22 January 2017

from my distant observation point

On BBC Radio 4, English writer Robert McCrum talked to six American writers about the new president.
Of the six, these two, I found most informative, if not inspiring:

Marilynne Robinson (the complete interview here):
I think he embodies something dark in the universal psyche, you know, it's terrifying to see how willingly he will divide a country that (. . .) historically, depends on the fact that we don't dwell on these kinds of divisions. And I think that if he really puts his imprint on American culture, it will look a lot more like a lot of the unhappy or failed states in the rest of the world.  
I think we can look to the people who did not vote for Trump, and they are the majority by a considerable margin, to be a very meaningful resistance.
The thing that bothers me so much (. . .) is that the apparent tendency of his government will be to undercut social supports that have helped exactly the people who voted for him.
I blame the churches (. . .) for radically misstating what are in fact Christian values, that the great opposition that has developed in this country against helping the poor, against, God knows, doing justice to the foreigner, all these kind of things that are ancient classic biblical values have been swept away by people who claim Christianity as if it were a tribal membership rather than as if it were an ethical, moral, metaphysical system of understanding.
When you watch this man with his ridiculous gold plated everything and so on, you get the feeling that perhaps we really have fallen back into (something) primitive.
Meaningful democracy is built on a very deep and wide ranging integrity of individual people (. . .) and that's what we have to make sure we have secured, that's what people have to be very serious about.
The future is a strange beast. The word optimism I am not quite comfortable with. The future will be as good as we make it. And a huge burden has fallen on us.

Malcolm Gladwell (the complete interview is here):
If you are someone who is unwilling to engage with the normal institutions of government, one of two things happens: One is that you create a revolution. The other  is that the institutions govern without you. Were Trump a more  dynamic, effective, charismatic, disciplined person, I would fear the former.  That he might actually usurp the existing institutions.  
What I suspect is that he is simply too lazy and undisciplined to have anything happen.  (. . .)  the tweets don't really mean anything. (. . .) They are the kind of half baked thoughts one has at two in the morning. I don't think they represent a clearly articulated ideology. He doesn't have a clearly articulated ideology. (. . .) This is a man who two or three years ago in public said how much he loved Hillary Clinton and how he thought the economy was in fine form. (. . .) Virtually any position he takes now, he didn't take a couple of years ago. He doesn't have positions, in other words.
So in the absence of any kind of coherent political philosophy, personal philosophy, what happens is that the permanent government takes over. (. . .) 
A man who has a kind of murky past, who has done all minds of questionable things (. . .) this is the last guy who should be crossing the CIA. This just suggests that he is someone who hasn't the slightest clue what he is up to. Trust me, we will see the consequences of him anatgonising an  organisation like that. Let's just start with leaking. They're going to very quietly embarrass him any chance they get. 
So does Trump set an example of vulgarity, coarseness, superficiality, does he lower the bar or does the opposite happen? That by finally exposing the kind of emptiness of that kind of politics, does he create a backlash which says, it's time for us to elevate politics once again. I don't know. 
The last experience with a true American bully, someone who was this crass and vulgar, was Joe McCarthy. And the Joe McCarthy experience is incredibly instructive. What happens is, for a number of years,  everyone goes along with it and by being so coarse and vulgar and by being willing to go places where no one else will go, he has enormous political success in the short run. And then what happens: people finally get sick of him.
This kind of rhetorical strategy has a very limited lifespan. After a certain point, people long for a return to some kind of dignity. I think (. . .) those people on the religious right who voted for Trump and who have given him a kind of tentative support (. . .), they know he is not one of them, their patience for his vulgarity will be limited. There is only so long that people who have been raised in the genteel culture of the church will put up with someone who is so profoundly other. That's what happened with McCarthy. Fundamentally decent people who were willing to put up with that for two, three years, finally said, you know what, not doing it anymore. 
That same kind of thing will happen. I think someone's going to stand up and say, you know what, enough. And my guess is that when that happens, there will be a surprising wave of public support, in favour of it.


  1. Thanks for posting these thoughtful and insightful interviews. They are just what I needed to read this morning.

  2. The first quote brought to mind the worship of the Golden Calf.
    They are both hopeful, but the problem I have is that so many have always said, "enough" with this man and yet, here he is. Here he is in this position of incredible power. May it not last long.

  3. Good of Gladwell to remind us of that other demagogue, Sen. Joe McCarthy. I wait impatiently for the ex-Judge Joseph Welch de nos jours:

    "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.... Senator; you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? I will not discuss this further with you... You have seen fit to bring [the Fisher/NLG affair] out, and if there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good! I will not discuss it further... "

    Also an updated Sen. Stuart Symington of whom McCarthy said, "You're not fooling anyone." To which Symington replied: "Senator, the American people have had a look at you now for six weeks; you're not fooling anyone, either."

    1. Love it! Sometimes the worst in some brings out the best in others. That's what I'm waiting for.

  4. I have every confidence we will vomit him out. I'm only worried at how long that will take to happen.

    Still, first day, we have momentum.

    1. I'll be watching here: http://tinyurl.com/zmnjatu

  5. The marches yesterday all around the world, on every continent, gave me more hope than I've had in a long time. This beast shall not last. He is too undisciplined and makes new enemies everyday. The future will be dark and bleak for a while, but I sincerely await the light. And that's unusual for me, I'm quite the pessimist.

  6. Thank you for posting these quotes. I'll read the entire Malcolm Gladwell interview later (I'm at work) but how I hope that he's right and the Trump phenomenon is short lived and we're all okay at the end of it.

  7. I like Marilynne Robinson so much.

    We can but hope his crossing of the CIA has some very dire consequences for him, sooner rather than later!

  8. Thanks for the quotes -- all deeply thoughtful and sobering. I'm of the mind that Drumpf is the beginning of the end -- not the end of the world (unless he does something particularly stupid and dangerous) but the end of a dying form of civilization. Technology and "woke" people, the millennials, etc. are changing the world as we know it. Gone is the supremacy of the white patriarchy. I honestly believe that this is the last gasp. Of course, we are at risk of being blown up and then there's the planet...

  9. I love this -- it's powerful and thoughtful. I still think Martin Luther King Jr was correct when he said the arc of the universe bends toward justice. We may step back from time to time, but ultimately, we move forward.

  10. Trump makes George W sound eloquent....Not only is he a loose cannon, he's embarrassing - and I thought we coudn't be further embarrassed after Dubbya.

  11. There are so many thoughtful, intelligent people who are opposed to Trump. Surely we can defeat him.

  12. Thank you for this post.