The Day Donald Trump Went Gray

After years in office, US Presidents go gray. Whether the stress gets to them, or it’s their age, or they choose to stop dyeing their hair, or some combination of the above, it happens.

It happened with Presidents Clinton and Bush II. It even happened to Reagan, the former movie star with a suave demeanor and witty sense of humor.

Among other things, now that the 2020 campaigns are over, President Trump’s unique hairdo appears poised to grant him the curious distinction of being the first non-assassinated President since color photography to leave office without showing any gray hair.

At the time of this writing, the color of President Trump’s hair indeed appears to have changed somewhat during his presidency, although it is decidedly non-gray.

Trump’s hair is less intensely yellow than than in the recent past, though it appears just now to be picking up some of the autumnal, oranger hues from Trump’s complexion, resulting in a faded-blond-pinkish-whispy-something-or-other attached to a psychotic 74-year-old with dementia.

As the 2020 US Presidential Campaigns fade into the distance, and as the celebrations of Biden supporters in cities subside, this may be a fitting moment to remember the day Trump did go gray.

In late March of 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump appeared in his daily press conference suddenly gray-haired, projecting an image of calm, poise, dignity, respect, and seasoned wisdom in the face of an emerging public heath threat.

Strangely, it happened again for a day in July 2020, after the US failed to control the novel coronavirus.

The first report of a gray President comes from Vogue; the second comes from the New York Post, a one-time mouthpiece for long-time Trump associate Roy Cohn, and media property of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (along with Fox News).

Thus, despite keeping his “natural” hair color throughout the final days of his presidency, Trump may turn out to be the only president to have gone gray twice in office.

Whether his brief tenure with gray hair was an advisor’s suggestion for projecting the image of a wise elder during the COVID pandemic, or whether it was something more like a focus group survey for his intended second term can’t be determined, but if the second possibility has any validity, we may still have an opportunity to find out.

The election results have been available for a week now, and Trump is refusing to concede the election. We don’t know what happens if two men show up to be sworn in as President on January 20, 2021.

Is Trump delusional, or is this reality television for his fans? Do his lawsuits and recounts and allegations of election fraud have any chance of changing the election result? Maybe, but not in the way one might expect at first glance.

The 2020 Presidential campaigns are over, but the States don’t send delegates to the Electoral College until the December 8, 2020 “safe harbor” deadline, and the Electoral College doesn’t vote until December 14. If the Electoral College cannot convene, cannot decide, or if the State Governors disagree with the Delegates nominated by the State Legislatures, the election may be resolved in the House of Representatives by a Contingent Election.

If a Contingent Election in the House determines the next President, the votes will cast by States, not by individual Representatives. And although the Democrats backing Biden have more individual Representatives in the House, the House represents a greater number of Republican States. This is because Republicans control a greater number of less-populous States.

Although Trump has promised to demand a number of recounts in closely-contested states like Georgia and Wisconsin, it seems unlikely his team will be able to invalidate enough ballots to secure the election. Litigating the vote count, however, may not be the ultimate objective of these lawsuits.

Trump has a history of protracted litigation. If the Trump strategy is to angle for a Contingent Election in the House, all the State recounts might really be about dragging out litigation, buying time to propagandize to his base about the “stolen” vote, sowing disagreement between how the State Governors and Legislatures think Electoral College delegates should be picked, and pressuring the Supreme Court to intervene as the “safe harbor” deadline approaches.

After the contested Bush v. Gore election in 2000, the Supreme Court intervened in the Florida recount precisely because the “safe harbor” deadline was imminent. Should Trump face such a scenario at the end of the month, he will have the advantage of having chosen three new Supreme Court nominees on the bench, all three of whom worked for Bush’s legal team in the Bush v. Gore lawsuit.

His actions of late certainly don’t resemble those of a man planning to leave the executive residence: in July 2020, Trump took down the official portraits of Presidents Bush and Clinton, having never unveiled President Obama’s official portrait; in late August, First Lady Melania Trump unveiled a renovated White House Rose Garden; his executive branch is refusing to formally acknowledge the election results and his staff has been instructed not to cooperate with Biden’s transition team.

Another possible endgame we might be witnessing stems not from Trump’s grandiosity, but from his pettiness: if America can’t be his, then nobody gets it. Maybe he knows his days in office are numbered, and he’s just planning to burn everything to the ground on his way out and poison the water.

This could be a clue as to why — after the election — Trump replaced Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who publicly disagreed with Trump on the use of force and the Insurrection Act to subdue the BLM protests breaking out during the summer of 2020.

As Trump has stoked racial tensions while courting white nationalist groups, militia, and violent insurrectionists, he could be planning to go out with more of a bang than a whimper, popular caricatures notwithstanding.

From Science Came Mystification

The Western scientific program promises to reveal all the secrets of nature through systematic, rational inquiry.  In so doing, it promises certainty beyond what superstition can muster and promises technological control over Nature superior to that of magic.  As the technological products of science increase in complexity however, their intelligibility decreases.  Technology is increasingly apprehended in terms of its “magical” effects, while the rational underpinnings become increasingly obscure.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke opined that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Expressing a similar sentiment, psychologist Carl Jung wrote: “Magic happens to be everything that eludes comprehension… It is difficult to exist without reason… and that is exactly how difficult magic is.”  In its current marketing campaign, Apple Computer offers products that are “practically magic,” enabling glossy photography without knowledge of exposure, and other like “miracles.”

Early signs of trouble in the European Enlightenment Rationalist tradition emerged around World War I.  The Dada movement was not nihilistic, as is often charged, but a reaction against the moral vacuity of the modern scientific outlook, and a criticism of the notion that empirical science is an inherently a-moral enterprise.  While modern science takes its philosophical starting point from Plato’s equating of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, the advent of mechanized warfare and chemical weapons in the First World War caused a profound disturbance in the Western psyche.

dr-strangelove

With the nuclear arms race after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union engineered a stalemate policy of mutual deterrence that continues to imperil all life on the planet, as satirized by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove.  Part of what sociologist C. Write Mills referred to as “organized irresponsibility,” the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, was devised by computer scientist John von Neumann, and modeled on the principles of game theory.  For decades since, policy makers have essentially engaged in a hyper-rational planning regime for a technological apocalypse, where the flawed judgement of a single person can have catastrophic consequences globally.

Observing these developments in their infancy, Marxist psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in 1956:

“To speak of the ‘lacking sense of reality’ in modern man is contrary to the widely held idea that we are distinguished from most periods of history by our greater realism.”

“But to speak of our realism is almost like a paranoid distortion. What realists, who are playing with weapons which may lead to the destruction of all modern civilization, if not of our earth itself!”

“If an individual were found doing just that, he would be locked up immediately, and if he prided himself on his realism, the psychiatrists would consider this an additional and rather serious symptom of a diseased mind.”

Western science has largely delivered on many of the promises of magic, from practical control over matter at the subatomic level to the mastery of flight and tele-vision.  Yet where sorcery is regarded as evil and dangerous, the rational products of science — which pollute, surveil, exploit and kill around the globe — are widely praised as the crowning achievements of our civilization.

Beginning in the occult tradition at the interface of alchemy, Hermeticism, and the kabbalistic mathematics of religious thinkers like Abraham Abulafia and Ramon Llull, the return of science to “magic” suggests the failure of the Rationalist tradition is complete, and should serve as a warning that we are rapidly entering a new era of superstition and barbarism, as we gleefully destroy ourselves with a new “magic” few of us understand.

abraham-abulafia-ars-combinatoria-a-figure-color

Marketing and Manipulation

The Miller Brewing Company is running a TV advertisement in which they take credit for inventing subliminal advertising.  Perhaps the claim is in jest, yet there is a dark undercurrent where a large corporation brags about how effectively they can manipulate their customers.

The purpose of advertising is to manipulate the perceptions of consumers.  Advertising creates desires where previously none existed in order to create demand for the output of industry.  Discussions of economics generally assume that supply follows demand: if this were the case, however, advertising would not be necessary.  In many cases, supply creates demand — and advertising is an instrumental part of this process.

That advertising alters perceptions is not a trivial fact: it is central to advertising’s effectiveness.  Nissan is running an advertisement boasting about the safety features they incorporate into their automobile design.  After detailing the automobile’s safety features, the advertisement concludes: “the only thing left to fear is your imagination.”

An advertisement that instills the perception that driving is safe can have tragic consequences: driving is just about the most dangerous thing the typical American does on a daily basis.  In the last 13 years, 2,977 Americans have died from terrorism.  Since 2001, some 468,743 Americans have died in automobile accidents.  On average, automobiles kill more Americans every month than terrorists killed on 9/11.  Yet the policy implications of these two figures could not be more different.

Were Americans to perceive the true dangers inherent in driving, perhaps Federal highway subsidies and automobile manufacturer bailouts would arouse more indignation than they have, while the time and expense and social changes ushered in by the War on Terror might be redirected towards changing social values to discourage driving — by creating walkable neighborhoods and funding mass transit effectively, for example.  This would certainly save more lives than military adventures abroad.  Advertising and marketing exert a subtle though profound effect on the perceptions of Americans, influencing what policies are permissible.

Advertising creates reality.  Advertising creates mass psychology.  This influence is not benign, nor like the fabled boasts of snake oil salesman, but orchestrated perception management campaigns by organized industry meant to benefit organized industry.  To the extent that advertising is ubiquitous, and to the extent that everybody assumes that advertising involves exaggerations or lies, the outcome is in many ways affected subliminally — without being noticed.

Definitely Not Brainwashing

 

newspaper clipping regarding controversy

In 1992, when the fictional TV character Murphy Brown encountered a common real-life situation — that of conceiving a child out of wedlock — there was a national uproar.  The vice president of the United States even chimed in, saying that this was an example of the moral deterioration of society.

When Bristol Palin, the real-life daughter of former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, conceived a child out of wedlock as a teenager, she was treated as a celebrity, and subsequently earned a spot on the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”  Due to audience voting, Bristol Palin remains in the competition while superior dancers are eliminated.

 

Source of newspaper clipping: Milwaukee Journal, May 24, 1992.