Dave: My partner in blogging Amy Begel wrote an excellent personal essay, This Woman’s Perspective: What “Trump-ism” Has Awakened In Me. She commented on how the offensive behavior and language about women heard on the ‘bus’ tape so disrupted and disturbed her. The behavior revealed in that tape on the bus was his most specific violation, the most unforgiveable and hardest for his supporters to rationalize, justify, remove from discussion.
I had started my own essay on Trump-ism a few weeks before Amy wrote hers. He stimulates pandemonium with a jumble of confusing ideas and positions, with his rhetoric, his personal displays. His inconsistency makes it difficult to characterize him. He seems much more a petulant, self-justifying amazingly wealthy screwball and show-off. These of course are not the qualities that lead to leadership. Yet I find myself watching too much news about his role in the presidential campaign.
He is disturbing but stimulates curiosity and plenty of controversy. Is Trump in some perverse way good for our conversations about ourselves? He has stirred up plenty of people, who though they disagree with his behavior see him as a crucial voice of hope. What will be the effects of his agenda on us and how we think about ourselves?
Partly I am disturbed by him because he elicits my inner Trump. My inner narcissist? No, my inner absurdist, the part of me that feels like a fraud in certain contexts. The part of me that refuses to follow protocol. The self-justifying side of me. He dramatizes a side of me I attempt to keep hidden. His ultimate self centeredness does not acknowledge the subjective reality of another person or the importance of the subjective reality of the other to the other. Yet despite his impulsive behavior he comes across as a moral arbiter, the judge who operates from moral high ground.
Shakespeare includes fools in his plays, most notably, in King Lear. The fool is usually a person of lower class, comments on what the nobles do and say. The Fool interferes with pretentiousness, makes people think. Despite his foolishness there is wisdom and playfulness, self mockery in what he says. Trump shows little capacity for any of those. In his role as Fool he is sadistic, self-justifying, pretentious. He is laughable, but he is powerful, he has so much money he is somewhat bulletproof. He is self-financed, thus persistent.
I had all but given up on my essay about Trump when two things happened. First, I heard a program on NPR about the impact of the presidential political campaign on relationships. Then I ran across a short column by Marilyn Robinson in the New York Review of Books.
On the NPR program listeners phoned in to report conflicts in their families or marriages and the guest gave them ordinary suggestions on how to deal with them. There wasn’t much profound about the advice. My essay isn’t profound either, but I thought I could see where it goes.
Trump creates absurdity. In a sense he mocks convention while appearing to rise above convention. He speaks as though he will correct the flaws he names. He does not recognize that there are conventions and processes that characterize our effort at being a Democracy. Democracy is a delicate matter. Leonard Cohen tells us in song that “Democracy is coming to the U.S. A.” Democracy is in the future but without the proper nurturing, without personal responsibility it will not arrive. And Mr.Trumpist repeatedly points out that Hilary has “done nothing in 30 years”. She has in my estimations done a great deal, and has been steadily tested, investigated and assessed every step of the way. When he talks about what Hilary hasn’t done, he is speaking as though a senator or a secretary of state has absolute powers. He fails to recognize that governing is a multiperson conversation.
Governing is very different from business. A business leader works in a context governed by profit and loss. Caring need not be part of the agenda.
But then Trump has raised many issues, his actions demand that people think and reflect. Strong emotion is voiced in our society, and regardless of the outcome of the Presidential election, I wonder how we will look back on these times.
But then there is Marilyn Robinson, a remarkably wise essayist, historian and novelist; her writing is a salve in the current atmosphere.
I found a short article in a recent New York Review of Books (November 10, 2016) which I will make use of here. In discussing her views on Trump she mentioned the old Reagan ‘saw’ that “government is not the solution government is the problem”. Regan’s statement is part of the foundation for today’s hyper-conservative codes, their belief system. Robinson points out that Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert as speakers of the house set out to make rules that impede governance that are still in place. Now the inheritors of those hyper conservative principles talk about ‘Washington gridlock’ as a problem, but it is a problem they purposefully created and sustain. Their failure to take ownership is fraudulent and perverse. And Trump the extravagant pseudo populist strong man speaks in favor of policies which will undo much of the work of government to support ‘progressive’ policies that help government to take care of those in need. He is sort of a voodoo doll created by conservatives, but he exposes the underbelly of conservatism and thus these hyper-conservatives are obliged to try and disown him.
Trump arouses anger in “the people”. His supporters are angry at government. But the anger is not an energy that leads to repair. The anger is cynical and resentful, inhibits the freedom that comes from taking action stimulated by generosity. If you can’t tell I usually vote for Democrats. Democrats, of course, are politicians as well, politics has inevitable duplicity in it. If you saw the movie Lincoln, you got a sense of how a good political leader operates. His leadership enabled him to marshal the forces needed to get things done. In Lincoln’s case, marshalling the case against slavery. The end justified the means.
Trump does harm to language about governing, but this is what hyper conservatives have been doing for the last several decades. He is a comic who deprives language of meaning and frees himself from responsibility.
I will end with two paragraphs from Marilyn Robinson’s essay. She wonders “…Why a man born to privilege should be continuously on the defensive, continuously ready to strike back without any reference to the appropriateness of the counter attack or to the grossly disproportionate force he can bring to bear on the perpetrator of some supposed slight. I do not know. An explanation might shed light on the gilded mop and the spray tan, and perhaps the mores of the clans who control our economy.
In any case, Trump looms up before us, an outsized avatar of all that has gone wrong and might yet go wrong. We have to clean up our act. We have to stop tolerating lies and slander. We have to embrace again honesty and equity. We have to be careful to give responsibility every bit of respect it deserves. We cannot sustain our civilization in cynicism and resentment.”
OF A CLUMSY COMMENTARY
But then, real life, real conversation is clumsy. I hope my wanderings activate reflection in readers. Is it possible that Trump is a funhouse distorting mirror who will help us to see ourselves more clearly and push us to implement corrective policies?
Appendix: In 2015 the New York Review of Books published a two-part conversation between Marilyn Robinson and President Obama. I recommend her thoughtful sanity. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/11/05/president-obama-marilynne-robinson-conversation).