Peoria, Illinois is basketball country. (Yes, I’m going somewhere with this.) People are nuts about hoops. So when the local school — my alma mater, Bradley University — produces some good basketball, the whole town adopts BU as its own. That’s why a school of 5,000 whose alums disperse all across the country after graduation will nonetheless, if it can manage to field a winning team, draw enough rabid fans to fill a nearly 12,000-seat arena. They’re knowledgeable fans, too — a former coach once said that every time he walked into the arena for a game, he’d entered “the land of 10,000 coaches.”
In other words, there are few better places for a kid to play college basketball. But today it’s a tough sell, because after a couple of risky coaching hires went badly wrong, that winning part became a problem. And so, with America’s attention span being what it is, a proud and once-dominant basketball tradition is now mostly referred to (if at all) as “Bradley Who?”
We are fickle, and we are forgetful, and all that took a lifetime or more to build — good or bad — can disintegrate utterly in just an instant. Maybe it’s the paradigm created when youthful narcissism gets amplified by technology — a paradigm under which everyone is famous in his or her own realm, and anyone can become famous beyond it — even Snooki. In such a world — a world where value is measured in clicks and likes and views, and where the worst fate imaginable is being yesterday’s news — what is there but right now?
Or maybe our religions are to blame, or our folklore, with all the tales we’re told — and want so badly to believe — about spontaneous disunion or redemption. There is no Ebeneezer Scrooge; he doesn’t exist. He isn’t even possible, because people can’t un-become who they are. That moment never comes that can wash away years of iniquity. Yet we still believe, collectively and culturally, that the moment will come.
Whatever the cause, our fickle, only-this-very-instant-counts nature could be our undoing. Take Donald Trump, for example. At 71, he is what he is, and what he is, frankly, is loathsome and revolting. He’s a racist, a bigot, a malignant narcissist, a predator, and an ignoramus. He spent years getting there, and he’s spent years being there.
He’s so inept that he needed a do-over for a frigging hurricane; he couldn’t see on his first trip (without being prodded or coached) that, while he was in Texas purportedly to console victims, maybe he should meet one. So he waved from afar, thanked his crowd (“great crowd, big crowd”) for coming to see him, and then flew away without ever touching anyone — literally or figuratively.
He had to be told that this was not a human, let alone presidential, way to behave. So he flew back a second time — with only one mission: be seen hugging someone. And that’s what he did: he found a couple of people to hug, smiled while he hugged them, and then flew away again.
And here is what happened to his poll numbers (the red line represents the approximate time of Texas Visit Number Two):
Trump’s approval moved instantly — in mere hours — from 34% to 38% while his disapproval moved from 61% down to 56%. That’s from a net -27 to a net -18 — just for a couple of fake hugs. Instant redemption: the fantasy of Ebeneezer Scrooge lives on.
Let’s keep this in mind as Irma rounds the corner. Let’s remember the next time we want to fawn all over Trump’s fake humanity that this kind of mindless reaction — the same fickle forgetfulness that defines our whole culture — will be the reason for a second term of Donald Trump — the one that could end the American experiment for good.