Redemption to Washington. Please. By Skip Kaltenheuser
American expat pal in Hong Kong sent me a picture in the South China
Morning Post of Jeff Sessions swearing in under oath. My friend
asked, "Are we really to become the laughing stock of the planet?"
My favorite social barometer, carnival across different
cultures, gives us the edge. Last week, Basel, Switzerland completed
Fasnacht, a carnival starting at 4 AM the Monday after Ash Wednesday.
Offerings include giant gas lit lanterns painted with satirical targets.
President Trump dominated, more than a contender to the past infamies
of Silvio Berlusconi and George W. Bush, with whom the Swiss often had
their way. Heres some new salvos fired from the Carnival front,
plucked from the Internet.
(Sorry for the lack of photo credits for the President
Trump snaps. The others, from the wayback, are mine).
A Basel snap from the wayback, and two from last week
that channel the earlier lanterns empathy:
At this years Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) parade,
Dusseldorf grabbed Trump by his ridicule.
One offering, Blond is the New Brown, joined
Trump with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and an unidentified advisor.
In Cologne Trump was a school boy groping the Statue
of Liberty and pulling Hillary by the hair as classmate Putin motions
him to sit.
In Mainz he was an elephant smashing crockery, the Trumpel-tier,
(Trampeltier, lumbering animal).
France, where carnival themes dealt with global warming, giant hairdryers
trained on Trumps tresses.
Trumps other appearances across the globe inspired
multitudes. Dont miss this video for what Carnevale di Viareggio
did with its Bang Bang float of Trump:
It isnt fair. Americans do the hard work of making
Donald John Trump President, then un-Americans throughout the world
get laughs at our expense. True, New Orleans got in some Mardi Gras
shots, divided between Trump, the Clintons "Will speak for
food," Obama, Putin, and even Debbie Wasserman Shultz, depicted
as a rodent in a DNC trashcan. But its a little too southern genteel
for my mood. When I lived in New Orleans I thought it a foreign country
that had slipped under cover of night. Just more free-riders with funny
accents riding on Washingtons grand accomplishments.
Do foreigners think it was easy to make Trump President?
Ponder how we met the challenge.
Years of bank deregulation. Not prosecuting banksters
who, big surprise, did what unrestrained greed-hogs do. All the foreclosures
foaming the runway. Ruinous medical expenses. College dreams priced
away. Slam-dunk intelligence and cheerleaders for invading Iraq. Supreme
Court Justices on loco weed putting elected officials out for auction
beyond anything imagined. State judges groveling for money like congressmen.
Revolving doors tempting public servants to sell out the public. Just
imagine what went into getting the Clintons hundreds of millions for
past and anticipated public service. The DNC gaming the democratic process--
whats Putin got on us? The mainstream press discrediting itself,
sticking knives in Bernie while flooding the airwaves with breathless
Hillary talking points. The arrogance of pundits talking down to the
electorate, calling the game before kickoff, Divine Right of Queens.
Blowing off serious discourse on the issues. For many, voting had become
like screaming in space.
And our amusements? All those Muslim terrorist villains
spilling out of TV scripts? Throw in spin-offs of Criminal Minds and
Law and Order, youre on the way to Grandpas mental state
No, nothing easy about it. We toiled hard to elect Trump.
We deserve our accolades.
So, why let the krauts, frogs, cheese perforators and
all the other foreign subversives have all the fun?
A modest proposal: Bring Carnival to the Potomac. After
the warmest DC February on record, odds favor decent weather, even for
samba dancers, once theyre vetted by ICE.
For years Ive shouldered the task of chronicling
carnivals across different cultures sense of duty. With anti-authoritarian
and satirical roots planted by the ancients, Carnival remains a portal
of how people view the forces bumping their lives around. Of late, it
also reveals much of the U.S. image abroad.
I lost carnival virginity in Cologne, Germany. Barely
a month after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998, I nearly kicked
my camera off my balcony, lunging for it as a masterpiece of German
engineering rounded Koln Cathedral. A grinning Bill Clinton, big as
a Mack truck, groped a peeved Statue of Liberty, followed by a padlocked
White House atop which stood Uncle Sam throwing treats to a crowd roaring
Germans couldnt understand Americas mania
over this fiasco as more pressing worldly concerns tumbled into the
fire. Heres my snap just before getting beaned with a blood sausage
fast-pitched by a Prussian general. Carnival had me hooked.
Since ancient times, new beginnings thats
carnival. It's our craving to shuck memories of the slings and arrows
that paralyze us. New Year's resolutions disappear in the first head
wind, but carnival has been serious about a fresh start since the Greeks
partied to praise Dionysus and the Romans thanked Bacchus for wine and
flora, fertility heavy on their minds.
Murdered by Titans, Dionysus/Bacchus was reborn. His
worship generated irrational exuberance, frenzied revels by women, and
much early theater and standup comedy. When condemned by Rome as a sinister
source of vice and revolutionary unrest, the frolic was periodically
rejuvenated by slaves and poor free men.
These traditions celebrating man as a free being
without hierarchy blended easily with the various pagan rites
of spring practiced by Germanic and other tribes. The Church tried to
suppress carnival but ultimately decided if you cant beat em,
join em, layering on compatible beliefs as they co-opted the locals.
Carnival, or carne vale, comes from Latin, and means flesh, farewell,
as most carnivals herald in the Lenten fast that leads to Easter. The
mix with local and aboriginal beliefs creates an amazing array of traditions,
extending to the New World and locales as far flung as India.
Most Americans know Carnival though New
Orleans' Mardi Gras, or through Rio or Trinidad, but the roots are
firmly in Europe. Napoleon and Hitler banned Carnival. Its anti-authoritarian
roots quickly grew back.
Another Fasnacht favorite, Silvio Berlusconi, was likened
to a hybrid of the Godfather and Benito Mussolini, running his media
empire like an Orwellian villain. Silvio has exhausted his comebacks,
but looking over my snaps, I realized we have a surrogate at hand.
One sojourn included sleepy towns in Portugal.
In Torres Verdes, the centerpiece not a float, the centerpiece
was called Bushlandia. Artfully rendered, five or
so stories high, the sculpture offered up Bush as a primitive king in
furs, wielding a jeweled club and a scepter with a golden skull. He
wore a crucifix on which was a soldier. Bush sat within the jaws of
a giant skull beneath the crown of the Stature of Liberty, about which
crawled wormy critters in turbans. Other heads of the coalition of the
willing old Europe, new Europe, always confusing were
in his court. Prime Minister Tony Blair fanned Bush with feathers and
scratched his backside. On the sculptures flip side, a bearded
fellow hauled a wheelbarrow of explosives. Beneath him a government
minister struggled to feed the worlds poor children. Nuclear missiles
flanked Bush. Penguins blew time-out whistles as toxic waste washed
over nature. To the beat of Brazilian bands amid the samba gyrations
of dancers, all revelers passed before Bush. A small town in Portugal
made a colossal comment on U.S. leadership.
If small towns in Portugal can use Carnival to speak
truth to power, why cant Washington? The threat of ridicule at
Carnival might rein in excesses, perhaps an invasion.
So by all means, let us bring bring Carnival to Washington.
The city may not have the religious roots of many carnival strongholds,
but no place can fake religion like Washington. Imagine Carnivals
potential in the Nations capital. True, its a challenging
venue where fewer people can take a joke. On the other hand, weve
no shortage of folks willing to play the fool.
What richer vein to mine than the players of the 2016
election? And of course there is the international stage, Kim Jong Un
joining Putin in Vlads Soup Kitchen.
Bankers, anyone? Where does one begin with bankers?
Lined up at the bailout bonus window? Their lawyers? Their
lobbyists? Captured regulators? Co-opted prosecutors? Members of the
House and Senate finance committees taking their dictation?
A gilded revolving door between Wall Street and government
appointments? Something befitting Eric Holder and Mary Jo White.
Take a cue from writer Matt Taibbi: portray Goldman
Sachs as a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,
relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like
money." Thats a carnival float ready to roll. In perpetuity.
Sabbath Gasbags! Dunce caps all around.
A Wonderland Tea Party complete with the Koch brothers
as the Mad Hatter and March Hare, with Steve Bannon and Robert and Rebekah
Mercer rounding out the table. Super PACs pouring money, and dark money,
into funnels in politicians ears money being speech. Supreme
Court Justice Kennedy as Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.
Imagine Donald Trump as Rapunzel trapped in the Old
Post Office tower, now part of the Trump Hotel his strawberry-golden
tresses braided with wiretaps
Or Trump building a wall, advised by wall aficionados
Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban and Nutn yahoo. The usual neo-con
suspects join them, dressed as cheerleaders, this time for fights with
Iran. All the while Vice-President Pence keeps looking at his watch.
A little marching music here:
Something for Trump's new health insurance proposal?
Maybe the Deep States left hand trying to
spy on its right. The CIA distributing Smart TVs with ears.
And CIA Director Pompeo throwing confetti to the crowd as he shreds
reports of intelligence agencies and the Pentagon warning of climate
change as a threat to national security. Why else do you think
that Koch acolyte is there? The Kochs won.
Carnivals long tradition of cross-dressing,
poking fun at gender roles, might lend some style to the debate
over same-sex marriage. Or restrooms.
Texas school board members challenging evolution, beset
upon by giant Darwin finches. Pandoras Box of Fox News Fakery.
The Electoral College thumbing its nose to voters outside swing states.
Drones flying overhead could add excitement. The elder Trump boys globetrotting
on a luxury jet packed with Secret Service.
Trumps cabinet has endless possibilities. Mnuchin
as Sweeny Todd, grinding up elderly widows. Sessions as Pinocchio, checking
voter IDs, though Pinocchios lawyers might be in touch.
Maybe roll Kissinger out for a bow, after recent revelations
on efforts to derail LBJs Vietnam peace talks. A
tribute to K. Perhaps Bashar al-Assad riding a barrel bomb. But
some things are not so funny its a fine line between humor
and pathos. Satire can only sustain so much tragedy before it turns
sour. Theres not much to be done with Syria, for example, that
isnt pulled down by reality.
How about a kind nod to Edward Snowden and whistleblowers
generally, the bright lights who might lead us from dark tunnels. Our
last line of defense, knights tilting at windmills.
For Carnival King, Id vote again for Bernie.
And this tune might play now and then:
It may take some doing. Im not holding my breath
for federal funding. Maybe Mayor Muriel Bowser can find contributions
for a sure-fire tourist magnet. We can ask our foreign tormentors to
contribute their past floats and costumes to get us going. Just think
if Washington had the Bang Bang float. Roll it out whenever the
cherry blossoms are ill-timed. Park it on the National Mall. If you
missed it, another chance here:
Were not worthy.
But consider carnivals pagan roots, the rites
of spring chasing the winter demons, to hopeful fertility, to planting
anew. Carnival remains irrepressible despite authoritys many stompings
over the centuries. When Carnival collided with the Church, it softened
with themes of redemption and renewal. The carnival spirit, burned in
effigy, departs taking the woes of the year, leaving all with a clean
Has there ever been a city more in need of a do-over