09:45:48 am on
Thursday 30 May 2024

The GOP as Faust
RK Samuelson

Paralyzed, Republican lawmakers weigh their political futures, their legacies and their allegiance to a president that has held them captive, according to the Washington Post for Sunday 6 October 2019.

Demons, deals and doubts.

German legend has it that a man, although highly successful, agreed with the Devil to exchange his eternal soul for twenty-four years of amazing knowledge and carnal pleasures. The legend grounds in an historical figure, Johann Georg Faust (1480-1540). The message is ambition can outweigh integrity.

The legend first appeared in Faustbuch, which published, anonymously, in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1587. The story intrigued the British author Christopher Marlowe. In 1604, he turned the tale into a play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. The story is now simply Dr Faustus, but message remains the same.

At first Faust is ecstatic with his pleasure, knowledge and power. Yet, as his final hour draws near, he begins to regret his bargain, but it is too late. In the end, the Devil drags him off to Hell.

Enter Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

For the next two and a half centuries, Faustus was mostly a puppet show for children and an amusing tale for adults. Eventually, the German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, took up the legend in 1808. He stood the tale on its head.

In the Goethe version, Faust agrees to surrender his soul only if the Devil, can make him content. As long as Faust remains dynamic and never becomes static, the Devil loses the bargain. Contentment does not last.

An American historian, Peter Viereck, claims this version of Faust became the driving force behind German music, art, philosophy and literature. It glorified unmoral dynamism, vigorous unending activity, force over law, folklore over science, animal instinct over reason. All of which set the foundation for Hitler and the Nazis.

Who is whom?

Today, Trump plays the Devil. The Republicans, in the US Congress, especially the senate, and their supporters are ready to make a Faustian bargain because of their discontents. At least, it would seem that way.

First, there are the Neoconservatives or Neocons in the US Congress. Mostly Republicans, a Neocon is someone that wants to get involved in every war and conflict on the globe, latently hoping to be on the winning side and exploit the resources of the beleaguered country. They also want to antagonize Russia, in the Black Sea; China, in the South China Sea; regime change in Syria, Venezuela and Iran. The Neocons get the military budget they request.

Trump wants everything he owns to be the biggest and the best, although he conflates the former with the latter. This includes the US military. His Neocon base is satisfied, especially their big defence budget, and so is Trump.

There are also those that embrace the Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan. Older Americans remember the 1950s and 60s, a mystical time when ghettos characterised American cities. Italians, Irish and Germans, not only Blacks and Latinos, lived in their own neighbourhoods.

Each ethnic group had own pubs, clubs and churches that reflected home countries and what was important in their home society or culture. Each group preserved the lifestyle and customs that their people brought from Europe. Ethnic diversity made a rich America.

This world is gone. For many people, foolish nostalgia often beats out critical reasoning. They become Republicans and associate their lost world with Trump.

Finally, people forget that there was a great deal of anxiety simmering in 2016. The pot was about to boil over. Baby Boomers and Millennials realised they were not doing as well as had their parents and grandparents. Many did not have healthcare, for example, or expected reliable pensions after decades of work.

Seniors could not afford the co-payment on Medicare. People were living from paycheque to paycheque. Anger focused on the presidency and the US Congress, the easy targets. Folks wanted someone that would go to Washington and kick butt.

Change demanded.

In 2016, it seemed as if angry voters didn’t care if it was Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump that won the presidency, but Hilary Clinton was not a consideration. The democrats stopped Sanders, but the Republicans could not stop Trump. Ultimately, neither could the democrats.

Two months before the general election, democratic activist and filmmaker, Michael Moore tried to warn people that Trump was about to win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He did. Nobody listened to Moore.

Trump is the Devil, in the Faustian tale. Are his followers making an unholy Faustian bargain? It’s possible and probable.

As did the Devil, Trump led the rebellion against the established order of the political universe. Only this time the Trump and his rebellious followers won; the Goethean Devil lost. Whereas the God banished the Devil to Hell, for eternity, Trump took over Republican Washington and infused its swamp with more dirty water.

Elected politicians, for the most part, focus on winning re-election, not acting in a socially responsible manner. Every time a member of the US Congress gets in a spat with Trump, he or she is threated, mostly explicitly, with a primary challenge and limited support in the next election, if she or he wins the primary. Thus, silence is the best policy, with vocal support not far behind.

Trump is a fountain of what Viereck called unmoral dynamism. He decides what he wants, whether it’s a casino license or the presidency. Then he uses any means at his disposal to get it. Nothing stands in his way; goals pre-empt process, common sense, morality and ethics.

Finally, Trump is somewhat Satanic in the way he allows his colossal arrogance to be the controlling factor in his decision making. He ignores the advice of his staff and they must go along with him or he fires them. Again, goals pre-empt process or common sense and this, his Faustian followers take, as confirmation of what they elected him to accomplish.

No return to the old days.

America remains a superpower across the globe, but at home, Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their head and food on their table. Americans remember better times and look for someone to restore those, often mythical, times. One third of America adores Trump; one third hates him. Yet, the third that hates him also harbor no great love for the US Congress or the presidency.

Some things need to change. America cannot continue with delusions of imperial grandeur. Such hubris brought down the British Empire. America cannot continue to seek to control the outcome of every conflict on the planet nor should it.

We need to spend our money at home. The water in Flint, Michigan is undrinkable because of the lead. You cannot walk on the sidewalk in San Francisco without stepping in human poop. Bridges are collapsing and many American airports are in Third World condition. A Chinese diplomat recently said to an American counterpart, “In China we spent trillions of dollars on our infrastructure and look what we have. You Americans spent trillions waging wars and what can you show for it?”

Trump did not cause the problems in Washington, but many of those that elected him are only now learning that he cannot and will not fix the problems. Together, Trump supporters and Trump haters constitute over half the population. Both groups believe the problem lies with the US Congress or with the American version of democracy. In fact, Trump has become the biggest problem and threat to America and Americans, ever.

After the World War 1, America pushed its style of democracy on the world via the Marshall Plan and similar legislation. There was a quid pro quo for acceding to American wishes; trade deals, military aide and economic handouts. It didn't work as well as hoped or for long enough. In less than twenty years, many countries rejected American-style democracy in favour of more authoritarianism, mild or sharp.

In America, in 2016, the Republican Faust made its bargain with the Devil out of ambition, morality be damned. Some Trumpsters made the bargain out of fear of losing the next election or a primary to a pro-Trump lackey. Someone had to give the American Faust hope and offer a better deal, which Trump the Devil would or so thought.

Pay the piper.

As the benefits of its deal with the Devil become increasingly clear, the American Faust frantically searches for a way out. As the Faust of legend found out, the Devil doesn’t re-negotiate. Soon, the American Devil, Trump, will drag the American Faust, the GOP Congress, kicking and screaming, into Hell or extinction.

Robert King Samuelson, in his own words, "is a perspiring writer trying to raise his voice above the cackling insolence and fractured language of the bloggery."

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