Rage, Denial, and Disappointment
“‘As we move toward Inauguration Day, I have thought almost daily of a remark attributed to Henry Adams: ‘I expected the worst, and it was worse than I expected,’ said Patricia O’Toole, a biographer of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as well as Adams.”
Ms. O’Toole is referring to the behavior of the current incumbent sulking and continuing not to do his job in The White House. The latter is, of course, no surprise. Come to think of it, neither is the former.
Peter Baker weighs in this morning in a White House Memo. “The last act of the Trump presidency has taken on the stormy elements of a drama more common to history or literature than a modern White House.”
Well, yeah. A 46-minute video released on social media — and marked as dubious by both Twitter and Facebook, oh, the shock, oh, the awe — detailing how he “won” the election. As if by repeating it over and over to himself and us, he will make it so.
A first major public appearance in Georgia yesterday allegedly to support the two Republicans in run-off races slated for next month, but instead used to continue the off-stage, watermelon, watermelon, watermelon*, murmurs of grievance and fraud. Except not off-stage, on-stage in full view of the international media, God, and all the rest of us because of the Office, not the man.
Mr. Baker elaborates, “At times, Mr. Trump’s railing-against-his-fate outbursts seem like a story straight out of William Shakespeare, part tragedy, part farce, full of sound and fury.
“Is Mr. Trump a modern-day Julius Caesar, forsaken by even some of his closest courtiers? (Et tu, Bill Barr?)
“Or a King Richard III who wars with the nobility until being toppled by Henry VII?
“Or King Lear, railing against those who do not love and appreciate him sufficiently? How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless electorate.”
To borrow from the woebegone Lear, Donald, “the wheel has come full circle.”
Your greatest fear, sir, is that you would disappoint your father, and whatever it is that we fear comes directly to us, eventually, like the one person in the room who cannot abide pets and to whom the pet is drawn like Velcro.
That’s all this phase of the tantrum is, Beloved. Disappointment. Mr. Trump did not get what he wanted. And he is not dealing with it because he cannot deal with it. To face failure, in his world, is to be annihilated, erased, disappeared, cancelled.
Under the Department of No Coincidences banner, the Notes on the Culture feature in this morning’s Times is called “The Long and Tortured History of Cancel Culture.” Ligaya Mishan maintains that cancellation is far from new. Instead, it sources in the ancient scapegoat for our sins metaphor.
She writes, “‘Cancel’ is a consumerist verb, almost always involving a commodity or transaction.”
In his disappointment, Mr. Trump is making yet another attempt to cancel, not just persons or memes, but the entirety of reality. It actually can’t be done. Because reality isn’t a commodity or a transaction.
“This is classic Act V behavior,” said Jeffrey R. Wilson, a Shakespearean scholar at Harvard who published the book Shakespeare and Trump this year. “The forces are being picked off and the tyrant is holed up in his castle and he’s growing increasingly anxious and he feels insecure and he starts blustering about his legitimate sovereignty and he starts accusing the opposition of treason.”
“Like King Lear, he may fly into further rages and find new targets for his wrath. If there are these analogies between classic literature and society as it’s operating right now, then that should give us some big cause for concern this December,” said Mr. Wilson. “We’re approaching the end of the play here and that’s where catastrophe always comes.”
Disappointment, when it comes into a life, any life, at any girth — large or small — is a commonplace, Beloved. We all experience it. That is not at issue. What is very much at issue is how we deal with disappointment.
I have a long-term relationship with both that word and its concept. It was the very worst thing my elegant mother could say to me. “I’m so disappointed in you.” There is so much attached to that one sentence in my psyche that I’m still not sure I’ve unpacked all of it more than five decades after it was first thrown at me.
On a happier note, the word disappoint is the one that sent me into creating what has been called “folk etymology” by reviewers of my book, God’s Dictionary. In my mid-twenties, I was once again feeling disappointed by someone or something when my intuition told me to look up the word in the dictionary.
I said, “I know what dis — ” and that’s as far as I got because an interior roar met my words. LOOK. IT. UP!!!
I went to find the dusty Webster’s on the bottom shelf down the hall. This was long, long before the Internet. Dutifully reading the definition, which I did already know, a whisper drew me to the etymology of the word.
Dis- means not as a prefix. To be appointed means to be chosen. Put them together, and what have you got? No, bippity, boppity, or boo. Instead, not chosen.
I remember being stunned into stillness at the time. And self-recognition. That was exactly what I was feeling — not chosen. Not chosen to the degree that I also felt paralyzed by it ergo I was not able to choose either.
I wonder if it is disappointment that underlies the paralytic polarization we’re experiencing in the U.S.?
In “The Decency Agenda,” The Editorial Board writes, “Forget shared values: Americans cannot agree on a shared reality. Too many of us live in echo chambers, consuming information tailored to support our existing biases. Partisan warfare impels people to deny the legitimacy, even the humanity, of those with different viewpoints. What hope does any president have of bridging this gulf?”
The hope that, as we unpack our disappointments — which can only be done individually — we will bring ourselves out of our own paralysis, and into the ability to act upon our choices once again.
“‘Let’s give each other a chance,’ Mr. Biden pleaded in his Nov. 7 victory speech. ‘It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. Lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not enemies. They are Americans.’
And for you, Mr. Trump, just like author Patricia O’Toole could not stop thinking of her worst of the worst quote, another one keeps coming to me. The original comes from a yummy Oscar Wilde play called “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The line out of the mouth of one of the great characters of dramatic literature, Lady Bracknell.
She says, “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Mine is a paraphrase: “To lose one election, Mr. Trump, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
It is exactly this, his carelessness, that has landed him, and is keeping him, in disappointment, Beloved. All we need do is give fuel to our own abilities to care in order to handle our disappointments, begin to act on the choices that lead to change, and move forward into a new world that works for everyone.
Oh, and after Act V, don’t forget, the play ends.
*For those not in the know, “offstage noise” in live theatre somehow got relegated to the Fruit and Vegetable Kingdoms and so is often made by using vegetable words: Rutabaga, rutabaga, rutabaga. Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon. Et al.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.