchman but became the head of the actor’s union. Poppy Bush came from an old blue blood family. He was in the war and then had a life in politics. He was even the head spy for turn. We knew a lot about these men before they entered the White House.
The first post-Cold War president was a different matter. We know a lot about his time in Arkansas, mostly because of he and his wife’s personal corruption, but none of that was known before he hit the national stage. It was only after he was in the White House that his backstory came into focus. How much of it is true and how much of it is missing is something we will never know. Bill Clinton was the first president who started out as mostly an idea, a sketch of a man, rather than a real person.
Bush the Dull was another poorly drawn sketch. His backstory never got much attention at all, other than his wild days. His bio was mostly inherited from his father, other than the hints of his prior drug taking. It is easy to forget, and many would like to forget, but Bush was sold as an updated Reagan. He was the best of the old line Republicans combined with the social conservatism of the new Republicans. Like Clinton, George Bush was fitted to the role, not the other was around.
Obama may go down as the quintessential liberal democratic politician, because he was pretty much an actor hired for the role. Central casting sketched out the ideal liberal democratic Progressive. He was one part black leading man, one part urban sophisticate, one part mysterious foreigner and one part post-racial. This was poured into the mold of the former three letter heroes. Obama was FDR, JFK, MLK and RFK all rolled into one character. He was the first Mary Sue president.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but when Reagan entered the White House, the media was full of people who knew Reagan going back to his youth. Like presidents before him, this was part of the getting to know him process. We had a lot of Clinton chums turn up in the media, usually from jail, but at least they were people who knew the man before he was famous. To this day we have precious few people who have come forward to talk about the young Obama.
The we got Trump. If Obama is the epitome of liberal democratic politics, Trump is the epitome of modern business ethics. He created a brand first then he used that brand to create business opportunities. He is “fake it until you make it” in the flesh. His life was as the brand manager of Donald Trump the brand. In the whirl of self-promotion, a swarm of ever changing characters would work various deals that always relied on someone in the room being the mark.
This is why Trump struggled as president. He remained the brand manager, but instead of being surrounded by sharps who knew how to fleece a mark, he was surrounded by naïfs who had no political skills. It turned out that commercial real estate is the low minors relative to the rough and tumble world of imperial politics. The Trump brand did well, but the Trump presidency was four years of chaotic failure. This is because Trump the brand had no role in Washington the musical.
Now we have Biden, a man with early stage dementia. For reasons no one can explain, this shuffling corpse is supposed to be wildly popular. In his youth, when he was able to be himself, he was as popular as rectal exams. Then all of a sudden when he becomes a shuffling husk, he is all the rage. It turns out that his real value was as a vessel into which the image makers could pour the ideas for his role. Biden is the death mask for a dying regime that does not have the decency to like still.
The presidents are not the only examples of this phenomena. Across the political space, the characters on the stage are becoming more two-dimensional. They are also declining in quality. Stock characters like affable black conservative have gone from Walter Williams to Candace Owens. The former was a real man of flesh and blood who had a real life. The latter is just a poorly drawn concept. Before her turn as numinous negro, she was an antiwhite activist harassing teenagers on-line.
Poorly written characters end up in poorly written plots. Conservative Inc. is now rallying around a man playing the role of a woman. Bruce Jenner is no longer the guy who won an Olympic gold medal fifty years ago. He is now a right-wing transvestite running for governor as a collection of ideas. He is the full expression of conservatism, in that the ideas are wholly divorced from the person. Just as America is just an idea, Bruce Jenner is just an actor performing for the conservatives.
Liberal democracy is like the story of the ventriloquist who descends into madness, thinking his dummy has come alive. Instead of the ventriloquist putting words into the mouth of the dummy, it is the dummy in control. Instead of actors performing the roles required for liberal self-government, we are now in a world where the garishly festooned actors dictate the terms of liberal self-government. The increasingly freakish cast members are writing the script as they invent their roles.
This is why modern America increasingly feels like colonialism. The people in charge are not only alien to us, but they are relatively unknown. A real flesh and blood character with a genuine backstory sticks out like a sore thumb. Even Trump, with all of his flaws, was a real person, which is why he was such an oddity. The overclass has become alien, in part, because it is now run by poorly drawn characters in a poorly written melodrama. America is colonialism, the mini-series.
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