You bet your life.
Suddenly, the TV screen went blank. I was only a kid. I had no idea why. Nor did my folks. We had been watching “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx. In those days of low-resolution, black and white TV and only three channels, my parents and I often watched shows together. There seems to be some controversy about what happened but this is my recollection.
A couple came on as contestants and they had a large number of kids. Groucho said something like, “Why so many kids?” She replied, “I love my husband.” Groucho said, “I love my cigar too, but I take it out sometimes.” Black screen. No sound.
At first, my dad assumed the picture tube had burned out, but that was clearly not true. The other two channels worked properly. We assumed there were technical difficulties at the TV studio. This had happened on various shows before when someone tripped over a cable, but generally the problem was quickly fixed. In this case however, the show never came back on.
I had no idea at the time that Groucho’s comment was the least bit risqué — indeed, I didn’t even know what risqué was. Today, television is considerably different. It is higher resolution. It is in color. You have hundreds of channels to choose from. If hundreds of channels provide too few choices, you can go the Internet and see podcasts or youtube videos.
If you like, you can have far more than suggestiveness about sex. Youtube began in 2005 and now (2019) over 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. In 1950, even if you watched TV 24 hours/day, you could only watch half of what was produced. Today, if you watched youtube 24 hours/day, you could only watch 1/18,000 of what is produced. And, there are much more explicit channels than those on Youtube. Oh, yes. You bet your life there are.
You could imagine reading or watching a well-structured story as something like riding an emotional roller-coaster ride. In a real roller coaster that is powered by gravity, the biggest “thrill” is generally at the beginning. In a well-constructed story, however, the biggest changes in emotion generally occur near the end. It makes little sense to have the hero almost die in act one; end up killing the villain instead; and then, in the final act, have the hero win a croquet match.
Both in the long term, and in the short term, to stay entertained, we look for rising action and for more and more outrageous things to happen. In the short term, whether we are enjoying opera, a movie, a sporting event, or a novel, we expect more extreme events and changes as time goes on. In the long term, we expect the media as a whole to be more sensational and sensationalistic as time goes on.
For many Americans, the story of the American dream no longer seemed a story worth believing. Some folks had worked hard their whole life for a corporation that simply shut their doors and moved away for cheaper costs and higher profits. In other cases, the company that they had worked for went bankrupts. Others did not have their jobs taken away but their ability to do the job disappeared because of accident or injury.
Other folks experienced their small businesses or farms destroyed by giant corporations who had deep pockets. These deep pockets enabled the large corporation to lower prices and drive out local competition. The large companies could also buy politicians and afford to fight in court for years. So, what do such folks do when they believe that, through no fault of their own, their dreams have been destroyed?
Some turn to drugs. For many, the answer is to look to identify with someone else’s dream. They watch reality TV. Or porn videos. Or, sports events. Entertainment becomes much more than simply a distraction. It becomes central to life. If such folks have ridden the earth for more than 30 or 40 circuits around the sun, they have heard and believed the promises of many politicians. For many, such promises have not been fulfilled. Politicians have come and politicians have gone, but the lives of their constituents remain roughly the same regardless of which party or which person is in power. They care much more about their entertainment because their entertainment actually does make a difference in their lives.
Many folks in America have essentially come to view #45 as the CEO of America. He is a completely ineffective executive. But that doesn’t matter. He is not, to them, the Chief Executive Officer. He is the Chief Entertainment Officer. He always has something outrageous to say or tweet or do. He’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, even if not quite so organized and educated. And, it isn’t just his base who view him as such.
The liberal media as well as the conservative media cover him more than any other POTUS. Of course, they cover him in different ways. The conservative media may report on one of his many outrageous lies with a straight face and without commentary. “POTUS declares emergency as hordes of Muslim terrorists attack our southern border!”
The liberal media report on this differently: “POTUS declares emergency as ‘hordes of Muslim terrorists attack our southern border.’ However, there is no evidence of this. Immigration is actually down.”
The “mainstream” media split the difference. “POTUS declares emergency because he claims ‘hordes of Muslim terrorists are attacking our southern border. Liberals in Congress question whether this is really true as do the sheriffs along the southern border.”
Notice that both the liberal way of reporting and the mainstream media way of reporting first repeats the outrageous lie. Furthermore, the outrageous lie is much more entertaining! Picturing a horde of Muslim terrorists attacking our southern border is vivid and specific. Saying #45 lied again is rather abstract, mundane, and boring.
For the “base”, having liberals fuss and fume about the outrageous words, tweets, and actions of #45 only adds to the fun! No matter if, down the road, our planet is unlivable. The “base” has already given up on real life. That dream has been broken too many times to be thought of as realistic. But a red hat with the words, “Make America Great Again” or the chance to chant something like: “Lock her up!” is entertaining. Maybe their dreams for themselves and their kids are dead, but maybe they can do a small part to make the dictatorial dreams of #45 a reality!
Adding racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, graphic lies about abortion — these are not strategies for statesmanship. They are antithetical to uniting or leading a country. But who cares? They add to the entertainment value. And, beneath the surface, still unsaid by most, is the hope that someday, if all goes well, and #45 stays on and on and on as “Chief Entertainment Officer” there will be the chance to see live and in person, the actual burning of “witches” (uppity women). Or, maybe lynchings and burnings of people of color can be brought back! How entertaining would that be! The base can return to the days when they didn’t have to see the deeply disturbing scenes of men loving men which makes them have and hate those feelings in themselves.
While sound and fury is all happening on the surface in a very public and entertaining way, beneath that surface, some very smart and methodical people are destroying America. These folks are not ignorant of American politics or history or geography. They are well-versed in it. They are, in many cases, experts. They are members of the Russian intelligence organizations. They are turning diversity — one of the strengths and competitive advantages of America — into a source of division. They may or may not enjoy the aid of a fair number of extremely wealthy and power-hungry Americans who would also like to see the federal government dismantled to be replaced wherever possible by new business opportunities; e.g., to privatize social security, prisons, the military, roads, parks, the post office, etc. Moreover, in their dream for America, not only will they be the “bosses” of most other people; they will have absolute power over them as well. No more pesky sexual harassment suits will be filed in their dreams of the future. No more EEO or OSHA to deal with. Tax laws will be modified to do what they should do: tax the poor and middle class and help the ultra-wealthy aggregate more and more wealth.
While the surface “show” is unpredictable to the point of almost seeming random, the underlying tide continues unabated and methodical. Putin wants #45 to do all he can to isolate America from its allies; to divide Americans against each other; to weaken America economically by increasing indebtedness and the disparity in incomes; to weaken America’s belief in government by subverting the rule of law and by appointing the worst among us to government office rather than the best; to weaken the morale and materiel of the military and intelligence agencies through lies, broken promises, and undercutting expertise and honesty. Because these stories are slower and more methodical, they are also less entertaining.
One entertaining piece though is why it is that #45 works in Putin’s interest. Does Putin “have something” on #45? Might it be really salacious? Or, perhaps, Putin’s just so much ‘smarter’ than #45, that Putin can trick him into doing whatever Putin says. I put ‘smarter’ in quotes because it isn’t simply that Putin is himself smarter. What’s more important is that he actually knows a lot about politics, power, and people. He listens to his experts on destroying America and how to manipulate #45. So Putin’s effective intelligence is far greater than #45’s. It might even be the case that #45 simply admires Putin (and other world dictators) precisely because they are dictators. #45 may simply believe that if he follows Putin’s lead, Putin can show him how to become dictator of America, in time.
The why is an entertaining story. It is filled with mystery and suspense. The story of what #45 is doing to destroy America is far less entertaining. It is also far more consequential to the lives of our children and grandchildren than is the story of why. If America comes to live under a dictatorship it will subvert and pervert our society in hundreds of ways, large and small. In a world where powerful people hold all the power and truth is of no account, our science, creativity, and economic power will fall. At first, we can coast along just as many corporations do after they stop caring about their customers or investing in R&D. But fall we will. You bet your life.
Having a Chief Entertainment Officer instead of a Chief Executive Officer means that to stay “entertaining”, the CEO must continually do more and more outrageous things. Kids in cages? That’s so 2018. No, the style next year will be to cage homosexuals. Caging homosexuals? That’s so 2020. Next year, we will burn them at the stake. But that will get old. The year after that we will burn young girls who refuse to have sex with the magnificent leader. But that will get old. Soon, we will be in the territory of The Hunger Games, Idiocracy, and The Running Man. Becoming mellower over time is no problem for a Chief Executive Officer. But it is anathema to a Chief Entertainment Officer. That kind of CEO must always strive to be ever more outrageous in order to keep up the ratings, entertain the base, and stoke his own ego.
However “bad” you think the actions of #45 have been up to now, to keep his ratings — as well as to keep us all from being distracted from the slow erosion of everything that makes America actually great, future shows of #45 will be more and more destructive as time goes on. Every evil thing that #45 has hinted at, he will strive to engender in reality. That’s the way to build a very entertaining story. And, that’s the way to destroy a once great nation.
#45 has declared a “national emergency” which he immediately admitted was simply a way to get what he wanted without needing an OK from Congress. If this stands, after packing the Supreme Court, it sets the precedent that he (or any future President or dictator) can do absolutely anything he wants regardless of the reason. His ratings go up with his base because he has a dramatic story for them: against all odds, he is single-handedly securing our southern border against an invading horde of criminals! It’s all a lie, of course, but it’s an entertaining story. And his ratings will also go up because everyone in America and even overseas who cares about democracy and the rule of law; everyone who wants to avoid World War Three (because ultimately dictators need wars to stay in power) — they have a riveting story as well; viz., America is in serious danger of no longer being a Constitutional democracy.
You bet your life, there’s a national emergency! If #45 is allowed to change the funding decisions that Constitutionally belong to Congress so that he can have his own vain pet project, he will no longer be a President; he will be a dictator like the handful of world leaders that he so fervently admires. So, yes, whether you want to or not, you are betting your life. And you are betting the life of everyone on the planet.
Is there a national emergency?
You bet your life there is.
First of a series of five essays about SHRUGS (Super Hyper Really Ultra Greedy Swindlers) and why dictators always need war and conflict to stay in power.