- - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Every presidential campaign draws on familiar pop culture references to bring the candidates down to earth. Critics use the references to illuminate the differences between voters of different generations.

We the people search for analogues in art, music, theater, even anthropology, to find the telling insight that animates observations and interpretations of personality, if not policy. This is especially true in the lead-up to the first debate on Monday night, when voters are confounded by the divergent styles of two unpopular candidates offering a clash of polarizing sensibilities.

Their different styles will be played out by the organs of the big media, having thrown away all pretense of even-handedness, as the highbrow vs. the lowbrow, the insider vs. the outsider, the university-educated elitist vs. the vulgar genius from the street. Their followers are the rich vs. the working stiffs. Add to these cultural divisions demographic distinctions ranging from feminists to lunch-bucket working men, from the old folks to the millennials. They live in the same country but in different worlds.

You choose your favorite caricatures from where you sit. Donald Trump is the punk rocker who grooves on smashing things, a male chauvinist raging against the ladies, or he’s the liberated businessman who hires competent women to run his enterprises. He even married a beautiful model with her own independent career. He’s the reality performer who delights in the close-up, at ease with show-biz spontaneity.

He’s certainly not everybody’s taste. The anthropologist Jane Goodall likens him to a male chimpanzee slapping the ground and throwing rocks to win attention. She’ll be thinking of a chimp named Mike, she tells James Fallows in Atlantic magazine, when she watches the debate. Mike the chimp gleefully created confusion and noise that “made his rivals flee and cower.’”

Hillary, staid and prim, is the policy wonk, the strident “first wife,” the overbearing mother-in-law. She’s sometimes even the mother whose shrill voice a body hears when a body thinks he might have done something wrong, even when he hasn’t. She usually means well but lacks tact and warmth, and never learned the valuable lesson that you can sometimes be wrong by being right.

Pop images collect, coalesce and harden. He’s the crude joker, she’s the uptight school marm. He’s outrageous. She’s buttoned up, all the way to her chin. He’s a banana split with a cherry on top. She’s a double serving of spinach with nothing on top.

It’s impossible to balance the pop references and the cliched distinctions. Music and television, always looking for something to entertain the masses, play up strife and division, and now they’re joined by the ubiquitous internet and social media with its chaos of opinion (usually half-baked). While nearly everyone is exposed to the “latest” sensation, whether trend or breaking news, what’s new becomes quickly old. What was avant-garde and revolutionary only yesterday is ancient history now.

The reason that Hillary’s celebrated breakthrough as the first woman presidential candidate of a major party hasn’t caught on in a positive and useful way is that her kind of feminism is, in the jargon of today, “so yesterday.” It’s as unhip as her pants suits. The product called Hillary is overexposed and stale, a soda that’s lost the fizzle, a hamburger with no sizzle, a label yellowed for being so long on the shelf.

If this campaign were vaudeville (instead of sometimes just resembling vaudeville), she would be the straight (wo)man looking in vain for a partner, an elitist ordering a vintage wine when those in the know among her rich and sophisticated friends, choose the latest craft beer.

She may be running against what culture critic James Parker describes as “the worst stand-up comedian in the world,” but even when the Donald crashes and burns he supplies a reality more in touch with the angry times than a woman afraid to say she’s got pneumonia for fear that it’s the failing that will finally do her in politically, if not physically.

Donald Trump may, as one critic put it, look like “a bust that will one day be toppled in a city square,” but he’s admired and applauded by huge crowds for sticking it to the elites, the arrogant arbiters of taste who like Hillary deplore the “deplorables.” Observes Conrad Black in the New York Sun, “This was Empress Hillary emptying the contents of her chamber pot out the palace window onto the heads of those described in the phrase ‘We the people.’” Monday’s first debate, expected to draw an audience of a hundred million, will probably be decisive. The winner will ride to November in the catbird seat. The loser gets the chamber pot and all that’s in it.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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