Desperate Optimism

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

A national sense of shame because of the bad acts of a sitting president is an entirely new condition. It must be optimism that drives one positive perception about the current and ongoing phenomena. On the upside of the political history of the United States it’s taken us about 230 years of uninterrupted decorum to arrive at the sudden recurrent experience of having a president whose behavior in public has become a matter of concern. Not simply partisan observers, not simply the press, not simply pundits with an air of presumption, and not simply foreign commentators regard the status of our country as somehow imperilled.

Why are there no rules, however minimally formal—never mind actual laws, but even mere recorded precedent and a response, or a hastily written set of guidelines in the form of a personal note from a departing incumbent to a new chief executive—is because we’ve never needed them. But then, we’ve never had a president so evidently ignorant of the more homely and everyday aspects of the social contract that even children in tenements in obscure urban centers, or toddlers on isolated farms in the hinterlands seem to grasp and adopt from an early age.

Moreover, this president seems also not to grasp, or if he does, he does as he does so much else, that is, in the hermetic and very tight confines of some silent private code that determines he acts only in such a way as redounds entirely to himself—regardless of, though too often despite—how his actions seem to define a new and different character for our entire nation. We ask ourself if he really, truly understands. It has become evident long since that it doesn’t matter. The more relevant question is, does he care? Every day, in a different way, however small the difference, however unexpected the context—though even the expanse of the locus of his departures from convention seems to shrink, given the diminished impact on his ability to shock and disgust even the most thin-skinned; he does it in the White House, he does it online, he does it in foreign centers of power and governance, he does it on the telephone, on television, on the radio—he demonstrates a blatant disregard of circumstance and context. We must conclude there either are no scruples at work here whatsoever, to such an extent that even a predecessor who seemed amoral now seems a paragon, or that there is an idiocy working overtime as to redefine the meaning of genius.

The succession of lies has given rise now to a formal index, kept by no less than the newspaper of record. The succession of mean-spirited, heartless orders and proposed laws has now become so numerous that it keeps a self-appointed marshal of such a seemingly haphazard, but consummately systematic dismantling of our code of ethics—even to the negation of our compact and fundamental principles of liberty and independence from tyranny—busy tracking and codifying them, in anticipation of some future reckoning, as a permanent weekly enterprise for the duration of his tenure (see Amy Siskind on, and now going into its 32nd week.

What was merely habit or perhaps a laughable character flaw in an otherwise harmless larger than life celebrity figure, has now become, with his investiture to national office, a grave embarrassment that has long since burst from the boundaries of media bleats, tweets, crawls, and blasts. It pervades our everyday lives. It does so whether we are resolute in our self-imposed news blackouts, or we bathe masochistically in the fetid waters of wall-to-wall coverage in all media 24 hours a day. It does so often, and with such disregard for even the most trivial of expectations of decorum. The only rationale is that he has warned all and several, generally and specifically, that, as his wife, and as a spokesperson on the government payroll have told us with straight faces, that if he is insulted, he will return the favor, ten times worse. Ahab famously exclaimed, “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!” We are all the president’s white whale.

What is to be done? Apparently nothing.

We are to take solace in our ability to allow regular stresses of this insubstantial sort to leave us at worst numb to further onslaughts. It is after all just words. The positive view, as I started by saying, is that at least we’ve not had to confront this before, nor have our forebears, lo, unto ten or a dozen generations.

However, numb as we may be, we cannot allow that lull to set in that leads inevitably to a sleep. Early on, the caution was not to allow any of a consort of forces, the perpetrator himself, or any of those resources of information we all depend upon, regardless of political affiliation or persuasion that unceasingly report on and then perseverate on the meaning of his latest twisted utterance, to allow us to believe that there is something normal about this behavior. So far few see it as normal. And those who believe that avoiding the subject will somehow convey protection, they will inevitably discover that, like Rip van Winkle did, not paying attention, even voluntarily, will lead to shocks he never had to contend with.

For the culprit, there is no apparent effort involved in being himself. The energy required will always outlast the aggregate energy we must all expend, first, trying to keep up, and then, recognizing the impossibility of the task—the fount of opprobrium that is his consciousness is inexhaustible—we stop paying attention altogether and let him just carry on.

Rather we must have some faith that there will be some intervention from sources unknown, and essentially unpredictable. We have never seen such an affront to reason and civility, and it is ridiculous to expect that the only remedy will derive from some zealous application of reason, never before mustered and never before applied—just as reason and civility and determination have saved us from more easily characterizable global threats, blessedly palpable and substantive in their being, in the past, they are of no use now.

If there is some secret worm of genius at work here, the only objective can be that indeed, eventually, we will all get so tired we will just let him carry on. And indeed, the insults will stop, because the chief trigger is any expression of the reality he prefers not to confront and never has his entire life.

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7 thoughts on “Desperate Optimism

  1. Good one. I especially like “secret worm of genius”. Perhaps it is indeed the best we can hope for. I often think Obama`s “roast” of DT at the White House Correspondents` Dinner is part of what is at the bottom of all this. If his approval rating continues to drop, which it will, and he reacts times ten to perceived insults, then we`re done for. He`ll blow US up to right the wrong…

    In addition to tracking his lies and slanders, we could track the scores of wishful -thinking articles that have predicted his downfall since the start of his campaign. There was another today in the Guardian “Meet the Men who could Topple Trump”. (Mattis and Kelly, if you are curious).

    In any case, I continue to try to adhere to a policy of ignoring him, since my attention – or rather the entire universe`s attention – is what he craves.

    What I am hoping is that Melania will divorce his ass.

    • 80% of Republicans still support him…and Fox news says virtually nothing of the issues we see him (and the rest of the Repubs) engage in, so they’ll never even know what they elected. And the ones that do know, in interviews, say it doesn’t matter, and the only reason he hasn’t been able to get the stuff done that they elected him for (little do they know how self-damaging that all would be) is the damn Democrats…and now he’s got an official voter suppression (“voter fraud”) commission going, to assure his second term…so we’ll see, but I’m just glad for the two-term limit…

    • As often happens, I have to clarify further, and apologies, but not many, for practicing my usual kind of punctiliousness. For one, the continuing strength of the GOP falls exactly on that segment you’d expect—white men. Other segments are declining in terms of stated affiliation.

      Further, of course, the number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters is still outnumbered by Democrats overall.

      Now the number “approving” Trump’s performance as president is in the neighborhood of 85% of Republicans and 35% of “Independents.” Whatever the actual numbers they amount overall to about 10% of the total US population.

      Further, albeit Fox News still measures as the #1 cable news network, viewership hovers somewhere below 3 million. It’s ridiculous to suggest that a significant part of the American public gets news exclusively from Fox News. The virtual effect of highly biassed accounts of the reality that the preponderance of the world is aware of no doubt is tantamount to something close to the exclusivity you factitiously allude to. However, by the same effect, the nearly universal perceptions I was speaking of—my subject was the “national sense of shame” and the collateral global perception of our national character—permeate the cultural milieu. I would suggest it’s more difficult for diehards to avoid hearing about resonant essentially negative feelings about the president than it is for victims of his effect on the zeitgeist to avoid hearing about him.

      But all this, that is, your allusions, Steve, to apparent facts that substantiate your tendency to view the status quo pessimistically, if not hopelessly, is beside the point insofar as what I am saying is meant to inspire. That is, inasmuch as political and cultural trends for decades have pointed to a consummation like the current resident of the Oval Office—which should have made the election, and re-election, of Obama the big surprise of our young millennium—the electoral achievement of a maverick, no matter what your sense of affiliation prior to the presidential nomination campaign of 2016 is anomalous, and, further, purely the result of another trend, a lack of truly dedicated attention (sometimes it seems to be deliberate, whatever the ex post facto analysis of the reasons, as it was in the case of what has come to be called 9/11; apparently there were enough Cassandras concerning the 2016 election, and someone in a position to do something should have been listening).

      As for what will be his undoing, I’ve already given noticed that I think it’s futile to contemplate, even in generalized terms. There are enough strands of vague, if meager, evidence that, among other things, he is not the same man he was even five or ten years ago (i.e., there are signs of what may or may not be deteriorating cognitive powers), there is mounting aggregate disavowal (his persistent loyal base notwithstanding—they would always be the last to abandon him; I’ll just point out tangentially, and this is another proof point that this has nothing to do with reason or logic, that there is a small, but significant number of voters for the present incumbent who would have voted for Obama for a third term, had he been on the ballot), and I expect nothing from the various fantasies about the deconstruction from within of his marriage: Melania is already six years older than Ivana was when she divorced the president, when he was a mere two years older than his wife, rather then 23 years, and there is a pattern and a style to the marital mores of this “class” of individual… for whatever it’s worth, Melania will never do better by some fundamental parameters, and he can’t afford to have her loosened from the inner circle, not for any antagonistic reason. There are far more strategies dormant (and several already nascent) among the various camps who might seek his abdication or removal than there can possibly be in his extremely small camp of adherents, who would stick with him in the bunker to the end, to ensure his ability to cling to office.

    • All true, of course…but don’t discount Fox news internet coverage, and people forwarding articles on Facebook, etc. I believe it is the primary news source (according to survey I’ve seen from s more reputable news source) for much of the right-leaning public…

    • I’m no fan of Fox News, and I am as close as you are to loyal viewers. I am too well acquainted with the mortifying realization that “these people actually believe this shit.” I’m not trying to dislodge your tenacious grip on a facet of the reality that shapes our world. Yes, there is a significant number of members of the electorate who get their information from what we agree are spurious sources. Nevertheless, I myself will persist in pointing out that this is hardly the nexus of contention that represents a real stumbling block in some return to what anyone, but an imbecile, would agree was a less stressful time. Regardless of their source of news, regardless of the probity of any civil argument against the vagaries of unbridled, unprincipled, discordant, if unorganized and ignorant, efforts to consolidate further the economic power of an almost (but not quite) infinitesmal portion of the American population, people will believe they are the victims of extreme injury and neglect. And they are more than half-right.

      However, whatever validity my little essay has, it has it for those among us, like-minded and sympathetic to the anguish any caring person feels seeing not only our country, but our citizenry, and not only our identity as citizens of a particular sovereign nation, denigrated and reduced. For far worse than the abuse being absorbed by Americans in the opinions and the perceptions of the rest of the world, as a continuing avatar, until now, of certain humane principles—perhaps no better expressed and realized, until now, in our behavior as a nation, especially with regard to our treatment of our own, and our way of reaching out to the rest of mankind—there is the consequence of the diminution of what it means to be human in a world where we have always strived so mightily to exert a kind of benevolent dominion. We have been far from perfect, and now we suffer the prospect of being even further from that condition when this cycle of events has played out.

  2. Well, of course, you’re right. But for me the issue is not surprise. I haven’t been surprised by politics in several decades. But this was meant not to speak either to shocked or jaded sensibilities. My approach these days is always to seek the useful philosophical posture to assume, the way to cope with what is, after all, as much as the president is who he is, what is. No alternate planets. No spaceships out of here. No escape to some other sovereignty. Rather I think, as much as it’s thinking and not some other form of cerebration with a name that eludes me, I cope by voicing my own thoughts that focus on how to keep on keeping on. I did this at another point in my life, as you personally know. And that was for over six years. I’d rather not have to call on that degree of durability for myself. Not again.

  3. He clearly was who he is before being elected. No surprise here. I sadly believe that he merely is the product of a political evolution that has taken over our democracy.

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