The Presidential election is long a thing of the past; but the wounds of the unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton and the equally surprising embrace of Donald Trump are far from healed.
In fact progressives do not want them to heal, for scars would only be reminders of an ignominious defeat; and the raw, fiery wounds of electoral battle are today’s red badges of courage, symbols of sacrifice for a noble cause.
The sirens predicting the end of a consensual, reasonable, and compassionate society during the campaign, have not lessened in intensity; only changed in pitch and tenor. Confronting a misogynistic, homophobic, racist pig in the primaries and the general election is far different than facing the reality of a malevolent, evil in the White House. The most passionate advocates for a progressive, considerate, and respectful society have only begun to fight.
This time, however, it is not a speculative battle, but a desperately conclusive one. Frontal assaults on Donald Trump’s integrity, regard for women, blacks, and the disabled proved only to energize his supporters who saw these attacks as transparent, weak, and futile bandying with no substance, no insight, and no future. Now it is the time to confront the Devil himself on his own terms.
Easier said than done, of course. The hero of Paradise Lost is indeed the Devil whose defiance, will, and purposeful rebellion were heroic.
Satan is classically characterized as evil because he is the corrupter of good, and responsible for the unleashing of Sin and Death onto the world; but in Milton’s hands, he is canny, nuanced, defiantly courageous, and heroic.
The mind is its own place, and in it selfAll most people know about The Fall is that Eve tempted Adam with an apple, the fruit forbidden by God; and when they had both eaten of it, they were cast out of Paradise. Their Original Sin was responsible for the travails and miseries of life.
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n. [ 255 ]
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [ 260 ]
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.
For Milton, however, the story is far more complex. It wasn’t just any apple that Eve plucked, nor any tree; but the Tree of Knowledge. By eating it, said Satan to Eve, you will have access to what only the gods know – the existence of good and evil – and through such knowledge you and Adam will become gods, unequal to no one.
Throughout Paradise Regained Satan's strategy is to force from Christ a public declaration that will give him a definitive understanding of the nature of his mission of redemption. Satan seeks, he tells us, to "understand my Adversary, who and what he is; his wisdom, power, intent ... to know what more thou art than man, / Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n". To achieve that understanding, Satan offers the Son a series of determinate heroic scripts, citing all manner of Renaissance master-texts (including Scripture itself) in an attempt to provide well-delineated co-ordinates for the Son's Messianic career.
Jesus resists and the myth of the powerful divinity of Christ is enshrined.
Donald Trump is no Devil. He should have such ambitions. He is no more than a vulgar, bourgeois American arriviste who cannot believe his good fortune. He is a huckster, carny barker, high-wire trapeze act, and consummate showman who has gamed the system to wealth and fame.
Donald Trump is an innocent and only because of the feverish disease of humiliating defeat has the Left played its last card.
But now that he has been cast as Satan, how can his adversaries defeat him? No Million Women March on Washington, no petitions, no Inaugural defections and protests, no collective Sixties-style solidarity can possibly dethrone this latter-day Prince of Darkness.
If not, then what? How to confront Beelzebub, Baal, and the Unholy One?
Exorcism would be the obvious choice, but how to manage it? There is no way to kidnap and hogtie the President Elect and submit him to the ancient rites of the Catholic Church.
Haitian voodoo might be more appropriate since the exorcism and final dispatch of evil spirits, zombies, and devilish beings can be done from afar. Crudely speaking, puncturing an effigy of the President Elect with the pins of righteousness might work along with the incantations of charismatic priests in the hills of Kenscoff.
The Jivaro and other Amazonian tribes have perfected the art of spiritual invocation. Beneficent and maleficent spirits people the jungle world and can be called on in times of penury and plenty. High priests of the Napo could be called upon to cleanse the spirit of the President Elect.
Admittedly American progressives have only occasionally turned to such things, products of ignorance and cultural backwardness. They have felt that secular evil can be defeated by secular moralism; and that rational arguments against Trump’s policies and programs can win the day. Although such reasoned although passionate protests might have little sway against The Demon, resorting to shamanism would be giving in to The Other Side.
Anyone with even a casual familiarity with the Bible, Paradise Lost, the heretical tracts of Dostoevsky, or even the work of Hannah Arendt understands that Trump is not evil. He is a huckster with a pedigree in vaudeville, ribbons from Hollywood, and stripes from the Lower East Side. He doesn’t hate women, he loves them. He has nothing against gays and has been a champion of the anything-goes libertinage of the very wealthy. He has no animus per se against Mexicans who, he knows well, keep his hotel floors clean, beds made, and kitchens running.
Evil, as Dostoevsky noted in The Brothers Karamazov is Christ’s dismissal of the suffering of children and the penury and misery of mankind for the promise of salvation. Even Augustine could never square the existence of evil in a world created by an all-good God. There is no evil, he said. only the absence of good. How self-serving !
As a young man, Augustine followed the teachings of a Christian sect known as the Manicheans. At the heart of Manichean theology was the idea of a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. This, of course, proposes one possible solution to the problem of evil: all goodness, purity and light comes from God, and the darkness of evil has a different source.
However, Augustine came to regard this cosmic dualism as heretical, since it undermined God's sovereignty. Of course, he wanted to hold on to the absolute goodness of God. But if God is the source of all things, where did evil come from? Augustine's radical answer to this question is that evil does not actually come from anywhere. Rejecting the idea that evil is a positive force, he argues that it is merely a "name for nothing other than the absence of good".Donald Trump should never be even included in such considerations. His ‘evil’ is only the invention of his critics who mistake ambitious disregard for social customs for ‘evil’
The defeated, discredited, and dispirited Left will have to get over it. Exorcism will not work because Donald Trump is not an evil man; and bucking the tide of radical populism is too little to late.