Philosopher, writer and British counterculture guru Alan Watts employed a wicked double entendre when he titled his autobiography “In My Own Way.” The straightforward interpretation of the title pertained to his individualistic approach to life. But what he also meant by it is that he himself was his own greatest impediment to fulfilment, as is often true with most of us. We are all occasionally distracted by the petty exigencies of life and in some sense we each “get in our own way.” It might even be said that those of us who get in our own way the least are often the most successful at the business of life.
This idea might also be illustrated by a koan I once overheard, about a seeker who climbs a mountain to seek a wise Buddhist spiritual teacher. The seeker tells him, “I want happiness.” The master thinks for a moment then replies, “Remove ‘I,’ remove ‘want,’ what do you have left?” We are, in effect, sometimes our own worst enemies.
Setting aside eastern philosophy for a moment, there’s the good old-fashioned American notion that anyone can grow up to be president of the United States. That is a maxim that I always thought meant any American had the opportunity to ascend to the ideal of the presidency. I don’t think the idea was originally concocted to mean that literally anyone can be president, that is, I don’t think it meant that there are no limits on how underqualified and thoroughly vile you can be. It just turned out to be that way, provided, of course, that the candidate in question is famous, has money and is white. Before Trump, who would have guessed those were literally all the qualities that were required?
I’ve pointed out before that Donald Trump isn’t just an evil man, he’s probably more evil and despicable than any human being you have ever met. In order to show me someone worse you will have to produce someone who is a rapist and sexual predator — including someone who has raped at least one child — has stolen millions of dollars, committed hundreds of crimes, betrayed his country repeatedly and been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. I’ll bet you can’t.
And yet, Donald Trump is also someone who is comically, almost cinematically, forever “in his own way,” in the tradition of the most obvious and silly slapstick comedians of the past. Trump is a thoroughgoing clown who constantly bungles everything he does and touches. And he isn’t just bad at everything he does, he’s appallingly bad, he’s ridiculously bad. He’s the 3 Stooges rolled into one. He’s even a lousy real estate developer, his alleged career for the last fifty years or so.
Trump can’t even go on television and make a convincing written speech to justify his own bungles. Incredibly, the more he talks the worse he makes it for himself. His own bevvy of water-carrying sycophants can’t keep up with his lies, and he’s constantly making fools of them by contradicting the very explanations they use for his misdeeds, gaffs and bungles. Trump isn’t just a bad president, he’s a calamity, a disaster, a daily and hourly and minutely embarrassment. He gets “in his own way” more than any human being I ever saw.
Donald Trump is a symptom of how socially inchoate and misguided our civilization has become. Now, I’m not going to point the bony finger of blame at social media or computers. This is no Luddite rant. But I do think we have allowed ourselves to lose much of the humanity we gained in the 1960s. I hasten to add that we have not all become easily-programmable automata. But enough of us have to elect a president of the United States as bad as Trump. The future I fear is the one where most of us become like Trump supporters. That is a future more to be feared than even this Trump presidency, awful though it has been.
Once we get rid of Trump, we as a society need to change. We need to learn again how to put being human ahead of being famous, being kind ahead of being rich and being spiritual ahead of being physically beautiful. We need, in effect, to stop getting in our own way. I don’t know exactly how we are going to do that. Call me silly or hopelessly optimistic, but I have faith that we will, somehow, some day, figure it out. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.