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Starkehaus: Trump and Palin – The Tea Party’s Johnny Fever Moment



Donald Trump and Sarah Palin – Politico image

By Irene F. Starkehaus - 

Every now and again, I imagine seeing modern America through the eyes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams et al. I often wonder what the Founders would do if they were facing the challenges that currently threaten our freedom. What policies would they recommend? What compromises would they condemn? How far would they be willing to divert from their core principles in order to save our country?

These days, I more frequently wonder who they would endorse for the Republican nomination in 2016. And who would they rebuke? The answer to those questions may seem petty…a bunch of simple farmers and stodgy old philosophers? What difference does it make what they might think? How could it possibly be relevant in relation to our modern circumstances and trials.

But what they might think does matter if we want to reconcile ourselves to our traditional values, because we cannot return to foundational principles if we cannot learn from their mistakes and successes and objectively recognize what won't get us home.

Trump and Palin. omg. So this is it. This is how it ends. Fantasy football for politics. What on earth will become of us?

It's the kind of alliance that feeds arguments like those my kids have over whether Kylo Ren and Loki could kick Luke Skywalker's and Thor's butts. It's just splitting the difference between leprechauns and unicorns, you know. Then again, we are talking politics, so why not? Can you imagine the interstellar, quantum-physical suspension of disbelief that would be required to bring those two mythical worlds together? Well, that's Trump and Palin. On a good day.

See? I was lazily circling around the idea of calling Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump a "Jump the Shark" moment almost mechanically because Palin's validation of a Trump nomination represents something hard to describe yet tangibly off kilter for the trajectory of the Tea Party movement. It's not kitschy and hokey. It's palpably disconcerting.

Per Wikipedia

Jumping the shark is an idiom popularized by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, signaled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of gimmick in an attempt to keep viewers' interest, which is taken as a sign of desperation, and is seen by viewers to be the point at which the show strayed irretrievably from its original formula. The phrase is based on a scene from a fifth-season episode of the sitcom Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis.

But Sarah Palin's endorsement was not in any way "Jump the Shark." You can see how that turn of phrase doesn't quite match up with what happened in Ames, Iowa on January 19, 2016. The Tea Party isn't in decline. It's in its infancy. There's no real struggle to keep the consumer's interest in conservatism. People buy into it when its limited supply is offered to them. We do however see conservative leadership straying from a formula that made the Tea Party successful.

So rather than "Jump the Shark," it's perhaps the Tea Party's Johnny Fever moment…obscure though the reference may be. For those readers who don't remember the character Dr. Johnny Fever (played by Howard Hesseman) he was a rock 'n roll DJ/rebel in an era of synth-pop tedium. He was fired from a successful station for saying an ugly word on the air and landed at the fictional WKRP in Cincinnati…the station where has-been DJs would go to die.

Through the chance awakening of a station format change, the dwindling Johnny Fever was rediscovered as the hard rocking DJ that he longed to be. He was given permission to play the music that he valued and through his love for the music, the listeners began tuning in. This suggests to us, by the way, that when given a choice, people will usually prefer the fruits of liberty over social engineering…but we can save the Tao of Johnny Fever for another day, I guess.

Yes, Johnny was on his way up. His formula for success was simple. Don't play prefab music. In fact, when asked by the station director to stick to the play list and just play one disco song, he replied that he'd rather throw himself in front of Donna Summer's tour bus…and then disco came knocking, offering Johnny money and notoriety for just straying a little from his methodology. What difference would it make? He'd still be playing music and he'd have a larger audience than ever before.

After a small battle of conscience, Fever went for the switch thinking that he'd eventually be able to manipulate the situation so as to work in some of the good music with the disco. And voila, before he knew it the situation had manipulated him rather than the other way around.

It's not exactly an epic tale for the ages, but that is, in fact, the Johnny Fever moment. The selling of one's soul for all the best reasons.

Consider Sarah Palin now. Consider what she has sold.

Through her Trump endorsement, her infidelity to principle shines through and makes all past pledges to conservative values ring hollow. It suggests to many who follow her loyally that the means to an end might be justified as long as the results are in keeping with the conservative wish list. A little too Machiavellian for my tastes, but to each his own.

I'm having a hard time with Palin's endorsement of Trump for a lot of reasons. The first is that while I've doubted her often in the years following Barack Obama's election, I've truly believed that there's something about her that longs to be and could have been Reagan-esque with the right kind of support.

I believe that Sarah Palin has been completely manhandled by the Republican establishment and I don't like it one bit, so I continue to have sympathy for her in spite of some really poor choices that she has made along the way. I believe that Palin got hustled by John McCain, and that McCain's betrayal of Sarah Palin like Mitt Romney's betrayal of Paul Ryan…another promising traditionalist sacrificed at the altar of compassionate conservatism…should signal to the Tea Party that RINOs are on a seek and destroy mission and should not be trusted at their word.

And that brings us to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump talks conservative values.  Donald Trump is not a conservative. Forget the politics. Forget the stump speeches. No matter how you dissect this, Trump shows us no actual proof that he cares about conservative values or the people who espouse them other than to magically transform overnight from a dabbling Democrat into a Reagan Republican at just the moment that we are in need of a candidate. I'm sorry, but I'm calling B.S. – leprechauns and unicorns notwithstanding.

I say that because nothing in how he has lived his life suggests that he would automatically respect an oath of office or any long held tradition or an inconvenient law. His previous actions actually portend that he won't.

Donald Trump is a great business man, but would Trump be a great president? Well, he might… and that might be enough for conservatives such as Palin who thirst for action. But please keep in mind that great and good are not synonymous, and the distinction can be the difference between being a president and an autocrat. What are you willing to sacrifice to make your wish list happen? How low will you go?

If Donald Trump could balance the budget using his pen rather than the bully pulpit – which I think is a distinct possibility given his personality traits, would the ends justify the means? If he could build a wall to protect our borders by circumventing Congress, would that be okay? If he could end Obamacare by decree, would its collapse be worth the cost?

It's good to know what you want. It's also good to know what you are not willing to do to get what you want. So I ask, what are you willing to sell for all the best reasons?


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  1. Palin never was very bright but we chose to overlook her superficial conservatism because her instincts were correct most of the time. But instincts are not enough and no substitute for serious study of the Constitution and the ideals of our founders. I could be wrong but I doubt Donald Trump could pass the same civics test on the Constitution that a legal immigrant must pass to become a citizen. And yet he pretends to be the guardian against illegal immigrants.

  2. C’mon, Mark! Half of those in Congress couldn’t pass a
    high-school Constitution test. Look at some of the bills they pass into law!
    And, Ms. Starkhaus; If YOU are so damned smart, why aren’t YOU running for high public office?