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A short back-to-school quiz, for those of us who are not going back to school.

Who penned these words?

Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart--one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? (My underlining.)

Let's see, was it Frost? Hemingway? Springsteen? Poe?

If you said Poe, you win! (What gave it away?)

Ever since Trump became president, I’ve thought a lot about Poe's fixation on perverseness. (I've thought a lot about perversion, too, beginning at about the same time, but that’s a different Trump essay.) Today it’s perverseness—that desire to do the wrong thing because it is the wrong thing—that seems to pervade the Trump presidency.

  • Immigrants are being treated inhumanely—let’s deport the ones who are here legally.

  • Greenhouse gases are exacerbating climate change—let’s relax the restrictions on releasing methane into the air.

  • Russia interfered with the election of 2016 (and probably more)—let’s squelch any attempts to secure our polling places and machines.

  • Auto mileage standards are beginning to reduce carbon emissions—let’s cut back the restrictions even though auto manufacturers and oil companies want them.

  • The world is moving toward renewable energy—let’s open the Alaskan wilderness to drilling.

It’s the thumb in the eye for no good reason other than Trump has a thumb. It’s the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” murdering the old man because he was there. It’s the narrator of the “Black Cat” killing the animal because it had shown its owner some affection. It's Poe at his darkest, and Trump at his most twisted.

Find eye—insert thumb.

If Poe were alive today, he’d be writing little grotesques about narrators who promoted plastic straws, or reopened coal mines, or dumped industrial waste into fishing streams, or made sure that the average working American had no health care. (He’d also be 210 years old, so don’t look for him. Like Frederick Douglass, Poe is dead. As with Douglass, Trump probably doesn't know that. Yet.)

But the spirit of perverseness that Poe delineated so precisely is alive and well, coursing through the White House and mirrored by millions in their MAGA hats. Old men and cats, beware! The rest of us too.

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