THE MODERN PROMETHEUS
What happens if everyone is bought off? When the rules, so carefully crafted by the wisdom of enlightened men, are casually cast off and no longer circumscribe our actions.
When Prometheus was punished by the gods for flouting their wisdom – their rules – he was chained to a rock, so that an eagle could peck out his liver. And each night his liver would grow back, only to be eaten once again by the eagle. For eternity. Mary Shelley’s novel was entitled, “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. What unites these two stories, one a Greek myth and one a cautionary tale about scientific overreach, is the notion of unrestrained hubris and the unintended consequences that arise from its expression.
Civilization connotes cooperation, and democracy denotes rules. So, when everybody is bought and paid for in one way or another, civilization begins to fray and democracy begins to crumble. What was once a statement of purpose, “E Pluribus Unum”, is now a jumble of perverse incentives so dense and so pervasive that no Democratic candidate can form a coherent platform that speaks to a country that has become self-Balkanized. A country, half of which has signed a murder-suicide pact with the Republican Party.
John Adams, our second president, wrote: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He goes on to say: “It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.” – John Adams in a letter to his wife, Abigail.
Our politics are in chaos, and it is beginning to dawn on all Americans that Donald Trump is our own, carefully constructed Frankenstein’s Monster, a creature stitched together during a time in our history when the chant of “American Exceptionalism” was a reflection of dangerous political hubris. Today, half of the country and all of the Republican Party has been bought off. Lindsey Graham has been bought off; Mitch McConnell is bought off; Mitt Romney is bought off. The rest of the party is for sale to the highest bidder. And so, apparently, is our country.
As a young man, Donald Trump took a mammoth gift from his father and turned it into a miasma of criminal acts and corrupt behavior – into vanity, pride, avarice, and ambition – as John Adams described. And we are the ones who created him. We stitched him together, but it wasn’t for demonstrably evil purposes; it was for our entertainment.
Trump was famous in the 1980s, not for his dubious business acumen – everyone knew he was a serial bankrupt – but because of his preposterous flamboyance. Everyone loved his hammy portrayal of a scrappy iconoclast. His story of survival amidst the entitled aristocrats who considered him a loutish arriviste resonated, particularly after the mirthless Puritanism of Jimmy Carter. It was a time when Ronald Reagan announced to America at his inaugural address that, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And thus, Reagan introduced to our democracy the idea that anti-institutionalism is a great idea that is guaranteed to end well. (For more information on this, see AG William Barr.)
In the big-shouldered era of Ronald Reagan, Trump was Reagan’s exuberant, unmanageable child. His shtick was Muhammad Ali declaring himself “the greatest” – but without Ali’s self-awareness, without his mastery and his brilliance. Trump was at once both Bonnie and Clyde shooting up the countryside, and with his puerile imitation of Hugh Hefner’s faded debauchery, Trump made hedonism look brand-spanking new again. He vamped his way into Palm Beach society and ridiculed the arrogance of the effete by draping himself in the gilded splendor of Louis XIV, the Sun King – even if the gilt was paint and not gold. Trump was the last vaudevillian.
And now he’s cornered. He’s unraveling before our eyes. He took his act too far, and now he’s nothing but a bloated caricature of his former bad-boy self. We’re tired of his shtick and deeply worried about the mess that he has made of our country. Politicians don’t know what to do with this man-child. He needs to be impeached and convicted. And we need an eagle to eat this goon’s liver every day – for eternity.
Image: wikimedia commons
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, controversial, or provocative, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs