You demagogues are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing but if they stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troublous times that you line your pockets. (Aristophanes, The Knights)
It is not an overstatement to say that the destiny of the entire human race depends on what is going on in America today. This is a staggering reality to the rest of the world; they must feel like passengers in a supersonic jetliner who are forced to watch helplessly while a passel of drunks, hypes freaks and madmen fight for the controls and the pilot’s seat. (Elridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968)
How many people have each of us met, many of them American citizens, who say whenever the presidential election comes up, that while they detest Trump they also believe that Hillary is a liar, a cheat and a scoundrel. And then the conversation frequently turns to the question of how a country of 330 million people can come up with these two candidates for their highest office.
Well, these certainly are “troublous” times to say the least. And the troubles are somewhat analogous to the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, a few decades past. Violence based on religious differences, sectarian interpretations of similar documents, fought over the bodies and the blood of innocents on all sides. Troubles, too, are referred to by those whose feelings of control over their own lives, as once they did, when they lived behind a picket fence, drove a new American tank-type car, listened to Elvis Presley, used Brylcream on their locks, and smoked Marlboro’s and watched I Love Lucy on their new television. Andy Williams’s Christmas Show was a must see; and the Viet Nam war was not even a hint on their radar screens of the future.
Races, black and white, were fighting in the streets, and police officers were clubbing protesters for racial justice with impunity. Nevertheless, the world was not spinning apart as in a centrifuge over financial and economic inequality, the threat of a terror attack everywhere, the prospect of a planet heating to the point where cities are swamped by rising sea levels, and dictators in possession of cyber hard and soft ware can pry into places always out of reach previously.
Nixon was still a chapter waiting to be written, and all of the psycho-analysis of his paranoia was still hidden behind a mountain of denial and destroyed tapes. (Remember when we had tape recorders that whizzed right in front of our eyes sucking up white noise with ever syllable they recorded.) NATO was a newborn geopolitical infant; the United Nations was barely out of diapers, the Marshall Plan was still a neon beacon on the forehead of the United States, following both the victory in WWII and the compassionate and ethical reparations for Europe.
And men knew what their place in the universe was, so simply and one-dimensional was their (our) picture of how to make it, how to make out, and how to rise up the organizational ladder. There were voices like Arthur Miller’s (in Death of a Salesman) who, through Willy Loman, painted a picture of a hollow and empty existence bowing and scraping “to the mayor or Prividence” prior to taking his own life. And in winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Miller also oversaw the premature departure of man in his audiences, with tears streaming down their cheeks, so graphic and painful was the truth of Miller’s drama.
Millions of those men have left this ‘orb’ to another generation of men whose lives were, for the most part, even more affluent than their fathers’. The simplicity of the political discourse in both generations pales to a mere pallid yellow on the walls of our memories, especially when placed beside the cross currents, the multiple images leaping from the printers and the software, masquerading as “art” in galleries in the 21st century. Some of us still choke on the mouthful that is “graphic art” so oxymoronic does the dichotomy seem.
Nevertheless, the anger and desperation of Willy Loman was not healed by his car crash, nor by all of the other suicides, martyr-cides, refug-cides, terror-cides nor even with the accelerating production of smart bombs and drones. It has been transferred through the thousands of wrestling and boxing rings, the boot camps, the proliferation of assault weapons and their deployment even on kindergarten children and their teachers and the hundreds of lost lives and investment accounts that prompted another generation to jump from Wall Street towers, before 9/11. And then, the morning of the apocalypse, everything changed, and the soot, and the stench and the burned flesh and steel, and the broken lives and dreams continue to haunt not only the United States, where the event occurred, but around the world.
And even with the generation of a huge security apparatus in most countries, no one really feels truly safe, secure and free from the threat of another insurgent attack.
And add to these sources of anger and desperation, the loss of millions of homes, jobs and families, through bursts of booms and caves of busts, with only token sanctions on those who perpetrated the crimes against humanity, without having to worry about the International Criminal Court, given that no shots were fired.
And with the rise to prominence, if not pre-eminence of the political donation cheque, the sanitized and anonymous “activist” recipe, power was subsumed by those with both the pens and the accounts to write such bribes thereby negating the constitutional ideal: government of, for and by the people.
So troublous times faced the world long before the 2016 presidential race began. On the government front, seven-plus years of obstruction by manichean right-wing aardvarks, masking their demonic racism with sophistry that tried to demonstrate the worthlessness of anything and everything Obama suggested and sent up to Congress. Compromise was and is a swear word in Republican vocabularly so devoid is that vocabulary of substance, sophistication and national aspiration, buried as it is under the weigh of tons of personal career ambition for re-election.
And into this mix, self-thrusting his narcissistic ego and bulbous body, along with his bugle of self-promoting cash, came Trump. He knows how dependent (both personally and politically) he is on turbulence, and on the fear that energizes such stormssycophany media that he merely parades one scene of chaos after another, sucking the sycophant media into his whirling Dyson vacuum.
He may denounce booze, but nevertheless, like a dry drunk, is more toxic than his drunk brothers. He may carry a miniature bible, pulling it out in front of the camera, as proof of his saran spirituality. He may even cast his children as acolytes in his liturgy, a liturgy that mocks every serious religious organization on the planet. He denies global warming and climate change as a hoax; once again throwing a projection of himself onto this ominous planetary oven.
And then not only is the demagogue pouring gas on an already flaming country, a generation of grey-beard rebels, and a watching world of both leaders and citizens whose lives he makes much more skittish than they were prior to his many ejaculations.
And who knows which of the many passengers riding in Cleaver’s jetliner will grab this monster by the neck and throw him to the floor of the cockpit of that plane, before bringing it into a safe landing, without the loss of human life or hope.