One of the first lessons one is expected to integrate, and then practice assiduously, when entering training in chaplaincy, is that the only issues that matter are those of the patient. A similar boundary is required in medicine, social work, counselling and, one hopes, in teaching. The “issues” preying on the professional’s mind have to be set aside, insofar as is feasible, so that the encounter can be focused on the immediate and pressing needs of the “client”.
A similar separation of the issues of the professional and the client pervades the work of grief counsellors, especially when dealing with traumatic circumstances resulting in the death of many victims.
While politicians are not trained or skilled in the professional requirements of the care-giving practitioner, there are minimum expectations on compassionate friends, acquaintances, neighbours and first responders. And, to be blunt and “in-your-face” about it, throwing paper towel rolls to the victims of a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico, as the nominal president of the United States did on his historic and disastrous visit to the capital, is not even close to meeting minimum expectations.
All presidential “acts” have a “roll-playing” and symbolic quality that elevates them (or is supposed to) above mere literal and functional acts. Another gap in the preparation of many politicians is a familiarity with the “poetic” the “symbolic” and the “art” of the situation. And there is no reason or justification in dismissing the “poetic” or the “symbolic” or the “art” of leadership. Together they comprise the core of the exercise, and must never be reduced to a mere “frill” as unnecessary or as irrelevant. There is something of a paradox in that a person is placed in the position of a multi-dimensional institution, for which centuries of examples in history have painted on the national canvas of the national imagination.
And that national canvas and that national imagination frame how each citizen perceives him(her)-self and his relation to the nation of his birth/adoption. It is the marriage of history and art that gives birth to a national culture. And for any leader, especially one confronted by a minefield of potentially existential threats, to disregard both art and history is to both literally and metaphorically “rob” the nation of its heritage, and demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge, interest and comprehension of both his place in history and the potential of his moment in that landscape. This theft, whether conscious or unconscious, is so penetrating that it impales the chief executive and enclouds every decision made in the Cabinet Room and/or the Oval Office. It effectively erases the two-plus centuries of history, and the two-plus millennia of literature, drama, poetry and all other forms of artistic expression. Racist slurs, blue-note epithets, demagogic “your fired” as if the national stage merely replicated the television “reality” show set are no substitute for nuanced language, attitude and insight of the kind the world grew to honour from the previous occupant of White House. And to paint that kind of artistry, both in language and in governance as “effete” (a word likely still outside the vocabulary of the president), is a testament to those who would trash Obama, without having to acknowledge, own, or account for their blatant racism.
Words, symbols, carriage, character, institutional reputation, rhetoric and resiliency…these all rely on a full grasp and comprehension of one’s place in the universe, not merely the universe of the last election, nor the universe of the real estate barrons of New York, nor the universe of the nouveau riche clubs in their various venues. And the current occupant of the Oval Office not only does not have, nor does he aspire to acquire, even a minimal appreciation for such things. As a national leader, he ridicules both the office and the reputation of the nation with ever tweet and every laryngeal utterance. He is, and no army of generals can or will change this, a self-inflated suit under a shock of obviously dyed straw, with an ambition that seeks to erode the best of America and replace it with his most sinister and self-serving palatial emptiness.
There is another aspect of this erosion of a consciousness about the importance of art, symbol, language and history and that is that the American media, as well as media sources and practitioners in other countries are dedicating their news reporting and their column inches to the literal with barely a tip of their tablet to the potential role that metaphor, simile, personification, irony, satire and any of the plethora of literary devices potentially in their quiver. This vacuuming of all contextual and textual nuance from their reporting reduces much of the punditry that follows to a personality “exposure” of the central figures. And no one needs that kind of personal, ego-centric and epic exposure that the person currently in the Oval Office.
Stripping the language of the public square of what has stood the test of time, for centuries, including the demise of the liberal arts programs in hundreds of (formerly) prestigious universities and colleges, and substituting various levels of skill training (accounting, personnel assessment, maintenance and repair of new technologies, economic theory and practice, medical skill and protocols) will leave us worshipping at the altar of “function” and have the effect of turning each of us into the means for some other’s ends.
Kant warned us all about that ethical principle, and without so much as a blink of our collective eye, we have become, in effect, the means to another’s ends.
And no one takes that dictum to its most expansive reach than the current president of the United States….everything and everyone is a means to whatever he perceives his personal, narcissistic ends….”SUCCESS” in his own definition.
Insulting Puerto Ricans by throwing packages of paper towels at them, as if he were the “great benefactor” is insulting to those struggling recipients. There could be no more clarion model of colonialism than that scene…patronizing, demeaning, insulting and another historic nadir of despicable performance by a person whose only obsession is his own person.
And yet, it is also an insult to every American, and to the length and breadth of nearly three centuries of American history. And then to trumpet the “wonderful” success of the relief efforts on the part of the American government, while also sticking his thumb in the eyes of every Puerto Rican, by reminding them of their fiscal debt is another act for which, if those in leadership in the United States have a single ring of spine left, should compel at least a censure, possibly an act of Congress that apologizes to the Governor and the people of Puerto Rico, and an open letter of reproach delivered in person to the White House.
Tillerson’s “moron” retort, following the trump speech to the Boy Scouts, an organization he previously led, is a minimal report on this president. And, by the way, the sentiment of the “disloyal” epithet places Tillerson on the right side of history, given everything we have learned and fear to learn about the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Eugene Robinson, in the Washington Post today, writes:
One of the most appalling aspects of the Trump presidency is the sycophancy he requires of the officials who serve him. Trump demands not just loyalty by flattery too. He insists that his courtiers treat his pronouncements, however absurd or offensive, as infallible holy writ. Members of his Cabinet have made a humiliating bargain: humor him, suck up to him, and maybe—just maybe—he will leave you alone and let you make policy.
Whether Tillerson has broken the unforgiveable rule or not will play out in the ensuing hours and days. And whether the rest of Cabinet and the Republican leaders in both Houses of Congress can take heart (not cover) from Tillerson’s irreverence and exert the kind of persistent, unilateral and disciplined pressure on what is obviously a dangerous presidency is also uncertain.
It is not merely the political futures of each of the persons in the Cabinet that are at stake; it is also the fate of the nation that is now threatened, as foreign leaders continue to find ways to run “end-runs” around this impediment to democracy, to decency, to integrity and to international order.
Sycophancy, patronizing colonialism, arrogance that redefines narcissism and above all, detachment from reality….these are some of the dangers inherent in the current presidency.
There are neither laws nor precedents for how to stop this administration from continuing to dismantle many of the good institutions and traditions of the United States. And we are watching a deficit in courage, in telling truth to power, in imposing an iron-clad and unrelenting discipline on this dangerous president….and General Kelly cannot be expected to accomplish these ends by himself. It will take the whole of the American government to rid itself of this cancer.
Can Robert Mueller issue his findings before Il Duce issues his ubiquitous pardons of his retinue, his family and most deplorably, himself?
It does not take an autistic savant, like Dr. Shaun Murphy, on The Good Doctor, to discern the fatal and growing cancerous tumor on the body of the United States nation. It will, however, take a team of courageous, ethical and independent political surgeons, to remove the tumor and provide a modicum of hope that the republic can restore much of the damage already in evidence after only nine months of this Greek tragedy.
Are there any political “surgeons” available?