How the Republican Establishment Has Become South Park’s Stan Marsh

Jeb(!) Bush recently made headlines by declaring he would not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, proclaiming “I cannot support his candidacy.” With this announcement, he has fallen into rank with Lindsay Graham, Mitt Romney, and the other two Presidential Bushes, in saying that he will not support either the Democrat or the Republican candidate for president in the 2016 election.

Please clap, but don’t vote for Trump or Clinton.

And then there are the other Republicans, who have not necessarily said they won’t vote for either Trump or Clinton, but are not ready to accept that this is their option. Paul Ryan falls into this camp, as do many others throughout his party.

Assuming that this is not a bluff or gambit, it indicates a significant shift in the zeitgeist. It means that prominent and significant members—including former presidents and presidential candidates—in one of our country’s two parties no longer believe in the polarizing dichotomy of the two-party system, which has served this country for so long.

It seems unprecedented, surreal, bizarre. But it does have a historical precedent, albeit a fictional precedent, in one of the cornerstones of pop culture: a 2004 episode of the crude and brilliant cartoon South Park, in which the protagonist Stan Marsh refuses to vote in an election between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

When Stan Marsh Refused to Vote for a Turd or a Douche

On October 27th, 2004 – six days before the 2004 Presidential Election – Comedy Central aired the episode “Douche and Turd.” The episode finds South Park Elementary subject to protests from PETA over their use of a cow as the school mascot, thus having two new options: a giant douche or a turd sandwich.

Stan’s choice.

Like many episodes of South Park, Stan Marsh finds himself at the center of a cultural debate. However, in this scenario, he doesn’t have anyone at his side. Why? Because he refuses to vote. The message, coming at him from his parents, from his friends, from his school, from Sean Combs, and eventually from the entire town, is simple and overwhelming: he must vote. If he doesn’t, then he is worthless, disposable, deserving of exile and rebuke. Stan leaves town and goes on a path of self-discovery, ultimately deciding that he will vote.

You gotta vote, dude. Haven’t you seen the Rock the Vote stuff or, or Puff Daddy’s Vote or Die?? – Kyle

Democracy is founded on one simple rule! Get out there and vote or I will motherfucking kill you. – Puff Daddy

This episode ends in the same manner as many other episodes: the characters reflect on what they have learned, pondering how their recent experiences have expanded or refined their worldview. In this episode, Stan learns that a) participating in elections is considered by all to be a responsibility above anything, and b) the option between two candidates is always disappointing and disheartening.

Stan: I was banished for not voting.

PETA Member: But, why on earth wouldn’t you wanna vote? I think voting is great.

Stan: I just didn’t care this time because it was between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

PETA Member: But Stan, don’t you know, it’s always between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Nearly every election since the beginning of time has been between some douche and some turd. They’re the only people who suck up enough to make it that far in politics.

The episode adds another layer to this reflection when Stan learns that it was a landslide election (1042 for Giant Douche and 36 votes for Turd Sandwich) and that the votes will be disregarded because all the PETA protestors were found murdered, thus the mascot no longer needs to change. His vote is inconsequential on two levels.

When did Jeb Bush and other Republicans Become as Disillusioned as Stan Marsh?

The reason that Bush and the others have become so disillusioned with the state of their party and their country and their voters and their fellow Republicans is simple: the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Trump represents something beyond the historical douches and turds this country has seen. Peter Wehner, an advisor and speechwriter to both Bushes and Reagan, warned that catastrophe could come from Trump’s “ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness.” Senator Lindsey Graham stated that if they choose Trump, the Republicans “will get destroyed” and “will deserve it.” Republican Norm Coleman wrote an editorial calling Trump “a bigot, a misogynist, a fraud and a bully.” Mitt Romney struck a similar note:

“I happen to think that the person who is leading the nation has an enormous and disproportionate impact on the course of the world, so I am dismayed at where we are now. I wish we had better choices, and I keep hoping that somehow things will get better, and I just don’t see an easy answer from where we are.” – Mitt Romney

But are they really refusing to vote for either Trump or Clinton?

Watching the South Park episode “Douche and Turd” now, there is one resonating message: everyone, always, was expected to vote. Its timing also can’t be ignored: no election is more essential than a Presidential election. This episode came out in a place and time when everyone had to vote. Even it if was between a douche and a turd, only the very worst citizens chose not to participate. To not vote was to cease to have meaning, to have no voice, to become expendable.

Stan, being banished from South Park.

Remembering this episode of South Park—and the zeitgeist it reflected—makes the current state of politics unthinkable. The message has gone from “Everyone must vote, even if the two options are awful” to “I’m not voting if the two options are that awful.”

While Stan was shunned for his refusal to participate, prominent Republicans across their party are being applauded for refusing to participate, whether in the Republican National Convention, the campaign leading to November, or the final choice between two candidates on election day.

Oh forget it! I’m not gonna be persuaded into voting and I’m and I’m not gonna be threatened into voting if I don’t feel comfortable with it! I’m not gonna vote and you can all just live with it! – Stan

“President Bush does not plan to participate in or comment on the presidential campaign,” George W. Bush’s spokesman Freddy Ford, to CNN.

Is there another option?

So far, this blog post has assumed that there are three options in terms of the Presidential election this fall:

  • Vote for Hillary Clinton
  • Vote for Donald Trump
  • Don’t vote.

But it’s important to consider another option, one that wasn’t presented to the children in South Park: voting for a third candidate, one from neither major party.

For a few of the Republicans who cannot stomach either Clinton or Trump, they have stated their direct intention to do just this. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, declared: “If Trump becomes the Republican nominee my expectation is that I’ll look for some 3rd candidate – a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”

And then there are the Republicans who have said that they would just vote for the Democrat.

This disastrous, tragicomic election of 2016 could lead to an officially splintered GOP, or the rise of a viable third party. Both are ideas that, like a prominent member of society declaring their intention not to vote, were never imagined as an impending reality.

South Park imitates life imitates South Park

South Park first aired in 1997, dismissed by the Hollywood Reporter as “dismissible juvenilia” and labeled by the Media Research Center as “TV’s New Nightmare.”  Nearly twenty years later, it is considered by many (including the author of this blog post) to be one of the most intelligent, insightful, and important works of art being currently created, on par with Kurt Vonnegut, Andy Warhol, or Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”

But that is partially what makes the current state of politics so sickening, confusing, and twisted. South Park’s absurd plotlines seem to have melted right into our reality, in which the Republican frontrunner brags of his penis size, believes in conspiracy theories, and celebrates Cinco de Mayo by eating a taco bowl and tweeting “I love Hispanics!”

There are still many unknowns in this election. But it might be worth remembering that Stan Marsh does ultimately cast a vote in the race between the giant douche and the turd sandwich.

Stan casts his vote.

Stan crumbles, absorbing the lesson that he will never have a better option in any future election.

But of course, we’ve learned since 2004 that better options do come along. In 2008, Stan’s father Randy Marsh danced in the street when Obama was elected. And in this election, the option is certainly far easier than the one Stan faced in “Douche and Turd.”

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