Trump’s Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.03.17 PMWhere does one begin? So many layers, so much irony, such glorious timing. DJT’s mentor and role model has been identified: Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov or, if you’re a purist, Сапармырат Атаевич Ныязов. Sap, as his close friends and family affectionately tag him (I’m almost totally, certainly sure of this!), is the President for Life of Turkmenistan and a dog lover! His official moniker — hang on a minute while I make word pro space — ‘His Excellency Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy, President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers’.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.03.42 PMNov. 10th saw Sap unveil a solid gold statue of a much cherished companion, an Alabai shepherd dog — and a bookend to the statue (also gold) of himself which, rotates throughout the day to face the sun. And to put this in context, the average annual earnings is about 25K (CD$) — with the last attempted assassination being 2002.

As the certainty of a ‘post-Trump’ era inches toward the start line, it’s rumoured (‘we have very good proof of this happening from many people’) that, DJT has been facing the East. The window is closing. Time to plan a management strategy for the road forward is ticking down.

Putting (or ‘Putin-ing’) another autocrat in one’s ‘starred’ (☪’d) list of contacts is a great first step. Much of the ground work has been laid already. Sap and Vlad are established good buddies, lifelong appointments to political autocracy is the norm . . . and gold is a favoured colour (skin, dogs, hair. . .). An unconfirmed bit of gossip is that Sap cruised to his 1999 ‘coronation’ on the slogan: MTGA (Make Turkmenistan Great Again). There is the dog, no-dog issue — but that can be spun. And, of course, not having to worry about illegal voting practices, the fickleness of the electorate, 2024, media that are fake or disloyal or both, and the wasted time attached to firing one’s inner circle — when a bullet (or a bit of poison) would suffice — are all so appealing.Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.19.04 PM

Trumpism

A meme (/miːm/ MEEM) is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.

Psychology is, in large part, about prediction. And with prediction, comes some measure of increased understanding. To reliably ‘know’ what is about to happen (within the usual disclaimer of ‘margin of error’), one must have identified a sufficient number of variables impacting a given person or event in a significant way to, in the lingo, ‘account for the variance’ in a particular outcome. One reduces the ‘wiggle room’ (in beautifully complex equations — algorithms, if you will) to be able to say, with some certainty that such and such will happen or so and so will behave in a ‘predictable’ way.

Among the legion shared obsessions of early November, two have surfaced in spades — well, one really: the pollsters (or if you’re DJT, the polesters) blew it again and, the . . . we interrupt this editorial moment to share the AP’s announcement at 11:47 a.m., four days post-election:
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Back to the blog at hand.

. . . and ‘What the _______ were they thinking?’

That small segment of us who is both numbers-obsessed and enamoured of predicting human behaviour, needed to grasp how, not once (2016) but twice, the crunchers got it wrong — again! The Blue Wave not only didn’t happen, it took four days for said wave to even begin to break — and sweep away the sand castles that have populated the world’s beaches these past four years.

A New Yorker piece published in this very odd interlude since November 3 — when uncertainty was the rule — considered an ‘aftermath’, optimistically (now a reality), a pathway to transition. The article focussed in part on a distinction between Trump (the man) and Trumpism (the ‘movement’, if it’s even appropriate to dignify the ‘red mirage’ as such). And herein lies a clue to how a slam dunk of what was to be a ’10 point victory’ could fail to so palpably materialize and very nearly half of a voting public could entrench — again.

Consider the man. ‘Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits’ — as catalogued in Jane Mayer’s NY’er article this week. Jimmy Kimmel did his own diarizing: ‘Cozying up to many of the world’s autocrats (Putin, Kim jong-un to name but two of the low lights), put children in cages, villainized the press, ducked paying income taxes (sorry, paid $750), tear-gassed peaceful protestors, pardoned criminal ‘buddies’, mismanaged and minimized a lethal pandemic, dismantled health care, incited white supremacists to violence, and lied, and lied, and lied. . .’ Hmm. Not exactly the resumé that would get you the job — but it very nearly did. . . again. Who could reasonably walk into a polling station, review in mind the four-year performance — with all the foregoing ‘highlights’ — and check the DJT box? Evidently nearly 71,000,000 voters of the recorded 145,000,000 total votes cast!

Sarah Cooper, the now widely viewed comedian best known for her ‘lip synching’ of DJT, offers some insight. Asked why her routines are so compelling, she noted that when we watch Trump in full flight we are so distracted by the caricature that is the man himself, that we fail to fully absorb the ignominy of his blither. We hear it . . . sort of. Her TicTok moments separate the man from the message. Failing to do so leaves us only slightly more aghast, disbelieving, numbed than we were before than last barrage.

As I watched election night and it became increasingly clear that there would be no resolution on that evening or for several to follow, like so many others, I began to reflect on a similar scenario four years earlier. A definitive Clinton victory had been predicted, then morphed into a toss-up, then simply disappeared. And this was before a term of chaos, prevarication, bullying, criminal behaviour, denial, and delusion. The ‘base’ had remained the ‘base’; and for a time appeared to have come through — again!

As tempting as it is to characterize the base as a collection of disenfranchised, disgruntled, gun-totin’, poorly educated rednecks incapable of critical thought, this is simply untrue (our Beer, BBQ, and Freedom demonstrator aside). ‘Election tailoring’ courtesy of Cambridge Analytica and the infamous social media targeting of messages to vast numbers of intellectually vulnerable droids is improbable — particularly for a second time around.

More likely some 48% of the US voting public cast their ballot, not for Donald J. Trump — but for a meme. A meme that has successfully polarized a nation — and capitalized on that divided number. A meme that did not require authentication, was completely lacking in accountability, empathy, compassion, planning. How else to make sense of an electorate’s decision, in the face of such cognitively dissonant truths, to express itself this way. Happily the ‘fad’ has run its course. The slogans have been found wanting, empty. Despite a very signifiant minority’s failure to separate the ‘myth from the man’, reality from the cartoon, we can now exhale. . . and heal. Having pulled the curtain away and, to paraphrase Rachel Maddow, revealed the small, pitiful, and irrelevant being behind — still in denial, still ranting. The work ahead will be to address the meme: Trumpism. Trump is out but the residual, the resonance his meme fostered remains.

The Debate. . .

Screen Shot 2020-10-10 at 12.07.27 AMJust me and 1500 or so of my closest friends. Sorta like Facebook without the advertising. All equally wired (or so I’d have to assume by all the shallow breathing and the guy retching three rows over and four seats down). All waiting for the starting gun (‘no thanks, I’ll do it without the blindfold — just let me finish my cig!’) that would signal permission to turn the package face up. All hoping that the sleepless, caffeine-stoked night would have crammed in enough knowledge (?) to eke out a ‘C’. Late April in Thames Hall quadzillion-court gymnasium that would be home to us all for the next three hours. Unless writer’s cramp and/or just having (absolutely) nothing more to say got to us first. Exam week at UWO, 1964.

I had high hopes for the vice presidential ‘debate’ this week. DJT had earlier sufficiently embarrassed himself that even the newsfeeds that could be counted on to find a silver lining were characterizing the performance in less than flattering terms. Biden had apparently registered a victory (of sorts) just by remaining upright and (largely) respectful — the ‘just shut up, man’ aside. The exchange between the VP and VP hopeful promised to be a lopsided, fish in a barrel exercise. Kamala Harris had shown herself composed, accessible, well equipped to think on her feet, and with a huge arsenal of material, mostly gifts from the current administration’s four year record — and daily, jaw-dropping updates. Her opponent, not known for his snappy one-liners and twinkling repartee, would be easy prey.

The proctor gave us the ten-second countdown. The breathing went from shallow to nothing. The guy over there threw up. And it was time.

CNN’s Susan Page welcomes us to ‘the first and only vice presiential abate (?)’ — very likely the clearest utterance of the evening — and introduces the principles. Kamala Harris shuffles her feet uncertainly, offers a muffled acknowledgment and head nod to ‘Mr. Vice President’ and both dutifully take their places, twelve feet distanced from each other, behind what some have called the ‘Pence Fence’. And the stage is set.

Before trudging up UC Hill that cool, Spring morning, I’d stacked the novels we’d been expected to read in the preceding four months. When the pile reached three feet, it collapsed, metaphorically making its point and foreshadowing things to come — evidently I’d grasped a few terms that I (faintly) hoped would come in handy in the day’s task.

Ms. Page ‘sternly’ states that there are agreed upon ground rules and that she’s present to enforce them — hoping I expect to head off another train wreck of disrespect, over talking, and generally ignoring of debate etiquette. She reiterates the need to observe time allotments, despite one’s ‘compelling need’ to finish a point — allowing us to move on to the next topic. Hmm? And then launches into the first question of what a Biden administration would do about the Covid-19 pandemic that a Trump administration wouldn’t do. Kamala starts with an indictment: ‘the greatest failure of an administration in the history of our country’. That, ladies and germs — to remain with the theme, was the highpoint of the evening.

Compare and contrast the protagonists of one of the following pairs of novels: Madame Bovary / The Scarlet Letter; Joseph Andrews / Don Quixote; Wuthering Heights / Emma. OK. So I’d actually read the big, red ‘A’ book, but hadn’t quite gotten around to Flaubert. Henry Fielding had (very helpfully) written short chapters with little summaries as headers — so I had a loose idea of JA’s adventures, but Cervantes was just too thick. Heathcliffe, Catherine . . . tough call. And I’d only managed to find the Coles Notes on P and P — so Emma was going to be a stretch.

Evening in Salt Lake City continues. Direct questions of moment were asked. . . and not answered. Opportunities to score a hit, a very palpable hit, were missed, fumbled, and generally ignored. The ‘rules of engagement’ may as well not have been stated, as Ms. Page struggled to contain the protracted boilerplate that passed for a response. The abiding maxim for the night: just keep talking, and talking, and . . . until there’s nothing of any import left to say — having said nothing of any import to that point.

When in doubt, or in the absence of anything substantive to say . . . just write, and write, and. . . Maybe I’ll get lucky and tick a couple of boxes. Volume counts, right? Four pages on Hester and, at a guess Madame B must have been the heroine. Hell her name’s in the title. So a little baffling with a couple of paragraphs of BS on the latter — both die, right? Always a safe assumption.

I got my ‘C’. God knows how. Guess half of something must count in the prof’s eyes. More likely he just got tired of reading and assigned a grade that would ensure I didn’t end up in another of his courses. As for the debate, same result. No winners, no losers, no. . . nuthin’. In fact, a whole lot of nuthin’.