Lindsey Graham announced the end of his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this morning. Don’t worry! He wants you to know that he still believes in his plan to wage needless war on a distant millenarian death cult whose lifeblood is the Western antagonism that certifies its righteousness, and he promises to continue flogging it until all the world’s seas crash pink and chunky on shores of radioactive glass.
Whew. This is a relief. For a second there I was worried I might have to save money for my kids’ college tuition.
Here is the thing. Posing as the sober grownup fighting to keep his party out of the thrall of lunchmeat zeppelin Donald Trump is a fine notion, in the abstract. Many people of all political leanings rightly observe that Donald Trump is a dangerous shit-for-brains unfit to lead a Boy Scout troup, much less a nuclear-armed world power! Some of those people vote, or aren’t altogether opposed to the idea of voting, and thus can be campaigned at. In the abstract.
In reality, this pose has stranded Lindsey Graham—as it has stranded Jeb Bush and John Kasich and the leadership of the Republican party itself—with nobody to represent. Now that Trump has made explicit so much of the carefully unspoken subtext of the past 35 years of conservatism—the unalloyed bigotry and viciousness at the heart of its policy positions, yes, but also the deeper, ineluctable truth that it has only ever been a pure politics of grievance and resentment—the mannerisms of statesmanly sobriety or gimlet-eyed realism can’t hide the blithe, entitled stupidity of Graham’s big talk. He’s just a little boy who wants to smash the other kid’s toys—who insists, eyes squeezed shut, fingers in ears, la la la la shut up shut up I can’t hear you la la la, that he lives in a world in which smashing the other kid’s toys is what solves problems—and everybody can see it.
More to the point, the right no longer respects his—or Jeb’s, or anybody else’s—efforts to hide this. It despises the pretense just as much as the left does. A spiteful insistence that they have a right to blithe, entitled stupidity is the only thing the GOP’s base can unify behind. They’re letting their freak flags fly!
This, more than absolutely anything else, is what this campaign is about. It’s what keeps the most maniacal candidates at the center of the stage; what rewards them in direct proportion to the ignorance, toxicity, and plain wrongness of what comes out of their mouths; and what chased even a nasty, cruel, gnawing little ghoul like Scott Walker into the wilderness for the crime of seeming relatively qualified. The whipped bully’s fractured ego, here at the end of American hegemony, does not want a disguise. It wants a costume. These people would elect fucking Batman if they could.
If this reads like a kind of praise for Lindsey Graham, it isn’t. He’s a lying weasel, and his lie is the same lie Trump and Cruz and Clinton and Bush are telling, the same lie Reagan and for that matter Kennedy told. The lie is his life’s work. Telling it calmly in that genteel Carolina drawl with his own real hair parted neatly over the top doesn’t make him a good guy, and getting shoved aside for a carnival freak show who peddles the same shit more entertainingly doesn’t make him a martyr. It just makes him what Trump would call him, if he could be bothered to mention Lindsey Graham at all: a loser.
Fuck off, Lindsey Graham. Make war on the bottom of a mine shaft.
Top photo via AP