InReview InReview

Support independent journalism


Penny Arcade on Trump and the golden age of stupidity


American performer Penny Arcade, who has been watching the rise of Donald Trump from afar while in Adelaide with her Fringe show, says Authoritarianism is the new brand name for what used to be called Totalitarianism – and it has been growing in the US for decades.

Comments Print article

As Trump continues his winning streak in primaries across America, more and more people ask me what I think of him. They are incredulous, no doubt, that Americans could dredge up someone stupider and more dangerous than George Bush to run for president. In America, elitism has always meant money, not intelligence.

The continual dumbing down in American politics was at first frustrating then galling, but then when Sarah Palin re-emerged from the sidelines, no doubt taking a break from gutting an elk to endorse Trump for president, it became frightening.

I never believed that Palin would actually run as a vice-presidential candidate. Really? A person who thought that Africa was one country?

Suddenly, what had been pounded into the heads of American school children for close to two centuries was a reality: Anyone really COULD become president of the United States!

Yes, Trump is a braggart, a bully and a liar. He makes one statement at 10am and the opposite at 4pm. He has a string of failed enterprises. His wealth was inherited.

So what? “He’s entertaining,” many Americans say. “Trump believes in America,” they say.

All Americans are chauvinists. We are raised with the concept “America is Great”.

Reagan, another, albeit more gracious blowhard for bringing back America’s greatness, won the presidency on just that premise, after a different long war without victory, after another recession had impoverished Americans and worn down America’s self-esteem.

This week some of America’s top security and government analysts, over 100 strong, came out to state their fear about a Trump Presidency. No doubt they, too, were frightened by Trump’s statement last week, that America should target the families of terrorists.

We are already living in a world forever changed by terrorism. Is it possible that someone running for the highest office in a world super power, a person who would have access to pushing the red button, would make such a dangerous off-hand remark?

A few hours later, Trump issued another statement saying that he would try not to commit any war crimes once he takes office.

Few people will disagree that we are living in what my friend Alex Zapak calls “The Golden Age of Stupidity”. It stretches back to the reign of George Bush, who managed to hide his wealth and privilege, that which passes for aristocracy in America, under an oil slick of folksy language.

Bush, too, preached the “Bring Back America’s Greatness” mantra, allowing millions of Americans to believe that 9/11 was the work of Saddam Hussein, giving reason to our invasion of Iraq.

This past week some American social scientists have revealed that they have been studying the rise of Authoritarianism in the USA exemplified by Trump.

Perhaps they have been gauging this over the past two years but Authoritarianism, the new brand name for what used to be called Totalitarianism, has been on the rise in the USA for decades.

President Jimmy Carter was voted into office on the back of a born-again Christian agenda, and what is more Authoritarian than the Bible? Reagan employed the same Family Values / Christian Right agenda to achieve office after Carter, and certainly both Bushes did.

In 2005, the last time I performed in Australia, Australian journalists asked me how I had known in 1994, when I toured my sex and censorship show Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!, that the Christian Right would take over the White House?


Penny Arcade in a publicity photo for her touring show.

The central message of B!D!F!W! was tolerance and to plead the case for separation of church and state. How had I known? It was as clear as the burning cross on your lawn!

What do average Americans care about? Money. What is the greatest goal in the American mind? Not just money but what we call F*** You Money – the money that raises one above the effect of others.

That is what people mean when they say “Trump speaks his mind” or  “Trump cannot be bought”.

Trump is a symptom of what has been growing in America: intolerance, racism, xenophobia. The faction of religious right, Law and Order Americans, fraught with Family Values, fear of people who are different ethically, ethnically and culturally, and a growing taste for mediocrity has been on the rise in the USA for decades. Trump points the way.

Quentin Crisp said:

Charisma is the ability to influence without the use of logic

Corruption and greed at the highest levels of government and commerce for almost two decades in the USA has had a trickle-down effect among the populace.

Thanks to Halliburton, Enron, Abu Ghraib and Wall Street, honour, honesty, intelligence and service are no longer words to live by in our society.

In 1885, circus pioneer PT Barnum said: “A sucker is born every minute”. In 2016, a sucker is born every second.

Americans have always had a soft spot for hucksters.

We are now living in a world without logic. All bets are off.

Penny Arcade performed Longing Lasts Longer at the Royal Croquet Club during Adelaide Fringe. It is now touring Australia, with performances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (24 March to 3 April), Giant Dwarf in Sydney (April 6 to 16 April) and The Street Theatre in Canberra (April 14). The Daily Review’s critic, Murray Bramwell, described it as: “rich and rambling not-theatre, not-stand-up, not performance art thing – sometimes sermon, sometimes rant, sometimes ecstatic peroration, sometimes self-help pep talk, many times funny”.

This article was first published on The Daily Review.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard

More InReview stories

Loading next article