Sometimes Life Is Bearable: Lilacs

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‘Tis the time of lilacs again, the heavenly treat that comes unbidden and without fail mid-spring, one of my favorite things in life. Their fragrance fills the house and takes me back to my childhood days spent on our działka, a little piece of land on the outskirts of our city, and to my father who was my best companion during those days. The lilac bushes by my house now are from his garden here, in America.

The memories are bittersweet, as always, and now especially as in a few days we’ll commemorate the 5th anniversary of his death. The fragrance, though, is infused with the force and love for life somehow, maybe on its own or maybe because of the associated memories — likely both — making it worth living.

In a couple of weeks there will be another glorious and short-lived gift of spring: lilies of the valley. Life is bearable sometimes.


And So It Begins

Last night, writing to a friend on the subject of Trump’s most unfortunate first weekend in office, I said the following:

What we know about malignant narcissists is that they psychologically decompensate once they achieve the ultimate position of power. They worsen in every possible way: become more grandiose and paranoid, more aggressive and demanding, and progressively less in touch with reality (and Trump has never been fully in touch with it).

We can expect his narcissistic rage to intensify in proportion to his increasing grandiosity and paranoia. 

His handlers will have to resort to increasingly more “creative” ways to placate and subdue him — and it will work, for a while, until it doesn’t.

There’ll be blood, symbolic, if not literal, as he’ll fire and destroy his previously “trusted” associates, maybe even in rapid succession and without any rhyme or reason. 

His demands for adulation will also become increasingly intense and bizarre, and we’ll be witnessing idiotic and quite possibly dangerous displays of his “superiority” and might, likely military as well. This is where the possibility of him starting a war or two just to satisfy his ego becomes quite real.

It’s not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse.

There has never been a case of a malignant narcissist in power whose pathology improved, or even remained stable: they always deteriorate, and often rapidly, as they become drunk on (what they see as) now unlimited power and adulation.

Almost immediately after I sent it, this news item popped up on my computer screen:

Trump declares his Inauguration ‘National Day of Patriotic Devotion’ in proclamation littered with religious buzzwords

The Proclamation 9570, as it is called, is a thing of disordered beauty — and it is highly significant as it marks the official beginning of the kleptofascist regime in the U.S.

This, rather than Trump’s inauguration, which was revealing enough (though it’s too bad he was not allowed to have tanks and missile launchers at his parade, as he desired), is an unmistakable sign — for anyone who still may have harbored some doubts — that we have arrived at our homegrown autocracy of the kind we have not seen, in America, yet.

Whoever wrote that proclamation designed to soothe Agent Orange’s ego gravely injured by the crowds that were too small at his inauguration and too large at his protests — since without a doubt this is its main purpose — must have been as bereft of any sense of irony as the man himself. Or maybe s/he is a stealthily ironic prankster?

That’s because nothing illustrates this famous quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis,

When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.

like that miserable piece of psychopathically narcissistic — but also dangerous –nonsense.

The glaring pathology of it, devoid of higher values but — so completely that it seems cartoonish — co-opting empty and deceitful sloganeering about “Constitution,” of which this man knows nothing and cares even less about, and “patriotism” and “freedom,” just like that of Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, begs for psychoanalysis, but that’s for another time.

I will only briefly remark on one related matter here.

Some observers note the significance of Trump bombastically using “The People” in his inauguration speech as a portent of fascism. They are correct in this observation, but late in making it.

Signs of Trump’s pathological and disingenuous identification with “The People,” an inevitable development in every tyrant’s journey to power, were on full display in the summer, when he also began using the word “movement” to describe the narcissistic collusion between himself and his followers. We can be certain that it was not his idea, but his handlers’; however he glommed onto it, as every tyrant does, to prettify and further justify his push for power and adulation. The signs were already there, early on, it’s just that most did not pay attention.

Back to Proclamation 9570, which, like most of other laws Trump has signed this week (and it’s only Tuesday), is a direct response to the narcissistic injury he suffered over the weekend when he had to endure images of his “comically small” inauguration crowds. In the past, he handled such humiliations through personal responses to specific people. Those included jaw-dropping letters of derision and scorn, or petty and ridiculous, but crippling for the other side, lawsuits; now, however, he can use the office of presidency to enact his revenge on a large scale and thus make it so much more satisfying — and dangerous to all.

Anyone who knows anything about malignant narcissists in power could easily imagine how enraged Trump must have been over the weekend. Heck, we did not have to strain: his lapdog Spicer’s behavior during his Saturday “press conference” gave us more than a decent clue. But now we have White House reports confirming it.

We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow, best on those who caused his psychic injury; and if that’s impossible, on the nearest and usually weakest available object (preferably a living one, so he could enjoy watching the suffering).

We don’t know exactly what went on in Trump’s private quarters during that stormy time over the weekend, but we know that, A. he was conspicuously restrained on Twitter (which suggests a strong outside intervention), and, B. he started the week with a slew of executive orders aimed at the issues dear to his protesters.

In addition to the self-serving eruption of “patriotism” in his Proclamation Flag ‘n Cross, he also signed a global gag order, which will have catastrophic consequences for millions of women around the world; ordered construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines; and prohibited scientists, including data collectors who have assembled photos from D.C. during his inauguration, from sharing their work with the public.

How’s that for a payback?

One of my favorite signs during the weekend march was this:

I shudder to think what executive order Trump would come up with in response to it.

We can expect this Trumpian trend — of enshrining his vengeful reactions to the slightest narcissistic injury of shame and humiliation into his presidential decrees — to continue and worsen. This is one hallmark of tyrannical rule by narcissistic psychopaths. There is no bottom to their vengefulness, since, as you may recall, “[n]arcissistic rage is one of the darkest and deadliest forces known to mankind.”

If you have any doubts about it, notice that Trump’s compulsive twitterin’ has subsided — and that’s not because he’s “pivoted” toward reason and self-control, but because now he has replaced it by executive order signing, which, as far as instruments of narcissistic rage go, is much more effective and satisfying. It can punish the offending millions with fewer than 140 strokes of a pen — and you can turn it into a self-aggrandizing photo op at that. It also counts as good ol’ fashioned governing, of the kind that everyone expects of presidents. Win-win.

And these are just his first few days in office.

If tasked with creating an autocratic villain and plausible scenarios of his rise to power, most fiction writers would scoff at Trump and his story, because it would seem such an over-the-top caricature, offensive to their intelligence and artistic sensibilities. Yet once again life proves to be more pedestrian than fiction.

But from the point of view of psychopathology, and especially its intersection with politics, Trump/ism is both predictable and instructive, and also spectacular at the same time, as it provides such a clear confirmation of everything we know to be true about character defective tyrants and the formation of their regimes. From the point of view of human beings who find themselves oppressed by the tyrants and those regimes, however, the spectacularness of it wanes dramatically.

For some (not all) lessons on how to cope what’s in store for us we should look to authoritarian regimes of the past and present: yes, Nazi Germany (sorry all ye Trump’s-not-Hitler! folks out there), the USSR and its Eastern Bloc satellites, North Korea, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Iraq under Saddam, Uganda under Idi Amin, and others like them.

Frederick Burkle’s Antisocial Personality Disorder and Pathological Narcissism in Prolonged Conflicts and Wars of the 21st Century, which talks about these characterologically defective leaders — and which, not at all coincidentally, was the most viewed paper on ResearchGate in 2016 — has a handy list of them if one needs more examples. Now we have our own, here, in America.

The major overarching lessons are (starting with good news) 1. that these leaders and their regimes always fall — always, without exception; but, 2. unfortunately, they cause grave and lasting damage, and traumas that take generations to heal, if they heal at all.

Our yearning for higher values  — truth, freedom, justice, dignity, and love — is irrepressible. When we live in relative peace and comfort, we become complacent and forget that these values are not a given, but must be discovered and created by each of us anew, and often must be fought for.

Karol Wojtyla, later known as John Paul II, wrote in The Place Within that,

Freedom has continually to be won, it cannot merely be possessed. It comes as a gift but it can only be kept with a struggle. Gift and struggle are written into pages, hidden yet open.

People start to remember this truth when their cherished values are threatened. As soon as the tyrant du jour plants his boot on his subjects’ necks, they begin to rebel and eventually rise up against him and his unjust rule. This is a given. It is just a matter of time until the human spirit prevails, even though it may take a very long time indeed.

The Soviet empire lasted  three quarters of the century and almost nobody within or outside of it believed that it could ever fall. But it did, taking its tinpot tyrants with it, as it always happens, in a large measure as a result of the devastation they create: there comes a time where there is nothing else to plunder and no one else to kill to one’s satisfaction, so the tyrants’ avaricious glory has nothing left to feed on. Of course new tyrants, and some say worse than the old ones, often take the reign next. And so the bloody wheel turns, churning out new misery and its victims; but the process, the struggle hidden yet open, in essence always the same, accelerates with every turn, yielding hopeful surprises.

The response to Trump’s enthronement was as swift as it was overwhelming. Close to 3 million women (and men) world-wide marched against him and his pathological rule the day after his inauguration.

No less remarkable — and yet not at all, as an avalanche often begins with one pebble — is the fact that this mass protest started with one woman, Rebecca Shook, a retired lawyer from Hawaii.

This is “unpresidented,” as Twitler himself would sputter, if his handlers allowed him to do so on that fateful day. (He did issue one sarcastic response, and then someone else — my guess is Tom “Soft Sensuality” Barrack — wrote his second, civil tweet for public consumption.) Yes, he has had the last word in that skirmish, as of now — but the battle has just begun.

Eve Ensler in her manifesto reminds us that,

We are marching to turn our fear and sorrow and shame to power and imagination. We are marching for another paradigm where the lack of ethics, morality, and truth that have brought us to this moment are transformed – into principles which will drive a powerful intersectional, spiritual movement of movements.

To be effective, the anti-Trump/ism movement must be widely inclusive and based on solidarity of all people of conscience from all walks of life. It is no accident that “Solidarity,” if you recall, was the name of the first free workers’ union in Poland which toppled communism in Eastern Europe.

What most people in the West do not know, however, is that the real engine — political, moral, and spiritual — of that movement were women. Most people associate “Solidarity” with Nobel-winning Lech Walesa, who was more or less an opportunistic narcissist searching for and stealing spotlight from the people doing the real work behind the scenes. The chief figure among those was Anna Walentynowicz, who became known as the “Mother of Solidarity.”

In the summer of 1980, five months before her retirement from a job as a crane operator in a Gdansk shipyard, Walentynowicz was fired for her participation in an illegal workers’ union. This decision led to a workers’ strike in the shipyard, which then spurred a cascade of developments eventually ending communism in Europe — remember, an unthinkable feat for almost a century.

What’s of special importance is that after the striking workers’ initial demands were met and Walentynowicz was reinstated to her position, Walesa and other men decided that this was enough — there was no more need to protest. But the women of the shipyard, including Walentynowicz, and the male workers’ wives at home, disagreed.

As Wiki says,

Walentynowicz and [another woman worker, Alina] Pienkowska managed to close the gates of the shipyard and keep some workers inside, but many workers went home, only to return by the next day. Wałęsa was stopped near the Gate no° 1 as he was leaving, and was persuaded to change his plans and return to the shipyard.

Walesa was persuaded to return by Pienkowska and Walentynowicz, and the male workers who went home were implored by their wives to go back to the shipyard the next day to continue the strike.

Women, eh?  They do change history.

Late Anna Walentynowicz is one of the people worth knowing. A humble person doing the right thing, she is a moral exemplar, of the kind that we very much need in the world. Not surprisingly, the story of her heroic life was one of nearly constant battles against networks of psychopaths and narcissists in power which included Lech Walesa, under communism as well as — and disappointingly so — after its fall. That story was defined by her tireless struggle for truth and justice, and was marked by several stints in prison as well as attempts at her life, among many other adverse events.

Here is a quote from Walentynowicz, which seems so right for these and any times, and a good end of my post:

Our aim should not be to secure a somewhat thicker slice of bread today, even if this would make us happy; we must not forget what our real aim is. Our main duty is to consider the needs of others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems.” We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity.

A Matter of Values

Bernie Sanders Speaking Harry Reid Capitol Hill Alex Brandon/AP

The conscience of our nation is in the process of exiting the presidential race — or being unceremoniously pushed out, depending on who you listen to – accompanied with big sighs of relief from many for whom a conscience is an inconvenient burden; and with a blessing of the so-called pragmatists who, while eager to invoke conscience and the values it represents when it suits them, are nevertheless not entirely convinced of its usefulness. Yes, they talk about values and all that touchy-feely stuff, but when the proverbial push comes to shove, or even just a gentle nudge of special interests, those values are summarily set aside as ever so impractical. Too idealistic, they say – as if they set the metric for idealism and were qualified to offer such judgments.

When you are dispensing with a conscience, the best way to do it is through good-sounding rationalizations and earnest assurances of the mutuality of the parting. This is made all the more convincing if one presents the benefits of what remains. Stressing how useful, efficient, and successful life without a conscience will be from now on has an undeniable appeal to many. The exhausting high hopes that lead to gnawing doubts and inner conflicts they engendered can be put to rest now, while we focus on achieving our goals. These may not be the goals you wanted, and certainly not the goals your conscience would approve, but, practical people that we are, we understand. As with so much in life, you may not get what you want, but you get what you need. So they say.

The conscience personified is, of course, Bernie Sanders – the real Improbable Candidate, unlike the other one whose flaming narcissism is rather well suited for our nation as it reflects so much of its own character, even though we may loathe to admit it.

From the very beginning, his campaign, much more so than that of Agent Orange, elicited incredulous “Whaaa…?s” and contemptuous snickers from People Who Always Know Better. Who does he think he is, that cantankerous socialist from Vermont? The hair, the rumpled suits (he even wore the same one to the White House Correspondents Dinner, can you imagine?), the old car – what on Earth made him believe that he could inspire any following, much less become a serious contender? And did we mention that he is a socialist? There is hardly a more dreadful label that can be applied to a person in this country. A feminazi may come close, but its context is more specific – you have to be a woman — and its sting not as poisonous, easier to laugh off.

Talking Heads could hardly contain their condescension when speaking to and about Bernie. They couldn’t help but guffaw when mentioning his socialism and inquired, insistently and often with poorly disguised hostility, just when he would drop out. No, seriously, isn’t it time already? Such is the inconvenience that a conscience creates at times, particularly when it interferes with our carefully laid out plans to achieve a self-serving goal, that we do our very “best” to mute and remove it. The sooner, the better.

We like our candidates to espouse some ideals, but not so much as to make us nervous. We are a practical nation – or so we are told – that understands the need to compromise. Too much idealism can be hazardous to our collective health, giving us dangerous notions about how things ought to be and making us notice just how far away they are from that ideal. And that would only lead to misery and discontent. It is far better to focus on what we are being told is achievable, as practical people should. Equality – yes, it would be nice, but we can’t have it (yet or at all – that’s never quite clarified). Justice – of course, but, you know, there are limitations. Peace – a grand idea, if we could only afford it. Dignity — maybe, if one is into that kind of thing.

These human values, which our conscience clamors for with annoying insistence as if it did not know anything about pragmatism and compromise and so-called realities, are skillfully used by conscience-deficient politicians who trot them out for public applause, but shed them as easily in the privacy of their well-appointed homes as they do their designer garbs.

Bernie is different in that he lives them. That’s what integrity is.

And it shows, and grows steadily a movement of millions who pitch a few dollars here and there to make sure that the conscience of the nation will be heard and make a difference in their and everyone’s lives. They come to his rallies by the thousands, though you may not know it as People Who Always Know Better are busy spinning a conscience-free fool’s tale into a coherent vision of something, anything. One is compelled to wonder what this election would look like if our media covered the socialist with the same fervor they devoted to the sociopath. But our media has priorities too, and they show, as they always do. Not values, just goals: chasing profit is not a value, but a goal, and the first priority of our so-called free press.

So this is what integrity looks like – messy hair, a rumpled suit, an old car, doing what’s right for the right reasons — and we should pay attention because not many today understand what it really means. People are so unused to it that they don’t know it when they see it and mistake it for its opposite, accusing the man of posturing in self-interest and self-aggrandizement when he upholds the principles he preaches. Curiously (or not), those are often the same people who look at the cravenly, obscenely self-aggrandizing valueless candidate and praise his “integrity” in “telling it like it is.” We show our values, or lack of them in our judgments, just as we show them in our actions. They define us to ourselves and to others.

Even more importantly, however, this is what an active conscience – a creature so rare as to be endangered today, certainly in politics – looks like. Because one can demonstrate integrity in pursuit of one’s primitive goals: if I tell you that I’m going to clobber you into a bloody pulp and I proceed to do just that, I have shown integrity, of sorts. This is the easiest sort, because nothing is easier than to give in to our primitive wants and desires, particularly when we have no conscience. But when one preaches the highest human values and ideals, and lives his or her life according to them – which is something far more difficult than many realize – that’s integrity of the highest kind.

An active conscience is always unsettled and unsettling and that can be a mighty inconvenience, in an individual’s life as in a nation’s. It questions our cherished beliefs and lofty motives, it exposes the gap between our words and actions, it makes us feel the always uncomfortable and distinctly un-American shame and guilt, it clarifies our values and insists that we put them in action. What a nasty annoyance that is.

But it is also a nice thing to have to showcase during special celebrations – ceremonies and parades and whatnot — as long as it knows to keep quiet, and either smiles or nods solemnly, depending on occasion.

So we have to pretend to listen to it and appease it sometimes, if only for the children — the way we did again this time. In showing what was meant to be his appreciation for Bernie’s ever-so-quickly summed up and put aside role in this election, President Obama praised his influence on Hillary as a “healthy thing” as he rushed to endorse her. Yes, having a conscience to stop by sometimes can be healthy, but let’s not make it a habit.

This attitude couldn’t be better illustrated than in the photograph, featured on top, which accompanies Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on the lessons that Democrats will most likely not learn from their brush with conscience Bernie. Here, amidst the opulence of the palace is the palace gate keeper, Harry Reid, making sure the concerned-looking (isn’t he always?) conscience Bernie does not cross the threshold and create some unpleasantness with his presence, as he is wont to do. Harry appears to lecture or admonish Bernie on something, his index finger extended to better make his point, while the space between them is pierced by a blinding burst of sunlight. There is a crack in everything, as Leonard Cohen sings, that’s how the light gets in.

An anonymous commenter* on Raw Story made the following astute observation:

In a Freudian sense: Trump is the Id, Clinton is the Ego, and Sanders is the Super Ego. We as voters will respond to one, depending upon how we are driven. This is telling about the very character of America.

Indeed. Although a conscience is more than Freud’s superego which was full of harsh demands and prohibitions imposed on us by punitive parents. Conscience is built, first and foremost, on empathy and the caring bonds it helps us create with other people and the world.

This election season, like no other in the recent past, has exposed many until now unseen or unmentioned, and unmentionable on purpose, rifts in our society. Fates themselves could not have written a better script, casting the main characters as the embodiments of the major trends unearthed by those rifts.

The conscienceless Id, with its rapacious drives unencumbered by any reasonable limitations of an ego and either unaware or openly contemptuous of human values, propels itself forward toward its primitive goals by the inherently destructive force of its rage, augmented by that of its supporters. The Id attracts most easily the similarly conscienceless, who were either born or became this way.

The Ego reminding us, ever so reasonably, why it should be in charge (because reason and reasons), draws in the pragmatists who appreciate the conscience, generally speaking, but are not ready or willing to follow its dictates. Good, practical people, as practical people go. They’ve been around a block or two, so they know what’s possible. Equality, justice, peace are nice ‘n all, but not really possible, as anyone who’s been around the block knows. You young ones will too learn it one day, they proclaim.

And the Super Ego, or our conscience rather, comes straight at us, without pretense or embellishments, but with an insistence that feels at once fresh and familiar, showing us what matters and why, and we are astonished to realize how obvious it is and wonder, for a moment, why we have forgotten it. Why indeed is an important question that has to be answered individually by each one of us, but also collectively, as a nation. Those answers are not easy as they bring about inevitable shame and guilt (if you have a conscience), but also a recognition that there is a better way possible, that we do not have to be enslaved by the primitive drives of our Id or compromise our values to appease the pragmatic Ego.

This election is different not only because because it has revealed the unbridgeable chasm between human values and craven valuelessness, but also because it has showed us that we can live our lives in accordance with those values which our conscience teaches us are true. And there are people, right here, among us, who show us how to do that – the way Bernie has, a rumpled suit, an old car, ‘n all.


The Way of Peace


This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

My simple peace message is adequate – really just the message that the way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things. One in harmony with God’s law of love has more strength than an army, for one need not subdue an adversary; an adversary can be transformed.

On one hand, people have found inner peace by losing themselves in a cause larger than themselves, like the cause of world peace, because finding inner peace means coming from the self-centered life into the life centered in the good of the whole. On the other hand, one of the ways of working for world peace is to work for more inner peace, because world peace will never be stable until enough of us find inner peace to stabilize it.

In order for the world to become peaceful, people must become more peaceful. Among mature people war would not be a problem – it would be impossible.  In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and our leaders reflect our immaturity, but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves.

Peace Pilgrim

Drumpf Chronicles: “My African American”

This is must see to believe.

As you laugh or cringe — or both — pay attention to the Trump sign on the podium — it was affixed properly at the beginning of that… performance, but it just couldn’t take it any more, kinda like the rest of us.

And who can blame it? Even inanimate objects — signs with his own name on them, no less — cannot stand Agent Orange’s inane bloviations.

It is both a symbol of the quality of Trump’s “brand” and a portent of things to come (one hopes):

You are going down, Slippery Don.

And not a moment too soon.

Edited: A great column Trump wants thanks? Here it is by Rex Huppke.