Viral moments from either side of the American divide come so frequently these days that they are forgotten just as fast — but a few stick in our memory as signposts on the wandering, treacherous road we find ourselves on as people who have to share a country. The first is from Kristen Bell’s Instagram, featuring a star-studded cast at dinner at Jimmy Kimmel’s $8 million Idaho fly fishing lodge, featuring Jennifer Aniston, Jimmy Fallon, Courteney Cox, John Mulaney, Olivia Munn, Adam Scott, Jason Bateman, Shiri Appelby, Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, Bell’s husband Dax Shepard and, of course, Jake Tapper.
“Excited to join your new cult,” the CNN anchor commented on Instagram.
The second viral moment was from Las Vegas, Nevada, where UFC 290 witnessed the triumphant arrival of former president Donald Trump. Walking out with Dana White to Kid Rock’s “American Badass” — “The chosen one, I’m the living proof / With the gift of gab from the city of truth / I jabbed and stabbed and knocked critics back / And I did not stutter when I said that” — Trump gripped and grinned with his own set of celebrities from the fighting fandom set. He pulled Joe Rogan in for a close handshake, chatted with Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson and Guy Fieri, did a thumbs up with a Versace-clad Shane Gillis and said hello to the hosts of Bussin’ With The Boys. Fighters leaped over the ring to shake his hand. Here for the fans of the Octagon, the Orange Man is a Golden God.
The contrast is impossible to ignore. Both of these images are from the American west, filled with Americans, but neither wants anything to do with the other. The difference is that one image is full of people who believe their fellow citizens in the other place need to be ruled or destroyed. If a bunch of celebrities and actors and their CNN bestie want to get together for a good round of glamping, no one excited for Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez cares. But for those elites, this imagery is offensive, fascistic and even, if you’re seriously afraid about Trump’s nature as an existential threat to the country, terrifying.
For any Republican with a hope of seizing the nomination from Trump, this imagery is a reminder of his Obama-like status for some Americans: he’s the biggest celebrity in the world. That’s what you’ll have to beat if you want to be the man, and these types of reactions show why it may prove impossible in 2024. But it shows something else, too. There is nothing that table of elites vacationing in Idaho can do to change the minds of that audience in Las Vegas, enraptured at the entrance of their defiant leader.
The gatekeepers have lost or squandered all their power. The roar of the crowd is too loud for anyone to hear their chiding. Having failed to convince them, that’s why the elites have and will turn to other means to rule or destroy their fellow citizens and their political avatars. As Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Would it not be easier for the government / to dissolve the people and elect another?”