Where’s Wall Dough? Talking heads provoke president

December 30, 2018

“Being There,” a book by Polish-American writer Jerzy Kosinski, was published in 1970. The novel is described as “a satirical view of the absurd reality of America’s media culture.”

The book’s protagonist is a man named Chance who works as a gardener and, by chance, becomes sort of a political guru. He gives pithy and straightforward answers to complex political questions, answers which sound impressive but basically make no sense at all. His use of simple gardening metaphors strikes listeners as “deep.”

For example, when he appears on a television talk show and is asked about the country’s struggling economy, Chance responds that “... everything in a garden will grow strong at the right time.”

It’s sort of like running a campaign on the vague promise to make America great again which, of course, is nonsense but sounds impressive. Chance’s audience is sucked in by his seeming brilliance and forms his political base.

Another contributing factor to Chance’s simple-minded way of viewing life’s complicated issues is the fact that he is illiterate. Chance does not read and cannot write a complete sentence. He attempts to hide his basic ignorance by uttering “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense” which, amazingly, works.

Adding to his popular political appeal is the fact that Chance luckily comes into a great deal of money. In the eyes of the D.C. power brokers and the common masses alike, this fact alone makes him a man of distinction. If he is rich, he must have what it takes to be successful in any venture he undertakes — even serving in a role as daunting as that of president of the United States.

The fact that Chance is a new face on the political landscape also appeals to political pundits in the book. They feel that he will bring a breath of fresh air to Washington. He will shake things up, “drain the swamp” if you will.

Other than his gardening background, all of Chance’s knowledge is based on watching television, which is the only way he has spent his free time during his entire life. Thus, Chance cannot distinguish between reality and television — they are the same.

As one critic put it, since Chance focuses so much of his attention on television he develops “a skewed view of reality.” He believes that everything he sees and hears on TV is the truth.

A man who is illiterate and makes decisions based on what television talking heads tell him — a dangerous amalgam for a president, wouldn’t you say? But of course, Kosinski no doubt thought that he was creating an outrageous satirical plot that could never actually happen in an educated, cultured society.

Two recent events brought Kosinski’s novel “Being There” to mind. In a speech last week, President Trump said “A nation without borders is not a nation at all. Without borders, we have the reign of chaos, crime, and — believe it or not — coyotes.”

Trump’s assertion is that, because he has not been given money for his border wall, we have coyotes flooding across the southern border. Coyotes?

Initially, I was puzzled. But then it dawned on me that, as usual, the president had been watching television and someone had mentioned the role of coyotes in illegal immigration. Naturally, since he does not read, and lacks knowledge about the situation other than what he hears on TV, Trump thinks that wild dogs are sneaking into the U.S., contributing to chaos and crime.

Does anyone realize the implication of this claim? Could it be that, in addition to his wall funding, Trump will now demand money to purchase millions of poison hot dogs to be spread along the border?

President Trump provided further evidence last week that a real-life Chance the gardener now resides in the White House with his abrupt switch in attitude concerning a government shutdown over lack of funding for the border wall. He changed his mind in a 24-hour period. Why?

Evidence suggests that the president wilted after receiving intense criticism from certain radio and television commentators whom he faithfully follows. In what appeared to be a conservative commentators’ conspiracy, all of them badgered Trump not to sign the budget without his wall money and to shut down the government — and he did it.

Rush Limbaugh directed Trump to “Veto this thing and then head down to Mar-a-Lago” if it lacks money for the wall.

Laura Ingraham exclaimed “The wall, the wall, the wall. Has to be built. And it’s a scandal that it hasn’t been built.”

Ann Coulter went so far as to state that without a border wall, Trump’s presidency will have “no legacy” and would be a “joke.”

Ben Shapiro called Trump “gutless.”

On and on it went as President Trump watched and listened then did as they commanded, resulting in a government shutdown. Makes one wonder what he will do when the conservative talking heads clamor for a nuclear war.

So we have a president who does not read and can only develop his thoughts in writing to the extent of filling a tweet. Even more alarming, we have a president whose political decisions are dictated by television personalities.

Kosinski’s novel “Being There” was a glimpse into a frightening political future. As 2018 ends, warning signs indicate that we are now ‘there.’

Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire. He recently published a book titled “Tortoise Crossing – Expect Long Delays,” which is a collection of 100 of his favorite columns. It is available on Amazon.com.

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