Isn’t it great to have Sarah Palin back in the news cycle, if only for a few milliseconds? Oh you betcha.
Which isn’t to say that we’ve missed her. John McCain’s Hail Mary has long been relegated to the remainder bin, an incoherent cartoon who couldn’t even complete a gubernatorial term. The last I heard, she’d shut down her subscription-based online channel; not even her devotees were willing to pay a monthly rate that was higher than Netflix.
Nevertheless, her newly announced endorsement of Donald Trump is so predictably perfect that we’d be remiss if we didn’t ponder its implications. Because their conscious coupling says a lot about the culture of mediocrity, and the fatal fusion of politics and entertainment.
Here we have a politician-turned-reality TV star endorsing a reality TV star-turned-politician. And they have so much in common, most notably their love of falsehood. She says that Paul Revere warned the British, he says that vaccines cause autism, she says that Alaska produces 20 percent of America’s energy (it’s roughly three percent), he says that blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims (the FBI says it’s 15 percent) … why bother making a list.
Bottom line: She helped pioneer the idea that any clueless amateur with vocal chords is qualified for highest office — and he is the latest and most hideous manifestation of that credo.
Remember in 2008, when McCain’s people were so eager to persuade us that Palin had foreign policy creds? At one point, they listed Ireland as one of her foreign visits — only to concede that her plane had merely refueled on Irish soil. What they did manage to conceal — until a Republican adviser later confirmed it — was that Palin was so brainless about Great Britain that she thought its government was run by the queen.
But hey, anybody can do this president and veep thing. That was Palin’s implicit message, and now it’s being retooled by Trump. Why shouldn’t a vulgarian with four corporate bankruptcies and zero public service experience get a shot at handling the nuclear football?
Trump and Palin — perfect together, refuting the apparently quaint notion that merit should matter. Indeed, they are quite in tune with contemporary culture. These days, in this country, we seem to award everyone for merit. In academia, grade inflation is rampant; in Little League, everyone gets a trophy, whether they bat .450 or .100. Meritocracy has been trumped by the fetishization of mediocrity.
Granted, Palin didn’t create this trend; lest we forget, amateur hackery was rampant during the Bush era that preceded her brief ’08 ascent. The best example was FEMA chief Michael Brown, who won the emergency preparedness job after toiling for the International Arabian Horse Association. And his acting deputy director, Patrick Rhode, was deemed qualified to handle natural disasters based on his previous experience covering natural disasters for a local TV station. (Rhode extolled FEMA’s handling of Katrina as “probably one of the most efficient and effective responses in the country’s history.”)
But Palin’s contribution — then and now — is to push the crackpot notion that our highest leaders should be Just Like Us, no better or smarter than the rest of us. And just as inarticulate as the rest of us. (Palin, yesterday, lauded Trump as “the only one that has been willing, who’s got the guts, to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debated on his sleeve.” She also lauded him as a “self-made man” even though he got started with a million bucks from his dad. Just like every average Joe.)
I realize that dumbed-down populism is popular among the Trumpitistas and Palin fans, and even some of the right-wing thinkers have signed on to it. Back in autumn ’08, in defense of Palin, the conservative Weekly Standard magazine posed a question: “If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?” Um, easy answer: Because uncertified citizens, like you and I, should be wise enough to choose the candidates who are experienced and more qualified than you and I.
So yesterday, when Palin surfaced on the stump with Donald Trump, I found myself thinking of Roman Hruska. Surely his ghost was hovering at that Iowa event. You’re probably not familiar with Roman Hruska, so let me explain:
Forty six years ago, the Nebraska senator vociferously defended a medicore, ill-qualified, ill-fated Supreme Court nominee by saying, “So what if he is mediocre? They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”
Brilliant thought, far ahead of its time. Give that guy a Little League trophy.