Pagliacci, Trumpiacci and a Foreign Policy of Scary Clowns
By Ben Tanosborn
Whether one loves or despises any singular choice in President Trump's cabinet, I have come to realize that some of us had a glimmer of hope in the possibility Rex Tillerson would have a chance to become US' most successful secretary of state in three decades. A glimmer cut short, however, in the reality of Tillerson being sandwiched between a narcissist clown as a boss and a bipartite Congress obsessed with empire as its mission; coupled, of course, with a neocon hawkish ideology in both State Department and Pentagon - ideology that has operated on autopilot for over two decades no matter the circumstances or which party occupied the White House.
Simply put, Secretary of State Tillerson, a good pick for a difficult job, was placed in the diplomatic arena flanked by a pack of creepy clowns to keep him in check, including the nascent political figure, Nikki Haley, our strident ambassador to the UN.
Allow me a short introduction before I characterize Tillerson as a furtive hope.
Leoncavallo's opera, Pagliacci (Clowns), debuted a century and a quarter ago to a much-delighted public amid accusations of plagiarism against its author. A psychiatrist friend once told me that the abnormal fear of clowns, coulrophobia, had been exacerbated by this opera and subsequent literary and theatrical spin-offs that made "the creepy clown" or "the killer clown" a fearful character, particularly in the United States.
Americans' fear of clowns (at about 12%) - surpassed only by the fear of public speaking (74%), the fear of death (68%) and the fear of spiders (31%) - is claimed to have surpassed all others, including darkness (11%), heights (10%) and social situations (8%). Our very own American creepy clowns travel with a variety of circuses, the scariest among them doing their acts under religious and political tents in the uniquely American carnival atmosphere which permeates in religious revivals and political campaigns.
And so it came to pass in this 2015-6 presidential campaign, and our presumed choice between two totally unfunny clowns (Hillary and Donald) promoted by the sempiternal rule of money, that duped-Americans helped elect an unqualified, boorish president now miss-governing at will; a creepy clown living up to the full his title of "leader of the freak world."
Truth be said, Trump's takeover of the White House, and the governing drama which has followed in the past six months, is more than a reenactment of Pagliacci's clowns with just five characters in the plot. Trumpiacci, the saga of our new governing clowns, is writing itself into a libretto far more complex, with a menagerie of characters seeming to be stepping out of not just the opera Pagliacci but also Mario Puzo's crime novel, The Godfather. Such colorful cast is giving Trumpiacci great success in news-entertainment, perfect material for an opera, a movie or a Broadway play, but unfortunately pointing to a tragic drama, a reality play, with an unresolved denouement cynically painting political America as a garbage dump, far removed from past and proud democratic traditions.
Tragi-comically, in a stage of a diminished, tarnished America, we are confronted with the portrayal of "La Famiglia Trump" as America's self-designated rescue-and-cleanup team claiming as its mission nothing less than the draining of Washington's political swamp. And, we must add, with a most colorful cast to perform this task: Padre Trump, Bella Neddaka, Tardo Donio, Piu Tardo Erico, Consigliere Jaredo; and a support cast of dozens headed by Chiacchierona Keliana, Portavoce Sean, Short-Skirmish Tonio Scaramucci, and a string of generals, soldiers, and capos. An epic reality show tailor-made to meet the Donald's ego-caressing demands, while unfortunately poised to provoke the patriarch's downfall in this All-American morality play.
Back to Tillerson and the stinky mess that Trump and the governing establishment have placed in his hands, with stipulations and restraints only a blinded leadership would impose if expecting a reasonable probability of success. Front and center: North Korea; Russia; Iran; the cauldron in the Middle East and Southwest Asia; Venezuela... plus an eroding de-friending of traditional allies. Trying to resolve any and all of these problems in un-holocaustic ways requires in most instances unconditional dialogue; something that the US has been unwilling to accept, still thinking of itself at its imperialistic apogee, something in obvious disconnect to today's economic and military realities.
The specter of a nuclear North Korea is not just the product of three generations of hate from the Kim-clan and its current despot-in-chief, Kim Jong Un. The US, in its imposed role of "regional military protector" has become, in perception and reality, a fearful predator for Pyongyang's regime. Neither China, nor the recent UN sanctions against North Korea, will bring a long term solution to this problem... a problem that needs to be addressed by China, Japan, and the two Koreas, independent of America's tentacles in the Far East. Rest assured that North Korea is not going to give up its peace-equalizer, so why not let Tillerson engage Jong Un and find out, first hand, what it takes to make nice and coexist. There are no other rational options to choose from.
That unconditional dialogue would serve all well if made as prologue to each and every negotiation, religiously applied to all confrontations where the US has interests at stake.
Perhaps it's my collegial affinity towards another engineer that makes me think of Rex Tillerson as a probable problem-solver, in contrast to the parade of carny-barkers and political ideologues that have been piloting a state department, or thinking they had, while navigating with an immutable foreign policy set on autopilot. Our adversarial relationship with Russia, Iran and other nations (or peoples) is only different in how we perceive the degree of danger for us; North Korea headlining the problem du jour.
Should we allow ourselves to fathom the idea that maybe an honest, apolitical engineer can bring about unconditional dialogue that can draw the blueprints for getting along? Why must Russia be treated as an adversary instead of a potential partner? Or Iran, for that matter? And why are we so intent in following a policy in the Middle East and Southwest Asia where the basic precepts invite failure?
During the presidential campaign Trump asked blacks for their vote saying, "What have you got to lose?" We could have the same request by asking Trump to give Tillerson a free hand in dealing with North Korea and the Russian Federation... the question this time directed to all Americans, "What have we got to lose?"