Within hours of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated they would fill her seat as soon as possible—before the election. In response many people have suggested that Democrats should add seats to the high court if they win both the Senate and the White House in the current election. That was met with hysterical cries. The Democrats want to pack the court!
Of course, the Constitution does not designate the number of seats on the Supreme Court. That is left for Congress to determine. Over the history of the United States the number has ranged from five to ten. The current configuration of nine was set in 1869.
It has been argued by some that there is a difference between packing the court and stacking the court. Under this distinction, adding seats to the Supreme Court would be “packing”, while loading the lower courts with right wing ideologues is “stacking.” The distinction is nominal, at best. Although it does allow for a comparison between stacking the court and stacking a deck of cards. An astute observer would recognize that both are cheating. More substantively, though, the terms packing and stacking are interchangeable. But what is packing?
Over the last three and a half years Mitch McConnell has directed the Trump Administration’s efforts to pack the federal bench, often with unqualified individuals who are chosen simply for being young ideologues who will do the bidding of the Republican Party for decades to come.
McConnell, of course, has done more than just pack the lower courts. First he blocked President Obama’s legitimate and moderate appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Secondly, McConnell and Trump moved with unparalleled rapidity to fill the seat left vacant by Ginsburg’s death. In fact, Trump was uncharacteristically honest in stating his reason. Looking back to 2000 for inspiration, he said he wanted the Supreme Court to decide the 2020 election regardless of the peoples’ vote.
What gets lost in the shuffle of accusations about Democrats packing the court is the reality that Trump is doing exactly what every other dictator does in an attempt to retain power. He is packing all federal courts. It is classic authoritarianism. You know. The what “can never happen here” but is actually happening here. It is only when the courts are packed with Trump appointees that he can take the next steps toward establishing an autocracy and dismantling the Constitution of the United States.
The issue regarding a new SCOTUS appointment is not judge Barrett’s qualifications. Unlike many of the judges Trump and McConnell secured for the lower courts, she is competent. The issue is the demise of democracy. It is neither extreme nor hyperbolic to declare that if a Republican dominated Supreme Court appoints Trump president, then American democracy is dead.
Another reason to fear Trump’s packing of the courts is the reality that the federal courts—all the way up to the Supreme Court—are becoming less and less representative of the American people. Indeed, they are simple out of touch with reality. From the Citizens United decision to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the American people are being dismissed from the democratic process. Three Trump appointed appeals judges sided with Texas governor Abbott’s decision to limit ballot drop off boxes to a total of one per county. Note that Harris County which includes the city of Houston has a population of more than 4 1/2 million people and covers a territory of 1,777 square miles.
What happens to America when we can no longer rely on the courts to guarantee the rights of all our people? Even before Trump's presidency, America began slipping into an oligarchy. With Trump we are headed straight to dictatorship.
I can appreciate a nominee in a senate hearing not answering questions about legislative issues that might come up before the Supreme Court. Many of Barrett’s predecessors have done the same. But for a moment set aside Roe v. Wade, set aside the Affordable Care Act. Instead of legislative issues, look no further than the Constitution, itself.
No, a president cannot issue an order saying the Constitution is null and void and declare himself president for life. Not unless Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. She refused to defend the Constitution.
Yes. The president must accept the vote of the people and commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Unless Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. She refused to defend the Constitution.
No. The president does not have the authority to unilaterally delay an election. Unless Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. She refused to defend the Constitution.
No. Armed people cannot intimidate voters at the polls. Unless Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. She refused to defend the Constitution. Maybe Amy Coney Barrett is not qualified after all.
The examples above demand that Amy Coney Barrett not be confirmed to the Supreme Court. If she is confirmed, during her oath of office she will swear to defend the Constitution of the United States. But her testimony in the senate hearing room suggests otherwise. One might conclude that either there are two Amy Coney Barretts or, like the president she seems to admire, there is only one Amy Coney Barrett who does not speak the truth.
If she is confirmed Trump and McConnell will have succeeded in packing the court. If she is confirmed the Democrats will have no choice but the expand the court. Not pack it. Expand and reform the court so that it is more representative of the American people.
There are innumerable examples, stacked one upon another, making it nearly impossible to grade them from bad to worse to worst. But arguably the two most significant were Trump’s equivocating on the issue of racial hatred, (the now famous “There were good people on both sides” statement), and the ripping of toddlers from their parents and then imprisoning these little children in cages. The latter example can only come from a man who has no soul. And if a nation allows that action to continue, the only conclusion is that the country is equally soul-less.
Enter Joe Biden. He began his campaign by declaring that this is a fight for the soul of the nation. He knows that we are, that we must be, better than this. Better than what Trump has made of us. He knows that America cannot survive if it continues to wallow in the gutters into which Trump has dragged us.
There are, of course, people who disagree with Biden’s policy proposals and are hesitant to vote for him. After forty-seven years in politics he is accustomed to that. He expects it. But Biden also knows that the country needs an opposition party. It is not healthy for a democracy to run by a single party. That is what we expect from countries like China, Russia and a host of other autocracies, very few of which even pretend to be democratic.
An opposition party need not agree or capitulate on every issue. The two parties must balance each other. They must compromise. They must work together for the common good. And that requires a soul.
Today Trump has remade the Republican party in his own image. And in virtually every act as president, he has demonstrated that he has no soul. That may also be the reason he has no remorse for anything he has ever done. Recall that prior to his election Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness. That admission set up a new paradigm for irony. For these days when Americans go to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of worship, they are greeted by a God of remorse. A God who asks the people’s forgiveness for having created Donald Trump.
Joe Biden is not deterred. He still seeks to restore the fundamental values, the basic goodness that has defined America. He knows that there have always been failures. Our history is checkered at best. We have enslaved and unjustly imprisoned our people. We have denied many groups a myriad of rights. Even today there are continuing attempts to restrict or flat out deny the right to vote—the most fundamental principle of democracy. But before Trump, we had never been a country without a soul.
One fading example of America’s goodness can be seen in the way we rally around the underdog; the way we had been accustomed to setting aside our differences when someone suffers or is in need.
When Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, Americans of all persuasions supported him. People of faith prayed for him. Some Americans thought that this deadly diseased would enable him to empathize with the millions of other Americans who have contracted the virus; that he would understand and express sympathy for the more than 210,000 who have died. Maybe Americans are not so much good, as they are naïve.
Trump emerged from the hospital, neither human nor humbled. He puffed himself up like the rooster who thinks his crowing makes the sun rise. In Trump’s case he thinks his arrogance will cause COVID to retreat. He is not only soulless. He is heartless.
I still think Joe Biden is on to something. I still think that our country can reclaim its soul. But I also think that there is room in that soul for one negative. I would never suggest we pray that Trump dies. But maybe we don’t have to pray that he survives.
But how can all people be created in God’s image if we look so different? Why are all people not white? After all, God is an old white man with a long white beard. A little less jolly than Santa Claus, but clearly more loving and joyful. Of course that concept sounds silly. It should. But it is at the heart of white supremacy.
From the halls of the Third Reich to South African Apartheid to the Trump White House, white people rule (d), sometimes even corrupting the Sacred Scriptures to support their air of superiority. In fact, if the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC were painted any other color, it is unlikely that Trump would have ever run for President. The Pink House, The Black House, certainly the Blue House, even the Red House would not have been so appealing. But back to that "image of God" thing.
It is commonly held that simply the process of being created, results in another image of God. But I wonder. Should we not first determine what makes someone human? After all, we do not claim that any of the other animals are created in God's image. Only humans. So it is a fair question and it is not too difficult to look backward and conclude that some of the most notorious people in history were not really human. I’m not speaking of imperfections or even sinfulness. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. But consider.
Would anyone really argue that Adolf Hitler was human? Not only did he drag the world into unimaginable war for the sake of his own ego, he implemented the Final Solution resulting in the murder of six million Jews.
Hitler’s counterpart in the Soviet Union was Joseph Stalin, a man whose rise to power would shame Machiavelli. That ascent was was both manipulative and lacking in loyalty—at least on Stalin’s part. His exercise of power was directly responsible for the death of some 20 million Soviet citizens. Despite his brilliance, Stalin’s disregard for human life makes it difficult to assign him the designation of “human."
Farther to the East was Mao Zedong. Like his predecessors in Germany and Russia, he brooked no opposition. His supposed acceptance of criticism lasted only a few months, long enough to identify and then persecute some 500,000 plus intellectuals. His vision for a post-agricultural, industrialized China, a world power on equal footing with Russia and the United States, resulted in the death of more than fifty million Chinese.
Each of the men mentioned above lacked compassion. They were ruthless and vindictive. Indeed they were devoid of basic humanity. An argument can rightly be made that they were not created in the image of God.
There are many imitators on today’s world scene. Most of them, however, lack the oratorical skill of a Hitler, the intellectual rigor of a Stalin or the world vision of a Mao. But what they all have in common are insatiable egos, a distortion of reality and, most importantly, a lack of humanity. Whether that person is a Putin or a Kim or a Maduro or a Trump. Yes, sad as it is, we must include the current American president.
What kind of human being would rip children, some as young as toddlers, from their parents and hold them in cages? Well, a Hitler would. What kind of human being would dismiss nearly 200,000 preventable deaths, all the result of his own incompetence, with the phrase “It is what it is?” Well, a Stalin would. What kind of human being would stoke racial violence and threaten democracy? Well, a Mao would. And Trump has done all that without oratorical skill, intellectual rigor, and clearly without a social vision.
This is not an exercise in curiosity. There is an election coming up and democracy is at stake. When we cast our ballots we must ask ourselves what kind of president we want. Trump has an out of control ego; he is ruthless and vindictive; he demands loyalty but offers none; he embraces evil as long as that evil likes him; he claims to support law and order but praises lawless violence—if the perpetrators like him. Trump has no appreciable intellect and no integrity. Hell, Trump has no humanity.
Anyone who has the slightest flicker of faith must confront the reality that Donald J. Trump was not created in the image and likeness of God. That seems to narrow our choice this year.
The recent movement to remove statues commemorating various Confederate generals, coupled with the suggestion to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis, left me wondering. Do we approach our history from a perspective of immediacy and expediency, rather than principle?
Not unlike other cultures and countries, we lionize our past leaders—at least the ones we believe embodied the values we hold dear. There are, of course, exceptions. No other country would memorialize traitors. And, in fact, we have no statues to honor Benedict Arnold. He is the bane of the American Revolution. Then, why did we ever erect statues to honor the traitors who led the South during the Civil War? These monuments are a perfect example of bending history (and facts) to the expediency of the moment.
As has been pointed out in numerous journals and history tomes, most of those statues were built long after the war, the majority in the early part of the 20th Century. Had America forgotten the tragedy, the internecine conflict that tore apart not only a nation, but also families? No. But honoring these traitors served an agenda—the furtherance of white supremacy. As a result, while the violence had ended one could conceivably argue that the Civil War, itself, did not. After all, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, these statues espoused the clear conviction that blacks were subservient to whites, that segregation was natural and proper—all resulting in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And continuing today.
But there are also memorials to people that the entire country can hold in esteem. The most obvious examples would seem to be the Founding Fathers. In August 2017 President Trump lamented the removal of statues to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, complaining that monuments to Washington and Jefferson would be next. Trump does not know enough history to be prescient, so it was quite by accident that he stumbled on the question of whether we should honor even our Founding Fathers with statues.
Consider the unpleasant truths buried within American history. Many, if not most, Americans believe that Washington was not only a great general and president, but that he freed his slaves. He did no such thing. Or consider Jefferson, whose brilliant, philosophical and enlightened mind crafted the Declaration of Independence, which in its original draft condemned slavery. In spite of that he not only did not free his slaves, he enslaved even his own children, his progeny with Sally Hemings. Are these men really role models?
This brings us to the current movement to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis. Lewis was a man who commanded great respect for his lifelong commitment to equality, justice and civil rights, especially voting rights. I admire him greatly and consider him as much the heart of the civil rights movement as was Martin Luther King, Jr. Lewis gave his life, literally to the edge of death, in service of civil rights. But there is a danger that in death he may be lifted beyond the mere mortal. And future generations may discover the imperfect in John Lewis.
Only after King’s death did his shortcomings surface, reminding us that he was first and foremost a human being. Like all human beings he was imperfect. The same can be said of every great leader of every race. Every president in American history, all but one of whom were white, was human and imperfect. That humanity should not diminish their accomplishments. In fact, it should enhance them, with each person being judged on the merit of their principles and their achievements—or lack thereof.
In Psalm 146 we are cautioned: “Put not your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no salvation.” And yet, we need inspiration to strive toward perfection. If we do not find it by honoring those who came before us, where do we? Why not in principles, in movements and in legislation?
The Declaration of Independence, even in its final and less perfect form, is the premier document of the United States of America. Without it there would be no Constitution, another essential but imperfect document. Set aside for a moment the fact that Mt. Rushmore was stolen property and the carving of the presidential images illegal. How much greater would it be to have carved the Declaration of Independence in that rock?
We already have Independence Hall in Philadelphia and multiple Constitution Avenues. We now have Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC. In the case of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, might we not rename it “Bloody Sunday Bridge?” Then we can list the names of those who were beaten while peacefully marching to Selma.
It can be argued that erecting monuments to ideas, principles, movements and legislation serves another purpose. It causes people to think deeper than the image of a hero. It calls a nation to reflection and to the internalization of ideals. It reminds us that the work of justice is never complete. It prevents us from resting the on the laurels of those who came before us. It demands that we take up the mantel and be the force of change in our generation.
Perhaps future generations will see a Suffrage High School in every county. Or Voting Rights Parks dotting the landscape. Or downtown libraries named for Civil Rights. We are limited only by our ideals and our imaginations. Not only is an idea a greater monument to God than a cathedral. It is also a greater monument to heroes than a statue.
TRUMP TO PRIEST: “I Will Kill Myself!”
October 20, 2016
When my phone rang at 6:00 AM this morning, I had just stepped out of the shower. The screen indicated an unknown New York telephone number. I was about to push the reject button when curiosity won the day. And what a day!
“Good morning, Rev. Messenger. I hope I did not wake you. My name is Kellyanne Conway. Mr Trump would like to speak to you.”
It was way too early for a practical joke. Besides, I’m not a Trump supporter. Suspecting this was the work of one of my friends, I decided to play along.
“And why would he want to speak with me?”
“You’ll have to ask him,” she replied. That was my first indication that twisted truth was on the line. She answered media questions about Trump in just the same way.
“Very well,” I said. “I’ll speak with him.”
“Hello, Rev. Messenger, this is Donald Trump.”
“Good morning, Mr. Trump. What can I do for you?”
“I need someone to talk to,” he replied.
“Because you’re a priest and a good counselor.”
“Why would you say that? You don’t even know me.”
“As you know, I’m very well liked. And I have friends, many, many friends in Los Angeles. They tell me good things about you.”
“I have to be honest with you, Mr. Trump…” He interrupted.
“Call me Donald.”
I continued, “I’m a Hillary supporter.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re a priest and I have a problem. Will you at least listen?”
This was a man I did not respect and I was tempted to decline. But he was right about the priest part. Listening to a soul in distress comes with the job. The voice I heard was desolate and full of anxiety. And I was intrigued. This did not sound like the Donald Trump I had seen at campaign rallies or read about in the papers. The Trump of the campaign trail would never admit to having problems.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Look. I never wanted to be president. I started this as a way to help Hillary. I’ve known her a long time. She’s a good person. Hillary and Bill were even at my third wedding. They both said very nice things about me.”
“You haven’t been saying very good things about her lately,” I prodded.
“That’s because she’s started saying mean things about me. At first I liked her. I started my campaign to force the other Republicans out, because I’m a winner. That’s what I do. I win. I thought low energy JEB would survive and then I could find an escape. But that fool quit and I couldn’t stop winning. All those other guys, and I include Carly Fiorina in that, they all turned out to be losers. Now I’m stuck.”
“You might not win, Mr. Trump. Hillary is way up in the polls. And that Access Hollywood tape only made matters worse.”
“I have a secret. I leaked that tape.”
I did not know where this conversation was going, but I did not believe him. I asked, “Why?”
“I was looking for a way out. I couldn’t quit. I’ve never done that in my life. That’s why I didn’t respond to the tape until my family forced me to. I thought maybe the useless Republican leadership would get rid of me. I could live with that. But they proved what I’ve been saying about them all along, especially Paul Ryan. He is disloyal and incompetent. They never wanted me.”
After years as a priest, I bought into the “nothing new under the sun” idea. This conversation changed that. What Trump told me on the phone was as bizarre as his candidacy itself. I tired to be reasonable.
“Mr. Trump, there’s no shame in dropping out of the race. Tell people you changed your mind. Tell them it’s not what you thought. Being president is not what you really want after all. They’ll accept that. I’m sure some people will be disappointed. But those who see you as real, who know you speak your mind, they won’t have a problem.”
“Listen, Reverend. I need you to understand. I can’t quit. I have to think of my fans. I have many of them. Millions all over the country. No Republican ever won as many votes in the primaries as I did. They want me to stay in the race. But I also can’t lose.”
“I’m not an expert in politics, Mr. Trump, but if you stay in you will lose.”
“And if I do, I will kill myself.”
I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but then I was one of those people who did not take his candidacy seriously, either. So I cautiously asked, “What will you accomplish by suicide?”
“I’ll go out hugely. Just like I’ve lived. I’ve never lost before—at anything. I always found a way to win, even when I cheated on my previous wives. This will be my way out.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“My life’s a mess right now. My daughter Tiffany thinks I’m a pig, Ivanka is tired of defending me and Melania is not even talking to me. Did you see her at the debate last night? She said if I lose the race she’ll leave me. Only my sons understand me. I raised them right. They’re just like me.”
“About that debate.”
“I know what you’re going to ask. You want to know why I won’t accept the results when Hillary wins. Because I won’t have to. I won’t be around to give a concession speech. That’s what I meant about keeping people in suspense.”
“But Mr. Trump…”
“Look, Reverend. I know I can’t win. Then, for the rest of my life I’d be known as a loser. That’s not who Donald Trump is. I built a great business with just a small loan from my father. It was all me. And I have properties all over world. Beautiful, massive properties worth billions of dollars. I won’t become a loser. I’ll kill myself if that happens.”
“I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”
“I already told you it’s because you are a priest. After I shoot myself you’ll know the reason and you can explain it to everyone. You can help people understand me. If I kill myself that is the only thing people will remember. They’ll forget about the weak Republican leadership, the rigged election. Maybe they’ll blame the media. But they’ll only say one thing about me—Donald Trump was huge. He even chose his own way out.”
I suddenly realized that I was dripping wet from my shower. I was standing with the towel in my hands and no telephone. Had I just been speaking with Donald Trump? Either my imagination had gone wild, or I was the victim of a cruel science fiction time warp.
If only the country could warp back to June 6, 2015. Maybe we could start over. Maybe Trump would not run. Maybe Donald Trump would not commit suicide on November 8, 2016. Maybe.
The misnomer of the common title has allowed generations of people to miss both the point and the challenge. The younger son is not the focus of the story. The father is. The younger son serves as a catalyst, his actions giving movement to the story. But Jesus does not present him as a model. In truth, when reading the parable we are probably all able to find ourselves at least partially reflected in both of the sons. In their own ways they are each self-centered. Greed and immaturity cause the younger son to demand an inheritance he is not yet entitled to; self-righteousness and jealousy flare in the older son who whines about never having been given his own party.
But the father. He is the one Jesus suggests we emulate. He is the character who is defined by love—a love that is displayed in forgiving his younger son and expressing tender compassion for his older son. So what? You may ask. The idea of forgiveness still comes through irrespective the name we give to the parable.
I suggest that the problem with the common title actually enhances the mistakes we make in our own lives, and should serve as warning when we examine the actions of others. As I noted, we probably all see ourselves occasionally reflected in the younger son. Who among us does not pursue self-centered goals and desires? Who among us, given the opportunity, would not use seed money from our parents to feed our debauchery? Those are mere human, adolescent foibles acted out in various scenarios simply indicating that we are not perfect. And when we come to our senses we ask pardon and promise to right ourselves.
If that were all, I might agree. But since most humans are not sociopaths or pathologically ill in multiple arenas of our psyches, we know when we have done wrong and we seek amends—or at least forgiveness. For many people that is what the prodigal son did.
No. He did not.
There is not one word in Luke’s telling of the parable that suggests the son expressed any sorrow or remorse for his actions. He returned to his father’s house the same self-centered little brat he was when he left. He returned because he wanted something. And it was not forgiveness. He had bankrupted himself through carousing and revelry. With no food and no money—and no one to give him anything—he returned to his father after carefully concocting a speech containing not a single suggestion of contrition. He was hungry. He was not sorry.
Oh, it’s true that the father did forgive him. But once we understand who the son really was—what he was really like—perhaps we will not so naïvely want to see ourselves in him. More importantly, we will be able to recognize when someone else is merely playing the game of the younger son. Enter the prodigal candidate.
Donald Trump went to Philadelphia and Detroit after having first traversed the continent denigrating, degrading, and demeaning the African-American community as a whole. Like the son in the parable there was no hint of contrition for anything that he said or did, no sorrow for fanning the flames of racial hatred and prejudice. Well, that should come as no surprise.
Last week Donald Trump went to Mexico after having launched his candidacy and spending the last year and a half belittling, berating and besmirching Mexican-Americans all around the country. He stood on a platform with the Mexican president and spoke not a word of contrition. He flat out lied.
Having spent months in a vituperate intemperance Donald Trump now comes before the Mexican-American and African-American communities playing the perfect prodigal son. Should we forgive him? Absolutely. After all, the father is our model in Jesus’s parable. At the same time, there is nothing in the story to suggest that the father was stupid. It is doubtful that he ever entrusted his son with another dime. So we should forgive Donald Trump—even if he is not remorseful—but we should not give him a vote and should never allow him to become president.
Of course, children were able to recognize Spot, they knew his name and could speak the simple sentence about him running around before they could read it. They were able to do all that because of…well, let’s call it “Speech” 101. In a very logical fashion, we learn to speak using single syllable words and employing them as building blocks. An elemental form of communication, their sentence structure moves quickly, holding and directing the attention of an audience assuring that people do not find themselves lost in a complicated and unfamiliar lexicon. But only two year olds regularly and predominantly use one and two syllable words when speaking.
Most people, having graduated from Literacy 101 and Speech 101, utilize an ever expanding vocabulary, blending words with many different syllables to communicate a richer complexity of ideas. But not everybody.
When it comes to presidential politics all citizens have a responsibility to examine the speech patterns of candidates. It is a primary means of discerning their capabilities. Among all the legitimate questions confronting the American electorate today, two fly under the radar, despite their urgency: “What is the preponderance of monosyllabic use in a politician’s speech?” and “Why?”
Donald Trump has turned single and double syllable words into an art form. “I have great plans. I won’t tell you what they are.” “Trust me, it’s gonna be huge.” “I have a very big brain.” “This looks very bad.” “I’m very rich.” “I don’t like losers.” “People love me.” “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” Now how did that pesky three syllable word slip his lips? Oh well, it seems the first question has been answered, but I suggest that preponderance is an understatement.
Determining the “why” is far more difficult. At first glance one might be forgiven for concluding that Donald Trump has not progressed beyond toddlerhood. It is, after all, hardly coincidental that like the two year old, his use of one and two syllable words centers on himself: “I’m a winner.” “I’m very, very smart.”
But there is another possibility, far more disconcerting, as to why Donald Trump has homesteaded in the monosyllabic world. He thinks Americans are stupid. Any serious discussion with Trump calls into question his intellectual prowess, or lack thereof, as well as his emotional stability. By using the simplest possible words, he tries to exploit the attention of his audience, quickly moving them off inconvenient topics and thereby forestalling, if not eliminating, any serious analysis. The danger for the country is self-evident, but for Trump it has so far been successful. For a year now the media has provided Trump with extraordinary and unfiltered coverage, leaving most people desperately seeking shelter and asking “Is there some defense against this auditory assault?”
Ironically, the Dick and Jane books suggest a clue. Place hands on ear. Hold tight. Lest you hear Trump speak. Now that’s very smart.
In America we often claim that we are for the underdog, but the truth is we are almost always captivated by size. We expect the largest sumo wrestler to win the match, we admire the woman with the biggest fortune and we look up to the tallest person. We expect our teams to amass the most wins, we admire the man with the largest real estate holdings and we look up to the person with the most power—whatever his or her size may actually be.
Yes, size matters. And underlying all considerations of size is the sexual myth. It causes women to obtain breast augmentation and men to seek penile enlargement. Of course, they are both illusional and delusional. Neither has the desired impact of greater sexual satisfaction. But people pursue them anyway. And this passion for sexual prowess informs every other concern.
Indeed, size matters. Consider this past year and the Republican primary season. The GOP has demonstrated an outsized obsession with size. Because Donald Trump is the richest and, arguably, most famous of the candidates, he has consumed the most attention. He hasn’t had much to say. More accurately, he’s had a lot to say, buy it has not been positive, uplifting or enlightening. Nonetheless, an acquiescent media and captivated public have repeated and retweeted every Trump comment—the inane, the insulting and the occasionally innocuous.
Due to the size of Trump’s following, he has commanded center stage in every major debate.The Republican primary season, and by extension, the American public have been underserved by this infatuation with his size. Whatever concepts and policies might be floating around the Republican universe, they have gone unreported and unexamined. Instead, we have been reminded that size matters.
Marco Rubio bowed out of the race. That may not be much of a loss. For what was once thought to be a strength—his youth—turned out to be merely an arrested adolescence. Like many a young man he could not get past sex and when he was unable to elevate the political discourse he sank to a school yard taunt. Noting that Donald Trump has small hands for his height he said, “And you know what they say about guys with small hands.” Cue laughter—from everybody. It’s funny. Unfortunately it’s also infantile.
And yet, size does matter. We just need to get it right. So what if he has small hands. The size of any of Trumpelina’s appendages should be of no concern to the public. Hans Christian Andersen provided a happy ending for the little critter—in a far off land. Cue wisp of hope and sigh of relief.
There is, however, one area of deep concern. And that would, of course, be the size of Trump’s brain—sort of. To listen to Trump he would suggest that his brain is as big as an elephant’s. Sounds impressive. After all, an elephant brain is four times the size of ours. The only problem is that the elephant is not as intelligent as we are, nor does it possess the same cognitive capabilities.
Still, size matters. To avoid a long scientific exposé, let me truncate the work of Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Our brains are smaller than those of elephants and our brains contain less neurons. How then, does size still matter? It matters when measured by numbers. Only the human brain contains 16 billion neurons packed into the cerebral cortex. But sustaining those neurons requires a phenomenal amount of energy. The secret to reasoning and contemplation lies in the fact that only human beings cook their food. This enables us to absorb more calories more quickly, freeing time for cognition, for art, for all types of intellectual pursuits.
It seems to me that one of two possibilities exist for explaining Donald Trump. First, his brain really is the size of an elephant’s—larger, heavier, having more overall neurons than ours, but with substantially less in the cerebral cortex. Or, he is eating too much raw food, thus rendering him incapable of substantial intellectual activity.
I suggest that between now and the Republican convention in July, someone should start cooking Donald’s food. Otherwise the delegates may nominate a primate with a substantially deficient cerebral cortex.
Then again, like his namesake, Trumpelina could just marry a flower-fairy prince and fly off to a far land and take up residence in an appropriately sized Trump Tower.
Ebola is perhaps the most dangerous of today’s known viruses with a fatality rate of up to 80%. So it is understandable that the poorly informed, including many elected officials of both parties, are running around claiming “Ebola is coming! Ebola is coming! Close the borders! Institute a travel ban against West Africa. Quarantine, well…everyone!”
The news media, particularly those dedicate to a 24-hour cycle, are much to blame. In what can only be regarded as inhumanity and self-centeredness, more hours have been wasted and more time lost agonizing over a non-existent problem in the U.S. than over the loss of life and humanitarian crisis in Africa. If the media represents and reflects the people of this country, then Americans are more egocentric and ignorant than I thought. But…Ebola is coming!
What began as a legitimate fear quickly grew to panic then morphed into irrational hysteria. Yes, I know that’s redundant. All hysteria is irrational. But stop for a moment and consider the 80% death rate. In the affected countries it actually averages out to about 50% and it is highest in areas without sufficient care. But…Ebola is coming!
In the United States, a country with a population of over 316 million, as of today only two people have contracted the disease. As one comedian pointed out, that is exactly one half the number of people who have been married to Larry King. Again, only two have contracted the disease. And both of them have recovered and are now virus free. But…Ebola is coming!
Let’s contrast this virus with influenza. While for many reasons, no accurate average can be determined, over a thirty year period as few as 3,000 and as many as 40,000 Americans have died of the flu—in a single season. But…Ebola is coming!
However, Ebola is a very difficult disease to catch. In the language of the movies, it is not airborne. It is spread through immediate contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person—as, for example, vomit and diarrhea. Most of us avoid those at all cost unless we are tending to infants and sick children. But…Ebola is coming! Or is it?
The virus is not roaming our neighborhoods like a genetically modified organism from a B-rated horror or science fiction movie. We are just as likely to be invaded by Sigourney Weaver’s aliens as we are to contract Ebola. So what can we learn from the current scare?
- There is no Ebola crisis in the United States. I hate to sound cynical, but those with the courage to be honest know that if there were such a crisis here, we would already have a vaccine. As it is, the crisis is in West Africa.
- Increased resources (financial and personnel) are needed in the affected countries to fight the disease. Note to the Pentagon: We might need some of your money for healing.
- Politicians should lead, not pander. They should stand by their principles. If John McCain despises appointing officials dubbed “czars”, then he should not have called for one to fight Ebola.
- The media should try reporting the news instead of making it up and playing to the ratings.
- Obama is America’s first Black. That means Ebola is his fault. He was not in Dallas when Tomas Duncan arrived from Liberia. He was not at Presbyterian Hospital when the two nurses contracted the disease after treating Mr. Duncan. Still, it’s Obama’s fault. Donald Trump and FOX News told me so.
Maybe America should be more afraid of Donald Trump and FOX News than Ebola. Donald and FOX are coming! Donald and FOX are coming!
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”!