In Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece Waiting for Godot, the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, occupy a space that appears to exist without them, even as they dominate the scene. Throughout the two-act play, the men oscillate between confusion and inertia, “sound and fury,” as they await the arrival of the elusive Godot. I thought of the play while watching last week’s Republican National Convention.
Somehow in the last eight years, under the leadership of Barrack Obama, America’s first black president, our land has stumbled into a modern hell populated by roaming bands of lawless immigrants, satanic politicians, ungrateful Negroes (“hands up, don’t shoot”), pushy women (especially Hillary Clinton), and the uppity poor. To make matters even worse, America the Exceptional now cowers in the corner while legions of terrorists and anarchists bully a timid world. The ominous, inferior “subgroups” Iowa’s Rep. Steve King warned about are rising up not only across the globe, but also in our streets. The very future of civilization as we know it (white, Christian, straight) lies in a precarious balance. As the bellicose Rudy Giuliani shrieked for all to hear, “There’s no next election – this is it!”
While speaker after speaker peddled potions of doom and gloom, I could not help but recall those old Western movies when a sunrise showdown of disastrous proportions would somehow be thwarted at the last minute by a white man on a white horse rescuing the day. Throughout three nights of rabid hysteria and fear mongering, orchestrated “family moments,” and blind allegiance (except for brave Ted Cruz, whose refusal to bow, it turned out, was based not on principle but rather hurt feelings), all eyes could not help but turn to the only one who could save us from ourselves—Donald J. Trump. On the fourth night, as he galloped onto a stage draped in red, white, and blue, all eyes focused on the man who promised to restore America to a land of order and plenty where loyal, upstanding, silent-no-more citizens could once again enjoy unmolested the splendor of guns, football, and beer.
In a seventy-three minute tome carved for the ages, Trump promised that all the annoying questions about right and wrong, nuance and interpretation, logistics and substance, facts and attributions, art and existence would vanish like a bad headache after one dose of his magic pill. Like addicts on a street corner, the Republican faithful leaned in and inhaled their collective sighs of relief. Trump became more than we imagined, more even than he might have supposed. He was Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan all rolled into one irresistible package. As Trump reminded the delegates, “I am your voice…I alone can fix it.”
When the balloons fell, before Cleveland’s post-convention cleanup began, I was reminded of the final scene in Godot, where Vladimir and Estragon, weary of the wait and the repetitive nature of their complaints, appear ready to abandon their search for whatever it is they think they lack, only to falter at the end, frozen in a time not of their making, locked in a suggestion they cannot fulfill. The promise of instant deliverance and self-serving redemption is as seductive as it is futile. Like an audience viewing Beckett’s play, I fear even ardent Trump supporters might be shaken by the awkward silence and heavy contradictions lingering after the final curtain descends.
–Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)