I’m Just Saying

In a quiet professional manner, the psychiatrist bent slightly toward the patient reclined before him and asked the difficult question that promised insight into the man’s character and many problems. Would you be willing to reflect on the interesting surmise my secretary has formed as to the source of your maladies? I will, certainly, what is her view? In a nutshell, she thinks you’re an asshole!

Recalling this scene from a cartoon published more than a half-century ago in a magazine called Realitas, I wonder how today the theory might fly with adults around the world in reference to the spectacular reality show star, Donald J. Trump. This could be the essence of him and the nub of the wild and crazy situations that pop up daily in his presidency. He may just be an asshole!

One of the assumptions shared by the male psychiatrist, his female secretary, and the patient in the cartoon is that everyone knows an asshole when they see one. It’s common knowledge. The psychiatrist blows his professional cover and goes secular. He doesn’t consult the sacred text of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) to locate the disorder. He assumes the type is common knowledge to ordinary people.

A second assumption is that discovering oneself to be an asshole could be therapeutic. No one aspires to the appellation. Shocking discovery could initiate a redemption protocol. Assholes aren’t born. The distinction is earned by habitual self-absorption and nasty, malicious acts. It takes time and effort to become one. The asshole himself might miss the truth for years by wallowing in his narcissism. He may think himself the unfortunate one. He may not notice the resentment he causes and the wreckage he leaves behind. Revealed truth might just shock him from his dream state, thereby making metamorphosis possible.

I’ve been constructing damning characterizations of Donald J. Trump for years, from well before he sought public office, and from well before election day when he became President. Here is one, Dumping on Trump, written in 2012, reporting on Mr. Trump’s atrocious conduct in Scotland when developing his Scottish golf course in Aberdeenshire. Here’s another, List of Trump’s Disqualifications, enumerating conduct and qualities that render him unfit for public office. I’ve written at least six of these negative assessments of Mr. Trump. When he became president, this listing habit of mine morphed into a daily obsession! I can hardly sleep at night worrying about his chicanery and schemes. I consider him a threat to decency, national identity, and democracy. I could use psychiatric help myself.

Still, I can’t stop. I make my lists. Here’s a recent rendition:

  • He doesn’t read.
  • He doesn’t listen.
  • He doesn’t study.
  • He doesn’t know history.
  • He doesn’t understand government.
  • He’s ignorant of the Constitution.
  • He has no evident principles.
  • He believes in conspiracies.
  • He is dictatorial.
  • He lies routinely.
  • He attacks the press and the courts.
  • He admires and cozies up to dictators.
  • He’s widely reported to “rage” around the White House like King Lear.
  • He castigates critics and calls them vile names.
  • He bullies.
  • He trashes military heroes,
  • He is racist.
  • He is misogynist.
  • He is nativist.
  • He rejects science.
  • He rejects factual intelligence.
  • He talks exclusively to his base.
  • He holds campaigns rallies incessantly.
  • He is not interested in music, poetry, art, theater, religion, literature, philosophy, science, or any of the humanities.
  • He seems incapable of empathy.
  • He is interested only in  himself.

I could go on like this for hours.

When I make up lists such as these and mumble them in grim madness, I fantasize that his followers’ rational voices will suddenly awaken and assert themselves, leading to courageous declarations: I see how it is with Trump; he’s a dangerous man; he must be voted out of office in 2020. But, of course, this pipe dream doesn’t materialize. How could it? Not unlike followers of Jim Jones at Jonestown, his beguiled fans remain loyal regardless of his absurd claims and atrocious conduct. Their loyalty, Trump proudly brags, would survive his shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.

It is against this background of delirious list making—which has held my soul hostage so long—that the asshole revelation appeals and satisfies. The incessant list-making stops. New atrocities need not be appended to the President’s resume. Cultists are allowed to be fans. Yet, drum roll, tat-a-tat, a bold and promising hypothesis issues forth: Let’s face it, we just may be dealing with an asshole!

I would be remiss to close this blog essay without noting a peculiar related phenomenon  that blew through the Internet like wildfire in the 2016 campaign. Improbably, a serious debate emerged among the literati as to whether Donald J. Trump is better described as a “liar” or a “bullshitter!” Is he, they inquired—at the existential level of “being”—a “liar” or a “bullshitter?” You decide! Google the issue and you’ll find that a substantial literature came out of the debate. I kid you not. The debate actually germinated a few college courses exploring the art of bull-shitting.

I gather that the bullshitter crowd think they won the debate. It remains an open question. But I’ll stay out of the fray, let the contestants argue, and the citizenry decide. I merely suggest that both sides would do well to ponder an interesting sidebar. Lies and bullshit share a distinction. They are high-value, high-use tools in the toolkit of assholes. Maybe the person who is the focus of their studies is just an asshole! Have they considered that possibility?

Stop it Will! Stop that line of thinking. I advise you to continue on with your list making practice. Avoid the labels. I say that as your therapist. We’ll find other ways to attack the obsession and delirium. But Doc, it’s so satisfying! Maybe it is in the short run, but hate will eat you up, just as it has eaten up the soul of Donald Trump. No one, including Donald Trump, can be captured in a single label. We’re many things, not one thing forever. Don’t murder people by turning them into word statues. Respect life. Keep the questions open.

Here’s a therapeutic practice for you to try, a baby step. What’s that? Whenever the thought crosses your mind, as it seems to often, that Trump’s an asshole, replace the idea with an equivalent thought that is more respectful and yet telling. Give me an example. Okay. The President asserts that he’s one of the smartest guys around, top tier. Instead of saying “asshole,” replace it with “genius.”

Thanks Doc. I come in here, pay good money, and you say ‘stay with the list-making,’ and call Trump a ‘genius’ instead of an ‘asshole.’ Yes, I do, and I thank you for your trust and business. Why don’t you restrict your future lists to the President’s most recent offenses, ones  within a 30 day window, the current month. That would keep the list fresh. You’d be focusing on offenses that actually affect real people, and you’d be bearing witness to injustice. That could be a real public service.

My lists don’t work. That’s the problem Doc. Nothing changes.

You can’t know that, Will. No one can know the effects of their words on others, or should that be expected. You’re one person only, a citizen living a life. You’re unique; that’s important. You have your distinct story and fund of life experience. You have your own viewpoint, perspective, and insights. But don’t try to play God. Just be yourself.

How much do I owe you for that?
Your account is paid up to date.

Are we going to work on my obsession and delirium next time? Yes, we will. Bring a fresh list, and keep it factual.

Okay, I will. But it’s too easy. Just off the top of my head a flood of Trump’s recent doings pours forth:

  • He turns poor desperate asylum seekers into bad people and conjures up a dangerous caravan bent on invading the country.
  • He does this as a campaign ploy to get votes.
  • He positions troops on the border as if a military invasion is underway and gives them permission to shoot.
  • He allows tear gas to be cascaded onto a ragtag crowd of despairing and needy people, hitting women and children.
  • He rejects outright the long-awaited and definitive conclusions of the scientists in his own government regarding climate change.
  • He blames the fires in California on bad forest management rather than admit that climate change contributed to the disaster.
  • He rejects the conclusion of the CIA that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of an American citizen and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. He sides with the Prince.
  • He slanders Special Counsel Mueller hourly and tries to destroy his reputation and good name. Mueller is a former Marine who served his country with distinction and has an impeccable reputation and resume as a public servant.
  • He says he’s so smart that he knows climate change is a hoax.

All of this, and much more, happened in the month of November,

Okay, Will, stop it. Take a deep breath and say “genius.”

Fine. “Genius.” But if he’s so smart, he should stop acting like an asshole. I’m just saying. See you next week.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

December 2, 2018

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

8 thoughts on “I’m Just Saying

Add yours

  1. How right on you are, Will! I have been running this song through my head for days (from “The Grinch”) > “You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump . . .!” But seems as though an asshole should be substituted in my lyrics! Actually, for a much longer time, I have been using as my mantra (from the “Wizard of Oz,” fascinatingly written with a hidden political twist by author H.M.Baum!),> “Ding-dong the Trump is done, wicked ‘ole Trump, lying ‘ole Trump! Ding-dong, the wicked ‘ole Trump is gone! He’s gone where the goblins go: below, below, below! Yo ho, yo ho, yo ho! We need to see him go!” (Guess I like to add a little music as a stress reliever!!)

    Happy holidays to you and your family! Scottie (and Phil!)

    1. Thank you Scottie. Your ditty from the “Wizard of Oz” seems to be doing for you exactly what writing this blog essay is doing for me, preserving sanity. Thanks for the reassurance! Happy holidays to you and your whole wonderful family.

  2. What to say in response to Just Saying? I suspect you don’t like the President. He’s not my favorite either. But half the people voted for him. That says so much more about our country than it does about any individual. I reread the Federalist Papers a few weeks ago. Please go back and reread them before you make your next redundant list. We need something new, something useful. As we mourn President Bush this week, let us consider that we are all assholes to let the potential inherent in the words of Hamilton, Madison and Jay slip away from us in just a couple hundred years. Jim Tierney

    1. I think you’re right: it’s more telling and important that Trump was elected—albeit by less than a majority through the slavery inspired, undemocratic mechanism of the electoral college (“I’m just saying!”)—than are the details of his character. In an important sense, his voters are the bigger assholes. I know of no precedent for electing an anti-democratic, dictator type willing to conspire with the enemy and abandon constitutional protections whenever he likes. That radical mistake is on them. Trump’s Republican Party is not the Republican Party of Bush 1 snd 2, or of Reagan, and certainly not of Lincoln.

      The Federalist Papers are a national treasure, but It is hard to see how they apply to the subject under discussion. Thanks for the comment.

  3. You are right if we are discussing a single individual’s behavior but if we are discussing how we govern ourselves as an electorate, it seems to me clearly relevant what some folks thought the constitution was about.

  4. “The subject under discussion”, good point. Like so many we seem to be talking passionately about different things. Sorry for my part in that. In my mind, Trump is simply an example, sort of extreme, but only an example, of a male bred to be dominant. I suspect he thinks he is exactly what the world needs. So the rest of us have to gently help he and his followers see the light. It doesn’t do much good to tell him he is an asshole. In Maine, we have a chance to show a different path. We finally have a woman governor and she seems to be off to a good start. Our current governor is another dominant male probably elected by frustrated voters who could see us going down the wrong path and hoping a dominant person would steady the ship. I don’t know why we would think that. Unfortunately we move ahead not knowing why he believed that some people should have no health care insurance while others, he and I, should have relatively good coverage. If we came away from his administration knowing more about why he could justify such decisions we would be better off going forward. I suspect lots of people believe that they should get more of the common resources than others. If we understood this better we could probably govern ourselves better. Keep up the good work. Jim

    1. Thanks for your comments. We may be the only ones in this conversation. Readers read the essay, but may not receive notifications of comments. I hope they do, but it’s an honor to converse with you anyway even if it’s just the two of us. You’ve made several interesting points.

      I share your enthusiasm for the coming governorship of Janet Mills. I expect that Maine will take a leadership role nationally in human services, climate change, economic development, rural concerns, and a bunch of other issues. I agree with David Brooks: leadership on about every issue will have to come from local and state government until the federal system starts to function again. In regard to renewal, what an exciting and amazing class of new representatives is coming to Washington!

      Your major concern might be said to be voter mental health: our clipped, abusive, dismissive attitude toward each other, and the absence of positive political conversation. We agree on this.“We seem to be talking passionately about different things,” you state. While featuring Trump, my essay fundamentally addresses a mental health issue that is afflicting me and millions of others: compulsive obsession with the President’s daily diatribes and atrocious conduct. My fictive therapist fails terribly; he is unable to get me to drop the vicious labelling; he gets me only so far as to replace the asshole label with genius. That won’t cut it. You’re right: nothing much good can come from my essay. I hoped only for self-recognition of a pervasive political mental illness.

      The attitude you exhibit in your comment is admirable and helpful. You advise conversing as mature adults on the basis of shared values, knowledge and learning. Your studies of cultural evolution show that the strong man fascination emerges from time to time, but will pass if we are patient, build from core values, and act like adults and learners.

      The emergence of Page and Trump, I fear, may have deeper roots in ALEC, the NRA, corporate power, white nationalism, and the machinations of the Republican party. The unthinkable is starting to look possible: a criminal conspiracy between Russia, the Trump Campaign, and the Republican Party. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s forensic study of the 2016 election finds, the conspiracy may have succeeded in affecting the outcome of the election. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/01/how-russia-helped-to-swing-the-election-for-trump

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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