A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
What I hate about Trump, and folks like Trump, is this. He doesn’t debate immigration policy. He hates Mexicans. He doesn’t debate theology. He hates Muslims. He doesn’t hate poverty. He hates the poor. Think about it. He hates the people.
Psychoanalysis provides insights that are relevant to politics today. Often it takes months to know a problem, and years to acquire understanding. The problem occurs when we try to cathect the discontent to a single object, rather than wait and take seriously our unconscious feelings of discontent, of being abandoned, confused, of finding themselves in a new position altogether unpredictable.
Rather than taking time to think, folks turn to single solutions. Drink the problem away, for example. Sex. Play a sport to exhaustion. Work a sixty hour week. One overstimulating thing in place of a long, meditative and, in some cases, painful process.
Politics today is not unlike that. Rather than take the time to know a problem, rather than take the time to understand a problem, we focus on one thing. Ban all the immigrants. Ban all the guns. Leave the European Union. Get tough on crime. Bring prayer back into the classroom. Build a sixty foot wall between us and everything that is the other.
When folks say they believe in small government, they actually want no government. On the most profound level, they want no responsibility for the community. The difference is between optimism and nihilism.
Belief in small government is essentially optimistic. There’s an essential trust in humanity. Such folks assume that people, on their own, tend toward responsibility and self-sacrifice. There’s no need for government welfare, for example, when the people genuinely and adequately care for the poor within their community. It is profoundly relational. That poor woman isn’t The Other: that poor woman is Sasha, The Neighbor.
But what we see today is a distrust of all government. At its core is a profound nihilism. There is no presumption of relationship, interdependence, self-sacrifice, occasional austerity, or personal responsibility for the welfare of the community. Cutting taxes, for instance, is about personal enrichment — nothing more.
As is my custom, I took a walk this evening. I visited the little church in which I was raised. Christ The King. They have Eucharistic Adoration every Tuesday evening, so I make it a point now of dropping by on Tuesdays. I said the rosary. In the pew, someone left a book by Thomas Merton. I sat in the last pew, the very pew I occupied as a boy in 8th grade in 1964. Across from me, half-way up the nave, that’s where my family always sat. No good reason, it’s just where we sat. My family has been in this parish since 1928. I was Confirmed here. I was married here. One of the great — What is it, an irony, a paradox, a mystery? — of my life is that I am here. I’ve come so far, traveled so far, from Europe to Asia to Latin America to the West Indies, from 8th grade to Ph. D., a war, publications, lovers — all this just to be here. In this little Romanesque church with the art deco interior. So I said the rosary. I love the rosary, the simplicity of its chant. As I love to sit with the ghosts of my family, of Msgr. Ryan, of the Sisters Of Mercy. There is a sound a rosary makes as it taps the back of a pew, a sound known only to Catholics who kneel in cool, dim churches, churches in which only a few pray before a monstrance that glows by candlelight.
As I walked home, as I neared my house, I caught just a glimpse of a airliner heading west. It was so high in the sky it was barely in the atmosphere. For just a second, just a second, it reflected the sun, a sun already over the horizon. Just a second it glowed and was gone.
I always thought that, when I get old, I’d get wise. All I’ve gotten so far is old. Still, my life is rich with memories. Thus do I, now and then, say a prayer of gratitude for all the generous women of my youth.
Many large scale studies depend heavily on self-reporting. But how does one report accurately, for example, in a school system? In a rigidly hierarchical system, like a school system, it merits one almost nothing to report accurately, to the next highest level, that which is negative. There are times when, as the report moves up the hierarchy, each level acts as a platonic removal, until the final report, let’s say a report to the state, is just a shadow of the classroom upon which it reports. As anecdotal evidence, consider the fact that, of the thousands of reading programs implemented in public schools, not one ever reported itself a failure. If every such program was such a great success, why don’t public schools glow in the dark?
Let us consider a common feature of contemporary political thought: that we can have war without cost, patriotism without sacrifice.
My wife is a feminist. She is opinionated, assertive, a scholar, a highly regarded psychoanalyst. In certain ways, she reminds me of Hillary Clinton. My beloved and I were friends for twelve years before we married. We’ve been married for twenty-six years. The best part of my life.
My point being — Gentlemen, it will be fine.
Copyright 2016 John Samuel Tieman.