Yesterday I described Trump’s head-to-head confrontation with the Freedom Caucus of his Republican Party as rival versions of “brain stems with arms and legs” coming to blows. Another way to view this is simple id vs. id, raw unmitigated desire to satisfy one’s childish wants with little or no regard for anyone else. Most of us opted to subscribe to sublimation and meekly imbibed of the common wisdom, “the greater good for the greater number” which involves a lot of compromise and toleration of frustration. But, it is better than being at constant war with some opposing viewpoint though one must often “eat crow” and realize that the other viewpoint which we loathe might just have more validity than we would like to give it. This “greater good for the greater number” works well for the tribe until a small group begins to feel they are not being respected enough or that they have a unique, and often “god-given” view on how things ought to be and begin to seek to impose their view on the tribe. When this arrogance goes beyond the pale, reason will no longer suffice with them because the issue that is driving them is buried so far beneath the surface that reason will not be allowed to venture.
Earlier this week there was a brilliant description of this human malady in the Washington Post by a Texas Tech University professor, Costica Braditan, entitled, “Our Delight in Destruction.” This op-ed starts with a quotation from Dostoevsky that succinctly summarizes the obstinacy of this unconscious constellation of energy that drives these people who are “blessed” with certainty, almost always, “God-given” certainty. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/opinion/our-delight-in-destruction.html?_r=0)
“I, for example,” says the nameless narrator in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground (1864),” “would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, out of the blue, amid the universal future reasonableness, some gentleman of ignoble or, better, of retrograde and jeering physiognomy, should emerge, set his arms akimbo, and say to us all: ‘Well, gentlemen, why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick, for the sole purpose of sending all these logarithms to the devil and living once more according to our own stupid will!’ That would still be nothing, but what is offensive is that he’d be sure to find followers: that’s how man is arranged.”
The musings of Dostoevsky’s hero certainly seem pertinent now — not just because of Donald Trump’s rise to the White House but also in light of the populist sentiment and politics emerging in other parts of the world. But for all their mocking, jovial tone, the underground man’s observations have more serious and far-reaching implications. For, after all, what he tells us here is the story of a disastrous historical blindness.
I was so angry last year when evangelical Christians brazenly claimed that Trump was a “chosen” servant of the Lord who would lead our country to follow the path outlined by the prophet Ezra in the book of Chronicles where he declared, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (My modern translation, “If humankind will cease look outward to satisfy internal (i.e. spiritual) needs, if they will seek Value instead of the immediate gratification offered by the culture, then I will bring solace to the soul, individually and collectively.”
And I still see that it was a grossly self-serving justification for voting for this man who is the epitome of spiritual darkness. But, the ugliness that Trump is putting on our table, and rubbing right under our nose, is forcing us to look at issues that can no longer be ignored…other than by most of organized religion! The New York Times is but one spokes “person” for truth today, a modern day Ezra, in some sense, offering men and women who are insightful and have the courage to “speak truth to power.”