Monthly Archives: January 2017

Envy and Civilization

Envy is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins. It can’t abide another’s powers, accomplishments or fame. Fueled by intransigent hatred, it is the great destroyer. Jealousy, on the other hand, suffers the loss, real, imagined or threatened, of the “Good Object” and continues to long for it. Envy goes down happily in flames, just so the envied one suffers the same fate.

So when Donald Trump attacks Meryl Streep, it is her brilliance as an actor that he singles out for contempt. She has a valued gift, widely recognized. John Lewis is a man of action. He marched at Selma. He was at Martin Luther King, Jr’s side in the great battle for civil rights. What Trump turns on its head is John Lewis’s legendary courage to take action. With hateful contempt, he dismisses him as merely a man of “words, words, words.” W-h-a-a-a-a-t! And when the cast of Hamilton, the brilliant and smash hit, addressed Mike Pence after a performance the Vice President attended, Trump tweeted that the play is not that good.

Trump’s envy underlies his utter contempt for women. Judging by the turn-out at the marches all over the world this past week-end, women read him accurately. They recognize his self-proclaimed delusional superiority gives him license, in his mind, to “does as he pleases” with them. All his life, he involved himself with teen-age girls, grand impresario, their lord and master. He referred to Hillary Clinton as a criminal and promised to put her on trial, if he won the election.

Trump’s self-adulation is boundless. It is a manifestation of his appalling narcissism. However, narcissism is not a roaring volcano of hatred. In fact, a narcissist is so self-absorbed, he doesn’t have the boundless energy for the terrifying hatred that drives Trump.

More and more there is talk of nuclear war. Last night, in his TV series, Resistance, Keith Olbermann warned of this possibility, a war initiated by the President of the country with the greatest nuclear arsenal. Mike Malloy raises the possibility as well. And what has Trump said about nuclear war? We should “greatly expand” our nuclear forces and welcome the resulting arms race because “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Trump’s boorishness stains our speech, his lies challenge our sanity, his envy threatens civilization.

Trump’s hatred is an existential threat to the world.

Satan – A Warning!

Politically, nothing in our 240 year history has prepared us for Donald Trump as President. His Inauguration is a few days off, and a sense of dread seeps across the land.

Where to turn? Perhaps a genius poet illumined the Trump Presidency that begins next Friday, making “darkness visible?”

Satan, Milton’s colossal protagonist in Paradise Lost,
“against the Throne and Monarchy of God rais’d impious War.” For him.

“To be weak is miserable, but of this be sure:
To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight.”

Satan is deeply affronted by the thought that the world is a big place and under the Throne and Monarchy of God. Why should he, weakly and miserably, submit?

“Providence
Out of our evil (may)seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil.”

So Satan wages interminable war. His mind-set:

“Ever to do ill our sole delight.”

Satan overreaches and not only loses Paradise but the Good Earth as well. Of course, the poet has God in his arsenal.

“Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.”

Trump has won the greatest power on earth, the American Presidency.

Suppose the poet is right. Suppose evil is not a poetic invention. Does that change the fact we’re just ordinary citizens? Nope! God won’t save us, even if the 45th President turns into Satan.

Good News !

Famed historian, Richard Hofsteter, wrote a seminal analysis of what he named the “paranoid style” in American politics. That’s the bad news. He traced it back to the beginnings of our nation. That’s the good news. It’s in fact very good news, now that the inauguration of Donald Trump as our nation’s 45th President is merely days away.

We have every reason to feel confident as a nation. We’ve been at this business of governing ourselves for 240 years. Every President began as President and ended as President. None got promoted to Strongman or Dictator or Supreme Poo-bah. None grabbed the keys to the office. We would not have it any other way.

The good news for America is the durability of our political culture. We the People have always triumphed over the paranoids that inevitably come out of the woodwork. It’s what we’ve learned to do. It’s in our blood. That’s not true for Europe. Timothy Garton Ash, an historian from Oxford, writes in the New York Review of Books,

“Had I been cryogenically frozen in January 2005, I would have gone to my provisional rest as a happy European. Madrid, Warsaw, Athens, Lisbon and Dublin felt as if they were bathed in sunlight from windows newly opened in ancient dark palaces…I could inwardly intone the European anthem – Beethoven’s music for the ‘Ode to Joy.'” The good professor, thanks to the enlargement of the European Union at that time, would have left this harsh world at peace and full of hope. Not true today. “Cryogenically reanimated in January 2017, I would immediately have died again from shock.” He observes a spectacular shift from light to dark was taking place.

If we compare our history with that of Europe, the difference is stunning. In 1787, we put together a Constitution, and a couple years later we elected George Washington as our first President. George had the wonderful good sense to limit his stay in power to two terms, a limitation now made into law. He couldn’t wait to return to Mt. Vernon, prizing his status as a citizen above power. His sanity has illuminated the Presidency ever since. President Obama has commented repeatedly that eight years is enough. He is, in fact, relieved to move on.

We Americans are old hands at dealing with paranoids. It’s not a trivial competence. We weren’t born with democratic genes. We are a nation of immigrants, and sure enough, with each new batch of “foreigners” we had to manage our paranoia. The greatest gift bequeathed to our land by immigrants is that we forged one nation out of endlessly diverse folks arriving at our shores – Irish, Germans, Polish, Italians, Chinese. Our political culture, from our beginnings, is The Melting Pot. We’ve always, sooner or later, put out a Welcome mat for those joining us from ancient dark palaces. We’re well practiced in overcoming paranoia. That is our exceptionalism.

Now let’s look at Europe. It too underwent a political revolution a few years after our Miracle at Philadelphia. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity rang across France, celebrating the Rights of Man. Alas, the experiment ended quickly in a Reign of Terror. And down that well-traveled road of tyranny along came Napoleon, crowning himself Emperor, turning Europe into a charnel house. He was a genius at “paranoid style” politics.

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that Europe organized itself into a different political union, after the two most terrible wars in human history. However, it doesn’t have a history of democratic politics. We should not be surprised at Garth’s “shock.”

From all indications, we may have a President who intends to carry out the duties of his office in a “paranoid style.” We won’t die from shock. We won’t depend on Beethoven to carry us through.

We’re America. We are the diverse descendants of George Washington. We’ve been around a long time. It’s in our bones to practice a democratic style of government. We’re a Melting Pot.

Schoolboy Bullies

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, as Richard Milhaus Nixon was fond of saying. Donald Trump is not suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. A narcissist loves himself. Trump hates the world. He is paranoid.

It’s the hate that matters, call it what you will.

In today’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote,

“I bet Trump’s bromance with Putin will end badly. The two men are both such blustery, insecure, aggressive public posturers, sooner or later they will get in a schoolyard fight.

“It will be interesting to see…whether it affects the substance of government policy and leads to nuclear war.

Happy New Year!”

Brooks raises what he calls an “interesting” question. Will mere schoolboy bullies end the world?

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstater wrote a seminal analysis of what he named the “paranoid style” in American politics. He traced it back to the beginnings of our nation. “I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Is Trump paranoid? Of course. Grandiose? Right in front of our eyes. He doesn’t have to attend intelligence briefings. He doesn’t have to get informed about any aspect of government. Quite simply, he knows it all. When asked whether he thought Trump was an atheist, Bill Maher replied, “Trump is his own god. You can’t be a person of faith and think you’re the most important person in the universe…It is just insane.”

The Founding Fathers gave kings wide berth, what with their divine-given authority. With Trump, he is the divinity. Every dimension of the real world he triumphs over by simply saying so. It’s like the Creation story in Genesis. God spoke, and it was so. If Trump says he is the greatest magician, or the greatest president, or greater than whatever chunk of reality is thrust in his face, then it is so.

What is also so is that Trump, a mere schoolyard bully, has more power than all the kings gathered together from the beginning of time in some vast, imaginary throne room – 10,000 nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, every aspect of the real world rebukes his grandiosity, and it thereby becomes the enemy. Trump has warred all his life with reality. He has been involved in 3,500 lawsuits. He stiffs any and all who come under his power, whether masons building his Towers or Hillary, who was criminal. Mitt Romney noted that a relationship with Trump is as worthless as a degree from Trump university.

What is not worthless is the Presidency of the United States. The paranoid style that has been a constant throughout our history has brought into power a blustery, insecure, aggressive, paranoid Trump. The animosities and passions of a minority have not only put our democracy in grave peril, but the world.

What to do?

(to be continued)