Archives for : February 2017

Avert Your Eyes

Caravaggio's Narcissus

Caravaggio’s Narcissus

Trump’s first month has been a disorienting spectacle. Here are some points to keep in mind as you decide how you are going to bear the days ahead:

1) Trump has no skin in the game of being President. Though the rest of us may be at economic risk, he will not. When you start with millions it’s hard even for a businessman like Trump to go backwards. He has made it clear that he and his family will continue to prosper no matter what the obstacle (the Emoluments clause, for example).
2) He has no reputation to worry about because he will always be a legend in his own mind. His fanbase, his family, and his flunkies will mirror back what he needs to see.
3) Don’t bother listening to him because he will never explain anything (certainly not himself):

If Obama often seemed an image of deliberation without appetite, Trump has always been the reverse. For him, there is no time to linger: from the first thought to the first motion is a matter of seconds; the last aversion or appetite triggers the jump to the deed. And if along the way he speaks false words? Well, words are of limited consequence. What people want is a spectacle; they will attend to what you do, not what you say; and to the extent that words themselves are a spectacle, they add to the show. The great thing about words, Trump believes, is that they are disposable


4) His narcissism is protean. He is the ideal content generator for our media. He dominates the news like a fart dominates a car (thank you, John Oliver). Resist the temptation to click on Trump’s latest idiocy. In so refraining, you are reducing the positive feedback loop upon which Trump surfed to the Presidency. (See my September 3 post)
5) Shame is what we feel when our limitations become excruciatingly visible or when we fall short of our self-image. This President cannot tolerate shame. He is missing some of the internal checks and balances of the psychologically stable.

We need to avert our eyes from his tacky reality TV show. We must be willing to miss the next train wreck. We need to consider Trumps’s predictable narcissism as misdirection. The real action is elsewhere.“It doesn’t matter what he says, it matters what he signs.” We must encourage our office holders and 2.8 million Federal employees to provide him with checks and some balance. If they do the right thing, they will shine a light on his limitations and he will dehisce.

Fruit of the Scarlet Pimpernel Dehiscing

Fruit of the Scarlet Pimpernel Dehiscing

On a War Footing

George Grosz  The Celebration

George Grosz The Celebration

I used to read and think a lot about our nation’s culture and politics. Since the election, that hobbyhorse has come to feel like a rather masochistic inclination. Why is that so? Corey Robin, a political scientist who has written a great deal about conservatism (here), describes my predicament:

Sometimes, not always, politics is war by other means. Not just for a few small sects but for large-scale groups and populations. I don’t mean war in the sense that one group is trying to dominate another; that’s continuous, always there. I mean war in the sense of overt, ongoing, declared battle between those groups.
We seem to be in one of those moments. One of the things we’ll have to get used to in this moment is the strange whipsaw effect of daily struggle, of seeing defeat mutate, quicksilver, into victory, and then seeing that victory slip through our fingers like it was never ours to have. That’s the way war is. (If you’ve ever been through a strike, you have a visceral sense of this.) Everything is temporary, not much lasts.
We have to learn to survive that, to know that when Trump delivers an executive order, that’s not fate, that’s just the day’s rout, which can be turned into tomorrow’s route. Conversely, when we win some small victory, it may be just an overture to another defeat.
I guess what I’m saying is, above all, we need resilience. And patience.

This week’s decision by the 9th Circuit Court not to lift the stay on Trump’s immigration ban may be just an overture to another defeat….but I believe it is important to always draw a measure of sustenance from a victorious skirmish.