Toto Strikes Again
August 4, 2016 § 1 Comment
The Wizard of Odd
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved movie versions of a book ever filmed. Generations of children have enjoyed it and phrases from its dialogue and its characters are embedded in American culture. It changed Judy Garland from Andy Hardy’s girlfriend to a genuine movie star and victorious survivor of a long running rivalry with Shirley Temple.
One of its most famous scenes comes near the end when Toto, Dorothy’s dog, sinks his teeth into the hem of the curtain concealing the Wizard and pulls it down. The Wizard is exposed as a pathetic little plump man who has been issuing commands and pompous declarations amplified through a microphone. His claims to majesty and power are instantly discredited and Dorthy and her companions regard him with contempt mixed with a degree of compassion
We presently have a political drama playing in America that, because of its similarity to the above movie, I have suggested the title of Wizard of Odd because it involves some features that are peculiar and unprecedented.
In the past week Twitter, Facebook, CNN, MSNBC and Politico have reported some signs that some Republican leaders are experiencing some severe buyers’ remorse concerning their allegiance to Donald Trump. They find themselves in a dilemma: They hate Hillary Clinton but they are finally realizing that their constituents have chosen, as her opponent, a man who is being generally described in the media as a person with phrases usually referring to a spoiled child. He is said to be “unable to control himself” or as “unable to stay on message” [in other words, like a child who habitually ignores advice from his or her parents about matters of common sense].
I don’t recall ever hearing or witnessing any similar comments from supporters of a political candidate, whether for dog catcher or President of the United States.
The Exposure and Its Aftermath
The role of Toto in this scenario is as weird as its result. No one could have imagined that the role of the agent who would finally expose Donald Trump to be a pathetic blowhard would be a middle aged Muslim couple, grieving over a son martyred as a war hero who lost his life as a Marine saving those under his command from a threatening terrorist. When Ghazala Khizr Khan, looking and sounding like a stern parent scolding an errant child, lectured Donald Trump for his ignorance and absence of respect for the American Constitution and the principles it embodies, he destroyed Trump’s only weapon: His claim to infallible ability to correct all wrongs and entitled to judge harshly all who questioned him. When Mr. Khan got through with him Trump was exposed to millions of viewers for what he is.
Even this, however, may not have been enough to convince every sentient observer if Donald Trump had been content to refrain from exhibiting publicly and repeatedly each defect listed by Mr. Khan. He did that by, instead of remaining silent, lashing out at Mr. Kahn. And that was not enough to satisfy Trump’s blind stupidity. He described Mr. Kahn’s wife, who had said not one word as her husband delivered his Jeremiad, as a helpless mute, forbidden to speak by her Muslim religion, thus managing to insult her and her religion in one hateful phrase.
Who Will Bell the Cat?
In one of Aesop’s Fables, a community of mice, severely threatened by a marauding cat, decides that their safety demands that a bell be put around the cat’s neck to afford a warning when it is near. That, however, proves to be a problem because no mouse volunteers to affix the bell.
After some sputtering, some leaders of the GOP have begun, once again, disassociating themselves from Trump’s nonsense. But this time Newt Gingrich suggested that he and Rudy Giuliani perform an “intervention” on their candidate. Rudy has denounced that suggestion, but has expressed his disagreement with Trump’s handling of the Khan matter. We must wait to see if others will join Newt administer his suggested remedy.
For the uninitiated, an “intervention” consists of a group of sober and caring friends or family members visiting an addict for the purpose of insisting that he or she seek professional help in order to save him or her from the consequences of his or her addictive behavior. So it appears that, so far, except for Newt, the GOP, like the mice in Aesop’s Fable, agree on the problem, but timidly shrink from the solution. The usual format of an intervention is to shame the addict by reminding him that his behavior has caused and will cause damage and anguish to his family, friends and associates. It seems doubtful that will work with a person who, so far, offers no evidence of any concern for anyone not named Donald Trump.
The Real But So Far Ignored Problem
This problem ought to suggest to any thinking person a far more serious problem. If Donald Trump is elected President, he will gain control of the most powerful military force in history, a force that includes a huge capacity for germ warfare that could subject whole populations to almost unimaginable horror without any ability to distinguish between adults and children; a force that includes nuclear devices capable of destroying civilization. Once launched, no one knows how to limit or end conflict using such weapons. The phrase “mutually assured destruction” has long become so well known as to be recognized by its initials MAD. This latter incite has prevented the launching of those weapons for three quarters of a century.
We now face enemies whose ideology is based on the desirability of death; for whom MAD no longer deters. So far, MAD still dominates the reasoning of western civilization. If, however, these military doomsday tools are entrusted to a man who regards himself as infallible and entitled to respond with unlimited force to any perceived or real insult, the risk of a military misstep becomes almost a foregone conclusion. This technology requires control by a person who carefully weighs the consequences of his words and acts; who accepts and seeks advice from others with experience and knowledge about conflict; whose ego and emotions do not govern his judgment. That does not describe Donald Trump.
How a Good Idea Can Become a Nightmare
A fundamental principle of American law and government is the absolute domination of military decisions by secular authority derived from democratically selected officials. We do not allow soldiers to make policy for us. Wars can only be launched by Congress, the elected body with two-year terms, thus closest to the people. That means that our soldiers will obey an order from their Commander in Chief regardless of whether it does or does not make sense. Throughout our history, this has been our proudest claim to the limited government we treasure. In recent decades, however, our Congress has repeatedly and recklessly failed to exercise this power, choosing instead to delegate to Presidents virtually unfettered power to direct our military forces.
If Donald Trump becomes President, he will have the benefit of the precedents set by Bush and Obama, who have engaged in multiple conflicts without going to Congress for authority. They have done this by an expansive interpretation of the broad language of thoughtless delegations of authority enacted within a few days of the 9-11 assault. It horrifies me to contemplate this authority in the hands of Donald Trump. While the GOP leadership is dithering about how Trump might affect their own elections, they should be considering how their failure to stop his progress toward the presidency may affect the future of our world.
Max Weber was a sociologist who wrote in the early part of the 20th Century. He was a German, born in Thuringia, a province in central Germany. In 1946, a series of his essays were finally translated from German to English and published in the United States. I don’t pretend to have read much of his writing. The original German, according to a long preface, was written in a style difficult to follow and the translators confessed to having significant problems translating it in a way understandable non-German readers. I found the essays difficult.
I did, however, read a brief segment of one of his essays in which he describes the problem of a public figure who attracts followers with charisma and then engages in successful political activity based on that following. Weber wrote that a charismatic leader posed a problem because his attraction was based on emotional appeal that was unrelated to the skills and understanding necessary for governing.
For some reason that seemed strange to me, this German sociologist chose to express his thesis in French [He may have been quoting some French writer but I found no evidence of that.] Here is what he wrote: Roi règne mais ne gouverne pas. In English this means that when a charismatic person is selected as head of a state, “The King reigns but does not govern.”
Weber was writing about religious leaders but I think his sentence describes the problem of electing Donald Trump President of the United States. The President is hired to govern and Trump has the personality of a king. We cannot afford to entrust to Donald Trump the power of an American President.