“Comparisons are Odorous,”

BY KATHY PERUTZ

declares Dogberry in the third act of Much Ado About Nothing. He’s a Shakespearean fool of the first order, an  insufferable windbag whose words are empty of meaning, though he believes that the bluster he speaks is language and that he is communicating.

It’s been a long time since my last blog. The results of the election came a few days before Michael and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, at home with close friends, good food, pink bubbly and a large cake inscribed with M and K in gold letters. Despite what had just happened to our country, we were happy. In the last months of illness and confinement we had grown together, two trees entwined; a single entity forged from two separate beings. Then came Christmas, when Michael’s ability to breathe grew even weaker, though his mind was lucid and he continued to work on an important paper with his collaborator, Herb Terrace, attacking Chomsky’s notion that language is ultimately based on a “mutation,” which in this sense would make it a miracle, a deus ex machina suddenly landing in the field of evolution – a quasi-religious sort of belief that Michael and Herb opposed, and with excellent reason.  In January Michael died.  A few days later Trump was inaugurated and since then I have found myself at a loss for words.

*

Last year, over many of my blogs, I warned against Trump. My parents had come to America in the late 1930’s from Central Europe (he born in Vienna, she in Prague), skiing across the Alps when the Nazis invaded Austria, led by their guide into Switzerland from where they made their slow way to New York, where I was eventually born.  Others in the family were put to death in the camps or, perhaps worse, survived 4 years of Auschwitz.  I was aware that the sophisticates in the cafés of Vienna in the ‘thirties had reassured each other over their kaffee mit schlag that Hitler was a buffoon and clown and would never affect their lives.

Until he did.

In writing about Trump I was aware of Stalin too, the millions of deaths he perpetrated on his own people, murdered outright or left to die of planned starvation. I knew that Stalin was able to re-write history, to claim that something which had clearly happened hadn’t happened.  He and his experts were capable, even then, of erasing an image, a person, from photographs and of rewriting history, removing textbooks from the schools and replacing them with his newer versions.  Fake facts were his meat, as they are of any dictator, always have been and will be.

I made comparisons, odious and odorous. Trump was also the great showman, like P.T. Barnum, who showed the world the truth of the sentiment, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Berlusconi too. That 70-something mad clown with lipstick on his face and pancake makeup who liked screwing children, at least those old enough to have breasts and curves.  He gave me the heebie-jeebies just to look at him, and he owned the media in Italy.  How could the Italians be so dumb?  How could they not see?

And then the Orange Dishrag appeared and the same nausea overtook me. A visceral reaction, going hand in hand with the mental revulsion that awful creature caused and keeps causing, because nothing in the world exists except himself, because he doesn’t care for anybody, doesn’t see that he is made in the image and mold of man, a person like others; that we are all the bloody same in our needs and desires and claim to respect.  So he spouts rubbish, any rubbish, just to be heard, to be the center of all eyes all the time.  No matter that he is crude, that he was kicked out of his elementary private school (Kew-Forest) for being a bully even though his father was on the board.  Quite an accomplishment, that.

I saw it coming and told myself I was wrong (as almost everyone around me did, saying how wonderful that this buffoon was running against Hillary; it guaranteed a landslide.) I tried to tell myself that I always go straight to the worst case scenario, that this was my form of optimism (since if it happens the way you’ve predicted, you’re not shocked, and if it doesn’t happen, well then, marvelous.)

Then came Brexit. I had lived in England for a few years after college. My first novel and the next two were first published there.  Michael was a Brit who had gone through the education system famous for producing leaders of the world, stiff upper lips honed on “the playing fields of Eton,” where men learned the onus and responsibility of privilege (colonialism) known as “the white man’s burden” to Kipling when Britannia ruled the waves and much of the world.  Michael did not go to Eton, but to another “public” school built on the same foundations of belief and empire, and then went on to Cambridge.  He left England after that because the system he’d been raised in oppressed him.

Brexit appalled us both, and my friends in England took to their beds. It was then that I realized democracy has a basic flaw: it does not require that the person who casts a vote know anything at all about the issue or person that he or she is voting for.  Brexit should never have been put to public referendum; the public simply didn’t understand the ramifications of what it would mean to leave Europe.

When Brexit was voted in, I was sure Trump would win. The know-nothings would invent their own scenario and project it onto the man who was nobody, nowhere, who had no objectives, no vision, no knowledge.

And so it happened, and now we are fed daily, hourly dispatches of such appalling behavior that any three-year old doing it would rightly be confined behind the bars of the playpen. Whatever Trump does brings pain or anger or grief or all of it.  “Whither I fly is Hell; myself am Hell,” is how Milton’s Satan put it, but Satan was an introspective sort compared with the dishrag now in charge of the planet.  And to be rid of him, with all those awful appointees in place is no longer the solution.

Now I find a new comparison, odorous indeed. I realize Trump is very like a hippopotamus, an animal that marks its territory by spinning its tail like a fan when it excretes, scattering the excrement over as large an area as possible.

A hippo is described by Wikipedia as: An extremely large animal with a round, barrel-shaped body, short legs and a large, broad head. . . . The virtually hairless skin is moistened by a secreted pink, oily substance that protects [it] from sunburn and drying, and perhaps infection. . . The hippopotamus is a highly aggressive and unpredictable animal and is ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa.

The difference between the two is that the hippo is limited to one continent and even there has become a threatened and endangered species. Our excrement-flinger is leader of the world.  The hippo does not rape females, nor force other hippos of perhaps a slightly different shade to leave the river.  The hippo is an animal.  What we have in the White House is a “beast that wants discourse of reason,” as Hamlet characterized him some 414 years ago – an empty, cruel, self-seeking demagogue.

“Demagogue.” It’s a word we don’t often use of our own leaders, though we have used it of leaders in other country, particularly those known as “undeveloped.”  The word ricochets in my ears and returns as “demi-god,” which is what the followers of the Orange Dishrag must believe he is.  Some form of deliverer, certainly, though one who is without values, standards, or any concept of social behavior, empathy or responsibility.  There is no inner man there, only the hippo with its shit-flinging tail, and a very bad sort of hippo at that.

And yet, because I am an optimist in pessimist’s clothing, the sequence “demagogue. . . demi-god” puts me in mind of a beautiful Emerson poem that begins, “Give all to love,” and concludes:

Heartily know/When half-gods go/ The gods arrive.

Or perhaps we could convince Pope FrancIs and Angela Merkel to set up a joint rule in America, he being the visionary and she the enforcer. We don’t deserve them of course, but what a dream team they would make!

 

 

Dark at the Roots

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

When the time came, she often said, when she was older, she would let her hair go gray. But the time never came, and her hair colorist continued to dye her graying roots to match the rich auburn of her younger self.

My mother kept many secrets, and though some of them wounded me and made me hate her at times, on the whole she kept them beautifully. Some had to do with her personal habits, others concerned her actions and interactions, those I witnessed and those that came at me from out of the past.  Still other secrets had been thrust on her beyond her control: names she had to keep hidden to safeguard lives and also her own name, given her before her parents or ancestors or anyone in the world knew that the man’s name hers was derived from would become synonymous with evil on perhaps as great a scale as the devil’s own, because though she was always known as Dolly, they named her Adolfina.

I didn’t know her birth name or her actual age for many years. I learned how old she was on a  day my father’s mother came to visit, a rare occurrence because my mother never cared to entertain her.  My grandmother mentioned that Dolly had me at 31, though I’d thought she was currently 29.  When I later confronted my mother, she explained that she couldn’t tell me the truth because I would have told my schoolmates and then everyone would know.  I nodded sagely, thrilled to be given such an adult (and mysterious) explanation, and never afterwards told anyone her age or – when I learned it – her birth name.

In other ways too, I went on lying for her, because she demanded it. When she was dying of multiple myeloma, cancer in the marrow of her bones, she insisted I tell her friends that she had a “bellyache.” She believed cancer was “psychological” and was ashamed to be caught with it.  But she was also dying quickly, in the hospital and at home with round the clock nurses.  I hated having to lie to people on the phone; I was embarrassed for them, for myself, ashamed of that childish word  “bellyache,” ashamed of the knowledge I had, the dead certainty of what was going on.  I couldn’t tell anyone, and I couldn’t stop what I knew.

Everyone has secrets. I don’t believe, as my mother did, that cancer is a sign of repressed rage or repressed anything else. My cat Corduroy, who was also my best friend, died young of cancer and his rage was never repressed, nor his love either, shown in the way he tried to feed the family, bringing in headless squirrels or birds he’d killed and placing them beneath my seat at the dinner table.  But there are other secrets, so big that people spend their lives and countries go to war protecting them.

America’s secret is racism. It is the darkness at America’s heart.  Though it can be set aside (look at our President!), it continues, since it’s easier to blame whatever’s wrong (in your life, in the country) on others than on yourself.  (This may be one reason to get married, though not a good one.)  If other people don’t look like you, it becomes even easier.  Hitler had to tag the Jews with big yellow stars because they looked (and thought and felt) like other Germans. The star provided a target for German rage, which in truth had little to do with Jews and was mainly caused by devaluation of the currency and loss of jobs.  But an enemy is a handy tool for an aspiring megalomaniac dictator.  Especially for the newly-blond Donald Trump (who is dark-haired in photos of him in youth and middle age, and whose hair resembled an orange dishrag earlier this year), with his family tradition of racial intolerance, a father and grandfather who didn’t like dark people, didn’t rent to them, and who were drawn to the ideology of white supremacists.

Trump picks up on the American secret and adds the terror of the unknown. All murders are now the fault of foreign darkies, whether or not they had anything to do with it, all part of a world-wide conspiracy against blond white (straight) Christian men.  In Trump’s hatred of M folk – Mexicans, Muslims, menstruators, minorities –  he rounds up a lot of dark people.  Women make it into the core of his publically-proclaimed nemeses by being biologically different from other people, in that they ovulate and menstruate, two cycles that Donald Trump would never in his life engage in, and therefore finds disgusting.  Different is the bugaboo, and to Trump there is no reality outside of Trump.

He presents us with a caricature of the two greatest dictators of the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler (né Schicklgruber) and Josef Stalin (born Jughashvili), with an added dose of pure American hucksterism. Like Hitler and Stalin, Trump is his own creation, in his case a blown-up cartoon of The Big Male with scowling face, broad chest, lots of sawbucks, lots of broads and a grunter’s vocabulary.  He’s the entertainer, like Hitler in Brecht’s play Arturo Ui and also like P.T. Barnum, prankster galore, who toured America with his freak show, entered politics in Connecticut, made millions, lost them and then made them back again in the firm belief that, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” (though the quote varies and is sometimes  attributed to H.L. Mencken).  Barnum said of himself: “I am a showman by profession . . . and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me,” which shows a great deal more insight into his own nature than Trump has ever demonstrated.  His personal aim, said Barnum, was “to put money in my own coffers.”

The huckster, snake oil salesmen, slimy politicos and purveyors of hype that dotted our frontier probably were natural outgrowths of America’s wild Dream: to invent yourself, to become anyone you wanted to be because the old rules no longer applied. It didn’t matter who your parents were, where you went to school (or didn’t) or any of the values that cosseted Europe in its old ways.  Being American was a god-given passport to fun and freedom, to children who refused to eat their spinach because “America’s a free country,” and, on a more deadly note, to the necessity (for keeping the myth alive) of making sure some of the people are not included as people. The secret remained.  Be white, be powerful, and the Dream is yours.

Adolf Hitler said: If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

Trump also resembles Stalin, particularly in the penchant for putting his name on everything (remember Stalingrad? if things go rotten in November, New York could become Trump City.) To every proposed building during his years as Chairman, he added steeples that transformed them into secular churches erected to the greater glory of himself. Stalin, like his latter day successor Vladimir Putin – a man much admired by Trump – did not believe in negotiating with perceived enemies.  He had a quicker solution. “Death,” he wrote, “is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.”   Putin seems to agree.

What is great in America is that this country took in my parents when it did; that it welcomed immigrants throughout its history because it is, on a grand scale, a nation made up of immigrants, a tree with many roots that finds its genius in difference. Americans are optimistic and flexible.  We’ll try anything, which is why we’re such rich fodder for entrepreneurs.  (P.T. Barnum: There’s a sucker born every minute.)  But if we screw up in November, we might lose far into the future, with a Trump Supreme Court meting out its justice.

Hitler: The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.

Truth is a moveable concept to Trump, who controls it as he controls everything around him. The Don sees himself as Czar of this country, Czar of czars, which is as czar-y or crazy as it gets.

N.Y. subway: If you see something, say something.

Donald Trump.

[Note: this blog was also published by the Huffington Post]

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-perutz/dark-at-the-roots_b_11173174.html