More About the Semblance State

Stephen Kuusisto wearing a fedora and trench coat, standing beside a dragon in Kyoto, Japan

Yesterday I wrote about “the semblance state”—the predicament of this nation, these United States, where seeming competence has taken the place of governance. I gave no quarter to the Republicans or the Democrats. Both parties spent the last forty years greasing the engines of profits over vision, eschewing long term plans, caring not a whit about the average citizen (who we once called middle class but who’s now fallen from the wheel of fortune into the soupy suspension of the new poverty: both parties share the blame.) In the semblance state hardly anyone shoulders responsibility. There’s only pathos, raw anger directed at whoever doesn’t look like you. In this way the GOP and the Democrats (and their splinters) are un-American. Even the IWW believed in communitarian principles.

In her excellent book “American Enlightenments” Caroline Winterer reminds us that 18th century Americans held a different view of happiness than the self-help individualized notion most people cling to today. She writes:

“The happiness of humanity. Crèvecoeur’s words—and Thomas Jefferson’s far more famous ones in the Declaration of Independence, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”—remind us that the pursuit of happiness was one of the principal quests of enlightened people. But happiness meant something different in the eighteenth century from its meaning today. In our era, an industry of self-help books reminds us that modern happiness is an emotional state of self-fulfillment and personal well-being. Eighteenth-century people would have been puzzled by our narrow definition. For them, happiness first of all had expansive, public meanings. People at that time often spoke of a happy people and a happy society. A society was happy when its people enjoyed the security, stability, and peace that allowed them to prosper. The purpose of government was to create public or social happiness by shielding the state from foreign enemies and internal threats. The opposite of public happiness was not sorrow but anarchy or tyranny. Educated leaders would be the architects of the good government that led to a happy society.”

Watching Donald Trump ignore the greatest public health crisis in history reveals the petty tyranny of a self-help mind which holds that successful people eschew any engagement with social happiness and indeed, must hate government itself. In the semblance state where most individuals believe they’re victims and that malign others are getting more than their fair share well, the happy society is not only inadmissible, it should be despised. This is why Trump spent Mothers Day sending over a hundred vitriolic, childish, toxic “tweets” while ignoring the climbing death rates in the US.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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