Wednesday, December 12, 2018


We've often enjoyed seeing politicians' language as a performance of poetry, but today could be the first time I've seen it as opera. But it really is:

[This is the only really good performance I could find of the exact sequence I was looking for from Aida act 1, from the naming of young Radamès as general to go meet the invading Ethiopian army and the cries of "Ritorna vincitor!" (Come back victorious!) to the Ethiopian slave girl Aida gradually realizing that her secret lover Radamès will be working to kill her royal father and brothers and asking the gods to take pity on her in her ambivalence. Video and sound from 1966 not great, sorry, but the musicians including Leyla Gencer as the heroine are doing a fantastic job.]

The curtain rises, the emperor Don Donaldo (tenor) is holding his formal levée in the presence of the whole court including his most senior legislative advisers, La Pelosina (contralto) and Chuck (bass-baritone), and his lieutenant Michele di Pence, the Stone Guest (mime), and he sings, plangently, of the grandeur of his wall, which may or may not exist (that is, in fact it doesn't exist, but he's only sporadically aware of this, as of a pizza that still hasn't arrived a couple of hours after you ordered it), in his majestic aria, "Se vuoi provare del muro il valor":
If you really want to find out
how effective a wall is,
just ask Israel:
99.9 percent effective
our wall will be
every bit as good as that,
if not better.
So we’ve done a lot
of work on the wall,
a lot of wall is built.
A lot of people don’t know that.
A lot of wall is renovated.
We have walls that were
in very bad condition
and they are now
in A-1 tip-top shape.
And frankly, some wall
has been reinforced
by our military.
The military has done
a fantastic job.
Though something is darkening his pleasure, a sense that his legislative agenda may not be working so well:

So the wall will get built,
but we may not
-- we may not have
an agreement today.
We probably won’t.
But we have an agreement
on other things
that are really good.
This brings to his mind the crafty old dowager La Pelosina (her name is from the family sobriquet, "Pelosi", meaning "the guys with hair"), whose intentions toward him fill him with suspicion and dread, and he calls her to the throne:
Nancy, would you like to say something?
Well, thank you, Mr. President for the opportunity to meet with you,
So that we can work together in a bipartisan way
To meet the needs of the American people.
In an ensuing duet, "Credo che il popolo americano", it develops that he cannot persuade his council to give him the money to erect his wall, in spite of his wild threats to close his government entirely unless he has his way.

I think the American people recognize
that we must keep government open,
that a shutdown is not worth anything,
and that you should not
have a Trump shutdown,
You have—
                    Did you say Trump?
She begins to taunt him over his impotence, to his increasing rage:

You have the White House.
You have the Senate.
You have the House
of Representatives.
You have the votes.
You should pass it. 
No, we don't have the votes,
Nancy, because
in the Senate we need 60 votes,
and we don't have it.
No, no, but in the House,
you could bring it up right now.
Yes, but I can’t—excuse me, but
I can’t get it passed in the House
if it’s not going to pass in the Senate;
I don’t want to waste time.
Well, the fact is, you can
get it started that way.
The House we could
get it passed very easily, and we do.
Okay, then do it.
Then do it.
Donaldo, panicking, looks around for a friendly face, and lights on Chuck, who has always shown him understanding:

Nancy, I need 10 votes from Chuck.
All right, let me say something here.
But Pelosina cuts him off:
Let me — let me say one thing.
The fact is that you do not
have the votes in the House.
Nancy, I do, and we need border security.
Well, let's take the vote and we'll find out.
Nancy, Nancy, we need
border security. It's very simple.
Of course we do.
Chuck, did you want to say something?
Yes, here’s what I wanted to say.
Chuck launches into a tender cavatina, "Tanto in discordia siamo", lamenting the conflicts inside the government, but hinting that Donaldo's falsehoods may be at the root of the problem:
We have a lot of disagreements here.
The Washington Post today gave you
a lot of Pinocchios, because they say
you constantly misstate how much of the wall
is built, and how much—But that’s not the point here.
We have a disagreement about the wall.
Donaldo tries to distract him with complaints about the dishonest media, but Chuck will not be deflected from his point—
The Washington Post
Whether it's effective or it isn't.
Not on border security but on the wall.
—and in the following rousing cabaletta, "Non vogliamo del governo chiudere i battenti", he expresses his fervent insistence on keeping the government going:
We do not want to shut down the government.
You were called 20 times to shut down the government.
You say, I want to shut down the government.
We don't. We want to come to an agreement.
If we can't come to an agreement,
we have solutions that will pass the House and Senate
right now and will not shut down the government,
and that's what we're urging you to do,
not threaten to shut down the government.
But you don’t want to shut down the government, Chuck
Because you can't get your way.
The last time you shut it down you got killed.
Yes, let me say something, Mr. President.
You just say, my way or we'll shut down the government.
We have a proposal that Democrats and Republicans
will support to do a C.R. that will not
shut down the government. We urge you to take it.
And if it's not good border security, I won't take it.
It is very good border security.
And if it's not good border security, I won't take it.
It’s what
Because when you look at these numbers of
the effectiveness of our border security,
and when you look at the job that we’re doing
with our military

                          You just said it is effective.
Can I — can I tell you something?
Yes, you just said it's effective.
And Donaldo sings, in his heartbreaking aria, "Senza muro", of his deep fears that everything he is saying is total nonsense:
Without a wall — these are only areas where you have the walls.
Where you have walls, Chuck, it’s effective.
Where you don’t have walls, it is not effective.
Ultimately, the chorus of journalists intervenes ("Segurità della frontera dici?"):

You say border security and the wall. Can you
 have border security without the wall?
You need — you need the wall.
The wall is a part of border security. 
Can you define what it means
to have border security. 
Yes, we need border security. The wall
 is a part of border security. You can't
have very border security without the wall. 
That’s not true. That is a political promise.
Border security is a way to
effectively honor our responses.
And the experts say you can do border
security without a wall, which is
wasteful and doesn't solve the problem. 
It totally solves the problem,
and it's very important.
As the act draws to a close, there's a concerted finale beginning when Don Donaldo tries to use his (notional) political power ("Nancy, nel Senato guadagnato abbiam")—

And we gained in the Senate.
Nancy, we've gained in the Senate.
Excuse me, did we win the Senate?
We won the Senate.
When the president brags that he
won North Dakota and Indiana,
he’s in real trouble.
I did. We did. We did
win North Dakota and Indiana.
(I.e., Republicans won almost all the senate contests that it was unimaginable they might lose—he might have mentioned Missouri and Florida which would back up his point better.)

And another tense interaction between Donaldo and La Pelosina,

But the president is representing his cards,
and his cards over there are not facts.
We have to have an evidence-based
conversation about what does work,
what money has been spent and how effective
it is. This isn’t — this is about
the security of our country.
You take an oath to protect and defend.
We don’t want to have that
mischaracterized by anyone. 
Agree with her. No, no, I agree with her.
Which quickly heads south—

One thing I think
we can agree on is we
shouldn’t shut down the government
over a dispute. And you want to shut it down.
You keep talking about. 
— no, no, no, no, the last time, Chuck, you shut it down.

No, no, no. 

Twenty times.
Twenty times — 20 times, you were
called for I will shut down the government
if I don’t get my wall. None of us has said 
You want to know something?
You said it.
Okay, you want to put that....
You've said it. 
And a last, wrenching aria for the tragic villain ("Sai cosa dirò?"):

You know what I'll say?
Yes. If we don't
get what we want one way or the other,
whether it's through you, through a military,
through anything you want to call,
I will shut down the government, absolutely. 
And out of nowhere he pulls a knife and plunges it into his chest. Well, not exactly. But the way his language expires is like a long, operatic death.
Okay, fair enough. We disagree. We disagree.
And I'll tell you what, I am proud
to shut down the government for border security,
Chuck, because the people of this country
don't want criminals and people
that have lots of problems, and drugs
pouring into our country.
So I will take the mantle.
I will be the one to shut it down.
I'm not going to blame you for it.
The last time you shut it down it didn't work.
I will take the mantle of shutting down,
and I'm going to shut it down for border security.
But we believe you shouldn't shut it down.
Swift curtain.

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