The Great and Terrible Oz

The Current Occupant is right, the media should quit whining.

They should also stop giving him the attention he craves, and start doing journalism: what is going on behind this storm of circus ballyhoo? The other day, NPR’s All Things Considered featured several pundits puzzling over why they were puzzling over the man’s lies, damned lies, and statistics. Maybe it’s time to consider some other things, folks. This barking insult-puppet will keep stirring up the waters of sensationalism as long as lazy commentators want to splash about in the shallows. Time to go outside the Green Zone.

Obsessions

Our President is severely impaired by strange obsessions. His focus is limited to a tiny set of concerns. He expresses these concerns physically when shaking hands with powerful men. He nearly jerked Judge Gorsuch off his feet. He crumpled Prime Minister Abe’s arm until the poor man nearly rose out of his chair. It is a metaphor for his speaking style. Also his management style. Also his negotiating style. Also his courtship style, to hear him tell it.

One word sums it up: abuse. Just guessing here, but this resembles a terror-driven pathological compulsion to control all attention, every second. Like a drowning man who tries to climb on top of his rescuer, there is no forethought involved. Not even malice aforethought. Just panic. Lord knows what was done to that child.

Although this is plain as day, everybody is still speculating about what malicious plan must lie in his fevered brain. But maybe there is no plan. Maybe it’s only a simple emotional survival mechanism. Nobody believes a man could attain the Bully Pulpit on bully-power alone. Not unless the world has changed.

Does the President mean to wreck foreign relations, purge institutional memory, and issue flurries of reckless decrees? Does he really plan to bring businesses back to America on a case-by-case basis? I’m interested in a different question: would this matter, when knocking everybody off balance and scaring the snot out of them rivets the entire world? Isn’t it possible that for him there is only the next lapse in public attention? Keeping that beastie teetering is a fascinating little game. Maybe buzz is all he craves. Maybe it is an addiction.

Introductory Neuroscience 101: Reality is Endogenous. All the blank spaces are filled in by the audience. There are a lot of people who can tell you Who Trump Is. We project our hopes and fears on the toddler waving a gun. This is what con artists do. Providing no actual information themselves, they can rely on the mark to see what isn’t there. they becomes whatever we hate, or love, or pretend indifference to. And we all fear one thing above all: that somebody will find out we’ve been conned.

This is why we don’t put our underwear on inside-out, with the smooth side next to the skin. It’s not as comfortable, but it will look better when they pull you out of the wreckage. We are all as mechanical as a Donald. Most of us aren’t missing the parts of our brains where compassion lives, though. Most of us can spare at least a thought for others.

The President is not focused on his inevitable sticky end, or on the apocalyptic rise of a fascist state. His obsession with public attention is all-consuming. He will be as surprised at his downfall as he clearly was to win the Republican primary.

Psychopaths and sycophants and other sickos

This phenomenon provides excellent cover for those nameless toadies and sycophants, the ones always depicted posing in the background by Their Majesty’s Royal Artists. Behind every great (or terrible) leader there is a psychopathic opportunist, or a gang of ’em. Eventually these intellectuals will have no further use for their medicine-show barker/patsy, and toss him overboard. They know the script. They wait like flame-enraptured moths. Cozying up to the blast zone is career suicide; just outside of the inner circle is the slippery slope to oblivion. Thus we see an entertaining or terrifying churn. Until the music stops.

How did this happen? How did we screw up so badly? It was not a conscious strategy. Trump didn’t invent this as a way to win the election, it’s fundamental to his personality. Maybe nobody ever taught him to take turns and share. Maybe when he was three or four, young Master Trump grabbed at the any means of escape, and came up with Junkyard Dog. However it started, now it’s just who he is.

As to where he is, this has more to do with the times. His formulaic domineering manner just happens to be effective on such a grandiose scale because of technological advances that crystallized between his first run at the Presidency and this last one. This amounts to a paradigm shift like the invention of gunpowder. The unprecedented ability to tweet a message to an almost unlimited audience in real time made Twitter the perfect medium for his extraordinary affliction to extend its reach, applying much the same aggressive and abusive handshake-assault we saw inflicted on Judge Gorsuch and the Japanese Prime Minister.

Plus ça change

Without Twitter and the “social” media, without the corporate consolidation of the mainstream media, and without an electronically-enhanced, smoldering American xenophobic racism stoked through the Obama years by a well-fed stable of hate groups, Trump would still be a sleazy real estate tycoon. This was the same technological revolution that brought the revenge of the nerds down on the swaggering jocks of the previous generation. It was the new paradigm that facilitated the Arab Spring, and indeed, in its early stages, the rise of Obama. The media, like everybody else (including the new winners in these old games), failed to notice the radical change in the balance of power, in our transformed technological landscape.

When such contextual shifts occur, nothing looks different, but stuff stops working, and other stuff becomes volatile or catalytic. In this new world, aggregated attention is suddenly the hottest commodity going, like bronze in the Bronze Age. Trump is an early-adopter. His approach is like one of those horse-drawn automobiles in the dusty streets of a third-world city, like ripping the wings of a jet and using it for a bus. That’s why the media are still doing stories about how the media can’t figure out what the President will do next. Not his next vile policy edict, everybody knows by now that it will be the Next Unthinkable Thing; but the speculation is more about the next irrelevant, incompetent and inflammatory Tweet.

When the dust clears

This accident will soon be over. We may expect a fall from grace, and fairly soon. President Pence, by all accounts a more sober and purposeful radical wing-nut, with a backlog of repugnant, mean-spirited legislation piling up on the floor of Congress, will not be an improvement.

The Nation will be so relieved and exhausted nobody will notice that, either. By the time they do, we may be experiencing food shortages, catastrophic air and water pollution, Soviet-style economic collapse, and other really bad things that the reigning oligarchy is failing to address or flat-out accelerating.

Sorry. I don’t have a solution either. But maybe identifying the pickle we’re in will help.

 

©Copyright 2017 Peter Barus