"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Genius Of Donald Trump–How A Vaudevillian Became The First Truly American President

The Mueller Report – a long-awaited report on alleged conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential campaign – has been filed and reviewed, and edited for early publication.  There is no evidence of any such collusion, said Special Prosecutor Mueller.

Given the hysterical feeding frenzy of the progressive Left and their media supporters who put all their eggs in one basket on this issue – the one, conclusive, final piece of evidence that this lying, philandering, misogynist buffoon should be put out of office – it is not surprising that they are flummoxed by the news.  Anchors on CNN and MSNBC, the media outlets most loyal to progressives and liberal Democrats, stumbled to find something to spin, although because the investigation had been instigated and supported by the Left, it was hard to do so.   “Let’s see the whole report”, they said, before rushing to judgment; but the stunned, nonplussed looks into the camera said it all.  Just like the election of Donald Trump itself, they could not believe the news.

The election of 2016 left Clinton supporters dumbfounded, wounded, and beached.  After almost two years of exuberance – a lock on a woman president, one who espoused the liberalism of Obama and the race-gender-ethnicity theology of Progressivism – the impossible happened.  Not only was their haloed candidate roundly defeated, but she was defeated by the Left’s worst nightmare.  Worse, the conviction that the days of progressive entitlement had finally arrived - that there was nothing to block a world of multicultural inclusivity with  full, equal, participatory democracy and the reversal of war, environmental depredation, and racism – was shown to be the idealistic folly it always was.

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If this profound belief in equality, justice, peace, and world harmony could be simply and summarily defeated by a circus clown, then its roots could not be very deep at all.  Even thought his critics shuddered to even consider it,  Trump’s victory revealed a shallowness of progressive roots, a romantic idealism, and an ignorance of history and human nature.

So the Mueller Report was supposed to be a vindication of progressive righteousness.  After two years failing to derail Trump, progressives’ time had come.  The imposter would be revealed for the charlatan that he is.  The progressive agenda could get back on track, and its progressive advocates would be able to sleep well at night again.

Yet the Report was nothing of the kind.  Not only was it a political vindication, but a terrible victory, coming at the worst possible time.  The cast of presidential hopefuls – all cut from the same politically idealist mold of old Bernie Sanders and young Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and all of whom thought that any Democratic candidate would be a shoo-in – now wondered what next.  Since the claims of sexual abuse, inveterate lying, dishonesty, arrogance, indifference, and worst of all, Las Vegas-Hollywood bourgeois smarminess never stuck; and since the man has not only not toned down his tweets, ad hominem attacks, and off-the-cuff circus act; but increased them, what was a radical progressive candidate to do?  Maybe flyover country should not be so dismissed; and coastal support taken for granted.  Maybe moderates were increasingly impatient with the Left’s free give-way social hucksterism.  Maybe there was something to be said for the religious and social convictions of Southern conservatives.  Maybe the candidates had jumped the gun.

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How is it that the coastal elites so underestimated Donald Trump?  How was it they totally misread his appeal?  How could they have relied so myopically on their own assumptions of what a president should be?

To be fair, America had never seen a president like Trump.  Even the worst of the lot adhered to certain principles of decorum, temperance, and cooperation.  From Garfield, Polk, and Van Buren to FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, and Obama all presidents have ‘acted presidential’.  As dirty and slimy as their political campaigns might have been, they were models of sobriety and taste once they sat in the Oval Office.  But that was due to the elitism of American politics.  Regardless of bedtime stories of participatory democracy, equal opportunity, and justice for all, everything in America was ruled from positions of received wisdom and established power.   A man like Trump – vaudevillian, circus performer, snake oil salesman, and TV evangelist all wrapped up into one – had never been even contemplated let alone considered.

Yet who could be more American than Donald Trump?  Who better to embody American petty bourgeois notions, materialism, unalloyed ambition, and success-at-all-costs?  Who better to appeal to Americans’ love of image, glamour, presence, showy wealth, and power?  Who better to showcase the American Wild West, rugged individualism, and the ultimate value of success.  It is all well and good to champion the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and the marginalized in public; but the reality behind closed doors is supremacy, aggression, and victory.

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Donald Trump is the quintessential American.  He, like the rest of us, likes beautiful, sexy women; fast cars, yachts, resorts, penthouses, and glamour.  The only difference is that he has them and we can only aspire to them.  We must be satisfied with People, E!, and Entertainment Today while he squires Miss Connecticut, spends weekends at Mar-el-Lago, and plans for his post-Presidential retirement in Palm Springs, Palm Beach, St. Tropez, and Gstaad.

What is more threatening to progressive coastal elites than Trump’s radical populism is his unabashed classless, shameless, American crassness.  What disturbs his woke opponents more than his politics is his Las Vegas style.  No homage to the rectitude and Puritan tradition of the Founding Fathers; no Beacon Hill, Rittenhouse Square, the Main Line, or Russian Hill; no Oxford eloquence, no thoughtful parsing; and worst of all, no respect for anyone.

What these opponents to not get nor will ever get is that most Americans love Trump for his braggadocio, his one-liner insults, his fearlessness, and his absolute, unassailable confidence.  We would like to insult, to ridicule, to stereotype in public precisely because we have been told to shut up, be considerate, compassionate, and respectful despite the fact that the world needs more ridicule not less. We are more Shecky Green, Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy, Jackie Mason, and D.L. Hughley than priestly Bill Maher or the cabal of late-night mainstream wannabe comics.

Only the Left missed the point and still don’t get it.  Trump supporters knew precisely whom they were electing – a braggadocio, a carny barker, an outrageous, oversized, magnificent blowhard.  They loved his political incorrectness and willingness to take on all comers – Pocahontas, Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, and Low Energy Jeb.

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Each time Trump went off-program and Borscht Belt at opponents’ expense, his supporters shouted for more.  They had been zipped, closeted, and shut up for decades by righteous progressives; so it is no wonder that they have delighted in the excesses of their candidate.

More than two years into his presidency Donald Trump has not reformed nor will he.  He has been as outrageous and unpredictable as he ever was on the stump – even more so; and only the entrenched old guard are surprised.  More importantly they are flummoxed.  They have no idea what to do with an unreconstructed, unapologetic showman.

His arm candy wife, yachts, golf resorts, and uber-mansions are too much, too bourgeois, too superficial, and simply too obvious for the Presidency.  They lament Hyannisport and Camelot, Kennebunkport, Texas and California ranches, Martha’s Vineyard, Pablo Casals, and Robert Frost.

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Many critics have said that Trump’s presidency was an accident, that he did not calculate the resentment of flyover country, that he entered the race as a lark, and that it was only a felicitous coincidence of Trump’s outrageous ambition and the country’s resentment and long-muzzled anger that enable his victory.  So what?  History is filled with such coincidences and such opportunistic advantages taken. Donald Trump is the man for the American times.  While the progressive Left continues to think of him as Satan, Baal, and the Antichrist, they ignore his true Americanism.  While the coastal classes refuse to accept that a man who uses the wrong fork can possibly lead the nation, the rest of the country can and is happier for it.

‘Americanism’ is usually translated as individualism, equality, freedom, and justice; but it really can only be characterized by the glitz of Las Vegas, the showmanship and faux reality of Hollywood and television, and the entrepreneurial aggression of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Cupertino.

Donald Trump is America’s president, the first real American president; and whether or not he succeeds to a second term, he will always be remembered as such.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

We All Die Alone–Ivan Ilyich, The Singularity Of Death And The Irrelevance Of The Past

Ivan Ilyich’s life had been a selfish, ignorant one; and in the hours before his death the realization that his life might not have been a good one was tormenting.

This justification of his life clutched at him, would not let him move forward and tormented him most of all…What was done to him was like what happens on a train, when you think you are moving forward, but are moving backward, and suddenly find out the real direction.

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Letting go – realizing that whether or not he had led a good life or not, it made no difference now. About to die and to face a future more frightening and inescapable than he ever imagined; an unknown that could be an eternal, horrible, nothingness, the past and all that it contained meant nothing.  Despite the solicitude of his family, they were of no relevance now.   They already belonged to an irrelevant, insignificant past.  In fact they had always been supernumerary irritants to be kept in their place, at best social fixtures and at worst clumsy interferers.  He could only feel sorry for them – not sorry for his negligence and their unhappiness, but for their having to put up with his painful, noisy, and agonizing death.

For three whole days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force. He struggled as a man condemned to death struggles in the hands of the executioner, knowing that he cannot save himself. And every moment he felt that despite all his efforts he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him. he felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it.

Yet, this existential struggle was what death in Tolstoy’s mind was supposed to be.  A fainthearted reliance on the past, a compassionate embrace of his family, a reconstruction of happy memories, were irrelevant.  The issue for Ivan Ilyich was not whether or not he had done right or led a good life, but letting go of it regardless and clearing the way for what was far more important – what came next.  In his final hours, he was released.  The doubts, conflicts, and irresolution of just a few hours before had disappeared.

"And death...where is it?"

He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?" There was no fear because there was no death.

In place of death there was light.

"So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!"

To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that instant did not change. For those present his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, his emaciated body twitched, then the gasping and rattle became less and less frequent.

"It is finished!" said someone near him.

He heard these words and repeated them in his soul.

"Death is finished," he said to himself. "It is no more!"

He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out, and died.

Richard ____had at age 70 began ‘clearing the decks for running’.  He, unlike Ivan Ilyich, realized at a relatively early age that friends and acquaintances for all their legitimacy meant less and less as he contemplated his death.  How could anyone offer advice let alone instruction? Anything they might say in consolation or concern would necessarily be based on their own vision of life, death, and whatever followed.  Parentage, genes, social configuration, and birth-to-death trajectory would determine their particular personal insights and ipso facto would be irrelevant for anyone else.

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If not advisory, then, wasn’t friendship a hedge against the loneliness of dying? Images of a tearful, consoling, grieving family and friends around a deathbed were melodramatic creations of Hollywood and romantic fiction.  Would he or anyone be paying attention to them and their grief in the face of extinction?  What would be the meaning of love compared to ‘the black hole’ that awaited?

Facing death alone was not a matter of pride.  He was no existential cowboy and talked little about his increasing, deliberate desire to remove social clutter.  What was the point of discussion which could only be academic and impersonal? He had long settled issues of geopolitics and social justice?   There were no longer any surprises in people’s behavior.  Nations and individuals repeated the past with regularity and predictability.  Human nature guaranteed survival instincts, aggressiveness, and territorialism. Nothing was new except the particular and peculiar ways one repeated the past.  Not only were issues of finality looming, but issues of temporality were increasingly boring as well as irrelevant.

What about humor, congeniality, camaraderie?  Weren’t these important, at least to lighten the load? Wasn’t there time for both reflection and silly jokes? Of course, but the idea of wasting even minutes in the little time remaining to him, was unacceptable. There was no point to reminiscence.  Stories of summers with Granny in Ocean City, trips down the Rhine, camping out, and extended families simply cluttered the room; and when they were finished there was nothing left but bits and pieces to be vacuumed later.

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Richard’s wife became increasingly concerned about what she saw as her husband’s misanthropy.  He was not simply and quietly withdrawing from their former social life.  He was dismissive, rude, and inconsiderate.  It was one thing to refuse dinner invitations from old friends he found tiring and boring; another to criticize them for their dullness.   Most people their age, remarked his wife, were anxious for friends.  Now that children had grown, moved far away, and were occupied with their own family and careers, friends should become more important, not less.  Such inwardness was not healthy.

Surprisingly Richard’s sister felt the same way as he did.  Surprising because she had always been the social sibling, the one who was always surrounded by friends, any excuse for ‘people over for dinner’, little more than Saturday as an excuse for a party.  She was the last person he expected to pull in her horns; and yet that was exactly what she did.  Typically she did so loudly, announcing her intentions.  No to lawn parties, cocktails, birthday dinners, excursions, and incidental lunches.  She was finished, done with it all, and glad of it.

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When they both realized how hermitic they had become, they wondered how they – very different from each other despite being only a few years apart and growing up with the same parents in the same home – had arrived at the same place.  Richard was understandable.  He had always been the serious, intellectual one; but she? Even as a child she was the center of the social circle, arbiter of fashion, boys, and looks; a debutante, a sorority sister, and a Georgetown matron.   In fact because of the institutionalization of her sociability – clubs, garden events, historical tours – her withdrawal was all the more remarkable.

Genes, they concluded, from their mother’s side.  A suspicious and untrusting woman who always assumed the worst.  Friends were necessary accoutrements for her husband’s career.  He, contrary to his wife’s natural misanthropy, was a hale-fellow-well-met and his business in their small town required sociability and good cheer.  Why Richard and his sister had inherited the nasty genes was a matter of little consequence; but thanks to these maternal genes they felt better equipped to deal with old age and death than those friends who had held on to their lives of easy acquaintance and, in the siblings’ opinion, ignorance.

In any case, The Death of Ivan Ilyich was only a story – Tolstoy’s imagined misanthropist and his final encounter with death; and most people, Richard and his sister no doubt included, would hang on to life as long as they could, managing a smile on their deathbed, thankful for friends and family, in no way shameful, but very human.

On the other hand and in any case, Richard felt very, very prepared.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Irrelevance Of Reconstructing The Past–A Complete Love Needs No Reassembly

Bickford Roberts died young, a sad, untimely end for such a beautiful, talented, and exciting woman who had far more to give than her short life allowed.

She and her first husband had been married only a few years before their divorce – a divorce of inconvenience rather than discord.  On the contrary, few such young loves -in the main immature, na├»ve, and naturally untested – could have been as sincere, lasting, and unforgettable as theirs.

The reasons why she and Harley divorced are less important than the fact that despite their wrong assumptions about the nature of marriage, this couple who loved each other innocently, without reservation, and before the tethers and traces of a more prosaic life were fitted and strapped on, chose to go their own ways.  Of course there were reasons but never any good ones.  He could have survived her sexual adventurism and social ambitions and even found them the answer to his very predictable, conservative upbringing, the consequences of which – sexual timidity, propriety, and conformity – he was very much aware and angered by.  She could have used some of his rectitude and caution, faithfulness, and principle.   Yet, they went their own ways. 

Yet Harley could never forget Bickford. How could he have divorced her? How could he have ignored the fundamental – no, existential – relationship between them? Youth, perhaps and certainly. Ignorance? Even obtuseness? Probably since no one expects wisdom when young. What, then?

There were many things that Harley wished to shake from his memory – failed loves, idiocy, stupid remarks, cowardliness – but he knew that the bitter-sweet, lovely, and often painful trace of Bickford was there forever. A sentinel perhaps even in his old age. A beacon.  Love does exist, but never the same love twice.

The hardest thing was not the forgetting, the filing away of seminal memories, the relegation of love to an unrecoverable past; but dealing with the decision.  How, he wondered in his later years, had he been so intimidated?  How could he have curled up, snuggled into a relationship of predictability and good sense when his life had been correctly navigated from port? What was it about himself that he had tried, quite unsuccessfully as it turned out, to hide?

Months before their final decision to divorce, had gone to Bickford and said that he was willing to live her way – off any social grid, far from the Fathers of St. Maurice, even farther from the prayers and solicitude of New Brighton.  She could have been brought up anywhere or nowhere, a woman of unheard of sexual and emotional liberty; a woman who, despite her own nuns, priests, and Midwest piety, was having none of it; who elided with the Andy Warhol generation without preparation, ambition, forethought, or concern.  It was in her blood; in her genes; and Harvey had no idea whom he was marrying.

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On the surface she was the ideal match – similar education, solid bourgeois, respectable family; beautiful, smart, talented, and ambitious but within acceptable borders – but who knew what was percolating up and out?  How the bits of Victorian libertine Hubert de Villiers’ genetic code got caught in her wires; or how she inherited some of  her father’s truculence – he was always thought obstinate and disagreeable, but he had a niggardly defiance of imposed social borders - or her grandmother’s well-kept secret passion for young boys?

In other words he had no idea who he was marrying but was naively satisfied with the image – the respectable, status-well image of certain success – but fell impossibly in love with her; and even discounting the fact that she was his first love, it was something else – part Petrarch, part chivalric ode, part Hollywood romance, part Romeo and Juliet, part Shakespeare's sonnets to his young man, and part some indescribable late adolescent longing for intimacy, womanhood, and sexual security.

Romantic Love

Harley remarried and for years was content with his wife’s monogamy, his desultory love affairs, his grandchildren, and his uninterrupted trajectory.  He never, until much later in life even admitted that he might have been wrong – not just wrong in divorcing Bickford, but in dismissing the idea of love and especially first love.  Hard though it was to admit, Petrarch and the Shakespeare of the Sonnets might well be right.

There was peril in opening this particular chest.  Admitting that he had not only given up his one and only chance for a truly fulfilled life – one that was consistent with his personality, character, and ambition – and admitting that there was indeed something that he had both missed and missed out upon – could be very painful.  One would need a lot of nihilism and resolve to look therein and be able to look away with some measure of equanimity.

He did look finally.  He revisited their early years, their church marriage, their short life together, and their divorce; but as much as he tried to relegate these memories to memory, he could not.  He had loved her, had always loved her, and had loved no one but her. His life since their separation had been deceitful, and dishonest – not dishonest in itself since he had respected convention and propriety to a large degree – but dishonest in essence.

After a while, he let the memories go.  He unhinged himself from bits and pieces of memory, fragmentary and ultimately unsatisfactory recreations of his love.  Incomplete, randomly selected memories necessarily restrict a reconstruction of the whole.  An emotional whole is not the sum of its recollected parts, it is an undifferentiated, indefinable composite of them.  When he thought of her, it was nowhere, with no one, without appurtenance or context.  The relegation of specific memories allowed for a recreation of her, an indefinable woman but a complete one.

The assembly of fragmentary memories, however, is for some the only way to preserve the past.  Aunt Bertie on the beach at Rehoboth in her bloomers.  Uncle Harry in the Model T motoring to Arizona.  Granny Wiser in knickers, in a canoe.  Dede Farnsworth with his Turkish wife Emriye on the Bosporus.  Assemblage is a tribute, they say, the only way to keep those who have died very much in the present.  However, once the albums have been assembled, shared, and put away, each of Dede’s descendants have forgotten them and returned to their own, prior, and very personal composite feelings about those who have died.   Thoughts of Dede are not flashbacks, but gestalt images –contours, and shapes of feelings rather than recollections.

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Without being aware, we create our own personal emotional shape – more than personality only made up of incomplete memories of loudness, impatience, or friendliness; and certainly more than character defined by moral principle or lack of it, courage, honor, justice; but something simply Dede, Granny, or Bertie.

If after all these years, an album of Bickford had appeared, Harley would not have looked at it.  It would have disassembled the now undifferentiated, complete woman he knew.

Vladimir Nabokov was a self-described memorist who believed that only the past validated the individual.  The present was at best milliseconds.  The future only possible and never probable; but the past existed and could be retained through memory.  Nabokov trained himself to commit to memory the scenes of his childhood that he knew would be important, and to keep the memories alive through constant repetition; but his extended relived memories were only broad pastiches – extended remembrances of family outings to Deauville, St. Petersburg, and Siberian dachas; old jittery mind movies of childhood friends, Victorian dresses, parasols, and mustachioed uncles.

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Harley cared little for a Nabokovian past.  There was no need to recreate Bickford, nor place her in context, nor develop her chronology.   The specific events of his marriage meant little and were only explanatory factors of their divorce.  Those few memories of Bickford which were distinct had little to do with what had happened, but how he felt about her – an emotional image which had no particular parameters. 

After she died, the memory-feelings of her increased. Perhaps because any lingering, impossible thoughts of remarrying her were finally laid to rest; but more likely because with her death, only the essence remained – the very gestalt images of shape, contour, and feeling that he had husbanded since their divorce – but an essence which was made even more palpable and impossible to dismiss.  He cried more after her death.

Memory, however conceived and constructed, is a very personal affair.  For some aggregation is the key to remembrance.  For others like Harley it was the final dismissal of specific memories that freed him to recreate the past.