not in our stars, but in ourselves
A respected and influential member of the elite, who has worked hard to overcome lowly beginnings and a lack of natural aptitude for such things, is sent into a tailspin by the sudden arrival of an immensely talented and idealistic upstart. Although the elite person continues to enjoy the favor and preference of what we may as well call “the establishment,” it is impossible to outdo the upstart. Where our poor little rich boy struggles mightily to craft something adequate, our upstart produces masterpiece after masterpiece. The upstart isn’t popular with the establishment, who hound him out of their lofty inner circle, condemning him to die in poverty and obscurity; but, of the anointed one and the rabble-rouser, guess which one we know now.
I am, of course, describing the plot of Amadeus. I am also describing the 2016 Democratic contest for the nomination. While I was banging away on the treadmill this morning, it occurred to me that Bernie Sanders is to Mozart as Hillary Clinton is to Salieri. It’s not a perfect comparison, I grant you: Mozart wasn’t looking to start any sort of revolution, whether political or musical; Salieri didn’t have to suffer an entire career of gendered attacks before anyone even bothered attacking him on substance. Still, I think the analogy holds water.
Let’s start with the real star: Mozart/Sanders. In every conceivable way, he is better than his opponent. Mozart was – both in the dramatization of Amadeus and in reality – a naturally gifted musician and composer. This isn’t to say that he didn’t work hard: based on the sheer volume (ha!) he wrote during his short life, the extensive touring and the many concerts, it’s clear that he was an assiduous worker. It’s also clear, however, that there was something he had that he couldn’t and didn’t learn, something that he didn’t acquire after lots of practice. Believe me, I am no connoisseur of true-blue Classical music – my tastes run to the Romantic, for the most part – but you can play a Mozart piece for me and a piece by some other composer (Haydn is the only one I sort of know besides Wolfy), and I will be able to tell you who’s who. No, I’m not kidding. Let’s throw down. Find some Mozart pieces I don’t know, and some other vaguely Classical pieces, and I guarantee I will be able to discern Mozart’s perfect music from that of his more artisanal coevals. You may wonder at my comparison of the airy brilliance of Mozart’s compositions with the rough-edged, fiery rhetoric of Sanders, but it works (I think). There’s the way Sanders’s no-bullshit attitude to his entire political career, up to and including his run for president, feels like a hit of pure oxygen after endless exhaled, stinky, hot breath from almost everyone else who’s ever run for office during my lifetime. There’s the way he’s known exactly what he wants to do and how he wants to accomplish it – the political version of being a child prodigy, you might say – since he was an angry young man in the ’60s. There’s the way he’s been a politician for most of his adult life, while still managing to effect real (and important) changes for his constituents. Some politicians learn how to be good at their jobs, how to game the system, but Sanders seems to have come into this world with a certain amount of innate knowledge and ability. We see it in the way he instantaneously connects with huge (yuge) crowds, hammering away doggedly at his main policy points (often while gesticulating wildly, not unlike certain Tom Hulce-embodied Austrians) and making it relevant to their real, daily lives: not in a phony way, not in a pandering way; in a way that resonates with more and more people, the more they hear it. It is a kind of genius – not to dismiss the hard work he does (and boy howdy, does Bernie work hard), but it really can’t be learned or imitated successfully.
That brings us to Salieri/Clinton, appropriately enough. The most truthful thing she’s said during this entire campaign was her contrite admission that, unlike her naturally gregarious husband, she’s not a born politician. She’s a hard worker. She’s a smart person. She has willed herself to be as powerful as she is; and as much as I dislike her, I give her full marks for that. Ditto Salieri: he was a poor little Italian boy from an obscure little town who, thanks to the “miracle” of his stern father’s death, was able to relocate to Vienna, city of musicians. He studied, he worked hard, he devoted himself to God and to music, and he was rewarded with a position in the Emperor’s court. Still – desperately aware of his own humble beginnings, perhaps, and lack of natural aptitude – he is consumed with jealousy and longing when Mozart waltzes in and makes this music business look easy. I mean, look at this. This is basically an AU version of Bernie taking one of Hillary’s tired old talking points (“yaaaaaaas, feminism!”) and turning it into a vitally necessary policy proposal for millions of Americans (the prison-industrial complex, put into place by Bill Clinton, has led to the decimation of black families across the country, to the needless and cruel poverty of black women in particular, and must be completely overhauled):
And note well how furious Salieri looks – not because he’s insulted, exactly, but because he’s humiliated. He’s just been shown up at his own game by this goddamn outsider, who spun The Marriage of Figaro out of his crummy little march, and he is not happy about it. This has been Clinton’s problem all along: we all get to see how mad she is that a dirty hippie from Vermont is consistently running rhetorical circles around her, raising scads of money from millions of little people (including yours truly), pointing to his decades of consistency in standing by and fighting for the very issues that she’s now trying to incorporate into her center-right platform; and he just keeps doing better and getting more popular.
As an additional stroke in the painting that is Clinton/Salieri, we have the Hillary Men – or, in Amadeus, Salieri’s fellow Italians on the Emperor’s court. As Mozart might have put it:
Of course! The Hillary Men. Always the Hillary Men. They’re all political idiots! And you want them to judge my policy?
For the uninitiated: the Hillary Men are a group of aging white dads, many of whom are employed as columnists for influential media outlets, who like to get into arguments on Twitter with Bernie supporters. Usually, the argument goes like this: the Hillary Man says something utterly unfounded and unprovable, whether in favor of their candidate or against Bernie, and someone else calls them out on it/asks for facts. They never have facts. Actually, asking for facts is harassment. You Bernie Bros are all so abusive. Now, believe me, I’d love nothing more than to name and shame these fuckwits – whose critiques of Bernie are as substantive as Count Orsini-Rosenberg’s “too many notes” after The Abduction from the Seraglio – but they have an absurd habit of threatening legal action against random strangers on the internet. I am confident that any judge worth a damn would laugh them right out of court, but I just don’t have the patience for that kind of stupidity. Still, I’m sure you can find them and mock them on Twitter. Just look for an utterly mediocre, doughy, middle-aged piece-of-shit man with “#ImWithHer” in his Twitter bio. They love to advertise and advance themselves.
Anyway, where does this leave us? I hope for a much happier ending to Amerideus than Mozart got in Amadeus: it’s one thing for your music to live on for centuries after you die, but it would really be much nicer to receive proper appreciation during one’s lifetime. I cannot imagine how awful the world will be if Bernie doesn’t win – so here’s hoping. Relatedly, I don’t want Hillary to self-harm and end up in some sort of institution, forgotten and neglected. I just don’t want her to be president. If she’s so aggressively pro-business, maybe she should be CEO of some huge corporation (before Bernie makes corporations illegal and redistributes all wealth among the people, yay socialism). Salieri probably would have been happier if he’d stayed in Italy conducting the church choir, you know?