Phantom of the GOPera

When do we get to the finale?

I didn’t see the end of the original The Phantom of the Opera until a few years ago, and it really made an impression on me. You can see it in the header video here: After a terrific pursuit, the mob catches up to the Phantom on an embankment; he defiantly holds up a fist and points to it; the crowd rears back, afraid that the gruesome, desperate madman has hold of some horrible weapon. But then the Phantom slowly, savoringly unclenches his fist and, grinning, holds it out, showing he holds nothing at all; laughing and holding out his arms in mad triumph, he delivers himself unto the mob, which beats him and throws him in the Seine.

It’s a hell of a thing, in and of itself, being not only a romantic gesture but a dazzlingly anti-heroic one: the reclusive madman content to die if he can just show his ass to the world on the way out. In recent years, it has made me think of Trump. It’s not that I think he has anything like the Phantom’s panache and magnificence, but I do believe he will go down swinging and unrepentant, and without any effort to conceal his contempt for us all. (And why should he, since his contempt is already obvious and half the country still can’t see it.)

But at this particular moment, when I think of the Phantom’s last stand, my mind goes bigger, and I imagine in it the story of the Republican Party. Because as has been said here and elsewhere, Trump is only the most recent and (only therefore) most degenerate phase of modern Republicanism. Some of us knew the conservatism that overtook the party for a con from early days — I had some Birchers in my family, which gave me a head start — but by now it should be clear to most people of good sense that, from trickle-down through new world order through war on terror through MAGA, the GOP has for more that forty years been a scourge on the land.

The have destroyed the American dream and replaced it with a siege mentality, turning the middle class from a blessing to which all could aspire to a leaky lifeboat — something all but the rich are either desperate to clamber into or terrified to be thrown out of. These common hustlers disguised as statesmen raid, strip, and sell cheap the bounty that was once our common patrimony, and declare that the poverty, racism, and violence they leave behind proves that we’re not worthy to share the wealth they stole.

And I know I’m not the only one who has noticed that even as these people, swollen with their victories, grow still more daring, even reckless in their exploits, they seem to get even more confident than before. It’s almost eerie.

For example, this week, the big boys, following the President’s lead, declared that maybe we should call off the quarantine tout suite so as not to further affright their investors, and let the chips (that is, those who’ll die as a result) fall where they may:

A hell of a position for the “pro-life” party! Also, the coronavirus quack cures pushed by the President himself are being endorsed by his acolytes — not only overtly by the usual comments-section creeps, probably hoping to profit from a market boom, but also cagily by bigwigs like Rudy Giuliani who say, well, it did me a world of good, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile Trump’s agents try to wring as much out of the stimulus as possible.

In short it’s a 360-degree grift — and very dangerous not only to us but also to them, because as the ERs flood and the bodies hit the floor the false hopes with which they cover themselves will get to be too much for even their suckers to stand. Yet they remain, at least to all appearances, supremely confident.

How long it’ll take to collapse I can’t tell; it’s strange to be put into the position of hoping not to see them unmasked and overtaken, because now that will come at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. That’s the invisible charm they’re holding in their upraised hand. I only hope we could overtake them before it comes to that.