Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Blowhard the First

the Sanskrit svastika
Remember the divine right of kings? What a great way to gain legitimacy— in forswearing any possibilities of empirical verification. You had some good kings (a benevolent despot like Frederick the Great is an example) and some bad ones. Magnus the Strong murdered Canute Lavard, the Father of the Danish King Valdemar I and of course Hamlet was convinced his uncle Claudius murdered his father, King Hamlet. So with all the mayhem, Denmark turns out to be a place where divinity was sometimes questioned and pretenders to the throne were willing to be struck down by lightening in order to enjoy the corporeal pleasures that came with ruling a dynasty. The Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, the Windsors are a few famous royal families. In The History of the World: Part 1 Mel Brooks famously intoned, “It’s good to be the king.” Hitler, Mussolini and Franco are curious exceptions to the extent that they attempted to claim the same legitimacy as kings, without the divine component. They asserted themselves as absolute rulers who were accountable to no one, but a mystic notion of the state. Indeed the swastika with its pagan roots (apparently in Sanskrit it signifies "well-being") could be looked at as the symbol of a secular God. However compared with kingship or dictatorship, it’s neither easy nor fun to be the leader of a democracy. You’re accountable for everything you do and there’s no dearth of people who are willing to challenge your ideas. In fact the stronger willed and visionary you are, the more enemies you’re likely to have, as Barack Obama learned when he tried to implement his vision. Now at the end of his presidency he faces stiff opposition from Republicans who are ideologically opposed to him appointing a successor to the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia. Donald Trump gives the impression that he's the possessor of the kind of recondite knowledge that only a king could claim to have. He doesn’t worry about making completely unverifiable claims. If it looks like a duck and quacks, like a duck, it’s a duck goes the old homily. Trump acts more like a king whose edicts would go unquestioned then someone who would stoop to the art of persuasion in order to make his case. In fact, a good part of his speeches are self-referential. Rather than talking about current events, he reports on the extent of his appeal. Hopefully the people will not begin to think that the Donald is a duck. But let’s imagine the unthinkable, Trump winning the election by a landslide and appointing himself King. What would he be known as, Blowhard the First?

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