• Donald Trump as Anti-Mensch or, This Too Shall Pass

    • Posted on Dec 10, 2017

    My second Sunday essay, this time on soothing our Trump-jangled nerves.  


                Graeme Shimmin, a British science fiction novelist and blogger, recently tackled a challenging question on the Quora web site: If you are a passionate anti-Trump type person, what, if anything, can you say positive about our current president?

                It had me stumped.  But Shimmin comes through. 

                He says: “. . . the only genuinely positive thing I can say about him - he is, in a way, impressive.”

                Shimmin continues, “God knows, he’s not wise. He’s not got any great insight either—his tactics are the same old playbook a hundred demagogues have used. He’s not even masterful, a sharp operator, in the way some other politicians are.

                No. None of those things are what is impressive about him.

                What he does have though, to an almost unparalleled degree, is no inhibitions - there are no depths to which he will not stoop. No blow is too low. No barb too cruel.

                He has risen to the position he has because everyone who tried to stop him had the same problem - simple human decency was a thing that meant something to them.”

                Bravo, Mr. Shimmin. I bow to your wisdom.    

                Good old “decency”—the trait that most of us count on in others that makes them dependable and trustworthy—seems to have gone missing in Donald Trump.

                However, “stupefying” works better for me than “impressive.”  It means to “put into a stupor,” and that’s exactly what Trump’s false accusations, gibes, insults, and slurry nicknames seem to have incurred in enough voters to make him President. 

                They voted for him while in a stupor, numbed by his bottomless indecency.

                Before we get too discouraged about a widespread shift to indecency, let’s remember that Trump lost the November popular vote by a greater margin than any other American President.  Some 2.8 million more voters voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump. 

                Yet there remain millions of stupefied voters mesmerized by this sad loser of an egomaniac.   

                How can this be? For starters, any population contains a percentage of rock-throwers, angry at whatever. Anarchists, nihilists, demagogues, and doubt-free ideologues. They’re always right in their minds, and they love Trump, who’s shameless in the service of their beliefs.  

                Like Trump, they’re anti-mensches. 

                Mensch, an ancient Yiddish word, deserves attention.   Peter R. Swank defines “mensch” as a person having admirable, noble, or dignified characteristics, such as fortitude, responsibility, and firmness of purpose.  (see Peter R. Swank’s “Qualities of a Menschkeit” at https://www.peterswank.com/menschkeit
                Swank goes on to list forty qualities of a mensch, and here are his top ten:
    1. Strength - physical, as well as of conviction
    2. Honor - Every Mensch has a Code of Honor.
    3. Integrity - A Mensch is honest with firm moral principles; his word carries the weight and trustworthiness of an iron vault.
    4. Loyalty - fierce, to his fellow Menschs, loved ones, wife, children, mother, and family
    5. Sacrifice - A Mensch's personal desires are subordinated.
    6. Uncompromising Ethics - A Mensch always strives to do what is right.
    7. Intelligence - not necessarily academic, but raw intelligence
    8. Control - A Mensch has the ability to forge/manhandle/bend a situation towards his will; if not in control, a Mensch will find a way to be in control. Alternatively, a Mensch will relinquish control in order to be in control.
    9. Stoicism and Toughness - high pain tolerance; absence of complaining.

    10.  Fairness - A Mensch always considers all sides.


                So Donald Trump and many of his followers stand as America’s anti-mensches.

                How I wish we could just ignore them and hope they’ll go away.  But we can’t yet do that, though their comeuppance is surely coming.

                We can, however, remind ourselves as often as possible:     

    (1)  Trump remains the most unpopular President in U.S. History.

    (2)  Leading lights in the Republican Party have roundly condemned him and continue to do so. 

    As reminders of this point, here’s Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, speaking to his colleagues in the Senate: 

                “I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

                He continues: 

                “The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, and the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.”

                Flake also speaks directly about Trump’s anti-mensch behavior:

                “Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

                And from Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker: 

                "Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we're dealing with here ... of course they understand the volatility that we're dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road."

                "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

                "I don't think he appreciates that when the President of the United States speaks and says the things that he does, the impact that it has around the world, especially in the region that he's addressing."

                "Trump may be setting the US on the path to World War III."

                 From former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, three powerful quotes:  

                “Dishonesty is Trump's hallmark: He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong. He spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong. He saw no such thing. He imagined it. He's not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as leader. His imagination must not be married to real power."

                "Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics. We have long referred to him as 'The Donald.' He is the only person in the entire country to whom we have added an article before his name. And it wasn't because he had attributes we admired."

                "Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

                Finally, from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain: 

                "To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

                3. Let us remind ourselves daily: 

                This too shall pass




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  • Nothing is Always Something

    • Posted on Dec 03, 2017

    Sunday Essay 1 
    December 3, 2017 


                So often I hear people complaining that such and such or so and so “is” or “was” boring.  It put them to sleep, they say, or made them want to leave, or scream, or otherwise tune out. 

                We suffer through boring concerts, lectures, people, rides in cars on endless highways, feeling oppressed by the event.  We drift off, or if we’re caffeinated, conjure imaginary scenarios.  Anything to escape boredom.    

                Stories arise in our bobbing heads, offering sleepy brains some relief from the tedium. Bored out of our minds, quite literally.       

                But what is boredom, really?  Does it reside in the concert, the lecture, the person, the car ride?  Or does it lie in ourselves?  Or somewhere in between? 

                And what can we do about it?

                Boredom arises because the present moment doesn’t stimulate enough brain activity to keep us engaged.  Staring at a blank wall for a few minutes would bore most of us, as would listening to a single tone played with no variation for several minutes. 

                Yet I maintain that nothing is not boring, taking both senses of “nothing” as (1) the opposite of something or (2) a vacuum, as in outer space, where vacuums reside in great quantity, supposedly full of nothing at all. 

                In fact, nothing is always full of something, all the time and everywhere.   

                Let me dispose of the vacuum sense of “nothing” first.  Turns out vacuums, far from being empty, are indeed full of somethings—energy fluctuations, at the quantum level.  

                Consider this:  

                “In 1665, Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek discovered microbes when they pointed their microscopes at "nothing." In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background when they pointed their telescopes at "nothing." Vacuum is perhaps the ultimate "nothing," so if history is any indication, "nothing" is an interesting place, especially if you want to look for something.”

                From:  https://www.insidescience.org/news/study-about-nothing

                So, vacuums are anything but empty.   

                Let’s return to the first definition of nothing as the lack of stimulation in certain concerts, lectures, people, and rides in cars on endless highways. If they bore us, they seem to have too much nothing.

                Yet like the outer space vacuum that’s not empty, nothing is something if we engage further.  The problem amounts to the false belief that the lack of stimulation resides in the concert, lecture, etc., rather than in response to it.

                Here’s the nub:  Meaning is co-created.  We bring our brains to an event packed with thoughts, feelings, memories, joys, angers, doubts, random little movies, images, fantasies, all firing off repeatedly and endlessly. Literally trillions of neurons stay busy with incoming perceptions, making of them what they will, depending on our shifting moods, level of fatigue, distractions, and chemicals/drugs coursing through our veins. 

                We’ve all had the strange experience of hating something that we later love.  I’m currently reading Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, a novel that I was assigned to read in high school English.  I read it as best I could, but utterly despised it.

                In fact, I loathed it so much I wrote a sharp note to the hapless teacher accusing her of assigning Hawthorne only because it’s a classic, not because it was any good. She wrote back that “I didn’t understand Hawthorne.”  

                Now, 58 years later, the House of the Seven Gables makes me gasp with pleasure.  Such insights! Such a powerful set of observations on New England society and life!  Such an intelligent and utterly engaging writer!

                I can’t believe I didn’t glimpse its greatness earlier.  But I wasn’t ready for it.  

                I needed to live six more decades and have the leisure to engage it on my own time and in my own way. 

                My older and more filled brain brings a set of experiences and observations to Hawthorne’s prose that were unavailable as a teenager.

                Now I co-create an entirely different novel from The House of the Seven Gables that I once despised as worthless and—boring. The novel hadn’t changed; I had.  

                So too with everything.  Concerts, lectures, people, and rides in cars on endless highways cannot “be” boring—boringness doesn’t reside in them, any more than nothing resides in a vacuum.  Instead, we take them to be boring because we don’t bring enough experience to bear on experiencing them.

                Practically speaking, then, what can we do when we feel boredom?

                Put simply, you can decide to pay more attention. Get into the moment you’re in, sense your body’s presence, and start noticing everything.  In a concert that’s not stimulating for you, pick a single line of melody or harmony and focus on it.  Follow it as intensely as you can as it weaves its way through the surrounding sounds.  Or the rhythms and how they’re constantly shifting as the music shifts, and what makes them up—percussive beats or just pulses from the cadences in the music. 

                Or notice one performer and how he/she seems to be interpreting the music, and how that compares with your own interpreting.  That musician is not bored, guaranteed.

                Or take that boring person who never stops talking about himself, boring you to distraction. What are they saying, really?  What’s underneath their words?  What does their body language say along with their words? Does their body language conflict with or support what they’re saying?  Are they essentially sad under their happy talk?  Or happy under their sad talk?

                Anybody and anything is capable of stimulating you into paying attention.  They don’t have to do anything differently from what they always do.  But you have to respond differently. 

                That’s the crux of never feeling bored, and it grows out of recognizing that nothing “is” boring. 

                After all, nothing is always something. 




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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

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