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Is Trump the Modern David?

After a hiatus of many years, I decided to take up bridge again. Like me, most of the people I play bridge with are retired. Like me, most of them are Caucasians, with a smattering of Asians. But unlike me, most of them are Republicans.  I have never seen so many Rolexes on so many wrists in my life. Golf is a regular item of conversation.  And a few weeks ago, I played with three people who were all discussing the best place to get a Lexus repaired, inasmuch as they each owned one.

In between hands there is ample opportunity for conversation, from which I am able to gather much intelligence on how Republicans think.  Last summer, for example, I was invited to play bridge with three women.  I figured the hostess was a Republican when I saw her bathroom.  Any time I see a bathtub that is custom designed instead of the plain old white bathtub I have showered in all my life, I figure a fair amount of wealth must be involved.  This was confirmed by the dishwasher that played music when it was opened.  Anyway, after a couple of hours of bridge, the subject of politics came up.  “Who are you voting for?” I asked one of them.

“Well, I’m not voting for a Democrat,” she replied.

“That’s not the question,” I said.  “The big question this year is whether you are going to vote for Donald Trump.”  It turned out that all three women were big Trump fans.  From there the conversation drifted around to Obama, whereupon another of the women said he was a Muslim.  I was, of course, familiar with birtherism, and so I listened to her remark with dispassion.  It’s amazing what you can learn about people if you just let them talk without showing any sign of disagreement or disapproval.  Besides, why allow politics to interfere with an enjoyable afternoon of bridge?

The woman followed up on her birther comment.  “That’s why he doesn’t wear jewelry during Ramadan,” she averred.  That one I was totally unprepared for, and I involuntarily exploded with laughter.  I have never been invited back.

When I got home, I Googled “Obama,” “jewelry,” and “Ramadan,” and sure enough, there actually was a story about that starting in 2010 when Obama was seen not wearing his wedding ring.

Last week, I was playing with a couple of other women, and they were discussing the recent testimony by John Brennan. They were praising Trey Gowdy’s relentless interrogation of Brennan, saying that Brennan was not able to answer Gowdy’s demand to know if there was any evidence of collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.  Once again, I listened to all this in silence.  But then, one of the women said that she didn’t trust Brennan, because he had converted to Islam.  I managed not to react with laughter to this one, and it was with great self-restraint that I kept from rolling my eyes.  As before, I went home and Googled “Brennan” and “Islam,” and sure enough, there was another such story making its way around the internet.

It is good that I was able to restrain myself this time, because I have noticed that Republicans are getting a little sensitive lately.  Last summer, a man asked me, “Have you ever seen anyone put the media in its place the way Trump has?”  I disingenuously agreed that I had not.  After the election, another man commented that “Trump plays the media like a violin.”  But I haven’t heard such talk lately. Instead, Republicans have become angry at the way the media has been treating Donald Trump, more unfairly, to hear them tell it, than they have treated any other president.

Anyway, there was one such conversation I heard at the bridge table about two months ago that has been wandering around in my brain ever since.  One of the women said that she thought that Trump got elected president through divine intervention.  Personally, I thought it was Russian intervention, but what do I know?  Then a discussion ensued in which references to Trump were interspersed with references to David, the David of the Old Testament, that is.  It was Trump this and David that.  Finally, I had to ask, “Are you saying Donald Trump is a modern David?”  In so many words, the answer seemed to be yes.

I never really did understand why David was such a big deal.  After all, was he not associated with many great sins?  Now, by “sins” I am not talking about his genocidal slaughter, as told in 1 Samuel 27, for example, because genocide is widely approved of throughout the Old Testament.  No, I am referring to sins that are condemned in the strongest terms in the Old Testament itself: homosexuality, adultery, and murder. In particular, David’s sins consisted of his homosexual relationship with Jonathan (1 Samuel 18 and 20; 2 Samuel 1), his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11).

These sins were not overlooked in the conversation I listened to at the bridge table. On the contrary, they were emphasized, the idea being that David had God’s favor in spite of all that.  In short, the divine intervention that supposedly brought about Trump’s election was in spite of whatever sins Trump may be guilty of too.  So what was it that made God love David, which is to say, what is it that makes religious people love David?  I already said that the genocidal slaughter he was responsible for is not regarded as a sin, but more than that, it seems to be what redeems him. The fact that the first thing we learn about David as children, that he slew Goliath, is our first clue. Strength, might, force, conquest, power—these are the things for which all else is forgiven.

Those Republicans I mentioned that have lately become angry at the way Trump has been mistreated by the media were doubtless gladdened when Greg Gianforte assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs, because of the redemptive nature of force.  We may deplore such an attitude in this particular case, but what if it is applied on the grand scale?  As things worsen for Donald Trump, the temptation to overcome his domestic difficulties through war may become irresistible.  It has long been known that there is a tendency to rally around a president in times of war, which leads many to suspect that some wars are started for just that purpose.  But Trump seems especially susceptible to this logic.  And when I think about all the gushing over Trump that I heard for a whole week on Morning Joe following his modest military strike on Syria, I can only imagine what a full scale war would do for his ratings.

The Middle East is messy.  Besides, been there, done that.  But what about a military strike on North Korea?  Sure, millions would die on the Korean peninsula and possibly in Japan, but if the slaughter of innocents at the hands of David made him one of the most admirable characters in the Old Testament, then death and destruction in the Far East may be just what Trump needs to ensure God’s favor.

On the Likelihood of Impeachment

A lot of us thought that articles of impeachment would be brought against the president of the United States shortly after the inauguration, because a lot of us thought that Hillary Clinton would be that president.  Now that it is Donald Trump who is president, our fear of impeachment has become our hope.  How likely is the hope of an impeachment and conviction of the president to be realized?  Not very.

First, we rarely impeach presidents.  Only two presidents have been impeached, although it is clear that Nixon would have been impeached too had he not resigned. So, just as a statistical matter, Trump’s impeachment is unlikely.

Second, of the two presidents that were actually impeached, neither was convicted in the Senate.  So, if impeachment is rare, removal of the president is rarer still.

Third, in all three cases, the party that had a majority in the House of Representatives was different from that of the president.  Because Trump’s party is the same as that of the majority in the House, an impeachment by this Congress would have no precedent in that regard.

We would like to think that congressmen would rise above party politics when it came to the serious question of impeaching a president, but our most recent example does not inspire much confidence.  As I remember it, Republicans tended to say that President Bill Clinton should be impeached for committing perjury and obstruction of justice, while the Democrats said it was just sex.  Regardless of which side was right, there is no question that there was a strong correlation between one’s opinion on the matter and one’s party affiliation.

Finally, in talking about impeachment, it is inevitable that some party pooper will point out that even if we were to impeach, convict, and remove Trump from office, Mike Pence would become president.  Under normal circumstances, this would be a most undesirable result for us Democrats; but right now, I’d say Mike Pence is starting to look pretty good.  And, as far as Republicans are concerned, Mike Pence is someone a lot of them would have preferred all along.

On the other hand, the fact that Al Gore would have become president had Bill Clinton been removed from office was not sufficient to change the outcome.  Even though Al Gore would then have been an incumbent president in 2000, which is always a greater advantage to a candidate than being the sitting vice president, and thus he would have been more likely to beat George W. Bush, Democrats were still opposed to Clinton’s impeachment.  So, Republicans, as much as they might prefer Pence, will not likely impeach Trump.

Though it is unfortunate that considerations of impeachment are as political as they are, yet it could have been much worse. When the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which changed the way we pick the vice president, it is unlikely that anyone was thinking about the implications for impeachment at that time.  However, had the Twelfth Amendment never been ratified, the vice president would be the one who got the second most electoral votes.  In short, absent this amendment, Hillary Clinton would now be the vice president of the United States.

If you think political considerations make Trump’s impeachment unlikely now, without the Twelfth Amendment, it would be completely out of the question. Trump really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it.  On the other hand, should the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018, the temptation to impeach Trump and put Hillary in the White House would be irresistible.  Trump aside, anytime the majority party in the House was the same as that of the vice president, you could expect the House to impeach the president for spitting on the sidewalk.  The odds of impeachment would veer from impossible to inevitable every time the majority in the House changed to a different party in a midterm election.

However this turns out, we should be grateful for this serendipitous consequence of the Twelfth Amendment.

The Wall Is Dead

I have been wanting a wall built along the Mexican border for twenty years.  I never really had much hope for it.  Now I have none at all.

There are basically two arguments against building that wall:  the first is that it won’t work; the second is that it will.  And I have even heard some people advance both reasons without any sense of inconsistency.  One minute we hear that people will just use ladders to get over the wall, and the next minute we hear that it is cruel and inhumane to keep people out.

My view is that a wall, properly manned and monitored, would work, and that while I feel sorry for the people trying to get into this country, I still don’t want to let them in for the same reason that I don’t want a homeless person sleeping on my couch.  I am just not that good.

I am willing to concede that I may be mistaken as to the effectiveness of a wall in stopping illegal immigration.  And if someone wants to accuse me of being selfish and heartless for wanting a wall, I will concede that point as well.  The question that concerns me at the moment is not whether my desire to have a wall built along the southern border proves either that I am a fool or a knave, possibly both, but whether it proves that I am a racist.

It’s all Donald Trump’s fault, of course.  In the commentary of late about Donald Trump’s racism, several examples are typically put forward as evidence.  First, there was his remark that most of the people coming here from Mexico are rapists, drug dealers, and assorted criminals.  Second, there is his advocacy of a ban on Muslims.  Third, there is his claim that the judge presiding over his case is prejudiced against him on account of his Mexican heritage.

One might quibble over whether these things are racism or some other kind of prejudice.  For example, the ban on Muslims I would call religious discrimination, because Muslims do not constitute a race.  On the other hand, since it is now fashionable to say that race is just a social construct, I suppose we could socially construct Muslims as a race if we wanted to.  For that matter, we might even simplify things by socially constructing the race of illegal immigrants, regardless of their national origin, skin color, or physiognomy.  People sneaking into this country from Mexico, Syria, Thailand, and Nigeria would all be of the same race, the race of illegal immigrants.  Then, anyone opposing illegal immigration would be a racist.  But we all know that race is more than just a social construct, and that socially constructing a race of illegal immigrants as outlined above would be just plain silly.

Therefore, I do not wish to quibble about whether Trump’s remarks are racist or just some other kind of prejudice or discrimination.  Let us, for the sake of simplicity, stipulate that Trump’s remarks are racist and that Donald Trump says these things because he is a racist.  What bothers me is that in addition to the examples mentioned above as proof of Trump’s racism, his desire to build a wall is listed right along with them.  Now, it is one thing to say that Donald Trump wants to build a wall because he is a racist.  It is quite another thing to say that someone is a racist because he wants to build a wall.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain have all supported the idea of building a wall at one time or another.  Are they racists?  Or rather, were they racists at the time but no longer?

Whatever their reasons were for a change of heart, or at least a change of position, I can guarantee they will never be in support of a wall again.  There probably never was much chance for a wall before Trump declared his desire to become president.  Now there is no chance at all.  The idea of a wall will forever have the Donald Trump taint, and no future politician with aspirations to become president will want to have anything to do with it.

On Donald Trump’s Threat

From what I have seen on talk shows and have read online, it seems that most people think that Donald Trump is threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s adulterous affairs if Hillary attacks Trump for sexism.  A few have noted that Trump’s divorces can be thrown back in his face if he makes such an attack.

But let us not forget the kind of man Trump is.  He will not be content to talk about Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and the related charges of sexual harassment, perjury, and obstruction of justice, though he will probably mention these women and those charges as a way of warming up his crowd.  If Trump gets the Republican nomination and Hillary accuses him of sexism, he will go for the jugular.  He will bring up the rape of Juanita Broaddrick.  And as he recounts what Broaddrick alleged, it will lose nothing in the telling.  He will go into graphic detail about the way Bill Clinton allegedly held her down, biting her lip to keep her from trying to get away, and then telling her to put some ice on her swollen lip as he walked out the door.

Many have argued that Hillary should not be held accountable for the sins of her husband.  But the association of ideas is a more primitive form of thinking than reason and nice moral distinctions, which is why Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach.

However, there is a deeper problem that Hillary must confront that cannot be dismissed simply by saying that it is unfair to hold a wife responsible for her husband’s behavior.  At some point during the campaign, Hillary will be asked this question:  “Do you believe Juanita Broaddrick?”  It is unthinkable that she will say, “Yes, she is telling the truth.  Bill raped that woman.”  Therefore, she must say that Broaddrick is lying.  This will put her in an untenable position.

One aspect of the war on women with which Republicans are often charged is their tendency not to take women seriously when they claim to have been raped.  We Democrats often argue that women are afraid to come forward when they are raped, fearing they will be vilified, accused of being a slut, of wanting attention, of lying.  We further argue that we must encourage women to come forward when they have been sexually assaulted and not let the men who violated them go unpunished.  And I am sure that Hillary would agree with all that, in general.

But what will she say when asked, “Why don’t you believe Juanita Broaddrick?”  And I don’t mean, what will she say if asked that question on Meet the Press?  I mean, what will she say when Donald Trump asks her that question during a presidential debate?

Hillary should back down from Trump’s threat and refrain from accusing him of sexism, however deserved the charge may be.  He is too dangerous.

On the Efficacy of the Will

It is a commonplace in the movies, when a man is near death, for someone to say that his recovery depends on his will to live. For example, toward the end of the movie Hud (1963), Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) is lying by the side of the road, dying from an injury, when he is discovered by his son Hud (Paul Newman) and his grandson Lonnie (Brandon de Wilde).  After the old man dies, Hud says, “Anyway, he couldn’t have made it another hour,” to which Lonnie replies, “He could if he wanted to.  You fixed it so he didn’t want to any more.”

In many cases, the assertion that a person’s life depends on his will to live is made by a doctor, giving it the authority of medical science.  I have only a limited experience with deathbed situations, so I cannot say how often this happens in real life, but it seems to me I have heard people say something to this effect when watching the nightly news.  An alternative way of expressing this idea is saying that someone is a “fighter.”

There is, of course, a trivial sense in which the will to live is important to one’s survival, and that is if one’s survival depends on one’s actions.  If the patient does not care enough about living to take his medicine, for instance, then he is less likely to survive than a comparable patient who does want to live and takes his medicine exactly as prescribed.  But what is intended by the assertion of a causal connection between the will to live and survival transcends such mere actions as ordinarily understood.  The idea, the metaphysics of it, if you like, is that the will can actually permeate the body and operate within it, causing beneficial physiological changes that make the difference between life and death.

If any of that is true, then I am in trouble, because I have never been a fighter, and my will to live is qualified.  I mean, before I go to a lot of trouble and effort to survive, I need to know, “What’s in it for me?”  If I am in danger of dying, say, of cancer, I can see myself opting for surgery, getting radiation treatment, or going through chemotherapy, but if I also have to exert my will to live, I just don’t know that I’ll be up to it.  Part of the problem is that I don’t believe in it.  The way I figure it, the will to live may be more of an effect than a cause.  It is not that a person dies because he lost his will to live; he lost his will to live because he was dying.

This belief that the will is effective, aside from merely being the cause of our actions, goes beyond its imagined role in making the difference between life and death.  In The Hot Spot(1990), Don Johnson, a used car salesman, tells Charles Martin Smith, a coworker, “I’m gonna sell one of these [cars] to the first sucker that walks in here today.”  When Smith asks him, “How do you reckon to accomplish that?” Johnson replies, “Sheer willpower.”

I suppose we could write this off as merely an expression of determination, which probably is a good attitude for a salesman to have.  But if we take this seriously for just a minute, we have to imagine that Johnson’s character in that movie supposes not merely that he will apply high-pressure salesman techniques to overcome the customer’s resistance, but that beyond what he does or says, his will, as a kind of psychic force, is going to shape events directly.

Once again, there is likely to be a confusion of cause and effect.  Don Johnson’s character is not a good salesman because of his sheer willpower; he believes in sheer willpower because he is a good salesman.  A lesser salesman, like the character portrayed by Charles Martin Smith, is probably more aware of his limitations and is more likely to believe that he just has to do his job and hope to make a sale.

We have a successful salesman running for president.  That would be Donald Trump, of course. And like Johnson’s character, Trump believes in sheer willpower.  Pointing out that Trump does not have specific plans to do the things he says he will do may be a perfectly legitimate criticism, but it might also be a failure to understand the psychology of the man being criticized. Trump does not believe he needs a plan.  He only needs the strength of his will.  And that is what a lot of Trump supporters believe as well.

In order for people believe in the will of Trump, it is not enough that he be rich, nor is it enough that most of his wealth be the result of his success in business.  He must brag!  A man who brags and then is able to back it up inspires awe.  For most of us, modesty is not merely a virtue.  It is a matter of prudence.  We are just not that good at anything we do.  Furthermore, bragging is obnoxious.  When someone brags about how good he is at this or that, we figure he is due a comeuppance.  And when people around you want to see you fail, you are likely to do just that.

But there comes a point at which bragging has the opposite effect, when it induces in the minds of others that one has special powers, and instead of wanting to see that person fail, there is a tendency to believe in that person, to want to follow him and be a part of whatever he is.  I am not a baseball fan, but I understand that Babe Ruth, while standing at the plate, once pointed to which part of the stadium he would hit his home run. And then he did it.  At that point he was no longer merely a great baseball player.  He became a god.

Cassius Clay took braggadocio to new heights in the world of boxing when he announced, “I am the greatest!” and then went on to win the heavyweight championship of the world.  Of course, he might have been knocked out in his next fight, and then he would have been thought a fool, one who got what he deserved.  And no one would remember him.  Alternatively, had he become a champion without any accompanying rodomontade, he would have been regarded as just another boxing champion. But he broke through that aversion most of us have for braggarts and came out on the other side with a mystique of greatness not seen since.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher of the will to power, understood this connection between will and arrogance.  For the title of his biography, he used the expression, Ecce Homo, used by Pontius Pilate to direct the crowd’s attention to Jesus, but which Nietzsche used to direct attention to himself. And as if that were not enough, some of the chapters of that autobiography are, “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” “Why I Write Such Good Books,” and “Why I Am a Destiny.”  In that same book, Nietzsche says, “I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.”

Whether one agrees with Nietzsche’s self-assessment or not is beside the point.  It is fitting that the philosopher of the superman would present himself the way a superman would, as a man of will, as a man whose greatness is so manifest that nothing short of bragging would seem appropriate.

Finally, part of what makes Donald Trump unique is the way arrogates to himself the privilege of doing what other politicians must not.  It is sometimes said of the Clintons that they believe the rules do not apply to them, that they think they are special. It is one of the reasons, some have speculated, that Hillary set up a private server while she was Secretary of State.  And the question now is whether this email business will hurt her in the upcoming election.  But when Trump breaks the rules, he not only gets away with it, but he benefits from it as well.  It is not that his politically incorrect remarks have failed to ruin his candidacy.  The fact that he says such things proves, in the eyes of his followers, that he is superior to the ordinary politician.

As we all know, incest taboos are universal.  And to be guilty of incest, even if it be between consenting adults, is to bring upon oneself the disgust of mankind.  And yet, as has often been observed, what is forbidden to man is permitted among the gods, Zeus and Hera, as brother and sister as well as husband and wife, are the most well-known example.  It is argued by some that incest is universally forbidden because it is a pleasure too great for man to enjoy, and thus only the gods are worthy enough to partake of it.

For most of us, violating a taboo, be it incest or anything else, is something best avoided, lest we suffer the obloquy of mankind. But under the right circumstances, violating a taboo can be a proof of superiority, the mark of godlike status.  Just as Trump would not be doing as well in the polls if he did not brag about how great he is, so too would his popularity be less if he did not take for himself the privilege of being outrageous and offensive. By establishing himself as someone who is superior, by pointing to his past success, by bragging about how smart he is, and by violating political taboos, Trump is able to make people believe that he will be able to overcome all obstacles in “making America great again” through sheer willpower.

In other places at other times, men like this have risen to power, but it will not happen here. Although it may not seem that way at times, Americans have too much common sense and practical reason for such a man even to win the nomination, let alone the election.  But he definitely has his true believers, and I suspect for years to come, long after someone else has become president, they will be talking about how great things would have been if only Donald Trump had been elected.