Function of Satire

The Function of Satire


Howard Adelman

A tale is circulating that Sarah Palin is being considered for a position as Ambassador to Canada, for, after all, she can see Canada from where she lives in Alaska. She knows the difference between a beaver and a bear and is perfectly suited to engage with our politicians. As she ponders this imaginary offer, does she look at the possibility with fear and trembling, not at the challenges of being a plenipotentiary with America’s largest trading partner, but rather the distressing loss of the $12 million in speaking fees she earned over the last four years? Gladwell, in contrast, does not agree with giving Sarah Palin centre stage alongside satire. He argues that when Sarah Palin was allowed to appear beside Tina Fey, the point of the wit was lost.

The gentrification of satire (as at the dinner by the correspondents in Ottawa or, in the United States, the President’s annual Correspondents Association Dinner) humanizes satire even as it fails to achieve any metaphysical purpose. When Melissa McCarthy portrays Sean Spicer, Trump’s mouthpiece, in a wicked bellowing sketch, we watch an uproarious echo of Rabelais’ resurrection of the body and its deconstruction of language where nots become knots and what we have left over are turds. We are watching the rise once again of Chaucer’s Tale of a Tub and Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly, once used to eat into and eviscerate the destructive expressions of Christianity, but this time, when the body of Christianity in its destructive form has risen once again, this time with the face of a joker.

When we watched the episode of Black Mirror where everyone was being ranked by everyone else to produce a level of conformity unheard of heretofore at precisely a stage when the technology of smart phones was presumably to be used to enhance individualism, this form, as opposed to the lowest and second lowest form of satire, does provide the shift in perspective, an inversion; it at least points to the drastic need for change even if it does not point the way. When we return to the individual, but this time go beyond insult and put downs to reveal the moral and intellectual vacuity of the individual’s world view, we have risen, or rather descended upon yet another rung on the ladder of satire. And when we use the bully pulpit of satire to point out the terrible path towards tragedy that the system is headed towards, the enormous cataclysmic clash that we face, we are now next in line to the highest form of tragic satire, the black comedy which entrances my youngest son.

But if you look back at the path followed, you will only reach that level if you also leave behind the disdain you seem to have for these lower expressions of satire.

Satire can go one better when the target goes beyond the individual to the patterns and conventions that an individual holds to unveil their irrelevance in the face of reality, but even at this level there is only a little extra irony and very little direction about what action to take.

In sum, as Frye pointed out, there are levels of satire. Dissing and demeaning satire may only strengthen the willingness of the supposed voiceless masses that populate the vast stretches of America to cheer on their hero in his fabrications and fabulism. It may only leave the liberals bowled over in laughter with a relief valve rather than a firefighter’s hose to fight the incendiary storm in front of them. But that is its limitation, not its function. It is not a limitation that demands that such satire be tossed into a garbage heap. Nor are the artists who satirize just at this level to be remonstrated for not jumping to a lower rung that the one of base put-downs.

To adopt a moral, self-righteous tone is assessing the moral worth of such satirists, or their unworthiness, and arguing that the loss of that worth is disproportionate to the cost and investment in the show, is to miss two points. First, satire itself is caustic about any moral perspective while, paradoxically, implying, but not endorsing, such a moral angle. Second, the levels of satire are inherently pedagogical. Because we only progress from one level of satire to the next by taking one step at a time, getting on the first rung of the ladder requires a low threshold. To object to its populist appeal when it is precisely the populist appeal that can best begin the disintegration of the mythos of Midus, is to miss the very different ways satire works and the very different functions of each stage of the ladder.

If the satire of the left liberals or the liberals on the left fails to offer an out, fails to point to a program of action, is it a failure? Is it fundamentally flawed so that it betrays the liberal agenda? But what if the liberal agenda is part of the problem? What if the real object is not just the rigid and ideological right, but the weakness that underlies both the right and the left, then there is a real failure, an inability to deal with structures in the preoccupation with mannerisms. Is this not engaging basically in a parallel type of misrepresentation, a parallel world of alternative facts as the object being satirized? Should we not vow to refrain from speaking ill of any individual and resolve to confine ourselves to attacking, and laughing at, the underling belief system of our adversaries?

After reflection, I contend not. For Malcolm Gladwell misunderstands satire in the end, believing that behind it is a moral frame and principles of truth when its real target in the end must be the falsity upon which both the liberal left and the anarchic right share. The objective in the end of this satire is to engage in such revelation. But the path in that direction may require more preliminary steps, steps that begin with mockery. For my youngest son, as for Malcolm Gladwell, the measure of successful satire is pedagogic. Does it help influence and shape the perspectives of the wider public or does it simply make the opposition to the reining madness revel in its self righteousness and disdain for the new ruling order?

But that is the false dichotomy. The function of satire is not pedagogy about the world, but is self-referential. It is pedagogy about itself. At the same time, satire is about opening windows to let the air in. It is to take the stuffiness out of stuff, including the stuffiness of left liberals like Malcolm Gladwell. Satire in engaging in simple entertainment, in its lowest denominator, is not watering anything down, but rather is beginning the process of the corrosive effects of dripping water. Criticizing a level of satire that is toothless, and the possibility that in the end all satire may be toothless, is to miss the central point of Blake’s satirical poem, “Fearful Symmetry.” It isn’t to speak truth to power, but to lead us to recognize that the truths we all supposedly hold dear have lost their sense of awe, fail to make us tremble and, with that loss of a sense of awe, allow charlatans to take over the realm.

A satirical writer is not out to change minds, but is out to open doors and windows so that minds can be changed and new visions articulated and realized. A satirist is a sceptic, not a sophist, an ironic poet rather than a philosopher. When, at its lowest level, satire represents the object of that satire as obtuse, as self-righteous, as arrogant even as that object has a monopoly on power, the intent is both incendiary and to defuse. In my next blogs on persuasion, I will continue the argument why, in some cases, one must abandon any effort to educate the Other, one must recognize the obtuse beyond salvation. That does not lead to the slippery slope from scepticism to cynicism, though it can. But there is a fork in the road. The road not taken does not lead to power in the real world, but to the appreciation of the power of words to create a new world, without offering a vision of what that world looks like.

The objects of laughter squirm. The subjects that join in the mockery laugh uproariously. The purpose is to allow us to take the first steps to freedom from the ropes with which those in power want to embrace us. Even when raucous and tasteless and prone to take the cynical path, if it is good satire at this initial level, it will at least show us that there are two paths and that cynicism is not the only route to follow. For in its outrageousness, in its fearlessness, possibilities are opened up and we can escape the feeling of entrapment. The main thing about satire is that its primary objective is not directed at the object of satire, but to allow those who laugh alongside to think and reflect while the laughers and those laughed at are incidentally united in the feeling of discomfort, sometimes extreme discomfort.

With discomfort emerges the possibility of thought and reflection. We do not gain an iota of power through satire. Nor an iota of truth. For satirists do not pose truth against power, but an alternate fantasy that ridicules its object and gains through that ridicule, not only a good stomach roll, but courage. For one needs courage to stand up to power with what you already know. You do not need a new revealed truth.

Nevertheless, my son is correct that laughter is not the only goal of satire. It has higher, or, more accurately, baser goals. But at its initial level, release is a prerequisite. For the more outrageous, the more fearless you are, the better you will be able both to crawl under the skin of the object of satire while puncturing the inflated balloons over his or her cartoonish head, as in the case of the cartoon pointing out the Heil Hitler Hail coming out of Donald Trump’s orange headdress. (Lalo Alcaraz) Satire imitates its target by offering imagery rather than ideology, using familiar aesthetic forms to unpack and even blow up a claim to represent reality in the name of widely accepted shared norms. For militant irony is founded on a bedrock of convention.

But if it is laughable to think of satire serving to influence others with substantive ideas, it is not laughable to have a vision of influencing others and being a teacher. Satire is at its very base militant irony, mean-spirited in tone but uplifted by laughter. I am not a viewer of satire on a regular basis, but was very impressed with John Oliver’s show, “Last Week Tonight” where the wit sparkled and the knives went in very deep.

This is the case even when a satirical show imitates the object of its ridicule with an almost equal obsession with ratings and, hence, ad revenues. In that sense, Comedy Central is almost as guilty as Trump and probably on a par with the rest of his cohort (the originator of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “South Park,” “The Colbert Report”) not only in its preoccupation with the size of its audience, but with the depth of rapport established with that audience. The one major difference is that satire engages the mind rather than numbs it. And to the extent that it does, it reaches for the higher – or, really, lower – echelons of the craft.

With the help of Alex Zisman


Stages of Satire

Stages of Satire


Howard Adelman

In the debate over satire, Malcolm Gladwell inevitably re-introduced Northrop Frye, one of the most important and influential teachers I had in graduate school when I audited his course, even though, and perhaps because, I could then only grasp 15% of what he was saying. In Frye’s book, Fearful Symmetry, he wrote that, “tragedy and satire are artistically justifiable only when their finality is paradoxical, and where a subsequent resolution of that paradox is implied.” But, as he made clear in the Anatomy of Criticism, this is the pinnacle of satire, not its exhaustive characterization. Or really the foundation, for the satiric rungs of satire descend rather than rise.

Satire at its best points to an opening from the bleak horror of the current dominant power. That opening is implied, not stated. For satire is open-ended as opposed to that which it satirizes, which is always a closed system. The power of parody at its best, that is, at its lowest, is to reveal the paradox, to unveil it, to show the underlying structure, the anatomy that unites both the closed-system being satirized and the open-system acidly dissolving the appearances of its target. Satire really works best when it unveils both the cultural limitations of the society in which we all live while, if possible in the greatest satire, pointing beyond it. In that sense, unlike its target, it is not just caustic, but moral as well.

Satire in the end is the ultimate in irony. It tries to establish that the established order which promises to deconstruct the world and rebuild it in a new/old vision is the acid; the satire that adopts the caustic disguise is the real poetry. This is the paradox. Satire adopts the caustic position of its target to reveal total destruction as the ultimate and end goal of the system being satirized, but satire leaves a residue, an outline, a sketch, an etching of what can and should follow. Whereas the object of satire is revealed as the devil’s work, satire plays devilish tricks to leave hope, gaiety and delight alive beyond the morbid that is being deconstructed and even destroyed. A fantasy world of delight can be envisioned behind the broken and shattered Black Mirror that the dystopic and myopic would bequeath us in the best form of satire that transforms the normal world, or a logical extension thereof, into a shocking horror show.

But satire must stink if it is to do its work. When one of the greatest works of satire in the history of literature, Jonah, is placed on a reverential pedestal and read every Yom Kippur on the annual replay of atonement, when the laughter is drained entirely from its veins and the rabbis in reading it have lost their sense of humour totally, then its acrid function has been lost. One suspects that those who have elevated Jonah to such a state may be guilty of trying to avoid atonement for their own effort to construct either a closed legal system or a closed sentimental moral one. Unfortunately, the best form of satire has the potential to leave laughter behind so that what is presented is taken as a serious rather than a satiric text.

My son’s criticism of those forms of satire to which he responds negatively is that they destroy a target by simply taking the techniques of the target to the nth degree, and undermining the possibility of effective action, even of heroism to confront and combat the work of the devil. Heraclitus wrote that the essence of life is water, for water symbolizes change, but it is also the eternal instrument of corrosion. (Cf. Duncan McFarlane (2011) “The Universal Literary Solvent: Northrop Frye and the Problem of Satire, 1942 to 1947,” ESC, 153-172) Sooner or later, it washes away the detritus and leaves behind the skeletal structure that allows the body to stand and move forward. Sometimes that water can be very acidic so that we are overwhelmed by the smell of sulphur and fall down laughing without being able to grasp any alternative to a universe of hell.

The following disorganized and dissolute, indiscriminate but very incriminating zingers from Frankie Boyle’s piece in The Guardian (8 February 2017) on Donald Trump fall into this category:

Presidents always enter office with something to prove, it’s just rarely their sanity.

He is a super-villain in a world without heroes, a man so obnoxious and unhappy that karma may see him reincarnated as himself.

You kind of wish he’d get therapy, but at this stage it’s like hiring a window cleaner for a burning building.

He’s not a classic Nazi, but would burn books if his supporters knew how to read.

Being on reality TV is the closest he ever got to reality.

Trump is at war with Saturday Night Live. He thinks it’s horrible and yet he can’t stop watching. Pretty much the same as how the world feels about him.

At other times, the water is so mild, even if on close reading it is more caustic than sulphuric acid, that it passes over our head, or, more accurately, past our funny bone and we lose both the sense of what to laugh at as well as the ability to laugh. Jonah is a case in point.

What is satire? It is militant irony in Frye’s words. Its instrument is humour; its target in its ultimate form is that which threatens life, Thanatos, the Grim Reaper. Does that mean that satire which merely belittles, which merely engages in a reductio ad absurdum, is bad satire, is unacceptable satire, is satire that is destructive without any constructive intent? Yes and no. And perhaps maybe. For there is a minimalist form of satire that is simply caustic, as illustrated by Frankie Boyle above, that imitates the negativity of its object without pointing to a way out.

That in itself is not a bad thing. The fact that certain forms of satire have severe limitations does not make them worthy of discard. They serve a purpose even when they fail to dissolve adequately and thoroughly, even when caught up more with the stench of the object of their hatred than the stink that engulfs us all. When Jonathan Swift in meticulous detail describes how the Lilliputians tie up Gulliver and immobilize him, how the hero is made impotent and reduced to a powerless state, we do learn how the multitude of small minds can defeat the ideals of a Statue of Liberty, can behead that statue and hold it forth as a trophy of war.

When my son remonstrated me for using putdowns to deal with the absurdity of Donald Trump, he referred me to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell called “The Satire Paradox.” ( Malcolm Gladwell seemed to need satire to tell a moral tale, to establish a larger truth. But the real paradox of satire is that in its greatest expression, the paradox, is not between the “truth” unveiled and the crude means used to unveil it, but the tension between the caustic quality needed to reveal the anatomical structure that has allowed a Donald Trump to take power in the name of a closed order and the ability to point beyond to an alternative open order, to a world of possibility rather than one determined, defined and locked down. There is no truth that prevents a satirical sketch from being interpreted in radically different ways. Malcolm Gladwell wants satire to be didactic when, in its essence, it is not and cannot be. The object of satire is NOT to drive the audience towards TRUTH, but to drive them away from a false vision, a nightmare claimed to be true.

It is a mistake to believe that if we do not get the message, if there is no message to get, then the laughter is toothless and has lost the fearsome quality of the tiger in Blake’s Fearful Symmetry. For even satire, in which mirth overwhelms, frees us from the ropes of the binding vision of a demagogue, though it fails to unveil the platform on which we can stand and confront the beast. Malcolm Gladwell criticizes American satire for focusing on the mannerisms rather than the underlying mechanisms of the destructive order, but the mannerisms are the mechanisms. That is the issue.

The satire may be of such poor quality that this is not entirely made clear so that, consumed with laughter, the viewer or listener is still lost in the clouds of his tears, but insofar as it engages in a fearsome attack, even without redemption, it performs a magnificent function. Even in its weakest form of name-calling, satire with virtually no irony is still a sharp spear to tear open anomalies and injustices, follies and crimes, even if it does not encourage or facilitate an engagement in protest. If it just opens eyes and does not engage our intellect, it is satire nonetheless and can be very funny when done well.

At its highest (really, the lowest) level, satire is as precious as platinum. As McFarlane put it in describing Book 11 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on the death of Orpheus, it, “involves all of Frye’s ultimate criteria for satire. First, an object of attack: the Maenads are a possible target, since their actions are initially ridiculous and finally deplorable, but Orpheus himself is the definite target of the women’s fury. Second, elements of the grotesque or absurd founded upon fantasy: these are plentifully present, in the rending of Orpheus, the fantastic charms of his music, and the punitive planting of the Maenads…Frye suggests the satirist as an author of effective but unthinking brutality, a mindless hatred of the lyrical arts Orpheus embodies…the poet raises, refines, constructs; the satirist debases, defiles, and destroys.”

The steps of satire begin in fragmentation, descend into the epic and then the dramatic, and on rungs four and five to the lyric and saturnalia. Satire at its base is militant irony, irony on the march, founded on fantasy. When the Thracian women, stand-up comics like Boyle, attack Orpheus/Trump with stones, Orpheus may respond with trying to charm the rocks themselves, to neutralize them with a lyre bequeathed to him by his father, Fred. They are impoverished lyrics or, in Donald’s case, tweets. But, as his body is torn asunder by the unremitting attacks, Orpheus descends into the underworld of the epic. There he joins the beautiful Eurydice, Melania Trump, whom Boyle describes as having the “look of a woman frantically trying to unlearn English, appalled to find that this only makes her understand her husband more clearly.”

Trump gives up on Orpheus and falls back on his obsession with gold, his compulsive attachment to wealth. Bacchus transforms Trump into Midas. As Midas, his wish is granted. As president, he can make many more billions than he made as a developer or as a reality star on TV or as a salesman of his own brand. Then, in a dramatic flourish, everything he touches turns to gold, but gold grapes are not only tasteless, they break your teeth even though gold is the softest of metals. Finally, he is even unable to drink a glass of water because, at his touch, it turns into a solid. He asks that his wish for solid gold and the banishment of change, of water, the wish that turned into a curse, be lifted.

That wish is also granted, only to transform Trump into a judge of songs of seduction, lyrical efforts at persuasion. DT goes back to becoming a reality TV star, but one who now occupies the White House. Pan takes on Apollo, the archetype of prudence and wisdom but, in the underworld, Trump’s own father. Orpheus becomes Oedipus. The god of Mount Tmolus had declared Apollo the winner with the most votes, but the rigged system that Trump so vilified now allows Trump to declare Pan, the god of the wild, Dionysius in drag, with hindquarters that can scale mountains and horns on his head that can butt anyone off the mountain he meets. Pan, the classic Pan, not the sweet sentimental Peter who fulfills the fantasies of children, but the ruffian, is the new guise of the victor.

Apollo metes out revenge, turning Trump into a donkey and we are now at the level of saturnalia. Trump travels to Troy, currently called Washington. The parallels now become literal. Using very different devices, Laomedon tricks two gods, both Apollo and Neptune, the Democrats and the Republicans, into building the wall of Troy. But as has been his practice with all sub-contractors, Trump qua Orpheus qua Midas qua Pan, now qua donkey or ass, stiffs them. Washington is punished and flooded with harlequins. In the ultimate irony, the very attempt to stem the flood with a wall, produces the flood itself, not of hardworking immigrants, but of every fraudster and soap salesman from across the land. The attempt to build a wall actually opened the floodgates to inanity. In the final stage of the descent, Hesione, Ivanka Trump, must be sacrificed. Her clothing line is delisted at both Nordstrom and even in the Hudson Bay stores.

Trump now takes on the guise of Hercules. To save Hesione, he must trade in his horses. This time, it is Trump who is double-crossed by no less than the ruler of Zimbabwe. No horses, no Hesione. Debauchery turns into debacle as Ivanka is transformed from a sweet sign of reason and good will into a lioness, and brother kills brother and brother-in-law escapes from the mad apocalyptic world into which all have descended to find a new kingdom. But, in concert with Troy/Washington, Ceyx’s kingdom has also become the very swamp that Trump promised to drain. The dream of turning a desert into a land of milk and honey has become an extension of chaos and self-destruction, where women go mad and are transformed into birds, where wild wolves ravage both farm animals and people.

Lamentations follow in the wake of Bannon’s destructive foul-smelling brew. The ultimate of satire is that it becomes prophetic truth and reveals total devastation.


With the help of Alex Zisman

A Potpourri

A Potpourri


Readers of the Howard Adelman Blog

I received a mélange of responses to yesterday’s blog on the decline of the Republican Party. Because I am busy in my new job as a nurse’s aide, I forego today’s blog and instead include a selection from the reactions to Monday’s blog with the odd additional comment. Some were brief and complimentary – “impressive and helpful analysis/synthesis Howard…it won’t help me sleep in coming nights but thank you/.” Some picked up one or two points of criticism and one was harshly critical, a reply which I include below. Others I have chosen based as much on geographical distribution as anything else, partly as a lead-in to my next blog on the Decline of the West. The salmagundi selected also added to my understanding. I have limited the selection to five to keep the blog at its average length. I also hope this will indirectly explain why I respond to very few of the feedbacks I receive.

1. Canadian Supporters of Trump

Polls indicate that 80% of Canadians support Clinton and oppose Trump. The only country that exceeds this one-sided support is Germany where the support for Clinton is 86% and even 75% of the alt-Right. 20% in Canada support Trump, many because he indicated that he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. That, however, is not the only reason. Some admire him for who he is and what he says. This is what one reader wrote me yesterday:

Trump is a talented leader, who calls out the liberal and greedy elite. Like King David. He likes women like all healthy males including you and me.
Most women play to their sexuality through makeup and choice of clothes. Healthy and tasteful.
Bill Clinton rapes and abuses women. Hillary destroys women who speak up against her husband’s victims so that this power couple can play the corrupt system.
Trump earned his money. The Clintons stole theirs.
I am so happy they are now being called out along with Obama and his Jeremiah Wright and Muslim Brotherhood friends.
For me this is going to be a wonderful week.

2. The Deep Story Behind the Tea Party

An additional insight that I did not have was received from LA. I believe that the “deep story” is very insightful.

Hi from LA!

Nathaniel Rich reviews a book called “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” by Arlie Russell Hochschild in the New York Review of Books this week.

Rich describes Hochschild reaching for emotional explanations for the rise of Tea Party-ism / Trumpism and the anger of the white, working-class Republican voter; she finds other accounts to be lacking this emotional component. He quotes Hochschild:

“I found one thing missing in them all—a full understanding of emotion in politics. What, I wanted to know, did people want to feel, think they should or shouldn’t feel, and what do they feel about a range of issues?”

Rich goes on:

“How, then, do Tea Party voters feel? They’re angry, bitter, resentful—that much is obvious. Hochschild goes further, however. She develops for them what in brand marketing is referred to as the “back story,” a story that provides a unifying emotional logic to a set of beliefs. She calls it the “deep story.”

The deep story that Hochschild creates for the Tea Party is a parable of the white American Dream. It begins with an image of a long line of people marching across a vast landscape. The Tea Partiers—white, older, Christian, predominantly male, many lacking college degrees—are somewhere in the middle of the line. They trudge wearily, but with resolve, up a hill. Ahead, beyond the ridge, lies wealth, success, dignity. Far behind them the line is composed of people of color, women, immigrants, refugees. As pensions are reduced and layoffs absorbed, the line slows, then stalls.

An even greater indignity follows: people begin cutting them in line. Many are those who had long stood behind them—blacks, women, immigrants, even Syrian refugees, all now aided by the federal government. Next an even more astonishing figure jumps ahead of them: a brown pelican, the Louisiana state bird, “fluttering its long, oil-drenched wings.” Thanks to environmental protections, it is granted higher social status than, say, an oil rig worker. The pelican, writes Hochschild,

‘needs clean fish to eat, clean water to dive in, oil-free marshes, and protection from coastal erosion. That’s why it’s in line ahead of you. But really, it’s just an animal and you’re a human being.’

Meanwhile the Tea Partiers are made to feel less than human. They find themselves reviled for their Christian morality and the “traditional” values they have been taught to honor from birth. Many speak of “sympathy fatigue,” the sense that every demographic group but theirs receives sympathy from liberals. “People think we’re not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees,” one Tea Partier tells Hochschild. “But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”

When Hochschild tells her deep story to some of the people she’s come to know, they greet it rapturously. “You’ve read my mind,” says one. “I live your analogy,” says Mike Schaff. She concludes that they do not vote in their economic interest but in their “emotional self-interest.” What other choice do they have?” [Emphasis added.]

Care to comment on Hochschild’s “deep story”? I’ve read a lot of attempts at explaining the Tea Party / Trumpist / Angry White Man phenomenon, but this little parable touches on something I don’t think any of those other accounts do. Maybe it’s just how it’s encapsulated in a nice little story, or maybe something more.

Thought you might find it interesting – the book itself looks really good, and I’d buy it immediately if I didn’t have piles to read already. Be well!

3. From BC

A key point in your latest is that there are those who still hope for community and are not getting it. They are legion. Sadly, real community has been corrupted and is still a huge deal but, in the modern sense, it now means little in pragmatic, comforting ways and a bit too much in divisive ways.

Like religion, our communities divide [and do] not include. And that division is encouraged. Us and them. We have the Cincinnati Bengals vs the Green Bay Packers, we have the Chicago Cubs vs the Cleveland Indians and that used-to-be uniting spirit of ‘game’ has been polarizing instead since the corporate mindset made the owners and the players so rich that even our ‘local boys’ were foreigners bought and paid for to play the game for us. People still cling to their teams like religious people do their churches but that kind of faith is divisive, destructive and sick. And, ultimately, counter productive.

Love is tolerance and acceptance. And there is little of that left in the modern world (except at an individual scale). And it is capitalism, corporatism, institutional-think, politics, government and blind greed that is at fault. We worship the golden calf more and more. See Trump.

You cannot have a successful community when money is more important than all else. Can’t happen. Because real community is not about ‘making a buck’ or ‘getting yours’, it is about mutual caring and sharing. Money ain’t got nothing to do with it. Never should.

And money is what the US is all about. And we are connected at the hip.

4. From Germany

Reading your wonderful analysis (which I will have to read a few more times to thoroughly savour and digest) made me think: whatever happens on Nov 8, or thereafter, the Donald did not singlehandedly cause it; just like Luther did not singlehandedly cause the 30-year war. There are sometimes people who find themselves in a complex situation that has evolved over time, due to a multitude of complex and relevant connections when they, either inadvertently or purposefully just upset the table that was already rather wobbly to begin with. Sometimes that is the only way to turn around a hopeless situation. I still think you are attributing too much intelligent and thoughtful analysis to Donald (projecting your own wise self into his feverish orange skull), when he is way too impatient and impulsive – he is not executing a well-thought-out strategy with a well-defined goal in mind: he is reactive, rather than proactive, improvising as he goes along, exploiting any given situation that he deems advantageous, and mercilessly mowing down any that he perceives as a threat to his person.

You are absolutely right to focus less on his person and more on the context in which he is operating: just like you say, “the pathway to a potential victory had been forged by the previous leadership of the Republican Party. Trump had simply upped the ante,” as he moved along. The Republicans not only had paved the way by endorsing most of the policies long before Trump arrived, they also wholeheartedly endorsed his person, banking on his popularity (disregarding his lack of political experience, impulsiveness, narcissism, etc. etc.), as if he were some sort of harmless lucky mascot. The real betrayal of America has been taking place for a long time in the background; I don’t think Trump the individual should be scapegoated on his own.

He just grabbed the opportunity to make the deal of all deals for himself (he probably is rubbing his eyes, still not able to fathom how he got this far with such little preparation) – BUT SO DID THE REPUBLICAN PARTY WITH HIM AS WELL – their deal is just as reckless and disgusting and immoral as are Trump’s moves (and their group is more culpable as they, unlike Trump, cannot necessarily be excused on account of a pathological mental state). They were coldly calculating and analyzing and strategizing when they endorsed him. I found it most telling how they never once acted outraged when he was spouting his anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, etc. garbage, but exploded in extreme righteous indignation about his “locker-room” remarks. I think they had probably long before realized that their choice of mascot was not that lucky after all, and the pussy riot was just a convenient excuse to demonstratively and noisily remove themselves from this increasingly embarrassing association with him, and score a huge PC point on the side.

Contrary to M. Gladwell’s Tipping Point, where the author identifies the factors that cause suddenly emerging trends, here, like among the Christians in Luther’s era, there is a long-term, slow brewing of a complex, increasingly negative situation, where an angry, overly emotional, impulsive, and somewhat mentally unstable man instinctively realized the opportunity that he could suddenly upset the table, not quite grasping the long-term deleterious consequences this may cause. A number of ghosts this Halloween!

Note: I see no contradiction between a unique strategy that is subject to critical analysis and the reality that the strategy itself may have been instinctual and had not been developed by means of deep thought. HA

5. From the Ukraine

You did not give enough attention to the role of Russia in both promoting Trump and in the corresponding latest decline of the Republican Party. It is widely recognized that Putin has launched Russia into a new stage of adventurism and interventionism outside its borders, particularly in the Ukraine and Syria. The Baltic states may be his next target. This is part of Putin’s campaign to “Make Russia Great Again.” These exercises in heightened patriotism are also crude attempts to cover up an economic system of corrupt patronage in an economy severely in trouble. In reference to your blog, there has been the brazen effort of Putin to promote Trump and diminish Clinton – an unprecedented Russian intervention in American politics.

Russia is one of the few and perhaps even the only country where the population favours Trump over Clinton, and by a large margin. This result is enormously assisted by Putin’s control over the media. A combination of reasons explain this support for Trump. First, Trump has flattered Putin and has compared him to Obama extremely favourably. Second, Putin has flattered Trump and called him “brilliant” knowing full well that he has a thin skin when it comes to ridicule (he responds viscerally with venom) and also when it comes to praise, with a very different result. Trump is inflated into a large red balloon floating towards the stratosphere. Third, Trump has criticized Hillary Clinton’s proposal to create a no-fly zone for humanitarian purposes in Syria and has argued against the Obama administration’s leadership in boycotting and ostracizing Russia over its aggression in the Ukraine. Fourth, Trump has emerged as the greatest threat to the Western economic and military alliance with his insistence that the allies “pay their own way.” The only downside is Trump’s suggestion that Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear weapons.

The risk of the latter is well worth the very economical cost of hacking Democratic Party emails and stirring up the pot in the American election, especially when Trump refuses to accept the briefing by all seventeen American intelligence agencies that Russia is behind the hacking. What may have begun as a wild card prank has developed into a potential provocation into American domestic politics. Further, it was beyond even the Kremlin’s wildest dreams that Trump would actually adopt the Russian two-year-old line that America was preparing to initiate World War III. Who would have ever believed that the leader of the Republican Party of the United States would be an open admirer of Putin and even a Charlie Chaplin to Putin as Edgar Bergen.

There are, in addition, some noticeable similarities between Putin and Trump. Neither has any respect for the truth. Both are bullies and alpha males in the extreme. Putin, like Trump, is an improviser rather than a long-range strategist in foreign affairs, taking advantage of opportunities as they pop up. Like Trump, Putin reacts rather than acts, especially to perceived slights, without calculating the long term negative costs to Russia. Both men double down when attacked and project their own liabilities onto their “enemies.” Is there any difference between Putin riling up a resistance and providing it with military support in the Donbass region and Trump appealing to racists and riling up the masses at his rallies? Both have a populist base among malcontents.

Though Putin is far more disciplined than Trump, both are very hard workers. However, Putin does know his stuff which Trump does not. Both indulge in performance theatre on the world stage and pull off stunts to garner publicity, only, ironically, Putin sees the world as his stage whereas Trump has contracted the American stage to the homeland. Thus, the Republican Party, which used to be the bastion of the hard line against Russia, has undergone it most important revolution and, under Trump, has embraced Russia as its ideological ally at the expense of its traditional friends.

With the help of Alex Zisman