Rubbernecking the election

Pop quiz: Who’s got two thumbs and little else in his favor? AP Photo by Jae C. Hong.
Pop quiz: Who’s got two thumbs and little else in his favor? AP Photo by Jae C. Hong.

BY MAX BURBANK | It’s hard to underestimate the importance of that period between the end of the conventions and the first presidential debate. One candidate seems to have managed. Here’s a hint: He looks like a Jack O’Lantern in a toupee. We should be witnessing a contest between competing visions for America’s future — but we’re not, and it’s time to stop blaming the media. There are some things you can’t look away from, even when you know you should. It’s why car accidents cause a traffic jam in the opposite lane, why your local news leads with who got shot and what burned down, why Ryan Murphy gets a second season of… well, any of his shows.

Imagine a candidate, who instead of establishing a campaign headquarters, opted to build a fireworks warehouse inside a sewage treatment plant, mopped the floor with gasoline, took a fistful of sleeping pills, and dared himself to see if he could smoke 20 cigars before he passed out. That’s the Trump campaign right now. I could list the cigars for you: His childish attacks on a Gold Star family; his desire to change NATO into a protection racket; his “Second Amendment people;” his insistence that the president of the United States also lists “Founder of ISIS” on his resume.

Design by Michael Shirey.
Design by Michael Shirey.

What’s the point? You know those cigars by heart, and you could name a dozen more. Each new cigar is eminently watchable, but the explosion is what we’re waiting for. It could happen any second and no one wants to miss it. We may be ashamed that we begrudge every instant of coverage given to Hillary Clinton, the drowning of Louisiana, or Ryan Lochte’s square jawed American heroism when his God-given right to public urination was threatened — but begrudge it, we do. We begrudge it so hard.

How many pivots have we been through? The bar has been set so low that all Trump has to do to appear presidential is prove himself physically capable of reading a prepared script from a teleprompter. By this rubric the vast majority of third graders are qualified to be entrusted with the nuclear codes, and Trump CAN’T DO IT for more than a day! How many Republican interventions and “come to Jesus meetings” does it take? What’s the point of a “come to Jesus” meeting Jesus wouldn’t be caught dead at? How many staff shake-ups will it take to get Trump to lay of the cigars?

Corey Lewandowski was too much of a loose cannon to rein Trump in, so he got sent packing in disgrace with a fat severance package and a paid position at CNN as punishment. He was replaced by professional dictator flack and Russian conduit Paul Manafort — a man who actually knew what delegates were, he was able to keep the “Never Trump” crowd from destroying the RNC and was amply rewarded by getting to watch a passel of low life, C-list Trump surrogates and Trump himself destroy the convention instead. Don’t feel too bad for him though; he got a sweet bonus in the form of Trump’s boot in his ass for being too controlling.

So now we’ve got Kellyanne Conway, because when your goal is to make a man with zero political experience president, it’s best to have a campaign manager who’s never run a campaign. Luckily, Team Trump took on a campaign CEO too, Stephen Bannon. In addition to holding a job title with no definition, he’s a spouse-abusing anti-Semite. Fresh from his position as Executive Chairman of Breitbart news, he brings Robert Redford looks, if Redford has spent a lifetime binge drinking while wearing cargo shorts, and a wealth of experience in being slightly more credible than the National Enquirer (but a little more racist).

Together, Conway and Bannon have made a real impact. Recently the candidate expressed regret for some non-specific unnamed things. He’s also reaching out to African-Americans, a demographic with whom he has one, sometimes even two percent support. It’s a move that shows sincere political evolution, and is in no way a message designed solely for the fraction of white supporters who still feel a tad queasy with the campaign’s whole White Supremacist thing.

With the unpleasant but necessary humanizing out of the way, Trump’s been able to hone his latest campaign strategy, a sophisticated reworking of the classic playground game, “I know you are, but what am I?” In recent weeks, he’s described Clinton as “mentally unstable” and a “bigot” with a “bad temperament.” It’s only a matter of time before he tells us she’s a “real estate swindler” and a “fat old man in a Chinese-made suit” with “orange skin” and an “absurd comb over he thinks hides his gargantuan, speckled bald spot.”

“They say being President takes big balls, so I brought about a thousand. Was that joke too easy? It tested well with the focus group.” Photo via facebook.com/hillaryclinton.
“They say being President takes big balls, so I brought about a thousand. Was that joke too easy? It tested well with the focus group.” Photo via facebook.com/hillaryclinton.

Meanwhile, Hillary is unscrewing a pickle jar on Jimmy Kimmel because celebrity board certified internist “Dr.” Drew Pinsky said she had brain damage. He made this diagnosis without ever meeting Clinton, let alone examining her. This sort of long distance “medicine” is generally frowned on by the medical profession, as it’s less in the way of “doctoring” and more in the way of  “fronting for a whispering campaign” or “actively stooging for a pumpkin-colored neo-fascist.”

You have to give Clinton credit for getting out there and trying to run an actual campaign. She gave a devastating speech on Trump’s business record in front of the derelict Trump Taj Mahal Casino, a site he called “The Eighth Wonder of the World” before filing for bankruptcy, stiffing his creditors and contractors and waddling away with cash-stuffed pockets.

Clinton gave another speech laying out Trump’s direct connection to the alt-right movement, giving voice to a heretofore underserved demographic: enraged, solitary, white male masturbators living in their parents’ basements. It doesn’t matter. Nothing Hillary does can possibly compete with a massive Fourth of July-style grand finale blowing up a poo-processing facility. That’s television. We demanded it, we paid for it, we need to see if the explosion finally finishes Donald Trump, or if he comes swaggering through all the fire and excrement like some hideous, gender-bent, fat, naked, orange Khaleesi.

Is it true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity? I don’t know. Ask Bill Cosby. Or Roger Ailes.

Clinton’s pickle jar stunt may seem a little silly, but don’t laugh. The job of opposing Donald Trump is all about unscrewing.