“There are two sides to a trumpeter’s personality. There is the one that lives only to lay waste to the woodwinds and strings, leaving them lying blue and lifeless along the swath of destruction that is the trumpeter’s fury. And then there’s the dark side.” Anonymous
Much has been written of the Trump phenomenon, about ignorant, angry, racist voters who have taken more than enough and can’t take anymore. Far deeper and more intransigent than that, I’m afraid. The glib Donald proposes no real or even thoughtful solutions – only simplistic pandering, and he displays little depth of knowledge in any of the subjects about which he harangues. How is a privileged narcissist, a vain bully whose signature is insult and schoolboy humiliation of anyone who voices even minor criticism, successfully pretending as a “tell it like it is” savior of the common man? What vein is he mining?
Peggy Noonan this weekend starts the conversation best, I think, in her Wall Street Journal column, and I recommend it to you: “Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected.” She writes that the divide between the “protected” (well to do, influential, comfortable and safe) and the “unprotected” (everybody else) has widened to nearly unbridgeable and is intolerably frustrating to those on the vulnerable side. Noonan suggests that the protected includes most politicians, academia, the majority of both conservative and progressive media, the educated and the wealthy – defined as anyone not constantly worried about paycheck to paycheck necessities for their families.
The protected have no insight into what the majority of people deal with on Monday morning or in middle of the night sweats; the unprotected are in frigid water without a lifeboat while the Titanic goes down. The elite have for the most part abandoned public schools for their own children except for lip service to the teacher’s union. They converse smugly among themselves about the witlessness of the average person along with some occasional painless and riskless tsk, tsking about minorities and the disadvantaged, who need to be rescued by the government or free enterprise or some combination thereof. The protected and unprotected stand on the precipices of opposite sides of a canyon and shout bumper sticker slogans at each other.
Trumpism is not a joke, much as we wish it was, and neither is it an eruption without a cause. We can see it as the other side of the same coin as Obamaism. We long for a demagogue to lead us out of the bewilderment of our own inability to grasp what’s really going on. We are awash in information and immediacy of communication and bereft of understanding and wisdom, overloaded with bits of knowledge, and unable to piece together a meaningful picture of the whole. So we grasp at the self-serving kindness of strangers and fantasize that the expert, the manager, the technocrat can pick their way through the obstacles that no one else understands and bring us safely home.
“The vast accumulations of knowledge – or at least information – deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when everyone knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” T.S. Eliot, from the essay, “The Perfect Critic”
G.K. Chesterton wrote over a century ago in his brilliant short essay on juries, “The Twelve Men,” [i] “The Fabian argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that a man who studied a thing and practiced it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance. In the same way, alas! we all go on every day, unless we are continually goading ourselves into gratitude and humility, seeing less and less of the significance of the sky or the stones.”
Our culture is in great danger of intellectual and moral surrender to the expert, to the manager whom we believe knows all and can fix all, like Donald Trump, or for that matter, Barack Obama. We retreat from an overwhelming onslaught of data and information and cede authority to those longing to assume it. We flee into distractions, entertainments and the frivolous because we fear we cannot bear or understand what it is we need to understand and to bear. Mistaking management for leadership, we willingly turn over our governance to those we hope see the light that we do not.
“Trumpet players see each other, and it’s like we’re getting ready to square off and get into a fight.” Wynton Marsalis
[i] See free online version of Chesterton’s collection, “Tremendous Trifles” from the Gutenberg Project: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8092/8092-h/8092-h.htm#link2H_4_0012