Quotes: The art of wisdom is knowing what to overlook (William James, The Principles of Psychology, Henry Holt Publishers, 1890); The most essential gift of a writer is a built in, shock proof bullsh*t detector (Ernest Hemingway, Paris Review, 1958).
Translation: Homo sapiens, the wise one.
Definitions: Wise, showing experience, knowledge and good judgment. Bonkers, mad, crazy.
Outcome: Koan, paradoxical riddle used in Zen Buddhism to show limits of logic and to stimulate insight
In the news: First Atlanta, Then Boulder: Two Mass Shootings in a Week (Azi Paybarah and Maria Cramer, The New York Times 3.22.21); Millennials Stressed by Tech & Social Media Overload (Eileen Brown, ZDnet, 9.17.19, a tech review site evolved from print empire, described by the Google search function as a scam).
In context: In 2021, the world’s greatest economic powerhouse had a serious problem. The country was one body with countless split personalities.
The Covid pandemic still raged, as did social upheaval about how to manage variants Racial reckoning sizzled with critical race theory and white outrage at being accused of crimes past. Law enforcement was under fire, crime spiked, mass shootings were routine and the climate wreaked havoc. Insurrection hung in the air as a new President put into practice a lifetime of experience to right the Ship of State in a global world while the ghost of the White House former guy stalked a substantial chunk of the population like heartburn after a bad meal.
The global Melting Pot exploded during a four year backlash after America elected the western industrialized world’s first non-white head of state. For eight years, half-white Barack Obama braved an uphill battle with conservatives bent on defying him. By the end of Obama’s either-year term, the firebrand hellhound Trump burst forth to erase all traces of Obama and his progressive gains. Trump the destroyer spent four years savaging the US Constitution, hounding immigrants and courting global tyrants while snubbing allies. His tenure ended in a cascade of disasters that eroded civilization itself.
By turning a virus into a political weapon, Trump conflated a -straight-forward biological threat into a social rivalry where freedom was at odds with common sense. The end goal became clear when Trump lost the next election, his followers staged a coup and his conservative enablers denied that any coup had occurred. America in 2021 couldn’t have been more bonkers except that it became more so throughout the year as the rational of the country grabbed at the reins of democracy to bring order back while Trump and allies fought dirty to take control of the country.
Trump’s ascension to the American presidency has yet to be clarified through all the evidence of foreign interference in the 2016 election that put him into office. Once there, he tightened the conservative Republican hold by manipulating the conservative base. Once te Covid pandemic hit in the next election year to threaten his booming economy, he went into full Trump mode and Republicans held on tight to his coattails.
In essence, nature handed Trump a Covid spit ball and he turned the plague into a nuclear bomb that radiated well beyond his time in office. Using the authority of his office in service of his impetuous Tweets, he turned the country upside down until the result was a coup when he lost the next election. After that failed coup,. Republicans denied that any coup had been attempted and they resisted all investigation of the insurrection witnessed by all the world through live media coverage. In light of those events, the absurdity of Trump in the American White House Oval Office became stark.
Trump was an autocrat using his office and his portion of the American masses to overturn democracy. The apparent substitute would be a plutocracy of the wealthy governed by a dictator who ran the country by Tweet decree in between rounds of golf at his own resorts on trysts funded by tax dollars.
For obvious reasons, that plausible Trump vision found limited appeal in the country that was the world’s beacon for democracy, where his dictatorial traits blended into the wide berth given to personal idiosyncrasies. Yet those traits were obvious to those in the least bit acquainted with history. He targeted the vulnerable and won them over with targeted empty promises. He stirred the passions of his base by creating common enemies for all to hate, while he himself played both sides of the fence with those he vilified, especially the mainstream media. At the rallies he favored as much as Tweets, he painted himself as an omnipotent god persecuted by inferiors intent on bringing him down. All those tactics used by dictators from time immemorial would not have succeeded in the world’s democratic stronghold without a corruption of the Constitutionally protected liberties spelled out in the very first amendment.
Freedom of speech, expression, press and religion were of primary concern to the founding fathers whose own origins began with a flight from England to escape religious persecution. Over the years, the Supreme Court refined that freedom to place limits on a right that was not absolute in a social context. Areas not protected by the first amendment were those most harmful to society, including fraud, misleading advertising and child pornography. So far, hate speech has been protected, however vile. Political speech has been especially sheltered, presumably to avoid infringing on other rights such as speech and assembly. The area of incitement to riot was particularly hazy, a twilight zone where Trump excelled.
Trump kept his base spellbound with ambiguity. A healthcare plan was on the way for four years, as was an infrastructure revamp by the master builder he purported to be. A historic peace plan with North Korea was coming soon. There were good people on both sides of a clash between neo-Nazi white supremacists and those opposing the villainy. We did nothing wrong, it was a perfect phone call, he said of his attempt to extort the Ukrainian president. In four short years, Trump was impeached twice, exonerated both times based on political considerations. Abuse of power was first, then came the inciting of an insurrection a month after he lost the election and dragged the process through the courts all the way to the top. And even after Trump left the White House and Biden was sworn in as president, Republicans covered for Trump, their reasons wide open for speculation and exploitation.
Republicans clearly did not want clarification of events surrounding the January 6 insurrection aimed at disrupting the democratic process of certifying the Biden win that Trump supporters still would not accept. They nixed a broad based Commission to investigate, then vilified the Republicans with integrity who participated in a more targeted Committee probing the unsettling events. It could be supposed that Republicans were loathe to examine the fine legal line between general and specific incitement.
By Supreme Court rulings as understood by a legal outsider, culpability for incitement depended on intent and state of mind, both areas difficult to ascertain and prove. Thus, it was permissible to call on others to rise up against the state but not to send them to destroy the Capitol. That fine line was no doubt intriguing to lawyers at the same time that it was uneasy cover for Trump supporting Republicans. But both the Trump base and democratic Americans at large were caught by that fine line in the broader American issue of rational freedom versus enslavement to force-fed information that backed up already hardened preconceptions.
America suffered from a crisis of trust when Trump and the internet rose in the mid to late 1980’s. The Iron Curtain fell by the end of that period to free Eastern Europe and shortly thereafter to dissolve the Soviet Union back into Russia. America during that time was recovering from the Viet Nam War topped by the Nixon scandals. Trust in the government was at an all time low when the 9/11 attack occurred shortly into the new century. Having courted Russia since its Soviet days, Trump readied himself during the Obama years for a take-down of democracy with classic propaganda amped up to internet speed.
Trump was an expert swindler and a master liar, as evidenced by his response to the Covid pandemic threatening his strong economy in an election year. At first he called the pandemic a hoax, then he said it would disappear and finally he said it was nothing to fear, the sturdy would endure. While inconsistent, the simplicity of those messages struck a chord with Americans already skeptical of the government and confused by cautious guidelines coming from scientists trying to navigate a new disease through troubled political waters. To those Americans already sold on conspiracies and simplistic social solutions such as white supremacy, Trump was a savior hero born of the social media world.
A world united by technology had plenty of room for both growth and logical twists on reality. Logically enough, the illogical pathways were more alluring than the ones of reason requiring patience to navigate. It was easier and more instantly gratifying to blast an opponent than to arrange and conduct a sit down exchange. The difference between the two approaches was cataclysmic, of course. Fall-out differed enormously. But the internet provided the cushion to blend, mute and manipulate the fallout from head on attacks, particularly when it came to the seriously impassioned American game of politics.
The irony of the Trump presidency was the reverse effect of apparently intended political aims. In managing Covid, for example, he rewarded the red Republican states while denigrating the blue Democratic ones. And while those divisions did become ossified during his tenure, the overlaps also came into relief.
Democratic cities within Republican states had more in common with each other than with their state politics. That situation was apparently the result of an overall demographic shift from rural to urban areas to create the purple zone that came to prominence when Trump lost the election he had rigged while professing all along that he would lose only if the election was rigged. The subterfuge was no different from that which Trump had used since he first entered the political arena as a big city business tycoon out to help America’s rural areas. The fallacy of that scenario was as crystal clear as possible when measured by the five human senses. Trump never mingled with fans. He summoned and they obeyed, drawn by the freedom Trump boasted he was securing for them. And many did in fact believe, aided against their senses by social media, Republican Trump backers and a news media that failed the needs of every-day Americans from both the left and right of the political spectrum.
The corporate world of the mainstream American news media was behind the eight-ball in comparison with the social media web work. Accredited news sources had numerous layers of fact checking to assure accuracy. A Facebook posting needed no more time than for one reader to read a mere headline before a story was launched to countless contacts. While that emerging area of news sharing went through the laborious legal process of clarification, the basic human function of wise discernment came into question.
A charge of “fraud” had no legal standing without proof, nor did it have any credibility with reasonably solid everyday people in a routine situation. One could claim that a product was a rip-off, but seldom did such an exchange warrant legal action requiring prooof. For Trump to claim that the 2020 election was a fraud without any profoof and with that to put the country through months of torn agony so severe that it inspired a coup was nothing short of a travesty that made a mockery of the country itself. Logic was the anchor that kept democratic ideals grounded to the real world upended by Trump and allies through the nebulous unregulated realm of the social media.
In the 21st century, coups happened in nations emerging from transitional periods between regimes. Fraudulent elections wer claimed by emerging democracies against entrenched autocrats. Sitting autocrats put down activists protesting suppression. In democratic America, a would-be autocrat tried every legal and illegal tactic to put down those upholding a legitimate election. It was the inverse reality in which Trump excelled.
There was no hint of fraud in the 2020 US election, declared by the head of the Homeland Security Cyber head as the most secure ever because of measures instituted after the confirmed foreign meddling in the 2016 election of Trump. But a big swathe orf America needed no proof of fraud to be convinced that it had occurred simply because that was teh result they wanted and it was backed by those they trusted on social media.
In 2021, America was still the global world’s beacon of democracy and it was still that world’s great innovator. But that lead was shrinking, possibly because Americans spent more time on new acquisitions that on learning how to make good use of them. That was how Trump nearly purloined American democracy with the brazen false claim that he’d been robbed of an election he had never owned, which pointed to yet another irony of the Trump presidency.
Based on numerous reliable sources about his background, it was a good be that Trump was eager to encourage the white supremacist hate groups that had begun to billow with the 2008 Obama election. Those came alive when the 2016 Trump election seemed to give legitimacy to their platform. They burgeoned over the four years that Trump spread their message with the authority of the Oval Office. When he lost that position, they sprang to grab it back with the help of the conservative Republican party dependent on Trump through his control of the conservative base hooked on social media.
Technology has been a harsh master for the last near-200 years since the 1800’s Industrial Revolution. The 50 year old Web revolution threw a speedball into the social upheaval. When Trump coopted the American conservative party by manipulating social media, he brought America to the tipping point of whether it would remain a democracy or morph into a plutocracy of the wealthy championed by an autocrat just like Putin with oligarchs in Russia.
Judging by history, humans did not take well to subjugation. Revolutiona such as that of the French and of the Americans were proof, as were slave rebellions from Roman times to the New World of America. Yet Trump and his Republican allies tried to impose that barbarity on the seat of American democracy through a perversion of its evolving communication process.
Hardline conservative America no doubt knew what it was doing by accepting Trump as its mascot to consolidate a waning power by capturing a vulnerable segment of American society. In that plan, mainstream America was collateral damage as big city hustler Trump barn-stormed No-name regions of America until Covid brought Big-name America to No-name spots and put them on the map. It was a process that got America to know itself during a quarantine period in which the George Floyd murder could not escape emotionally invested notice. The only ones immune were political operatives aligned with dedicated haters connected by the internet.
In 2021 America, Covid continued to rule as America struggled toward a 70% herd immunity with vaccinations. The idea there was that not all needed to be vaccinated, just enough to carry the whole to safety. Likewise on the political front, it was not critical for all Americans to be convinced that democracy depended on their personal discretion in sorting truth from falsehood, but enough were needed to get the beacon of democracy beyond an attempt to topple it. Simple reasoning was all that was called for, achieved by taking time to sort through a glut of information to arrive at wisdom.
In 2021, America was caught in a deep well of misinformation and the only way out was first to assess the situation. In a complex globalizing world, the temptation of simplicity was alluring. A tyrant who offered security could soon turn suffocating to those used to freedom and justice, or even to those with just a taste of it. That led to America’s second step in emerging from the well of misinformation. That was to reach out for clues through others.
America became involved with Afghanistan through a misguided war on terror after the 9/11 attack. Twenty years later, America withdrew from Afghanistan with no awareness of how beneficially it had affected that country regardless of earlier aims. But a sober recognition of the current situation suggested the wisdom of calling on a global mechanisms set up after the last World War that had been abandoned in a fledgling state.
The Second World War ended in the 1940’s with the dropping of the atomic bomb, a signal that any future global conflict would end in annihilation of the world. Wisdom prevailed. The United Nations was formed as a forum for airing national grievances. Offshoots were set up to promote global economic equality, development and common values. Like many a human stroke of genius, the plan hit the skids when it came to details relating to power and information made public. As the most influential member of the United Nations, the Unite States had the power to power to move the world through information as long as it exercised the wisdom of the common sense that Joe Biden brought back to America after Trump.
By 2021, the technology that drove the world for over 150 years with the industrial revolution turned into the digital revolution was at a crossroads. Climate change was undeniable as parts of the world burned and flooded by turns. In America, a new koan emerged to stimulate insight. What was the value of 2,000 Fb bffs when next-door neighbors couldn’t be visited?
Those mysteries in the modern world called for global solutions and the irony of progress in the modern age was phenomenal. Technological improvements were aimed to reduce tedium and make life easier for all. Collaterally, they have increased stresses. On-line bill pay, for example, has proven to be convenient but expectation of ease rendered any snag a major episode of frustration. The only solution to negotiating the snag was to exercise patience, a skill that could not be learned on line.