Archives for posts with tag: Donald Trump

When Barack Obama and Donald Trump met at the White House shortly after the election, President Obama was, as always, a statesman and gentleman. To Mr. Trump he said, “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed, because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”

We all understand the generous spirit in which President Obama expressed that sentiment, but I want to pause and consider the notion of success. We are anticipating an administration rife with conflicts of interest and a total lack of respect for facts and the truth. During the campaign, Donald Trump encouraged his followers to believe and propagate lies and to wreak mayhem in the name of those lies. He is no gentleman, no statesman.

I’m not the first person to hypothesize that Trump’s definition of success has everything to do with his own ego and pocketbook and very little to do with the future of our country. If he succeeds by his own terms, the country will not succeed: the country will sag; the moral core of the nation will rot.

Let’s turn away from him and toward the saving words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran cleric and Nazi dissident imprisoned in Germany in 1943 and executed by the Nazis in 1945. In his posthumously published  Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer writes eloquently about success:

As long as goodness is successful, we can afford the luxury of regarding [success] as having no ethical significance; it is when success is achieved by evil means that the problem arises. In the face of such a situation we find that it cannot be adequately dealt with, either by theoretical dogmatic armchair criticism, which means a refusal to face the facts, or by opportunism, which means giving up the struggle and surrendering to success. We will not and must not be either outraged critics or opportunists, but must take our share of responsibility for the moulding of history in every situation and at every moment, whether we are the victors or the vanquished.

In our national history, we have seen goodness succeed time and again–goodness coupled with fairness. Look at the 1st Amendment. Look at the 13th and the 19th. Look at all the people you know whose lives and prospects were forever brightened by civil rights legislation. Look at that freakin’ beautiful rainbow flag and think about how proudly it waved on the day same-sex marriage was legalized. Of course, setbacks and outrages and hatred accompanied and followed in the wake of each of these milestones. Still, we know that our leaders in those instances were doing what they could to make things better for those of us alive today.

Now here we are in December of 2016, and I want to believe that goodness will prevail in the next presidential administration. If that happens, it will only be because Trump has changed in profound ways that seem unlikely, given what we know of him and the people he has chosen as his advisers. I don’t believe he has earned the benefit of a doubt; he has only earned our closest, most searing scrutiny.

And yes, I’m an outraged critic. But in the coming months and years, I’m going to try to remember, and act on, Bonhoeffer’s point about taking responsibility. It is very easy to point fingers and write blog posts. It takes a lot more energy and brainpower to mobilize and work toward a better outcome than the one we’re facing now.

Bonhoeffer’s further thoughts, on heroism, have given me still more to ponder. Extremists and armchair critics alike would do well to wrestle with the following:

[T]o talk of going down fighting like heroes in the face of certain defeat is not really heroic at all, but merely a refusal to face the future. The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live. It is only from this question, with its responsibility toward history, that fruitful solutions can come, even if for the time being they are very humiliating. In short, it is much easier to see a thing through from the point of abstract principle than from that of concrete responsibility. The rising generation will always instinctively discern which of these we make a basis for our actions, for it is their own future that is at stake.

How will the coming generation live? That is the question Bonhoeffer asks us to keep foremost in our minds. And how will that generation judge us? How will I be judged? These are matters to address in solitude, over dinner tables, in classrooms and public forums. Let’s think it through, talk it out, put it in print, on the walls, in the airwaves, on the screen and stage.

We owe future generations the effort it takes to discern the difference between ethical success rooted in goodness and fairness, and a corrupt version of success rooted in calumny and evil. We don’t need martyrs; we need people who can look an image of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the eye and say, “I hear you,” and mean it. We need to believe that we are capable of living in this world and making it better, not worse. And then we need to do it.

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When I think about Nancy Reagan, who died this week at age 94, I remember the time I dressed up like her for a party. I was an undergraduate the year Ronald Reagan was elected President. One Halloween I glued a large magazine photo of Nancy’s face, all made up and mascaraed and smiling wide, to a piece of cardboard and attached it to a ruler. I wore a black skirt and fancy red blouse, and when ghosts and witches approached, I held Nancy’s face in front of my own. It was an easy costume to put together and nobody had any trouble figuring out who I was.

I had learned my lesson the previous Halloween. That year, I decked myself out in a pillowcase on which I had drawn a large clock face. I went around draping myself over chairs and sofas and asking people to guess what I was. The first few puzzled looks didn’t bode well for the evening. There was one person–an art history student, no doubt–who realized I was Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.

For me, the Reagan years began in a hallway outside a closed door. A sign announced a Young Republicans meeting. I listened to the throbbing, pulsing sound coming from behind that door and then peeked inside. Hundreds of young white men in suits and ties were roaring their enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan. In their teens and twenties, they were already rabid believers in wealth, power, and nationalism. All those guys might just as well have been waving shiny pictures of Ronald Reagan in front of their faces. I quickly shut the door and hurried away. I had glimpsed the future, and it was wearing a money belt and wingtip shoes.

Yesterday as I walked along Cambridge Street near Harvard Square, I saw the American flag flying at half mast in memory of Nancy Reagan. Not very far from that flag, a beggar squatted in front of the Old Burial Ground. His cardboard sign read, “Anything helps.” His cheeks grimy, his life at half mast, he held the sign up next to his face. Here was a living monument to a problem that loomed into public view during Reagan’s presidency.

Reagan used to say the want ads were full of jobs that homeless people could apply for. He was not interested in helping the poor, the sick, the vulnerable. Reagan was interested in helping the rich, the secure, the already powerful, and his wife was interested in helping him. They were by all accounts a very good match.

Nancy Reagan’s death makes me remember what the Reagan years were like. Undoing the positive impression of his agreeable face and pleasant voice, President Reagan cast a cold eye on human suffering. He didn’t leave a way for his party to take the high road. (At least Nixon resigned.)

As we stumble down the low road with the current Republican candidates for President, we have him to thank for their refusal to empathize with anyone who doesn’t think or act like they do. They all learned from his example. Like him, they rarely bother to hide their malfeasant agendas. In the trickle-down America that Reagan helped call into being, crocodile tears are optional.

Though Rubio, Trump, and Cruz may not want to hark back to him, for fear of alienating the anti-establishment masses they have teased into a frenzy of foaming ignorance, they are his progeny as surely as night follows Reagan’s “morning in America.” I’ll bet you a pair of wingtip shoes that they have persistent memories of what worked for him.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)

 

If you look closely at Donald Trump’s hair, you will see a line of fleas holding up a small handmade sign: “Made in the U.S.A.”

And it’s true, damn it, Trump is all American. He is the deformed product of free enterprise and our country’s freakish love of fame. Because he had a TV show, he has name recognition. Because he’s wealthy, he has a platform. Because he’s an American narcissist whose lust for himself will never be satisfied, he’s running for President.

Put another way, he is a derivative of Allen Ginsberg’s Moloch. In his 1956 poem “Howl,” which quite rightly caused a ruckus, Ginsberg graphically and lengthily describes all the suffering souls of his generation. He then asks a very pertinent question, “What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?”

His answer is, in part:

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

 

And so on. The name Moloch first shows up in the Old Testament as a pagan god to whom children are sacrificed. In Ginsberg’s hands, Moloch becomes a projection of all that is coldly, crudely, viciously American.  It is a horrifying vision.

But read Ginsberg’s lines again. They have a flickering quality like a hologram. Read in the right frame of mind, the tumbling hyperbole is very funny. Get a load of all the exclamation points. Moloch is absurd!

Now take note of the word choices: loveless, soulless, smoking tomb. This section of “Howl” is a mock dirge for a … thing that is and always was inhuman and lifeless. The power that Moloch holds over us is a figment of our own worst imaginings. Take a deep breath, exhale, and let Moloch go.

As for Trump, he too is horrifying, absurd, and powerful only if we pay him any mind. Let him go. Laugh at him and his fleas.

PT_Flea

 

I have been to Heaven, and now I’m back. Most people talk about what they found there and all the sweet relatives they ran into while taking their first morning’s jog. But have you ever wondered what you won’t find in Heaven? If so, the following revelations may be of interest:

There’s no email in Heaven. Or texting. No one seems to miss either one. A tech-savvy angel told me, “If you get a chance, tell your friends to log off before they expire.” Also, be advised that “Hit Send” means something different in Heaven than it does down here.

No one in Heaven has Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Acid Reflux. Talk about blessings!

You can’t get Snickers bars in Heaven. But you can special-order Cheetos. I saw a bunch of angels with telltale orange fingers. They were really happy, and not in a “hey, let’s go play our harps” kind of way.

No one in Heaven has heard of Donald Trump. The question drew blank looks. Then I started asking about various other celebrities and political figures. One angel claimed to know Ronald Reagan, but then it turned out he was thinking of the airport.

There are no Casual Fridays in Heaven. This came as a relief, since who, really, has the right jeans for this? However, the philosopher-angels observe “Causal Wednesdays.” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what this means, but it sounded dire. If and when I go back, I may try to hang with the Cheeto angels instead.

No one in Heaven uses acronyms. In my eleven seconds there (or years, depending on how you count), there was nary a mention of BO or TMI or TMJ or LMAO or YOLO. Suffice it to say, there’s time to spell things out.

Finally, there is no ear wax in Heaven. This turns out to be a real point of pride. Angels have the cleanest ears in and beyond the universe.

Just as I was leaving, I yelled out, “Do you have nose hairs?” But before I could divine an answer, I was back home, staring up at an enigmatically clear blue sky above the trampoline. I heard a “ding!” as a text came in, and then an EMT was running toward me, her outstretched hand proffering just the sustenance one needs upon returning from Heaven.

Snickers bar

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