In the movie Idiocracy, an army suspended animation experiment goes awry and two test subjects find themselves stranded in a degraded version of the United States — 500 years in the future. Corporal Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) goes about exploring the dystopian land, where the populace has become abysmally lazy and ignorant, and speaks “a mixture of slang, hillbilly and grunts,” according to the film’s narrator.
The narrator in Mike Judge’s futuristic satire also intones: “The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes that genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.”
Brawndo, a sports drink company, has purchased the U.S. government; and President Camacho, a former mixed martial arts fighter, is struggling to solve the collapse of agriculture. According to an IQ test administered to Bauers, the U.S. Army librarian is the smartest person in the nation. However, he runs afoul of the authorities and is sentenced to die in a monster truck demolition derby.
Film critics have noted that 20th Century Fox, the film’s distributor, abandoned Idiocracy when it came out in 2006. In any case, cable channels frequently re-run the clever and raunchy film, which has gained a cult following.
And speaking of a dystopian future, the contest for the GOP presidential nomination has emerged as must-watch TV entertainment. The leading contender, Donald Trump, who has been topping the polls on the Republican side for the past three months, actually is a reality show personality (The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice). Many political pundits have not been able to determine if Trump’s candidacy is genuine or a mass media stunt. And as some commentators have noted, Trump’s antics would have scuttled the campaign of just about any traditional political candidate. But when Trump insults various groups —women and Mexicans, for example — his poll numbers tend to rise.
The American idiocracy seems to have arrived about 490 years ahead of schedule.
However, we can laugh at, or ignore, Donald Trump at our peril. His xenophobic bloviating emboldens an ugly faction in our politics.
Writing in The New Yorker recently, Evan Osnos delved into Trump’s support among “white nationalists” — white supremacists and neo-Nazis. These right-wing extremists usually eschew political endorsements; but they have found their candidate in Donald Trump.
Osnos mentions that less than two weeks “after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: ‘Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.’ The Daily Stormer urged white men to ‘vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.’”
Before the Trump campaign started making waves, these same white supremacists had derided the billionaire as a “Jew-lover,” according to Osnos.
Mindful of his popularity on the far right, Jewish Republicans are having fits about Trump.
“There are a lot of folks who are, to be charitable, into white identity politics, and to be uncharitable are outright racists, who are supporting Trump,” Nathan Wurtzel, a Jewish Republican political consultant and principal at The Catalyst Group, recently told the Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis. “It’s very off-putting and disturbing.”
Like President Camacho, in Idiocracy, Trump’s popularity has surged among a segment of the populace that prefers entertainment to substantive policy discussions. And Trump’s rants against undocumented Mexican immigrants seems to buoy his popularity among those white people who fear a menacing brown tide coming across the southern border. (In reality, there is no problem posed by illegal immigration; net immigration from Mexico is zero.)
Again, Jewish Republicans see Trump blocking their vision of creating the proverbial big tent for the GOP.
“In order for us to become a party [of anyone] other than white men, we need to be reaching out,” Norm Coleman, a former senator from Minnesota, told the Forward, in the article mentioned previously. “I think Trump’s language and perspective is a long-term negative in terms of building the party.”
Of course, these words are like music to the ears of Democratic partisans.
In the end, the Trump presidential candidacy, which has the solidity of gossamer, could fade at any moment. The public is fickle and Trump backers soon might switch the channel to another show more to their liking.
But the damage has already been done. Trump’s crude and mendacious shtick has degraded our politics, which weren’t in great shape to start with. His empty threat to deport 11 million undocumented Mexican workers has contributed to a growing strain of xenophobia in this country.
As Jews, we should know something about being scapegoated. Most readers of the Jewish World are of the first and second generations of their families born in this country. We naturally should have rachmones (compassion) for newcomers to this land.
In a recent edition of Haaretz, Chemi Shalev expressed concern that American Jews “are losing their historical support for immigration as a defining value of the American ethos; that they are no longer moved by the plea ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’ written by [Jewish poet] Emma Lazarus and engraved on the Statue of Liberty.”
Shalev suggests that American Jews’ indifference to Trump’s “agitation against immigrants” might be causing our derided and scorned Jewish forebears to be “turning in their graves.”
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World, 10.9.15)