Maybe It Was the W.W.E. Insurrection?
As more horrific details about the mob attack on the Capitol last week continue to emerge, there’s something very weird about this whole thing.
It’s as if the insurrectionists were performing in some reality TV show. A couple days ago, I asked here, “Was this a ‘Christian’ Insurrection?” because a lot of the participants seemed to marry their variety of Christian faith with their loyalty to Trump.
But I’m thinking this was less a “Christian” insurrection than a “W.W.E.” insurrection. “W.W.E.” for those out of the loop is “World Wrestling Entertainment,” the spectacle of “professional” wrestling. There’s some reality to it, but a lot of playing to the crowd, for the camera, to the whole wild fantasy. The blurring of the line between reality and entertainment is the point.
Even as reports of weaponry and deadly threats, not to mention actual violence, emphasize the reality of the mob attack last Wednesday, there’s still something weird about all this. It’s as if the “insurrectionists” were doing a kind of reality TV show, which of course fits a reality-TV President.
Consider some of the reports now surfacing about the insurrectionists. Journalist Farhad Manjoo offers a menu of anecdotes, including this about the shirtless guy in the buffalo horns and furs. “An attorney for Jake Angeli, the horned, shirtless fellow who calls himself the “QAnon Shaman,” told a judge on Monday that Angeli had not eaten anything since his arrest on Saturday. His mother told reporters that he requires a strict organic diet.”
Am I the only one? Isn’t there something bizarre about that? Like a little boy playing in some fantasy game who gets hurt and whose mommy arrives to be sure he gets favorite foods.
Or this. “In a clip that went viral . . . a woman who identified herself only as “Elizabeth from Knoxville, Tennessee” complained to Hunter Walker, a reporter for Yahoo News, that she’d been stopped at the door.
“’I made it like a foot inside and they pushed me out and they maced me!’ she cries. When Walker asks her why she wanted to go in, she’s exasperated at his ignorance. ‘We’re storming the Capitol, it’s a revolution!’
“The incongruousness is remarkable,” remarked Manjoo. “She was there to overthrow the government of the world’s largest superpower, but nobody told her there would be mace.”
I’m not saying these people aren’t dangerous. Nor am I saying that Trump shouldn’t be held accountable for inciting insurrection. He should.
But there’s still something “off” here. Was it real? A real revolution? A true insurrection? Or was it people having a reality TV moment and snapping selfies of themselves at the Capitol? “Look ma, it’s me!”
Consider the way it ended. “Insurrectionists” trailed off, back to their Holiday Inns, or RVs, or the long drive home. Some were outraged that the revolutionaries were allowed to simply leave, that so few were arrested on the spot. What kind of insurrection ends with people heading home after five hours, like it was a football game, the final whistle having been blown?
I don’t think we know any more what’s real. That’s the only way I can explain the 138 members of the House who still voted against certifying the election result right after the attack. Or the the 197 who voted against impeachment. They are performing in the great culture wars.
In one reality, “This was a deadly insurrection, at attempted overthrow of the U.S. government. This is serious. Deadly serious.” On the other, people somehow don’t seem to think it was really real or somehow all that serious. “I understand you are disappointed about the election,” Trump said to the faithful.
“I love you. You are very special,” he added, as if this were some kind of Hallmark Special.
“It’s a revolution . . . but nobody told me there would be mace.”
We’ve come to a place where you can’t quite tell, in the world of politics what is serious and what is performance. Though, of course, the performative does have consequences. The latest? Donald Trump now appears doing a turn as the President of peaceful protest, non-violence and unity. Pro and anti Trump agree on one thing: he didn’t mean it. Pro-Trump people say, “They made him say that.” Anti-Trump say, “another con job.”
This is, of course, what has bewildered and bedeviled the country about this President from the beginning. He has degraded our institutions, and the Presidency, by turning a serious job which entails certain responsibilities and obligations, into his on-going personal performance narrative. For Trump the Presidency is merely a platform. Losing the election means being deprived of his platform.
So why wouldn’t an insurrection be another platform for the fantasy-addled and self-absorbed?