Just like Trump’s election caused people to seek therapy in droves (that’s a fact — it really, really did!), it caused people trying to articulate what this experience is like to pick up William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”. Bits and pieces of the poem are now part of the vernacular —
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And then there’s the “icon” —
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Yeats was writing — in 1919 (when he published the poem) about Europe after World War I. “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” — which was the context for the best lacking all conviction while the worst, full of passionate intensity, won the day. What Yeats doesn’t answer — though he seems to have an inkling — what exactly IS that “rough beast”, its “hour come round at last”, slouching toward its second coming in a metaphorical Bethlehem?
The seeds of World War II were firmly planted in the result of World War I. And World War I was, in most every way, the death knell of Old Europe. Power was shifting from the hands of the continent’s royal families (they’re all related by blood one way or another) to more democratically-run governments that relied more on the people for their right to govern than because they king said they could. Political ideas like communism were morphing from the abstract into the real with violent consequences. Anarchism seemed a viable alternative to the supposed “order” since that “order” had led everyone into the most catastrophic war ever.
Yeats was writing about a world totally in transition from one thing into another. The problem — what will that “another” become?
We’re in transition too — the whole world. The social democratic order we all took for granted is under assault by backward-thinking greed monsters who can’t bear sharing any of the power or any of the money. If asked directly, the majority of Americans have no desire whatsoever to live in a fascist state. Given a choice between that and a “socialist state” where — while they may not get to be quite as rugged an individual (if your rugged individualism screws with other peoples’ right to live their lives to the fullest, your rugged individualism needs to be curtailed — sorry), most Americans would opt for a country where everyone got to vote, everyone got health CARE (not health INSURANCE) so that going broke cos you got sick was an impossibility, and where everyone got educated or trained to the best of their ability — for “free” (meaning our tax dollars pay for it) because the smarter and better trained our work force and innovators are, the better we’ll solve our collective problems and continue to thrive collectively.
Kinda the opposite of what we’re doing now — while insisting our way must be better, the data be damned.
I don’t know that Yeats anticipated fascism’s rise. Extreme right wing nationalism was very much in the mix in Europe. It was in Ireland. And England. He could have been referring to the Bolshevik Revolution that blew through Russia in 1917, two years before Yeats published his poem.
If ever a man fit the bill “rough beast”, it’s Donald Trump. And the thing causing all those desert birds to flap around so indignantly is the thing that will “be born” when the rough beast finally slouches all the way to Bethlehem — authoritarianism. Permanent minority rule.
Make no mistake. We are living through a coup d’etat. The Republican Party — recognizing their eventual demographic irrelevance — made an actual power grab. They didn’t see themselves working with Trump at first. That part looks like an “improv” born of changing circumstances and tons of Russian Kompromat. We still don’t know what’s contained in all the stolen RNC emails — yes, the DNC’s emails weren’t the only ones Russia stole.
We don’t know, for instance, what caused Lindsey Graham to go from the ultimate Never Trumper to a man who could tell us in great detail what Donald Trump’s ejaculate tastes like. That’s metaphorical, of course. I think…
I wonder — if William Butler Yeats could experience a “second coming” — if Yeats could look around at our world in the context of his poem — what would he say? What would he think?
What would he write?
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I bet Yeats would write: “Didn’t any of you idiots read my damned poem?”