When my writing stays closer to the bone, a metaphor is never far. The last chapter contained a series of them: light and disgusting lampshades, initiatory fires and blessings in disguise. They came out of my own life. But sometimes these very metaphors can arise in the soul life of a culture. In fact, each of the above seem to be arising now.
The now I am referring to is taking place at the beginning of the third week of Donald Trump’s presidency. And in Trump we have the apotheosis of a figure whose awareness is being filtered through the most disgusting of lampshades. With him in the White House a darkening of the light has descended upon our country and upon the world. This darkness has been further promoted by a near endless procession of “alternative facts.” And we should see them too as a metaphor, a metaphor for lying. For what these “facts” are the alternative to is truth, or reality itself.
What is not yet fully conclusive however is whether the profusion of “alternative facts” is actually delusional, or merely a strategy based upon the belief that most of us wouldn’t know the difference. Of course, it could be both. What’s working in our favor though, is that Trump’s lies are not particularly subtle. Any intelligent person who hasn’t swallowed the Kool-Aid should see right through them—at least by now.
And a good proportion of our news media has managed to do just that. And that’s why he hates them so, and why Steve Bannon, Trump’s consigliere from the darkest side of the alt-right (which is really saying something) recently called the press “the enemy.” For the recent impotence of the Democratic Party no longer seems worthy of the term.
Yet still, the darkness Trump has brought with him has become a collective psychic contagion. I’ve never had so many therapy clients walking in the door with the presenting issue of anxiety as the first few days of his presidency.
If our culture for years suffered from a largely misunderstood (and under-estimated) prevalence of narcissism, today a malignant narcissist has taken hold of the country’s reins of power, and so what’s walking in the doors of therapist’s offices now is a little less narcissism, and a great deal more anxiety and fear.
The world seems to have changed in some fundamental way, not dissimilar to the Terror that entered our country and the world in the wake of9/11, and whose pall has lingered ever since.
The Bush White House needed a whipping boy for 9/11. And since Osama bin Laden was so hard to find, in part because Rumsfeld’s DOD wouldn’t support with Army Rangers the small contingent of CIA operatives hot on his trail in Bora Bora, what followed next was the misguided warfare launched upon Iraq.
It destabilized not only that country but the Middle East as a whole. And lest we forget, this whole costly blunder was also predicated on “alternative facts.” The two primary ones there, also trumpeted from the White House, were that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that there was a vital link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. And if Dick Cheney was the alternative fact finder in Iraq, Rumsfeld was the ever arrogant, oblivious enforcer.
The equally toxic and un-necessary war in Vietnam that both ravaged Vietnam and divided our country was predicated on a similar attempt at regime change as happened in Iraq, and also launched with an alternative fact—the notorious Gulf of Tonkin incident. Which like Saddam’s WMD, was entirely a fictional event.
Lies that appeal to our fears may be the biggest and most disgusting lampshade of all. And having a loose cannon at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenues—and a malignant narcissist and liar to boot—may threaten our country and the world more than any “bad guys” in the Middle East, or Vietnamese commies ever could.
This darkening of the light is now spawning horrific policies intended to deconstruct the traditional alliances, as well as the traditional checks and balances upon which our republic has been predicated.
In the process, we are also seeing cabinet appointees antithetical to the very purposes of that department’s responsibility. You certainly can’t have anything more antithetical than an appointee in charge of overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn’t even believe in climate change! (Which Trump himself has told us, is merely Chinese propaganda—another “alternative fact,” and a case of the pot calling the kettle black).
And how potentially destructive, how dangerous is this: to eviscerate from the National Security Council the continuous presence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while inserting instead a man like Steve Bannon, who’s on record for saying, “I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Frankly, I’m much more afraid of Steve Bannon --and the guy whose ears now receive his whispers--than the leader of ISIS and his apocryphal brothers and sisters. For unlike ISIS, the Trump-Bannon duo actually could bring forth the world’s Last Days. In fact Trump has already begun rattling the sabre in the direction of China, as well as toward the Iranians—who’ve just been put ominously “on notice” by General Stan McChrystal’s hot-headed, former trigger-man, Michael Flynn, who is Trump’s Defense Intelligence Agency Director. And if our current military spokesmen have no idea what being put “on notice” means, who knows how the Iranians are going to take it?
All the things I mention here seem ominous enough, and yet each day of Trump’s presidency ushers in a new horror. Perhaps that’s part of a more sinister underlying strategy, to present so many horrors and in such rapid succession, that we can’t possibly respond to the last ones before the newest zinger comes in and claims the current news cycle.
Haven’t we already lost sight of Trump’s campaign promise to release his taxes for scrutiny as every other presidential candidate has done from God knows when? And in all the uproar of his first days in office, whatever happened to the bipartisan commission to investigate Russian hacking—which Trump chose to ignore, though facts—you know, the real kind—had led the directors of all 17 of our nation’s security agencies to conclude that the Russians had definitely attempted to effect the election, with many concluding that this had been done to favor Trump.
And all the while, Trump continued to say favorable things about the thug that’s running the Kremlin, while making disparaging remarks about NATO, and even suggesting that he might undue some of the sanctions the Obama regime had instigated against the Russians in the wake of their hacking. If it’s been said that Trump’s vast business empire was having trouble getting financing from American banks, do you think that Trump received funding from the Russians that could factor in to why we’ve still yet to see any of Trump’s recent, and not so recent, tax returns?
Even if I mention the ban against Muslims which is apt to make our nation less safe—not more—by supporting the narrative of ISIS that America is engaged in a war against Islam, I will have only reflected a fraction of the lying, questionable policies and appointments, as well as the erratic and general chaos that have marked the initial roll out of Trump’s administration.
Yet if we only see the horrors, or potential horrors here, we may be gripped by the very fear that Trump seems to want us to feel--perhaps so that a frightened nation might turn a blind eye to more draconian measures still.
This president definitely needs the sharpest eyes of our nation on him, and everything he’s trying to do. But that’s already occurring, and it’s not going to stop. And so, what I think we need to do is shift some of our focus from the disgusting lampshade of Trump, and place it back on the light itself, the light that lives inside us all—even Trump. And to recognize that Dark Ages have happened before.
If I were a betting man, I’d take “the under” if the over/under on Trump remaining in the White House were set at 30 months. Like rats, mainstream Republican legislators may read the handwriting on the walls of the sinking boat Faustian Bargain and jump ship by the time of the next mid-term elections, now less than two years away.
But even if the Dark Age of Trump manages to last the entirety of his allotted four years, it could still trigger cultural transformations we might not have gotten to in any other way. And in the long run, these transformations could completely outshine all this darkness.
We may be in an early stage of approaching an initiatory fire. There may be some kind of blessing here, even if it is still wearing its disguise. Our country feels a little broken now, a little cracked. But as our recently departed brother, Leonard Cohen, still tells us from the grave: “that’s how the light comes in.”