The Costanza Presidency
I never watched Seinfeld in its heyday (1989-1997) even though I actually lived in “Jerry’s” neighborhood during those years. On the show, Jerry’s address was 129 West 81st Street (between Columbus and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side of NYC, i believe, and, in fact, Seinfeld’s actual address when he was a stand-up comic in the late ‘70’s & early ‘80’s). Between 1987 and 1994 I lived, variously, on West 75th Street (between Riverside and West End Ave.), West 71st Street ( between Central Park West and Columbus), and West 78th Street (between Amsterdam and Columbus). So I was, unwittingly, Seinfeld’s neighbor. And I certainly frequented places featured on the show, like H & H Bagels (on West 80th & Broadway) as well as Tom’s Restaurant, on Broadway, just south of Columbia’s campus ( called “Monk’s” on the show).
It has been in retirement that I have repeatedly watched the syndicated reruns (much to the chagrin of the Lovely Carol Marie) and read Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s Seinfeldia (2016) and have come to fully appreciate the show, as well as its virtual spin-off, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Only recently, though, with the advent of our daily “coronavirus briefings” from Donald Trump, have I realized just how much Trump, a Queens boy aspiring to be a Manhattanite, embodies Jerry’s best friend, George Costanza (also a Queens denizen). It has been in these “briefings” (which have replaced Trump’s insatiable need for worshipful rallies) where our Chief Executive exhibits the Full Costanza on a daily basis.
If you are not familiar with Seinfeld, let me quickly summarize the show using Entertainment Weekly's TV critic Ken Tucker’s words:
(Seinfeld) had "a group dynamic rooted in jealousy, rage, insecurity, despair, hopelessness, and a touching lack of faith in one's fellow human beings.” (Sound familiar?)
While Jerry Seinfeld played a fictional version of his stand-up comedian self, his three closest friends who comprise the heart of the show --- Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), and George Costanza (Jason Alexander)--- are described as “thirty-something singles with vague identities, no roots, and conscious indifference to morals" in Wikipedia. (bold, mine).
Seinfeld created the show with another comedian, Larry David, and their approach was to use experiences from their lives (as well as the writers on their staff) to create situations the four characters would muddle through for 22 minutes each week. As Wikipedia notes: “Many episodes revolve around the characters' involvement in the lives of others with typically disastrous results.” Basically:
The show offers no growth or reconciliation to its characters. Seinfeld does not shy away from making light of tough topics, from death to illness to handicaps A major difference between Seinfeld and sitcoms which preceded it is that the principal characters never learn from their mistakes. A mantra of the show's producers was: "No hugging, no learning" (Wikipedia)
Within that world, George Costanza is a character who, for anyone who has faithfully watched the show, is the most cringeworthy --- and also a doppelganger for Donald Trump. As described in Wikipedia:
George is Jerry's best friend and has been since high school. He is miserly, dishonest, petty and envious of others' achievements. He is depicted as a loser who is perpetually insecure about his capabilities. He complains and lies easily about his profession, relationships and almost everything else, which usually creates trouble for him later. He often uses the alias Art Vandelay when lying or concocting a cover story. Despite these shortcomings, George has a sense of loyalty to his friends. (Bold, mine)
What’s important to know is that George was modeled after the show’s co-creator, Larry David, and that’s why David’s HBO hit (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is also instructive in noting how Donald Trump is, indeed, a television character and not fit to be President of the United States.
As we “socially isolate” the Lovely Carol Marie and I have been catching up on shows we haven’t taken time to watch. Sunday night we were watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 10 – Episode 4 and Larry David (playing the fictional “Larry David”) is about to be introduced to speak at an event and he tells the person introducing him to mention he “speaks 6 languages.” When asked if he does, indeed, speak six languages, he cavalierly says, “No, but you can lie in my introduction.” The person balks and Larry can’t understand why. This is classic George Costanza behavior: throughout the Seinfeld show’s run George constantly tells people he is an architect, or a marine biologist, or an “import/export” entrepreneur --- all lies of course and all intended to impress people. As noted in Armstrong’s Seinfeldia “As the show went on George’s character slipped ever farther away from any semblance of integrity.” Much as we have seen since January 21, 2017, our “President” has also “slipped ever farther away from any semblance of integrity.” Watching how he treats certain reporters (read: female, people of color) illustrates just how little integrity Trump has, as well as how petty he is --- just like George Costanza (or fictional Larry David).
Jason Alexander, when looking to interpret George’s character, to hone his performance, noted “(Larry David) was constantly trying to decide whether other’s actions were an attack on him and, if so, whether to respond in kind. (He was) also constantly balancing his sense of utter worthlessness with an inflated ego. “ (Seinfeldia p.57) If you watch Trump’s daily “coronavirus briefings” you can see him assessing whether he is being “attacked” --- and how he will retaliate --- as well as clearly illustrating “his sense of worthlessness and inflated ego.” Throughout the 10 season run of Curb Your Enthusiasm we have consistently witnessed how “Larry often finds himself in awkward situations that arise as a result of his obstinate belief in his own ethical principles and codes of conduct.” (Wikipedia – bold, mine) Again, we are now treated to a daily example of our President displaying his own “obstinate belief” that he is the “smartest guy” and demanding that others follow his “codes of (mis)conduct.”
Like George Costanza, Trump would rather build lie upon lie to foist his own fantastic versions of himself upon the public. With the help of state media (Fox News) he is able to misinform the masses and have his lies sold as the truth --- on a daily basis. This, of course, was Roger Ailes’s dream for Fox News. Back in 1989 Murdoch’s Fox Network turned down a chance to air the original Seinfeld show, thereby missing out on a ratings behemoth in the 90’s (tv ratings being something Trump is obsessed with, of course). But 30 years later, Fox News (and Trump) herald their ratings and, like Seinfeld, those ratings are based on shows with a “conscious indifference to morals,” just like Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. As a result, we are now subject to what I would refer to as The Costanza Presidency. You may prefer, as I do, to simply watch Seinfeld re-runs rather than torture yourself pumping up Trump’s ratings by watching his daily “coronavirus briefings.”
Wash your hands. Socially distance. Stay healthy.