Collected Thoughts

January 2018
January 3, 2018

I got up on this very cold morning to watch of a clip of Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump’s tweets, which consist of nothing but reading them word for word. How a mind like Trump’s could have come to be may be one of the world’s great mysteries (but, then, maybe not). What could possibly have brought it forth? No comic could have devised his mental ejaculations. It would be impossible to imagine them. And, yet, there he sits in the White House, and we’re going to be forced to listen to him all the way through this new year.

What did we do to deserve this? Perhaps we know, don’t we? We just got dumber, and dumber, and dumber, and dumber, and then, finally, the Trump brain emerged. It simply issued forth out of the core of dumbness, a gigantic glob of intellectual sterility more frigid than anything at the South Pole.

I have known people who say there’s nothing really dangerous about dumbness. I’d like to watch them take the measure of Trump’s intellect and tell us that again. But, still, they could probably do it because that’s an attitude propelled by their own mental stagnation.

I’m running on here aimlessly because I feel compelled to express the disgrace I feel at Trump’s being, actually, the president of the United States. Unbelievable? But it’s true. And its truth grates on me every day.

A part of me warns I shouldn’t write commentary of this kind and yet I sense that we need to remind ourselves regularly of the crime we have committed against our own social being. We seriously do need to be ashamed of ourselves, and perhaps that could be a small beginning towards something healthier. It will be a long time coming though.


January 5, 2018

One of the most trenchant articles about American political culture I’ve read is in the New Yorker for January 8th. It’s by Louis Menand and titled “Been There.” Ostensibly about the election of 1968, its main message is how that event, now almost fifty years in the past, explains the political situation we now inhabit.

As you know, I’ve been arguing for quite a while that Donald Trump and all he stands for has been a long time coming. Menand makes clear just how long it has been, and how the years since 1960 have laid the stepping stones many Americans -- and perhaps most -- have trod obediently along. He offers us a series of comments which limn the nature of that path. One of them is Mayor Richard Daly’s shouted denunciation when Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut was speaking at the Democratic Convention in 1968: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”

That’s the flavor of the sentiment that has been growing ever stronger in the United States since Lyndon Johnson was president, and now has become politically, if not demographically, dominant.

Menand ends his essay with a discussion of Deeply Divided, a book by Doug McAdam and Karina Kate, published in 2014. They argue that for the past half-century our politics has been rent between two movements, the civil rights movement and what they call a “countermovement” which can be generally characterized as anti-integrationist. They are clearly right about that. And until we recognize how right they are, we’re unlikely to find ways to escape the Trumpian view of things.

Read Menand’s piece if you get a chance. It’s deeply educative.


January 11, 2018

In his column today, Charles Blow of the New York Times says: “Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.”

He’s right about that. But the implication of his statement runs beyond the denunciation of Trumpism. If we dig into its meaning we discern that Trumpism is merely one of innumerable religions, virtually all of which are cruel and degrading. It seems there is almost nothing that somebody won’t worship.

What do we mean by worship? As a noun it means adoration; as a verb it means to show reverence and adoration for.

What is the purpose of worship? That’s the significant question.

The purpose of worship, primarily, is to escape thought, to be free, completely, from the rigors of thought. When you worship, you don’t have to submit yourself to any perplexing queries. You know everything essential already. Worship is the essence of intellectual disgrace. And it reminds us of W. H. Auden’s famous quatrain:

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

In other words, pity and mercy are incompatible with the degradation of intellectual disgrace.

I’m strongly aware that many fine minds have perceived themselves as religious and, therefore, worshipful, figures. John Henry Newman comes immediately to mind. They have been mistaken about their basic intellectual nature. But their mistakes are understandable, and excusable, because they were swimming in a sea of corrugating belief that was in their time virtually irresistible. They lived in a near unendurable tension that twisted their lives and caused many of them misery and intellectual torture. Everywhere about them the message of worship’s necessity pounded on their ears. I’m not surprised they succumbed to it.

Yet, sometime in the early 20th century, that necessity relaxed its hold. It became possible to consider living without certainty and to fashion a self based on one’s own commitments to his or her fellow creatures. It was a freedom that permitted kindness. And as that process went forward the multitude of religions became more petty, mean, and stupid. Now, as Blow says, we have reached the stage where something like Trumpism can constitute a religion. When Trumpism can be a religion, anything sordid can. And most of the small, pathetic belief refuges turn nasty. It’s past time we were done with them.


January 12, 2018

This morning both David Leonhardt of the New York Times and John Cassidy of the New Yorker declared unequivocally that Donald Trump is a racist. This should surprise no one. The evidence supporting their conclusion has been piling up mountainously over the past two years. Now it has become so voluminous it can’t be denied even by the most careful and circumspect of journalists.

Donald Trump’s racism has been established and it can never be disavowed by honest people. One thing this means is that if someone does disavow it, he or she is dishonest and is not worth anyone’s attention. In other words, anyone who makes such a defense is a political hack, a toady, a louse, a rat, a goon, a twerp, an imbecile, a servile idiot.

Why the mainstream media should ever interview such a person is incomprehensible and yet we see such types showing up on the news shows day after day after day. Why is that? Here too the evidence is conclusive: what the so-called news outlets want is not truth but sensation. They deal in the pornography of public discussion. They know that a great portion of the public revels in lies and they are determined to give that slice of the public what they want. Salivation is the news media’s primary goal.

If democracy is ever to be restored in America -- an increasingly dubious prospect -- a lot of people who are not doing it now have got to start struggling against being used as dupes. What we do about the people who don’t mind being used as dupes and, in fact, rather enjoy it, I can’t say. I wish I could but I’m not up to answering every question. All I can say is that it’s a question that needs to be continuously raised.

Perhaps a first step in having it addressed would be conveying to the whole public that by casting a vote one testifies to who one is. If you vote for a racist, you are a racist. You may think you’re not. You may assume that you have other motives besides racial bigotry to vote as you do. But all that’s claptrap. You vote for a racist, you are a racist. There’s the end of it.

Since Donald Trump is definitely a racist, every single person who votes for him is a racist also. There’s no doubt about it.


January 17, 2018

As we know, Donald Trump is the least racist person we have ever seen. He has repeated the statement so often it’s as though he’s trying to set a record. The frequency of it may have dulled us to its peculiarity. What can it possibly mean to be the least racist person anyone has ever seen?

I actually saw Martin Luther King once. Does that mean that he was more racist than Donald Trump?

Trump makes his pronouncement with great flair. He obviously likes to hear himself say it. Perhaps it’s the case that the sound of it pleases him so much the meaning of it has become entirely irrelevant. It could be that Trump will go down in history as the person who established a new type: one who has totally banished meaning from his mind. Everything he says comes out simply because he likes the sound of it. It doesn’t have to have a meaning because, for him, meaning is meaningless. It is well established that Trump is a wild narcissist. So if one were able to carry narcissism beyond any limit heretofore known, he could pioneer a novel personality: the meaning-devoid brain, one who spews incessantly when there is never any meaning in the spray.

Trump is obviously a highly racist person. He pumps out racist comments every week. He piles them on top of one another incessantly. But in his thought-process -- if you can say he has one -- making racist remarks has nothing to do with being a racist, because, you see, he is the least racist there is.

The droid-like figures who trail around after him, hoping to lap up some dribbles of favor from him -- even though they too would be meaningless -- are in an void even more pathetic than Trump’s own vacancy. They know what he says has no meaning but they have to make up stuff that appears to give it meaning. So in some ways what they say is even stupider than what he says. They construct nothing out of nothing and proclaim it to be full of substance.

Trump and all of his cronies are the prime dopes of history. And nothing that history can ever do will ever come close the changing that. It is not written in stone. It is written in something so obdurate it cannot be discovered in the solar system. There is something truly cosmic about it.


January 24, 2018

When you live in a house for almost thirty years it tends to get packed with more stuff than it can hold comfortably. Our house at 45 Liberty Street is certainly in that condition. So we’ve decided to try to straighten it up a bit, which is a bigger task than you might imagine. In straightening we find many things that we had forgotten we had, including little bits of writing, which, if you wanted to be generous to them you could call poems, but which I don’t want to call anything other than what they are -- a few words on a page.

I thought I might stick a few of them here over the next few months. I’ll start with a piece I called “Contrast, Or Emily and Elizabeth At The Men An Tol.” For those of you who don’t know, the Men An Tol is an ancient stone monument in Cornwall which consists of three stones, two ordinary elongated stones on either end, and between them a flat stone with a hole cut in the middle. They have been there for about 3,500 years, and legend has it that if you crawl through the hole, nothing bad will happen to you for the coming year.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote after I took my daughters there, maybe thirty years ago, near the same time we moved into this house.

For three thousand years
these hoary stones have
sat
Here in this sheep-graced
bramble patch.
And now on this misty
June afternoon
Come two girl-faces from
across a sea
To adorn them in the
foggy spray.
And teach them meanings
undreamed of
When grunting figures
dragged them
Across these scraggly
moors.
And set them portentously
erect
For purposes known solely
now
To the all-remembering
soul of the world.


January 25, 2018

In the same notebook I found the scribblings about the Men An Tol I discovered another set jotted down a little over three decades ago which I titled “Humiliations.” After all these years I find that I still stand by their truth, and, in fact, am more convinced by it than I was than when I first wrote them down.

The desire of humans to humiliate one another can seem at times ineradicable. Where it comes from I don’t know but it does seem to be fairly steady. Probably it was the source of Immanuel Kant’s best known statement: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

I wonder if that will remain true forever. In any case, here are my thirty year old thoughts:

Humiliation is all over;
That’s what I didn’t know
  growing up.

I thought that doing right
  was enough,
Doing right in a commonsense
  way.

No one tells boys what they
  need to know,
Which is that the world is
  strangely hard;
Not hard in the way John
  Wayne conveyed,

But hard in a peculiar vein
Spreading humiliation all
  round
And making believe it
  doesn’t reign.



©John R. Turner

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