Fat is the Head that Wears the Crown

I was noodling around on Wikipedia recently and began reading a page about the difference between a “head of state” and a “head of government,” and I had a moment of insight.

According to this Wikipedia entry, a head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state. This is not to be confused with the head of government.

It occurred to me that Donald Trump, in running for president of the United States, wanted to be the head of state. He wanted all of the adulation and ornamentation that accrues to heads of state–monarchs, essentially. He wanted to be the persona of America (or his version of America) and emulate strongmen “leaders” and arbitrary sovereigns. He wanted the thrill of the large crowds cheering for him.

But he definitely did not want to be bothered with mundane things such as laws and regulations.

Trump’s insistence on on posing with a Bible in front of church for photographers on June 1, 2020–and forcibly removing racial justice protestors in the process–is a prime example of what a head of state would do, but likely not a head of government.

Just as importantly, his MAGA-hatted, Trump-flag-waving followers wanted a head of state too. This was demonstrated by the fervent devotion exhibited at all of his campaign rallies and most notably by the mob of rioters on January 6 who, in the name of keeping him as the “leader” of the United States, attacked and vandalized out of zealous loyalty to one man the very seat of our democratic republic.

I recognize that prior to America’s experiment in democracy, the identity of a nation was tied to “king and country.” This is what motivated people–Europeans mostly–to create colonies and subjugate other people.

But the creation of the United States and our written constitution was intended to do away with that, or at least the worst parts of it.

Interestingly, while in America we have a head of state who also is the head of government, there are several different ways of handling this, according to Wikipedia. These range form some power shearing to cases where the head of state has almost nothing to do with running the apparatus that implements the laws under which citizens live their lives.

Trump’s presidency–and the forces that put him into office–emphasize that our system perhaps is due for a makeover. The American setup is not the only way to do this, and it is a useful exercise to consider how we could modify our Constitution to make things a bit more reflective of the modern realities of our multicultural nation. To be blunt, if people want to elect a head of state, and that head of state has no interest in governing, then there’s a way to do that which is safe and quite possibly effective.

But we’d have to amend the Constitution and the odds of that aren’t great as long as we live under this pervasive political opinion that “They” are trying to get “Us” and that we are unable to function as a “We” as in “We the People.”

I for one would welcome some changes to how our country is run. All I have to do is pause and reflect on the fact that nearly 250 years ago, we fought a war and people gave their lives precisely so that we would NOT have a king in America. I think that was a noble cause, and these current generations would do well to uphold it.

Founding father and original patriot John Adams once said:

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws.

Speaking Up

I am an introvert.

There a number of ways in which introverts and extroverts differ, some of which are fairly obvious day to day and others that are more subtle. One of the ones that shows up rather frequently is that introverts think about what they are going to say, and extroverts talk so that they know what they think. Each can be annoying to the other but being self aware about which camp you are in helps when navigating social situations.

So, for myself, my tendency is to not speak until I have something to say. This carries over to social media (something that I’ve discussed previously here).

But in the new year, I’m resolving to make a change: to speak up more often when it is necessary.

And necessary it is in 2021. Because we have learned that there are real-world consequences to giving free reign on social media to extroverts, those who lack impulse control or self-awareness, and people for whom belief is more important than thinking critically.

I know a lot of extroverts (who doesn’t? They are a dominant force in culture). Many of them are lovely people, warm and friendly, kind and loving.

But the danger comes when many act before they think–which as I said before is part of their nature. And on social media it is SO easy to act before thinking. You click the like button or shoot off a nasty reply before you even process what you’ve seen or read. (The person who coined the phrase that it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission was an extrovert.)

This is how things “go viral” (a term I hate, by the way). But it is also how things become a shit storm. People pile on, one thing leads to another, and before you can say “Facebook” you have a flame war on your hands.

Voices of reason–badly needed right now–are drowned out, buried, lost in the flood. Calm dialog is shouted down. Mob mentality prevails.

So I don’t truly believe that my effort will make any difference, at least not right away. But I do need to defy my nature and speak up when warranted. And not be upset by the inevitable nasty responses. Or apologetic without reason.

If civility is actually what we want in this country (doubtful, but it’s a worthy goal), then somebody has to get the ball rolling, Might as well be me, and maybe you too.

Take This Job and Find a Better Way

About 15 years ago, I was in Reno on a business trip with a colleague. While we were waiting to meet with a client, we ate lunch in a hotel restaurant and had a brief conversation about the nature and value of work.

As we ate, a thin woman who may have been in her late 50s wandered through the dining area and repeatedly announced “Keno” in a high-pitched voice. She was wearing a uniform of some sort that identified her has an employee of the establishment. She gave off a vibe of tedium, which seems understandable if all she did for eight hours a day was solicit wagers on the Keno games inside a windowless hotel casino. (In case you’ve never been to Nevada, pretty much all hotels are casinos.)

Photo: John Sanphillippo

My colleague and I watched her come and go. After a while, my colleague looked at me and said, “Is that the kind of job that makes someone grateful to be employed?”

“No,” I said with a sad chuckle. “She actually seems rather pathetic.”

Employed, but pathetic.

Up until recently, our current president was very proud of the number of people employed in the United States. Whether these statistics portray an accurate picture or not, there was a lot of verve in the economy before the coronavirus brought things to a screeching halt.

Since March, a lot of people have lost their jobs. Some of those job losses will be temporary, but many will likely be permanent. And it is worth asking whether those were jobs really worth having to start with. Perhaps there is something more than the job/no job binary.

There are many in this country who have a point of view that goes something like this:

  • any employment is better than no employment
  • having no job is “bad,” as in “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”
  • all jobs are of equal quality when viewed in the employment/no employment dichotomy
  • any job will be a step up the ladder of progress.

This is a very simplistic perspective that ignores many realities of human interaction. Among them are the fact that employers take illegal (and sometimes immoral) advantage of their employees all the time, day in and day out. One has only to look at the number of lawsuits that employees or former employees have filed against companies to get a sense of the magnitude of the situation.

This also ignores the plight of the working poor, who are employed and yet still unable to afford basic necessities such as decent housing, food, and health care, and have no guarantee that things will improve. Also, freelancers, contract workers, and those stuck in the so-called gig economy have little reason to feel that they’re being paid fair compensation for their efforts.

The job vs. no job view of employment paints a flat picture. It disregards the idea that employment–serving a valued role in society–can be key to one’s sense of self-worth. Once, all employment, with the possible exception of royalty, served a purpose. Today, there are far too many “bullshit jobs.” Perhaps we will actually be better off if many of these just go away, to be replaced by truer, more worthwhile vocations.

This may sound unsympathetic, but I would question how much people really enjoy selling shit on Ebay day in and day out, or taking money from drivers while sitting all day in toll booths, or calling out the next round of Keno betting in a forgettable lunch cafe in Reno. I think there is a better way, and I think we can take some time during this moment in our history allow ourselves to consider the possibilities.

There is a perhaps unsolvable tension between the economic need of having the means to fulfill one’s basic needs and the psychological need for fulfillment and understanding. We’ve created a society where the two are often mutually exclusive. Perhaps we could do better.

Change Comes from Within

A few years ago, a documentary aired on TV called 1968: The Year That Changed America. It was about how the events, politics, and social movements of 1968, in the words of the producers, “forever changed the modern American landscape.”

Except that, it now would seem that nothing ever really changed at all. America may no longer be legally segregated, but we are as much divided along racial, ethnic, and religious lines as we ever were. The federal government is in chaos and unable to effectively address the real needs of the American people. People are protesting in the streets nationwide. We have a president who is egotistical, unqualified, and more interested in scoring political points than actually governing the country. We have a media industry that is both part of the solution and contributing to the problem. We have an economy that works well for a few people and excludes many. We have people self-destructing through excessive drug use. We have a Congress that appears to be unable to do anything meaningful.

It would appear that we as a country have learned nothing, and it makes me wonder how that happened. It is as if we collectively have an underdeveloped ability to learn, to regulate our own behavior, and to make changes for the better. Perhaps we suffer from multiple personality disorder, that there isn’t just one America but many, many different ones.

Or perhaps we are in recovery from trauma, that the events of 1968 didn’t set us on the road to improvement but rather created the dividing line between before and after. Most people who suffer a traumatic event view it as a pivotal point in their lives, that they are not the same person after that they were before.

Maybe America continues to struggle with coming to terms with this new sense of self, and we’re not there yet. But are we trying? Sometimes I wonder. Many are, but are there enough of us to create true change? Is change gonna come? Or will we just anesthetize ourselves and turn a blind eye to the real work that needs doing.

I would like to think we have it in us to do the work. When we’re at our best, we do. But, as with anything, we have to want to change. And it is our loss of we don’t.

What is new about American police brutality towards black people? Why did it take the death of George Floyd for the people of Bristol to recognize that they had a monument to a slave owner in their city’s midst? The real question is not what should people do but will people go back to sleep or not? Will we have learned? – Dr. Gabor Mate

 

A genuine change must first come from within the individual, only then can he or she attempt to make a significant contribution to humanity. – Dalai Lama