When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even…Sorry, losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest — and you all know it!…Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. – Trumpus
We’re building a wall in Colorado! – Trumpus
In an age when politics has long been nearly indistinguishable from entertainment, his people know very well that Trumpus has been conning them for years, and they love it. Is he a genius or an idiot? We speculate about that question, but they don’t.
But I really wonder if their crazy wisdom goes a step further. Perhaps they love him – especially the men – because he is a loser and because, deep down, they know that they are losing as well. They know far better than we that the economy is collapsing, and along with it, the myth of American Innocence. They know that, along with their jobs, they are losing their precious world of male privilege and authority, indeed, of heroic masculine identity itself. They know deep down that both our mythology and our winner-takes-all economy offer only one alternative to the Hero, and that is the Loser, whom we also picture as the Victim. They know, or at least they have been conditioned to believe, that they have been victimized by the women and people of color who now compete for their jobs and the people of non-conforming gender whose freedom mocks that masculine identity.
Crazy wisdom. They (and we) know even deeper down, way, way down, that they have an indigenous soul, and for it to be revived, the Hero must die. They know that they must first endure what their ancestors did: symbolic, initiatory death. Perhaps this is why idiot Trumpus – the Loser – has engaged for so long in such manipulative but ultimately provocative and self-sabotaging behavior. Perhaps this is where idiot Trumpus and Con man Trumpus finally come together.
Like so many adolescents, perhaps he wants to get caught. Why else would he make obviously self-incriminating phone calls when he knows (and admits that he knows!) that intelligence agents are listening in? Yes, any publicity is good publicity, but why else would he provoke us all to make him, as Solnit writes, “the most mocked man in the world”?
The Book of Lies
I’d like to have a word
with you. Could we be alone
for a minute? I have been lying
until now. Do you believe
I believe myself? Do you believe
Yourself when you believe me? Lying
is natural. Forgive me. Could we be alone
forever? Forgive us all. The word
is my enemy. I have never been alone;
bribes, betrayals. I am lying
even now. Can you believe
that? I give you my word.
– James Tate
Ah, but we get only so far psychoanalyzing one person. Indeed, an entire industry is engaged in such pursuits. Of course the guy is a deeply traumatized, wounded, lonely, unlovable, narcissist and sociopath. So freaking what? Is he really that different from every single American President since the military coup of November 22nd, 1963? Is he any different (except in his style) from Hillary Clinton’s favorite war criminal, Henry Kissinger?
I respectfully suggest that our willingness to answer yes is a measure of our own innocent willingness to project our “best intentions” upon our leaders, and that we’d get a bracingly different response from a resident of, say, Fallujah, Ben Tre, Santiago Atitlan, Dili, El Mozote or Gaza.
But let’s consider his style again. Caitlin Johnson suggests that
…Trump is the most honest US president of all time. By that I don’t mean that he’s an honest person; he of course lies constantly. I simply mean that while his predecessors have always made sure to dress their imperialist military campaigns up as benevolent humanitarian intercessions, Trump just stands there out in the open like “Yeah we grabbed their oil and it’s ours now, blow me.” There was once a time when claiming a war was really about oil got you branded a conspiracy theorist. Now the US president just outright says it.
And this is really the only reason establishment power structures dislike Trump. They don’t feel directly threatened by him, they just dislike the way he’s always saying the quiet part out loud. Status quo power has a vested interest in keeping a smiling mask on things and preventing people from thinking too hard about what’s really going on in the world, and Trump keeps ripping off that mask by telling everyone what he’s doing in plain English.
But it’s so much easier to focus on Trumpus – we like to watch – than to do the difficult work of interrogating ourselves and asking why our culture has vomited him up to present him as a mirror for our fantasies. It’s critical to acknowledge that in this Gilded Age his image embodies the intolerance, greed and hatred that America prefers to project upon others – and to question whether the hatred we project outward is hatred that ultimately, we feel toward our own imperfect, traumatized selves.
They and we know (the wisdom has never completely left us) that such difficult and sacred work requires the ritual container of real community. This is why, in my thirty years of men’s retreats and grief rituals, the most common statement by far has been something like this: I haven’t cried in decades, and I will not allow myself to start, because if I do, it will never stop.
The demythologized world has stolen from us our innate ability to think mythologically or symbolically. The mind that cannot see past the con man to the Holy Fools who would mirror our indigenous souls or the Trickster figures who would trip us up so as to heal us cannot perceive that the desire to end it all is the toxic mimic of this need to die and so to be reborn. This is particularly ironic, since for two thousand years the sacrifice of the son has been so central to the Christian myth, even if the son dies only to glorify his father. But the willingness of the father to participate in that murder goes back a further thousand years to our foundational myth of Abraham and Isaac, which describes the cruel literalization of initiation ritual into the literal killing of the children.
In falling for the con of the politics of racial resentment, Trumpus’ base supporters are quite literally dying of whiteness. Still, although they may be unwilling to make the leap into their own darkness, they are not stupid. Any child can see that Trumpus has never known love that he hasn’t paid for, that he is an uninitiated boy-man who is desperately insecure (or at least that he plays one on TV), that he lacks any ability to relate to other human beings except as they might feed his infinite narcissistic needs. In other words, they see themselves, but unlike the characters in Being There, they know it.
However, identifying with him remains preferable to the only currently available, if literal, alternatives: ending it all through opioids, alcohol or “suicide by cop.” Better to watch the con man. After all, as Salena Zito writes, “…the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” And as long as the media continue to normalize him, we’ll continue to watch.
We respond to images, metaphors and narratives more than to logic. And what we fight against may well get stronger. George Lakoff recalls Reagan being interviewed by that same Leslie Stahl:
The next day, she got a call from Reagan’s chief of staff, saying, thank you for this wonderful interview. And she said, but I was attacking Reagan. He said, it didn’t matter, if you turned off the sound he looked wonderful…And this is the same thing with Trump. So if you have a station where people are constantly sitting around analyzing Trump, some attacking him, some defending him, etc., that’s normalization. When you negate something, you’re activating it.
Trumpus learned well from Cohn, Reagan and Bush, as well as from American mythology, which prioritizes identity in terms of the racialized Other. Although he couldn’t claim to be a traditional outsider from a western state, he converted the mainstream media in the eyes of a third of the country into the hated insiders that his followers perceived as the source of their misery.
This wasn’t difficult. Southern whites, his primary supporters (imagine Southerners voting for a New Yorker!), have a very long memory that stretches back to the days of Reconstruction when Yankee carpetbaggers, newly enfranchised Blacks and radical reformers had turned their world upside down for a time. In the past twenty years they had laid the groundwork, through voter suppression and gerrymandering, for that to never happen again. For more on this, read my essays, Did the South Win the Civil War? and Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology.
For the present, this means fully accepting the nauseating truth that Trump is us – Trumpus – that he embodies the dark side of a toxic, national mythology that inhabits the psyche of every American, just as the Teutonic darkness dwelt in every German in 1933.
Here’s the third item I took notice of, another indication of the New Gilded Age: Police were trying to recover a toilet made entirely from 18-carat-gold that was stolen Saturday from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, the stately home where former prime minister Winston Churchill was born. No commentators pointed this out, but I will: at some level we see this image and make the inevitable equivalence of gold and shit.
Item # 4 is about my own innocence. It was hard to believe that shortly after that obscene real estate deal, and while I was watching Being There, Trumpus arrived in San Francisco (in my liberal Bay Area!) for a secret fundraiser among Silicon Valley billionaires. Tickets ran from $1,000 to $100,000 for photo ops with Trumpus (Trump is us!), who left with an estimated $15 million. To be fair, another con man, Joe Biden, swept in two weeks later for another – private – fundraiser. Neither would risk appearing in public.
Bly’s book on the shadow insists that healing – personal or social – must involve the lifelong process of retrieving those parts of ourselves still in that bag that trails behind us, or as he put it, eating the shadow:
One of the things we can do as Americans is to work hard individually at eating our shadows, and so make sure that we are not releasing energy which can then be picked up by the politicians…
Ultimately, we have to confront the innocence of good-hearted liberals, who since 2016 have been so obsessed with Trumpus the evil con man – they like to watch the Russiagate and now the impeachment narratives – that they have been willing to ally themselves with the “intelligence community,” simply because it has appeared to be against Trumpus.
I’m talking about those same spooks and thugs who have been overthrowing popular governments and assassinating American leaders for seventy years. Yes, I know that’s a provocative and contentious statement. That’s what I do, unlike those good-hearted types (Item # 5) who innocently praised the fact that liberal Ellen DeGeneres (yes, they watched) and warmonger George W. Bush could sit together as friends at a football game.
Where else but in America, only eighteen years after the “intelligence community” lied repeatedly to manipulate the nation into invading Afghanistan and Iraq, only fifteen years after the revelations of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, would good-hearted liberals, in their hatred of the projection screen known as Trumpus, in their denial of the corruption of their own politicians, indicate a higher trust in the CIA than Republicans?
Or this item, from January of 2019: Anderson Cooper, millionaire scion of that same Vanderbilt family that still owns the mega-mansion at which Being There had been filmed, telling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that her Green New Deal “…would require, though, raising taxes.”
Where else in America would we find Item # 6? An anonymous CIA agent reveals that Trumpus has asked the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, and the media dub this person a “whistleblower.” However, as the wheels of liberal innocence crank into gear, let’s remember that CIA agents are not “whistleblowers” unless they are actually whistleblowing on the CIA itself. Otherwise, unlike Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, John Kirikaou and Chelsea Manning (all of whom the media have either ignored or demonized), he’s working for the CIA, which is choosing to influence the public narrative.
And here’s the item: those good-hearted, Trumpus-hating liberals have started a GoFundMe campaign for the CIA agent, and they’ve raised over $220,000. Only in America. Perhaps this guy’s name is “Chance.”