Friday, January 22, 2016

Finale, Folly, Tragedy

The rise of Trump should be a great shock--a shock among shocks.  It brings a pivotal moment in American history.  Everyone laughed at him just months ago.  He rides a racist backlash to the election of Obama, and a seething unhappiness born from the 2008 crash, which occurred under George W. Bush, driven by Wall Street greed.  He collects those whose preferred reality is a fantasy milieu--a Griffithsian Mayberry that smells of the antebellum South--and forges that prejudiced nostalgia into a spearhead of hate. 

Reason cannot affect the claquish constituents drawn into this disastrous thrust.  Lots of op-ed writers and commentators have pointed out Trump’s “war on reason,” to quote Michael Gerson.  His  sexism, racism, xenophobia and anti-science pander to subconscious triggers.  If he can infect enough people with mental and spiritual blindness, he will become the next President.  The feat will be much easier if the rest of us, swaddled in apathy or underestimation, fail to stand up.

The latest analysis of Trump’s campaign has yielded two insights.  One is that his followers are best described (using a single trait) as authoritarian.  In times of fear--and he is a master creator of quivering puppets--they seek someone to obey without question.  However, I think it important to note that whiteness, maleness, and lack of education, taken together, are better indicators of a Trump follower than the single label of authoritarian. Bigotry and sexism are rudiments of his magnetism, and this is an essential part of a vast tragedy, as I elaborate below.

Another insight:  recent analysis of Trump’s foreign policy, spanning decades, reveals regressive consistency: a mercantile, anti-liberal approach.  It involves the US breaking from alliances and treaties, and offering protection to foreign governments at a price.  Add to this Trump’s admiration of Russia’s de facto dictator, Vladimir Putin--even when confronted with Putin’s methods of oppressing the media and probable assassinations of rivals.  In other words, the USA becomes a fascist, nationalized mafia.

Extraordinarily, large segments of the GOP establishment have done what they can to dethrone Trump.  The National Review just came out with an entire issue titled “Against Trump.”  The editors excoriate him, call him an unreliable, unstable  “huckster.”  An extreme danger.  None of this fazes his followers. They loathe experienced politician and intellectuals, both right and left.  Trump has never held public office or served in the military.   He just brought Sarah Palin on board as an endorser, and she is even more flagrant:  his own silliness, cruelty and rantish lack-of-argument, caricatured, colloquialized, and condensed. 

Exemplifying Trump’s vampire-hold on his followers is the incredible insult he hurled at John McCain, a decorated right-wing war veteran, saying he, McCain, is not a hero, due to the fact that he was captured, and hence a “loser.”  

Indeed, Trump has made insults supreme tools of recruitment and dark titillation.  All Muslims should be banned from visiting the US.  Mexican immigrants are “rapists and criminals.”   Females who challenge him have “blood coming out of [their] wherever.”  And on and on.  He not only mocks reason, he does it at the level of a fifth-grade bully.  And because of this, his invidious tragic fulminations, masses of white people will vote for him.

It is tragedy, worthy of Shakespeare but in kingdoms far more powerful than those he penned.  Even the magic of Prospero pales before our ability to irradiate continents and alter DNA, the essential blueprint of life.  It is not only tragic, it is a stain of colossal shame on white people in modern-day America.  It is also a raw warning about human nature in general, its propensity to sink.  Trump embodies the victory of hatred over intelligence, in the wealthiest country in the world, where citizens are quite privileged, a country that has, by far, the most powerful military.  Even if he loses the election, global society has been tilted farther away from humanism--a celebration and encouragement of creative, scientific and virtuous thought--toward narcissism, toadyism, and fear.  If he wins the Presidency, the USA could take its place next to China and Russia as centralized police states, ones that quash enlightenment ideas such as freedom of speech or religion.  Expect in-or-out bifurcations. Protestant versus Islam (the Pope is against Trump, so an enemy).  White race versus other races.  Male role versus female.  Work ethic versus the indolent humanities.
 USA versus foreigners. 

Selfishness is key, brittle egos that need to be superior and suppress any evidence to the contrary.  It is a strategy of hierarchy and contempt.

On a planet infested with nuclear silos and submarines; with gene tech and robotics rushing forward; with global warming intensifying (Trump thinks it’s a hoax); with Earth’s sixth mass extinction proceeding; and with the geopolitical orientation shifting against freedoms of speech, religion and other rights, not only have the American people failed to pick up the candle of reason, they have put on the jackboots of the oppressor, raised them high, in salute of Trump, and crashed the benighted soles down to snuff out that special flame.  Because it is a collective act against reason, it is an act against what makes humanity special.  It is an act of self-contempt, of self-degradation, at the human core.

Narcissists have a psychic hole.  They crave constant reinforcement and validation.  But the hole is unfillable, a demanding trench.  More attention requires more performance, greater thrill, more reckless risk, to satisfy the fawners.  And so the bottomless folly takes everyone down, lower and lower.

A Trump biographer, Michael D’Antonio, claims that Trump brings out the worst in people, magnifies it, and exploits it (1).  He hawks a mental substance that is anti-ethical (and so, I would add, in effect, evil).  Those who buy in are also bought.  Fear over Love.  Ignorance over Enlightenment.  History tells us that demagogues like Trump conduce to dramatic rises in tension that inflame massive war.  We had two world wars in the 20th century.  America viciously and unnecessarily dropped atomic bombs.  When WWIII comes, how many nuclear missiles will detonate, each stronger than those that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

To Trump, it all seems just “fun.”  He will probably laugh and say it is fun when the warheads detonate, cackling deep within his privileged bunker.  D’Antonio, doesn’t think 'the Donald' has much respect for humans.  He considers them petty creatures, at essence detestable.

We live in a time where final judgement, in the form of extinctive warfare, could end the human race.  To survive, we need to evolve our ethics and become psychologically alert.  We can’t be susceptible to narcissists and sociopaths who excel at rhetoric.  Our minds have such beautiful potential, to expand and fill with light and compassion.  But it seems likely now--as Stephen Hawking recently postulated--that we will destroy ourselves.

Whatever happens, each of us is like a miniature, unique world.  Alone or in small groups we can seek the Good, work with our emotions, even the most vehement, to reach catharsis and sublimation. Individuals can achieve grand milestones--moral victories and enlightenments.  If just some of us overcome the pull and pressure of ignorance and hate, reaching new levels of awareness, that is a special accomplishment.  That says something about life, and its possibilities, within this multifarious universe, full of billions of galaxies, that we all share.