Reflective Reactions or Reactive Reflection
Guillermo Calvo Mahé, Wednesday, January 4, 2017
It’s the first week of 2017. Another new year and politically, another launch of a purportedly new era with a new congress in place and a new president in the wings. The mainstream news media, apparently still in shock over the results of the recent elections (it was unable to manipulate) is in paroxystic convulsion spewing endless streams of hyperbole, hate and ill wishes, harbingers in black. Unable to ignore what is being passed as news, some of us almost involuntarily wonder how a purportedly egocentric, inarticulate but successful media manipulator, managed, after a lifetime as a somewhat annoying cipher, to become the purported worst person in the history of the world (and that in one notable year without yet doing anything terrible other than hitting his stride in a series of upset victories).
At his worst this particular person represents the views of too many among us, way too many, not a majority but enough, when paired with an even worse person (whose main difference involves being much more articulate and having a horrible track record), to bring us to where we find ourselves today.
Is there an “at his best”? Not according to the news.
So, what the heck happened, where are we, where are we going and who the Hell brought us here?
The now voluminously reverberating echoes scream: “we’re at the brink, the brink I tell you, can’t you see that”? But a few of us, perhaps more reflective, ask ourselves, … “the brink of what”? Those of us who dare to ask that question are, of course, in an uncomfortable position in this “if you’re not with us you you’re against us” moment but there have been so many of these moments in the past half century that they’ve attained a kind of permanence and perhaps some of us are becoming enured. Still, we find ourselves in a precarious no-man’s land, stuck between advocates of starker and starker divisiveness demanding that we do all in our power to prevent opponents from attaining any success lest our condition be somewhat ameliorated and “they” receive the credit.
So I sit here, reflecting, writing, and wondering what I’ll have said when I finish. Here goes:
“The Donald” (a self-attributed sobriquet reminiscent of Scottish clan leaders although his descent, as I understand it, is German) is the focus of the current maelstrom. So what do I know about him, if anything, what are my perceptions concerning him, how did I develop them and how reasonable are they? Can I honestly and competently evaluate them?
My perceptions of Donald John Trump are complex, recently (unavoidably) tainted by what to me seems a concerted and possibly uniquely focused, orchestrated and decibel breaking media. Calumnies fill the air from one side and bombastity from the other.
I confess that I’ve never cared for Mr. Trump. My first recollections concerning him involved an article mentioning him in the New York Times; now somewhat discredited but back then, I believed it encompassed “all the news that was fit to print”. My perception, colored by the Time’s portrayal, was of a young go-getter parlaying Manhattan slums into a growing fortune with a little help from his friends, City Hall and his dad. Somehow the article’s tenor generated annoyance, distrust and perhaps, under layers of my own obfuscation, a bit of envy. That was probably during the nineteen seventies. Since then he’s been in the public spotlight on and off as a second or third tier financial success; not at the level of a Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs or even a Richard Branson, but enough to keep him in the public spotlight.
He has always seemed controversial to me, too self-justifying to really be hypocritical, although an echo or shadow of hypocrisy always seemed to linger near him. I found the women in his life extremely attractive but strangely distant from him, as though he really didn’t know them, as though they were imports he’d acquired, polished, used a bit, then discarded, albeit with very decent severance packages. I wondered why and how he’d decided to mix beauty pageants with real estate although again, perhaps I was a bit envious and hypocritical, I’m pretty sure that given the choice I might have done the same; I’ve always been fascinated at multiple levels with the aesthetics of feminine physical beauty but I perceive that unlike “the Donald”, on a personal level my interests are almost always holistic, I look for everything in the women in my life, intellect, curiosity, humor, artistry, and wonder just what it was they’ve found in me (for as long as we last), something I doubt ever troubled Mr. Trump.
I hated his sojourn into reality TV in “the Apprentice” which to me projected not entrepreneurial success but rather discourteous bombastity, lack of sensitivity and neither any sense of diplomacy nor of the illusively allusive concept of “class”. However, I must confess that I did very little more than glimpse at a few frames of the program flashed on TV in promotional slots. Thus, as in so much of the imagery I’ve developed concerning Mr. Trump, his “persona” infiltrated my consciousness through a media that might not really ever have had his (or my) best interests at heart, a media that seemed to resent him but could not find it in itself to ignore him. I wonder if that media generated persona engendered feedback loops within the mainstream media and within Mr. Trump, affecting them both? Probably so.
I’ve had only two very brief, somewhat directly indirect interactions with Mr. Trump and both served to deepen my negative perception, one deservedly and one very unfairly.
First, the last (hmmm, almost biblical, I wonder why). I met him only once, at a charity event in Miami shortly after publication of his book, the “Art of the Deal”, at a time when I was very involved in the lurid world of mergers and acquisitions and roll ups and corporate finance. He was helping raise funds to fight cancer and, along with other “celebrities”, was cooking for potential donors. That has to be considered as admirable but he just hit me the wrong way for apparently intangible reasons. In hind sight, I have to admit that the media had already crafted my perception. He rubbed me the wrong way without even noticing me and I noticed him the wrong way without in any real way knowing him. Very unfair. Perhaps something that has impacted most of us.
My second interaction with him was less direct but more important and more revealing. It involved his association with New York Military Academy (NYMA) from which he graduated in 1964, the same year that I graduated from a cross state rival, Eastern Military Academy (Eastern). Most people have absolutely no idea of what a military education entails, seeing it as restrictive, intolerant, bellicose, the antithesis of creativity, but in my experience they’re very wrong. The renowned author Pat Conroy (the rebel with many causes, most importantly trying to understand himself and his relationship with his father), a diehard and very creative liberal who graduated a year before me from the Citadel, frequently made that point. Like many other military academies in the Northeast, Eastern had closed during the late 1970’s and NYMA had adopted our alumni as well as alumni from several other defunct (ugly word) institutions (e.g., the Peekskill and LaSalle military academies). That generated deep affection, respect, gratitude and admiration among us. During the past decade NYMA had faced the serious threat of closing and sought financial help from, among others, Mr. Trump, whom it considered one of its most illustrious alumni. Seemingly he just ignored them.
At the time I was co-chairman of the Eastern Military Academy Alumni Association and collaborated with alumni leadership at NYMA who shared with us their then current financial tribulations and concerns. Survival of NYMA, the last private military academy in the Northeast (or at least in New York) was very important to all of us and we were flabbergasted by Mr. Trump’s attitude. Fairly or not, military academy graduates expect a great deal from each other and a great deal of loyalty towards our alma maters and towards those who follow us in streams of long grey lines and bands of gold. Mr. Trump let us all down. My disappointment turned to dismay when, after deciding to consider his presidential options, newly minted candidate Trump made the now traditional GOP candidates’ visit to the Citadel. To me, as is the case with almost all of its alumni, the Citadel is a special, almost sacred repository of nobility and idealism; imperfect but always striving to develop the best in all of us, not only while we’re there, put permanently. It crystalizes the best of times and the worst of times, serious errors followed by serious and sincere efforts to correct them. Alumni leave parts of their souls in its sally ports and abandoning it at a time of need would be anathema. Given that perception, Mr. Trump’s visit seemed sacrilegious to me. Perhaps bombastity is catching and I’d too caught it. I had no right to determine how Mr. Trump spent his money. The current crop of Citadel cadets, having become more and more right wing as more and more graduates are sacrificed in our now apparently endless wars, accepted him warmly. Still, that further affected my negative perception of Mr. Trump. Again, perhaps, unfairly, but perhaps fairness is difficult to gauge in the cognitive processes by which, accumulating data and perceptions, we reach conclusions concerning others we don’t really know.
Now, returning from my past reveries and having established a context, … about the president elect:
Mr. Trump, having dared to challenge and then defeat the mainstream media’s darling candidate (although perhaps most of us perceive her somewhat differently) is about to attain the most powerful role in the world. That is causing many a great deal of dismay, perhaps, albeit very well hidden, even to himself. The audacity that bred his current political success has generated a huge reaction in liberal circles and most of the mainstream media, armies of trolls and pundits are trying to assure that he pay a price for that audacity. Perhaps that’s always the case.
Audacious and unpredictable seem to be commonly agreed upon perceptions concerning Mr. Trump, regardless of whether you love or loathe him. From my perspective, as a military academy graduate he has to have been exposed to the concepts of honor and duty and sacrifice and the concept of “the road less traveled”. However, such exposure does not always stick and even if it has, it doesn’t provide reliable clues as to the decisions he’ll take. I hope that he’ll take his daunting responsibilities seriously and that he’ll do the best he can.
I believe that he is non-partisan and insincere politically, opportunistic (a trait that has worked well for him entrepreneurially), pragmatic rather than ideological, and that in the end, many of his more outspoken supporters will rue their votes. I see all of those as “probably” good things but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, an example of the naiveté that proponents of lesser evils so strongly criticize. Even if he winds up surprisingly positive and effective, his opponents are unlikely to concede anything. Rather, as in the case with too many of the current president’s opponents, even if they approve of decisions he makes it will probably have little or no impact on their detestation of his person.
One way or another, I expect he’ll grow in the job. His hair will turn gray and he‘ll change. All presidents seem to. And frequently for the better.
So, … I sit, pondering, wondering, analyzing and perhaps, most of all, hoping.
While, like many, I feel fear and uncertainty with respect to many of the planks in the GOP’s electoral platform, some of it an anachronistic blend of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and delusions concerning economic and climactic realities, I look with hope to more realistic and less antagonistic international relations.
Given Mr. Trump’s unpredictability nothing is certain but I very much hope that he succeeds in a manner that reflects my hopes for a better world, a just and equitable and peaceful world, and I will not be saddened if he does.
Crow would be a welcome dish.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved