Saturday, April 21, 2018


The All Powerful Father, institutionally endorsed.

“Mother is the source of all good things!” said a minister to me once.  He was a liberal, progressive (up to a point), forgiving, Protestant minister, very much on the Jesus side rather than Jehovah.  The genius of Christianity is that choice, based on one’s experience in the family, which is molded by the culture where the baby was born and raised.

Lakoff says “Father is all-powerful,” is the idea that alarms him about Trump.  “He thinks the President IS the country,” Lakoff says, and Trump absolutely believes it as factual.  He doesn't know it's a metonymy, a "part for the whole" metaphor.  He doesn’t know he’s an obnoxious narcissist sucking our blood — he BELIEVES that what he does is good for the country simply because it’s good for him.  Here’s the best formulation and synthesis of this mindset that I’ve found yet.  It’s on sound because my eyes are failing and sound is the backup.  (You could listen to it in the car or with earbuds.)  That simple sentence is the key, but let me elaborate.

Lakoff sees the Jesus/Jehovah duality as reflected in fathers:  one kind is strict, authoritarian, and identical with the “biggest” power and status quo as they understand it. Trump does not understand that nations are problematic, even though his money strategy is world-wide.  Maybe this is why he’s not making any money — just building up obligations.  He does not understand that illicit greed is more powerful than nations, because he thinks he IS the nation and therefore in control even of mafias.  He doesn’t believe he can be illicit — he’s entitled.  Greed is his normal state. 

God was thought to be omnipotent and therefore He "died", because He wasn’t.  Time is omnipotent.  It will kill Trump.  It has already killed nations.

Lakoff’s alternative desirable premise is that good fathers are nurturing, protective and able to provide, a thought that is losing believers.  Liberals, the political version, are popularly seen as carrying little rubber swords, righteous but not powerful, easily swept aside.

The last time I taught school I was hired to control a class no one could tame because the boys felt full of power.  They hated their town, saw the people as suckers, parasites, losers.  I proposed to these young men that they would soon be the town’s leaders: firemen, policemen, councilmen, soldiers, businessmen, and so on.  They mocked that, sneered at the roles, claimed they could outsmart every male authority figure they knew of.  Except the coach.  The coach WAS the team and when they won a game it was so as to lay it at the feet of the coach.  That was as abstract about life as they could get.  It’s what America teaches today.

But there are other force frames.  Consider Cinematheque, Smash Street boys, and Real Stories Galleries.  These could be considered “lost boys,” but maybe they are more “found boys.”  They were abandoned by the fathers, both the biological fathers and those who were supposed to act like fathers.  But when — after suffering — the boys found these groups, they found another way, the way of the brothers.  They are empathy-based, supporting each other because they understand each other.  This is democratic.

This sound talk by Lakoff speaks of how authorities — who think they ARE the institutions they presumably lead and represent — will try to militarize faithfulness, to exclude everyone else as enemies, competitors, wrongly privileged, disloyal.  This is a product of the binary of opposing teams, based on armies, nation against nation.  

Brotherly love by Tim Harrington at Restrepo.

But brothers can be individuals who act together.  This is what impressed me so much about both “Restrepo” and “Sleeping Soldiers” , both of them from the heart of Tim Harrington, who was not afraid to portray embodiments of the “nurturant parent”, Lakoff’s alternative vision to the authoritarian father.  These are not wimpy guys.  Some of them are almost certainly gay, but these relationships are not about sexual desire — rather they are about empathy, the tenderness that comes from understanding.  And from needing each other.  It’s not about the violence of war, which can be a kind of drugged distortion.

There is an old joke about the guy who had a mind like a rusted bear trap: once it closed, you’d never get it open again.  This is the content of Trump’s trap-like mind, closed in childhood:
1. The nation is the same as the leader (president, king, god).
2.There is no alternative pattern.
3. This is self-evident according to the “facts.”
4. Anyone who understands this is an Enlightened Person, fully conscious and therefore entitled.

In short, it's the same belief system that emerges among snotty (mostly male) sophomores in good colleges who believe in their Enlightenment-style professors and think that this amounts to intelligence — surely the way to wealth and status.  Ph.D. complex.  Pretty High Delusion.  Trump believes in mocking academics.  He admires the military but only the generals.  Academia only if it makes people rich.

He doesn’t see the side that Tim Harrington photographs, the illustration of empathy which is the antidote to war and oppression.  Some researchers propose that our newest and most human evolution is that of empathy, which is rooted in actual brain cells and related to “plasticity,” which is the ability to change, to adapt, to fit the circumstances — surely the real path to survival.

How do we resist Trump?  Lakoff proposes two clusters.  The first one is figuring out what is under the tweets and tirades (the sub-text); then comparing that hidden motive to the high values of truth, fairness, history and morality; and finally pointing out where the tweets fall short.  (Let alone not getting hung up on whatever is most popular, profitable, outrageous and cynical.)

The second cluster is to discover the reality of the people served, not just the little circle of plutocrats.  (Some Valier citizens were startled when a demographic survey asserted that one-third of people living here are tribal.  In Mayberry??!!!)  Then name what the people need --dependable infrastructure, freedom from crime, good schools -- and then set about discovering ways to provide them.

The values of the town— as understood by the residents — are work, respect, order, and cheerfulness.  That’s the same for both “lost boys” and athletes.  That’s what winning looks like.

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