Just finished watching Meet the Press where Chuck Todd, Tom Friedman and Kathleen Parker (with an additional presence of Bob Costa and Neera Tanden who made the most sense of the bunch) talked about normalizing Trump and his presidency.
They only discussed it, not entirely favorably (thank you, Neera), but the thrust of their exchanges was clear. Parker went as far as to offer Trump some useful tips: Give a sincerely sounding speech where you admit that you are sort of a hothead, but you really don’t mean half of the things you say, and all will be good, and we can move forward, warmly embracing the fascism that’s about to envelop us. Kind of like if you can’t fight them, join them, I suppose, because resistance is futile. Or something.
Can’t blame Parker too much, if President Obama himself leads the normalizing movement, reminding us, helpfully, that Campaigning is different than governing. I understand that this is his job, but still — sigh.
Todd, eager as always to curry favor of powers-that-be, shared a tweet issued by Trump during the program and praising Senator Chuck Schumer, a new leader of the Senate Democrats. Interviewed by Todd, Schumer refused to clearly state where he stood on the matter of cooperation with the narcissistic psychopath in chief, while backpedaling his long-standing association with the man. This apparently pleased Trump. (You know, or should, that if Trump praises you, you are most likely seriously in the wrong.)
By the way, here’s the new motto of Meet The Press, the mouthpiece, one of many, of His Orangeness regime: He Tweets, We Report — without delay or critical commentary. Now that Trump is going to be President, there shall be no more fake hand-wringing about giving him free press. After all, now he really deserves it.
That’s how it’s done, I thought.
That’s the inevitable pivoting that always happens once the disordered characters come to power. While some — the clueless and/or naive or perhaps plainly opportunistic — believe and say that, once in power, these leaders will start acting like full human beings capable of empathy, compassion, and good judgment, and finally pivot toward universal human values, in fact the opposite always happens.
The disordered characters, no longer forced to fake a semblance of normalcy, become more entrenched in their pathological views; and the pivoting that takes place is of the people toward them and not the other way around, a movement led by their eager fans and sycophants, and supported by intimidation and force when needed (as it eventually always is).
The past 12 months might be remembered as the year of Donald Trump… the year of the Red Pill… and the year of the Alt Right. It was a time when more people joined our movement then [sic] ever before and when our ideas began invading the mainstream.
This announcement is from the website of National Policy Institute, an extreme right-wing “think” tank. It pertains to their conference taking place this weekend, titled “Become Who We Are / 2016.” (If you don’t know what Red Pill is, here is a good explanation.)
Become who we are. These words confer hope and a permission for the conscience-deficient who comprise these movements to fully embrace their hate-filled agenda and finally bring it into the open. This is their year, as they proudly announce, thanks to Trump, who shares their character defect and the philosophy of life, such as it is.
As I mentioned in the last post, neither these sentiments nor Trump’s rise to the position of ultimate power are surprising to those who are familiar with authoritarian systems and have been paying attention to domestic hate movements. The latter have been rapidly gathering strength and popularity in the past several years, enabled in their growth by the Internet which has provided ready platforms for sharing these pathological views and forming social connections among those espousing them.
Noam Chomsky predicted this very scenario, sans the Internet, in 2010, as did Richard Rorty in 1998. Heck, Dorothy Thompson warned about Trump/ism in 1935. And way, waaay before her, there was Thucydides who tried to teach us, explicitly enough, about dangers of similarly disordered leaders and the conditions that lead to their rise.
We — as in, humanity — have enough psychological, historical, and political knowledge, accumulated throughout centuries of mayhem, informing and preparing us for these developments.
But we don’t learn, obviously — particularly not from other people’s mistakes. We must make them on our own for the necessary lessons to sink in and transform our lives. This is such a lesson for America, which, like a stubborn teen convinced s/he knows it all, believed, up to now, that it can do what it wants without paying attention to the consequences. Trump’s presidency, the ultimate triumph of narcissism that has ruled America for decades, is the predictable consequence of this recklessness, full of lessons to learn, should we want to (though it is not clear yet that we do).
These lessons have to do, as always, with the conflicts between values and their lack (power, greed, and hate are not values, but signs of valuelessness); between the worldviews that promote fear, hate, exclusion, and aggression, and those modeling empathy, compassion, acceptance and care. These worldviews, even though related through the eternal conflicts they create within our souls and out in the external world, are fundamentally incompatible.
The lessons of Trump/ism, as in any confrontation with people and belief systems bereft of higher values (including empathy, compassion, and care), are about defining who we are through the choices we make. As such, they offer us an unprecedented opportunity of growth, personal and collective. That growth is not easy as it leads through the dark night of the soul, or the process of positive disintegration, of which I hope to write in a greater detail soon(ish), fates permitting.
For now, a bit more about the darker parts of our souls.
One is put in mind of H.L. Mencken: “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
This from a good opinion piece, The Man Who Would Not be President, by Roger Cohen. There is one thing that Cohen does not get quite right, however. He says:
Except that Trump is no moron. That makes the outlook more sinister. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, got it about right when he said of Trump: “I’m a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.” He might have said a gifted charlatan.
Trump is unintelligent and uncurious; unable and unwilling to retain and process elementary information that’s not related to his pathological need for adulation; incapable of stepping out of his disordered frame of mind to notice, understand, or care about the reality of other people’s lives as they are and not as he believes them to be on those rare occasions when he is forced to make the herculean, for him, effort to understand. (With apologies to Hercules.)
He touts, laughably, his intelligence and special skills, of which there aren’t any. (Lying, brazenly and without compunction, does not count.)
Being a walking embodiment of the uniquely American disorder of “positive thinking,” and the gospel of high self-esteem and unlimited prosperity that follows from it (reality with its limitations be damned), he has no idea of his shortcomings, nor does he care to learn about them. What shortcomings? He has a very good brain, the best ever. “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about [nuclear] missiles. I think I know most of it anyway,” he bragged to a Washington Post reporter once.
Not for him the arduous efforts of learning and critical self-reflection, much less changing his behavior. What’s there to change? It’s worked swimmingly so far, after all, and there is no reason this should change, is there, particularly as we ever so eagerly continue the seemingly unimaginable process of normalizing his presidency, and thus his behavior.
A moron fits, uncharitably. A malignantly narcissistic moron, to be exact. It does not make the outlook any less sinister. That he appears to be a “gifted charlatan” speaks to people’s gullibility and unfamiliarity with the workings of psychopathic and narcissistic characters. And that gullibility — and/or complicity perhaps — cuts across all demographic strata.
Let’s not forget that Trump/ism is mostly a default creation of the American elites, both liberal and conservative, who admired and promoted the man, and sought association with him, even as they ridiculed, in private, his unforgivable lack of class. In that, they showed themselves as narcissistic as he is, just somewhat better-mannered perhaps.
This profitable collusion continued for decades and coincided, unsurprisingly, with the mighty and well heeled on both sides of the political spectrum growing further away and dissociating from the reality of ordinary Americans, those invisible unwashed masses in the flyover country and urban ghettos, or even in a town and county next door, beyond the elites’ gated communities. Trump/ism is the invisibles’ big middle finger raised to the socio-political structures that, as usual, have taken them for granted for far too long.
In their (s)election of Trump, they have accomplished a multilayered act of revenge, not only promising to upend the established order with its old guards, but also to rub that tsk-tsked classlessness into the elites’ horrified faces. The Strongman is their avenger, and, as they erroneously believe, a creator of a new, better world that looks very much like the old world of their childhood dreams.
Unfortunately, those dreams are unrealistic — that world, if it even existed, is not coming back; and, in any case, Trump, a destroyer by nature, is not the man for the job.
Yet his supporters do not see it — because the same human defect that makes people overestimate Trump’s “giftedness” and glorify his “success,” lies behind the false consciousness of his fans which makes them think that this spoiled, conscienceless billionaire is one of them, or at least on their side. Well, he says so, so it must be true.
Let’s underscore this, once again: There is nothing special, much less “gifted,” about Trump. He just operates on such a low, primitive level of existence that it strikes some as a premeditated game of an astute manipulator. But the characterologically impaired, with whom this kind of existence resonates, instantly recognize him as their own. They do not crow about his gifts, but praise his guts in “telling it like it is,” i.e. unloading that primitivism — contempt, disrespect, selfishness, greed, narcissism, misogyny and aggression — without any inhibitions, nay, with pride which frees them to finally emulate those behaviors, now out in the open. If there is a “gift” they may appreciate, it is that of his “courage” — that is, his lack of values, scruples and inhibitions. That’s no real courage, however, nor a gift. That’s psychopathy.
Yes, Trump is a manipulator, but not so astute. Like any manipulator, he just tells people what they want to hear and in ways they want to hear it, pretending that he is interested in them and gives a damn about their lives in a tone of nauseatingly fake concern. We, generally speaking, fall for it because we want to believe that this Rich And Important Man does indeed take interest in us and our woes. It is an enduring defect of our human nature to be awed and cowed by power, and elated by intimations of its approving nod toward us. This symptom of our narcissistic blindness is also part of “the inner soul of the people.”
The other, and related, part of the same mindset is our selfish “I have mine, screw you” attitude, which is not limited to the right. On the left, it is less visible because more hypocritical, and thus more narcissistically blind.
It has to be said that my fellow leftists pride themselves on their empathy and compassion while often evidencing preciously little of both when it counts the most. They will pontificate, for example, on social justice, but never realize that their cleaning lady, whom they pay below minimum wage, often goes hungry and lacks health insurance despite working three jobs.
They feel spiritually elevated after attending a symposium on empathy where they leave empty coffee cups and other easily disposable garbage strewn all over the conference room for the staff to put in trash bins. (A minor thing, but.) On the way to the symposium, they may have tripped over the homeless near the airport, but failed to notice them, the busy people, preoccupied with saving the world, as they are.
They organize and attend conferences on poverty, hosted by Ivy League schools, where esteemed speakers talk movingly about Africa or Haiti, the perennial favorite humanitarian tourism destination, while remaining curiously oblivious to the poverty-driven hopelessness and decay sweeping this country.
While they congratulate themselves on their tireless, though often second-hand, efforts to alleviate misery and health crises in the Third World, they do not seem to know — or at least don’t discuss much — the fact that one foreigner, Stan Brock (may gods bless his soul), aided by some devoted local professionals, brings desperately needed health care several times a year to an American community near them. Or rather, to a community somewhere “over there,” in that mysterious and far removed Fourth World that’s the invisible America.
It is no wonder the Left (or what passes for it), withdrawn from the bread-and-butter concerns of the working class, has lost its credibility, along with the American electorate. Comfortably ensconced in their cozy bubbles, but easily upset over some microaggression unleashed upon them without a trigger warning, American leftists these days bicker about mis-gendered bathrooms and police the use of pronouns, while remaining unaware and/or indifferent to the lethal socio-economic inequality growing all around their enclaves. They do not inspire trust, but contempt and rage of those outside, for whom Trump/ism is a way to pierce their bubbles. Among other things.
True, the leftist elites are not completely blind. For example, occasionally they write moving exposes on the newly — because always just temporarily — discovered American working masses; or, like Chuck Todd (not quite a leftist) on today’s Meet the Press, even go out there sometimes, braving the elements and unfamiliar terrain, to find and interview this curious species, ever so briefly, to see out what it is about. That, however, almost never translates into a genuine understanding and sustained efforts to create a better world that would include those wretched invisibles too. Out of sight, out of mind, according to the unspoken motto of narcissists everywhere. Or maybe it is just plain human nature, the inner soul of the people, most of them at least. Our domestic despair is always a background noise, easy to ignore — unless you are in it.
Rorty warned that the Left’s tendency to give cultural politics preference over real politics would eventually lead to a breaking point:
[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.
Something did finally crack. Trump/ism is America’s long predicted breaking point, shocking only, as it should be, to those who did not pay attention.
The good news is that it cannot get any worse than President Trump. The bad news is that it cannot get any worse than President Trump.
And, as Leonard Cohen reminded us, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. This is also a time for growth, based on our (possible) awakening to and defining of our values and characters, in contrast with the valuelessness represented by Trump/ism. Maybe the inner soul of most people is not as dark as that of our president elect. We shall find out in the years to come.