If I might refer to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (please don’t run away just yet!) there’s a dialogue near the beginning of the poem in which Satan laments that he will probably never be able to defeat God, but if he can take the good in the world and subvert it, that will be satisfactory.
I thought of this when I heard Donald Trump’s absurdly intemperate response to George W. Bush’s call for unity in the fight against the coronavirus. And though I’ve thought of it before, this incident seemed to bring one fact about Donald Trump into sharp focus for even the most servile of his followers: Trump recognizes good, but finds it repugnant. If he can subvert it, topple it, overturn it, and if possible turn it into something evil, that's a perfect day
In his myopic and emotionally stunted world only he can do good, but the great irony that doing good lies completely outside his capabilities escapes him. Incapable of joy or wonder, devoid of curiosity and empathy, driven by narcissism and sociopathy, he has separated us all into two camps: those who agree with everything he says, and the enemy.
Speaking as a member of the latter camp, I can see our numbers growing almost as quickly as the revised revisions of the coronavirus death tolls. Yesterday the estimate jumped from 60,000 to 100,000, though private administration figures indicate a total closer to 160,000 by June 1 when deaths are expected to reach 3000 a day—all this amidst continuing assertions by the president that he is doing a magnificent job.
It turns out that the earlier, less horrifying predictions, were based on a country with a responsible leader, a country willing to sacrifice many of its personal freedoms and pleasures for the greater good. It turns out we Americans—the great majority of us—were capable of doing so: all we lacked in the end was that leader. And that's where are today—fifty separate boats, a few with rudders, most without, drifting along with no real charts to follow and even the stars muddled and blurry.
In late March, a former student responded to one of my dire predictions with the suggestion that I get a grip—every year the flu kills more people he said. I thought at the time the person was merely another victim of Trump’s cult of personality, but now I see it as something more heinous—a willingness to stare down the facts and deny them, even as they are occurring, even as they endanger our lives and the lives of those around us. In Trump's camp people gleefully flaunt their own ignorance, scoff at science, and create their own truths out of whole cloth, all in veneration of a man who would squash them like a bug and never look back.
I think I have that grip now.
When someone does something to make our days a little less tedious and more bearable—even a completely nonpartisan message like W’s, the president cannot acknowledge that with anything other than annoyance. As with Milton's protagonist, good must be subverted; kindness must be negated. And as he goes it alone, lost and confused and ignorant of fact and oblivious to human emotion, all we can do is hope that, as with Milton’s demonic protagonist, Trump's future victories are tentative and minor.