Dispatches from Wolf Country — Is this for real?

The existential root of our problem: Someone like Donald Trump has no more business being president of the United States than Milos Yiannopoulos would have going in a cage match at Wrestlemania against the Rock...the mind balks.

I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there —Bob Dylan

Any damn fool can knock over a barn. — Sam Rayburn

There’s been a lot happening, and I have been not writing because I really haven’t wanted to. This is turning into a META-time; so much happening that we need to look at the underlying issues and try to see trends rather than just reacting. And then, the Trump situation blows up on another front, or the same front, or multiple fronts.

So, Dana Milbank’s column in this morning’s Washington Post got my attention. I’d been looking at a variety of columns, and realized that lots of people were getting very antsy, wanting Trump gone, oh…last week? We have a problem looking at things from a historical perspective these days. Barring a stroke, or the President head butting a granite wall, these things will take time to play out.

Like Trumpgate, the Watergate “crimes” occurred prior to the election. June 17th will be the 45th Anniversary of the third rate burglary. Things wound around through the early stages of the cover-up running concurrently with the campaign and first part of the investigation until the Senate Select Committee started up on May 18, 1973. John Dean testified on May 25, 1973. Alexander Butterfield testified on July 13, 1973. After a year of rope-a-dope defense, the Supreme Court ruled on July 24 that Nixon could not hold the tapes based on Executive Privilege; on July 27, the House passed the first three articles of impeachment; on August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned.

The chronology seems to be matching pretty much; there’s a strong possibility that the result will be something similar to that of the Nixon adventure, but…we have a way to go.

Milo with the Donald — Daily Mail/Facebook Photo

 Wrestlemania cage match against the Rock, John Cena and Roman Reigns v Bannon, Miller and Milo..

That made Milbank’s column really helpful for a variety of reasons for me.

He cuts to the existential root of our problem. Someone like Donald Trump has no more business being president of the United States than Milos Yiannopoulos would have going in a cage match at Wrestlemania against the Rock, John Cena and Roman Reigns. It would be kind of interesting, for about a minute, and then he’d be unconscious, possibly comatose, in the third row…perhaps he might last longer than if Reigns lets his daughter warm him up with the teapot routine, but…the mind balks.

 

That it doesn’t balk at Trump in the Rose Garden promising to testify a 100% under oath someplace when someone wants him to testify under oath somewhere is a sad commentary on the 21st Century. Milbank considers Trump’s character, which is public, and points out that the Constitution was not written with people like him in mind because, quite frankly, the Founders couldn’t imagine someone like him in public life in a Republic. He does it in an interesting way, citing Hamilton, by far the least naive of the authors of The Federalist Papers.

By itself, it’s neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor for a president to be dishonorable. But it’s a stain on the country, and it defines this moment. This is why Trump can’t get legislation through Congress and can’t get allies to cooperate, and why so many worry that he will disregard constitutional restraints. The president is not to be trusted.

The Founders did not anticipate this, a defect not just of private misconduct (which we’ve seen before) but of public character. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

But the moral certainty of the Enlightenment broke down with the election of something more medieval. When Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent, asked Comey whether he took as a directive Trump’s expressed “hope” that Comey drop the FBI’s probe of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, Comey reached back to the words of 12th-century autocrat Henry II that led to the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket. “Yes,” Comey said, “it rings in my ear as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ 

It’s worth remembering that Hamilton found himself in an argument over the moral character of Aaron Burr based on his belief that Burr’s personal behavior was representative of public duplicity and misconduct. Burr realized that if he allowed Hamilton’s comments to stand, his career and professional life was over. He offered Hamilton the chance to recant and apologize, and while Hamilton tried, he couldn’t bring himself to find the right words.

By the time they resolved it, on a spit of land in Weehawken, New Jersey Burr was vice president of the United States…and it didn’t go all that well for Hamilton. Nor ultimately, of course did it go so well for Burr.


So, the question lies — is it getting dark for President of the United States or for the United States? Or for us?

Howard Jacobsen is a British author who normally writes about sexuality, literature and antisemitism. The Guardian calls him the English Phillip Roth, but he prefers to be called the “Jewish Jane Austen.” Regardless, he’s taken a swing at Trump, probably the first of a new literature school, the comic expose, satirical critique or sarcastic summary of the things the Donald has brought us. The book is called Pussy.

The Trump character is an heir to a dynasty of slightly less useless people than himself, and because he is so horrible, the parents hire a pair of PhDs to try and teach, civilize and generally prepare the miserable little shit for life. Part Childe Harold, part Gulliver’s Travels, and part Candide, it really doesn’t work well for anyone except the slug in the middle. In this case, the Donald is called Fracassus, which is kind of a multi-level word game. Fracas of course is not a bad way to consider his career, his life, his treatment of women, and his administration. Ass is one of the kinder epithets I can imagine the Gods, Generals and Immortals bestowing on both the character and the inspiration. As for US, doesn’t it speak for itself, like the Donald’s tweets.

The two academics in the book struggle trying to tame the lousy little evolutionary mistake, and basically spend a lot of their lives not having an affair until they do, while also trying to understand why no one as bothered to just take Fracassus down to the river and drowned him? They can’t, because they are of course academics and also because he bites.

The title of the book comes from this passage of dialogue between the lad and his father who is trying to see what the kid has to offer and say for himself. To this point, the parents have been largely absentee, on another floor of the tower…

Women’s March -Mother and Daughter – Town and Country Magazine

“Describe to me,” his father said, “what you think of when you see a woman.”

“On television?”

“In the flesh.” 

Fracassus scratched his head with one hand and patted his hair. (Note, he’s a teenager here, he has his own hair. Still. Farrell)

“You can tell me,” his father said. “I’m not going to be angry.”

“Pussy,” Fracassus said. 

A number of people have referred to Donald Trump as “America’s Id,” so this is not a bad summation of the character in the book or his. Still, while he is an ignorant, untalented and self-promoting misogynist, it doesn’t capture the sheer awfulness of the Trump phenomenon.  This passage when he’s in the infomercial-rally-campaign stage of his career catches the spirit better, and some of our problem in dealing with him. His two academics whom he still employs because they add security and answer questions if he has any, which he usually doesn’t, discuss his appeal.

Trump Supporters, WAPO Photo

“He has a terrific advantage,” Probrius said, “in that they don’t come to hear him. There’s something about him that compels attention. It can’t be looks and it can’t be presence because he has none.”

“Then, what is it?”

“I think it’s that very question. What is it? Why are we looking at him? He possesses the opposite of charisma to such a degree that that people will stand for hours trying to figure out why they are standing there for hours.”

” But see how transfigured they look as they leave. It is though they have been vouchsafed a vision.

“They have. A vision of themselves. He is a mirror into their secret selves. They applaud their own words and leave transported.”  (Emphasis added MF)

Interestingly, when checking the provenance of the picture to illustrate the crowd, I happened on an interesting article from 2015 by Max Ehrenfreund  of the Washington Post, whose coverage of Trump charitable and business dealing won a Pulitzer in 2016. He was trying to figure out what it was that made Trump so popular with such a significant part of the Republican base. While John McCain’s “What he did, he fired up the crazies” has a ring to it, Ehrenfreund decided to talk to some psychologists to see if they had any better insights. They did, and it’s not all that reassuring to fans of the constitution and the idea of liberal democracy.

From a psychological perspective, though, the people backing Trump are perfectly normal. Interviews with psychologists and other experts suggest one explanation for the candidate’s success — and for the collective failure to anticipate it: The political elite hasn’t confronted a few fundamental, universal and uncomfortable facts about the human mind.

We like people who talk big.

We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren’t.

And we don’t like people who don’t look like us.

So, I’m not a big fan of Jacobson’s book. He writes well, but he’s also trying to do too much and bring in Brexit and Le Pen and Nigel Farage and Putin and Roy Cohen into what works best as a tighter structure and narrative. That said, it augurs well for the next set of satirical writing and assaults and critiques.


Of course, the more important question is what does it mean for us? Well, the nation has survived worse situations, and while we haven’t had a president before like President Dumpster Fire, the odds are we’ll survive him and probably President Pence as well. We seldom stay crazy for more than one term at a time, especially if things go wrong…and, lets face it, they’re pretty well wrong.

Someday, hopefully soon but someday, whoever remains will look back on this and say, “What the bloody hell were they thinking…” followed by a John Prine song or two.

Photographs show the laughs
Recorded in between the bad times
Happy sailors dancing on a sinking ship
Cloudy skies and dead fruit flies
Waving goodbye with tears in my eyes
Well, sure I made it but ya know it was as hell of a trip. — Flashback Blues, John Prine, 1972

The Trump Saga should make for some interesting things…books, music, movies, paintings…or, perhaps a big smoking dumpster fire, probably in the middle of the radioactive dump that the Trumpublicans will make out of the Grand Canyon.

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