Three Ethics Metaphors: The Rise, The Presidency And The Fall Of Donald J. Trump, Part II

Part I of this series appeared in May of this year. I bet you thought I had forgotten about it, didn’t you?

The second metaphor explained the election of Trump as President in 2016, as well as his march to the nomination fueled by a populist base that crossed party lines and that took political “experts” completely by surprise. It occurred to me when a friend, a Democrat and progressive (like most of my friends—and relatives) opined bitterly that electing someone like Trump was “stupid.” At a basic level I agreed with that: I had been writing exactly this for more than a year. But his words triggered an epiphany, and, as is often the case with my rare moments of clarity, a movie scene came to mind.

Electing Trump certainly seemed stupid. Yet it served a purpose, indeed several purposes, just like the “stupid and futile gesture” that is the climax and operatic finale of “Animal House,” when the abused members of Delta House turn Faber College’s homecoming parade into a violent riot.

What was the election of Trump supposed to accomplish? Other movies come to mind, like “Network.” A segment of the population decided that the system was rigged against them, that Democrats and Republicans were both involved in a massive, decades long con in which their primary goal was not to do what was in the public interest, but what was most likely to keep them in power and eventually line their pockets, and that their voices were not just being ignored, but that they were being insulted while being ignored. The so-called “deplorables” were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it any more. Voting for Trump was an “Up yours!” to the elites, the sanctimonious media, the corrupt Clintons, the hollow Obamas, and obviously corrupt Democrats like Pelosi and Harry Reid, machine Republicans like Mitch McConnell, and pompous think-tank conservative like Bill Kristol.

As I wrote on the same theme right after the election,

“Americans got tired of being pushed around, lectured, and being told that traditional cultural values made them racists and xenophobes. They decided to say “Screw that!” by electing a protest candidate whose sole function was to be a human thumb in the eye, because he was so disgusting to the people who had pretended to be their betters. Don’t you understand? It’s idiotic, but the message isn’t. It’s “Animal House”! and “Animal House” is as American as Doolittle’s Raid….In Germany, The Big Cheese says jump and the Germans say “How high?” In the US, the response is “Fuck you!” Obama never understood that…. I love that about America. And much as I hate the idea of an idiot being President, I do love the message and who it was sent to. America still has spunk.

“I love spunk.”

The third movie that is relevant to the 2016 election is “National Treasure.” In that Nicholas Cage adventure involving the theft of the Declaration of Independence, Cage’s character’s father, played by Jon Voight, keeps getting the heroes out of dire circumstances by saying, “You have to change the status quo!” It’s a life-competence basic: if you don’t like where the status quo keeps taking you, change it. You don’t have to know what you’ll get: the important thing is that it will be different.

I have a good friend of many years, though we have drifted apart recently. She has been miserable for as long as I have known her. None of her dreams came true; she’s been bitterly disappointed in all aspects of her life. I kept telling her: “If you don’t like your life, change it! Move! Make new friends wherever you end up! Change your hair, try new hobbies, get a new job! Maybe things will be worse, but maybe they will be better, and either way, they won’t be the same. What do you have to lose?”

Yet she never had the initiative or confidence to change the status quo, and indeed, nothing changed. She’s just as bored and dissatisfied now, thirty years later, as she was when I urged her to try to change the path of her life. I know a dozen people like her. On the other hand, there is the counter example of the HR head at a D.C. association I worked for. One day, she came in to my office to say goodbye: she was moving to the West Coast. “This is sudden. Why?” I asked. “Who do you know there? What will you do?’

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It might turn into a disaster. But I’m 33; I have no serious relationship here. My job’s a dead end, and I’m not happy. It’s time to shake everything up.” That was the last time I saw her for 12 years. Then, by sheer chance, I ran into her when I was in Seattle. Her hair was a different color, but the reason I barely recognized her was that she looked happy and confident. We had coffee together: she was CEO of her own small business. She was married, and had two children, and had enjoyed many adventures on the way. “So starting over worked!” I said. “It did,” she said, laughing. “It was touch and go there for a while, but yes, it worked.”

Whether the electorate’s gesture in 2016 “worked” is still an open question. It certainly wasn’t futile: the status quo wasn’t just changed, it was shattered, just as completely as Bluto, D-Day, Otter, Boone, Flounder and the rest wrecked the parade. Electing Trump certainly might have worked out better: he could have found a way to tamp down his virulent jerkism and play President just a bit while still keeping his policy promises. Democrats might not have set out to divide the nation further by refusing to accept his election as legitimate, thus triggering Trump’s worst instincts. Nevertheless, nobody can say that the parties only pretend to support different philosophies, or that our political culture and society itself are stagnant and not dynamic. Right now, there is no status quo. It’s chaos….but out of chaos comes order. If you’re lucky.

And that’s why Otter’s speech no longer applies to Donald Trump. We already have chaos; we don’t need a That’s what second dose of a leader who has proven himself incapable of binding wounds, building consensus, and leading the public with ideas rather than emotion. Nominating or electing him in 2024 really would be stupid, because it could only make the current problems worse. Trump is 75: a lot can happen in three years, and some of that lot could easily cause Trump to refrain from running and pledge not to split the Republican Party. This is what I wish on stars these days. Now, all Trump can do is pile chaos on chaos. That is never a good idea, or a responsible one.

15 thoughts on “Three Ethics Metaphors: The Rise, The Presidency And The Fall Of Donald J. Trump, Part II

  1. There’s one more movie analogy I would use, it wasn’t particularly my idea it came from this article, but it’s true, imo all the same. These are NOT race issues. They are rural/urban issues and are as old as humanity.
    “ There’s this universal shorthand that epic adventure movies use to tell the good guys from the bad. The good guys are simple folk from the countryside …
    … while the bad guys are decadent assholes who live in the city and wear stupid clothes.”

    Ie – the worker bee is tired of these people passing rules they don’t have to follow and passing senseless hurdles and mandates. This is true for so many things right now. DC and states run by democrats is making life difficult. We’re sick of it. I LIVE in a area full of small, independent businesses. There’s Trump signs still everywhere, along with a few tacky “Fuck Biden”. I’ve never seen passionate support for anyone political like Trump has.
    He’s the bull in the China closet. The “elites” need to heed the warning. People where I live haven’t only been stocking up on TP… they’re quietly getting ready for chaos.

    https://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about

  2. the abused members of Delta House turn Faber College’s homecoming parade into violent riot.

    Hmm. “Violent riot?” I’d say that’s like calling the operatic (your well chosen word) folly at the Capitol an insurrection. I’d say “comic, slapstick chaos” would better describe what the parade descended into. Doesn’t it conclude with Bluto driving off into the Senate in a convertible Oldsmobile with a co-eds’ legs sticking up out of the passenger’s side of the front seat? Mayhem, perhaps. Violent riot. No.

    And frankly, “comic, slapstick chaos” may be the best description of the AUC’s response to the Trump presidency. I’d also throw in “pathetic.”

    • Now, come on, Bill. It’s definitely violent, it’s just funny violence. Kevin Bacon gets trampled flat. The “Deathmobile” crashes into the stands, sending people flying. Nedermier uses live bullets. Bluto kidnaps a screaming co-ed. The ROTC is sent flying. too. People are running around in a panicked mob.

      • You’re right, but it’s more slapstick violence than anything really brutal. It’s Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy or The Roadrunner and Wiley E. Coyote violence. The dynamited baton twirler ends up on a twelve year-old’s bed!

  3. I hope the GOP gets its act together and nominates Ron DiSantis. An outsider, with a brain. Plus he’s a Yalie so how can all the insufferable snots in D.C. look down their noses at him?*

    _____________
    *Oh Bill, don’t be silly. They’ll slime him from here to Sunday for any number of reasons. First off, because he’s not a Democrat!

    • Bill, surely you’re old enough to know the well-worn (some may say completely worn out) playbook by now. They’ll say he’s a racist, misogynist, homophobe, etc, etc. Some woman from his distant past that he may not even remember will come out of the woodwork with unverifiable claims of abuse from decades ago. It will all be lies, transparently so to anyone who isn’t brainwashed, but the leftist media will play it like it’s gospel. It’s all so predictable and unoriginal.

    • I would definitely go for that. He has the right ideas, he is articulate, he’s been through the fires, and he’s still going strong.

      Of course they’ll slime him — if Barack Obama ran as a Republican they’d slime him too. It’s the R that makes you a deplorable, not what you believe in.

      I sincerely appreciate what Trump has done, but I don’t think we want him to run again in 2024. Republicans can (and do) win on the issues — but with Trump it’s never going to be about the issues, even if he were to stick with them (which he won’t). If Republicans campaign on the issues plaguing this country, I believe we’ll win. If they run on the issue of the 2020 election, it’s much less likely and would be much harder to govern whoever wins.

      Batman has a good idea, too, I think.

  4. Ron DiSantis/Tim Scott, and then ascertain Trump’s price not to run and pay it, provided he genuinely works to get them elected. Otherwise a ruthless intervention is in order.

  5. I have a good friend of many years, though we have drifted apart recently. She has been miserable for as long as I have known her.

    That is perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase.

    On the other hand, there is the counter example of the HR head at a D.C. association I worked for… “So starting over worked!” I said. “It did,” she said, laughing. “It was touch and go there for a while, but yes, it worked.”

    Beware of survivor bias. Had it not worked out, say if she had become homeless or worse, that might well have made it less likely that you could have fallen in with her later.

    Your last paragraph neuters the point of the rest. If no resistance may proceed to a point where it makes a difference that makes a difference, it’s all “protesting she would never consent, consented” – for it says, by all means send messages, just let them always be sidelined. Or recall Frederick the Great’s saying, “my people and I have an agreement; they can say what they like and I can do what I like”.

  6. “If you don’t like your life, change it! Move! Make new friends wherever you end up! Change your hair, try new hobbies, get a new job! Maybe things will be worse, but maybe they will be better, and either way, they won’t be the same. What do you have to lose?”

    I think that the kind of people that this would work for don’t need to be told about it, and the kind of people this wouldn’t work for don’t follow through one way or the other. In my experience, some people are situationally miserable, and the people who are situationally miserable remove themselves from the situation on a long enough timeline. The people who are just miserable might even attempt the move, but they drag their personality around like an anchor.

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