Neither in His Own, Nor in His Neighbor’s Eyes

Let me also wear

Such deliberate disguises

Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves

In a field

Behaving as the wind behaves . . .

                                            TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

It’s been my fate for the last twenty years or so to explore Heart of Darkness each spring with sixteen-year-olds.  The novella provides a rich cache – not of ivory – but of literary artistry, historical relevance, and profound prophecy.  I also find Marlow’s rebellious disdain for the soullessness of the people he encounters during his journey good role-modeling. By the end of his odyssey, Marlow has, as he puts it, “some difficulty in restraining [himself] from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.”  He resents the sight of his fellow citizens “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.”  Marlow’s experience in the jungle has shredded the veil of illusion, or to move a bit westwardly metaphorically, he has stumbled out of Plato’s cave and can now see beyond the flickering shadows projected on the walls of his former existence.

Jeffrey Bren
Self-portrait watching television

The pressure of conformity weighs down adolescents like sodden woolen coats, whether it be the pressure to join a gang, the Fellowship of Christian athletes, or the circle around the bong.  Our narrator Marlow is a loner, the father of Nick Adams and Sam Spade (not to mention Philip Marlowe), an individual who remains true to his non-conformist core convictions.  As Marlow is telling his story to his colleagues on the deck of the Nellie, he’s also speaking directly to those adolescents – mocking hollowness and extolling independence and courage.  Given the barrage of images that assault young people each day through their various media –  images of air-brushed celebrities as insubstantial as Plato’s shadows, images of smiling actors succeeding at DeVry University, images of Vaseline-enhanced Big Macs beaming down from billboards – Marlow’s example of delving beneath the surface is more relevant than ever.

***

(To leaven the proceedings for a moment.  What do you think Marlow would think of this cover?)

Romance, Terror, and Exotic Adventure (rendered in 3.5-page sentences!)

***

TS Eliot in “The Hollow Men” quotes Heart of Darkness in the epigraph and employs Conrad’s symbol of the scarecrow to embody people without true convictions, people who go with the flow, behaving as the wind behaves, people who will say whatever it takes to get what they want – and then again, unsay it, with a mere shake of the Etch-a-Sketch.  The hollow men, the stuffed men.

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion . . .

In contemporary American politics, I can’t think of a better embodiment of those hollow men Marlow describes than Lindsay Graham.  If we’re going to draw analogies from “real life'” to Conrad’s novel, Trump comes off like Kurtz (albeit without his learning, Kurtz’s appreciation of and facility in creating art).  Kurtz sees himself as the center of the universe, as a god, a god worshipped by the natives as Trump is by his ardent xenophobic MAGAs.

Graham, on the other hand, obviously “behaves as the wind behaves.”

That was then, this is now.

“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” a beaming Graham said on “Fox & Friends.” “We have got a president and a national security team that I’ve been dreaming of for eight years.” (19 April 2019).

Here’s Marlow on lying:

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies–which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.

But, like I said, Trump is more like Kurtz or Guy Fawkes from Eliot’s epigraph, “lost/ Violent souls.” Graham lies for the sake of power; I doubt if megalomaniacal Trump even realizes he’s lying.

I guess it’s possible that Trump will be caught one of these days doing something that upsets the populace and that Graham will do some reverse flip flops, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I guess it makes more sense to take Yeats’ advice:

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

 

Presidential Fashion Policing

You may have forgotten, but ten years ago this week, the Obama White House was embroiled in one its most serious scandals: the President of the United States worked in the Oval Office without a coat and tie.

I’ll let former Bush Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card explain:

The Oval Office symbolizes…the Constitution, the hopes and dreams, and I’m going to say democracy. And when you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it’s appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the President.

Here’s Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot from 1 August 2011:

I think our sitting president is acting so unpresidential …. He is dividing us as a nation. He is not bringing us together. He’s willfully dividing us. He’s petulant [. . .]

Ronald Reagan would never go into the Oval Office without his jacket on — that’s how much he revered the presidency. This guy (Obama) worked like hell to be president, okay? He’s got it. Behave like a president.

 

Fastforward to 2019.

Thank God, we now have a president who possesses a sense of propriety, one who isn’t “divisive” or “petulant.”

Sure, the Trump Presidency hasn’t been without controversy:

 

  Investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller:

  • Russian government’s election attack (the Internet Research Agency and GRU indictments\

 

  • WikiLeaks

 

  • Middle Eastern influence: Potentially the biggest unseen aspect of Mueller’s investigation is his year-long pursuit of Middle Eastern influence targeting the Trump campaign.

 

  • Paul Manafort’s activity

 

  • Trump Tower Moscow project

 

  • Other campaign and transition contacts with Russia

 

  • Obstruction of justice

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

 

  • Campaign conspiracy and Trump Organization finances

 

  • Inauguration funding

 

  • Trump super PAC funding

 

  • Foreign lobbying

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia:

 

  • Maria Butina and the NRA

 

Investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia:

 

  • Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, the alleged chief accountant of the Internet Research Agency who was indicted separately earlier this fall, charged with activity that went above and beyond the 2016 campaign. Why she was prosecuted separately remains a mystery.

 

  • Turkish influence: Michael Flynn’s plea agreement includes some details of the case, and he is cooperating with investigators.

 

Investigations by New York City, New York State and other state attorneys general:

 

  • Tax case: In the wake of an N.Y. Times investigation that found Trump had benefited from more than $400 million in tax schemes, city officials said they were investigating Trump’s tax payments, as did the New York State Tax Department.

 

  • The Trump Foundation

 

  • Emoluments lawsuit: The attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. sent out subpoenas earlier this month for Trump Organization and hotel financial records relating to their lawsuit that the president is in breach of the “Emoluments Clause” of the Constitution, which appears to prohibit the president from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office.[1]

 

Oh yeah, and that business about paying off the Playboy model and the porn star with campaign funds.  But, come on, nitpicking.

I dare you find me a photograph of President Trump in the Oval Office without a coat and tie and label pin.  I dare you!

1545044203769



[1]Via Garrett M. Graff of Axios.

His Own Worst Enemy

 

 

tossing red meat

 

Despite his bluster about one of the greatest landslides in American electoral history, Donald Trump actually squeaked out a narrow Electoral College victory (a flip of 80,000 votes collectively in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan would have resulted in a Madame President Clinton).  As far was the popular vote went, Trump lost the election by 2,864,974 votes.

Given those numbers, it would have been judicious for Trump to try to expand his base rather than consistently bending over backwards to accommodate its xenophobic inclinations, which aren’t shared by a majority of Americans.  For example, he could have cut taxes for the middle, rather than the donor class, and worked on infrastructure, but he remained and remains fixated on immigration.

Let’s look at some numbers.  

On the week of 16 December  2018, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval level stood at 38%

Here’s a recent Pew poll on Americans’ views on immigration:

 

 

Present level Increased Decreased No opinion
% % % %
2018 Jun 1-13 # 39 28 29 4
2017 Jun 7-11 38 24 35 3
2016 Jun 7-Jul 1 ^ 38 21 38 3

Of course, we’re talking about legal immigration here.  Nevertheless, the most recent number is that only 29% want to see immigration decreased, which is nine points lower than the number of voters who approve of Trump.  

Trump’s making illegal immigration the cornerstone of his midterm election rally blitz in the campaign’s last days didn’t work out very well for him.  Although Republicans kept control of Senate, in fact increasing the majority by two seats, they did so by winning in red states.  The Democrats, on the other hand, took over the House by flipping forty Republican seats as suburbanite Republicans abandoned their party and Independents went heavily blue .  

So what does Trump do?  Doubles down by rejecting a budget deal passed by both the House and Senate and shutting down the government.

Why?  Because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter got their panties in a knot, assailing his manhood.*   

Trump’s pathological need for attention and adulation is his worst enemy.  These rallies, populated by fanatical and inchoately angry rural white people must satisfy some atavistic tribal need in him.  The fact that they need to be under-educated and misinformed doesn’t seem to matter to him.  

 

 

He’s his own very worst enemy.

Meanwhile, our government is rudderless.  We have an acting chief of staff, and acting attorney general, and an acting secretary of defense.

I’ll resist the urge to quote from Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” which has become almost a cliché.  Instead, I’ll leave you with a snippet of his “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.”

 

Come let us mock at the great 

That had such burdens on the mind 

And toiled so hard and late 

To leave some monument behind,

Nor thought of the levelling wind.  

 

Come let us mock at the wise;

With all those calendars whereon 

They fixed old aching eyes, 

They never saw how seasons run, 

 

And now but gape at the sun.  

Come let us mock at the good 

That fancied goodness might be gay, 

And sick of solitude 

Might proclaim a holiday: 

Wind shrieked — and where are they?  

 

Mock mockers after that 

That would not lift a hand maybe 

To help good, wise or great 

To bar that foul storm out, for we Traffic in mockery.


* I concede forcing you to picture Rush Limbaugh in panties isn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit. Sorry about that.

A Dwarfish Thief vs. a Man of Integrity

like a giant’s robes upon a dwarfish thief

I suspect that you would be hard pressed to find two individuals as diametrically antithetical as Donald Trump and Robert Mueller.

Granted, they’re both New Yorkers of German descent, prep schools alums, and Ivy leaguers.

Also, Republicans.

On the other hand:

Mueller

A family man, married (and is still married) to his high school sweetheart

Trump

Multi-married, adulterous, a pussy-grabber and porn-star aficionado

Mueller

Marine Corps, Vietnam, Purple Heart, Bronze Star

Trump

Bone Spurs, Studio 54, tangerine tan, gold-plated foyer

Oh, yes, and there’s this: Mueller is learned, patriotic, and meticulous. Trump, on the other hand, embraces ignorance, has attempted to sell out his country for personal profit, and impulsively spews from his mouth whatever his gut secretes.

The distinctions that define these men will ultimately lead Mueller to triumph and Trump to disgrace. While Mueller has been assembling a staff of formidable prosecutors, amassing a mountain of documentary evidence, and demonstrating laser like focus, Trump has been appointing hacks to positions for which they’re not qualified, playing golf and multitasking, (i.e., watching Fox News while tweeting).

29 November 2018, was the beginning of the end for Donald Trump. Cohen’s guilty plea makes it clear that Trump and son lied about his negotiations with the Russian government in the prospective building of a Trump Tower in Moscow, which goes a long way in explaining Trump’s embrace of Putin, despite the annexing of Crimea, and why the Republican Party deleted anti-Russian planks from its platform right before the convention.  Trump even considered offering Putin a $50 million penthouse in that tower to sweeten the deal.  Oh yeah, also today, Deutsche bank, Trump’s biggest lender, was raided. Besides himself, it’s Mammon that Trump worships, money before country.

Foolish man, house of cards on sand, ka-bam.

So, I suspect, in a matter of months, we’ll be able to exclaim, like Angus in Macbeth, “Now does he feel his title/ Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe/ Upon a dwarfish thief.”

Despite the weaklings in an enabling Republican Congress, it appears that thanks to one patriotic Republican, Robert Mueller, the rule of law will triumph.

Low Ethics, High Dudgeon

 

Although Brett Kavanaugh slung a slew of lies under oath Thursday[1], he did get one thing right.  His reputation has been forever ruined, and by my reckoning, his sniveling lachrymose barking performance Thursday played a significant role in furthering tainting what he likes to call his “good name.”  Now we know that, not only was he a sloppy drunk who may have sexually abused more than one woman, but also that even as an adult, he’s a spoiled brat who thinks he’s better those below him (ie., everyone).

Ultimately, without corroboration, the allegation in question at the hearing amounts to a he said/she said stalemate.  On the other hand, his performance during that hearing makes it perfectly, unequivocally clear that he is an asshole in the league of Pride and Prejudice’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  We’re talking pantheon dwelling assholedom.  Zeus, Ted Cruz, Trump.

Yet, I read on Twitter that the White House was thrilled with his guns-blazing impertinence, saw it as “masculine.”

What?  Masculine?  If whining and anger denoted masculinity, Lindsey Graham = the Marlborough Man.

I’m gonna bite you, I’m gonna bite you

No doubt you’ve already seen this, but just in case:

 

Since when has pouting insouciance become to denote masculinity?

Kavanaugh seems to think that because he got into Yale, was a popular jock at a prestigious prep school, attended church, etc. that he is somehow above being questioned about a serious allegation.  When one senator asked him had he ever blacked out from over-drinking, he barked back, “Have you?”

I mean, his sense of entitlement out-neros Nero, which, according to philosopher Aaron James’ Assholes, a Theory is the defining trait of assholedom:

Our [i.e. James’s] theory has three main parts.  In interpersonal or cooperative relations, the asshole:

  1.  allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically;

  2.  does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and

  3.  is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.

If little Brett had any sense, he’d withdraw his name, resign his judgeship, and sign on with Fox News.  That would take care of his serious cash flow problems. His financial disclosure statements clearly demonstrate a lack of restraint, that the judge lacks good judgment. He buys houses he can’t afford, joins country clubs he can’t afford, etc.

Anyway, if his story teaches us anything, it’s that in the Republican Party, power trumps decency, that sexual assault isn’t taken all that seriously by lots of men, and that males and females are held to much different standards when it comes to their deportment in hearings.

Oh, yeah, and being an asshole in high school can come back to haunt your ass.


[1]Eg, in his yearbook, he referred to “the devil’s triangle” as a drinking game.  Here are two definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

1 A threesome with 1 woman and 2 men. It is important to remember that straight men do not make eye contact while in the act. Doing so will question their sexuality.

Larry: Did you hear that Eric and Brian were in a Devils Triangle with Sarah last night?
Brad: Yeah man, I did, what homo’s.
Larry: No man, its cool, they didn’t make eye contact.

2 A made up game of quarters with three cups arranged in a triangle. The rules are unknown because the inventor of the game, Brett Kavanaugh, could not explain them under oath.
“Hey Renate? Want to play devils triangle with Mark and I (sic)?” Brett asked.

A PR Disaster of Homeric Proportions

This Trump supporter is unhappy his dear leader has been removed from office

The ill-fated descent on that hellbound escalator to kick off Trump’s presidential campaign will go down as history’s most disastrous publicity stunt Eh-Ver.

escalator descent into hell

Even my then 8-year-old stepdaughter understood on that woeful Wednesday Trump really didn’t want the job.  She predicted he’d see all those presidential papers piled on his desk and say, “What?! I don’t want to do all THAT!”

Obviously, Trump didn’t think he’d win.  No one on his staff even bothered to prepare for the transition.  The idea was to amass a planet-load of free publicity for the Trump brand and hee-haw all the way to the bank[s]/slush fund[s].

Unfortunately — for us and for him — he did win, thanks in part to Russian interference, in part to the National Enquirer, and in part to those campaign donations to his former mistresses, if you can call them that. We’re talking a difference of 78,000 votes in three states, a margin narrow enough to claim that the Russians and the silence money could very well have tipped the election his way.

Well, that’s sewage under the bridge, to coin a phrase.  He is the president, perhaps not fair and squarely, but clearly.

No, he didn’t want to win. Why would someone who ran his business like a mob enterprise ever invite the scrutiny that being president is guaranteed to incur?  Why would someone put his children (including his son-in-law) in such jeopardy?

Let’s face it.  Being a close Trump associate has been the opposite of a boon (i.e., a curse), and let me tell you, Trump confidants are flipping like acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, —  Michael Cohen, Allan Weisselberg, and the delightfully named, David Pecker. He’s the CEO of American Media, Inc, parent company of The National Enquirer, and who no doubt has a Great Pyramid-sized subterranean stash of buried Trump stories involving god know what: groped women, spurned B-girls, urination fetishes.  I wouldn’t be surprised if even more pernicious peculiarities may be in the offingouting.[1]

The Trump presidency is doomed. There’s the treason thing. Add to that Emolument Cause thing.  The accounting flimflam fuckedupness of his financial empire. The Kushner culpability.  The catacombs of Don Jr.’s  and Eric’s slack ass shenanigans, no doubt sporting skeletons galore. Class action suits.  Even a dispute that in Chicago Trump Tower is violating environmental laws and contaminating the rivers.

And Mueller has hard evidence.  Hard drives. Trump’s tangerine tinted goose is cooked, which begs the question: how will this idiot told tale end?

Resignation? Impeachment?  Electoral annihilation?

Imagine this. Trump has been impeached, but he ain’t going gently.  He refuses to leave the White House.  His supporters have taken to the streets brandishing assault weapons.

Fun ahoy! Send out for some pillars and Cecil B DeMille. 


[1]E.g., an obsession with Lithuanian dwarves?

How Can Such a Clownish Spray-Painted Raccoon-Eyed, Combed-over Lard-Ladled Cement-Tongued Buffoon End Up Being a Cult-Figure?

Oh, good God, all these erstwhile free traders turned protectionists don’t give a flying flivver about Donald Trump’s backflip on whatever. He’s right.  He could gun down the Dalai Lama on the street, and his supporters would still worship him as a latter-day incarnation of Vishnu. Trump will get 40% of the vote in 2020, and given the bias the Constitution has for rural voters, again a minority might be enough.

What gives?  How can such a clownish spray-painted raccoon-eyed, combed-over lard-ladled cement-tongued buffoon end up being a cult-figure?

I blame Jerry Springer, pro wrestling, underfunded education, xenophobia, radon, and in-breeding – not to mention abstinence-only sex education.

Here is this century’s William Jennings Bryan[1] regaining Marco Rubio’s support by explaining that he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would.”[2]

I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcripts—I have to say, I came back and I said, “what is going on, what is the big deal?” So I got a transcript, I reviewed it, I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized there is a need for some clarification. It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. The sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t,” or “why it wouldn’t be Russia.” So just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. And the sentence should have been, and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video, the sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” So sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

Yes, Donald, your sensitive linguistic distrust of using a double negative does “clarif[y] things pretty good.”

It clearly demonstrates you’re an incorrigible liar.

So what we get this morning is a barrage of tweets, this one garnering the most absurd award:

Like I said, incorrigible liar.


[1]Imagine Donald at the Snopes trial.

[2]BTW, not seeing “any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” is as mealy mouth as you get given the intelligence agencies VOCE MAGNAhave said yes, yes, very yes, it was, was, yes the Russians who hacked the 2016 election.