Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Wolf is Loose and Howling: Racism on Parade in Charlottesville

In Norse mythology, one of the first calamities that presages the total destruction of the world in the cataclysm of Ragnarok is the breaking free of the monstrous dog Garm, who is, I suspect, most likely an alternate form of the destructive wolf Fenrir. Well, I would not want to suggest that we are now on the edge of the total ruin of the world, but I think what we just saw in Charlottesville, represents the breaking loose of our own beast of destruction, namely, the racism, neo-Nazism and White Supremacy that were proudly on parade in an American city on August 11 and 12, marching in military formation, bearing semiautomatic rifles, and chanting Nazi slogans like "Blood and Soil!" We have seen insult added to injury with the spectacle of the American president being either unable or unwilling to issue a clear, consistent condemnation of racism and neo-Nazism, even when the Charlottesville situation turned tragically violent. Heather Heyer, a young woman who came to express opposition to racism and Fascism, was slain by a young white male Nazi enthusiast who ran her down with a car, putting 19 other people in the hospital as well.

We have seen Donald Trump making disconcerting expressions of equivocation, first condemning "hatred and bigotry," as per the prepared statement that he was reading from  on Saturday the 12th, rather robotically, but then veering off and adding, in a much more animated voice, "on many sides... on MANY sides." He made a second attempt at a condemnation on Monday, reading prepared remarks that were indeed fairly clear and straightforward in denouncing hatred and bigotry. However, in a press conference on Tuesday, he again either went off-track or let his mask drop to show his true feelings, saying that "there's blame on both sides." Trump appeared to be drawing a moral equivalency between the racists and neo-Nazis  and those who had turned out to protest against them,  the bulk of them peaceful, some of them willing to use force, the second group being members and supporters of the "Antifa," anti-Fascist movement.

The President was correct that there was violence on both sides, but he conveniently overlooks a number of important facts:  (a) most of the counter-protesters were peaceful, unarmed and unthreatening; (b)  many of the right-wing forces were dressed in military-style clothing and were bearing semi-automatic rifles and other military-style weapons, which were extremely threatening; (c) the Antifa were equipped with only the most simple of weapons, sticks and stones and cans of mace, some with bottles that they hurled; (d) a cursory examination of American history reveals that we went to war to oppose Nazism and Fascism in WW II, which means that the counter-protesters were on the side generally understood as standing for good, whereas those who came out supporting neo-Nazism and White Supremacy were on the side generally condemned as morally reprehensible by most people--but not Trump. He seemed to be suggesting that those who were marching to  promote Fascism, neo-Nazism, White Supremacy and racism, and those who came out to oppose them, were equally to blame for unhappy times in Charlottesville. If the racists and neo-Nazis had been allowed to march in peace, everything would have been fine.

Would it really? No problem to have hate-chanting, weapon-wielding, torch-bearing Nazis marching in our streets,intimidating and terrorizing other Americans?

The presence of the racists and Nazis in Charlottesville was bad enough, and the president's response a further assault on decency, but there is a specifically Pagan angle to this that I am very sorry to have to report. Some of the White Supremacists in Charlottesville were bearing Pagan symbols, associating themselves with Norse-Germanic Paganism. This is the very kind of thing that led me to create this blog in the first place, and here it is again, an ugly distortion of Paganism to serve far-right, fascist ends, twisted into the service of racism and White Supremacy. This is a call to battle for all of us who believe in a liberal, tolerant Paganism. We must stand up for diversity and tolerance and against those who wish to define  Paganism in racial and militaristic terms, the combination of which produces such toxic brews as Nazism and White Supremacy. This is deadly serious business. Stand up, speak out, as peacefully and firmly as you can, avoiding conflict when you can, but engaging when you must.

May the Gods give us strength.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

President Loki

Any rich religious tradition supplies us with many mirrors and windows through which to gaze at both our world and ourselves, the outer and the inner. Certainly the Norse Pagan tradition, which was already old before the Vikings ever set sail upon the ocean, is such a prism of imaginative possibilities. Today, as my outer eye was reading the New York Times and reflecting on the latest tweets and tantrums of President Trump, my other eye was looking into the mirror of Norse mythology and seeing the god Loki, and it occurred to me that there is a lot of Loki in our president. Both are born troublemakers who are good at stirring up strife and slinging insults and who seem to glory in creating chaos and discord. Trump clawed his way to the top of the Republican pack while slamming his competitors with pejorative nick-names like "Little Marco," "Lyin' Ted" and "Low-Energy Jeb." Then when he had the nomination in his pocket he turned his attention to the Democratic candidate on whom he bestowed the belittling title of "Crooked Hillary." How much this childish name-calling succeeded in damaging his opponents is unclear, but it may well have helped sour voters on these other possibilities as well as subconsciously charmed wavering voters to incline towards Trump as an entertaining rascal whose mockery and aggressiveness they found endearing. There are, after all, many people who do not follow politics closely, and may have voted for entirely superficial reasons or simply wanted to express displeasure with the status quo, for which purpose Trump, with his hateful, insulting rhetoric and disregard for any norms or decorum, was ideally suited.

This is much like how Loki unloads buckets of scorn and gossip on the other gods in the banquet described in the Eddic poem Lokasenna. Loki eventually gets so caught up in the joy of mockery that he cannot resist confessing that he was involved in the murder of Odin's son, Baldur. The gods' patience runs out when they hear this, and they seize Loki and bind and imprison him for the duration of history, until the apocalypse of Ragnarok when he breaks free to become the champion of the giants, the demons and the dead, who he commands in the final battle that destroys the world. One could imagine Trump's career taking a somewhat similar course. If the other Republicans in Congress get worn out by Trump's endless drama, bottomless vindictiveness and unceasing ad hominem attacks on anyone who displeases or opposes him, and if Trump's capacity for careless talk leads him to confess to serious crimes beyond the questionable actions he has already acknowledged in his diarrhea-like Twitter feed, the Republicans may decide to team up with their sworn enemies, the Democrats, in impeaching this reckless ogre and getting him out of office, and if not into prison, at least out of the political system. However, Trump's "forgotten man" supporters, who see him as their standard-bearer and messiah and seem impervious to any criticism of their savior, may well rally to him when he leaves office and give him new power to shape public opinion, promote conspiracy theories, and stir up angry trouble from a position as the head of a media outlet like Breitbart or FOX News.

Loki is also the father of some rather unpleasant and troublesome children, and the conflict-of-interest controversies swirling around Trump's daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr., not to mention Ivanka's husband Jared Kushner provide interesting parallels. Trump's affection for authoritarian, dictatorial leaders like Putin of Russia, Duterte of the Phillpines, and El-Sisi of Egypt, not to mention his love of fossil fuel products and companies regardless of the damage they cause to the environment, also brings to mind Loki's warm relations with monsters who are bent on the destruction of the world as we know it. In my previous posting, I spoke of the Midgard Serpent as an analogy for fossil fuel structures like pipelines that encircle our planet and weave in and out of the earth. Well, in Norse tradition, the Serpent is the son of none other than Loki. If Trump is Loki or like Loki, it stands to reason he would have great affection for a monstrous entity that has the entire planet in its grip and no love for humanity.

So, readers, what do you think? Is Trump America's Loki? Is he a destructive force than can be restrained, but not eliminated from our world? Who will be our Thor to rid us of this menace?  Or will we never be rid of him, because many find his poisonous words and chaotic, maddening maneuvering clever and entertaining, and in sync with their own wishes for aggression, revenge  and destruction?


Addendum:  Since writing this entry, I have discovered that I am not the only person to perceive a similarity between Loki and Trump. See   and

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Black Snake, the Midgard Serpent--and Us

Where I live in the Hudson Valley, NY State area, my local community is facing a terrible environmental threat. This is the construction of a huge natural gas-fired power plant, the CPV Power Plant in Wawayanda NY, that will belch out massive pollution into the air and water, threatening health and well-being throughout our area, poisoning our water supply and  running the risk of massive explosions.

See to learn more. If you live in the Orange County area, the web site will tell you action that you can take. Time is of the essence! The final permit needed for the project will be decided by early August, so the more people call and write to Governor Cuomo, who will make the final decision, the better our chances to stop this nightmare. Tell Andrew Cuomo to not approve the permit, because we need to stop the Power Plant. Call the governor at 1-518-474-8390. Call every day if you can. You can also leave comments at Cuomo gives every indication of wanting to run for president in 2020. Let him know that if he stops this project, you will consider supporting him in any future presidential campaign, and that if he does not, you will take your business elsewhere!

I have decided to reflect on the situation through the lens of Norse Mythology.  Is the threat like the Frost Giants looking to snuff out the sun, or is it the Fire Demon Surt looking to burn up the earth? Well, both of those could be said to symbolize the current state of danger, but there is another mythological image that works even better: Thor fighting the Midgard Serpent. What made me think of this is something I heard today  at a protest today in front of The Threat. A Native American man, a descendant of the local Lenape Native Americans who ancient burial ground is threatened by the CPV plant, spoke about the Indian myth of a "black snake" that poses a danger to the earth. He argued that the massive push by oil and gas companies to build pipelines and drill for gas and oil everywhere as much and as fast as possible was the modern version of the Black Snake. A second speaker noted that just as the snake can burrow into the ground and grow multiple heads that reach into all directions, so does the Millennium Pipeline, the local structure providing distribution of fracked gas in this area, represent a hydra-headed menace growing day by day as construction of this and related pipelines proceeds. Pondering the snake image, I thought of the Midgard Serpent, Thor's ancient enemy, who he must fight again and again, never quite vanquishing but hopefully keeping in check.

This pipeline and this power plant, and all the other power plants and pipelines that similarly threaten other communities, are our Midgard Serpent. We must, like Thor, raise our hammers to fight it back. Victory will not come all at once, or it may only be partial, or it may never come, but we must fight.

Protect the Earth. Protect Midgard, the only world we humans have. Remember Thor.  Fight back the Serpent. This is our duty.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Global Depression

Dear Readers,

I have never before let this blog fall silent for so long. It is a measure of how terribly dispirited I have been feeling, watching the Trump presidency unfold. Almost every day there is a new outrage, a new insult to intelligence, a new threat to either the fabric of American society, to our international relations, or to the health of the planet. It is simply overwhelming. Trump goes to Saudi Arabia and embraces the authoritarian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, not to mention the unelected rulers of the Saudi royal family, a monarchy straight out of the Middle Ages that exports a highly fundamentalist form of Islam that feeds into the Islamic extremism of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, while hurling insults and threats at Iran, which despite its flaws, is a country where people actually get to vote for their leaders in relatively free elections, unlike Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Then he goes to Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, and criticizes the leaders of Europe for not paying more for the NATO alliance, even while refusing to reaffirm America's commitment to the basic principle of the NATO alliance, the "one-for-all and all-for-one" idea that any attack on any NATO country will be viewed as an attack on all NATO countries and mobilize the entire alliance to repel the aggression.

It is hard to contemplate Trump's eagerness to berate America's NATO allies and his unwillingness to restate America's commitment without feeling deeply worried that he is signaling to Russia that America is unconcerned about Russia's invasion of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine, which could embolden Putin and his generals to think about further actions to destabilize, weaken and possibly reclaim parts of the former Soviet Union, most crucially, the Baltic States. And now this week, his announcement that the US will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord is the most sickening moment of all. Like Hitler and Mussolini proudly denouncing international cooperation in the 1930s as Germany and Italy quit the League of Nations, Trump has expressed contempt for the nearly 200 countries that worked together to craft that finely-balanced, far-sighted accord, and proclaimed once more that "America First" is his guiding star, oblivious to the fact that rejecting  this agreement will mean America becoming marginalized or even irrelevant in further discussions on the single greatest issue facing mankind today: the fate of our planet and the conditions for all life on earth.

In explaining his decision to abandon the Paris treaty the other day, Trump said that he is tired of other countries laughing at America, and that they won't be laughing any more. I think this statement give us insight into a central paranoia within Trump World, the nagging suspicion that he is not properly respected by other people--"they're laughing at me''--which now, in his thinking, applies to America as well. While Trump is not America, it is true that for the next several years, he is the face America shows to the world, and to that extent, how other countries see Trump is how they will see America. However, I strongly doubt that people in other countries will now be laughing less at America with Trump as head of state. It may even be the opposite. The reactions, however, are not limited to laughter. I sense that people in Europe and elsewhere are shaking their heads in disgust, feeling sad about America's declining status as a leading country, and some may even be crying instead of laughing.

I also wonder what this does to Paganism.  Trump's continuing use of anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner rhetoric, his continuing push for a nonsensical ban on travel to America from a number of Muslim-majority countries,  and the stepped up raids and arrests of undocumented workers from Mexico and Latin America,  are all sure to be received well by right-wing Americans who love to see non-white, non-Christian people harassed and demeaned, even if such actions do nothing to improve their lot in today's dysfunctional, winner-take-all economy, in which automation and corporate greed do as much to displace jobs as any foreign trade agreements. At least they can feel that they are "better" than "those people," those non-white, non-Christian Others who they enjoy scorning and/or hating and/or fearing. I assume that some right-wing Pagans will also enjoy this kind of elevation of white, European-descended Americans over non-white, non-European descended others. But what about the Christian element? Do right-wing Pagans ignore this aspect of Trumpism? Perhaps some ex-Christian, right wing Pagans will actually be persuaded to return to Christianity, seeing this as their best option for upholding their racialized sense of identity and their attachment to European heritage in this age of Trump. Others may take a more "a la carte" approach, embracing Trump's scorn for non-white, non-European people, especially Muslims, Mexicans and Latin Americans which is also expressed, more subtly, in his disinterest in any government action to aid African-Americans, while choosing to overlook Trump's appeals to Christian identity.

For Pagans who feel a strong connection to European culture and heritage, Trump's pro-Russian, anti-NATO, anti-EU leanings pose an interesting challenge. Most  European Pagans in formerly Soviet-controlled lands are pleased to be out of the Soviet Union--or in the case of Central European countries like Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia,out of the Soviet Bloc--and are are not eager to return to some Putinized mafia-state recreation of the Soviet Empire. Will they and their counterparts in America feel gratified by President Trump weakening European defenses against Russian aggression, whether this be outright invasion as in Crimea, borderland conflict as in Eastern Ukraine, cyber attacks against former Soviet states as happened in Estonia in 2007, or interference in election campaigns as was attempted in France and Germany this year, and seem to have played a role in the Brexit vote in the UK and the denigration of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential campaign last year? It could be that many American Pagans do not care or know enough about contemporary politics in Europe to take any stand at all. They may prefer to just stick to their European-derived traditions without thinking much about the current state of the Europe from which their traditions derive. My wish would be that Pagans would open their eyes to what is happening in the world and take a stand with European leaders, and European Pagan groups, in opposing Russian interference or domination of their countries, and in also opposing Trump's friendliness toward Russia until Russia ceases its interference in countries across Europe.

I would also hope that Pagans in America, all of whom claim to love nature and the gods of nature, would see Trump's cruel, ignorant and dangerous decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord as an affront to one of their primary religious values. Even if they are right-wing leaning, as I know some American Pagans are, I urge them to realize that Mother Earth--or whatever name the totality of our beautiful natural world has in any particular Pagan tradition or any particular Pagan's thinking--is calling out to us. I do believe that as Pagans, we have a duty to resist Trump to protect the Earth. This will be a test of whether Paganism in America is really a nature-based form of spirituality, as its followers have often asserted, or whether white tribalism is really the core value.

Right now, I find it hard to be optimistic.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Seeking Inspiration in a Time of Exhaustion

Dear Friends, if, like me, you are a liberal, a leftist, or even just a compassionate person in America, or if you are somewhere else in the world looking in at this country, I am sure that you must find the non-stop barrage of insults, threats, aggression and intolerance issuing forth from the Trump White House mentally exhausting and spiritually depleting, as I do. I have been especially appalled by the ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which disrupted so many people's lives for no good purpose, and which sets the tone for increased animosity and ill will between the USA and the Muslims of the world. It had become the norm in recent decades to hear U.S. presidents extol the virtues of diversity and inclusiveness, but Trump has turned his back on all this in order to push the country on a retrograde path back toward the worst moments in American history, the ones that cause intelligent Americans to hang their heads in shame, the times when blacks were enslaved, segregated and lynched, when native peoples were exterminated and dispossessed, when Japanese-Americans were interned in concentration camps, when artists and intellectuals were hounded for real or imagined communist sympathies, when Vietnamese were demonized as “gooks,” when Iraqi prisoners of war were tormented and humiliated in violation of the Geneva convention, when gays, lesbians and other non-heterosexuals had to live in constant fear of harassment, humiliation and beatings ranging from the frightening to the fatal. As we see with the Muslim Ban executive order—which in Trumpian terms is of course NOT a Muslim Ban even though it mainly affects Muslims and is the fulfillment of a campaign promise Trump made for months—Trump is obviously going to use “national security” as the justification for all manner of oppressive actions toward ethnic and religious minorities and any and all who dare to criticize or oppose him. I fear that we are living in a time not unlike 1930s Germany, where the storm cloud are gathering and the storm troopers are massing.

But I digress. There is much to say about the actions of the Trump regime and what we can and must do to fight back against them, but my main point today is to muse on how we must be careful to not let the constant din and doom of Trump and his minions so exhaust and deplete us that we are unable to do anything besides reflecting the darkness and dishonesty that is now emanating from the White House like radiation from Chernobyl. We need sources of solace and comfort, reassurance and inspiration. Different people will seek out different points of refuge and recharging. For me, this means turning toward Paganism.

As my strongest affinity is for the Norse (Germanic) Pagan traditions of Scandinavia and Iceland, I look there first. I see first of all that the world of the Norse myths is a world of uncertainty, struggle and often great sorrow. It is one in which the god of wisdom and knowledge is tortured, first gaining wisdom in a painful, shamanistic self-sacrifice, second, seeing his own son killed and being unable to help him, third, preparing to lead the gods in battle against gigantic forces of destruction, all the time knowing, owing to his power of foresight, that his side is going to lose, despite their best and most valiant efforts, and the world is going to be ruined and burnt. We are told in the Eddic poem Voluspá that in the end, or rather, after the end, after all has been destroyed, there is the possibility that the world will re-emerge, and that the gods too will be restored; or maybe not.

Relating this to our own situation, I see that we who seek knowledge and wisdom in difficult times should not be surprised to find ourselves feeling tortured, psychologically speaking, when we see our society electing a dangerously ignorant, rage-driven buffoon who unleashes a maelstrom of chaos, confusion and brutality, cheered on by equally ignorant and rage-driven hordes. Obviously, this mental torture could even become a physical experience, should we internalize our anxiety and sorrow to where it causes bodily ailments like hypertension, ulcers, strokes or heart attacks. It could also become a physical reality if the Trump regime decides that “national security” requires the interrogation, detention, and/or public shaming of regime opponents, echoing the “Red Scare” tribunals and blacklists of the 1950s.

I also think of Yggdrasil, the “World Tree” in Norse mythology, which supports and connects all worlds but itself suffers daily from being continually gnawed and damaged by various beings who come to feed on its branches and shoots. This reminds me of how in our modern world, the kinds of institutional systems that support and connect the world and provide succor and aid to many are under constant threat from the right-wingers like Trump, Pence and Ryan who seek to cut off the branches of government and let the tree of international cooperation wither, so that all will be left to fend for themselves, the weak and poor having no recourse, the wealthy and powerful feeling no responsibility, and institutional supports that make life better for the disadvantaged and lessen animosity and inequality between the peoples of the world, degraded if not dismantled. I would not doubt that right-wing Pagans have different interpretations, perhaps viewing Norse mythology through the lens of Ayn Rand and thinking of the tree as the society of the "maker" elite whose wonderful works and wealth are unfairly drained and diminished by the parasitic class of unproductive "takers," the world's underclass, regarded here as the architects of their own infirmity through their laziness, stupidity and "poor choices," with Ragnarök as the necessary destruction of an evil, socialistic world order that caters to the demented underclass rather than their majestic overlords. Myths, like any texts, are of course open to interpretation, and I can only say that mine is the one that makes sense to me and meshes with my values and concerns. I would hope it resonates with some of you as well.

I feel a special connection to trees. Whenever I see them, they comfort me and seem pillars of natural health and vitality, rooted deep, reaching high, providing shade and shelter for all living beings, free of charge. I always lament when I see trees harmed or cut down when there seems no urgent necessity. The status of trees seems to me a bellwether of the state of society. A society that values trees and greenery, and does not feel the need to mow down trees to create a blankly utilitarian landscape, is a healthier, saner one, in my view, than that which sees trees as a nuisance and would prefer dead concrete or an artificially perfect, chemical-drenched green lawn.

The plight of the World Tree is reflected in so many situations that one sees everywhere, everyday, above all the horrendous threat to the world's weather systems posed by climate change and global warming, which echoes the disturbance of nature said to presage the final destruction in the prophecy of the Voluspá. The Tree suffers much but still sustains us all, and I think this is the right way to think of one's moral duty in society in troubled times such as ours. We may have to suffer with and from people whose ideas and intentions seem ill-informed, distorted, destructive and hateful, but we must never forget to support and sustain human AND humane society and the health and well-being of the natural order which in turn gives us our health and well-being. Like Odin, we must seek wisdom, even if the quest is torturous and painful, and we must muster all our strength, intelligence and courage, even if we sense that the forces arrayed against us are truly ferocious and horrifically powerful.

The ambiguous ending of the Ragnarök tale in Voluspá gives room for hope that the powers of destruction, whether Frost-Giants, Fire-Demons, or Fascistic American Presidents, will not prevail forever. Their day will pass and a new day will dawn. We just have to hold on as best we can and make sure that the things we hold in our hearts as true and valuable and life-enhancing are not forgotten or erased, so that they may rise up as beacons of hope after the floodwaters of darkness subside. Like the gods in Voluspá, we must keep in mind that while our own time is limited, the world will go on, and we should dedicate ourselves to giving what we can to make that future world better than the one that we now see engulfed in flames. Pagans tend to look to the past, to enjoy reliving and reviving traditions of many centuries ago, but we should not forget that those traditions also looked to the future. The Vikings didn't stay at home and remain passive when times were hard. They went out and created a new world, reaching toward the future.

The hour of Trump will pass. Remember that, and don't let him drag you down into his angry darkness. Find peace and courage in nature, which endures much, but always regenerates.... eventually. Even Chernobyl, site of one of the world's worst environmental calamities, has green plants growing and animals roaming.

When his son Baldur was dead and his body laid out for his cremation, Odin bent down to his corpse and whispered something into his ear. According to the myths, no one knows what it was that the All-Father said. As there would seem little point in speaking to someone truly dead and departed, it may be that Odin knew something about the future, a future in which Baldur--and the world--would be revived, as is indeed suggested in the final lines of Voluspá.

I like that idea just now.... Something beyond the darkness.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Trump Trends

The victory of Donald Trump shocked and dismayed me, as it did many other Americans and people around the world, which I know from the reactions of my friends in Europe. The prospect of what he may do as President is truly alarming and I find my psyche in a near-constant state of low level anxiety as I numbly await the new president's inauguration. I am, however, feeling greater clarity about how and why such a man could be elected. My thoughts are not comforting, except that there is always some small measure of comfort in being able to make sense of what otherwise seems senseless and incomprehensible.

I realize that there were quite a few social and cultural trends that led to Trump becoming president. First of all, ever since the Reagan years, if not earlier, American society has been filled with two opposite but in a sense, complementary messages about who and what is worthy of respect and who and what is not. Politicians and public servants, indeed, the public sector itself, indeed, the very concept of government, have been consistently denigrated and vilified, even as millionaire businessmen and billionaire entrepreneurs have been held up as the heroes of our world. Look at Trump vs. Clinton through that lens, and it is clear what an enormous tailwind of attitude and perception was boosting Trump's political fortunes, no pun intended, at every stage of the campaign.

Then there is the rise of reality television as a major genre of entertainment in America. I first mistyped this as entertaint-ment, but that may have been a Freudian slip expressing my dim view of this misbegotten genre. Reality TV aided Trump's rise in two ways. First of all, as the star of one of the most popular of all reality TV programs for 14 years, Trump became a familiar face to audiences across America, a major plus for his campaign. As a constant presence on people's TV screens, Trump became a trusted, comforting presence, however rude and unpleasant his TV persona. Secondly, as reality TV depends on the entertainment value of characters who are loud, abusive, argumentative and all-around obnoxious, Trump both got training in portraying the kind of personality that many Americans find interesting and entertaining, and America got training in relating to this kind of personality, so that when a person acting in this manner became a candidate in a political campaign, a considerable segment of the American population was primed and ready to find him fascinating and irresistible. This may have also helped protect Trump from criticism of his many faux pas, crude and mean behavior and outright contradictions, as the reality TV audience "knows" that this kind of behavior is the very secret of success for reality programs, not something to be objected to, but something to be applauded.

There have also been many different ways in which aggressiveness and just plain meanness have been championed in American popular culture and social mores for many years. "Nice guys finish last" is a cliche that expresses a widely shared view of human nature in our competitive society. On the international stage, diplomacy and humanitarian assistance are seen as "weak" and "wasteful." Armies, wars and weapons are praised as inherently virtuous and not only excused, but rewarded for their failures. In today's macho-aggressive America, no one wants to be a "wimp" or a "loser," the latter term being one of Trump's favorite terms of disparagement. Trump's vicious comments and cruel nick-names for "Lying' Ted," "Little Marco," "Low-energy" Jeb Bush, and "Crooked Hillary" are not unlike the snappy one-liners that action heroes utter as they dispatch villains with their karate-kicks and high-tech weapons. Hollywood action films have trained us to enjoy and expect this kind of behavior, this slaying with sarcasm, this trope of psychologically as well as physically beating on the bad guys, and Trump was in this regard acting out a role that Americans know and love. The fact that this has little to do with understanding complex issues, getting along with other people, or crafting intelligent policies to improve life in America mattered not a whit; entertainment value trumps all. Trump had little experience in government affairs, but considerable experience as an engaging television entertainer. Clinton had the opposite background, and the result of the election made clear which kind of experience was more meaningful to many voters.

Trump's admiration for Russia's "strong man" leader Vladimir Putin also fits in with this trend of high regard for cruelty and aggression. Trump has praised Putin as a "real leader," a praise that cannot be divorced from Putin's brutal track record as a leader who bullies, intimidates, arrests and even executes his critics, censors the press, and drops cluster bombs on civilian populations in Syria. In the worldview of Trump, and presumably his followers, this brutality is not condemned but condoned, even lauded as the essence of "leadership." I know another word for this style of leadership: Fascism.

Then there is social media's impact. Trump clearly loves Twitter, and Twitter clearly loves Trump. His inability to formulate complex thoughts in a coherent manner is not a liability in an age in which many people communicate through 140 character thought-belches. As thought-belcher-in-chief, Trump will either train the media and the public to love this style of communication from the office of the president, or he will make such mangled and childish communication so disreputable that he will bring down Twitter with him.

The rise of right-wing media was another factor, as angry, anti-liberal, anti-government, race-baiting talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly established a platform, a mode of discourse, and an angry white male persona that were ideal for Trump's anti-liberal, anti-elite, anti-"politically correct," perpetually pissed-off, and racially charged style of angry populism. The many years in which such right-wing media, especially FOX News, had endlessly trump-eted accusations of corruption and misconduct against Hillary Clinton and before her, Bill Clinton, created a cloud of mistrust around Hillary which made it impossible for her to reach segments of the population whose brains had long steeped in the anti-Hillary paranoia of the "tea party." The shooting incident in the Washington pizza parlor after "fake news" reports of Secretary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta operating a pedophilia ring among the pepperoni and pizza dough shows how effective that kind of paranoid internet propaganda can be in poisoning the minds of the mentally unprotected. The further evolution of far-right media into internet-based distortion fields like Alex Jones' program and Breitbart News also primed the population to follow a candidate who embraced such media, as Trump did.

Taken together, we can see that Trump's political success rests on many different pillars in our sick and troubled society. To resist Trump and what he represents, we must apply ourselves to counteracting and deconstructing the attitudes, perceptions and tastes that made his seemingly implausible rise to power so very plausible that we might even say it was inevitable. I hate to say it, but the preponderance of evidence, the logic of my argument, and the brutal reality of his electoral success all require it: Trump truly is a man of our times. However, to paraphrase Bob Dylan's words from 50+ years ago, the times are always a-changin,' and so there is hope.
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