Commentary

Evanescent Events Pose Risk to Pundits and Parrots Alike

By BILL BONVIE | Jul 25, 2018

These days, there is no bigger threat to the value of the material turned out by commentary, as well as comedy, writers than that of instant obsolescence. There is a very real possibility that the subject matter will no longer be relevant by the time it is viewed by readers.

While this is something that has always been a bit of an occupational hazard for opinion page contributors, the ease with which events can overtake one’s best efforts has become acutely problematic for pundits ever since Donald Trump became president. Critiquing controversial cabinet members, for example, can be an especially dicey proposition when so many of them have been let go on a moment’s notice.

So volatile has been the nature of the current news cycle that I have already found it necessary to extensively revise the very column you are now reading, which was originally penned only a week ago. And I am fully aware that between now and the time it appears in print, it may well become outdated yet again.

And it’s not just the unpredictability of new developments or the volume of “breaking news” that poses such a potential pitfall, but the fact that what were once considered facts can no longer be taken for granted. It’s almost as if we’re living in a real-world version of what comedian Jerry Seinfeld has referred to as “Bizarroland,” in which nothing much would surprise us.

How, then, does a puzzled pundit endeavor to navigate the raging river of no return that this presidency has become?

My own inclination is to stick with the only part of it that still seems to be flowing smoothly  – Trump’s trio of trite sayings that members of his aptly named “base” seem to never tire of repeating like a flock of trained parrots. Let’s give them a more in-depth examination.

I’ll begin with “Drain the Swamp,” a marshy metaphor for what the president purportedly hopes to accomplish in remaking the politics and policies of Washington, D.C. While that might sound like a good idea to a lot of non-environmental types, to accept it at face value, one would have to first assume that swamps are actually bad things full of undesirable creatures. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In reality, swamps are essential parts of Mother Nature’s ecosystem that provide homes for all kinds of diverse flora and fauna, living in rough harmony with each other and serving as breeding grounds for all kinds of bird species, as well as natural filtration systems that help protect adjacent land areas from flooding. By the same token, referring to the federal government as a “swamp” could be interpreted in a positive manner, suggesting a setting in which individuals of varying political stripes and persuasions can work in a rough kind of symbiotic relationship to keep the country functioning on an even keel and do what needs to be done.

In that sense, the objective of “draining the swamp” would seem to be eliminating the environment that has traditionally allowed for such give-and-take to exist and replacing it with ... what? While that question has never really been answered by those mouthing this motto, my guess would be the political equivalent of a Trump Tower, a Trump golf course and perhaps some accompanying Astroturf devoid of life in any form.

But what about those other seemingly mindless mantras? Well, if there were ever two contradictions in terms, they would be “America First” and “Make America Great Again.” And I say that based on our own recent history.

Let’s first consider “America First.” I can’t help but marvel at the way the folks who have taken to parroting this phrase seem to have no apparent awareness that its current use is actually its second coming. The first one was back during the period immediately preceding America’s entry into World War II, when it was the rallying cry – and the name of the actual movement – of those in this country who supported an isolationist policy in the wake of Hitler’s rampage through Europe.

To many of them, in fact, “America First” actually meant abandoning our allies, particularly beleaguered Britain, to their fate, and maybe even forming a kind of quasi-alliance with the Third Reich instead, which one of the movement’s leaders, aviator Charles Lindbergh, had already done to some degree. All of this sort of distantly echoes what the Trump administration has been doing of late in its approach to despots such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

But if you want to talk about “Making America Great Again,” you should really keep in mind what is generally considered to have been America’s greatest hour. This was when the country overcame those sequestration sentiments after being attacked by Germany’s ally, Japan, and managed to mobilize its people and resources in an all-out effort to help bring about the defeat of the formidable war machines of both enemies in a mere 3½ years.

In essence, what made America great back then was perhaps best demonstrated by the way the first “America First” movement was quickly consigned to the scrap heap of history. That is where one might think it should forever have remained.

But now that it’s been rudely reincarnated, it may not be quite so expeditiously excised the second time around, unless, of course, we were to find ourselves immersed in yet another world war, which would probably be accompanied by nuclear annihilation.

Or maybe not. Could it be that joining forces with nuclear-armed Russia and the formerly renegade People’s Republic of North Korea while starting a “trade war” with a new “axis of evil,” this one comprised of our erstwhile allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union (led by our one-time enemy, Germany), is really Trump’s perverse plan for “making America great again”?

Or might his entire presidency, and all the outlandish and outrageous occurrences that it seems to generate on an almost daily basis, be a mere extension of the practical joke I suggested his campaign was in a commentary back at the end of 2015?

Not that I see any reason why that would be the case. But then, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t. There are a lot of possibilities out there. Given all the weirdness we’ve witnessed in the past year and a half, I suppose even that one can’t be entirely ruled out.

But if history has taught us nothing else, it’s that our mindsets can be changed and our baseball-cap bromides very quickly become “old hat” in the momentousness of a moment of truth. Similarly, opinion columns can be outmoded by the evanescent nature of events in the mere blink of an eye.

Bill Bonvie of Little Egg Harbor Township, is the co-author of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them and author of the essay collection Repeat Offenders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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