E Trumpus Tantrum
“Nasty, brutish and short,” just like Donald Trump’s temper.
That wise-ass, but accurate witticism would be funnier if President Trump’s election didn’t suggest that for a lot of Americans, those words also describe the temper of our times.
366 years ago, the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes used those words, among the best-known and most-quoted in the English language, to sum up the degradation of “life in a state of nature.” The life, he hoped, mankind had risen above forever.
But, actually that leaves out the first 2 words of Hobbes’ dystopian formulation. The words are “solitary” and “poor.”
That’s right. The full quote is “Life in a state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Solitude is what removes “natural” men and women from the very thing that makes life worth living: in Hobbes’ words, “a commonwealth, ecclesiastical and civil.”
Hobbes’ affirmation of the value of shared lives, guided by religious beliefs and rule of law into a social contract, is what our Founding Fathers found so attractive about his writings. Three of the original 13 United States, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts still call themselves “Commonwealths.”
Our national motto, “E pluribus unum,” — out of many, one – expresses that same idea, that the United States of America is a gathering of peoples, political jurisdictions, and beliefs into a single, functioning Union.
A commonwealth not only brings people together, but by developing common purposes, keeps people together over time. It is the antithesis of Hobbes’ “natural state” which produces con-joined lives of prosperity, health, kindness, and long duration, or in our sacred phrase: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Hobbes’ values are reflected in the works of his American disciples: Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. They are the values expressed, however imperfectly, by the Affordable Care Act, the Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, the protection of “dreamer” immigrants, the Food Stamp program, Medicare and Medicaid. They are the very values now under attack by President Trump and Republicans in Congress, not to mention Andy Puzder, Steve Mnuchin, Steve Bannon and the Koch brothers.
Every protection of people from abusive employers like Puzder, or exploitative bankers like Mnuchin, or environmental poisoners like the Kochs, they see as nothing but assaults against their bottom lines. This is the view from the splendid solitude of their corner offices, many penthouses and mansions, whose horizon is not just limited to their personal space, but timed to the short-term.
If they die in possession of the most toys, game over, they’ve won. In his tinny, made-for-reality-TV version of this extreme narcissism, Trump surpasses them all.
“The Donald” claims to be an “artist” of the deal, but has anyone ever called Trump a deal “a win-win?” Trump’s deals are wins for him, but his counterparts, his investors, sub-contractors, employees, and, yes, students at his “University,” come out losers.
All the trade agreements, treaties, and humanitarian accommodations made by his predecessors Obama, Clinton, both Bushes, Trump sees as losses in a global zero-sum game of dog eat dog.
Hobbes’ 17th Century England had none of the socio-political benefits of the 20th and 21st Centuries, so he could not lament how Americans are being robbed of health care, or environmental or labor protections. But listen to what he did say people lose when their commonwealth dissolves. “There is … no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, no [trade]; no commodious Building, … no Knowledge; … no Arts; no Letters; no Society.”
In Trump’s time that means, no public radio, no public TV, no National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities, no consumer protection agencies, no watchdogs against the predators of Wall Street.
What, there is, Hobbes wrote, “is worst of all, continual fear.” Trump’s trump card.
Why did the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals continue the stay against President Trump’s immensely stupid, intensely cruel ban on immigration to America of refugees and residents of 7 Muslim-majority countries?
Because they could find “no evidence” that any of those groups had ever brought a terrorist to America. Because they saw no reason for the “emergency” Mr. Trump used to justify his “extreme vetting,” and even more extreme exclusions.
The world Donald Trump sees and has sold to enough Americans to win the Presidency is Thomas Hobbes’ nightmare: a world “of War, where every man is enemy to every man.” It is the world in which every American is the enemy of every wannabe American, a world of solitary survivors, a fictional world of contemporary thrillers, video games, and reality-show competitions. It is the world Hobbes warned us against, the world our Declaration of Independence and Constitution and our commonwealth were created to tame.
This week on HERE & THERE w go to Moscow, the Middle East, Washington and the Southwest, to talk about murders, peace, mergers, and water, respectively.
On Monday, the guest is New York Times Moscow correspondent Andrew Kramer, who’s been covering the mysterious murders of pro-Russian secessionist paramilitary leaders from Eastern Ukraine. Who dunnit and why? And what does it have to do with an endgame for “the frozen war?”
Tuesday, we converse with Amb. Dennis Ross, whose thinking has had as much influence as anyone’s over the last 25 years on American policy in the Middle East. What can we expect from the world’s most volatile region in the Age of Trump?
Wednesday, investigative report Justin Elliott of Pro Public on the fingerprints President Trump has been leaving on some of the business world’s biggest mergers. What does it mean for America’s anti-trust processes?
And on Thursday, a really delightful discussion with John Fleck, once of the Albuquerque Journal, now teaching and writing books like Water Is For Fighting Over, which has a public policy flow-chart of its own: Consciousness>>Collaboration>> Adaptation>>Resilience, which explains why, “When people have less water, they use less water.”
****Please remember, even better, please, never forget about Guadalupe Garcia de Rayo.
She is the mother who was deported to Mexico, separating her from her family in Phoenix, AZ. She was arrested while she was making her annual visit to the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report that she was living as a resident alien in the United States. She got the criminal’s bum rush across the border because she was a “felon.” Eight years ago she was caught using a phony Social Security card to get a job to help support her family.
That was the only blemish on her record of 20 years in this country.
I also ask for thoughts for Max Villatoro, the Mennonite minister similarly suddenly tossed from Iowa to Honduras on charges only a little more serious, and with a life story at least as good. He left behind a wife and 4 US Citizen children.
If you understand why people cry reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, can you wink at this?
The America we love is being killed before our eyes.
If you like Alec Baldwin’s Trump, you’ll love this week’s installment of Amy Marash’s illustrations of the Presidency.