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Scary puppets

March 24, 2023

Day by day it becomes more difficult to write anything new or different about our country. Perhaps it’s because the figures who hog the space on our front pages no longer seem human, but puppets.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

The essential difference between humans and puppets is that puppets do not feel anything, though they may appear to imitate emotions, by the way they twist their heads or raise one hand in a stiff-arm salute.

Nor are puppets flexible, in the way of a normal, healthy human: after all, they move, if they move at all, only when a person or people unseen pull hidden strings.

I’m speaking of wooden string puppets, the oldest form of puppet.

Hand puppets can be more endearing, as they are not wooden, but made of colored cloth — flexible, even charming, perhaps — but hand puppets appear alongside their human controller, and though the puppeteer tries to deflect our attention away from himself, or herself, toward the puppet, still, we see the human on stage, conversing with a puppet, and for that reason the hand puppet can appear to appeal to reason — almost to be reasonable.

For this reason, hand puppets cannot become a source of terror, unlike wooden puppets, which can be terrifying, dancing jerkily to strings pulled by unseen hands.

Have I made myself clear? 

Our politics today, particularly at the national level, in Congress, but more and more so in our statehouses, seem to be conducted by wooden puppets on strings.

That makes it terrifying.

Here I could insert a dozen or more insane quotes spouted by right-wing Republicans, but I don’t want to do that. That’s why I’m writing about puppets.

Oh, all right. 

How about Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jewish space lasers and “gazpacho police;”

or Lauren Boebert’s “You may not realize it yet, but they’re coming for all of us;”

or the former guy’s “I am your retribution” (quoted, without attribution, from the previous former guy’s book, “My Struggle,” 1924).

A real human being, who actually believed his or her own words, would not — could not — toss off half-liners like these without at least a smidgen of terror.

Only a puppet could toss off such lines as a joke. 

That’s how we know that Congress has been overtaken by puppets.

It’s always been a bit like that. After all, Mark Twain, whose face belongs on our currency in place of Hamilton, wrote: “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress;” and “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.”

That was in the days of the flea circus, when Americans paid good money to watch traveling fleas “perform.” No one cared what the fleas felt, or thought, or if they could feel or think at all. Or if they were actually doing what their masters claimed they were doing. Nor, in a puppet show, does anyone wonder what the puppets think, or why they act that way: It’s just a show. They’re puppets.

I give you the 118th U.S. Congress.

I give you the government of Florida, where this month a Republican state senator introduced a bill that would make the Florida Democratic Party illegal.

Stupid? Yes. But how about Marjorie Taylor Greene’s call for a “national divorce” of Republican- and Democratic-controlled states: a call for a second U.S. Civil War.

Is this scary? Yes. 

Do they mean it? Beats the hell out of me. I’d like to think not.

Do our most “out” fascists say these things, and introduce such legislation, solely for the purpose of getting on TV cameras, to try to get on tomorrow’s Page 1?


Do they understand the damage they are doing to our perishing republic?

I don’t know.

Do they care?

Obviously not.

What’s clear is that these unfeeling, unknowing puppets love being in the spotlight, primping and posing, grinning and dancing spastically, happy to be pulled by other people’s strings.

In their pursuit of what they call happiness.

Categories: Op-Ed

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