Thursday, May 24, 2018


The core and crux of our best stories as far back as we can remember is the human ability to stay faithful to a worthy cause, defying even death.  The dilemma is that we CAN do such a thing, even when it is painful or deadly, but there is always a real chance that it’s for nothing — that our fealty is wasted on something unworthy.  That’s where many people in the United States are now — about a third of us, say the pollsters, still defending Trump.  They are responding to Trump’s call for loyalty to HIM, specifically himself and his wealth.  What happens next depends in part on them withdrawing their devotion.

Can they even do it?  The nature of conservatism is to stick to your guns, hang onto your loyalties, wave your flag.  To this third of the nation, Trump stands for what they believe and it’s simply impossible for them to give it up.  But what they believe in may also be just themselves and their own welfare.

On the other hand many claim that God died, so why should Trump think he’s safe?  Part of the reason the idea of “God” died is that people thought faith in him would make them rich.  When it didn’t, they were angry and went away, some in a huff and some weeping.  Because to them prosperity has come to mean survival and they fear that now they will die.  Or have to get along without the nouveau riche MacDonald’s mansions that they believe are prosperity.  They cannot imagine a richness that is abstract, enduring, and eternal — that of great ideas.

We can mostly imagine high ideals — a little confusion there — and we still deeply admire Antigone, Joan of Arc, Servetus and Jean Hus — all of whom suffered death rather than betray their beliefs.  But since Vietnam we’ve been inclined to ask whether that were practical.  Why die? they ask.  Why not lie and continue?  It’s the answer to torture.  Besides, you might not even be right.  Democracy and honor are overrated.  Ask Trump and Putin.  

When canvassed, the young people of our country say they would accept tyrants if they would just make the trains run on time.  Or at least keep them repaired so they don’t crash.  In other words they want to stay children and assume that all leaders will be parents and leave them alone to do their own thing, like music or whatever.  But this is only one class of young people who gets polled, part of Brooks’ 9% who are financially just below the 1% elite.  No one asks the kid taking shelter behind a dumpster what he wants.  That kid knows very well that if he doesn’t take his survival into his own hands, he won’t make it.

Beyond the heroism of those visionaries willing to die for a cause is the territorial imperative of claiming a country and its unique understanding of the world.  Democracies and whatever it is that post-Soviets are doing (?) compete with each other, partly to secure resources and crops and partly to save morale.  Like Trump, I believe that people in other countries are animals.  In fact, all humans are animals, including Trump: just the latest version of hominins over the millennia.  Admitting the body and guaranteeing the aspiring mind — not just the cunning part of it — is being human.

When the people of one country try to capture and oppress another, when one leader tries to become the dictator of everything, we call that treason and we drag that leader out behind the dumpster and shoot him.  Or at least we used to.  How can we even imagine that any Putin could control a country as independent and riotous as this one?  

But he did elect this president.  Oh.  But that proves the point, doesn’t it?  He can’t control Trump, who can’t even control himself.  What is a human with no self-control?  Berzerk.

What is a human who continues to defend such a president?  The quality we hate more than being poor is being stupid.  Yet that’s the trade we made.  Where are the clever people?  In the mafia?  We know where the dark and heedless one are: in jail.

The morality (practical decisions) and ethics (high aims) of humans are not simple nor easy.  That’s why they make such passionate and gripping stories.  The stakes can be as high as life itself or as trivial as crossing the street carelessly, which can lead to the same end.

“United States, most foreign-policy makers equate nation-building with democratisation. They believe that democracy is the best tool to achieve political cohesion . . .  The argument goes like this: democratic elections draw diverse ethnic constituencies towards the political centre and encourage politicians to build broad coalitions beyond the pool of voters who share their own ethnic background. And it is true that most states that failed at nation-building and are governed by the elites of a small minority, such as the Alawi of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, are autocratic. Conversely, democratic countries are on average more likely to include minority representatives in their ruling coalitions.”

We mostly agree that democracy has its faults, but so far our brand of hominins hasn’t figured out what to do about it.  Even some strains that stayed in small manageable units of tribe hadn’t solved the problem well enough to survive.  Even democracy doesn’t work without idealism.  If people can’t get their heads up from the trough enough to think, talk peacefully, and vote, we’ll just have to hope there’ll be enough seed stock to start a new version of humans.  But we’re beginning to worry that we’ll all die of our bad decisions about pollution, warming, disease, drought, and low-grade war -- all of which demand a global response.

We’re fortunate that Trump and his associates were so stupid and clumsy that once we looked, we saw what they were doing.  The truth is that we could have caught them decades earlier and stopped them draining money out of the US.  Now that the evidence is laid out, there is no going back.  What Mueller does won’t matter in the long run.  They are plain criminals distracted by confusing the presidency with corrupt monarchy.  But this country was founded on the idea of preventing autocracy and there are many safeguards, including strong brave people who tell it like it is.  I’m thinking of Clapper.

Mysterious “heart attacks” among middle-aged Russians have begun.  Putin has to please his oligarchy, not Trump.  If the democratic countries who are our friends effectively end the money drain, Putin may not be around any longer than Trump.

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