Linji Yixuan, the 9th century Chan master who founded what is now known as the Rinzai School of Zen, said: Behold the puppets prancing on the stage, and see the man behind who pulls the strings.
I think of that koan almost every day when I hear people talking ad nauseam about our President. I think of it when I look at the media coverage—not Fox or right-leaning media, but The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC. I think of it when I hear the glee with which so many greet all his gaffes, tweets, boasts, and numerous instances of ignorance. What a waste of precious time and attention!
Donald Trump is the tumbler and fool parading onstage, limbs contorting first one way and then the other, pointing here and there, dancing and masquerading, saying and doing whatever it takes to grab our attention (excluding thoughts of some depth or a vision for our country), and getting the audience he craves: I don’t care if you love me or hate me, just say my name. And we do, instead of looking, as Linji suggests, at who’s pulling the strings.
It’s not Trump who put together the latest punitive budget, but Mick Mulvaney and his staff at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), also a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, probably the most far-right group in the Congress, the man who was ready to do anything to bring down Obama’s Affordable Care Act, including voting numerous times to shut down the government.
Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, took a little time out to defend that same budget from his all-consuming job of deregulating the financial sector. Many folks there will tell you that it was the government, with its rules and regulations, that caused the 2008 recession rather than the greed of an unregulated market, and Mnuchin is making damn sure that recession won’t repeat because he’s loosening up all the ties that bind.
And finally there’s Paul Ryan, the moderate, intelligent, and philosophical leader of the House who has proudly cobbled up a medical plan punishing the poor at the expense of the rich. He’s the reasonable Wisconsin Representative who thinks it’s crazy for any modern, prosperous country to do what so many less prosperous do, guarantee medical coverage and wellbeing to each citizen regardless of wealth. According to his version of capitalism, the medical care you get should be a function of how much money you have. He’s the intellectual who states that there’s nothing worse in this country than excessive governmental intervention, nothing, not poverty, racism, war, or climate change.
And speaking of climate change, a vision that calls big government devil will never admit to challenges that can only be met by Satan. The minute we admit to human-made climate change, requiring national and even global intervention, we are also admitting that we need national and global organizations. If we admit that disparity between rich and poor is a global problem that causes, among many things, war, the biggest number of refugees in our age, and illegal immigrants ready to risk their lives stepping on mine-filled borders and risking watery graves to help their children survive, then we must admit the need for global institutions, like the World Health Organization and the United Nations. If we don’t admit these things exist, there is no need for big government to exist.
And that’s the guiding vision of our times. Get government off the backs of corporations, get government off the backs of taxpayers. Make no mistake, the Democratic Party went astray in many ways, wooing billionaires and making love to the high-tech sector, the privileged ones who think that the Internet makes us citizens of the world. Bill Clinton moved away from a pro-active government seeking to help those in need, but some of that old vision is returning. And when it does, there will be huge differences between the visions of both parties.
There’s one thing Paul Ryan is right about. Before the election he counseled young Republicans to look at the policies, not the personalities. And that’s what I think we need to do. Look at the issues and those pulling the strings, not the clown taking all the space onstage, diverting our attention from what is really going on.Make A Donation