Monday, August 22, 2016
Donald Trump and the Bottomless Pit
If you plug "bottomless pit" into Google, as I just have, the results are surprisingly slim. There are many references to a musical album of that name, and some Bible citations—a bottomless pit is opened in the Book of Revelations.
But no comprehensive cultural examination. So I'm going to have to wing it. There is something juvenile about bottomless pits—they seem, along with hot lava, to be the type of perils conjured up by very young boys on playgrounds. Guessing they might also show up in dusty adventure stories, in 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights and such, I began looking in the Tarzan books, which had a single reference. When I shifted to the downscale Roy Rockwood boys adventure novels, there was the 1930 Bomba the Jungle Boy on the Underground River, or, The Cave of Bottomless Pits.
I was thinking about bottomless pits because, while there were developments in the Donald Trump campaign—old campaign team out, new one in, again, gross sweeping insult to African-Americans Friday, cloying 180-degree pivot pandering to Hispanics Saturday—the whole thing seemed exhausting, ungraspable, bottomless. Not that it couldn't be understood, but that doing so was complicated and not worth the effort in the end of August because the thing you're trying to capture keeps plunging out of reach, twirling as it goes, spouting new, apparently relevant details as it goes.
Then I thought of a Joe Martin cartoon—Martin, as local cartoon fans know, is a brilliant cartoonist who at one point had three funny strips in the Chicago papers: Mr. Boffo, Willy & Ethel and Porterfield.
The strip I was thinking of stars Mr. Boffo—a shape-shifting character, like Trump, also balding but with a bulbous nose, who like Trump is usually found in a variety of surreal tableaus, though for Boffo they are classic cartoon settings: in hell, heaven, on a desert island, chained to a dungeon wall.
In this particular cartoon—I couldn't find the strip, so am working from memory here—the first panel shows three men plunging into an abyss, their faces masks of terror, arms and legs flailing. The caption is "Three men falling into a bottomless pit."
The second panel shows the men, still plunging, but expressions of boredom on their faces, heads propped on palms. The caption is, "The same three men, six months later."
Or some such thing.
And you realize—and Martin was a genius in making this kind of connection—that without a bottom to eventually crash against, the bottomless pit isn't so much a doom as a consignment to eternal tedium.
That's where I am regarding Trump. Bottomless boredom. It isn't as if we're not plunging toward disaster. Truly, we are. It's just that you can't sound the alarm every day. Forty percent of Americans, knowing what they must already know by now, somehow still support the man. So what's the point of drawing a red circle around the latest jaw dropping development? If you haven't figured it out by now you never will.
And the rest of us, we get it, big time. We get to star in our own real-life nightmare where we run up to oblivious bystanders at some unfolding disaster and grab at their shirtfronts and scream in their faces—"The place is on fire you have to get out!!!"—and they just shrug grin idiotically and stand there.
Of course, the pit only feels bottomless. We arrive at the ground with a crash Nov. 8. Then either Trump wins—and after the Brexit vote, no amount of confident polls can give anyone complete assurance. Trump wins and then the graves open and Biblical doom is upon us. Or Trump loses and this all seems a hideous dream, and the zombies he conjured up hiss and thrash and maybe Texas withdraws from the Union. That's coming. But right now, we've been falling in this pit for so long, it's hard to even imagine that the bottom is there at all, somewhere, rushing up at us.