Is Trump Our Ticktockman?
Or is he the harlequin? Or both?
Harlan Ellison’s Nebula-winning short story from the sixties, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” is seeming a little too recent. He starts with a quote from Thoreau that includes, “The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purposes as well.” Both sides of our current political divide could use this to lash the other, but I think that Trump’s supporters are seeing their position as militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus fading away–and don’t like it. Feeling disempowered, they want to:
turn it over to the Ticktockman and his legal machinery. But by then, because it was the very world it was, and they had no way to predict he would happen possibly a strain of disease long-defunct, now, suddenly, reborn in a system where immunity had been forgotten, had lapsed he had been allowed to become too real.
That, at least, will be the consequence. Like Trump, the Harlequin:
had become a personality, something they had filtered out of the system many decades ago. But there it was, and there he was, a very definitely imposing personality. In certain circles middle-class circles it was thought disgusting. Vulgar ostentation. Anarchistic. Shameful. In others, there was only sniggering, those strata where thought is subjugated to form and ritual, niceties, proprieties. But down below, ah, down below, where the people always needed their 2 saints and sinners, their bread and circuses, their heroes and villains, he was considered a Bolivar; a Napoleon; a Robin Hood; a Dick Bong (Ace of Aces); a Jesus; a Jomo Kenyatta.
One defies him:
“Don’t come back till you have him!” the Ticktockman said, very quietly, very sincerely, extremely dangerously.
They used dogs. They used probes. They used cardioplate crossoffs. They used teepers. They used bribery. They used stiktytes. They used intimidation. They used torment. They used torture. They used finks. They used cops. They used search&seizure. They used fallaron. They used betterment incentive. They used fingerprints. They used Bertillon. They used cunning. They used guile. They used treachery. They used Raoul Mitgong, but he didn’t help. much. They used applied physics. They used techniques of criminology.
And what the hell: they caught him.[…]
“Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman.
“Get stuffed!” the Harlequin replied, sneering.
If Trump wins, will that follow?
And will the gestures be mere vainglory?
I haven’t read much of Ellison in years. Maybe I need to get back to him. Maybe he’s a writer for this time.
Though I hope not.