Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Donald Show

The exact origin of the God Emperor Trump character is unclear. On June 16th, 2015, an image of Trump's face photoshopped on to a Warhammer 40,000 soldier was submitted to 4chan's /pol/[1] board

The Donald Show

Remember “The Truman Show,” the hit movie starring Jim Carrey about “a man who grew up living an ordinary life that—unbeknownst to him—takes place on a large set populated by actors for a television show about him.”⁠1 

Everybody knew the truth except Truman, who was tricked into thinking it was real. We now have the opposite situation with our current blockbuster, “The Donald Show:” The star knows it is fake, but he has duped the rest of us into believing it is real.

Trump, the canny sideshow hustler, understands what the talking heads don’t: You dazzle your audience with a good story, not learned treatises or artful commentary.

As David Loy, a professor and Zen teacher, explains in his book, “The World is Made of Stories⁠2,” we make sense of the world through stories: they “teach us what is real, what is valuable, and what is possible.” In a word, it is by stories we make sense of the world. 

Telling stories is the life blood of Donald Trump.

Trump’s master story is that he is an outsider who doesn’t get the respect he deserves. It is a tale that can take you a long way. Just ask Rodney Dangerfield: it was the essence of his schtick.

It’s easy to be taken in by this particular story. Whether we admit it or not, we all feel like Rodney or Donald to one degree or another. Thump has built his whole political career on it, empowering not only himself but giving voice to millions across the country who feel victimized and under-appreciated. 

Donald has become their maestro, the master storyteller they tune into each night to discover the latest chapter in his saga – and theirs.

While Rodney provoked laughter in his audience at our foibles, Donald ignites anger and fear: Anger at the faceless “deep state” which has brought them to their knees and fear of the “godless, communist democrats,” who are lying in ambush, ready to finish them off. 

It is the classic plot of fairy tales and comic strips. The people cry out in their distress for a super hero, that one person who can save them by doing battle with their enemies. In westerns films, that is when Clint Eastwood rides into town.

In Donald’s fairytale world,  the super hero is, of course, himself, something he has regally proclaimed  since descending his golden escalator in 2016, vowing  to solve all of America’s alleged problems. How? Because of who he is: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” 

Of course, the idea that “one person could solve the myriad troubles we face today is absurd and deeply undemocratic, but one can understand the temptation to buy into that fantasy. It is a soothing fiction that someone will swoop in to save the day⁠3, says Alison Danes, a professor of political science.

Danes talks about Donald’s fantasies while I talk about his fairytales. We are not alone.

A professor emeritus and fairy tale expert, Jack Zipes, agrees, “There is a fairy tale-like aspect to all his talk and presentation, because he wants to take charge of the narrative. Most fairy tales are stories about hope. Whether he does it consciously or not, Trump has found a way to narrate a story in which he is the star.”

But nothing lasts forever.

All shows have to come to an end, and “The Donald Show” is no exception. America has become exhausted by his nonstop bluster and litany of endless grievances. I predict he will soon get his just deserts, precisely as Hans Christian Anderson predicted in his fairytale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

While Trump, running for president again, is strutting around in his “perfect,” new-look finery – which is actually the same as his old – some brave Republican will summon the courage to finally blurt out the truth: The emperor is wearing nothing at all.




2 2David Loy, “The World is Made of Stories, page 3.


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Something Snapped


CC Jean Stimmell: Ice breaking up on Exeter River (2017)

I was struck by a recent essay by Timothy Denevi in the NYT about the writer Joan Didion.⁠1  On the surface, it seems strange that I should be so affected because Didion was a conservative supporter of Barry Goldwater and distrustful of the Kennedys. On the other hand, I am an unabashed child of the Sixties who, while growing up, was inspired by President Kennedy's inaugural address challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.⁠2

Something snapped in me when Robert Kennedy, JFK’s brother, was assassinated: I  found myself sobbing uncontrollably as I watched the news unfold. His death was too much to bear: I see now it was the final straw, causing an irreparable rip in the fabric of America I had been taught to believe in.

Something snapped in Joan Didion, too, despite our differences. As RFK lay dying, his last words were, “Is everybody OK?”⁠3

Neither of us was – along with a lot of other people.

It was the final blow in the sickening series of assaults on our image of what America stood for in the aftermath of the murders of MLK, Malcolm X, and President JFK, not to mention America’s massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai and Charley Manson’s California killing spree.

It caused Joan Didion to have a mental breakdown, “an attack of vertigo, nausea and a feeling that she was going to pass out,” for which she underwent an extensive psychiatric evaluation and was prescribed amitriptyline, an antidepressant."⁠4 As for me, recently back from the rivers of Vietnam, it completely unmoored me from the reality of what my country represented, catapulting me on a crazy drunken ride through the frenzied times that lay ahead.

Didion was a master storyteller detailing how the unprecedented changes of the 1960s caused America to fragment, according to  Michiko Kakutani of the NYT.  She questioned whether our nation would survive, quoting lines from Yeat’s famous poem: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”⁠5

Of course, the center did hold – but at a high cost: The rabid polarization that divided us in the 1960s caused social fractures that didn't heal. Whereas previously, our nation was like a new puncture-proof tire guaranteed for 50,000 miles, we were now an out-of-balance retread, patched with distrust. 

It turns out that Didion was also remarkably prescient in writing about the fracturing of truth as people increasingly filtered reality through the prism of their own prejudices”⁠6  It was only a matter of time before these wounds reopened. And indeed, they have:  once again, we are living through times of chaos and uncertainty, contending with epidemics, insurrection, racial hatred, and mass shootings in our schools.

Yet this time around, I am too old to snap – only sag further. But with age sometimes comes wisdom, and in that spirit, I will suggest what has been lost: our sense of community – the linchpin that really made America great.

Again, I find common ground with Joan Didion: In an interview before she died, she acknowledged that folks “no longer count themselves as part of the community.” Too many Americans “didn’t really care about any of it; the broader narrative of patriotism and pride was just an excuse for doing what they wanted — for their self-interest — a narrative they could apply and discard from one situation to the next as they saw fit.”⁠7

One thing that would help revive our sense of community is mandatory national service. 

Here's an example from my own life I've written about before. On one occasion, my ship had a major crew turnover: almost a quarter of the crew was new. On our return trip back to the rivers of Vietnam, "all hell broke loose in a crude kind of diversity training, representing as we did, a cross-section of the nation: East coast, highly educated, college dropouts and midwestern kids who hadn't finished high school; hip city slickers and country folks right off the farm; We had Native American, Hispanic, and black sailors, along with staunch segregationists from the south.”⁠8

At first, fights and animosity reigned, but we were thrown together in a situation where we had no choice but to work together: As we got to know each other, we learned that underneath, we were more alike than different. It was no love fest, but we came to respect one another. Most importantly, we had an overarching dedication to a common purpose, prompting us to do our jobs like well-oiled machines.   

Don’t mistake my example as an endorsement for war. The Peace Corps is a perfect example of mandatory national service. So is working in a  hospital, cleaning up after a natural disaster, planting trees, or pulling the detritus of our consumer society out of our dying rivers.

Joan Didion is right: Without a sense of community, things will continue to fall apart and, this time, maybe the center won’t hold.






4 Ibid.


6 Ibid