America is the global epicenter for “treating real life as fantasy and vice versa,” for taking “preposterous ideas seriously.” Its fantasy-industrial complex has been further boosted by the promotion of Donald Trump, a grifter who “doesn’t like experts, because they interfere with his right as an American to believe or pretend that fictions are facts, to feel the truth.”
Kurt Andersen, author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, is worried the country is splitting into two.
There’s “reality-based America,” an educated cohort of men and women who honor reason and rationalism, and then there’s the deplorables and suckers, ignorant types who have “an altogether uncertain grip on reality.” To prevent the collapse of civil society “the blue part and smaller red part” of the nation must now fight the good fight so that the lies of Trumpism “don’t turn it into something much worse than just nasty, oafish, reality-show pseudo-conservatism.”
Andersen is not, on the face of it, a hard-core materialist. In addition to alluding to “a vague force or universal spirit or higher power,” he readily concedes human beings operate “on a spectrum between the poles of rational and irrational.” We make sense of life by using head and heart. The current crisis stems from people going overboard, letting “the subjective entirely override the objective.”
While all this comes across as fair and reasonable, it’s not. It’s deeply confused and misleading. And the game of poker can help parse the liberal subterfuge.
It is technically possible to win at poker sans cognitive effort. Simply bet on a whim, regardless of probability, the relative size of your chip-stack, position in the hand or the behavior of others. But it’s extremely unlikely. Genuine achievement requires proper regard for the Science, all that is graspable by the senses and intellect. At the same time, numbers, theories and the like are fundamentally insufficient. It’s also necessary to exercise Art, an aesthetic or poetic form of wisdom.
“Just because the numbers are telling me that one plus one equals two doesn’t mean I have to listen,” says 2005 World Series of Poker champion, Joe Hachem. “Personally, I like to trust my gut.”
“Don’t get me wrong, you need to understand the numbers. A solid knowledge of percentages and starting hands is essential for any player to make informed decisions, but at the end of the day, having a feel for the table and my opponents often tells me more than any statistic could.”
Poker brings into relief the ethereal connection between objective truth, what can be explained and expressed, and something subjective that lies beyond the Science, yet is also personal and inwardly compelling. In politics, we want our leaders to embody both. Striking the right balance is typically assumed to entail a mind-versus-heart battle of opposing forces, with the outcome being a mix of ideology and faith, of theory and practice, of thinking and feeling. This is not, however, how it works in reality. The political Center is, paradoxically, all-or-nothing.
The key question in poker is “Do I have the best hand?” Like Hachem states, once a player has exhausted the Science, he stops listening to 1+1=2 logic and paradigmatic thought. Bringing it all together as a coherent whole, joining the dots and reading between the lines, calls for absolute presence, an emptying of the mind. And not just of evidence, but of fear and doubt as well.
Poker is a crucible of ironies, wherein you are constantly pressured to make a leap of faith, free of what the mind perceives and apprehends. Yet this higher mode of inquiry can’t be unfounded. A measure of reasoning is required prior to any letting go. Find the sweet spot and the surrender, treating objective truth as “meaningless,” causes the resulting illumination to somehow validate the Science and deliver the desired clarity. Naturally, given these inexplicable workings, there is no set method for success. Closure is tacit, rhythmic, a knack.
That said, it’s hardly an isolated phenomenon. As any amateur will attest, the mechanics of golf are crucial, though rely on formal knowledge and your shot will finish up in the trees. The goal is to detach, to be at one with the ball. Similarly, I could tell you something of why I love who it is I love. Sense of humor, the way she walks, her kindness. Stuff in common. Crucial differences. But as Brad Pitt is informed in Meet Joe Black, I could add it all up, “multiply it by infinity, take that to the depths of forever, and you still barely have a glimpse of what I am talking about.”
As much as relevant empirical and rational considerations provide needed context, justified belief comes down to an ineffable sensibility, the equivalent of Just Because. Moreover, head and heart don’t compete, as such, nor counterbalance each other. Science and Art are non-overlapping, the latter entirely beyond the former. Hence, the obligatory leap. Binary polarities on a continuum are merely how the mind conceives of the infinite gap and their uncanny, complementary relationship. Reason is – and can never be more than – a stepping stone to a deeper understanding based on higher, truer, permanent things, the unseen and incomprehensible. To have faith is to step off, without condition, and allow the direct and immediate experience of Being to totally override accumulated thoughts and words.
Strictly speaking, then, president Trump and his supporters are on the money. Truth – the whole truth – is an absolutist proposition: all-in Science, then all-in Art.
What riles Andersen is the growing inclination to skip the first step and let “all kinds of magical thinking” displace applicable information, ideas, and arguments. In a post-fact world of feeling only, anything can be said to be true. While a very legitimate concern, he and his blue-part-red team fail to diagnose the populist backlash for what it is: a rational response to an intellectually bankrupt politico-media establishment fixated with Science and a tick-a-box mentality.
Autonomous human reason is instinctively averse to Science-Art reality and its lack of overlap.
If Art is superior and overwhelming, nothing of consequence can ever be mastered by the mind or properly articulated. Human beings are special, no doubt, but also fundamentally limited. Life is always more than it seems and so, after all the thinking and talking is done, it must be coped with by coping with it, as it unfolds in the here-and-now. Inner strength and self-discipline are required, as there will be pain, sorrow and suffering along the way.
It’s not all tough going, of course. Poker, sport and romance are meaningful because of radical uncertainty. It would all be a total waste of time and effort if there was a Solution to life’s vicissitudes, a scripted, cause-and-effect answer applicable to all. Stand-alone, existential faith, therefore, makes sense. In the words of that all-American lyrical sage, David Lee Roth: “Ah, might as well Jump!”
What is more, it is this freely-made leap that closes the gap, dignifies life and brings purpose and meaning into the world. Every individual, regardless of the cards we’ve been dealt, has the opportunity to let go, overcome the difficulties and non-negotiables in life and, in so doing, harmonize the inscrutable self with a transcendent moral order common to all. As Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney suggests in his 1996 address to University of North Carolina graduating students, it is Art, our heart and soul, and not reason and language that unifies:
The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your lives. True to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally and keeps us most reliably connected to one another.
Alas, as with becoming a good poker player, human History confirms the quest for spiritual freedom has a pedagogical element. Man, a lover of reason, has to know enough before he can be comfortable knowing nothing. Without learned ignorance, a letting go is liable to be tentative or premature. It took me decades of striving and erring before I could shut off the incessant rationalizing and be at peace with a heartfelt commitment to the right woman. Suffice to say, determining how much necessary-but-insufficient Science is enough, is a highly fraught process – personally and for a nation.
America represents a unique and heroic attempt to be truly Great by getting the abstruse, all-or-nothing Science-Art “balancing act” right.
Queries Andersen: “When did America become untethered from reality?” Well, pretty much when the church was separated from the state, the moment it became a stupendous Enlightenment project founded on the conviction a United States, unshackled from Christian anti-Science dogma, could build a worldly platform to enable an en masse letting go.
But here’s the thing: this New World eschatology necessitated a ruse.
A society overtly aware of a system of thought is ultimately facile and is unlikely to embrace progress and a contest of ideas in service of the common good. The ruling class can’t credibly recommend the pursuit of ideals and impose laws if it’s obvious to citizens there is no formula for success and that what counts in the end is a vibe. To gain traction, it made sense to advance an alternate reality, one where Science and Art do a crossover.
The Declaration of Independence and the Founders’ deism set the scene for a pragmatic each-way bet, the Utilitarian Complication.
Man has rights: life, liberty, and happiness. Equality is metaphysical, an experience that precedes Scientific categories such as race, class, and religion. Self-evident truths can’t be argued or coerced into existence. Proof of the universal and unalienable, the true and the good, is found in the doing when the mind is still and the heart unguarded. Jefferson even went so far, in a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, to designate that resisting the impulse to define the undefinable is a blueprint for morality:
[Jesus] has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined him. I am, therefore, of his theology, believing that we have neither words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be at one sect, doers of good, and eschewers of evil.
Though true enough, it was never going to be as simple as embracing the logic of mystical conservatism, the belief human beings are, above all else, like-hearted. Organized progress must emphasize the empirical and intellectual. And so, eighteenth-century elites fostered an intermediate step. If the ancien régime was Act I and by-faith-alone redemption the end-game, then Act II would stress progressive rationalism and a commitment to like-mindedness.
America opted to hedge in respect of Science, its scope and capabilities. Earthly power and omniscience is a grave illusion, politics incommensurate with a Solution. And the opposite is also true. In fact, more true.
To secure what no legislature, treasury or military can secure, We The People agreed to institute a government with top-down authority derived from the consent of the governed. Spiritual freedom was objectified, ordinary folk provided tutelage, the ambitious venture slaves and goal-seeking institutions ideals and values within their bureaucratic reach.
A literal common ground, America as an idea, allowed the great social experiment to pit the precepts of natural law and the spontaneous joy of Being in the world as it is – the only reality we ever have – against the political hope that secular liberalism would, in due course, bring about mutual salvation. Personal responsibility and commonsense were de-radicalized and made to compete on a spectrum with ordered liberty, positive rights and notions of social justice. And while the drama of this alternate reality, the favoring of Science and objectiveness over the eternal relatedness of Art and individual subjective experience, legitimated centralized rule and yielded needed infrastructure, the Faustian bargain was always going to come home to roost.
Modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarized in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.
Yuval Noah Harari, while correct, overlooks a wickedly subtle twist. The cosmological estrangement caused by unwarranted confidence in the efficacy of democratic Science was intended to be temporary, in place just long enough to give all Americans a shot at the Dream. But of course the necessity for Act III wasn’t disclosed for fear it would compromise the self-deceptions required to give reason and rationalism a fighting chance. So, not only did the leadership take seriously the preposterous idea that it is power and like-mindedness that makes a nation Great, it steadily suppressed the fact it had done so.
Centuries on, and with the longed-for foundation in place, the sentimental aspects of the chimerical ploy have degenerated into an irrepressible source of nihilism and anomie. Powerless to spot how it helped to sow the seeds of its own confusion, an out-of-touch political establishment is inclined to treat Act II as conclusive, adopting the pernicious premise that a routinized, Science-led end to uncertainty and human suffering is not only feasible, it’s desirable.
Fortunately, we still have poker as a reminder of what like-minded, systematized progress begs us to forget. Not only does it celebrate simplicity and our fallen finitude, it employs the unscripted Art-leavened dimension of reality as a corrective for hubris and self-pity.
Life, liberty and happiness are freely available to anyone with the courage to step up and be tested, spiritually. Injustice is an oxymoron. You lost the hand because of poor discipline or providence has, in this instance, chosen another. Either way, learn from the “adversity,” build resilience and move on, as any thought or emotion that hinders your ability to be present – wrath, entitlement, prejudice, victimhood – is detrimental. David Lee Roth again: “You got to roll with the punches to get to what’s Real.” And don’t be troubled by the contestation. It exists merely to drive a player inward, to where he can find his inner voice and an ethic of authenticity. Just be your true self. Let go, and the prospect of death invigorates, as self-interest and identity dissolve into something bigger, something shared. Surrender to the mystique and become wise, grounded in the metaphysical.
Furthermore, and most tellingly, demonstrate a reluctance to lighten up, have some fun and see the humorous side of things, and rest assured vague external forces – aka, the card gods – will hone in on any juvenile attachment to Science.
What is true for poker is also true in love and life. And, eventually, even in Washington.
America is certainly coming apart and it’s doing so along partisan Science-Art fault-lines.
Its governing principle of ordaining political hope over spiritual hope has metastasized out of control, causing the original ruse to ossify into a Lie to be denied at any cost. Power is either an end in itself or inverted and used as a vehicle for aggrieved minorities, angry – often with justification – at what power has wrought. The cultural hegemony, bewitched by the practical achievements of progressive rationalism, has deluded itself into believing it is reality-based when it’s not. More disturbing still for everyone else, the conditioning effects of the blue-part-red team fantasy has reduced its members to super-smart idiots.
Educated, coastal elites fighting the good fight against Trumpism have made a subjective, doubt-ending leap of faith: there are no biological or epistemological givens in life to overcome. Man is unbounded, with the lonesome, interior struggle to let go, to push on through and connect to what is Real behind and beyond physical reality, nothing but oppressive theology. Publicly observable, empirical reality is all that counts. To wit: Artistic acumen on the part of the individual is superfluous once objective truth and 1+1=2 are deemed sufficient. And from here, it’s rational to expect across-the-board compliance with pro-Science dogma for the now godless eschatological movement.
No matter the bullying and shaming betrays cultural pluralism and the sovereignty of moral conscience, both core Enlightenment principles. No matter the new technocratic order is, in many regards, more menacing and judgmental than the religious regime it replaced. Such hypocrisy is ignored or explained away. The other team deserves it. Anyway, moral and intellectual honesty will be restored as soon as a final political victory is achieved. More magical thinking.
Openly dispute received wisdom on, say, gay marriage, gun control or immigration, and expect an onslaught of illiberal liberalism. Not being a Christian, an easy target, my particularized persecution might focus on my heterosexual relationship or poker prowess. Please explain why, exactly, you love your wife. Is she the same color and class? Tell us, in detail, what possessed you to put chips down on J♦-9♠, a rather ordinary starting hand. How did you know it would win the pot?
While I respond in good faith, what I express is less than the complete truth. It must be. My internal attitudes and beliefs incorporate non-rational factors. A consensus is therefore dependent on the parties accepting a cohering role for shared sentiment. We must both become like-hearted. Which means avowing a higher realm of truth that is untestable by science or unprovable by reason alone. Without the sublime insight of Art, affirmed through personal interpretation and judgment, Science is confined to self-indulgent guesswork.
Let’s say my interlocutor, one @KBAndersen, remains unconvinced. I’m mistaken or lying, he claims. I’m holding something back. I’m inauthentic, beset by fear and doubt. Maybe I just got lucky (she is classy and very beautiful).
The exchange invariably arrives at the question of faith and trust. At which point, orthodoxy stipulates Andersen summarily conflate Just Because with some despised human trait: ignorance, superstition, bigotry, fanaticism. Drawing attention to the vagueness embedded into reality and its implications for rational discourse brings no reprieve. To ensure liberal prejudice retains the upper-hand, he renounces the intimate knowledge that links us, our Real common ground. Joint understanding is sabotaged, as embracing Art and the enigmatic truth about the truth would let heretics off the hook, thus jeopardizing the global progressivist cause, putting at risk a sizeable salaried priesthood and forcing acolytes to get off Facebook/Twitter, leave their gated community/trendy inner-city neighborhood and confront the gnawing emptiness they helped unleash. Andersen instead retreats further into his sectarian mind, hoping against hope this is where life, liberty, and happiness can be found. To cope with this fiction, he and his sneering mates in the mainstream media cook up new vacuous controversies and crises to buttress in-group identity and power.
Ah, I know your type. You got hitched to a white girl because you’re racist while betting that shoddy Jack-9 unsuited was all about belittling the gay Asian guy at your table.
The Culture Wars exhibit relentless, us-versus-them conflict for the simple reason liberals prefer to argue and stereotype than accomplish their goals, since what they profess to be most concerned about is heartfelt, something that undermines progressive politics. Further, the no-win situation for their rivals provides a convenient refuge from reality and self-reflection. If you submit or disengage, the moral superiority of the blue-part-red team is verified. Take up arms, and the resistance galvanizes the soul-destroying belief that meaning and connectedness are within the remit of reason, and hence ideology and power.
As with true love and the right call in poker, the social ideals of equality, solidarity and such are existential, the outcome of real-world encounters free of vulgar political ends. The church couldn’t reify the all-at-onceness of Being; neither can an overweening state. While this has ever been so, the false hope of a like-minded Solution can no longer engender social change. The have-it-both-ways posturing and empty promises of Act II have exceeded their use-by date, consigning activism to little more than a groupthink distraction from what actually closes the gap and realizes the true and the good: the intrinsically-rewarding but hard spiritual work of self-transcendence. There can be no Rosa Parks moment, c. 2018. A black, millionaire NFL player taking a knee during the national anthem will only entrench divisions. Rather than revolt against reality, Colin Kaepernick et al would do better, if they haven’t already, to read Jason D. Hill’s open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates:
I am saddened by your conviction that white people wield such a great deal of metaphysical power over the exercise of your own agency. In making an enemy of the Dream that is a constitutive feature of American identity, you have irrevocably alienated yourself from the redemptive hope, the inclusive unity, and the faith and charity that are necessary for America to move ever closer to achieving moral excellence.
In the 32 years I have lived in this great country, I have never once actively fought racism. I have simply used my own example as evidence of its utter stupidity and moved forward with absolute metaphysical confidence, knowing that the ability of other people to name or label me has no power over my self-esteem, my mind, my judgment, and – above all – my capacity to liberate myself through my own efforts.
I myself have cultivated a love of humanity. It is a love for the human species that involves, above all, and paradoxically, a ruthless practice of individualism.
Meanwhile, in Washington, an array of Artless swamp creatures go on adding to their own considerable chip-stacks. And what value do these pundits, think-tankers, technocrats, lobbyists, pollsters, spooks and assorted hangers-on, add to American life?
Well, yes, they begrudgingly admit, the prodigious game-within-the-game, the procurement, and retention of power involve ceaseless zero-sum warfare based on petty intrigue, a tightly-managed public image and vast amounts of earnest bullshit. But, the defense is made, the lies and theater are surely a judicious price to pay for skilled experts who labor for hours, day in and day out to safeguard sacred human rights and who conduct sophisticated analysis, debate complex ideas and develop clever policies, programs and legislation to achieve what is of utmost importance to modern society. You know, those rights that are obvious and innate. Those higher things and universal values too sublime for reasoning and the instruments of state.
What to do?
Behold: Donald Trump, unwitting and uncouth champion of Art.
Tyrion Lannister gets schooled on the psychological character of power in a second season episode of Game of Thrones. Begins Lord Varys:
Three great men sit in a room: a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies?
It turns out, given the mercenary craves neither the crown, more gold, or favor with the gods, there is no right answer. It’s a riddle.
“Power resides,” concludes Varys, “where men believe it resides.”
For the bulk of History, temporal authority has dwelt within brutal Westeros-style hierarchies, with the consent of the governed an irrelevancy. Fed up with tyrannical monarchs, clerics and aristocrats, a group of colonial rebels – following Hobbes, Locke and the French Revolutionary philosophes – devised an innovative new political system. Men agreed it apropos to grant enumerated powers to elected representatives within a federated republic. Thus conceived, the bold enterprise, more than two hundred years later, has fulfilled its stepping-stone mandate. The Science of secular liberalism, necessary but insufficient, has been suitably optimized and the worldly platform secured. With Act II now well into its twilight, it is imperative men recall, if darkness is to be averted, that the shared ground upon which democracy sustains its polite totalitarianism, is not – and never was – reality-based. Time for America’s compensatory overconfidence in the dialectical quest for a like-minded notion of the common good to give way to a genuinely inclusive like-hearted ethos that reveres secret knowledge and human agency.
Time to confront the sneaking suspicion of We The People that a Science-Art world demands, in logic, that power reside with the individual.
During Chapter 3 of House of Cards, Frank Underwood has to hightail it back to his electorate to manage the fallout from a “preventable” car crash. During the teenager’s funeral, he reads from Proverbs 3:5, calling on the gathering – specifically, the potentially troublesome parents – to accept human limits.
“We will never understand why God took Jessica,” urges the senator. “And while God may not give us any answers, he has given us the capacity for love.”
Notwithstanding lovingly prepared sandwiches later at the Underwood home, the father remains unmoved, his grim silence prompting the man from South Carolina to push in all his political chips:
Would you like me to resign, Mr. Masters? Just say the word and it is done. If it will bring you any satisfaction.
It’s presumed Jessica’s father is angry at government failure to make the world risk-free. But what if the umbrage conveys something more nuanced? Could it be a touchstone for redemptive hope, not grievance and victimhood? What if, rather than quit, Masters yearns for his elected delegate to use his high-profile example as evidence of the utter stupidity and inhumanity of contemporary politics and move into Act III with absolute metaphysical confidence, knowing others have no power over his self-esteem, his mind, his judgment?
For those less susceptible to the conceits of modernity, Washington is a massive fantasy-industrial complex, run amok. Experience confirms that paying your taxes, not complaining, simply playing the hand you’ve been dealt, will see you screwed over. Though difficult to articulate, John Q. Citizen understands a great reckoning is required, and soon, if America is to recover what has been lost. Clinging to guns and religion, hostility toward globalization, immigration, and multiculturalism, are symbolic gestures, barely a glimpse of what is really being talked about.
Elite culture, on the other hand, has a visceral attachment to increasingly polarized and rigid accounts of tribal like-mindedness. Strawman battles are conducted on an alt-reality overlap where it’s assumed the Center is a mid-point between never-to-be-reconciled opposites: objective and subjective, real and Real, democracy and liberty, reason and faith. Confusing balance for having it both ways, dangerously uncritical yet inoculated from the illuminating forces outside their protective bubble, those at the helm continue to overlook otherwise conspicuous ironies.
American progress reflects allegiance to an idea. Ultimately, however, this idea, when brought into contact with unmediated reality, holds that all ideas are deficient. Life, liberty, and happiness are and must be if they are to carry any weight, more than what can be grasped by the mind and senses. The nation’s latent exceptionalism abides in the shared wisdom of les habitudes du coeur. Refuse, therefore, to embrace the limits of external knowledge and semantic power networks, and your cherished deliberative democracy with finish up meaningless, in a non-metaphoric sense. Without categorical faith in ordinary folk to realize the millenarian Dream, organically and from the bottom-up, all the hard-won material achievements managed from above, the Constitution, its institutional edifices and laws, the epic sacrifices made in the name of freedom, will have been for naught.
Alas, a conflict-riven status quo endures, thanks to cloistered, humorless elites, profound inertia, and vested interests. Ballot-box revolts go on being perceived as uncalled-for anti-intellectualism, anti-politics, anti-elite resentment. Rising moral decay, violence and social disintegration are recognized, kind of, but few in government circles allow themselves to suspect the real culprit is too much politics, too much reason, too much talk. Any empathy on offer is thin and calculated, for weaponized use in the faux crucible of Beltway wheeling and dealing.
The populist distemper evident throughout advanced Western societies would sooner save democracy from itself, than raze the joint. An all-or-nothing sentiment emulates its read-between-the-lines message: Jump or self-immolate. The political Center is transcendent, truth and freedom unconditional and extreme, contingent on the individual allowing “the subjective to entirely override the objective.”
The Masters character pleads, in apt mute fashion, with a shrewd, fierce politician: expose the bittersweet Lie, Frank, the lingering fraud we both know exists but goes on unstated. Stop the bad faith, preaching the logic of trusting in God “with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings,” while coveting earthly power. Go all-in, and damn the consequences. Not in the abstract, farcical game-within-the-game spectator sport. Actual moral life, the narrow and proper path into and through experience. Break character, Frank, ditch the script and show me how to be a better player. Show me how to take the battle inward, so my will can be in unison with something greater, the universal spirit that gives meaning and purpose to life, that makes us fully human. Bear witness, senator, to man’s capacity to liberate himself.
Donald Trump, the you-left-us-no-other-option counter-bluff, is also a quantum shy of this messianic benchmark, though in a very different and important way.
Andersen brands him a “spoiled, impulsive, moody 71-year-old brat.” Worse has been written and uttered. Being vindictive, reckless, petulant, insulting and distrustful of specialist advice are not attributes of a poker champion. All the same, the president reveals his authentic self, such that it is, far more readily and extensively than the alternatives, players so out of touch their disembodied intellects cannot fathom the infinite qualities of what they have lost touch with.
Whether through intuition, by accident or as an “historical person of destiny,” Trump testifies to the radical libertarian character of Science-Art reality and its most galling political consequence: there is no binding Solution and a good thing, too.
Trump doesn’t give a toss about politics or running the country. There’s no grand ideological agenda, no definition of success or intelligible political end. By “telling it how it is,” he exposes the madness of political correctness, the alt-reality belief speech rules can engineer social inclusion and equality. His sketchy thoughts and related inability to explain himself, give credence to Just Because, verify the primacy of gut feeling and the extemporaneous, self-evident quality of truth.
@realDonaldTrump: People, people. Life is not complicated. I’m so smart I don’t even try to define it. Just get on with the hand you’ve been dealt, in the fantastic hear and now. #MAGA
All this is less than ideal, of course. A cult of personality is a poor proxy for the self-effacing individualism proposed by Hill. A know-nothing intellect isn’t learned ignorance, the same as choosing to empty a well-cultivated mind in order to make room for divining the unseen and incomprehensible. Not caring about human affairs is markedly different to a detached presence, being in Washington but not of Washington. Trump isn’t balanced, “at one” with the ball or an exemplar of Being. Unlike Joe Hachem, he’s not interested in honoring reason and rationalism by overcoming the Science. Why bother, when 1+1=2, along with anything else in the realm of objective truth that one finds displeasing, can be dismissed as fake news.
And yet, in a very Real sense, the content-free half-knowledge of his quasi-existentialism is more orientated toward the truth than the words and deeds of a bunch of smug pretenders content to either deny or suppress the spiritual nature of what We The People were promised. As reality TV producer Tom Forman has noted, Trump appeals to voters because he is “directionally correct.”
He lies shamelessly and is of questionable moral character, big deal. His scheming, ends-justifies-the-means, fear-mongering opponents, well-meaning or not, do likewise for a purpose that is pathological, imbued with pretention and the sinister charm of a Frank Underwood. Trump’s vanity, though immense, is transparent and apolitical. Similarly, a sinful past is secondary to preventing the nation slipping beyond a point of no-return. America is so single-minded about achieving an impossible like-mindedness it risks forgetting completely that it is interior life and the invisible, interconnected forces of civic culture that give public form to the true and the good. Many of Trump’s behaviors, however unrefined, indicate a like-hearted awareness – or at least an awareness others are aware – that the proper ends of the human will are rooted in a transcendent moral order.
Donald Trump knows what he knows, his reliable gut telling him those who believe themselves wiser and superior to him, are hopelessly naïve.
With an infantile mania for ideology and objective truth, they have no feel for the president or others at the poker table. Trump’s schizoid playing style upends their precious little world and fills them with rage because he doesn’t fit a paradigm. His knack is immune to the anti-this, anti-that, anti-anti that animates progressive rationalism and the Culture Wars. Deaf, dumb and blind to anything other than 1+1=2, it is Andersen and his blue-part-red team who are the real suckers with an uncertain grip on reality.
What matters is America has a protagonist who calls out the racket hiding in plain sight, the nihilistic Utilitarian Complication that is eviscerating communities across the country because a contemptuous political establishment, hung-up on a self-referential vision for democracy, is too faint-hearted to capitalize on this once-off opportunity to be Great.
That the president happens to be a bombastic narcissist with a tragic hairstyle, is a necessary satirical feature of this radical political moment, the final act when unfolding History beckons a threshold leap in the consciousness of freedom.