Needless to say, somewhere Smokey Robinson is wondering “WTF?” or patting himself on the back for seeing into the future, maybe both. All over the heartland, real clowns are stalking the populace, horrifying rural and inner city populations alike. The TV mini-series It turned 25 last year, and it’s as if the anniversary served as a dog whistle for a clown resurgence: a nation of Pennywises rising from obscurity.
In almost parallel development, this year’s presidential campaign feels like an Edward Hopper painting, Stephen King novel, and three-ring circus all wrapped into one. The GOP debates functioned as a proverbial clown car with an array of insane candidates emerging to grasp an ever-shrinking possibility of victory. Donald Trump’s orange tinge, tiny hands, and goofy wig subsumed them all and now serves as a background patina for November’s vote.
The whole thing seems to be even infecting Hillary. Her inflexible grin appeared affixed during the last debate. And the clown parade isn’t reserved for potential presidents either; proxies can get in on the action too. Chris Christie says yes to legal but ethically dubious tax evasion while celebrated New York drag performer Rudy Giuliani approves of your infidelity. “GOP 2004: Gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of wedding vows! GOP 2016: Adultery for all!” the New Republic’s Jeet Heer tweeted.
Of course, Robinson’s soothing, plaintive tune always hid real pain and emotion, kind of like the electorate at the moment. “Now they’re some sad things known to man/But ain’t too much sadder than/The tears of a clown when there’s no one around,” Smokey sang in 1970—but really, who isn’t crying privately these days? Not because we’re clowns, but rather we’re being clowned.
So this brings us to last night’s debate. If Tim Kaine were a clown, he’d be your dad who donned the necessary gear for your 12th birthday party and gamely took on your rapacious crew of pre-teen friends. Think Steve Martin’s Cowboy Gil from Parenthood: poorly constructed costume and disturbing balloon animals, yes, but nonetheless disturbingly committed.
And as for Mike Pence? Clowns are the devil, Satan’s ungainly attempt to get you to eat too much cake and turn to a life of mime. Stephen Malkmus once said there’s no women in Alaska, there’s no Creoles in Vermont and there’s no coast of Nebraska; well, Indiana has no fucking clowns.
Of course, if you want clown shows go no further than the RNC homepage, where some genius intern from Liberty University or Baylor posted a post-debate wrap up hours before the debate. Someone’s been pre-gaming. When did the GOP become the 1982 DNC? I thought Republicans were the party of ruthless organization and brutal efficiency? The Karl Rove juggernaut that bestrided the Ohio river like a colossus in 2004 has turned into a tee-ball version of the Bad News Bears.
Of course, it was not just the GOP stalwarts who embarrassed themselves. Tim Kaine came out swinging like an over-caffeinated, Adderalled-out college undergrad, albeit with a diminishing hairline. Come on, you remember that guy—the prematurely aging 20 year old who wants to be a CPA and wear sweater vests as soon as it’s remotely acceptable to do so. I so wanted him to reach over and pull off Pence’s Lego hair helmet and throw that shit on. “Everything is AWESOME!” Kaine had more canned lines than a 1985 sitcom.
Indeed, someone must have put Red Bull in the Virginia Senator’s cheerios. He seemed a bit like a little yapping dog, a chihuahua nipping around the heels of the irritated stepdad who inherited him after his wife’s ex-husband moved out. Church Dad Pence may have been fuller of shit than a port-a-potty at a bran muffin conference, but Timmy Boy arguably came off looking worse.
Or is that inarguable? Or inaccurate? When Timmy said that Pence said that Putin (stay with us, kids) was an “inarguably” better leader than Obama, Pence literally began to sputter, “Senator, that’s totally inargua—I mean, inaccurate!” It was weird watching the two. Kaine stayed annoyingly on script all evening, and Pence was doing everything he could to stay off his own.
Gotta give it to Pence, though; he can absorb a Donald Trump insult like no one’s business, though it helps they seemed to be lobbed at women, minorities, the disabled and, well, almost everyone. Love means never having to say you’re sorry or, you know, defending your abusive boyfriend in front of a national audience (okay, seriously more like regional—who watched this snooze fest besides me?)
[Sure, it’s a fake Onion tweet, but it’s not like you were surprised, right?]
Cognitive dissonance was the word for tonight—kind of like how clowns are theoretically supposed to bring joy and happiness but only really spread fear and dystopian visions of really bad birthday parties, like epically bad. When attacking an economy that has begun to drastically improve, Pence wielded the usual anti-big data, “state revolution” argument of don’t-give-me-facts, I have my gut, my plastic coated Lego gut. Obama and Clinton (wait, wasn’t she Secretary of State?) were “running the economy into a ditch … you can roll out the numbers … but people in Fort Wayne Indiana know different.”
Yes, the numbers, in an economic argument, serve no purpose. It was like watching an even worse version of the maudlin Eastwood flick Trouble with the Curve. Meanwhile, Kaine was trying to play Moneyball, but all the stats bounced off the Great Plastic One.
As Stephen Colbert might say, it doesn’t matter what is true; it matters what people feel is true. Especially if those people are in Fort Wayne, or Scranton. Channelling Uncle Joe, much? Or just pandering to PA? What’s that? Mexican rapists? Hey, look, it’s COAL!
Which brings us back to clowns. If you thought the GOP’s 2012 line-up was laughable (nine-nine-nine!), 2016 wanted to let you know you ain’t seen nothing yet. The best Republicans could come up with was:
- An orange-hued racist reality star and serial tax evader/divorcé who used to be pro-choice (and pervily comments on the sexual qualities of infants and 12-year old girls)
- A brain-dead Texas governor who can only remember series of two things, and now cha-chas on Dancing with the Stars
- A Jersey goomba-bully with a mean streak so wide he rearranged the traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge and risked lives (ever heard of ambulances?) just to spite the mayor of a town of about 12 people
- A maniacal former History professor and, again, serial divorcé who’s obsessed with Star Trek and robots
- A brain surgeon with narcolepsy (how can that be safe?) who once stabbed somebody
Out of these options, they went with the buffoonish cheese puff, who could only pick out an AARP Ken Doll from the Midwest who wants to set up a Christian daycare in every Hoosier lady’s hoo-ha as a running mate. My God.
For the Dems, they went with a career politician their own voters rejected eight years ago, and that half the country has already hated for over a quarter century. (About 10% think she is a lesbian Satan worshipper—not that there’s anything wrong with that.) And she picked a nebbishy tax accountant to be her sidekick—a guy so uncharismatic he thinks Englebert Humperdinck brings the “Latin heat.”
What a bunch of clowns. But then again, we voted for these guys (sort of), so maybe we’re the clowns. And that is scary. We created this monster.
FDR once said all we have to fear is fear itself. Well, that buffoon from NY strikes emo-rock levels of anxiety in this correspondent’s mime-hating soul.
Clement Lime is Tropics of Meta’s social media editor and senior elections correspondent and a self-loathing Cincinnatian.