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Front Row at the Trump Show (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 5, 2020: Our contemporary world-wide Covid-19 catastrophe reminds us of the Black Death that ravaged Europe and parts of Asia in the fourteenth century. The Black Death peaked in Europe between 1347 and 1351. However, our contemporary medical expertise provides us with far more reliable scientific information about the coronavirus that brings on the disease of Covid-19 than any available explanations of the Black Death provided people in Europe and Asia in the fourteenth century.

Our contemporary economic catastrophe in the United States as a result of the Covid-19 world-wide pandemic reminds us of the world-wide Great Depression that started in the United States after the crash of the stock market in 1929 and lasted well into the 1930s.

The end of the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the collateral damage to the economy are not yet in sight. Nevertheless, it is clear that the end of the world as we have known it is now underway. In short, we are now living in the end-times (the eschaton) the end of the world as we have known it.

Our Republican confidence-man-in-chief excels at articulating delusional optimism (in Nassir Ghaemi's terminology). Consequently, we can rely on him not to catastrophize (in Albert Ellis's terminology) about our current health and economic catastrophes. Besides, Republicans tend to believe in the survival of the fittest (also known as social Darwinism), and they also tend in their delusional optimism to see themselves as likely to be among the fittest survivors of our current health and economic catastrophes.

For further discussion of President Trump, see my OEN article "Vengeance Is Mine, Saith President Trump to New York" (dated March 26, 2020):


For further discussion of Nassir Ghaemi's terminology, see my OEN article "Using Nassir Ghaemi's Psychiatric Terminology to Describe President Trump" (dated March 13, 2020):


Now, in the midst of our two inter-related catastrophes, Dutton has just published the chief White House correspondent for ABC Jonathan Karl's remarkably accessible new 360-page book Front Row at the Trump Show.

In my estimate, here is the most insightful statement that Jonathan Karl makes about our Republican confidence-man-in-chief:

"Donald Trump was a serial exaggerator long before he ran for president. It's how he built his brand. As a thirty-seven-year-old Donald Trump told New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow in 1984, 'Creating illusions, to an extent, is what has to be done'" (page 314).

In my estimate, Trump's self-promotion involves what the Iranian American psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi, mentioned above, refers to as delusional optimism (see esp. pages 51-56) in his 2011 book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, which Karl discusses (pages 279-281) at length but without mentioning Ghaemi's discussion of delusional optimism.

Now, in terms of literary characters, the always optimistic Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens' 1850 novel David Copperfield characteristically manifests what Ghaemi refers to as delusional optimism.

Now, my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit polymath and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). In Ong's 1957 book Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture, he discusses the characteristically American optimism (pages 10, 12-13, and 30-32).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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