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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/21/19

How I Began Deconstructing Trump

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In August of 2015, one month after presidential candidate Donald Trump stunned the political world by questioning the "war hero" status of Senator John McCain, I happened, quite by chance, to be reading Richard Wilbur's 1965 translation of the Molière play Tartuffe (1664). Just like that, a passage grabbed my attention:

"Those who have greatest cause for guilt and shame
Are quickest to besmirch a neighbor's name."

My immediate thought was, "Wow! That sounds a lot like Donald Trump." And, just to make sure Wilbur was accurately reflecting Molière's original intentions, I checked out a 1908 Tartuffe translation (by Curtis Hidden Page). The first two lines were rendered in a slightly different way, but the message was the same:

"Those whose own conduct's most ridiculous, Are always quickest to speak ill of others."
As I reflected on these lines, there was something deeply satisfying about seeing a contemporary figure described so accurately by someone writing 350 years earlier. I made a mental note to be on the lookout for similar quotations in the future. Over the next several months, after coming across a half-dozen addional quotations that brought Trump to mind, I decided to create a "Trump File" on my computer.

Some observations in that new file, while written centuries ago, could easily have been written about Trump's remarks about McCain or his infamous role in the "birther" movement:

"There is nothing that more betrays a base, ungenerous spirit than the giving of secret stabs to a man's reputation." -- Joseph Addison
"No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men. -- Thomas Carlyle
While I treasured these new quotations, I wasn't planning to do much with them because I figured Trump was going to be a short-lived political phenomenon. That feeling was strongly reinforced when a January 2016 "Against Trump" issue of the National Review described him as "a menace to American conservatism." As the months passed, and as Trump began dispatching his Republican primary opponents, I continued to make new discoveries. Some were nothing short of thrilling. I still remember when I first came across a passage from Plato's Laws (4th c. B.C.):
"There is simple ignorance, which is the source of lighter offenses, and double ignorance, which is accompanied by a conceit of wisdom; and he who is under the influence of the latter fancies that he knows all about matters of which he knows nothing."
This observation so perfectly captured the essence of candidate Trump that I found myself coming back to it over and over again. Every time he brashly proclaimed how smart he was or how much he knew, Plato's observation served as a helpful reminder that arrogant ignoramuses have been around for millennia. I still wasn't giving Trump--or my little quotation collection--that much thought, though, for it seemed clear that he would never win the presidential election.

When he ultimately shocked the word with his historic upset victory, it affected me in a way I would've never predicted. After the inauguration, I was having trouble concentrating and getting to sleep at night (and when I did, I slept fitfully). In my interactions with others, I was smiling and laughing less, and I was even drinking a bit more than usual. As a psychologist, I was showing all the signs of what people in my profession call a reactive depression. I'd been in similar situations before, so I decided to take a deep dive into the world's great literature (technically, the practice is called bibliotherapy).

I was hoping that insights from the world's great writers and thinkers might help counter my downward drift. The decision paid off almost immediately. I found the following in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov (1880):

"A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others."
Over the next two years, I spend thousands of hours in a systematic reading program that uncovered similar gems in the works of history's great novelists:
"Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief." -- Jane Austen
and
"A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature." -- George Eliot
and
"We all run the risk of declining if somebody does not rise to tell us that life is on the heights, and not in the cesspools." -- George Sand
and
"If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people." Virginia Woolf

Whenever I found a quotation that "spoke" to me, I faithfully recorded it. I found prescient passages in the works of ancient thinkers, Founding Fathers, former US Presidents, great scientists, and world leaders from the past. While most had a Trump-illuminating quality, some more accurately described his ardent followers:

"There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity." -- Paul Bourget
and
"To sin by silence when we should protest, Makes cowards out of men." -- Ella Wheeler Wilcox
As 2018 drew to a close, my "self-help" reading program had paid off handsomely. I was back to my old self and--with a newfound political and philosophical commitment--even a better version of my old self. Then, at the beginning of 2019, a thought popped into my mind: "If your project was so helpful to you, why not turn it into a book?"

And that takes us to the present moment. On Sep. 23, 2019, I will be coming out with my eighth quotation anthology, the first with a political slant: Deconstructing Trump: The Trump Phenomenon Through the Lens of Quotation History. More information about the book may be found at: www.deconstructingtrump.com


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Deconstructing Trump consists of 1,000 featured quotations, all of which were written decades--or, more typically, centuries--before Trump arrived on the political scene. The quotations in the book might be viewed as a collective answer to the question: "If they could speak to us today, what would the world's great writers, thinkers, and political leaders have to say about Donald J. Trump?"

Regarding the title, if the precise meaning of the word "deconstructing" escapes you, here's all you need to know. Deconstruction is a form of criticism, specifically one that attempts to set a record straight. The term is based on the notion that a narrative that has been falsely or misleadingly constructed can be deconstructed. In his 1844 poem "The Present Crisis," the American poet James Russell Lowell was writing about the problem of slavery, and his words have relevance to a crisis of a different nature in our current era:

"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side."
Deconstructing Trump is my "moment to decide" book. I've produced it for any person who's been alarmed, troubled, upset, embarrassed, bewildered, disgusted, or otherwise distressed by the whole idea of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America. I consider it my own small contribution to a goal that should motivate us all: bringing the Trump presidency to an end on Election Day, November 3, 2020.

 

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Dr. Mardy Grothe is a retired psychologist and the author of eight quotation anthologies, including "Oxymoronica" (2004), "Viva la Repartee" (2005), "I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like" (2008), and "Metaphors Be With You" (2016). His most (more...)
 

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How I Began Deconstructing Trump

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William Fields

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I submit that Trump is not unlike any other US president only without the lipstick. This is not an endorsement of Trump but an observation that he merely lacks a presidential persona and even a modicum of civility. I can write pages of criticisms of all US presidents going back to FDR; war criminals all and very likely psychopaths.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 at 6:20:45 PM

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Thanks for sharing your thought, William. I certainly agree that all previous presidents have had their flaws, but we'll have to agree to disagree that Trump "is not unlike" all of his predecessors except for the lipstick. It is a great error, in my opinion, to fail to see a difference when one exists, and it is a gross oversimplification to suggest: "Oh, they're all basically the same." Is there no essential difference between, say, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson? Or John Kennedy and Richard Nixon? Yes, they were all flawed men, but some flaws are more important--and more dangerous--than others.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 at 8:01:31 PM

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And what could be more dangerous than the neoliberalism that begat Trump? No politician should presume to represent me when he or she takes bribes (erroneously referred to as campaign contributions) and half the country knows this - hence the Trump administration's electoral success. I very much enjoyed your article and look forward to reading you book.

Submitted on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 at 6:57:46 PM

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Dr. Mardy Grothe

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Thank you, William. Mardy

Submitted on Friday, Aug 23, 2019 at 1:04:15 AM

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Robert A. Heinlein..."You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 at 7:52:50 PM

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Ah yes, that is a classic, Dana. I have over a dozen great Trump-illuminating stupidity quotes in the Deconstructing Trump book, including these:

"Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results." Margaret Atwood, in Surfacing (1972)

"It's only because of their stupidity that they're able to be so sure of themselves." Franz Kafka, in The Trial (1920)

"I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it." Edith Sitwell, quoted in E. Salter, The Last Years of a Rebel (1967)

Submitted on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 at 3:07:34 AM

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Thank you sir. There are so many great quotes from sci-fi writers, those having the ability to think differently than most other folks. Keep up the good work, I will check out your book.

Submitted on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 at 11:15:57 PM

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Thank you, Dana. Hope you enjoy the book. Mardy

Submitted on Friday, Aug 23, 2019 at 1:05:26 AM

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