There is a time for everything

Considerations on the transition of power from Trump to Biden

During his acceptance speech today, Biden quoted Ecclesiastes 3, which starts off as such:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

It’s one of my favorite Bible quotes, and I first heard it watching The Tudors, in final episode of season 2 when Anne Boleyn dies. I’ve actually thought of The Tudors a bunch during the Trump presidency; specifically, of King Henry VIII and how much he reminded me of Trump. I’ve thought of the appeal of power, and how power warps those in proximity to it. Sometimes, some of us act as if we are beyond that; as if we are acting on reason, or ideology, and that those times of absolute power are behind us. Yet, when push comes to shove, human psychology reverts to what it’s always been.

Consider, a highlight from Anne Boleyn’s final death speech (as recorded by Edward Hall) “I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be,” (whole text here.) Anne Boleyn claimed the man who had sentenced her to death was one of the best princes ever, and had always treated her well.

Why on earth would she say that?

I believe, the answer comes down to an inconvenient quirk in human psychology. When we are in proximity to power, many of us (most of us?) will instinctively resort to serving the interests of power and we will do it so deeply, and so faithfully that we genuinely believe that the interests of the powerful outweigh the interests of everyone else, including ourselves. I also believe, Anne Boleyn’s speech was genuine; that she genuinely held in high esteem the man who put her to death, possibly because he put her to death. It may be a hard thing to convey, but as a woman who has been in abusive situations, it sort of makes sense. When you feel trapped with someone who is abusing you, part of you is desperate to appease your abuser at all costs. You… start believing the things they say about you, think about you. You start taking in their world view, even at great personal cost.

I think it’s some kind of survival mechanism; if you were stuck in a small tribe with a powerful, abusive asshole, appeasing that asshole was your only chance to live.

And, this mechanism can be enacted on many people at once, as cult leaders have found in the past. People will support a powerful person (usually a man) because they are powerful. Because, for these individuals, being the person you think the powerful man wants you to be feels right in some way. These individuals will change themselves, change their personality, to be who they think the powerful wants them to be.

Which comes to an important question; what do we do with people who got caught up in this? What do we do with people who got caught up in this under Trump? I don’t really have an answer to this, but I believe as Trump loses power, what you will see, is you will see people come out from under his spell. It won’t happen with all of them, but some of them will come back. They will be ashamed of their behavior, they will be embarrassed that they were ever bamboozled by him.

And, how do we want to handle that? Because, the hard truth is, they have just acted like people act since time immemorial.

Anyway — I’m not really sure the best way forward, but I am very interested to see how people respond to Trump once he loses power. If my theory is right, much of his mysterious innate appeal will have evaporated. It was never charisma after all; it was just human attraction to naked power. And without the power, it’s all gone.

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