Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Waiting for *Le Pivot*

Stephen Colbert and Patrick Stewart did a lovely thing last week with "Waiting for Godot's Obamacare Replacement", above, but then the Obamacare Replacement actually showed up, and, like even the worst fart, seems to be already dissipating. What really corresponds to the hopelessness of absent meaning in Samuel Beckett's great play is the fantasy of the Trumpian pivot, the moment where our president begins displaying a capacity to hold a political office beyond the ability to read aloud in public for an hour without taking his pants off or barking like a seal, for which our Washington press has been hankering, miraculously without hanging themselves yet, for a year or more.

And it works better in French (En Attendant le Pivot).

Monsignor Ross Douthat, who I once cast as Estragon in a production of Godot (former New York Times columnist David Brooks was the ebullient Vladimir), is still gaming it out ("Why Republicans Can't Do Health Care"):

A strong-enough, savvy-enough, effective-enough president, placed in the transitional role that Carter occupied, could become transformative rather than disjunctive, and build a new ideological majority amid the rubble of the old. 
And Trump does have a few of the necessary qualities. On policy he is incurious yet also more politically savvy than the party’s congressional leaders, more attuned to where his own voters and the country stands. His “workers party” is a more compelling vision for the right’s future than either status quo bias or “tax cuts plus nothing” zeal. With focus, attention and the judicious use of the bully pulpit, he could potentially bigfoot all the right’s ideological factions.
The verb "bigfoot", I learn from The Word Detective, is journalists' argot from the 1980s, and refers to the situation where an alpha or celebrity reporter steals a lead from a beta reporter like a junior high bully taking your lunch. Douthat's usage shows not only that he thinks bullying is something to be admired—we pretty much knew that—but that like Cillizza or Todd or any of those people he believes that the true product of politics, like that of journalism, is narrative, tendrils of story. Not change in people's lives, but the wielding of power in the interest of being in a story in which one is revealed as the face (or babyface) while one's enemies are recognized as heels. You could call it the ideology of protagonism.
Alas, as anyone on Twitter is regularly reminded, focus, attention and judiciousness are all qualities that this disjunctive president lacks. 
Well, duh. He seems to think his Godot is doing it on purpose, because he just lacks discipline. He's annoyed with Trump for not just buckling down and doing what he wants. Which isn't to aim at any particular restructuring of the health care system but to score a victory over Obamacare, with whatever choice of policy options anybody feels like picking off a standard GOP menu or anywhere else:
— be it the more redistributive plan advanced by conservatives like Avik Roy, or the federalist compromise floated by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins.
Roy thinks they should give more money for the slush funds block grants that will replace Medicaid, and means-test the tax credits that will replace Obamacare subsidies to make them more popular than the awful Ryan proposal of age-rating them, and the "Cassidy-Collins" proposal (one page long) is for block-granting everything to the state capitals, including for Obamacare if that's what they want, which sounds like the kind of Articles of Confederation mess the Constitution was designed to get rid of. The object of the game isn't to achieve a particular policy outcome, you see, but to come up with something that defeats Obama without the voters noticing enough to get really mad, though his judgment of what that might be is probably as bad as Ryan's.

Douthat has for years practiced a kind of Pharisee Catholicism, or Catholicism without Jesus, dominated by the fetishizing of the rules. It occurs to me that he's more and more a convert to Trumpism now, or Bannonism and its "alt-right" authoritarian following if you prefer, a politics of disruptive resentment, where the Real Leader tears everything up and devotes himself to winning winning winning and the punishment of your perceived enemies, the people who have disrespected you in the past. Every valley shall be exalted and the media elites laid low.

But he can't stand the Emperor Trump himself, whose vulgarity and shamelessness revolts his fastidious soul, so now he's more openly than anyone else a Messianic Trumpist, longing for the advent of the Real Trump, the Trump Militant, focused and judicious, bound to come along sometime soon. Maybe tomorrow.

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