The ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus was famous for the observation that everything is in flux. Ironically rumor has it that, suffering from a stomach ailment, he died in a condition of static flux:
Finding a large pile of warm cow manure, he buried himself in it, to “draw off the noxious humors,” as he put it. Reports of his demise differ, but one has it that as the cow pies dried, Heraclitus attracted unwelcome attention- and not all of it from his fellow men. The town dogs of Ephesus found him irresistible. Heraclitus died in dung, devoured by unfastidious canines.
As I have intimated heretofore, current events sometimes lead me to wonder whether a similar fate is not in store (metaphorically, course) for the United States of America. From the election of Barack Obama to the conscious moral degradation of oncoming generations, we are a nation that seems intent on “finding a large pile of warm…manure” in which to bury even the memory of the fact our constitutional republic became, however briefly, the world’s preeminent state.
This thought again imposed itself as I read of the teapot tempest stirred up by Donald Trump’s allegedly abusive and personal ridicule of the memory lapse of a handicapped New York Times reporter. Trump says that a story by this reporter was the source of his (Trump’s) claim that New Jersey Muslims rejoiced as the 9-11 attacks against the United States were under way. But the reporter, Serge Kovalesky, now says that, though he barely remembers the story, reports of rejoicing Muslims were only noted in it, not confirmed.
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In a memory lapse of his own, Trump says that he has no memory of prior dealings with Mr. Kovalesky, though he (Kovalesky) reports having spoken with Mr. Trump on several occasions. This latter assertion has a bearing on the veracity of the New York Times’ allegation that Trump mimicked characteristic mannerisms that result from the reporter’s physical handicap, as and when he implied, in a speech, that the memory lapse was a convenient lie, intended to undermine his (Trump’s) credibility. According to a Washington Post story Kovalesky has responded to Trump’s ridicule with an intended ad hominem slur on his part, saying: “The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record.”
As I read the reporter’s remark, the phrase “low-rent” stuck in my craw. It smacked of the same casual disdain for people, –based simply on their circumstances–, that makes it objectionable for Donald Trump to ridicule the reporter in respect of his physical handicapped. Decent conscience echoes Martin Luther King’s dream, in which people are judged by the content of their character. As people learned from the disabled veteran on “Dancing with the Stars”, a physical handicap can be the touchstone for exhibiting traits of character that encourage and ornament humanity.
By the same token, the many millions of working Americans who approach their responsibilities with integrity and consideration for others are a key source of our nation’s real strength, even if they have to economize when they choose a place to live. Their willingness to be careful with their earnings is in fact an attribute of self-discipline. It ennobles them, no matter how much or little rent they pay.
For all their extravagant posturing as advocates of a politics of compassion for the handicapped, the poor, and the so-called “disadvantaged”, the culture of America’s elitist faction is afflicted with a poisonous affectation of aristocratic disdain for those less well endowed. However low their rent, these are the very people whose needs and tastes account for much of the material success of many of the wealthy elite. Still the elitists revel in the lie that their power and material achievements make them “the kings and queens of America,” as the Chrysler commercial arrogantly claimed.
That’s all well and good when the people deluded by it are content to play with the vain trifles and dissipations that often so pointlessly fuel their ambitions. It would be a grave error simply to deny that those ambitions can result in important contributions to our society’s well-being. But it is an even greater error to deny the dignity and virtue of the multitude of people who choose to invest themselves in the work of sustaining their loved ones, caring individually for the burgeoning lives that draw forth the future they will not live to see; the people whose modest pride and self-respect nourish the daily self-discipline, perseverance and inner courage it takes to be faithful in the little things. For they are, in the end, the stuff without which America’s “greatness” will prove to be a hollow myth, destined to burn like a falling star, brightly, instantly away.
George Washington was long considered the greatest of the historically unprecedented assemblage of extraordinary characters who contributed to the founding of the United States. His good influence was such that when he walked into a room people felt constrained to be on their best behavior. Can the same be said of the frequently foul mouthed, distempered “leaders” who these days make it to the top of the heap, sometimes, along the way, deploying stratagems of personal destruction against their competitors?
Donald Trump’s ad hominem bluster seems calculated to have an effect directly the opposite of the heightened civility attributed to Washington. Mr. Trump appears to be a consummate political “shock jock”: his rudeness at the ready, always spoiling for the unsavory food fight already altogether too characteristic of the elitist faction’s sham electoral contests. Mr. Trump affects a purposely offensive style, calculated, it seems, to invite his followers to let loose, as it were, their inner playground bully.
Is this meant, like the cow patties of Heraclitus, to draw off their noxious humors of his supporters? Or is it meant to draw out, those humors, bringing them into focus in a way that discredits ‘the people,’ as well as the constitutional regime that entrusts them with a share of sovereign power. The surest way to overthrow a republic predicated on the principle of representative government is to represent the people to themselves in a way that ultimately disgusts and shames them. Let that the name of politics become a stink in their nostrils, and the business of citizenship will then be no more attractive to decent folks than swilling raw sewage.
Such decent people may then become content to leave that business to them that can stomach the slime, the dirt, the smell. Thus the stage is set for the voluntary abdication of popular sovereignty, into the hands of those most susceptible to its abuse. At first the result will seem like a relief. But as power corrupts those who wield it, tyrannical abuse will enforces the truth of a world without relief; a world where there is no Sabbath, no rest from the indignity of forced and unjust toil, in service to rude appetites that have no end, and ambitions that are governed by no conscious constraint but that of superior power.
We Americans should see this coming. Instead of being distracted by the contrived fisticuffs between Trump and the reporter he demeaned, we should focus on the attitude they have in common- the attitude of contemptuous disdain for the “low-rent,” contemptibly disabled inferiors the shallow elitists of our day fancy the rest of humankind to be. No wonder they set the stage for a global regime in which the earth will be, in their eyes, comforted by the elimination of most of those lesser humans- leaving only the self-wprshipping heroes who have culled and disposed of them, and the servants disposed to do their bidding.
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