Miscellany October

‘The coronavirus pandemic marks the end of our romance with market society and hyper-individualism. We could turn toward authoritarianism. Imagine President Donald Trump trying to suspend the November election. Consider the prospect of a military crackdown. The dystopian scenario is real. But I believe we will go in the other direction. We’re now seeing the market-based models for social organization fail, catastrophically, as self-seeking behavior (from Trump down) makes this crisis so much more dangerous than it needed to be.

‘When this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services. I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked’.

Professor Klinenberg, director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He is the author, most recently, of  Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.

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The background of the drama is England’s “War of the Roses”, the civil war between two regional dynasties from which Richard emerged. And that’s often key in tyrant narratives: it’s when societies are already fractured into tribes, and divisions have become insurmountable, that tyrants tend to emerge, exploiting and fomenting chaos, to reign, however briefly, over the aftermath.

The war seems resolved when the victorious Edward, Richard’s older brother, succeeds to the throne: “For here I hope begins our lasting joy!” And no one thinks the deformed, bitter sibling, of all people, would be a threat. It seems preposterous. But it’s true. And at each unimaginable power grab by Richard — murdering one brother, killing the late king Edward’s young heirs, killing his own wife, and then trying to marry his niece to secure the dynasty — Richard’s peers keep telling themselves that it isn’t really happening. Greenblatt notes: “The principal weapon Richard has is the very absurdity of his ambition. No one in his right mind would suspect that he seriously aspires to the throne.”

But he has one key skill, Greenblatt notes, the ability to lie shamelessly: “‘Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile, And cry ‘Content!’ to that.”

‘Denial. Avoidance. Distraction. Wilful ignorance. These are all essential to enabling a tyrant’s rise. And keeping this pattern going is Richard III’s profound grasp of the power of shock. He does and says the unexpected and unthinkable in order to stun his opponents into a kind of dazed passivity. It’s this capacity to keep you on your heels, to keep disorienting you with the unacceptable (which is then somehow accepted), that marks a tyrant’s relentless drive. He does this by instinct. He craves chaos, lies, suspense, surprises — not because he’s a genius, but because stability threatens his psyche. He cannot rest. He is not in control of himself. And whenever the dust settles, as it were, he has to disturb it again.

‘This is what we’ve been dealing with in the figure of Donald Trump now for five years, and it is absurd to believe that a duly conducted election is going to end it’.

Andrew Sullivan  The Weekly Dish
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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.