Bear with me while I lay out this analogy.
I just reviewed all the songs that hit #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart in the years I was in high school. (1973-77). There were 150 such songs, and I found I was able to immediately sing (or “sing”) 147 of them without hesitation. I gave myself partial credit for the other three: “Dark Lady,” by Cher, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” by Barry White, and the “Theme from S.W.A.T,” by Rhythm Heritage. In these cases I had a vague memory of the songs — I mean for one thing it’s not too hard to imagine Barry White singing the title line — but, unlike in the other 147 cases, I couldn’t honestly say I remembered the songs with real clarity.
I then did the same exercise for the years 2015-19. This group featured only 55 songs — apparently the supply of #1 hits has declined dangerously — and I recognized in some way a total of five of them. I discovered among other things that there was a song that was #1 in America for 19 (!) weeks last summer, but I didn’t recognize either it or the lead artist ( “Old Town Road,” credited to”Lil Nas X solo or featuring Billy Ray Cyrus,” whatever the hell that means. In my day we didn’t have this “featuring” thing. Yes I have heard of Billy Ray Cyrus ‘kay? He had that song Herky Jerky Man or maybe that was Donovan I’m getting so confused now).
Here’s my new theory, which I hope you like, because it’s giving me some aid and comfort in this dark time.
The Ariana Grande Theory of Politics is this: The large majority — maybe the vast majority — of people in this country know things about politics like I know things about Ariana Grande. I know Ariana Grande is a pop music singer. Can I sing any of her songs? No. Could I pick her out of a lineup of young women pop singers? No. But I do know she’s a singer.
I picked up this very limited knowledge more or less amorphously, by for example seeing magazine covers at the checkout counter at grocery stores in the Before Time, where people are often identified by only their first names and I often have no idea who those people are. I remember reading some story in New York about Pete Whatshisname on SNL , exploring why this strikingly ugly guy was somehow managing to date a series of Super Hot Girls, and she was mentioned. OK, I’m now rapidly approaching the outer limits of my Ariana Grande knowledge.
Basically I don’t know a goddamned thing about contemporary pop music. I’m not proud of this: it’s just something that happened one day, probably in 1991 or so.
On the other hand, when it comes to contemporary American politics, my knowledge base is fairly similar to my knowledge of mid-1970s pop music. Do you need to hear an off-key but otherwise quite accurate version of “Seasons in the Sun?” I’m your man. The Overton Window? I know what that is too. George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby?” Give me a couple of G&T’s and karaoke machine and watch out. The history and current status of the filibuster? How much time do you have?
You can see where this is going. The vast majority of Americans think about politics the way I think about contemporary pop music. They can recognize a few prominent names. A very few is what I’m guessing. For example: what percentage of people in this country could correctly identify exactly who Nancy Pelosi is, let alone what sort of ice cream she has in her freezer at this moment? (Don’t ask). I mean sure they know she’s an important Democrat politician of some sort. Most probably know she’s a member of Congress, although I wouldn’t want to bet anything substantial on whether they could place her in the House of Representatives as opposed to in That Other Place.
And here’s my happy thought: While there’s no denying there are millions of fanatical supporters of Donald Trump’s ethno-nationalist griftomatic Fascism for Dummies (redundant obviously), there are many, many more Trump voters who are like me and Ariana Grande. They don’t know really know anything about politics. They don’t really pay attention. They’ve heard a few things here and there, but that’s it pretty much it.
I’m not letting these people off the hook by any means. After all in the end the analogy eventually breaks down: if I don’t know anything about Ariana Grande that’s a trivial consequence of the typical demographics of pop music consumption. If the people voting to put and keep President Authoritarian Imbecile in office are doing so largely out of ignorance, indifference, and inertia, as opposed to a deep commitment to the horrendous values represented by both Trumpism and the contemporary Republican party (a distinction without a difference at this point), that’s still an incredibly damning indictment of both them and the political culture that produces and nurtures their ignorance, indifference, and inertia.
But it’s still a lot better than the alternative possibility.
I could be wrong. I could be badly understating the typical level of commitment to Trumpism among typical Trump voters. I can definitely imagine that’s the case.
I would prefer not to.