Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Perfect Narcissist for the Selfie Age

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Matt Rourke


The other night on my way home from the office, I stopped at the mall to do a little shopping.  As I got out of my car in the parking lot, I noticed a woman moving quickly through the parked cars with her arm outstretched in front of her.  She was holding her cell phone and videotaping herself walking to her car.  Periodically, she would run her fingers through her long hair to let the breeze catch the strands to give her that special wind-blown look.

At work, I have started reversing into the parking space so that when I leave for the day, I simply drive forward out of the space.  Why?  I have had too many close calls when backing out with people walking behind me or in my blind spot while texting or looking at their phone screens thereby failing to see me.  It’s scary and I don’t want to run over someone.

I have been plagued with muscle spasms in my lower back.  When the muscles seize, I have little control over my upper body.  I cannot change direction quickly, nor can I avoid objects that pass too close to me.  In short, I need personal space to navigate my world without colliding with others.  Yet time and again, I find myself trying to swerve way from people who simply are not paying attention and come right at me on a crowded sidewalk.  It is excruciating and frustrating at the same time.  I am embarrassed to admit I look like a doddering old man or a drunk, but it is my aching back.  I want to scream, “Look up from your phone!”  Instead, I grimace and try to move away.

Because of all of this, I believe that Donald Trump is the perfect narcissistic leader for this age of distraction and the selfie.  Follow my logic for a moment.

It would seem he has much in common with the people he now governs:  they have taken American exceptionalism to heart.  There are no more beautiful people than our dear leader and his pouting wife, at least in the Trumpian view, but average Americans are attractive people, too, even while walking through a dark mall parking lot with the wind gently blowing their collective hair back.  “So beautiful; so very, very beautiful,” in the Trumpian vocabulary.

Me?  “I want to barf,” said the wobbly man with the bad back and the grouchy grimace.  I try to avoid cameras and have never taken a selfie.

A wise teacher of mine once said that wars and disasters sober us up.  They descend upon us and upset everything we thought we knew and force us to look out rather than in.  In times of great upheaval, we find God and recognize our fragile place in the universe.  I think another revival is on the horizon.  Maybe we won’t flock to church, necessarily, but we may become more spiritual and wise, maybe even a bit more human, meaning we will stop thinking how beautiful we look and start using our brains.  As we come out of the season of excess, better known as the Christmas holidays, maybe we will put all the toys away and spend the remaining dark days of winter cultivating the life of the mind or at least hunkering down to defend ourselves and others against the coming apocalypse.

There is a comedian whose name escapes me, but I heard his stand-up routine one morning while driving to work.  He talks about the miracle of smart phones, how we have so much at our fingertips in that tiny machine of circuit boards and microchips.  He especially likes texting.  So he finds himself walking down a busy street while texting a friend to meet him later for a bite to eat.  They go back and forth trying to choose a restaurant, arguing about one place over another.  And of course, with his fat American fingers, he must back up and erase one typo after another to the point of frustration.  “If only there was a device where I could just talk to my friend,” he mutters to himself.  Then the irony hits him like a brick to the head.

I do like texting for the convenience of not talking.  When I call in sick at work, I would rather text.  I always hang up the phone thinking, “Did I sound sick enough?”  No one can tell how sick, or not sick, you are from a text.  I like that I can text someone in silence; no one can overhear the conversation.

However, texts can be misconstrued.  Auto correct features can alter what we type, sometimes with comic results.  We can also text accidentally to the wrong person.  A friend of mine was texting back and forth with his mother who was telling him in painful detail, the latest gossip in her apartment building full of senior citizens.  “Ok, see u later,” he kept texting, but she would keep texting back with more stories.  Another friend texted him to ask if he wanted to see a movie later.  “I would if I could get my psycho mother to stop texting me her real life soap opera.”  (Actually, I cleaned up the language; what he really said was a bit more, shall we say, pointed, but it did accurately reflect his frustration.)  He sent the text to his mother instead of the friend.  “Many people would love to hear from their mothers, even if they are psychos,” she texted back.  “Bet you’ll miss me when I’m dead.  There’s no texting from heaven.”  I marveled at the way she assumed she’d be in heaven.

After years of narcissism and self-absorption, Americans have finally elected a president who mirrors their own rampant, exaggerated self-importance.  Here’s a guy who won the election and still is not happy.  He would have won the popular vote as well if three million or so people had not voted illegally.  Evidence, shmevidence!  His hands are not small, he tells us.  His crowds are huge, he is so popular, he is so successful.  He is, simply, the bigly best, big time!  He is omnipotent when most men his age are much less than that.

But wait, there’s more.

His children are beautiful—he would date his own daughter if he could; she’s that beautiful.  His children are his Greek chorus of approval, his permanent entourage of affirmation.  But the cracks are showing:  he’s never done one thing that wasn’t in his best interest, and now, as the dear leader, his orange glow is fading and his weird comb-over is thinning.  The work of governing is hard and relentless and discouraging.  It’s not easy signing all those executive orders to transform himself from elected leader to fascist dictator.  For every step forward, someone is there to say “but the scientific data indicates global warming is real, Mr. President.”  Or, “farmers in central California rely on migrant undocumented workers to bring the fruit and vegetables in from the field to feed the nation.  Please don’t send them all home.”  People who protest make a king simply want to pull out his limited amount of hair, like the great leader’s first wife said he did to her during a dust-up.  Barack Obama surely knew how frustrating extremists can be as he battled his intransigent pals in Congress.  Not to be outflanked, Trump does what every dictator does:  he is trying to ram his new world order down the throats of the people.  He is signing executive orders as fast as they can be typed up:  border walls, health care repeals, muzzles for the EPA and the USDA, immigrants out.  He’s signing so fast, he literally throws the pens at people as he finishes his scrawl at the bottom.  “Donald Trump!  Donald Trump!”

But Trump’s presidential selfies have been photo bombed.  Don’t look now, Donald, but looming there in the gloom and doom behind you are people who are rediscovering that there is something bigger than themselves.  They will challenge your authority, as they did last Saturday around the world.  The limited benefits of a Trump presidency are already in effect:  the rise of journalism, and insistence on truth, the fact-checking of “alternative facts,” or lies as they used to be called in less Orwellian times.  More and more people are joining the resistance—they even hung a banner outside the White House on a crane that said, in huge letters, “RESIST.”  It’s a big world and even in our self-absorption, we are in it and interconnected with it.  The giant is woke.  We need to stop with the selfies, get back to a unified US, all in caps, and we need to do it before we get blindsided while staring at our own, self-proclaimed, exceptional beauty.  Turn the cameras outward and document.  Protest.  And PAY ATTENTION!!!

Photo courtesy of Drew Angerer/Getty Images