November 2012

Dreams and Disappointment

I get Mitt Romney. So does Al Gore. In a strange way all three of us have something in common. In the case of Gore and Romney they were, as the saying goes, “To the manor born”. Although my own beginnings were more humble, and I was born poor, the three of us shared destiny.

Al Gore, Jr. was destined to be president, literally. He was not only raised in Washington, D.C., he was born there. His was father served as a U.S. Representative and subsequently as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee. As little Al grew up, he learned to converse with representatives, senators and ambassadors. He served in the military, was elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. Finally, he was elected Vice-president of the United States. Al was on his way.

Mitt Romney was also destined to be president, though not quite as literally. His father was governor of Michigan, a far cry from the halls of Washington. He learned to converse with businessmen and he became rich. Mitt failed in his quest to become a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. However, in spite of the fact that his father failed to pass on the importance of sharing tax returns, Mitt succeeded in being elected governor of Massachusetts. His destiny seemed less tied to his political heritage than to his visions of self-importance. He felt America owed it to him. Still, Mitt was on his way.

I was destined to be pope. It is true that my parents were neither famous nor powerful, but I had something that Gore and Romney did not. As I was growing up, everyone told me my mother was a living saint. I went to church more often than Jesus, and my parents received more religious literature than the local parish. I went to the seminary and learned to converse with nuns and priests, even a few bishops and cardinals. Finally, I was ordained a priest. I was on my way.

Then came disappointment for all three of us. I came to realize that I had no real prospects of being elected pope, so I settled for parish life. Gore deflected the chants of his followers who called him the “real president” and settled for cooling the planet. Romney realized that he is not everyone’s beloved hero, and so he blames.

One thing I do not share in common with Al Gore and Mitt Romney, is that I keep dreaming. Not about being pope. My dream is that I never have to hear Romney speak again. It is such a peaceful sleep. There are no lies in this dream, so there are no fact-checkers. There is no arrogant wealth, so nobody else is demeaned or made to feel worthless. Indeed, in this dream there is no “us v. them” of any kind.

But what we wake up to, is at least as important as what we dream. Yesterday I awakened to the cold reality of Mitt Romney still speaking. I heard him wallowing in his disillusionment and self-importance. I heard him saying what a wonderful candidate he was. I heard him blaming Obama, Obama’s team and especially the 47%. By the way, he lost by more than 47%.

Now I am left with a terrible choice: living in a waking world where Mitt Romney is not silent, or sleeping.

Good night, my friends!

The Jester and the Fool. The Buffoon and the Idiot. Entertainers all?

It was quite common in medieval times for kings to employ a court jester to entertain at royal events. Although occasionally dressing as any servant, it was more usual for a jester to don an outlandish costume, one that suited the various actions of juggling, song and dance. Beyond the world of the court, jesters—sometimes referred to as fools—found their way into theatre, most notably the works of Shakespeare.

In both court and theatre, the jester or fool had a secondary role beyond mere entertainment. They were often artful and witty satirists, deftly ridiculing both king and guest. As noted in the writings of Shakespeare, the jester was a skillful actor whose cleverness was an inherent quality and a pre-requisite to success. In his play Twelfth Night, he describes the jester Feste as “wise enough to play the fool.” In real life, a story is told of George Buchanan, jester to James the VI of Scotland, who tricked the king (briefly) into abdicating the throne to the jester, himself!

Danny Kaye, arguably one of the most gifted entertainers of all time, gave a convincing performance in the 1956 film “The Court Jester”
. In this movie, he joins with freedom fighters to expose the illegitimate king and cast off the shackles of tyranny. In the process he rescues and restore the rightful heir to the throne. Indeed, there was a social, entertaining, political, and literary role for court jesters and fools.

By contrast, buffoons and idiots are bereft of any social grace or value. In general, they do not possess any inherent qualities or wisdom. Not that they cannot also be entertaining. The difference is an oft-quoted distinction not to be forgotten: The jester or fool is someone we laugh with, the buffoon or idiot is someone we laugh at. The jester knows he is a fool and does not take his antics seriously. The buffoon, usually unaware that he is an idiot, takes himself very seriously, assuming delusional importance.

A casual observer of modern America would suggest that the jester has returned. In entertainment, one need only look to television and the news media. They continually foist the absurdities of Donald Trump on an unsuspecting public. But is Trump a jester?

A careful observer would recognize not the resurgence of a jester, but the ubiquitous presence of a buffoon. Perhaps Trump intended to perform the role of jester or fool. Personally, I think that is too kind. A more accurate assessment is that Donald Trump is a buffoon who has clearly crossed the line. He has become merely an idiot.

Trump’s “birther” nonsense reached new heights when he made his offer to donate $5 million dollars to charity if President Obama would turn over his academic records and passport applications. Of course, it was not the campaign “game changer” that Trump promised. It was merely another example of his insatiable desire for attention. He proved this in his reaction to last night’s election tweeting that the election was “a total sham and a travesty”, that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” (even though Barak Obama won the majority of the popular vote, also!), and finally claiming, “We are not a democracy”.

Jester, fool, buffoon or idiot, there is something quite serious at play here. Trump will never achieve the self-importance that drives him to absurdity, both in thought and action. As the clever quip states, Trump “is a legend in his own mind.” Outside that mind, he gets a lot of attention. Therefore, it seems appropriate to question the media.

Is there any merit or justification to the attention Trump receives from television radio and print? If he contributed anything of value to American society, even if it were only being a jester, the answer would be yes. But he does not. The American media are simply playing into the hands of a self-indulgent buffoon. The fact that he is also a megalomaniac, makes all this attention dangerous. But there may be hope.

Trump’s real estate investments are ubiquitous, his buildings eponymously named. When Hurricane Sandy hit shore in Atlantic City, she seemed to take dead aim at Trump Plaza. It was quite a sight. The lights that usually spell out Trump’s name were like the lights in his head. They were out. Darkened. Nobody home. Perhaps the various media outlets could take a cue from Hurricane Sandy.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, stripping the fun from life and politics. Maybe America would be well served by some incarnation of the court jester, a person wise enough to play the fool and entertain. One thing is certain, however. We do not need a buffoon. We do not need “Donald Trump, American Idiot”!