“Is it the end of an era?
Is it the end of America?”
Lana Del Rey answers her own questions with a semi-confident, “No. its’ only the beginning…” But, now maybe the answer is: yes?
Of course, I’m talking about the Trump fanatics’ attempted coup, siege, sedition, treason, trash insurrection, whatever you want to call it, on the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. Granted, I don’t really even know where to start trying to make sense of this uh…violent terrorist incident, dearest Filthy Dreamers, but I figure we can try to do this together. In fact, I keep stopping in disbelief that I even have to write this at all. So excuse the rambling, but what do you expect when I’m spending most of my day praying for Q Shaman/Jake Angeli’s mugshot.
Before Wednesday, your faithful Filthy Dreams co-founders were both tittering in anticipation of watching the Congressional certification of the election. With exhausting blowhards like jellyfish head Ted Cruz and Ted Bundy’s ugly cousin Josh Hawley making their stand against democracy, we knew we were in for a ride. I mean, you only get to witness the end of the American experiment once, don’t you? Might as well enjoy it.
I was expecting grandstanding. I was expecting arguments on the floor of the Senate and the House. I expected a tour de force performance by our favorite camp diva Lady G doing her best Tallulah Bankhead impersonation. I expected Mitch McConnell to look like an angry pufferfish. I expected Nancy to roll her eyes and Mike Pence to look weathered and tired after bearing the brunt of Trump’s impotent rage and childlike disappointment in his own denied loss.
What I didn’t expect was…that.
Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t expect some explosive violent spectacle all through the Trump administration, especially towards its grand finale. Nothing is more dangerous than a cult other than a cult getting cornered. America has been a powder-keg throughout these four years, increasingly so through a pandemic and resulting economic crisis, as well as the continued radicalization of Boomers by…checks notes…FACEBOOK.
And though the mad man formerly known on Twitter as @RealDonaldTrump’s shrill and panicked “perfect” phone call to Georgia and rambling Monday night Georgia rally were certainly unhinged, he topped himself in his salad bar sneeze guard-protected incitement of insurrection speech on January 6. Throughout the speech, declaring, “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about,” Trump veered wildly toward Jim Jones’ exhausted yet psychotic “Oh how I have loved you. How very much I have tried my best to give you the good life” on the death tape during the Peoples Temple’s mass suicide in Jonestown.
Unfortunately Trump doesn’t read so unlike Jim Jones, he never had the chance to misunderstand Huey Newton’s notion of revolutionary suicide and take it a little too literally. And instead, he chose to train his followers’ violence outward–to the Capitol, Congress, and Mike Pence specifically. At first, he mentions marching to the Capitol peacefully, but of course, Trump couldn’t keep that up, shouting:
“After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down any one you want, but I think right here. We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
Of course, it wasn’t only Trump himself. Our favorite sweat-drenched lawyer and Filthy Dreams’ 2020 MVP Rudy Giuliani walked, or really, plodded his way to the stage to the tune of “Macho Man” in order to clack his dentures together and spit out: “Let’s have trial by combat!” Not to be overpowered, Number 1 Boy Don Jr. similarly warned the Republicans who decided to not support Trump: “We’re coming for you!”
And well, they did.
Psychopathic masses of crazed Trump cult members in bizarre cosplay swarmed the Capitol Building as Senators and Representatives ran to safety, staffers barricaded themselves in offices, and press sheltered in place with them. Outside, the Trump seditionists fought with cops, stormed the barricades (some seemed a bit too inviting as if the Capitol police actively let them in), and climbed the walls of the Capitol rather than taking the stairs like, as Azealia Banks so poetically and shrewdly observed, “cockroaches.”
Some weren’t that graceful:
And what happened when they got in? Apparently since Trump didn’t give them directions on what to do once they got to the Capitol, they reverted to gawking, meandering, and milling around aimlessly like misbehaving tourists at Disney World. These cult members couldn’t be contained! Unless it was by a velvet rope like at a theme park.
They took photos and copious selfies. They broke doors and windows. They left bottles of Axe Body Spray everywhere. They sat at elected officials desks. They stole a piece of Nancy Pelosi’s mail and her laptop. They put MAGA hats on busts of George Washington and a statue of Gerald Ford. They stole lecterns. One unlucky insurrectionist tried to steal a portrait of Tip O’Neill and accidentally Tasered himself in the balls right into a heart attack, solidifying his place as one of the six people who died due to the insurrection (or maybe not–apparently this didn’t actually happen. But, look–if they can believe in blood-sucking pedophiles like Hillary Clinton and that JFK Jr. is coming back from the dead to be Trump’s running mate, I can choose to believe this). They shit and tracked it through the hallowed hallways (seriously). Basically these Trump cultists were creepy-crawling like the Manson Family except they live-streamed their crimes on Facebook. Shit–even Sadie knew better than that!
Beyond acting like crazed white supremacist zombies on bath salts, they reminded me of Babs Johnson and Cracker’s saliva-drenched revenge against Connie and Raymond Marble in Pink Flamingos:
Sorry, Babs (and Divine) but these terrorists were truly the Filthiest People Alive. Frankly, the Singing Asshole would not have been out of place. As Everett Lewis describes in “John Waters: An Appreciation,” “…we have become Mr. Waters’ world (or his has become ours).”
Now, this backwoods creepy-crawling doesn’t mean it wasn’t absolutely frightening. Six people died. There were pipe bombs, firearms, Molotov cocktails, Naplam, and zip ties. They wanted to lynch Mike Pence and were shouting, “Where’s Nancy?” We’re so lucky these whackos aren’t exactly tactical geniuses, even the ones in the military.
And they did it all for Donald Trump.
Take a moment and think about that.
The TRESemmé shellacked, burger-stuffed, Diet Coke-guzzling bankrupt casino sleazeball failure turned Mark Burnett-creation, Donald Trump.
For me, there was a moment looking at a photograph of the Capitol at dusk with tear gas floating through the air past enormous flags that read, “Trump 2020: No More Bullshit” that I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. And this is despite the experience of the last four years and my ongoing personal obsession with the man.
Not only was the attempted coup shocking, but it was also shockingly trashy. This was an observation made by the man himself (not apparently the First Lady who was busy directing photographs of rugs for a coffee-table book to notice the coup her husband started. I want that book so bad! What a keepsake!). Olivia Nuzzi, my favorite journalist and the only one who seems to write about the Trump administration with the absurdity it deserves,, quotes an unnamed advisor in her New York Magazine article “Senior Trump Official: We Were Wrong, He’s a ‘Fascist’” that Trump was offended watching the coup. Not by the violence. Not by the attack on our democracy. By the AESTHETICS.
“This adviser, who spoke to Trump on Wednesday amid the siege, said Trump watched the events on television intently. CNN reported that he was so excited by the action, it “freaked out” some staffers around him. The adviser told me that Trump expressed disgust on aesthetic grounds over how “low class” his supporters looked. “He doesn’t like low class things,” the adviser said, explaining that Trump had a similar reaction over the summer to a video of Brad Parscale, his former campaign manager, shirtless and drinking a beer in his driveway during a mental health emergency in which police tackled him and seized his weapons. “He kept mentioning, ‘Oh, did you see him in his beer shirt?’ He was annoyed. To him, it’s just low class, in other words.”
This white supremacist fascist treasonous insurrection is too tacky! Now, Trump wasn’t the only one to notice. Judge Jeanine also howled about the mobs looking like “A bunch of FREAKS!”
Beyond the stunning lack of law enforcement, beyond the failure of our government to protect itself, beyond the deaths and injuries, beyond all those resignations, beyond the calls for the 25th amendment, beyond the impeachment plans, beyond Kayleigh McEnany’s drag queen false eyelashes, beyond all those pathetic attempts to get back on Twitter, beyond the joy of watching those mouth-breathers get arrested, and beyond laughing at Republicans having to face the monster they created and nurtured, what has fixated me the most about January 6 has been Trump’s “low class” observation. Not only is it quintessentially Trump to focus on the superficial, rather than the deaths including of Capitol police officers (where’s your law and order president now?), but it’s also a baffling thing to be offended about for someone who has pinned his entire career on the trash aesthetic as a populist appeal to the racist and xenophobic hang-ups of America’s white trash underclass.
The fast-food buffet. The garbage strewn around his gilt trash can on Fifth Avenue. His office meetings with Sarah Palin, Kid Rock, and Ted Nugent. His Wrestlemania appearances. And invitations like this:
Trump is bad bad taste if I’ve ever seen it.
And as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how Trump and his fellow mental conservatives have harnessed aesthetics previously thought of as OUR OWN like camp and trash, the attempted coup of the Capitol was the absolute culmination of aesthetic weaponization. A populist uprising of bad taste. A spectacle of the trash aesthetic. And it was such an abject apex that it even startled the man who created it.
Now, it’s hard to reconcile Trump’s disgust. Did he ever look out at his crowds?
We know that he did, given a gakked-out video taken by his son Don Jr. in anticipation of Big Daddy’s big speech on Wednesday. Waiting “backstage” or wherever the hell they were, Jr. blathers to the camera while Daddy stares stone-faced like a statue staring at the monitors showing his growing crowd of minions. Though Jr. turns his attentions to my favorite party girl Kimberly Guilfoyle who shimmies to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” before saying, “Now’s the time to do the right thing–FIGHT!” (Oh, please don’t take my Kimberly away, FBI!), Trump’s frozen gaze still sticks with me. Was this the point he realized his crowd was low class?
Trump’s “low class” criticism probably has to do with what he perceives as economic class. He didn’t seem to have much of a problem with those popped polo shirt-collared frat boy fascists marching around Charlottesville with their Pier 1 purchased tiki torches. For Trump, people like Richard Spencer at least look like the “right” class. Now, Trump’s disdain for his own mob’s low class aesthetics makes visible the division that has always been there between Trump and his own followers, even if they refuse to see it. He’s not one of them. And even though he says things like, “We love you. You’re special,” he doesn’t want to be one of them or even near them.
But in his class assumption, he’s wrong. Though some looked like the McPoyles from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and others like the woman who the Internet has named MeeMaw apparently jumped right out of Hillbilly Elegy, these extremists were not all poor white trash. Sure, the fur-draped sociopaths and chubby men who raided military supply stores made up the majority of the initial images out of the Capitol. But, despite all appearances, these cultists were anything but working class. Some came on private jets like real estate broker Jenna Ryan. Others were sons of prominent Brooklyn judges. And others were Ariel Pink.
As I’ve always said, you can be rich, but still be classless. Let’s take a tip from our favorite Bikini Girl with Machine Guns Poison Ivy from The Cramps who threw back a question about the band’s white trash aesthetics in a smug reporter’s face: “Everybody’s trash! People call us white trash as they’re munching their McDonald’s burger. There’s middle-class trash, suburban trash, bourgeois trash. You’re all fucking trash.”
So this low class insurrection wasn’t necessarily connected to economic status at all. Instead, it’s connected to aesthetics, a low class aesthetics militarized and now inextricably linked to homegrown terrorism.
And I mean, they did cut an image! Carrying flags emblazoned with memes of Trump as Captain America and Rambo, this was the Internet personified–all the people that yell at you with Twitter handles like @DeplorableLinda with American flag emojis. With a few mind-boggling JFK Jr. QAnon flags, this was every QAnon Facebook comment made by a friend of your distant relative. And of course, there was as much MAGA merch as you could stand. Trump flags, Trump banners, Trump beanies, MAGA hats (someone even carried a portrait of Jesus in a MAGA hat), I don’t know why Trump was put off by aesthetics considering they were all wearing his merch!
The trash aesthetic has always been somewhat of a magpie aesthetic. As Gael Sweeney writes, it is “an aesthetic of bricolage, of random experimentation with bits and pieces of culture.” Now here Sweeney was talking about our King Elvis, not fascists, but the facts remain the same–trash is picked through and not always unified. The aesthetics of Wednesday’s insurrection was an alarming mix of Truck Nuts Confederacy, Nazi romanticism, dorky KKK wizard aesthetics, Viking helmeted Neo-Nazi Odinism, homoerotic depictions of Trump, perverted patriotism, and some shockingly bad haircuts.
And yet even with this head-spinning mix, it was so thoroughly, so deeply, so painfully American. Though every culture has its trash culture, here was our white supremacist trash aesthetic on stark display. I mean, even the Nazi bullshit included a hoodie that read “Camp Auschwitz.” A hoodie.
Steven L. Hamelman writes, “American culture is trash culture.” And that’s what Wednesday was–the low culture underbelly of white America swelling into a mob and witnessed in real-time as it overpowered our Capitol. Extremists carrying and hugging American flags, wearing American flag cowboy hats, donning red, white, and blue face paint. It was as if they raided the Fourth of July sales rack at Walmart in preparation. They also carried symbols of their insurrectionist, treasonous history–“Don’t Tread on Me” Tea Party flags, all those Blue Lives Matter flags, Revolutionary-era American flags, and of course, the Confederate flag, which breached the Capitol for the first time.
And this is why some of the ever-repeated refrains that “This isn’t America” or “America is better than this,” including from President-Elect Biden, ring false. We need to reconcile and deal with the fact that this is America. Sure, we haven’t seen people storming the Capitol since 1814. However, white supremacists did rile up quite a few insurrections during Reconstruction, including the only successful coup on American soil in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. As The Cut explains of the event:
“Determined to reestablish white men’s rule, a former Confederate lieutenant colonel named Alfred Waddell used an editorial in a Black newspaper as pretext to whip up a mob of enraged white citizens; hundreds signed a “White Declaration of Independence” saying they would never be ruled again by anyone Black. The following day, an armed mob of 2,000 burned the newspaper building to the ground and set about attacking Black residents, with the aid of local infantrymen. On the same day, they invaded the chambers of the local government, expelling the duly elected mayor and aldermen, and installed a white-supremacist government handpicked by Waddell. As Gatling gunfire pulsed through the streets, Black citizens fled, and the consolidation of a new, tyrannical order was complete.”
But beyond attempted coups, this trash insurrection follows in a long American history of upper-class white elites turning the perceived lower-class whites against, well, everyone else and then, looking on horrified–and proud–as they did exactly as planned. It’s a foundational part of our history. The gleeful destruction in Wednesday’s coup mirrored historical instances of violence, from lynching mobs to the Atlanta Massacre in 1906 to the Tulsa Massacre to all those fresh air-breathers storming State Capitols in mid-2020, as well as those PT Cruiser-driving militia men planning to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Whitmer.
And with this history comes cult-like leaders that present themselves as one of the masses, attracting their followers through bad taste as populism, starting with Whacko Jacko Andrew Jackson. So on some level, trash aesthetic weaponization is bigger than Donald Trump who exists within this tumultuous and exploitative lineage (who now seems to be more of a symbol than a president).
However, it’s also completely about him. From the beginning of his rise, Trump has harnessed the “low class” aesthetics of new money for his own personal gain, creating a cult of personality of greed and wanton media-whoring. He’s appealed to the American lower class, or those in the upper-class that see the power of embracing this exact same kind of grifter aesthetics. As Michael Cohen writes in his memoir, Disloyal:” Fast food, trash TV, leering at attractive women—Trump channeled blue-collar white men because that was part of how he saw life, but also because he knew he could make a buck that way.” And get viewers. And get votes. And maintain the presidency through authoritarianism and violent insurrection.