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The Politics of Trump’s continuing theater of the absurd

Action is minimal

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 11/25/2020, 6 a.m.
In Donald Trump’s presidency, he preyed on people’s need to believe in something...

During the 1960’s through the early 1970’s, there was a very popular art and theater movement called “The Theater of the Absurd.” It was intimately connected to the existentialist movement that advocated the exploration of life’s most basic urges, elements and motivations.

The basis of the absurdist trope was philosopher Albert Camus’ work, particularly the book-length essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus” and the novel, “The Stranger.” One of the best known presentations of Camus’ principle was the play, “Waiting for Godot.”

In that play, action is minimal. The audience watches many minutes of two characters (and usually one) simply standing or sitting in one place. The announced aim was to visually present the essence of the question: If there is a God or a meaning to life, where is it, and if it is not found, does life actually have any meaning?

In essence, the characters waited for hope in otherwise meaningless lives. The human condition itself, too often dependent on individual choices to be good, bad, indifferent, or outrageous, had no accurate measure or strictures. Life simply was.

In Donald Trump’s presidency, he preyed on people’s need to believe in something….to have faith in things getting better. While he surrounded himself with inept or actually criminal (and corrupt) officials throughout his nearly four years in office, he constantly lied to the public about what was going on and what people saw for themselves. “Do not believe your lying eyes, only believe what I tell you,” a street concept, was an artful dodger technique he frequently used. His Theater of the Absurd was not a comedy and it was not a dirge. Instead, it was a political treatise on how to fool the people most of the time for fun and profit.

In Trump’s America, there was meaning and significance in political affairs only if and when he said they were. That led to his extremely irritating display of “not losing” the latest election, even though the popular vote indicated over 6.5 million more people than he generated told him it was time for him to move on. The list of states won was overwhelming.

Seeing himself as both the author and the lead character in an absurdist play about American government got us to this apparently meaningless moment of his political demise. Trump’s purpose in life seems to be how best to keep the shiny objects in people’s faces while he fleeces them, and to otherwise get a large audience to believe that life is only what he tells them it is.

Well, the curtain is coming down, the audience has clapped without requesting an encore, and the Electoral College votes in a few days (after states have already certified the election). The play and the act are over.

But we must stay aware. Many are still ‘Waiting for Godot,’ and some may take to the streets, armed and ready, to hurry the time along. I, for one, am only waiting on the New York authorities to re-up their criminal investigations of Mr. Trump that have been waiting in abeyance. All hope is not lost. In fact, seeing him taken to Rikers Island Prison in New York is a particularly meaningful hope for the near future of us all.

Camus was wrong. Life does have meaning after all. Wrong-doers (sometimes) do get what they deserve.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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