Return to SSW; Continuation of It All, with Traumas in Full Bloom

March 13, 2024

It’s SSW time again after a month’s break. The world has moved on, and not in all bad ways. That’s the thing about the world: it’s such a tease. We catch glimpses of God, of possibility, like the first sighting of the Grand Canyon at twilight, and we exult that it’s right there, and I’m here, and comfortable, and pretty well set for the near future. I hear reports from friends of good news (as in the phone call of a dear friend finding a new job after a too-long and disruptive process). Spring weather is with us, and not necessarily too early to be mixed in with that larger fear.

But then the apocalypses start flitting around the edges of things.

My abiding apocalypse, of course, is Donald Trump, and the accompanying Trump Derangement Syndrome, my TDS. I embrace the naming of the syndrome, for it properly signifies the extremes and tentacled nature of Trump and his insidious and clumsy and blunt and pathological impacts. Trump has been so studied, defined, vilified, praised, condemned, in every aspect of his being, and with such expertise and thoroughness, that I shouldn’t feel the need to rehash all that’s there. But I do feel the need. It’s been so personal, so devastating, so uprooting of my worldview and values—and hopes for existence, the future, and humanity. I need to work through things, and naming my affliction is the starting point. Now, I need to define and characterize the syndrome as best I can.

I have been reading Barbara Res’s account of the Trump apocalypse, Tower of Lies. It’s a book I need to read slowly, because it’s just so hard to spend that much time with Trump, the young Trump, conquering the world, and in ways so familiar and predictable from what we now know. But Res is a counselor; she takes us through the process of Trump, and in a way to inoculate us from some of the effects. I am attempting a “purification by excess,” which basically is a leaning into the syndrome as a way of getting beyond it. If we get through it, we might encapsulate it, and, mirabile dictu, excise it. Hearing stories of Trump’s veniality, his ignorance, his bullying, his charisma, his powers—all deployed in the building of his real estate empire oddly puts my mind at rest. Seeing the continuities of his approach—in bullying contractors and subordinates, in skating over critical details, in taking credit for the accomplishments of others, in over-simplifying challenges, and on and on—makes Trump oddly more knowable and less toxic. As Judge Kaplan said at the start of the E. Jean Carroll case, in one of his first shut-downs of Trump: “You just can’t help yourself!” It’s true: Trump must be Trump. 

For years, though, I’ve known/felt that Trump, per se, is not the problem. There will always be extreme versions of damaged/damaging people afflicting the world. It’s the followers we need to worry about. It’s always been the followers (the enablers, sycophants, cowards, cultists). Why has he been able to secure such a following? There are just too many to write them off. They vary in many ways, including intelligence and level of education. So, I look at Trump and I marvel at his efficaciousness in … well, let’s call it … rhetoric.

Back to my TDS: one manifestation of it is my current addiction to the MSNBC folk who talk so incessantly about Trump and his tentacles plunging into our social/civic fabric. Their analysis is so varied, deep, and continuous. If I’m about “purification by excess,” I have an easy and ready and omnipresent medium through which I may process my gorging. My phone connects me wherever I am—in the house, in the car, in my office—and my algorithm indulges me in a loop that never loops, but just keeps progressing to the next ten-minute clip. All the lawyering, with motions and legal exegesis and panel commentary—does it educate me, or is it an orgy of TDS porn?

The Res book and the TDS excursions point to, I hope, a post-Trump world, one in which we have replaced—re-established—the guardrails—of civility, of law, of propriety, of the humanistic values towards which civilization has, gasp (dare I say?), been bending? I do take comfort in millennials, Gen Z-ers and even younger ones who have skipped out on the TDS stage of things. I’ve heard from young people who just look on, shake their head, and really just express a desire to move on. They just want a Trump-absent world; they suffer no lures into TDS; they feel no need to “conquer” Trump; they really just don’t want to think about him ever again. With simple sensibleness, they want to focus on the kind of concerns of a better life ahead through gradual improvement as we might achieve though conventional means of education, compassion, empathy, and the like.

I want to exult humility. I suppose that desire is the foundational principle of my TDS. The Holy Spirit, to me, the greatest of the three Gods, is the least assertive, the most humble. The Holy Spirit’s assertions are the quiet feelings of knowing; they are the afterglow of the prior chaos, process, talk, drama, learning, and the like. The Holy Spirit is nothing about self-promotion. The Holy Spirit is the Anti-Trump. Trump’s existence calls into question the vitality and agendas of the Holy Spirit. As such, I have become deranged with the syndrome, and I await the return of that peaceful feeling/knowledge/glow of that time beyond-Trump.

The Res book does help with this outcome. As we experience the building of the empire, with all its crass, ugly, and craven maneuvering, I can envision feeling compassion for the man, in seeing him act in ways that make sense in terms of ambition, vanity, and insecurity—motives, oddly, that are somewhat redemptive. It all make sense, after a fashion, and in coming into focus, the edge is dulled … a bit.

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