Only recently Donald Trump had his Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) moment. He promptly announced that, despite rumors he had reportedly spread, he did not intend to form a third party ("fake news, fake news") not when the second one was his for the asking and he could potentially defeat a future Democratic presidential candidate as a Republican. "Who knows?," he told that audience, "I may even decide to beat them for a third time." Admittedly, he spent much of his CPAC speech time at the border mourning his "great" (if largely nonexistent) wall there and decrying Joe Biden's arrival at the White House as "the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history." As he put it, "In just one short month, we have gone from 'America First' to 'America Last.'"
And yes, if you bothered to listen to that jut-jawed canary tweeting up a storm and were a CPAC devotee, you, too, might have been chanting, "We love you, We love you!" (although ominously enough only 68% of his fans in that conference hall actually want him to run again in 2024). If you weren't part of his base, however, you would have found yourself listening to a genuinely dangerous, all-too-mad man who if, say, the economy crashes might indeed still win in 2024, sending this country over the edge of time, space, and god knows what else.
On TV, as Robert Lipsyte, TomDispatch jock culture correspondent, suggests today, it was indeed like watching one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in action. The Donald even took the time to "defend" women's sports (as he's never defended women) from the coming of supposedly record-breaking transgendered athletes. ("Joe Biden and the Democrats are pushing policies that would even destroy women's sports.") Of course, if you're thinking of apocalyptic horsemen and sports and you have a long memory you might recall the 1924 Notre Dame football team of which, after a victory against Army, sportswriter Grantland Rice so famously wrote:
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon""
Meanwhile, saddle up and join former New York Times sports columnist Lipsyte, author of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland, in a wild, very personal gallop into our very own world where, for years, four distinctive horsemen of what indeed could prove to be the apocalypse rode us into the ground. Tom
Rush, Roger, Rupert, and The Donald May Ride Forever
As Do Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death
The Four Horsemen of our media apocalypse Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and Donald Trump have ridden roughshod over us this past half-century leaving their hoofprints on our politics, our culture, and our lives. Two of them are gone now, but their legacies, including the News Corporation, the Fox News empire, and a gang of broadcast barbarians will ensure that a lasting plague of misinformation, propaganda masquerading as journalism, and plain old fake news will be our inheritance.
The original Four Horsemen were biblical characters seen as punishments from God. By the time they became common literary and then film currency, they generally went by the names of Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Matching each with Limbaugh, Ailes, Murdoch, and Trump should prove a grisly but all-too-relevant parlor game. The originals were supposed to signal end times and sometimes, when I think about their modern American descendants, I wonder if we're heading in just that direction.
Reflecting on the lives of those modern embodiments of (self-) punishment makes me wonder how we ever let them happen. Isn't there any protection against evil of their sort in a democracy, even when you know about it early? Maybe when evil plays so cleverly into fears and resentments or is just so damn entertaining, not enough people can resist it. Hey, I even worked for one of the horsemen. It was my favorite job" until it wasn't.
But first, let me start with Rush Limbaugh. The nation's leading right-wing bullhorn died last month at 70. His vicious wit ("feminazis") and ability to squeeze complex subjects into catchy sound bites ("In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering") stirred and nourished a devoted mass who would become a crucial part of Trump's base. Limbaugh, earning by the end more than $80 million a year, left his heirs a reported $600 million.
Those numbers, I believe, defined him far more than any political stance he took and, at the same time, made him indefensible. He was Pestilence, spreading poison without either genuine ideology or principle of any sort. He was doing shtick, whatever worked for him (and work it certainly did). He was, by nature, a great entertainer. One more thing: don't kid yourself, he was smart.
I realized this in 1995 when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., was approaching Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive baseball games. The Yankee star set that record in 1939 when, after 17 big league seasons, he finally took himself out of the lineup because he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Tongue-in-cheek, in my then-weekly New York Times sports column, I called on Cal to take a day off to avoid breaking the record. I wrote that, if he did, he would "be remembered forever as an athlete who stepped proudly over the statistical rubble of his sport to lead us all into a higher level of consciousness. He will end up a bigger Calvin than Klein."
The response from pundits, sportswriters, and fans was overwhelmingly negative. I was called clueless and stupid or, at least, a running dog of a new, much-mocked and demeaned "participation culture," unaware of the competitive nature of sports. Worse yet, I was trying to deny a hero his due.
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