Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump's Miseducation

Trump University, for awhile, seemed like a hamhandedly sleazy attempt at getting people's money--one to laugh off, without a lot of thought about the people whose money actually got stolen.  It also seemed so like him--this childish grab at anything that connotes power, luxury or prestige.  Gold.  Steaks.  University.  A vision of the good life that I might have had at 5.  At 70, he was continuing to not just rush after it, but pursue it with an obsessiveness that meant others getting crushed.  And, okay, maybe people who believed that he was a skilled businessman might buy that his university would share what he knew, help them even in the midst of the silly rhetoric, and get out before they got hurt.  

Then, several dozen million people voted for him to become president--to hold possibly the most powerful position on earth.  And what I believed I could see, what I still believe I can see, as the sham of the man, the transparent cash grab that his life is, came to seem complicated.  A way for people to get reeled in that must be investigated, probably by a lot of people with a lot more knowledge and/or experience than I have.  Not, ha ha, educated at Trump University . . . though millions and millions of people appear to have been taken in by it.  In one way or another.  

What is this education?  And have I had it, myself, in different ways?  


At 8, in third grade, I went to school in a church--a private, Christian school, with not a lot of funding but a lot of conviction and a staff of teachers, was housed there.  We had a curriculum, but a lot of freedom, and I remember being able, at least for a while, to run in the woods across the giant-seeming parking lot from that dark brick building, and building a snow fort carefully designed by my brother when the winter hit just right.  And, for a little while, a lot of us got into designing our dream homes.  We had no limits, and we had markers and paper.  

Helicopter landing pads on roofs, gardens next to gardens, central buildings that led to hallways that led to wings and other wings--we taped notebook paper together to make them even better, more enormous, more ostentatious, anything and everything more.  And I can't remember a single thing that made mine unlike the others; I tried to do theirs, but better.  I was going to look richer than them, because I had that kind of a dream--yours, but better.  It might have lasted a week, or even less--until we had to go back to whatever school work we'd left.  But we left the project with our homes plotted out.  

And I had picked out the girl in class who'd be my girlfriend if she'd just wake up to that fact.  She was blond, and that qualified her.  Because I knew blond was what everyone wanted, what I should want if I was the kind of guy people wanted to be.  She had some traits I didn't really like--too excited about Christmas, too talkative, and too close to the window, a cold spot.  But I was willing to be her boyfriend, as long as I didn't have to ask her, and risk, not rejection, but public rejection--everyone in class either seeing her turn me down or hearing about it.  Because they would.  

From that year, I don't remember any subject matter--any actual schoolwork.  Along with the snowfort, I remember playing kind of an abstract game of chasing through the woods with two sisters who were not quite the golden blond of my intended girlfriend (or the principal's daughter, which she was--the right alliance, for sure).  And some of us collected honeysuckle blossoms in McDonald's clamshells, if that's what they're called.  And we played in other ways, and I read and read.  

But I also remember signing my name in cursive on a piece of paper--so big it took up the whole page, just my name, nothing attached to it.  A red-haired, older girl came into the classroom where I sat with it, and I showed it to her--my name.  Stylish.  Ready to be brandished, shown to everyone, used for some kind of pride.  Pride wasn't big in our part of the Christian faith, but I had stumbled onto a streak of it.  And maybe my mansion was part of the reason.  So what if it would never be real?  

His pick for Secretary of Education would have supported that school, probably, but wanted tax dollars to go to it.  She might have fought for me two years later, when I was crying to my mom for sending me to a public school, where I heard curse words maybe daily on the playground, where I had no common bond of religion or church membership, where my being a "gifted kid" started to get me set apart, put in different classes, encouraged to enter contests, and generally taken way out of a comfort zone I identified with a magical past.  Suddenly, the kid who decided to be my friend was African-American, and he told me "be cool."  And I couldn't, and never could be.  I needed, believed I needed someone to sweep me up into a school I could run myself, if need be.  And the tears came without my trying, not just to Mom, but at school, where I got sent to the guidance counsellor because I couldn't stop crying.  Not really knowing why, I offered some of the reasons I just shared.  But I really didn't know.  

Betsy DeVos might say "toughen up," but another message of hers, and of his, of the whole administration, of fascism and its corollaries, is that we have to go back to the great way it was, and our plan means removing whatever blocks us from that.  Schools, homes, religion, whatever were safer, warmer, more competitive, and most important, respected once upon a time, and that group of people ruined it.  Or they will, if we don't stop them.  Or they mostly have, but (and this is really the message, isn't it?) we can undo their dark, dirty work, with this plan.  That's how a colossal wall, one drawn across a whole border like a mansion on a sheet of notebook paper, can seem reasonable.  It blocks us from what is, and we're left with what was.  And it's the best.  It's Eden.  It's who we really are.  And we're not men, are we, if we won't step into that identity?  That's his message, because it's in maybe some primitive drive, but definitely in our history.  Mussolini more than Hitler.  


Reading about him seems too close to deification--about his life, I mean.  He might be an interesting part of history after impeachment, or if the even more out there possibility does blossom and this election is actually reversed because of electors changing votes or something else.  It also seems secondary--nobody voted in a man, did they?  It's an image, animated by their fears.  Isn't it?  

But I can easily imagine this:  he learned how to be educated before he went to school.  And he learned that appearance is everything, in the sense that one can become an image and let it permeate nearly to the level of spirit, so he could imagine his gene code reading "TRUMP," if he could imagine.  He learned that education endangers--really learning things attacks that mindset, that sense of self, that storyline in which the hero gets fame and pride not only for himself but for everyone he defends, and he learned, on a level below knowing, how to store fear so it catches the right kind of fire, eating at weak feelings and anything else that threatens that "man" in him, the one he must have seen in someone else.  

He learned that he was all alone.  

Friday, December 09, 2016

On the Nonexistence of Trump

As the candidacy of Donald Trump began to pick up steam, in a time that's actually hard to imagine even though it was less than a year ago, I began to automatically follow a procedure for talking about it on Facebook--articulate arguments against it, make jokes about it, but not use the actual man's actual name.  It seemed like a way of not giving the phenomenon or the person more credibility than they deserved, but it also hearkened back more than I realized to the others who have been conspicuously not-named--Voldemort, exes of people I've listened to, and more. 

Elision can confer more power than it defers, and, yes, I've been saving that statement somewhere since grad school!  It didn't really hit home until I saw someone make a comment about "T---p" the other day, and, even though she probably meant it in the spirit of "f--k," the first thing that came to me was the presentation of the name of God as "G-d," that I don't know enough about to really comment on--a friend who I believe practices Judaism used it one time in a message to me, and I've seen it elsewhere. 

There seem to be a lot of reasons why he got as many votes as he did, and I don't really know enough about them to list them.  But I do know that my posting of articles to Facebook, about the repugnant policies and appointments he and his circle have been making, about all the possible ways he still might not become president, and about the potential disasters linked with his now-probable presidency, has that same automatic, driven quality that might be determined or compulsive; I'm not sure which.  It seems like a way to spread awareness, to possibly make amends for not having registered to vote in Indiana so I could, to also amend anything I might have done to contribute to the fervor for him in the lives of people I'm in contact with, or my Facebook friends are, and also . . . I don't know.  It's a fear of mine that the orange, mask-seeming face of that man simply has a compulsively clickable quality, and his statements do, too, so that by sharing, I participate in whatever madness led to him becoming president-elect.  Some of the articles I share I read; some of them I don't.  But I get that little burst of, what, serotonin?, from the likes that I get when I share those articles. 

But I do believe he should not be president.  And understanding, or trying to understand, some of where he and his voters are coming from--that can be done without condoning (like Dr. Manhattan says in "The Watchmen") and also without condescending, as long as I acknowledge the appeal of his candidacy to me.  It doesn't come from a place of agreeing with anything he says, of course; it doesn't come from believing he "tells it like it is," with his surreal accumulation of lies; it doesn't come from buying whatever fascist nostalgia wafted him into the limelight as a political figure; it doesn't come from  imagining that he speaks from the heart or the gut, since I see him reflexively, maybe compulsively parroting whatever his supporters might buy. 

He is clearly a showman, a tweeter with this vicious level of anger that seems pretty clearly undergirded by fear, and it seems of the same kind or thread that runs through everyone who believes America has somehow lost a status it needs to get back again.  It's not that kind of appeal at all.  It doesn't come from any sense of kinship at the levels of idea, heart, or spirit.  To quote another man who used language in a way a lot of people were drawn to, who also showed a distaste for diversity, "that is not it at all." 


Around 8th grade, I briefly started a trend.  That started with going to the store called "50/50" at the bottom of the hill in Maplewood, outside of St. Louis, where we had moved from another suburb of the city, where we had moved from a small farm outside of Troy, Missouri.  So, from a view of a highway with woods on the other side to a view of a cul-de-sac and oil-rainbowed creek down a little hill from it, and on to this wider, busier street that showed a, to me then, titanic amount of traffic, a hushing sort of roar and blur of cars and then that store.  It held remaindered items, odds and ends taken from other stores, almost none of them with any purpose I could find--a graphic novel called "Bloodstar" that sat in black stacks maybe near the half-damaged spiral notebooks, action figures from Karate Kid that did not include the Kid himself, other heaps and mounds of things in all different colors and states of hurt or being forgotten, and rolls of stickers with names that weren't mine. 

But "Bob" jumped out at me--stickers, looped like tape, with cartoon spaceships and maybe colorful scribbles, alternating with the name "Bob" in squared, space-age letters, and maybe more cursive ones.  I started taking them to school with me, putting them I don't remember where, maybe on my jean jacket and locker, then, I remember, one of the kids I had mentally designated "cool" came up to me and gave me money to buy some for him.  "Bob stickers," in his voice, became something other than what I felt them, deeply, to be--a sign that I was lost, unable to afford the cool things I could absolutely see other kids carrying in different ways as parts of their identities, and unable to find any kind of intuitive drive toward the right style, the right way of saying, the right anything. 

The strange energy that came to me sometimes, though, let me act popular, and I felt light then, kind of a floating feeling, with a completely different focus, away from the turmoil in there, and on what people seemed to be feeling, what they seemed to be hoping for, how I might play with that, play to that, become as much of that as I could.  It felt hollow and kind of wonderful.  It didn't last, like the sticker fad, but while it went on, that seemed like part of its charm--embracing the surfaces of things, like I would whenever I put a sticker somewhere, with its clear, cheap look, its gaudy quality, and its lack of any meaning.  Bob who?  There were none in my family that I knew of, none in any bands I listened to, and none anywhere else I treasured and therefore feared.  It was ubiquitous and empty.  Bob.  Pop.  Bob.  Hip.  Bob.  Gone. 

Our family had come through some hard times, like every family does, and had been close to other families going through tougher ones.  Some of our neighbors, at one of those places, had clearly been struggling to make ends meet, then, maybe after we moved, the man of the house (so to speak) had tragically died in an electrical accident.  We had all seen Reaganism, in different ways, whether or not we knew its name, had maybe been swept up in it not so much like a river as a roller coaster, carried through a series of plunges and rocketing rides to peaks that (exhausting the metaphor) we might later look back and see was all made up--was someone playing around, playing with us. 

We had spent and spent, in different ways, against the Soviet threat that had been exaggerated, magnified and contorted until removing it seemed like the answer to so much, and one that would never truly come.  Perestroika didn't answer that fear, that rigidifying in us, but, briefly, for me, watching "Top Gun" at the house of a girl I liked, both of us maybe 10 years old, and her family seeming rich to me--the whole escape of it, adventure of it, seemed like a release.  Maverick goes into the girl's bathroom.  He sings.  He follows that hunger for the open air.  He finds a fight there that claims his best friend's life.  And then we leave the danger zone.  Over and out.  Wow--so neat and easy.  Just like that uniting against a common enemy. 

A classmate at another school had lost a brother, not in a plane crash as far as I know, but maybe in some kind of military incident.  He would talk with a kind of solemn calm, that frightened me, about how his brother used to buzz the tower like Maverick did in that movie.  His eyes would go a little dim, like he wasn't really looking at anything anymore, and none of him seemed as real then, his longish nose or brown hair that was never styled quite right, but another kind of weight came with him into the room, and I felt stuck with it, looking forward to it leaving, happy when it did. 

Around then, I felt penitent whenever I did or even thought something wrong, letting Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" bring a sense of reflection, obsessive, not on anything I really regretted, but on all those failures that nobody but me could see, that had me bearing down on the pencil point in cursive class out of the fear and certainty that I would mess up those letters, that they would show through even if erased, that they would show the real me, the wicked kid, the one who thought evil thoughts and cared nothing for anyone, and I prayed harder, tried harder, to wall off that hollow.  I got migraine headaches that I got seen by the doctor for, and saw floating lights.  I had no way of making myself popular, so I had no way to exist, by my measure, or my mind's. 


It seems like an oversimplification to say that having a brother die from alcoholism would make Trump Trump.  And it might be.  But alcoholism is anything but simple, in my experience, and there can be a kind of hardening, an armoring and/or mask-making in response to, not just that, but other kinds of illnesses, mental and emotional, whether they're present in a family, a community, or a country.  In my experience.  And I don't really have any authority to critique any kind of American dream, and the seduction of the post-fact era that helped get him as far as he did seems like something to just naturally resist. 

But here's the thing:  pain and backlashes of different kinds have clearly come with seeming progress in this country, with that seeming growth of that seeming dream.  Around the time of my marriage, I started reading about the genocide of native Americans with that sort of horror, but one that seemed, then, to negate the whole nation that has come with that godawful oppression and bloodshed.  Now, it seems pretty clear that the godawful oppression and bloodshed can't be justified in any way shape or form, and here's the country we have now.  There are things I can do as an Anglo-American, hopefully to do better than my ancestors.  Never having been here--that's not an answer. 

But it can seem like one in the face of tragedy, can't it?  Denial--what does that do?  About my divorce, a therapist said to me, "That's a death."  Or did she say "It's a death"?  It was a hard statement for me to take in, and so it's a hard one to remember.  Unlike many of the ones Trump has made over the last year.  They come to me quickly, easily, a catalogue of atrocious, hurtful things to militate against, an itching, internal rash of them to scratch with a click, so to speak.  His shrill kind of anger that seems so automatic, so ungenuine, with his dead-ish eyes measuring their effect, I do recognize. 

Trying to start argument after argument with my dad about politics, after the divorce, when I was living with my parents and floating in a sick, dark space, I would go so easily into that outrage, into a defensive kind of poking that went after not any particular place with any particular point, but that explosion that might come, probably not from him, just in the air--a tension to focus on, blow up, never love, but nurture with that detachment that let me not feel, not absorb, not accept.  She definitely had been the one.  Definitely.  Nobody else thought that, but that seemed to reinforce my position.  For a while.  I wasn't there--I was anger. 

We've heard and read that support from Trump came from the disenfranchised, and that makes definite sense, and more than the statistically disenfranchised voted for him, and that makes more sense, maybe, because anyone can feel disenfranchised, and embrace that distraction that comes to seem like a cause, not just in the sense of a purpose but of "this person did this to you and that's why you're hurt" that building a wall between countries, something out of Roman times and then "Game of Thrones," came to seem like a dream a lot of people could share.  Common cause against a common enemy that caused all that hurt, that uncertainty, and, worst of all, that fear bred from both.  Maybe Mexico isn't a threat--but maybe that story can be projected where the Russians once went.  And suddenly they've helped elect a president.  Okay.  Because we feel okay. 

Trump lost a brother, and probably, a long time before that, lost a core sense of self attached intimately to emotional well-being and kinship with people, including people from other backgrounds.  Who hasn't lost that, or those, in the process of losing a self that grief brings?  But most people maybe don't feed on that emptiness, don't let it in, don't make it an engine (to quote Eliot again) to goldplate things, to become a caricature that dozens of millions of people suddenly vote for.  Only one does--has.  But that space past loss, where nothing seems real, I believe is him, is the image he tries to live, and of course it has an attraction, and it's one I hope I don't accept.