Breaking Down News: The Thing of Horror

That transition was dramatically visible in Stephen Colbert’s show where, among others, Stevie Wonder had come to urge people to vote liberal – as King had been doing on social media.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published:November 12, 2016 12:28 am
us elections, donald trump, hillary clinton, trump win, stephen king, Stephen Colbert, Washington Post, Asra Q Nomani, indian express news US President-elect Donald Trump.

Horrified by the result of the 2016 US election, Stephen King has gone into retreat. “No more book recommendations, politics or amusing dog pictures for the immediate future,” he tweeted after the results were in. “I’m shutting down.” King has become a doting dog dad and of late, his communications have been enlivened by pictures of his Corgi Molly, known affectionately as the Thing of Evil. Now, liberal America senses that a real Thing is in their midst, and it is not a laughing matter any more. It has been a wonderful journey from Homo habilis (homely man) via Homo erectus (upright man) to Homo sapiens (wise man), but now,it’s acquiring a nightmare edge with the evolution of Homo ferox (ferocious man).

That transition was dramatically visible in Stephen Colbert’s show where, among others, Stevie Wonder had come to urge people to vote liberal – as King had been doing on social media. But after the event, the host was faced with a compatibility problem. The Late Show is supposed to be comic satire, and how was he supposed to glissando out of that format when he saw grief in the offing? All he could do was to express his bafflement at how composed Hillary Clinton was in her darkest hour.

But he recovered soon, “I’m, Stephen Colbert, I think. Not sure about anything any more,” he introduced himself after the meltdown. What is it, four years? We have four very interesting years ahead of us… This is what it feels like when America is made great again.” And he recalled that for eight years, a lot of people, including Trump, could not accept that Barack Obama was POTUS. Colbert himself has never accepted the existential reality of Donald Trump, calling him the “inescapable black hole of both politics and entertainment”.

Indeed, satirists should not make a fetish of tolerance when they encounter the intolerable. Trump may well re-energise the flagging art. How many cartoons are already out there, showing Trump sexually harassing the Statue of Liberty?

The most interesting predictions of the US election came not from CNN, as self-advertised, but from the Dow Jones website Marketwatch, which has interviewed psychic animals press-ganged into the uncertain art of psephology. Boots, a Scottish goat which predicted Brexit, had followed Nate Silver and chosen Hillary Clinton hooves down. A polar bear and a tiger in a Russian zoo also backed Clinton by choosing to eat pumpkins bearing her name. Geda, a Chinese monkey which predicted that Portugal would rule European football, chose  Trump. Marine researchers in Florida got makos to run races, and Trump Shark won. The art of divination is not dead, and only animal cruelty laws prevent us from reading entrails in the manner of the ancients.

But the haruspex is history. Markets are more reliable bellwethers, and on Wednesday morning, well before the New York Times called a 54 percent chance of a Trump win, US markets were down, futures were falling fast and gold was up an amazing 2.5 per cent. The wavering needles on the NYT live presidential forecast page may have looked smart in theory, but readers do not like being had by bells and whistles. As the technologist and writer Alp Toker pointed out, the wavering did not reflect incoming real time data, as it was presumably supposed to suggest. It was hard-coded into the web page.

The Sensex has been particularly volatile because of the currency turmoil in India, apart from fears about geopolitical rearrangements as the American century ends. We are used to uncertainty and a sense of unreality, but liberal America and its allies are struggling to explain why Trump won. Media disconnect, the liberal elite bubble which it protects and the charlatanry of the pollster are usually put forth at such times. Only the last charge is true — psephology has never been an exact science. Liberal media naturally promotes liberals darlings when they are threatened. Media neutrality is restricted to the news. Opinion is partisan, and should be. So, for instance, it was just fine for the Miami Herald to run an editorial pithily headlined: ‘Her, not Him.’

But now, the most interesting question is, why him? The Washington Post has run a first person story by Asra Q Nomani, “a child of India” who emigrated at the age of four in 1969, and is now unable to pay for Obamacare, fearful of Middle Eastern dictatorships and disillusioned about US governments which want to take the ‘Islamic’ out of Islamic State. Interestingly, you come away with the impression that while Trump’s promise to dismantle Obamacare is real, bizarre electoral gambits like monetising the US missile shield are jumlas.

Clarity is brought, as always, by the DPRK News Service, which parodies classical communist rhetoric: “In hard fought battle between shouting tycoon Donald Trump and venomous hag Hillary Clinton, sole clear winner is Marshal Kim Jong-Un.”

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com