Trump: American Melodrama.
By Vlad Zeit
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Three traits of Trump’s peculiar personality stand out as the most essential for understanding of Trump’s phenomenon.
- Almost two hundred years ago acute and sympathetic observer of American Democracy Alex de Tocqueville noticed that in America “the majority lives in perpetual self-adulation”. Lack of supreme self-confidence, want of high self-esteem, humility has always been a rarities in American business and political worlds. But with Trump, degree of Presidential self-love and self-admiration reached a new and unprecedented height. Open expressions of such mental and emotional state are unsurpassed in unceasing flow of claims to Greatness as well as in vulgarity, tastelessness and pure stupidity of proclamations. It reached the point when such kind of demonstration of Super Ego cannot be taken seriously anymore and sounds like obscene joke. The fundamental ground of Trump’s vain pretensions is his conviction that his immense wealth and “success” is unquestionable proof of his undisputable Greatness. Tragically, the claim which is widely shared by American multitude today. The Bonfire of Trump’s Vanity unavoidably raises the suspicion that innate traumatic sense of insecurity is the most important aspect of his nature, underlying ground of such bombastic Ego and unbounded outrageous self-adulation.
- Mediocrity is not a vice, or even a shame, for ordinary men. But American democracy is facing presently two overwhelming problems: mediocre, ignorant man occupies the Highest, the most Powerful Office in the country and dangerous, unprecedented degree of this ignorance. Demonstrations of the lack of knowledge are richly, generously present in everything President Trump is not afraid of speaking publicly on the World Stage or mentioning with the light touch of social media: from American History and Ideals to today’s not so complicated problems like Health Care, Trade, National Security or Foreign Affairs.
Trump’s “unconventional” presidential campaign didn’t include any expert or adviser on complex matters of Foreign Affairs. When candidate Trump was asked about it by the author of the article published by Time Magazine Mr. Trump eagerly explained that he doesn’t need it, he is his own counselor on such matters; that every evening he watches a lot of cable TV political and foreign policy discussions; that efficiency of such approach and quality of acquired information are, surprisingly, underappreciated; and that, predictably, he is smart.
Trump’s ignorance is deeply rooted in his unshakable belief in the superiority of TV as the best tool of education and enlightenment, the highest authority in spiritual and intellectual matters, the temple of the deepest minds and sages (of course, not to be misled, one has to be careful to distinguish between fake media and prime time Fox News whose pundits are the supreme source of human knowledge, truth and wisdom. It sounds true for the many of his supporters).
George Will gave us the best description of the scale and threat of Trump’s ignorance: “…the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.”
- Self-satisfied mediocrity (not to mention other personal dispositions like rudeness, lack of virtue of sympathy, absence of virtue of temperance, extreme dishonesty and shamelessness), being unpleasant and annoying experience in encounters of ordinary life, becomes terrifyingly dangerous if the man possesses the highest position and immense power. But still the most perilous and frightening attribute of President Trump personality is the limits of his intellectual capacity.
La Rochefoucauld maintained: “Passion often makes fools of the wisest men…” Mr. Trump has unhidden great passion – boundless admiration for himself, unbridled self-love and sense of self-importance. Such passion is for life, not transitory red-hot spark in the heart. But this insightful psychological observation cannot explain the phenomenon of unceasing stream of stupid actions, idiotic remarks and thoughtless, brainless proclamations on the World Stage. The degree of unintelligence displayed by Trump and frequency of such displays is inexplicable, cannot be explained by admixture of ignorance and unbounded self-assurance.
Sometimes one experiences the vague, hazy, uncomfortable yearning that some day the serial political melodrama will miraculously end, that the fake media will restrain itself from teasing poor soul (“…for they know not what they do”) – such an easy target, so cheap and embarrassing show, overabundance of stuff to ridicule, not even funny most of the time, often even sad and painful to watch. Who cares about idiotic obsession with matters of popular votes count or size of inauguration crowd? Who is overly concerned about his placing himself right after Abraham Lincoln and ahead of the rest not so presidential Presidents? Can we let him enjoy his pleasures and pat his little tender ego as a daily necessary therapeutic treatment?
But if his public declarations are not embarrassing and humiliating for the brave occupants of the Highest Office in the Land; if (rehearsed or improvised) spectacle “Dear Leader” was not degrading and mortifying to its willing and unwilling participants; they, these customary disgusting manifestations, are unbearable torturous wounds for the many ordinary awakening voters and world-wide eyewitnesses of the tasteless American Melodrama.
“For the mediocre it is a joy to be mediocre…” observed Nietzsche.
Nonstop misery of Trump melodrama can be, for high degree, explained by meteoric, and unexpected by him, radical changes in his life, environment and sudden emergence of the overwhelming obligations and tasks, most of which are not under his control to put aside or postpone or forget. It’s not his choice anymore to have a deal or not, to start negotiations or not, to build or not to build. He suddenly steps out from his familiar simple mediocre world into the sophisticated world of Washington, from the provincial theatrical scene into the World Stage. He doesn’t see admiring exhilarating crowds of his campaign rallies but rather watching, skeptical or even hostile audiences. Press briefing is a torture. Reliable tool “You are fired!” doesn’t work- each firing has consequences. Customary method to surround himself by family is met with suspicion and even disapproval. Weekends in Florida, golf are not the same they used to be – worries, anxiety are tormenting all the time. The only fun left is cable TV which more and more looks like a heavy burden of the lonely evenings in the White House than enjoyment of the free man: I can watch it or I can turn TV off anytime. Glamor and Grandeur (no matter how many times openly demonstrated and how often reminded) are not appreciated AT ALL. This new world is totally unfamiliar, strange, confusing, inexplicable; world with unjustifiable pretense of complexity, sophistication, refinery, so-called erudition and superior political experience. Poor mediocre ignorant man with the sick raging Super Ego didn’t have a chance to foresee such wretched future.
“The heart has its own reasons which reason doesn’t know” noticed Blaise Pascal.
This famous quote reminds us about the power and capacity of a kind, loving, sensitive and generous heart to guide an ordinary common human being to the noble and honorable life. Nietzsche brilliantly expressed his painful sentiment in this mind-blogging and heart-breaking passage: “…the genius of the heart who silences all that is loud and self-satisfied, teaching it to listen; …the genius of the heart who teaches the doltish and rash hand to hesitate and reach out more delicately; …the genius of the heart from whose touch everyone walks away richer; …richer in himself, newer to himself than before, broken open, blown at and sounded out by a thawing wind, perhaps more unsure, tenderer, more fragile, more broken, but full of hopes that as yet have no name, full of new will and currents, full of new dissatisfaction and undertows --- but what am I doing, my friends?”
Yet Joseph Brodsky warned us about the profound danger of what he called “the vulgarity of the human heart”.
“The genius of the heart” is not President Trump’s distinguishing mark; “vulgarity of the heart” is.
Professional life of “unconventional” President was very conventional: life of wealthy businessman, experience of real estate deal making. Uncommonly strong urge for self-promotion and pomposity found one of the expression in (and paved the way to) Pop TV show where rating is the only measure of “success” and which is the best fertilizer, like manure, of self-adulation.
Genius of the brand-name marketing? Rather, Buffoon, Peacock, Braggart, “Man several sizes larger than life” with “success” exclusively due to triumphant blossoming vulgarity and mediocrity of Pop Culture.
In general, typical American business is not meritocratic democracy. It’s the most often dictatorship, tyranny. Private business of the real estate deal making (with no board of directors to attend to; with no challenging interaction with investors or annual reports and shareholders meetings; no hidden or unmasked challenge from and power struggle with the smart, or smarter, members of the management team) finds its closest political analogy in hereditary absolute monarchy without powerful aristocracy to be reckoned with. It must be admitted that Trump doesn’t think about himself as a Divine King but rather as a leader generously blessed with human gifts, particularly of cognitive nature. He is a King of Meritocracy, rare representative of Human Greatness. Neither Tyrant nor Absolute Monarch is used to fruitful debates, is open to disagreements, welcomes productive discussions and compromise to find a “better way”.
Glamour and cultivated status of TV Celebrity, with splendor the World has never seen before, are not the helpful building blocks for success in the complex, overwhelming and HUMBLING challenges of the governing of the great democracy. After all, the famous lesson of TV experience is the best expressed by “You are fired!” Not the lessons of the focused contemplation and effective debates, not the practice of careful considerations of alternatives in perplexing matters, not instructive, teaching attempts to find the best compromise in affairs of unexpected and unpredictable nature, not even the mastery of a clever management or art of the deal.
With such personality, experience and unstable state of mind the dream of discipline and stability introduced and enforced by the “best” and the “brightest”, honest, sincere, well-intended and capable public servants seems like utopia.
This is the President who will express his ridiculous indefensible opinion on Saturday. On Sunday, after storm and pressure from his politically smart staff, he unwillingly will read a prepared text to repair damage, to no avail. Worse, on Monday, or Tuesday, or Thursday, the astonished world will witness his new explosion, more stupid, more ignorant, more bombastic and aggressive. How can anybody control a man with such Ego, ignorance and mental deficiency? How can anybody expect to have any degree of influence on a man who, confronting serious legal troubles, doesn’t listen to his own lawyers and refuse to follow their recommendations? How can you change the nature of the mediocre, strikingly ignorant and mentally challenged person of extraordinary self-confidence into the person with a spirit, mind and character traits which the world used to see in the Leader of the Free World? How can you change his personality into the humble considerate man with the genuine sentiment that the Office is higher than Himself?
Trump will always be the same man he was all his life and is now.
Many actions of candidate or president Trump cannot be fully explained by the impact of three demons of Trump personality – extraordinary mediocrity and ignorance, uncontrolled super confidence, astonishing intellectual deficiency – and by his degenerating experience of “success” and “glamour”.
Conduct after conduct, tweet after tweet, performance after performance betray inexplicable, puzzling degree of senseless stupidity and habitual tendency to self-inflicted wounds. One case stands out in this regard: events leading to Comey’s firing.
James Comey served as a political appointee in Department of Justice under Republican and Democratic Presidents. He was appointed Director of the FBI by President Obama in 2013. He stayed in this position under President Trump until May 9, 2017. Comey has a reputation of independent character with a history of sometimes controversial actions irritating and frustrating to both parties.
Michael Flynn has never been a close associate to candidate or president Trump. They first met in August 2015. Flynn joined Trump campaign as an adviser in February 2016 and he was appointed National Security Adviser of Trump administration on January 20, 2017 and was fired from this position on February 13. Trump and Flynn have not been old friends with years of special relationship, mutual trust and loyalty.
Why, in such case, did Trump take so unusual, persistent steps of communicating with Comey: private dinner, phone calls, request to stay for tete-a-tete conversation in Oval Office after the other participants of the meeting left? Why did President take such a risk of trying through Comey directly or other high-ranking officials of Intelligence community to influence and even stop FBI investigation of Russian interference in American elections; investigation where Flynn at the moment looked like informed, very important, possibly key subject of investigation? And utmost apogee of stupidity – firing of Comey, with clumsy attempt to cover up the true cause of the action and immediate public acknowledgement of actual reason?
Political innocence and naiveté? Call of kind heart to help a “good guy”? Any novice, any fool in White House would immediately realize the imprudence and danger of such steps with officials from which one cannot expect willing cooperation, unlimited loyalty and dangerous collaboration. Any first year lawyer would warn that Comey’s firing has potential grounds for allegation of Obstruction of Justice. Unexplainable, bewildering enigmatic acts, even for a man with ridiculous self-confidence and mental incapacity.
Unless one possible explanation is presumed: Fear of discovery of some secret matter and Panic. If there was something to hide, the horror of uncovering is unbearable and terrifying. The whole episode is not mysterious anymore.
Nowhere to run. Lonely Desperation. No loyal, faithful advisers or life-long reliable political followers and disciples. Hostile congress, establishment, intelligent community, so-called intellectuals, pundits, fake media, investigators, prosecutors. Carefully watching VP and members of “my own” cabinet and administration. Unknown and hazardous future. Family, kids? But something may be coming from even family too. Their happy glamorous life is falling apart as well. White House, for a while, looked like the Top of Universe, the Crown Jewel of successful life. But not anymore.
“Chance and caprice rule the world.” wrote La Rochefoucauld.
To observer of changes in America of the last 35 years (the gradual development of the suffocating atmosphere of the social and political life) the disastrous election of 2016 doesn’t appear as unlucky chance of American roulette. It’s rather consequent event of the decades-long degenerating developments. Tragedy of these developments in the Great American democracy turned into American Melodrama of Trump Presidency.
It was said and widely acknowledged that any country has a government it deserves. And free democratic America today has a president and leadership she really deserves. After all Trump is personification of the cult of “success” which was developing in modern America for decades and finally this cult triumphantly established itself in Oval Office. David Mc Cullogh observed in America “the attribute today when all that matter for far too many is success… However you betray or claw or cheat is immaterial.”
The cult of “success” is not new in the world. “Success has always been the greatest liar…” said Nietzsche. But vulgar worship of the success in America today is unprecedented and disgusting to the degree of nausea. The universally accepted definition and measurement of “success” in modern America, first and foremost, is wealth. Trump became the first American president in history who proudly boasts his immense wealth as a proof of his outstanding smarts and greatness.
Terrifying fact of life in America of the last decades is the victorious development of mass culture as the domineering element of society spiritual and intellectual life. The development which was supported and greatly accelerated by its paramount Ally – modern Technology. Degenerating influence of the alliance of Pop Culture and Technology, power of penetrating of this double-headed hydra in all spheres of the human existence are the utmost peril to modern societies.
Lately the giants of modern technology, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and others, are bravely coming forth to compete directly with old traditional TV creators of mass culture. They obviously believe that ”streaming” of 500 shows during 2016-2017 season (almost double of 2011) is not a limit and overall market of the Pop culture products will grow for decades, if not for ages. After all, they are tirelessly working on technical advances of the future – robotics; automation of everything; internet of things, all of them; self-driving cars; voice recognition and voice actuation of smart home devices (“Fetch me a beer, Rob!); artificial intelligence and many many others, which even they cannot foresee today – advanced devices to relief a man from everything that is not leisure, entertainment and FUN.
And though the Creator of this universe introduced unnecessary limits to human beings insatiable urge for pleasures – 24 hours days, need to sleep, eat, digest, defecate and once in a while copulate – the Medical advances will unescapably solve the most of these problems through human DNA editing, for example, and, as a first step, discovery of new medicines and pills. And without time consuming and distracting doctor visits – your watch and your phone are your best medical options. From cradle to coffin. Don’t ignore the great potential for the market of Pop culture productions – slow but definite growth of life expectancy. So you live your long-long life, incessantly consuming products of culture and pursuing, at last, the real happiness.
“… mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a stronger species of man- that would be an advance” suggested Nietzsche. This doctrine is not only impossible to accept but terrifyingly scary to contemplate upon. But the miracle of sacrificing of millions of Pop culture products for the sake of the rare, immortal Creation of the Genius of High Culture would be a blessing to humanity.
“The production of genius- that is the goal of all culture” stated Schopenhauer.
Trump is the proud product of the triumphant mass culture in its worst: tasteless, artless, ignorant, barbaric and degrading to human spirit and mind. Trump’s presidency is not, never will and cannot be anything higher, nobler and deeper than the shallow world of its birth, cradle, roots and breeding- the World of Pop Culture, Pop Politics, Pop Everything.
The most exceptional attribute of President Trump phenomenon is the simple fact that he is the first American president of unquestionable mediocrity, genuine representative of the resentful multitude his voters.
He does speak their language; like them he doesn’t read books, since with solid establishment of TV as a main source of information, entertainment and spiritual enlightenment, reading is naturally obsolete; like them he watches a lot of TV, for business as a major educational tool and for pleasure to satisfy his spiritual and intellectual interests and inspirations; like them he sincerely mistrust to “so-called experts” , their “high-mindedness” and irritating inclination to complicate all simple problems, who are “all talk” and not like them “all actions”.
Being not a book reader is not a shame though it’s impossible to suggest a way to knowledge, truth and wisdom which doesn’t include access to humanity treasures by reading of serious, “Great Books”. But millions don’t read at all, or read “trash”, and still one loves, respects them, highly values their moral virtues and intellectual abilities. Book reading is not prerequisite, condition of human dignity. But expectation, supported by experience, is that human being with some degree of knowledge and intelligence is familiar with existence of “Great Books” and value “trash” for what it is worth. Mr. Trump doesn’t meet one’s expectations. Though Trump is not a book reader he has well-known interest in reading. He is one of 342,071 readers (2016 circulation) of National Enquirer, weekly tabloid with a general qualification as “fun” from many of its readers. Not so for President Trump who doesn’t consider Enquirer fake news, regards it as a serious and valuable reading and sincerely upset and offended that Enquirer is unfairly treated and for decades totally ignored by the Pulitzer Prize Board. “… there is no doubt in my mind that, had we been choosing our leaders on the basis of their reading experience and not their political programs, there would be much less grief on earth” suggested Brodsky in his Nobel Lecture.
Trump expressed his own genuine feelings, conclusions and fears when he blasted “drug dealers” and “rapists” from Mexico or called for “Muslim Ban” as a necessary response to the Radical Islam terrorism and even greater danger of defeat of our “Western Civilization”. And who is better prepared to defend the Western Culture? He didn’t play to his audience when he called for rough actions against protesters during his campaign rallies. He was not insincere when he fatherly mocked police officers for their ridiculously excessive niceties of arrests of bad guys.
He had never been a “shrewd” manipulator of the masses. Even his outrageous “birth certificate” long-lasting buffoonery doesn’t look like cunning manipulation and sophisticated political game. It’s rather evidence of his natural, constantly burning lust for attention and publicity, lime-light and stardom. And his selection of the routes and means to the laurels is the demonstration and confirmation of his commonplace mediocrity.
From outset Trump’s Presidency looked like sudden and mysterious transformation of the popular political TV show into the real life political Melodrama, loud, vulgar and stupid. Not an event with refined Cultural and Political significance but Melodrama with typical exaggerations, tasteless theatricality, cheap grandstanding and dreadful inexistence of intelligence. Hopefully, with Luck, Melodrama will not metamorphose into the Surreal Drama.
Trump is an empty vessel. But it’s so shallow that when eager enthusiasts are trying to fill it with the medium of their choice they immediately see how fast the vessel is becoming full to the brim and overflowing. It leaks everywhere, in unexpected places, as a result of drying up from infrequent and occasional use.
Personality of Mr. Trump, the central personage of American Melodrama, is absolutely uninteresting and attracts attention only as an exceptional case of the extreme mismatch between a man and dangerously powerful position he elevated to and potential consequences of such disparity. America, the whole World, are absorbed in watching with a shock everyday events in the White House because the World cannot disregard, ignore anything coming from the most Powerful Office on Earth, even the extremely senseless and insane acts, and because grotesqueness of the events is of the unprecedented level “the World has never seen before”. Trump is a joke and counterfeit, the fake and small-time, petty fraud.
Trump is the first American President who is the ingenious representative of his voters. They saw it, felt it, knew it and voted for one of their own; he won.
2016 election uncovered the fact, somehow previously concealed from many powerful and influential members of political establishment (especially from self-satisfied advertisers of utmost importance of opportunity for all and personal responsibility) that the masses of American voters (having unlimited opportunities provided but, unfortunately, lacking sufficient personal responsibility due to overabundance of overgenerous government overprotection) have the genuine and grave reasons to be angry over developments of the last 35 years. Unprecedented growth of income inequality, widening abyss between “haves” and “have nots”, diminishing of upward social mobility, growing civil and cultural separation of “higher” and “low” classes, humiliating and frightening feeling of insecurity, stagnant incomes, fear of job loss, anxiety of losing medical insurance or ruined life from unbearable medical expenses, worry about sky-rocketing cost of children high education; all these growing fears were persistent features of Gilded era without noticeably significant and decisive responses from the administrations of both parties. (The difficult question of fairness and wisdom of choice of anger direction, pick of the voice of the resentment, selection of ways and means to recover and to restore the right to be heard is very confusing. But such errors of choice are not unique in the human history. What was unique is the explicit transparency and irrationality of error).
The shocking observation of the Trump’s Presidency is that this melodrama has a tragic aspect: humiliation and betrayal of the millions of people, Trump’s supporters and voters. Trump’s shameless lie to the voters during campaign to release his tax returns at “appropriate time”, his refusal to do it after his election under dishonest excuse, his cynical white lie “Who will pay for the wall??’ (no sane person could believe that the free independent country can be brought to such horrible national humiliation: to submit to idiotic demagogue and pay for the construction of its own prison wall), unceasing flood of his “alternative facts” and outright falsifications are unhidden manifestations of his contemptuous conviction: “I am smart and you are suckers, losers, idiots, who will take anything from me!” Such an open, cynical display of the disrespect and even despise of voters had never been seen in the modern history of American presidential elections. Trump didn’t lie to his adversaries; he knew they will not be cheated, they will not believe his disgusting crap. He viciously and with malicious contempt is deceiving the multitude of his supporters, fooled and betrayed. After all, they, Trump’s supporters and voters, are real, primal and tragic victims of this Melodrama.
One believes in the dignity of any human being, ordinary or “great”, feels sympathy for everyday struggle of poor souls against fate of disadvantages of birth, nature and nurture. And one cannot deny the ugliness of what Nietzsche called “ressentiment” and the tormenting truth of its common presence and impact in civil, social and political life of the human societies. Impulse to forgive (“…they know not…”) can help but is not enough to relief one from tormenting dilemma: dignity of individual and “resentful multitude”.
Human beings accept the existence of men’s vices, weaknesses, sickening traits and frightful errors in judgement: irrationality, dishonesty, shamelessness, super egoism, excessive self-love, mediocrity, ignorance, stupidity. But each man can tolerate so much. For every man, not saint, there is a limit of tolerance and forgiveness. For very many Trump phenomenon is far beyond this limit. President Trump and many of his present supporters and defendants crossed the line and are in the unacceptable disgusting realm of fraud and national disgrace.
American society, as in any other countries, had always had its fair share of ignorance, arrogance, vulgarity, barbarism and stupidity. As any other country, America was not proud from displays of such attributes and was trying to hide them from the World and even from herself with disregard and self-deception. Not anymore. President Trump is the mouth-piece and ambassador of the horror and absurd of this reality.
It is not a relief to declare that Trump is “not my president”; Donald Trump is the President of my country.
Disastrous election of 2016 is the consequent event, the lowest point of the degenerating developments in America of the last thirty-five years. From outset Trump Presidency looked like the transformation of the political TV show into the real life political Melodrama, loud, vulgar and stupid. Tragic aspect of this melodrama is humiliation and betrayal of the millions of people, Trump's supporters and voters. Trump is personification of the cult of "success" which was developing in modern America for decades and finally this cult established itself in Oval Office. Trump became the first American President in history who proudly boasts his immense wealth as an undisputable proof of his smarts and greatness. Trump is the proud product of the triumphant mass culture in its worst: tasteless, ignorant and degrading to human spirit and mind. President Trump is a shallow man, mediocre, ignorant, with limited intellectual capacity and ridiculous self-adulation. Trump is the small-time, petty fraud. Trump Presidency is a national disgrace.