Change of State

April 30, 2017


Ten years ago I wrote a poem of an afternoon spent burning brush. At its center was a metaphor of tending a change of state; of an afternoon witnessing the moment solids become gas; the point at which enough heat is attained to transform limbs into flames which dissipate in air, slowly first until: Poof! Nada.

FYI: here’s the poem “Much Occurred”:

………. Yesterday I burned some brush
……………….. took all day
……………….. dragging piles I’d cut
……………….. during two previous weekends
………. What a workout
……………….. ticker tickin like crazy
……………….. head in a straw fedora outwitting melanoma
……………….. generating smoke, much occurred

Witnessing the events of the past year, especially here at home, I think a similar thing is happening now, not only in our politics but in the general state of our intellects, morals and ideals: personal and national.

Nationally at least, much occurs as we generate smoke morphing from something solid into stuff as amorphous as gas. In the brush pile we’ve been building we’ve heaped things like thoughtfulness, generosity, caring, ideals of justice and fairness, intellectual curiosity, adherence to principles, egalitarianism, genuine spirituality, community, tolerance, acceptance, truth, love and so much more of what makes us more than beasts (although even the animals we call beasts, hold some of these things more dear than we do).

We’ve been dragging the stuff we’ve cut over the previous thirty or forty years, building critical political mass until, with the last election, we struck our match and relegated truth and fact to that which may be politically burned. Raising ignorance to official status we’ve watched truth go up in smoke as we’ve danced around the bonfire of 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue (or gold-gilded Mar-a-Lago) as if such combustion was not only normal, but good.

Every day we’re pounded by some new assault on the value of truth which is the foundation of enlightened governments and nations. The attack has been so intense and relentless many of us go around scratching our heads as we sift through new junk in our effort to find the thread of truth that’ll make sense of things. Without that compulsion to get at the facts of the matter democracy doesn’t matter. Without truly informed people democracy’s a flaccid joke.

Politicians will always wield lies. That’s not news. Like a mechanic’s wrench and a carpenter’s level, everybody loves their tool. But yesterday getting caught utilizing a lie had some consequence. Today it gets you the presidency and an opportunity to run your businesses from the White House with all its high-value contacts and leverage.

As David Brooks said in a recent NYT column, “While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.”

The stream of fabrications and contradictions spun from the lips of Trump and his enablers are many and insistently beyond belief, but he seems to have tapped the mother lode of our reptilian brain which, unlike the sweet juice of sugar maples oozes fear and loathing and has over-ridden in many of us the essential love of honesty. The national disaster is that Trump is so good at it.

So, we may be undergoing a change of “state” in more than one sense of the word. We may be well into the process of burning bridges at both ends stuck center span peering into a chasm. The longer we tolerate the empty essence of Trump the closer we come to existential collapse.

Is this all over the top? I don’t think so —at least no more so than the trump-headed Republican truth-mincing apparatus.

In a recent issue of The New Yorker editor David Remnick quite accurately called out the danger implicit in the rhetoric and behavior of Donald Trump and his truth-starngling renegades.

Remnick said, “The clownish veneer of Trumpism conceals its true danger. Trump’s way of lying is not a joke; it is a strategy, a way of clouding our capacity to think, to live in a realm of truth.”

When Trump began his campaign of deceit, half-truths, obfuscations, deflections, destractions, smoke screens, and rhetorical shell games (all delivered in a blatantly hyperbolic, buffoonish way) I, like many, thought of him as a clown —and still do. The difference now is I see he’s a clown closer to the jealously demented clown of the opera Pagliacci or John Leguizamo’s Violator in the movie, Spawn.

Clowns can be terrifying especially if given the elbow room to be catastrophic. With the right director, someone like the president’s buddies Steve Bannon or Vlad Putin, fantasy cinema can be transformed into cinema verite and wreak real havoc.

This presidency’s unfunnyness (again characterized by Remnick), “… has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, [with] the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.”

This is the change of state we’re on the brink of, one in which we’re held in normalized suspension between truth and fiction when no one knows who or what to believe so that, in the end, no one believes anything or anyone. I’d call this state chaos in which nothing you’ve counted one works—not your retirement funds, SS, banking, food distribution systems, courts, legislatures and ultimately, not your government; the entity by which we pool resources to protect and regulate what may or may not be done in civilized society, one that relies on the belief in the veracity of institutions to maintain civility.

But that’s not the state of Trump’s world. Trump’s world is that of Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken:

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Jim Culleny


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