I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND the mysterious mechanics of the universe—not like an Albert Einstein, or a Richard Feynman, or a Steven Hawking, or a Neils Bohr. I cannot see the world through the eyes of Leonardo or Michelangelo or Pollock or O’Keefe. I lack the business acumen of Jobs; the global vision of Musk; the profound mysticism of Gurdjieff. I am an ordinary man, possessed of ordinary attributes, and in the failure to reach the high places, I am, like most of us, entirely innocent.
No one expects to become Hemingway or the Pope, but each of us labors to learn and grow beyond our clumsy childhood in the sheer pursuit of survival—to become the best version of ourselves that we can be, in the hopes of living a comfortable and satisfying life. This is also entirely ordinary, and entirely innocent.
Ten seconds’ reflection reveals that there is more to this life than comfort and satisfaction, however, and those among us with higher natures in embryo pursue the perfection not only of themselves, but also of the wider world in which they live. These include the luminaries above, certainly, but also scientists and social workers; physicians and philosophers, artists and architects, journalists and the judiciary. Educators. Monks. Anyone at all who understands that the world is capricious, nothing in life is certain, and we all do better when we throw in together. Anyone who values the life of the mind, the beauty of the natural world, and the abiding wish to unburden the downtrodden. Anyone, finally, who understands that the betterment of society begins with the betterment of oneself in service to the noble attributes: honor, integrity, intelligence, and being.
Many of us understand this at some level. We are imperfect, to be sure, but we aspire to nobility, and we work in whatever way we can for a moment of kindness, or justice, or insight, or grace. The school of hard knocks is hard, yes, but it is nevertheless a school, and within its walls, people of good will are constrained to learn and improve—not only for the acquisition of their creature comforts, but for the betterment of society. Such people venerate selflessness beyond success, and compassion beyond quid pro quo. They own the mistakes that they make, and work like hell to avoid repeating them. They revere virtue, and revile cowardice. They pursue sincerity and detest hypocrisy. They respect truth and excoriate mendacity. They witness. They dream.
I used to believe that this described the essential human condition. I used to believe that many of us was in fact most of us—yea, that any of us was in fact all of us.
I believe this no longer.
Today I live in a world in which the preponderant political faction of society is characterized by none of these attributes. These fine citizens have dispensed with the essence of the American experiment—compassion, inclusion, generosity, and fairness—in service to elevating one of the world’s most despicable human beings to the Presidency of the United States. I live in a world in which the aggregate power of the political class is now devoting itself to crippling the institutions that we ordinary folk have by generations labored to build and to better. These fine, fine citizens believe that education is effete, the rule of law is transactional, and the social safety net is suspect. Business is boffo, Science is sorcery, religion is Rorschach, and liberalism is libel. In fact they believe any old thing at all, no matter how preposterous, so long as it was jawboned by an obscenely wealthy white bigot with shiny teeth and shiny hair and a Brobdingnagian bully pulpit.
These fine citizens are citizens, yes, but they are only fine after the fashion of volcanic sand, or livestock manure, or the aromatic waft of a cheese factory. You can find them crooning in lemming uniformity at the guttural twaddle emanating from any one of the Cow Palace shit shows known throughout the Republic as a Trump rally. This is the circus as Colosseum; verbal violence and boorish boosterism replete with really good lines—short at the door, long at the latrine, and crossed at the cusp of common decency.
Expect profound rejoinders like “Goddam right!” and “Fuckin’ A!” and whatever the neofascist form of “Sieg Heil!” might be. The latest schoolyard swipe is “AOC Sucks!”—a devastatingly clever double entendre from people whose goose-step soliloquies ordinarily extend all the way to three words, from “Lock her up!” to “Build that wall! to the lyrics of some Kid Rock drivel, which may or may not actually have three words. Within these hollowed halls, policy is for pussies. What sells is sloganeering.
Note the tribal conformity in headwear and hoodwear and Silver-Shirted signage, but do not make the mistake of inquiring as to when, precisely, it is thought that America was great.(1) Oh no. That road can only end in tears. Note the popularity of histrionic gestures—middle fingers and O-KKK!s and the odd skinhead with his thumb up his ass—plus the ever-impressive Bellamy salute, courtesy of the hatless, hairless, brainless homunculi of Proud Boy pedigree.(2)
This is Heterodox America—angry and arrogant; entitled and abusive; full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing beyond the Dunning–Kruger Effect.(3)
Ten seconds’ endurance reveals that these are not ordinary men and women, possessed of ordinary American attributes. These are people not of the high places, and they are nothing like innocent. Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, Bohr—such inquisitive minds flee in confusion and horror. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Pollock, O’Keefe—mere also-rans in the company of Julian Raven and Jason Heuser.(4) (5) Really, who can compete with a painting of an uzi-wielding Ronald Reagan astride a flag-waving velociraptor? Please. Jackson Pollock is just a putz. And the noble attributes? Open-carry that liberal bullshit back out the Palace orifice, pal—we have mantras to memorize.
The central message of every Trump rally is bald-faced cruelty. They exist to denigrate and debase; to fictionalize and fool; to inflame and incite. Trump pontificates and poisons, accuses and aggrandizes, and trades in the currency of fear, completing perhaps one sentence in five. He knows nothing, says nothing, lies with abandon, and his rancid mob howls. It’s ad hominem as ad lib; pusillanimous pogrom as political theater; mental illness as Mein Kampf.
It was not so long ago that Hillary was not crooked, Comey was not shady, and AOC did not suck. Pocahontas was an historical figure, Adam Shiff had an ordinary neck, and Rocket Man was the anthem of a generation. It was not so long ago I that believed in the essential goodness of the American character—that we all strive for perfection, and we all do better when we throw in together. But I have witnessed the depravity of Trump’s base, and it is base, indeed—slavish to suggestibility, inured to actual fact, and entirely absent the American values that once made this country great. These fine folk have dispensed with their innocence in favor of bigoted bread and circuses, and they belong nowhere near the magnificent, imperfect pantheon of the American experiment.
Time will eventually consign theses fine citizens and their Dear Leader to the trash heap of history, therein to molder with the likes of Benjamin Tillman, and Eugene McCarthy, and Huey Long, and every other tin-horn demagogue who has ever soiled the national stage. When that time comes, Donald Trump’s mindless minions will know only shunning and shame, while the rest of America resumes its reach for the high places. Till then, we will wait, we will worry, and we will weep.
(1) The Silver Legion of America, commonly known as the Silver Shirts, was an underground American fascist organization founded by William Dudley Pelley that was headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina. A white-supremacist, antisemitic group modeled after Hitler's Brownshirts, the paramilitary Silver Legion wore a silver shirt with a blue tie, along with a campaign hat and blue corduroy trousers with leggings. The uniform shirts bore a scarlet letter L over the heart: an emblem meant to symbolize Loyalty to the United States, Liberation from materialism, and the Silver Legion itself.
(2) The Bellamy salute is a palm-out salute described by Francis Bellamy, the author of the American Pledge of Allegiance, as the gesture which was to accompany the pledge. During the period when it was used with the Pledge of Allegiance, it was sometimes known as the "flag salute.” Both the Pledge and its salute originated in 1892. Later, during the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazis adopted a salute which was very similar, and which was derived from the Roman salute, a gesture that was popularly (albeit erroneously) believed to have been used in ancient Rome. This resulted in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States. It was officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942.
(3) In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.
(4) For more than two years, Julien Raven tried to convince the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to display his 300-pound painting of Trump, with no success. Now, after failing to win his case in D.C.’s U.S. District Court, he’s threatening to take the matter to the top of the judicial system in order to get his painting placed. Raven and his huge, eight-foot tall, 16-foot wide painting of Trump, “Unafraid & Unashamed,” was the aesthetic highpoint of last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, after he displayed it at the annual conservative confab. The painting is a portrait of Trump’s head posed next to a falling American flag that’s being rescued by a bald eagle while flying in space.
(5) San Francisco-based artist Jason Heuser, who sells his work on Etsy under the name Sharpwriter, was recently honored by Representative Mike Lee, who displayed Heuser’s image of former President Ronald Reagan shooting a machine gun atop a Velociraptor holding a torn American flag in chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.