Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 2, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editor
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
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Mark Kingwell
Charles Tayler
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
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Mona Eltahawy
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Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

no mas(k) no mas(k)




Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.
Steve Maraboli

Politicks are now nothing more than the means of rising in the world . . .
and their whole conduct proceeds upon it.
Samuel Johnson (1775)


In the worst President ever category, Donald J. Trump, despite 44 predecessors, has easily outstripped the competition. He is the least organized, the least knowledgeable, the least honest, the least gracious, least dignified, least democratic, the most self-absorbed, most impeached. Though no longer in office, the list continues to grow; both civil and criminal charges are pending, including insurance and tax fraud, and falsifying business records.

During his unprecedentedly controversial presidency, what hasn't been entered into the public domain, and as such is a curious oversight by both devotees and detractors, is that Trump is the least edited, or in philosophic terms, the most (by sheer inadvertence) authentic President in history. One reason Trump is so loathed -- he left office with the lowest approval rating (29%) in the history of the presidency -- is that he has revealed more of his true character, multiple warts and all, than any other President. And since he paid dearly for it, one must wonder why, over and against the counsel of his closest advisors and confidants, he refused to make any concession to being liked, to keeping his demons on tight leash?

In all of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s remarkable novels -- The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov -- we repeatedly encounter characters who suddenly, inexplicably, do or say something that goes totally against their self-interest. Whether during courtship, a business affair, a wedding party or family reunion, for no apparent reason, a character will reveal an outrageously negative aspect of himself regarding manners, pride, vulgarity or envy, and in a single, uncalculated stroke destroy an outcome he may have been patiently nurturing over a considerable period of time. But counter intuitively, the character doesn't suffer in the reader's estimation because he has dared to reveal himself as he truly is, stripped of all pretence and dissimulation.

Dostoyevsky profoundly believed that all of us, regardless of culture, and prior to the imposition of the modern equivalent of The Ten Commandments, are activated by the primordial urge to confess. All the world’s major and minor religions weave into their rites and operations the redemptive properties of confession. If we’re to set store by Raskalnikov from Crime and Punishment, and Dmitri Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov, the need to confess is as insistent as a biological imperative, which means confession need not be restricted to religious protocol.

Whether we like him or not, or voted for him or not, we all feel we know who is 'the real' Donald J. Trump, especially compared to all past presidents. Paraphrasing Montaigne, every time he opens his mouth he is confessing who he is: the good, the considerable bad and the ugly.

And what we learned most from Trump's impromptu confessions during his presidency was how raw and unabating is his craving for absolute power, a craving that was consummated in the January 6th (2021) attempt to overturn a democratically vouchsafed election result. But it would be a mistake to regard the mindset that informed Trump's call to insurrection as unique or aberrant.

There is no one, and that includes democratically elected leaders, who, once in possession of power and influence, wants to relinquish it. Competing for power, its privileges and exemptions, is a primordial drive that governs the animal world which includes the king of the beasts. There doesn't exist a leader in the world who wouldn't rather rule by fiat than have to submit to a protracted consultative process, the end result of which can be produced by a simple authoritarian command.

If every democratically elected leader suffers in secret from dictator envy, no one has illuminated that condition more than Trump, who, after 226 years of safekeeping, yanked it out of the closet and shoved it into our faces for 1,460 days. Whether it can be put back under lock and key where it belongs, whether democracy in America will ever again be the same, remains to be seen.

What is common to all dictators, despots and tyrants -- with the blessings of human nature -- is their insistence on absolute loyalty. Who among us doesn't want to be surrounded and protected by a circle of loyal friends, advisors and confidants?

What sets apart the family unit from all other forms of assembly are its terms of unconditionality. To our own, we unconditionally offer succour and support regardless of merit. What distinguished Trump from all other presidents is that he made no secret that he wanted to be surrounded by loyalists, a team of YesSirs, beginning with family and friends who could be counted on to toe the President's line regardless of what was in the best interest of the nation. From the very outset of his rule, he replaced competent office holders with mostly incompetent or unqualified loyalists. According to the Brookings Institution, the turnover rate during Trump's four year term was an astounding 92%. That America suffered nationally and internationally mattered not a whit to Trump for whom loyalty trumped all other considerations. And he didn't hide his priorities, that is he did not disingenuously pay lip service to the oath of office (to serve the nation) and centuries-deep principles of American democracy for which he had no practical use.

Making America great counted for nothing next to his obsession with the greatness he wanted for himself. And yet his frankness, his God-given artlessness was apparently so refreshing (inspiring) that it resonated and still resonates with millions of Americans who in 2016 and 2020 announced that they had had enough of 50 years of duplicitous Presidents who say one thing and do the opposite, who vow to level the playing field but continue to allow corporations to funnel billions of dollars into off-shore tax havens, who unfailingly do the corporation’s bidding before the nation’s.

Despite the tonnage of bad press, Trump never tried to hide the fact that he is a pathological prevaricator. Instead, through remarkable sleight-of-mind -- at least in his own mind -- he quite brilliantly recontextualized his mendacities into strategic adjuncts to the maintenance and exercise of power. No matter how brazen or outrageous the lie, on each and every occasion it served one end: to maintain an iron grip on power in the context of democracy where power lies with the voter and his consent. Among the myriad aggregates of special interest groups and their agendas, Trump told them what they wanted to hear, and it was immaterial whether it was the truth or a lie. It was all about consent. Even Noam Chomsky, the author of Manufacturing Consent, would agree that no one in the history of the presidency has been able to manufacture consent like Donald J. Trump. It discombobulates the mind that during the past decade Trump paid more in taxes to Taiwan than Uncle Sam and yet 74.2 million people voted for him in a losing cause. It is no less flummoxing that an arrogant, bloviating multi-billionaire is now the champion of the working class, that a plutocrat is the toast of the proletariat.

Like no other President, Trump didn't care what a particular voting group represented in terms of its values and beliefs. During Charlottesville, he quasi-legitimized the white supremacy movement. More recently he has refused to criticize the loony QAnon faction of the Republican party, and yet Trump is neither a racist nor white supremacist. He is a master calculator and no one has so blatantly whored for the vote than the 45th Commander-in-Chief.

Unlike any other President, Trump understood that the power of the presidency resides more in its mythical underpinnings than the powers invested in the office. That insight allowed him to singlehandedly turn the office into a quasi cult. Trump didn't want to be merely respected; he wanted to be adored, revered, worshipped. He wanted us to believe what he privately believed: that his remarkable ascent to becoming the most powerful being in the world was of the same order as The Divine Right of Kings. When Trump spoke his word became The Word, multiplied by millions of adorers. Jan. 6th was Trump's greatest triumph as thousands of people, flouting both the laws of the land and the principles of democracy, stormed The US Capitol Building in an expression of unconditional loyalty to their hero/saviour. Somewhere in the hell of his own confection, David Koresh is smiling.

In August 2020, Trump, for whom the humility card is a non-starter, tweeted that he would like his portrait added to Mount Rushmore next to Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Implied in his wish is that the condition of greatness need not be derived from consensus or competence but from self-estimation. What is of significance here is that he didn't try to veil his megalomania, his off-the charts self-esteem, his unhinged self-adoration. To make his Rushmore candidacy more palatable, he could have cajoled one of his YesSirs to float the idea -- but that would have been out of character.

If Trump somehow manages to reinvent himself as a tragic figure, it is surely due more to the circumstance of his birth than the disputed election result. For when all is said and written, it was Trump's awful luck to be born in the USA under democratic rule. He inherited a political system least suited to his temperament. Democracy was the ball-and-chain, the dead weight he had to bear every day of his presidency. He should have been born in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Liberia, countries where the incumbent wins every election by a landslide. There, Trump would have ruled for life, and as a fitting bookend to his reign, if there were an African equivalent of Mount Rushmore (Mount Kilimanjaro), Trump would have earned his rightful place in stone beside the likes of Robert Mugawi, Charles Taylor, P.W. Botha, Yoweri Museveni et al.

With so much unprecedentedly known of an American President, is it still possible to detest the man for his unseemly character and the shameless manner in which he put his blind ambition above the people he was elected to serve, and yet admire him for his forthrightness, his frankness, his authenticity?

As we dig deep into the substrata of human motivation, H. L. Mencken reminds us that we are "still a mere organism in the end, a brother to the wild things and the protozoa, swayed by the same inscrutable fortunes, condemned by the same inchoate errors and irresolutions, and surrounded by the same terror and darkness . . . "

As unwaveringly authentic (real) as Trump has been during his presidency, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that aspiring to authenticity was one of his pet projects. In point of fact Trump would be hard pressed to enjoin an intelligent conversation on the the subject. That Trump is incapable of editing himself is a consequence of his constitution, and we shouldn't admire him for it just as we don't admire someone who has never smoked for not smoking.

But it is quite proper to ask that as the most unedited, transparent President ever, if Trump shouldn’t be granted special status or a personal exemption at the seat of judgment? Both the short and the long answer must be an emphatic NO, while acknowledging that because of who he is, he made it spectacularly easier to articulate all the reasons why we didn't vote for him -- or shouldn't have.

If there's a silver lining to the dysfunctional (chaotic) Trump presidency, it is that 'We the People' now know that CEOs are virtual dictators and are therefore not constitutionally fit to operate within the constraints of democracy. And if 'We the People' are unhappy with the way Presidents are chosen -- the obscene sums of money that are required to run for the highest office -- the rules of the game will have to be changed in favour of competency and fitness for office.

Is it not the supreme challenge of not just the USA but every country to identify that one person out of millions who is best qualified to take his or her nation to a better place? Isn't that what we want of our system of governance, no less than we want the best trained and most competent pilots flying our planes, and most skilled surgeons repairing our bodies?

It is still not too late for America to rise to the occasion of answering that summons, if only to ensure its continued high ranking among the nations of the world.

Art Work (Gesture II) © Lydia Schrufer



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