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Bring Carnival Redemption to Washington. Please.
By Skip Kaltenheuser

n 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. Here’s 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 lantern’s empathy:

gas lit lanterns of Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump at the carnival in Basel, Switzerland

At this year’s Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) parade, Dusseldorf grabbed Trump by his ridicule.

floats of Trump and the Statue of Liberty at a Dusseldorf parade

One offering, “Blond is the New Brown”, joined Trump with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and an unidentified advisor.

a Dusseldorf parade float of Trump with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Adolf Hitler

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.

a float featuring Trump, Putin, Hillary Clinton and the Statue of Liberty in a Cologne parade

In Mainz he was an elephant smashing crockery, the Trumpel-tier, (Trampeltier, lumbering animal).

Trump as an elephant smashing crockery in a Mainz float

In Nice, France, where carnival themes dealt with global warming, giant hairdryers trained on Trump’s tresses.

a float of Trump in Nice, France

Trump’s other appearances across the globe inspired multitudes. Don’t miss this video for what Carnevale di Viareggio did with its Bang Bang float of Trump:

It isn’t 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 it’s 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 Washington’s 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-- what’s 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, you’re on the way to Grandpa’s mental state of siege.

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 they’re vetted by ICE.

For years I’ve 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 approval.

Bill Clinton and Statue of Liberty float at a 1998 Cologne parade

Germans couldn’t understand America’s mania over this fiasco as more pressing worldly concerns tumbled into the fire. Here’s 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 – that’s 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 can’t 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.

W made America a popular bullseye for Basel’s satire:

masks - including that of George Bush - at various parades

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.

lanterns featuring Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini

sculptures of Tony Blair and George Bush within the jaws of a giant skull beneath the crown of the Stature of Liberty, Torres Verdes, Portugal

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 sculpture’s flip side, a bearded fellow hauled a wheelbarrow of explosives. Beneath him a government minister struggled to feed the world’s 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 can’t 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 Carnival’s potential in the Nation’s capital. True, it’s a challenging venue where fewer people can take a joke. On the other hand, we’ve 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 Vlad’s 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." That’s 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 Nut’n 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 State’s left hand trying to spy on its right. The CIA distributing Smart TV’s 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.

Carnival’s long tradition of cross-dressing, poking fun at gender roles, might lend some style to the debate over same-sex marriage. Or restrooms.

eyeballs at a parade in Nice, France

cross-dressing/poking fun at gender roles at a Basel carnival

Texas school board members challenging evolution, beset upon by giant Darwin finches. Pandora’s 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.

Trump’s cabinet has endless possibilities. Mnuchin as Sweeny Todd, grinding up elderly widows. Sessions as Pinocchio, checking voter ID’s, though Pinocchio’s lawyers might be in touch.

Maybe roll Kissinger out for a bow, after recent revelations on efforts to derail LBJ’s Vietnam peace talks. A tribute to K. Perhaps Bashar al-Assad riding a barrel bomb. But some things are not so funny – it’s a fine line between humor and pathos. Satire can only sustain so much tragedy before it turns sour. There’s not much to be done with Syria, for example, that isn’t 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, I’d vote again for Bernie. And this tune might play now and then:

It may take some doing. I’m 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:

We’re not worthy.

But consider carnival’s pagan roots, the rites of spring chasing the winter demons, to hopeful fertility, to planting anew. Carnival remains irrepressible despite authority’s 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 slate.

Has there ever been a city more in need of a do-over than Washington?

Related Articles:
Berlusconi Rides Again: Mockery and Music Behind The Masks of Basel; The Cherry Blossoms of Washington D.C.; Carnival's Siren Song; Rat in Mi Kitchen


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