November 1, 2017

∴ When Politics Becomes Your Idol

David Brooks – The New York Times:

For years, the meritocratic establishments in both parties told an implicit myth. The heroes of this myth were educated, morally enlightened global citizens who went to competitive colleges, got invited to things like the Clinton Global Initiative, and who have the brainpower to run society and who might just be a little better than other people, by virtue of their achievements.

Donald Trump tells the opposite myth — about how those meritocrats are actually clueless idiots and full of drivel, and how virtue, wisdom and toughness is found in the regular people whom those folks look down upon.

Trump’s supporters follow him because he gets his facts wrong, but he gets his myths right. He tells the morality tale that works for them.

Brooks, a moderate conservative, touches on something written by Isaac Asimov years ago, and quoted here more recently:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

Holding aside for the moment voters whose employment was off-shored or replaced by automation, and those whose conservatism makes voting for a Democrat unthinkable no matter the candidate’s qualifications, and even the racist white supremacists of various stripes, I’ve struggled to understand why anyone would cast their vote for Mr. Trump. Was it Asimov’s so-called “cult of ignorance?”

Trump had so many negative traits, and few, if any positive qualities visible to the naked eye. His opponent was more qualified for the office than any of the advisors coaching him through his campaign, and certainly more than the man himself. What she lacked in charisma he more than made up for in bombast. Uncharismatic people can govern. Bombast is for bamboozling suckers while picking their pockets.

Brooks’ explanation is as good as any for why otherwise capable, pleasant people would vote for an admitted sexual predator, a man so unqualified for the office he sought that, months after Inauguration Day, he remarked at how difficult the presidency is. Trump bamboozled the electorate.

Clearly, “wisdom” enough for the presidency is not to be found among second-rate real estate moguls or reality television stars. “Toughness,” well, we’ll see how Trump holds up in the face of criminal indictments landing all around him. It’s not worth putting the president’s name and “virtue” in the same sentence.

These three qualities are indeed found among “regular people,” but regular people don’t make for good presidents of the United States; they’d have no idea what to do if elected. That points directly at the fallacy of the Trumpian myth, that people who aspire to higher office, who spend their adult lives pursuing degrees, professional employment, and stature are to be demonized. To paraphrase Asimov, regular people’s ignorance of the difficulty of collaborating and leading is not as good as the knowledge had by those who actually do these things.

Taking the question one step further, I held aside for the moment the un- and under-employed, hard-boiled conservatives, and racists, to which I’d add voters who ignored the obvious by giving a sexual predator and racist a pass by voting for him. Is this all that’s left of the Republican party? Is this the company a “movement conservative” gladly keeps?

Brooks concludes his column discussing other pursuits that bind together a culture. This is a long-run concern for the United States, where generational change accelerated after the stagnation of the 1970s. We are, to coin a phrase, becoming faster than we can keep up. Technology has helped us silo into an ever-narrower set of face-to-face contacts, with less direct communication, and more physical isolation.

We’re all headed in different directions, it seems, and our national leadership is picking our intellectual and moral pockets while we anesthetize with social media. Unlike any short-term politician or political party’s actions, this long-term trend could be our eventual undoing.

***

A conversation occasionally arises in our home: upon broader revelation of who Trump is and what wrongs he’s committed, will his supporters be remorseful about their vote? Will those red hats be banished to the neighbor’s trash?

I don’t think so. As Brooks puts it, most Trump voters cast their lot with him as if worshipping an idol. They reveled in the Clinton-bestowed label “deplorable,” and proudly declared their acceptance of much the man said, no matter how ridiculous or despicable. They held Trump higher than the man deserved. They took him seriously, not literally.

I’ve heard only one regretful comment about voting for Trump in the months following the election. There’s not much introspection going on in Trumpland.

Mass regret will manifest, if it comes at all, as seething, angry silence. Trump bears one quality in spades. He is a confidence man. Conmen prey on marks, suckers. There’s no joy in realizing you’re the fool.

What will Trump’s supporters do, though, when investigators lay charges at his door, or those of his closest family or advisors? I haven’t read any backlash from Paul Manafort’s and others indictments on multiple felony counts, among them conspiracy against the United States. Stunned silence has descended upon the red hat brigade. Perhaps their thoughts, if any, run to it could all be true. Will the more honest among his millions of supporters (millions!) have the nerve to repudiate him?

Notably and predictably, Fox “News” attempted a smear of the arraignment and trial court judges assigned the Manafort case. Trump supporters religiously parroted Fox reporting about their idol until now. This is the likely vector of their opinion going forward.

Conspiring against the United States. How ‘bout them apples?

#Trump #GOP #disgrace #DavidBrooks #idolatry #PaulManafort

3 comments:

  1. I keep thinking about that Asimov short story that the quote came from. Also another Ray Bradbury one about a party phone line, that people cannot hang up from, like Twitter became.

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    1. The way ideas from those stories stuck in reader's minds is what made the writers masters of the genre. It's the best part of sci-fi: the ideas.

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