No One Taught Me to Be Good, or: Thinking of Trump’s Last Speech

No one taught me how to be good. This is likely true for you as well. If anything I was taught the consequences of being bad. But where love’s concerned, I wasn’t given much. There was Jesus of course, but he was impossibly good and not much fun. There was Huck Finn who was conditionally good and that was OK by me. I first read Huckleberry Finn when I was eight. I listened to it on long playing records from the library for the blind.

In chapter 36, after they’ve freed Jim from jail, Tom Sawyer says to Huck: “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

This is better than any Horatian chestnut. It should be on the entablatures of all our public buildings.

As for Horace, this should also go on our buildings: “The foolish are like ripples on water, For whatsoever they do is quickly effaced; But the righteous are like carvings upon stone, For their smallest act is durable.”

People will know if, indeed, you ain’t ignorant and you know better, and you behave badly.

The proper goodness, the one we should all strive for is the durable.

You don’t need God or organized religion but you do need personal irony. Conscience depends on it. If you ain’t ignorant and you know better, then don’t poison the water tables. Don’t gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Don’t eliminate scores of jobs in the Center for Disease Control. Don’t downplay science. Don’t yammer about global warming being a hoax.

Does Donald Trump truly not know better? Would Tom Sawyer look him over and judiciously say, “he does wrong because he’s ignorant and don’t know nothin’ different?”

This is of course the mystery of Trump: because he appears to be sufficiently educated he must know better. Therefore he must be doing wrong out of basic criminal advantage. Which brings us back to Tom Sawyer, for his comment comes as he and Huck commit a crime (as it would have been adjudged before the Civil War.) And these boys knew that right is right and wrong is wrong and there were some mighty ignorant adults in charge.

As for Trump, I wrote in a blog post some time back entitled Ubu Trump:

America is now fully a cartoon culture. We have cartoon families, cartoon immigrants, stick figure women, logos for cripples, cartoon news shows, and of course, the cartoon web.
In a cartoon society issues of oppression—the forces of oppression—no longer need to correct and punish deviants, for “these people” are fully written off like Goebbel’s schoolbook cartoony jews.

Everyone is a cartoon.

And because people know it, even the least literate, they suspect they are the victims of a joke.

This is Donald Trumps signature line. That America is a joke.

Has Someone Stolen Your Broken Soul?

What if I could tell you how the story ends? Would I be Bocaccio? Yes I’d be a moralist. Such a role is unappealing. I think we can all agree there are too many narrative moralists already. Laurence Sterne wrote: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners” One may fair say Americans have little respect for themselves. This is why our voters—the few who show up—dislike the most honest candidates. They require plenty of disrespect. If you believed Ronald Reagan’s oft repeated story about welfare queens driving Cadillacs you couldn’t possibly like yourself. The question before us now is can Joe Biden’s campaign which aims at reconciliation and kindness actually succeed? Can Americans decide that just for once they might vote for self-respect?

I’m not Bocaccio. Nor am I a TV pundit. I don’t have the skills of Steve Kornacki who, seemingly, can drill down into the most mullioned voter numbers. But I”d feel better if public analysis of our electorate focused on the victimization narratives that unhappy Americans live by. Left, Right, moderate, fascist, socialist, what have you absolutely all comers are like Rodney Dangerfield—they don’t get no respect. Donald Trump’s rallies are entirely about this. So are Bernie Sanders’ events. Someone is conspiring against you. You’re not sufficiently loved. There’s a deep state or the establishment or your third grade teacher who’s gonna get ya.

As a disabled person I know a good deal about persecution. I’ve been told I don’t belong almost everywhere and yes, ever since I took my first steps. I’ve lived the story of feeling like I’m not sufficiently loved. This is a trap. Victims don’t understand love. One thinks of Carl Jung’s observation: “Nothing is possible without love…for love puts one in a mood to risk everything.”

Victims take no risks.

Respect for others means you took a risk and it means you’ve learned some manners. What do I think that means? Not instantly criticizing someone who’s said something that trips your switches. Not immediately disdaining people who appear ill clothed but are driving luxury cars. Not hating yourself because some imaginary person has stolen your broken soul.

Confession du Jour, Mine

I haven’t been writing. Instead I’ve been traveling, most recently to Sarasota, Florida where I gave some talks in honor of the Americans with Disabilities Act which will turn 30 this summer. My guide dog “Caitlyn” made lots of friends. I made lots of friends. But writing didn’t happen. Instead I worried and woke early in my hotel and let the tidal dread of the twenty first century wash over me. As the late, great poet James Tate once put it: “And the Cokes were far far away.”

There was nothing to do but lie there and fear the Coronavirus, grieve for caged children, weep for our dying planet, fear gun nuts, sorrow for Elizabeth Warren, feel the bug eyed astonishment of life in an un-American time when “no can do” has replaced our nation’s ethos of getting things done. This is the age of lead. See Flint, Michigan.

Eventually one gets up. If you’ve a guide dog you have to. You feed her, take her outside. Drift through the hotel lobby with its canned music—a string version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” a song that survives but which, given its anarchist lyrics, the majority of Americans can’t possibly agree with. But they’ll hum along. Americans will hum along with anything.

This week I’m scheduled to fly to New York City. I’m going to keep traveling until I’m told not to by Andrew Cuomo or the ghost of Banquo.

So where’s the confession? Like you I suspect yes yes I’m fighting to believe in “can do” which means, well everything noble.

Looking Up

I am a blind star gazer. Sometimes, looking up I see lights. Sometimes I think I’m imagining them. In any case, this is the condition of the first people on earth.

I take this feeling with me into the house. Clutching a spoon I’m the first spoon man. Yes I made it at home with a private forge.

Don’t you know there are wonders in the ordinary room?

Sure. Tell me to go to hell. You’ve got big things on your mind.

Here I am with my Sanskrit dust mote eyes and imaginary stars.