Last week Sally and I had a beach getaway to Cape May, New Jersey. We met up with Jocelyn and our new son-in-law Kyle at an Airbnb house, which was charming and comfortable. Jocelyn and Kyle had, while in New York City, had Covid-19, which in their case was no fun but well short of fatal, and we all thought it likely that they were immune and not infectious. So we enjoyed cocktails and meals together, slow bike rides, and reading on the beach. There were dolphins playing just offshore, and several species of seagulls.
Cape May has a lot of charming Victorian gingerbread-type houses and beautiful gardens. It also is a prime transit point for birds migrating along the East Coast. Sally and I went out in the mornings and found some birds we weren’t familiar with, including a few warblers and large flocks of tree swallows. There were very lush areas near the beach, with lots of wildflowers. There were also mosquitoes, but no ticks, at least ones that found us.
We tried to take a break from the news cycle, including the never ending Trump Show, but didn’t succeed entirely. I found myself cycling between hope that sanity and good sense would ultimately prevail in the next election, and dread of the opposite.
Trump didn’t seem to have any new ideas, but his old ideas, including trying to scare white people with the thought that Black people were coming to their neighborhoods, had worked for past American presidents, to our national shame. When fear kicks in, the possibility of either compassion or logical thought is over, which is why he employs it.
But at least for now, judging from recent polling, his fear mongering calls for law and order don’t seem to be convincing anyone who he wasn’t pretty scared already. Unfortunately, some of those are all in, including so-called patriot militias with guns and QAnon believers.
One of Trump’s new favorite big lies is that antifa is a terrorist organization responsible for widespread violence. This lie has been pressed into service to explain the West Coast wildfires, which in the last few days have become catastrophic. In Trumpworld, the fires were set by antifa, rather than the lightning strikes that were in fact mostly responsible. Sadly, some folks with flames bearing down on their houses believed that antifa was both responsible and planning to loot their neighborhoods. Refusing orders to evacuate, they felt they needed to stay to defend their property.
As of this writing, Trump’s response to the West Coast wildfires has resembled his response to the coronavirus, which is to do nothing except emit hot air intended to distract attention from the disaster. For any other president, this would be a career-ending scandal, an unbelievable dereliction of duty, but for Trump, it’s just a normal week.
It did seem that Trump was causing some indigestion in the right wing from his derogatory comments about dead American soldiers being suckers and losers. This is definitely appalling, though not especially surprising. We’ve seen enough of Trump to know he is a deeply flawed person, with perhaps his most important flaw being an inability to care about anyone other than himself. He just can’t process empathy and compassion, and therefore thinks they’re for suckers.
His indifference is, for those whose lives might have been saved by federal action from wildfires, pandemics, and other human derived disasters, a disaster. For many, including untold numbers of wild animals, this is the end. For those of us still here, though, Trump’s ultra-selfishness and egomania can serve as a kind of negative example.
That is, Trump embodies the most extreme version of capitalist amorality, in which greed is good and every other consideration is for losers. His example of extreme individualism shows that such an ethos works poorly for everyone — even for the uber capitalist, whose appetites are relentless and never satisfied. The mind set of greedy no-holds-barred individualism is ultimately self destructive, as shown by Trump himself, a sad figure who can barely be said to have a self that is self-aware.
The opposite orientation — that is, prioritizing the concerns of others, expressing generosity, cultivating compassion — is in some ways more difficult. But it increases the chances of social harmony and personal fulfillment. As far as I know, we don’t have a political party organized around unselfishness and related values, but maybe someone will start one — though please, not till after November. As we start to see the light at the end of the Trump tunnel, it’s a good time to start planning for change.