A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
As our country’s day of mourning approaches on January 20th and, even though each day brings more troublesome news regarding his dealings, I am not so much concerned about the man who will be taking the oath for what used to be the most honored position in our land, if not the world. No, believe it or not, I am already over him. Not over, really, but saturated and sick, as if I just ate an entire box of Twinkies or a plate of heaping excrement. Although I satirized in an earlier essay my thoughts that Mr. Trump could be the actual beast of the apocalypse, I know that is certainly not the case. I am not afraid of Mr. Trump or his hand picked goon squad. No. I see him as a very broken and frightened man; someone who fears anyone and anything who is not him. I am not sure what has happened in his life that has broken him so. He has been given privileges which most people, obviously, never have, but that just proves the age old fact that money, wealth, fame, and privilege certainly do not insure that a person will be comfortable in their own skin. I know for certain that all of Mr. Trump’s wealth and fame do not interest me in the least, if it means that my heart and personality would be anything near to being like his. No, I feel sorry for Mr. Trump. When he takes the podium on that day, (and it was truly made evident by President Obama’s spectacular farewell address) Mr. Trump will truly be like the emperor in the fable who had no clothes. He will stand there, naked of the vestments of honor, intellect, and true leadership; a leadership that is concerned with the common good of all our citizens. He will stand in a place where true leaders stood. He will stand at that podium and, dare I say, even make King George W look like an honorable leader. And, during the ceremony, I know I will weep. I will weep for my country. I will weep for those who are of the popular majority, along with those of the “winning” minority. But, most of all, I will weep for him, not really him, but for that terrified child within him that has been devoured by all that orange ego and greed.
That being said, I am still terrified, but not of Mr. Trump, but of what created him. Again, in the myth of The Book of Revelations, it is not the beast and his 666 that is the truest, most frightening power. No, within the myth, something gave the beast its authority and power. In the Book of Revelation, it is the dragon that is to be feared. It is the dragon that brings misery for all. It is the dragon, according to Revelation’s author, who was “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the earth…” and it is the dragon who gave the beast “its own power and throne”. For satirical purposes, the Revelations thing is kind of fun, but I find that the circumstances our country and its citizens are facing, as cabinet hearings are being rushed through by the Republican leadership and new frightening intelligence about Trump and Russia are being revealed, we need and deserve more than satires and fun connections.
As the inauguration approaches, serious questions need to be asked, questions that should have been asked years ago, and not just questions like “Is that your real hair?” or “Is Barron excited for his dad to be the next President of the United States?” Even the questions that somewhat hint at the evil behind this man, like “Why did you appoint, as your top advisor, a man who has ties to Nazi groups?” or “Why will you not release your income tax statements?” or “What are your business ties and interests in Russia?” are not going deep enough. No, the questions we need to ask now, as a species, must go deeper and much further back in history. Much, much further. And, actually, in my opinion, I think there is only one question to ask, and when we answer it, we will find the answer for our entire history as a species. The question to be asked is what force, what power, made it possible for this moment in history when the frightened boy will blather at the politically sacred dais. What dragon gave authority to this, once human, beast?
The answer is actually pretty obvious, and has been discovered and stated by much greater minds than my own. The dragon is imperialism/colonialism. White, European, male colonialism. What else could explain the unprecedented hatred and anger towards our first ever African American president (think Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness)? What else could possibly explain the never-ending attack of male politicians on women and their reproductive rights? The spirit of imperialism/colonialism is not only what created the atmosphere for this current beast, but has been spreading its misery upon humanity since the conquering Romans. In Native American culture, instead of calling it a dragon, they called it “Wetiko”. It is documented that, even though the Arawaks of the Bahama Islands swam out to Columbus’ ships with gifts, they all too quickly came face to face with this disease, this wetiko they saw within the Europeans’ eyes. It is a term that describes a monster with human characteristics; someone consumed with greed; someone who takes not what they ‘need’, but all that they ‘want’; someone who is a ‘cannibal’ of all people and goods.
That being said, if the native Americans were able to recognize this disease, this wetiko, within the eyes of their conquerors, then that means we, as a species, were once actually living, for thousands of years mind you, without the false doctrine of “survival of fittest”, which bullies like Trump and those who preceded him wear like a mantle and use as an excuse to step on the throats of the weak, the “loser”. And if our ancestors have shown us that we can live a life based on the communal good, a life based on needs instead of wants, then reason would say we can most certainly do it again.
At this point, if I am saying this in front of my literature students, they immediately begin rolling their eyes and making statements such as “There is no way to turn back the machine now”, or “You’re just being unrealistically idealistic”. That’s when I remind them of the quote from one of my favorite characters in all of literature, Doc, from Cannery Row, where he states:
“It has always seemed strange that…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
I then ask my students what I believe to be the most important question we can all ask: How do you know that what I am saying is “idealistic” if it has never been tried? Imagine if each of us committed, for just one day, in each and every moment of that day, to practice the Golden Rule, the philosophy at the center of every faith and good heart; the Golden Rule, for which the enlightened (Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed, to name a few) gave their very lives. Imagine the immediate and incredible transformation of the world we would witness. Imagine.
I am finished imagining the possible horrors that could come from the man who will be inaugurated next week. I am done with imagining beasts and dragons. I am now making the ridiculous, idealistic choice to imagine a species so wonderful that it is able to stop, reassess, and be strong and imaginative enough to transform the globe in a way that we have never seen before. Perhaps, if we dream big enough, we could eradicate the wetiko disease from our species entirely. Dare I say, the solution could actually be very simple. Simple, but not easy. As simple as the Golden Rule, but as easy as all of us committing to practicing it in every aspect, every decision, every relationship and area of our lives. It can be done. It must, at the very least, be tried for those who did sacrifice their lives for such insanely idealistic philosophies.
I tell you what. Let’s start small. Five minutes a day to start. Let’s honor our outgoing leader, President Barack Hussein Obama, and all of the heroes who preceded him, heroes who were concerned for the common good instead of the bottom line and self interest. Imagine.
Copyright 2017 Greg Thielen