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The GOP, Mephistopheles and the Theater of the Absurd

My oh my, what has happened to the Grand Old Party, known also as the Republican Party? Robert Reich declared the GOP died in 2016 and is now a nightmarish mix (my words not Reich’s) of Christian evangelicals/fundamentalists, libertarians, market fundamentalists, corporate and Wall Street titans, billionaires, and working-class Trumpoids who love Donald. Reich says that “each of these tribes” has its own funding, ideology, political organization, and perhaps most importantly, its own candidate. He’s is not far wrong.

It’s a useful and accurate description of what has happened to the party of Lincoln. But I need more. I need some way to get my head around how, in the United States of America, a party can actually go beyond any sense of reasonableness, and even political morality, and become this: rationalizations for rape (usually appealing to God to say it’s okay); teaching creationism[1] and independent design in schools; denial of evolution and science itself; denial of climate change (Senator carries snowball into the Senate to make his point!); the relish for total war; birthers; the belief that separation of church and state came from Adolf Hitler; the encouragement to carry your guns to picnics, churches, and political rallies; the claim that the failure of Medicare is the same reason the Soviet Union failed; the claim that death panels will kill old people and people with Down Syndrome; abstinence programs that have led to an increase in sexual transmitted diseases and anal sex among young participants[2]; urging us to practice abstinence when we’re by ourself (don’t masturbate!); shutting down the federal government because you can’t compromise with evil; American exceptionalism gone completely into the air; carpet bombing terrorism; never ending tax breaks for the super-duper rich; the celebration of anti-intellectualism…And that’s just the tip of the GOP iceberg. You might think the party has gone as far into Looneyville as it can possibly go, but you’d be wrong! Enter Trump and his Trumpoids stage right.

Donald TrumpJust when you think things can’t get any worse, Trump normalized in our political discourse:  Violence (he has encouraged his fans to physically abuse an African American with a Black Lives Matter T-shirt at one of his rallies, says he wishes he could punch a protester in the face); xenophobia (Mexicans are rapists); religious discrimination (Muslims put on data base and blocked from entering the US); racism (blacks are lazy, wouldn’t want them counting my money); sexism (women are essentially aesthetical pleasing objects, and let’s not get into the issue of blood); rude language (Trump has used the world “fuck” in his speeches, called an opponent a “pussy”); dishonoring a prisoner of war (I like people who weren’t captured); insulting the appearance of an opponent (look at that face, would you vote for that); machoism (I’m the worst thing that ever happened to ISIS); questionable…what, I’m not sure (I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her)…And again I’m stopping at the iceberg’s tip.

Trump is like a cartoon character anti-hero come to life before our very eyes. The more outlandish and frightening he becomes, the more popular he becomes among Republicans. Are the majority of Republicans become Trumpoids? Can it really be happening?

What is happening is at once comic, surreal, and dangerous. Surely we have stepped into some kind of reality altering vortex, where Republicans have sold their souls to some pathetic Mephistopheles to gain…To gain what? I guess a purer and greater America (without healthcare, of course).

Years ago I read every Václav Havel play I could get my hands on. His play Temptation comes to mind now[3]. The play takes place in a science institute that is facing an outside threat. The Institute itself gives the “impression of bureaucratic anonymity” comprised of “arbitrary decisions of someone in authority rather than because they were actually needed.” For our purposes, we need only be concerned with the Director of the Institute, Foustka, a scientist working at the Institute and Fistula, an invalid in retirement who turns out to be the Mephistopheles (a demon featured in German folklore who first appeared in as the demon in the Faust legend). The crisis the Institute faces is its failure to, in the Director’s words, “counter the isolated but nevertheless alarming expressions of various irrational viewpoints…” In the play, “irrational viewpoints” are things like magic, spiritualism, superstition, etc. Foustka, however, delves into the occult which results in the visitation to his apartment by Fistula.

Now, here’s the thing. While both trying to comprehend what is happening in the Republican Party and not spiral into a black hole of depression never to surface again, I realized that:

  • The Institute is the Republican Party organization;
  • The Director is the Party establishment;
  • Foustka represents the members of the Party, quickly becoming Trumpoids; and
  • Fistula is Donald Trump.

Foustka is kneeling in the middle of his room, surrounded by burning candles on the floor. He draws a circle around himself and the candles. He opens an “old tome”. He studies the tome and eventually murmurs something. There is a knock on the door. It is Fistula.

Fistula comes offering Foustka his services in magical wonders but also seeks Foustka’s support. Foustka at first struggles, resisting the offer. Should he accept Fistula’s offer? Should he reject him? Acceptance of the offer and the person are one and the same. He wonders, is this Fistula is for real? Foustka asks himself, what does he actually know about me and my wants? To which Fistula responds, “I know for more than you about what I know and what I don’t know, and how I know what I know.” Eventually, and after much debate, Foustka forms an alliance with the Mephistopheles, Fistula.

As the play progresses Fistula makes good on his claims of super powers and Foustka is drawn further into a new reality. The Director, states that Institute is a “kind of lighthouse of true knowledge” and declares that “what we think today, others will live tomorrow!” But to his dismay, “Something serious has happened. The virus has lodged where one would least expect it, but where, at the same time, it can cause the most damage – that is in the very center…” The virus is, of course, the Foustka/Fistula relationship and all that it means.

Foustka under attack from the Direct begins to question what he is doing. But Fistula reassures him that all is well: “Did we not agree first of all to carry out a little innocent experiment? And it succeeded beyond all expectation, don’t you thing?” But Foustka continues to doubt what he, they, have done, accusing Fistula of being the devil and declaring he wants nothing more to do with him. Fistula, never lost for words and never short of confidence, says, “I am no more than a catalyst, helping my fellow men to bring out something that exists in them…We only live once, so why should we spend those few decades that are allotted to us stifling under the gag of life-denying scruples? You know why you called me a devil? To rid yourself of responsibility…We are engineers of our own fate…”

As their dialogue continues Fistula begins to laugh…

“Foustka: What’s so funny?
Fistula: May I be absolutely frank?
Foustka: Be my guest.
Fistula: You are!
Foustka: You’re laughing at me, is that it? Of all the bloody cheek!
Fistula: There’s nothing wrong with you saving your skin by dint of a little skullduggery – after all, that’s precisely the procedure that Haajah and I…
Foustka: Who?
Fistula: Haajah, the spirit of politics. We prompted you to act as you did. But you shouldn’t have forgotten the rules of the game.
Foustka: Rules? What game? What the devil are you taking about?
Fistula: Does it not occur to you that, like everything else, our collaboration also has its rules? Do away with your scruples as much as you like – you know that I’m all in favour of that. But you really shouldn’t try and cheat the one who is guiding you on this exciting, I might perhaps say revolutionary, path you know. Revolution too has its rules.”

By the end of the play Foustka and Fistula understand each other, their relationship, and the consequence of their actions. Fistula to Foustka: “You did not fall into any trap of mine, you came a copper thanks to your own pride, which led you to believe that you could play both ends against the middle and get away with it. Foustka about Fistula: “I am a conceited idiot who thought he could use the devil without having to sign his soul away to him. As if the devil could be deceived.”

Václav Havel believed morality and politics are inseparable and addressing one without addressing the other is absurd. He believed that good people who enter politics can be corrupted by the trappings of power and thus fail to pursue the common good. And while Mephistopheles may walk among us (metaphorically speaking, for Havel had little time for supernatural devils), in the end we choose our own paths. It would be interesting to know what he would make of Donald Trump and his Trumpoid Republican followers.

Watching the GOP embrace the shouting, rude, violent, racist, xenophobe Trump is like entering the realm of the absurd. Or, perhaps I lived outside the U.S. too long to realize that the absurd is the new reality.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

[1] The idea that two centuries of consistent scientific data by thousands of logical minds is wrong and that Earth and life were not created by a causal chain of events but by an infinitely knowing, loving and powerful--yet seemingly indecisive and possibly bipolar--deity in less than a week. Its strongest argument is its compelling assertion that if you don't believe in it, you'll go to Hell with everyone Jerry Falwell finds personally distasteful and you'll all roast for eternity while demons gangrape you with white-hot tridents – Urban Dictionary

[2] Obama recently stopped federal funding for such programs. It is interesting that federal funding for abstinence programs was never considered socialism by religious Republicans.

[3] All quotes are taken from: Havel, Václav. Temptation. Faber and Faber: London, 1988.

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