The Price-Tag of “Having No Agenda”

Today Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta had a heated exchange which got so heated that Trump dismissed him, telling him, “You have an agenda.  Fake news.”  “Having an agenda” is a common refrain from Trumpsters in reference to their critics because they assume they have none.  Having an agenda is not all that bad…’tis merely human…but what is disastrous is being so naive as to think one does not have an agenda.  Thinking one has no agenda is failing to recognize the presence of a heart, a heart of infinite complexity including its “beastly little treasures” (Ranier Rilke).  But when the “beastly” dimension of the heart has metastasized, an individual finds it very hard if not impossible to acknowledge its frailty and vulnerability, two qualities which are the essence of being human.  Trump illustrates what happens when someone is terrified of these very human qualities and creates a rigid ego-bound cognitive prison to hide away in.  He then has found validation with hordes of people who find comfort in what he has to offer, people who are themselves imprisoned to some degree themselves.

The “price-tag” of “having no agenda” is living in a bubble, living in a delusional system.  Oh, we all live in “one of those”; it is called reality.  For, T.S. Eliot has told us, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”  The problem occurs only when this “bubble” (delusional system) becomes so rigid that it isolates one, or a group, from the “delusional system” known as reality, an agreed-upon, consensually validated that allows us to function as a tribe.

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Shame, Truth, Politics, and Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, shocked the world yesterday by disclosing an effort by AMI (the National Enquirer publisher) to blackmail him with salacious text messages they had uncovered, including sexually intimate photos.  Yes, these photos even included the now quite common “d…k pix.”  Ami was trying to get him to back off an intense investigation he had initiated to determine how they had intercepted his texts and emails. But Bezos did not play ball, declaring he preferred to “roll this log over and see what crawls out.”  He admitted the shame of this experience but determined he would not be blackmailed and was willing to call the bluff of the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer and its CEO, Jeff Pecker (chuckle, chuckle) have been intimately involved with Trump, Pecker now having defected under pressure from Robert Mueller’s investigation of the President.  Trump and Pecker colluded to pay off Trump’s hush money to a prostitute and former Playboy bunny.

My concern with this story is shame and its relationship with honesty.  A sense of shame…a “healthy shame”…helps make us human, giving us the motivation to participate in the very necessary social fiction that makes us human.  We keep things hidden and should do so.  Not everything needs to be disclosed.  But when “healthy shame” has been obliterated by toxic shame, it reveals that there is so much to hide that the individual will go to any extreme to keep the secrets of his heart hidden.  Mr. Bezos, like all mortals, has sexual peccadillos fluttering about in his heart and mind and he “imbibed” of a few like most of us have.  But he found the courage and stubbornness to not be blackmailed and owned up to the accusations, taking the “wind out of the sails” of the National Enquirer.  (And, admittedly this “courage and stubbornness” was facilitated by the fact that he is one of the richest men on the earth.)

Life, i.e. “reality”, often pushes us into a corner where we are forced to admit things that are not pleasant.  But when shame tyrannizes us into a façade that is not simply a persona but a prison, we cannot allow “truthfulness” to break out; sometimes we will go to any extreme to deny what we are accused of.  Related to this machination, Trump introduced to us the term “fake news” as a simple term for, “whatever I don’t like or is unpleasant,” is not true.

This issue, given Trump’s intimacy with the National Enquirer, brings to my mind the question of what he and his compatriots have dug up on members of Congress.  We all have stuff we don’t want to come out and it is now clear that if the intent is there to uncover it, it can be uncovered.  Blackmail would explain some of the blind compliance with Trump’s whims that many noted Republicans have demonstrated; Lindsey Graham and McConnell comes to mind, to name but two.

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Politics, Thinking, and Rumi

The problem in politics is thinking.  The problem is human experience is thinking.  If thinking could be banned, we could all live in harmony…though the harmony would be that of a vegetative state!  We would still be just one step beyond the primordial slime pit, perhaps even one step before emerging from that evolutionary morass, and thus free of the moral ambiguity of that cursed “thought.”  Shakespeare noted, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so” as he realized that it is the advent of thought that brought humankind into the realm of distinction-drawing, i.e. “judgement.”

But this pivotal evolutionary development of judgement, though absolutely necessary in human development, does have at its disposal a higher level of thinking, i.e. a refined “judgement” which allows us to discover a unity which prevails beyond the distinctions that the ego would prefer to insist upon.  This is beautifully illustrated by the 13th century poet Rumi who noted, “Out beyond the distinctions of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field.  I will meet you there.”  Rumi knew that there is a “field,” a spacious domain of boundary-lessness, beyond the distinction’s drawn by our ego in which we can find reconciliation.  There a rapprochement can be achieved between the conflicted territories that our egos have contrived.

But when we are confined, imprisoned within the confines of thinking…especially linear thinking…we cannot enter the spacious realm that Rumi understood, the realm of Grace that Jesus offered. In this prison we have the comfort of certainty, a “certainty” that is specious as hell for it is a veritable hell, the result of “making for ourselves a life safer than we can bear” (W. H. Auden).  Thinking, i.e. “reason”, is a gift from the gods.  But when it is not accompanied by the body, i.e. the “imagination”, it becomes a tyrant and will lead us to destruction.  As W. B. Yeats put it, “Oh God, guard me from the thoughts men think in the mind alone.  He who sings a lasting song must think in the marrow bone.”

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“We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us”

My country’s national crisis continues…and worsens daily.  But the faux crisis that Trump has created, the border wall matter, is a distraction for the egregious crisis that Trump is himself.  He has been a crisis waiting to explode the whole of his life and now has been given a stage where his “explosion” could be catastrophic to all of us.

Ordinarily in an impasse like this, compromise is de rigueur.  And perhaps a compromise will be reached on the border wall issue but compromise with the dark energy that is driving Trump cannot be compromised with at some point.  The danger of Trump is seen in how he enthralled more-or-less benign political figures and left them aimlessly spinning in the wind of his administration—witness Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan, to name but two.  Trump is a veritable black hole, an existential abyss that will destroy anybody that deigns to venture into his orbit.

I suspect that the Republicans are somewhat relieved the Democrats have gained control of the House, hoping that they can rein in the rapacious appetite of Trump.  They must know on some level that they are powerless, having sucked too long on the teat of Trumpian “kool-aid.”

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“People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck; Still Relevant Today

Scott Peck in 1983 wrote a book entitled, “People of the Lie” a description of evil gleaned from decades of clinical work.  He described how that some people are so captive to their reptilian brain that “lying” in socially acceptable fashion will not suffice for their heart’s machination and they become so consumed with dishonesty that evil consumes them, bringing great harm to others, including those who they purport to love the most. The socially necessary “dishonesty” required to function in daily life in these instances has metastasized to the point they are no longer capable of being honest with themselves and therefore cannot be honest with those around them.  This phenomenon is illustrated with the witty often used, “How do you know he is lying? Answer, “Anytime he opens his mouth.”  These people are sociopathic and in many instances will commit such grievances to the social body that the only limit available is imprisonment where their characterological malady can be restrained.

But, this metastasized dishonesty can be socially tenable…or at least permissible…in cultic phenomena where a group of people find a leader who offers an embodiment of their own penchant for dishonesty.  They will then create an organization or group in which their “group lie” cannot be questioned, and anyone who does question them or their leader is immediately dismissed with the cry of, “Fake news!  These people have created for themselves an insular world in which their premises will never be daunted by what others are saying to them or about them.  People in such an insular world are  existentially vulnerable to the point that the “house of cards” which is the core of their identity cannot withstand scrutiny.  When the drive of this insularity gets too intense all of the complexities and ambivalence that are permitted in an “open society” will have been so repressed and denied that a melt down is likely.  (See Rene Girard, “The Sacrificial Crisis.”)  This internal “melt down” is often avoided by finding an enemy out there among the “them” and all of the flaws they hide within will be blamed on “them.”  In primitive societies this crescendoing pressure is often abated with a sacrificial victim, usually some wayfaring member of a nearby tribe will be apprehend and executed because of some contrived offense.  (The actual offense in this case is being an “other”, someone different than they are; for “otherness” is terrifying to any insular group.)  This “otherness” must be eliminated, or at least have a wall built to keep it out.

To summarize, the “lie” when it metastasizes to the point of creating a “People of the Lie” or even a “person of the lie” (aka,”pathological liar”) can bring great harm to everyone.  The only hope is that when those who have succumbed to obvious anti-social speech and deeds have firm limits set with them by the world in which they live.

Here is a relevant closing quote from theologian Paul J. Griffiths:

The avoidance of the lie can only be realized when we are overwhelmed by the gift of God’s grace, because we have to recognize that we are habitual liars and can only cease to be so when we let go of the “ownership” of our speech and surrender to the language of confession, testimony to the beauty of God.”  (Paul J. Griffiths)

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The Emperor Has No Clothes On

Of course, this is something we have known for a couple of years now about Trump but it appears that his “nudity” is even getting more egregious.  If you are naked, how can you get more naked?  Well, Trump is doing it as he exposes more and more of his “self”, that “dark and vicious place” that haunts us, an empty maw that most of is handle with the culturally afforded “fig leaves.”  Otherwise, that gaping “hole in the soul”  would destroy us and everything/everyone in our orbit.  Just look at Sarah Huckabee Sanders, twisting in the wind like the piece of paper fluttering about in one riveting scene in that movie, “American Beauty..”

But the “gaping hole” that we know as Trump, a veritable “black hole,” has sucked into its annihilating orbit most of the Republican hierarchy, and a significant portion of its base.  This “black hole” is the instinctual appetites that lies at the core of each of our identities which most of us have sublimated into socially appropriate expressions of our our heart’s voracity.  Without this sublimation, the Divine gift of neo-cortical functioning is overruled and one is governed only by the will to power, the will to wield all the levers of power that he finds in his world.  Instinctual energy in this unrefined expression wants only what it wants; it is feeling unmitigated by the Shakespearean “pauser reason.”  Or, as W.H. Auden put it, “Feeling knows no discretion but its own.”

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Congressperson Rashida Tlaib Goes “Trumpian” on Trump.

Newly elected Congressperson, Rashida Tlaib, in an enthusiast display of emotion and intensity vowed to impeach Trump, describing in as a, “motherf….r.”  I’m totally pleased that she is in her position, the first Muslim elected to Congress, but in using this vulgarity she is demonstrating the the lack of discretion, civility, and respect for decorum that Trump has brought to our collective table. There are many ways that she could have conveyed her very appropriate scorn and contempt for that very contemptible man without crossing that Trumpian line into vulgarity. Trump is a beast.  He is a very bad human being.  He embodies the darkest impulses of the American heart and soul and the Democrats are now in a position to begin to provide the check on his tormented soul, a responsibility which his own party does not have the courage to assume.




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