In my earlier posts on the subject of Business and Religion I have written about the high value we Americans place on success, especially in business. The rags to riches story is popular in our fiction and we like to say that there is no goal our kids cannot achieve if they are willing to work hard for it. The early American belief that the accumulation of wealth and influence is a sign of God’s favor gave religious sanction to these ideas. But even now the words and recommendations of the rich and powerful remain exaggeratedly important to us. There may be Americans who would be unimpressed by an invitation to party with Bill and Melinda Gates or a well-off campaigner for the presidency, but I doubt those Americans are typical. Most of us still adore success on display.
This reverence goes back to the days when those who succeeded big sincerely believed that their judgments and their wills reflected the judgment and will of God. (See William of Albany in my two previous posts.) But we are now confronted with soaring external success which takes no such religious conviction seriously. Outwardly, President Trump is invariably right in every opinion he holds and every decision he makes. He never admits he made a mistake and never apologizes to anyone because that would make him no different from people like you and me who struggle through each day hoping we thought, talked and acted well. Being mistaken or apologizing would make the President human, and to him being human in that way is for losers. He likes being a god and needs always to appear a winner. I think that is a cover, though, for his inward fear that at any time he could become a loser–that his ratings will go down, that he will be replaced, or that his show of greatness will, like The Apprentice, sooner or later be canceled. There’s desperation under all the President’s bullying–the fear of a world out of his control, beyond his manipulation, a world that could do him in: a slumping economy, a declining stock market, Republican senators who, if there were a serious dent in his popularity with voters, would desert him in a millisecond.
America, indeed the entire world, has to become for our President what he has decided it should be. Dissenters from his views are to be ignored or mocked. Only yes-men and yes-women are to be listened to. How monotonous it must be to live in a world that consists of no one who really counts except oneself: a world empty of independent thought and a multiplicity of views: one that is, I should add, remarkably un-American. Words for President Trump are not to be used to represent realities or describe accurately what’s happening. They exist only to serve his ends. What does it matter if we call it a wall or a fence, or a barrier: those are, as he said “only words.” He can tell us the Russians helped to elect him and a few hours later that they did not. The truth does not matter because it does not exist except for fools, losers, and weaklings. What matters is that his supporters keep bending to his illusions of omniscience and omnipotence, and when they don’t they must be fired. And since there is no truth other than his truth, there can be no such thing as lying.
But we have a law written in our hearts, or so says Scripture and so I believe, a voice that speaks to us inwardly when we have lied or acted immorally. It quietly tells us so, and we have for centuries called that voice conscience. Forever drowning it out must make for a very troubled life.
I admire our work ethic which, along with our focus on success, has helped make America the energetic and innovative country it remains. But when we have half an hour to spare and are so afraid to use it to reflect, or breathe, or take a short walk that we feel compelled to re-check our smartphones, we are overdoing that ethic. It is becoming an addiction, not a choice. At such times I try to remind myself that if I look out the window or step outside for a bit, I will find a world out there that can never again be exactly the same as it is right at that moment. It’s a precious world well worth taking a half hour to look at.