Failure, hope and potatoes

The indoor potato harvest was disappointing.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, two other things happened that were also...disappointing. Leonard Cohen died, and Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States.  On my Facebook page, I remarked that Leonard Cohen had died because his presence in the world was simply incompatible with Donald Trump's ascension to its most powerful political office.  Leonard Cohen has ascended.  Those of us left behind continue to fall.  Facetious - perhaps; pretentious - of course; but tenuous?  No, I don't think so.

It's difficult not to indulge the overarching sense of dread that descends in the aftermath of such events.  Not everyone who voted for Trump was a misogynist, or a bigot, or a "privileged" white (supremacist) male, but the election result was close enough that it seems likely that the support of such people was enough for him to snatch victory from the jaws of Hilary Clinton, herself a deeply suspect character, profoundly unpopular as presidential candidates go, and transparently not the best opponent the Democrats could have nominated to defeat Trump.  And once again, just as the support of evangelical Christians kept Bush in the White House for eight years, so too has their support for Trump raised him the position of most powerful man on the planet.  This is a man who seems to delight in displaying the kind of character diametrically opposed to the teachings of the New Testament: obscene wealth, arrogance, divisiveness, fear, ignorance, sociopathy, male dominance and greed.  By way of comparison, consider St Paul's "fruits of the Spirit" in his letter to the Galatians - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Try to find any indication at all to suggest Trump even knows what those words mean.

But then, the moral character of the individual in the office should not matter.  It certainly shouldn't (and apparently doesn't) decide the results of elections, which are not about one person, however charismatic, but what that person represents.  America is a liberal democracy, which exists only because of the success of liberal, secular values in the 18th century.  President John F Kennedy, an icon of American liberalism, was hardly an example of Christian moral integrity.  Neither was Bill Clinton (who was impeached while in office for the kind of indiscretions Donald Trump has already admitted to before even setting foot in the White House).  The hope remains that the American political infrastructure is strong enough to resist the kind of excesses Trump has threatened to unleash on its citizens and the world.  For my money, I see Trump more as an opportunist than a outright fascist: a man willing to say literally anything to get into power: his inconsistencies in so far as policy and political philosophy goes are well documented.  On the other hand, a few days after his victory, he has apparently no interest whatsoever in taming the monsters his politically incorrect iconoclasm has awoken.  As divisions continue to widen between left and right, between liberal and conservative, between progressives and reactionaries, Trump has yet to say anything substantial that would suggest he meant a word of his superficially magnanimous victory speech.  Thus far, the only thing I think that can be said about the man with any degree of certainty is that he simply does not care: he does not care who he offends, who he violates, who he victimises.  He does not care about any other human being even a fraction as much as he cares about himself.  It is doubtful he even has the capacity for such things.  He has been called a narcissist, a psychopath, a demagogue.  I suspect (in a certain sense, I hope) he's more just simply an idiot.  Then again, a powerful idiot is a very dangerous thing.  Time will tell.  What people say, in the long run, doesn't really matter.  The only thing that matters is what they do.

The Christian writer C S Lewis said that good philosophy must exist, even if for no other reason than because bad philosophy must be answered.  The world needs good people for the same reason.  Most of us are neither really good nor bad, but inconsistent, complicated, hypocritical, well-intentioned - um, yes, idiots, and this is why it is worth mourning the death of a man like Leonard Cohen in the same breath as articulating our fear over the election of Donald Trump.

Leonard Cohen lived the life of the artist and the philosopher; the poet and the ascetic.  His words and music are nuanced, articulate, beautiful, gentle, hilarious, sad, erotic, silly and profound.  His work embodies the combination of depth with surface into something more transcendent and intangible than is rarely achieved in any medium.  It is human.  It captures the strangest and most beautiful complexities of our sad, silly little species.  It never belittles or simplifies anything or anyone.  Refresh your memory with St Paul's list of virtues, and then listen to 'Bird on a Wire' or 'There is a War' or 'Hallelujah', or this:

Imagine Donald Trump listening to Leonard Cohen one cold evening in the Oval Office alone.  Just imagine that.  Remember that Donald Trump and Leonard Cohen both occupied the planet at approximately the same time.  Now try to make any sense of human beings.  Try to find a single thing you can say about human beings in general that is indisputably, unambiguously true.

All of this is far away.  You will probably never meet Donald Trump in person.  You will now certainly never meet Leonard Cohen.  So what does all this mean to you?  News travels as fast as light.  Our own technology continues to accelerate towards the singularity that we may or may not survive.  A small rectangular supercomputer in your pocket can teach you more than you could ever possibly understand.  You are connected, but you are also totally alone.  Nobody really knows you.  There is an urge to distinguish yourself - somehow, anyhow - but you are one of billions.  Your desires can never be satisfied.  Whatever you have, you will always want more.  Should you retreat into your bubble?  Should you grow your own potatoes?  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.  I'd recommend learning.  I'd recommend understanding, loving, laughing.  I'd recommend breathing deeply, and thinking deeply, too.  There's more than one way you might go about that, by the way.