I’ve been trying to figure it out for months… how to make sense of this election year. And then finally, I did.
We’re all stuck in a real-life version of the Great Gatsby.
I discovered the Great Gatsby in high school. I loved the intrigue of Gatsby, mysteriously wealthy, wildly popular, secretly heart-broken… and a complete hoax.
It wasn’t the parties, or the cars, or the jazz that I liked… It was the Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg on the billboard that condemningly looked down on the decline of American values. It was the library of uncut (unread) books discovered at Gatsby’s mansion.
The despotism of high society, the plight of the powerless and the manipulated, and the dangerous lure of passionate love. What I loved about Fitzgerald’s world of Gatsby was that it exposed that “the world that is,” is so often “the world that shouldn’t be;” and that “the world that should be,” so rarely “comes to be.”
As Fitzgerald once said, ‘America’s great promise is that something’s going to happen, but it never does.’”
Then, last week, it occurred to me that there is something familiar about Donald Trump and his inexplicable rise among the GOP. After many months of thinking that he had somehow hijacked the GOP… I realized, it is actually the other way around.
It doesn’t really matter how dishonest, how offensive, or how obscene he continues to prove himself to be. The GOP has figured out it can party at his mansion week after week and benefit from his popularity. The GOP will use him like a leased car. Sure, that comes with costs, but the benefits outweigh the costs, at least at the front-end. It maters not that he (and so many others) are self-deluded, because, like in the world of Gatsby, seeming is so much more important than being.
Gatsby and Daisy… and you and me
Naming Gatsby is easy enough, fabulously rich and popular but most importantly, genuinely in love. If there is one thing I don’t doubt, it’s Trump’s sincerity and his desperate and insatiable work to get to the White House. As sure as Gatsby stood at the edge of his property and stared at the “green light” (Daisy’s dock across the bay), Trump has been fixed on his presidential bid. Perhaps the seed was planted as he was skewered at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but the seed was planted and it is a love affair, an infatuation, that has no bounds.
I can hear Trump’s crass voice in the remark, “Your wife doesn’t love you… She’s never loved you. She loves me.” And if there is one thing he’s sure of, it’s that the American People are better off with him than with anyone else.
We can’t forget that Daisy Buchanan is no protagonist in the story either. She represents everything that is the elite social class, especially the deception and the cheating to maintain power and get ahead. Daisy reminds me of Hillary Clinton as she is willing to put up with her situation, and plays by the unfortunate rules of her culture in order to protect her status. Daisy also has put up with a sexist, cheating and abusive husband. Enough said.
But Daisy is the character you want to love… sophisticated, enchanting, and the perfect background for her milieu. She is not only betrayed by her husband, she’s betraying others as well. Likewise, I find myself most wanting to trust Hilary, as I did Daisy, but I think this is more a projection of what I want her to be, than what she really.
Nick… stuck between the two
Then there’s Nick Carraway, the main character and narrator. In our real world Great Gatsby, we are Nick. Daisy just knows that we will love her, and Gatsby persistently calls us “Old Sport.”
Every one of us is limited by our own “self,” including our own self-deception. I love it when Nick says:
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
I assume that most of us have sincere and honest reasons for how we will vote. And we’re as sure of reasons as Nick is of his virtue of honesty.
It makes me very tired… just like Nick tossed between Gatsby, and Daisy, and himself, and his own romance with his girl, Jordan Baker. As he and Jordan are driving down the road, he puts his arm around her and remarks:
Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person [Jordan] who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”
Jordan, the character that could have been
So what about the Bernies, the Jebs, the Ron Pauls, and all the rest of those that could have been? Well they seem to fade into the background like Jordan… drowned out by the dramatic and egotistical players. They are the candidates that we never had… the third parties we might vote for, but who will not make it to a debate platform.
Nick says of Gatsby and Daisy, “They’re a rotten crowd… You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
And although I would be half in love like Nick and Jordan, I’d be better with one of the other candidates than the options we’ve been left with.
The man with owl eyed glasses
There’s one more character that I love. There’s the seldom seen, seldom heard Owly-Eyes man. He shows up every once and a while just to remind us he’s there, although he himself is not caught up in the web of deceit.
He’s perceiving, judging, and compassionate. At Gatsby’s funeral, when only a few show up, he says, “Why, my God! They used to go [here] by the hundreds… the poor son-of-a-bitch.”
Owls have great vision you know… they can see the mice from the grass.
I’d like to think there is such a figure in this election. One unworried about the turnout itself, but who sees the larger issues. One who sees how this election is judging the voters, and not the elected.
And we shouldn’t forget how the story ends. None of the lovers are really better off in the end… except maybe Nick, the character in the first-person.
Maybe he becomes a better person despite Gatsby and Daisy… maybe we can too.