The people who rule the world aren’t supposed to be human beings. They’re not supposed to have things like feelings, emotions, families, disappointments, urges. They’re supposed to be abstract vessels into which we can pour our hopes and our hates, our victories and defeats, like distant, personal gods.
But then they go and fuck it all up by dancing.
Time and again, these leaders who ought to embody the Platonic ideal of our nation-state, insist on going out on some dance floor somewhere and strutting their stuff. It’s disgusting. It’s offensive. It’s humanizing. It reminds us that instead of being perfect in their goodness or their malevolence, they’re actually just like us, confused, awkward, and perpetually bewildered by existence.
When you see them there, shaking their butts and wiggling their legs, you’re forced to ask yourself the hardest question the citizen of any polity can ask: How on earth did I entrust my life, liberty, property, and sacred honor to this lunatic?
George W. Bush
When you watch George Bush dance, you understand why people liked him. In a world where politicians strive so hard to maintain their dignity, their cool, their aura of authority and competence, George W. Bush did not give a shit. He lived in the moment. He danced like no one was watching, even when people were watching, millions of them, on live television, in horror.
Before Vladimir Putin slithered his iron fist around Russia, it was governed by a man named Boris Yeltsin. Hopeful for a new world after communism, the Russian people loved him. Unlike the Czars and Soviet Premiers of old, he cared about them, loved them, and fought for them. When communist hardliners had tried to crush with a military coup the new liberties offered to them by Gorbachev and Perestroika, Yeltsin had climbed onto a tank and convinced the soldiers to defect to the cause of freedom and democracy.
Imagine if those soldiers had seen this video. Imagine if they had looked into the drunken, wiggling eyes of Boris Yeltsin as he pretends to know what Rock and Roll is. I suspect they would have chosen differently. I suspect Lenin would still be in his tomb of honor.
According to an interview I saw recently with a big wig from the CIA, Nixon kept the peace in Vietnam after he withdrew all the American troops through sheer reputation. The North Vietnamese lived in fear of Richard Nixon. They didn’t think he was a sane man. They thought at a moment’s notice, at the slightest provocation, at even as little as a flight of his own fancy, he would gladly plunge the earth into the holocaust of war, even nuclear war. To Nixon, the leaders of North Vietnam felt, there was no difference between life and death, between good or evil, between the continued existence of mankind and the infinite oblivion of the void. The North Vietnamese couldn’t bring themselves to risk unleashing such a man on the world. Even though they were men who had fought for decades, who had killed hundreds of thousands, who had beheaded and tortured, their consciences couldn’t bare it.
Prince Charles, heir to the thrones of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
There was a moment when the kings and queens of England ruled the largest, most powerful Empire the world has ever known. Their power stretched to ever continent, to every race, to every civilization. On it, the sun never set. But Victoria is dead and George the Fifth is dead and soon Elizabeth the Second will be dead, and what remains of the Empire will be passed into the hands of this mediocre reincarnation of Æthelred the Unready.
George W. Bush again
When they used to paint the portraits of the kings of old, the kings of Persia or Spain or the Visigoths, they would place in their hand a great sword to symbolized their power, to show that through their kingship they commanded armies of thousands and executed control, like a god, over life and death within their domain. But in the age of democracy, we have done away with such symbols. Our power is now a refined power, one born of persuasion and consent, of wealth and influence. Now when a sword is placed in the hands in the hands of even the most powerful leader in the world, he is so befuddled by its presence all he can do is rest it on his shoulder like he were a golfer waiting for his chance at the tee block.
Eleanor is a strange case. Somehow there is a dignity to her indignity. She is an aristocrat, a blue blood, a person who never truly labored, who never calloused her hands, who never for one minute worried about whether or not she’d be able to pay for her next meal. And yet there she could stand in the midst of gussied up coal miners and seem so unnatural as to be natural. It must be because the affection between her and them is real. This, I suppose, was the magic of the whole New Deal. Never before had the United States government ever tried to meaningfully help people in their day to day lives. When Franklin and Eleanor reached out, they didn’t know how else to react but like they would to a neighbor–with friendship.
The odds are Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. She will command the greatest amassment of weapons and wealth the world has ever known. She will set the precedent for a whole new generation of women leaders, for little girls who will grow up wanting to be President, wanting to hold power, wanting to lead and to govern. All of them will look to Hillary as their model, as their guide, as their mentor. Some of those women will be great leaders. Some will be terrible. Most will be mediocre. All of them, however, will be disgraces to the art of dance.
When Barack Obama was a young man running for President, he held the whole nation captivated with his suave demeanor. He was not like other men who had run for President. He was black. He had some conception of what young people cared about. He carried with him an energy, a promise of what America could be, a nation that could finally begin to move past its blood-stained history, a nation that would finally stop being so oppressively and aggressively white.
Six years later, however, that promise has remained unfulfilled. America is not some new America, but the old America still trudging onward. A little better, a little brighter, but the same flesh and the same bones. We should have known that because for all of Obama’s rhetoric about hope and change and progress, he still boogied like Warren Harding.
Prince Charles again
As the Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell dragged King Charles I of England up to the execution block, the doomed king shouted at the assembled crowd that he above all other people had wanted liberty for the people. But that what the people didn’t understand is that it was the will of God that he rule them absolutely. God had decided they could have no share of the government. God decided that his edicts must be unquestioned. God had decided that he and no other could sit upon the throne. Who were any of them, he asked, to question the will of God?
After they finished lopping off his head, members of the crowd gathered around his corpse so that they could dip their handkerchiefs into his blood as a memento.
The history of South America is as chock full of dictators as America’s is with racism. But even in that world, Hugo Chavez was something unique. Yes he held the reins of power tightly, yes he persecuted his enemies, yes he rigged elections, yes he squandered his nation’s wealth on enriching his supporters and building gigantic monuments to himself, but he never let on to anyone that he knew what he was. He didn’t cover himself with the pomp of Peron or the melancholy of Getúlio Vargas. He was a dictator with whom you could have a drink, who you could scream with at a soccer game, who—when you asked him—would dance for you like a clown. The unwashed masses know how to hate a lot of things, intelligence, wealth, foreigners, Jews, but they’ve never yet learned to hate a buffoon. That’s the domain of rich men.
George W. Bush one last time
When I get together with my father, we often debate the age old question of Obama versus Bush. When I, in my liberalism, bring up Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War, and 9-11, and the Financial Crisis and call President Bush the most incompetent in modern history, my father will narrow his eyes and then bellow, “History will show you that he was a great man! A thousand times better than that (omitted) in the White House you love so much!”
I think this video ends all doubt to that question.
Bonus Round: Idi Amin
In this video Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 79, isn’t dancing. He doesn’t even rise up from his chair. Instead, he commands others to dance for his amusement while he plays the accordion. Even though the music is fast and boisterous, they dance slowly, fearfully, always looking over their shoulder to make sure Amin is pleased with them. Not enough joy and he might have them killed. Too much joy and he might have them tortured. It is hard to imagine what it is like to live under a true lunatic, under someone who is genuinely and thoroughly consumed by a murderous insanity, but the eyes of those dancing people come as close as anything to making us understand.
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