George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905), and some thirty billion people afterward. My poem, “Highly Fungible,” published today at the rock-star NewVerse.News site, might suggest that I follow suit and see our current political situation as akin to Rome’s infamous decline from robust halcyonic Republic to debased, doomed, vulgar Empire. Yes, and no.
First, it’s the prerogative of political satire to ignore substance in favor of style. Over-the-top style. How else to ferret out deeper truths? But, political satire is different from cultural analysis. It will take years for a serious critique of current political phenomena to develop.
Still, I don’t want to leave on the public table the notion that I think we are witnessing another round of Fall and Decline. In some ways, Trump (supposedly) offers antidotes to what brought Roman society to a halt: for instance, the “bread and games” mentality and the corrosive Roman patronage system. Trump wants to bring jobs back that will allow people to work and participate in rebuilding the economy and renewing the social fabric. He says over and over that he is funding his own campaign and that he will therefore not be beholden to special interests. Very nice. UnRomanEmpirelike, and strangely reminiscent of Bernie Sanders.
Trump may be a great person. Certainly, his wife, children and many friends and associates think he is. Certainly, he seems sincere in wanting to make America great again. And dare I discern some altruism somewhere? Who can judge? But I think we can judge what he represents as a Candidate and speculate that he is reifying a nasty element in our national psyche, and, conversely, that the current political scene is bringing out the worst in Trump. So henceforth, here, when I speak of Trump, I am talking about this crazy projection of a leader that he purports to be, and I am leaving the personal Trump to discover between him and his Maker if there is ever need for forgiveness.
With that in mind, I would say that Trump represents late-stage Patriarchy. White, of course. (And I have no evidence that it’s late-stage; I’m just hoping.) When he is on your side, the sun shines, shines, shines. It helps if you are similarly endowed. Or the Beautiful Wife of a Success Story. We all like Success. And the rest of us can weather the various storms by Following the Rules. Or else. If he’s not on your side, then yes… the playground bully and the abusive husband hurtling home. Watch out. The Romans wrote the book on patriarchy. A seductive, appealing version of patriarchy sometimes, but nonetheless a ruinous system for half the world’s population. Actually, all the world’s population, but that’s another soapbox.
The final word on this political season is a long way from being written, but one cliché that I embrace without equivocation—we are indeed living in “interesting times.”