Theater of the Absurd

Why is he under continuous audit by the IRS? According to Trump, it may be because is such a “strong Christian.”


And the Mexicans are going to pay for The Wall. (“Dad, I’m going to drop out of school and go hang out on the beach for a year.” “No you’re not.” “Yea, I am.  And what’s more, you’re going buy me a beach house and a year’s supply of weed.”)


And Trump says that as president he will “take the oil in the Middle East.”


And President Obama “is the founder of ISIS.”


And his plan that will replace Obamacare: “something terrific.”


As one Tweet put it, “We have passed the point of  ‘are you f---ing kidding me?’”


What do we call the world beyond that point? This is not ordinary political spin and fib (the Clintons’ league), or even the world of the authoritarian “big lie,” both of which, while probing the limits of credibility, function within the boundaries of the possible. Instead, it is a type of theater of the absurd, in which the boundaries of the possible dissolve. It is the world of the preposterous.


Preposterous is a word with a slightly antiquated tone. But I have noted a distinct rise in the use of the adjective by amazed commenters from all points on the political spectrum. They have a point.  The word “preposterous,” as most commonly defined, means contrary to reason, nature, or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous. 


A few examples:

·      The verdict of his supporters at the Wall Street Journal on his statement that he would “take the oil in the middle east:” “preposterous.”  

·      President Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, appearing on Fox News to discuss Trump’s immigration proposals:   “I think his ideas are preposterous.”

·      The New Yorker on the Mexico paying for the wall:  “plainly preposterous.” 

·      Trump’s idea that immigration officers could stop Muslims from entering the country by simply asking people, “Are you a Muslim?”: “The more you think about it, the more preposterous it becomes.” (Former U.S. foreign service officer Philip French)

·      Trump’s claim that if he doesn’t win on November 8 it means the election was “rigged”:  called preposterous, toxic and pernicious by CNN and politicians from both sides

·      Trump’s repeated statements that journalists should be fired for criticizing him: called “preposterous” by the conservative National Review

·      Trump’s claim that he could “get rid of the $19 trillion in debt . . . over a period of eight years:” called by the Washington Post “nonsensical.”


Note that none of these criticisms involve disagreements about ideology or policy. They involve disagreements about whether a statement, claim, or prescription lies within the realm of the real or the possible.  


With theater of the absurd, you never know what’s coming next. By being untethered to convention or reality, the plot unfolds in a way that is completely unpredictable. The normally staid and temperate Economist argues:  “He is so unpredictable that the thought of him anywhere near high office is terrifying.  He must be stopped.”