The months ahead are going to be a strain. Everything about Trump is already much too familiar. The candidate’s voice — with its boundless confidence, ignorance, and self-celebration — is practically inescapable. I hear it when reading his words on the page, along with the sound of my teeth grinding.
It’s possible to refuse to listen, or to read the news, of course, but only at the cost of deliberately avoiding reality. And deliberately avoiding reality is exactly the problem: The regressive force of Trump’s candidacy derives from his ability to get others to join him in a Walter Mitty fantasy where all problems have already been effectively solved by his “excellent brain” (which is, after all, uncontaminated by second-hand information or first-hand experience).
Authoritarianism, even reactionary authoritarianism, usually exhibits a certain level of dynamism. And so it is with Trump, if only because the mob energy his speeches generate also recharges the candidate’s own batteries. The content of his message is another matter: the candidate’s brain, however excellent, is no perpetual motion machine. Having labored to bring forth “the wall” and “the ban,” it seems to have retired to a golf course last year and remains there, recovering from exhaustion. No new thought ever burdens the audience at one of his rallies. On the rare occasion he says something not already bellowed into the public arena repeatedly, it tends to be either a blatant lie on some familiar theme or a snarl of derision at whoever has called him on a previous, no less blatant lie. He sticks to what he knows.
Won’t his following tire of it eventually? That’s the only possible grounds for hope, and it’s slim. (Pointing out that giving Trump executive power is like handing a loaded handgun to a preschooler won’t do it; he draws the kind of people who believe school shootings will end once the kindergarteners are armed.) Nor has the situation become numbing over time. The only prospect more grim than that of enduring five more months of it is the nightmarish realization that he could win.
Saturday morning and I’m at Caffe Medici on the Drag, the spot that would be my de facto office if I lived in Austin. Not a vacation — I’ve been doing research at the library and will need to shift gears before long to work on my column for next week. At the moment, though, it seems like an occasion to do something with Counter-Statement, which I set up a couple of months ago and have left to the gnawing of the digital mice ever since. Still no routine with Quick Study, but at least there have been a few posts there over the same period.
Then again, the almost complete absence of an audience has its advantages. Apart from the column, I’ve done very little work for publication over the past few years, though public speaking has taken up a bit of the slack. I’ve been as negligent as ever in promoting the column. In short, my sense of being involved in an essentially public activity has, if not necessarily declined, at any rate mutated. With the column and when at the podium, I have a reasonably clear sense of who’s paying attention, with the corresponding rewards of paycheck and applause. But otherwise, it’s been writing for the drawer (notebooks on reading, mostly) and for ghosts, since a number of readers who were important to me are now departed.
This is not a complaint, just a reckoning with circumstances that serve, only too readily, to rationalize hesitation and uncertainty about how to continue. (For “to continue,” read “to start again,” since it always comes down to that.) But the difference between reticence and sloth is partly one of degree, and anyway, “On s’engage et puis… on voit.”
“The disillusioned perspective distinguishes continually between faith and reality, between life as we want it to be and life as it actually is — for it is faith that joins us together with our undertakings and with the world, faith that accords them value. Without faith, no value. That’s why so many people find the disillusioned perspective so provoking: It lacks faith, sees only the phenomenon itself, while faith, which in a sense is always also illusion, for most people is the very point, the profoundest meaning. To the disillusioned, morals, for instance, are not so much a question of right or wrong as of fear. But try telling that to the moral individual.”
Karl Ive Knausgård, review of Michel Houellebecq, Submission
Let’s not permit the sideshow in Tennessee — where, pretty much on cue, politicians have been waxing indignant over the call for “inclusive holiday celebrations” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville — distract us from the real war on Christmas: the one nobody at Fox News wants discussed.
Continue reading “The (Original) War on Christmas”