The Man Without A Chest

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it…Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” 

—C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

I watched Donald Tr-mp’s 100-day speech Saturday night, given in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, among a group of enthusiastic supporters. I, like most non-Tr-mpian Americans who watched it, was appalled. His reprise of “The Snake,” aimed this time at immigrants rather than Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS killers and Putin-supported Bashar al-Assad, was, well, shameful and disgusting. His deliberate narrowcasting to his cultic admirers, as opposed to the rest of America, was sickening. Norman Ornstein tweeted:

Trump’s bombastic, divisive rally shows he is a dangerous narcissistic sociopath.

Yes. He is. No doubt about that. But I found myself experiencing his speech, and thinking about it afterward, in a way that surprised me. I actually felt pity for that poor man on the stage at that rally. I can make fun of his diminutive hands and what that means to him. I can point to his petty insecurities and how they dominate his psychology. I can diagnose his multiple disorders and express fear for the safety of the country. But, really, on Saturday I saw a small man. The smallest man in the world. The smallest man in the world with the biggest job.

I can’t swim. I’ve tried. I just can’t. I can’t even learn to swim. It’s hopeless. And I always had this fear that someone would, trying to earnestly help me overcome this obvious handicap, take me out in the middle of the ocean and drop me in the water, forcing me to swim or die. I can’t tell you, those of you who take swimming for granted, how palpable is that fear, how paralyzing it is.

It dawned on me, while thinking about Tr-mp’s horrific speech on Saturday, that he is a man who has been dropped in the middle of the sea without the ability to swim. And, right before our eyes, he is drowning. He is literally drowning. Oh, he told us he could swim. In fact, he bragged that he was the world’s greatest swimmer, that he could expertly swim, with ease, the raging ocean. And 46% of the electorate, with the help of the Russians, took him out to sea and dropped him there. But, really, he’s scared of the water. He’s afraid. As the waves of the job he is uniquely unqualified to do batter him day after day, he needs something to cling to, some solid thing to grasp, some hope that he will not suffer at the hands of an angry ocean, at the hands of his invincible ignorance, at the hands of his irremediable incompetence, at the hands of his irreversible disabilities. Those people at that rally, at any of his rallies, are his lifeline. When he is sinking, they pull him up again. He calls for help and they come.

But at some point even they won’t be able to save him. At some point he will go down for the last time. And for that he is to be pitied. For that he deserves our sympathy, even those of us who didn’t vote for him and despise what he stands for. But he does not deserve our help. He does not deserve to be saved. He needs to go down. He needs to sink, if America is to stay afloat itself. He has done irreparable damage to the presidency. He has assaulted one national institution after another and made a mockery of our democracy. He has attacked and threatened—and he and his administration continue to threaten—our free and indispensable press. He is each and every day using his office, the office of Lincoln and the Roosevelts, for personal and family profit. He has embraced despots and international thugs. He admires the unadmirable.

Why? Why does he do such things? Why is his moral compass broken?

As C. S. Lewis might say (extrapolating from his book, The Abolition of Man), Tr-mp doesn’t have a “chest,” a solid set of “trained emotions,” or “stable sentiments,” that conform to what Lewis considered to be “objective” values, those values that we all should acknowledge in one way or another, that we all should “see” are not just “mere feelings” on the part of the observer but real things. For instance, you and I may disagree about the splendorous beauty of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 3, but in order for us to disagree we both have to acknowledge there is such a thing as “beauty.” Otherwise, we have nothing to argue about. Or we may argue about whether cutting off health insurance for millions of poor and working people is good or bad, but we have to acknowledge the objective reality of the concepts of “good” and “bad” in order to have that argument. If you tried to claim that there were no objective values, that what we referenced when we used the words good or bad were only subjective human feelings, you would in fact be contradicting yourself because such a claim is itself an objective one, one that allegedly applies to and is independent of all of us.

David Gergen, who once worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations and who is now an analyst for CNN, has spent most of the last 18 months or so pretending that Tr-mp can’t be as bad as he appears, that there has to be a “good” Tr-mp in there somewhere waiting to “pivot” and embrace the dignity of the American presidency. But Saturday’s 100-day speech was too much even for Gergen. He said after it was over:

This was the most divisive speech I have ever heard from a sitting American president. Others may disagree about that. He played to his base and he treated his other listeners, the rest of the people who have been disturbed about him or opposed him, he treated them basically as, ‘I don’t give a damn what you think because you’re frankly like the enemy.’ I thought it was a deeply disturbing speech.

He’s right. Tr-mp doesn’t “give a damn” what “his other listeners”— “the enemy”— think about him at this point. He is a drowning man and he knows it. And he knows that his only hope of surviving, of treading the water of the presidency, is in the people he dreadfully charmed with “The Snake” on Saturday and eerily entertained with more talk of “fake news,” while cynically and embarrassingly creating an impromptu prop out of a pitiable man holding a “Blacks for Trump” sign. As the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was going on in Washington—the first time a sitting president hadn’t participated in 36 years—Tr-mp told his human life preservers that,

A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now. They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—without the President. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people.

Everyone who has carefully witnessed Tr-mp’s tragic trajectory to the White’s House knows this is another one of his lies, another tale he told himself and his followers. In fact, there is no plImage result for drowningace he would rather have been than at that dinner with Hollywood actors and media stars. But he can’t swim in that sea. The water there was simply too deep without something to cling to, something he could use to keep his head above the waterline.

So, as a man without natural political buoyancy or the learned skills to avoid the hazards of the political depths—as well as a man without a chest, those trained emotions or stable sentiments—he was reduced to crudely entertaining his adoring fans, while insulting the rest of us and depreciating what once was the highest office in the world. This sad, sad man with the big job is indeed the smallest man alive. And as strange and painful as it might be to watch, we have to let the unforgiving and tumultuous sea have him.



  1. The water, I think, is not yet high enough to do the job. How bad must it get, I wonder, for the 46% of eligible voters who did not vote last November to raise the level?

    Trump’s new EPA chief, rejecting science, just derailed a ban on a widely used insecticide that damages young brains.


    • Jim,

      I seriously doubt the story in the Times, as scary as it is, will mobilize large numbers of people to get off their cynical asses and actually vote next time. I mean, it should motivate people, especially the stunning fact that a science-denying EPA honcho told his agency’s “chemical safety experts” to STFU.

      I suspect that voter turnout next time will be higher, though. And it doesn’t have to be all that much higher than it was this last time to get rid of Tr-mp. The problem is keeping people engaged in the resistance all the way up until November of next year. As the great George Lakoff put it yesterday on MSNBC, the idea is not so much “resistance” as “persistence.” That will be the key going forward.

      Meanwhile, word comes in this morning that Tr-mp just discovered there was a civil war here in America and it wouldn’t have happened if only Andrew Jackson…oh, never mind. It’s too early to process something so stupid.



  2. Brilliant piece, Duane. The best analogy I’ve read so far along the journey of this nightmare. I find it hard to pity the lying, foolish, bully, Tr-mp. So, let me add another piece of good writing (from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22) to yours and Mr. Lewis. “It was miraculous. It was no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
    Yes — a man (and his minions) with no chest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot. And thanks for that amazing passage from Catch 22, “the handy technique of protective rationalization.” Damn, that is so appropriate for these times, for this man, that it is almost as if it was written with him in mind. I’m going to put that in a box on the side of this blog. Fantastic writing.



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  May 2, 2017

    “Democrats are completely focused on placating their frothing, left-wing, anti-Trump base — and the American heartland thinks these people are insane. ” Such is a quote from a WaPost column claiming the real losers in the past “100 Days” were Democrats.
    Another point made in the same column was that only 28% of “Americans” felt the Dem Party was “in touch” with the country (some 10 points lower than Trump’s approval rating).

    I put “Americans” in quotes because I have no idea, from day to day, what “Americans” think. “They” change their minds all the time. Even Billy Long made a headline article in WaPost today saying he will vote No against the “new” HC bill being circulated in the House. He has campaigned “forever” to repeal ACA but now will vote No to do so. Changed his mind I suppose, like most Americans and for sure the President. One point can be assured today. The GOP has no idea how to govern today, just like Dems. Both parties are so split, both trying to gauge the “will of the people”, that the majority say No to just about anything that changes the status quo.

    Great Britain might well be instructive in this world of huge divide. The Prime Minister demanded a sudden and new election. She did so to confirm that “the people of Great Britain” really meant it when they voted to leave the EU a year ago. One would think it would be a wonderful chance for the Labor Party to reclaim political power. Yet the WaPost indicates the vote will remain strongly in favor of the Prime Minister and her party, the conservative party.

    A picture of the Labor Party leader looks very much like Bernie, another old, rumpled up European Socialist. The Labor Party is putting all its eggs in that basket, a far left basket, again. Is it fair to note that such leanings are not even on the second ballot in the French election. Any predictions how well far left ideas will work in the German election later this year?

    Take the top three issues in American domestic politics today, HC, Tax Reform and Immigration. There is the Bernie/Warren way to resolve those problems and there is the Tea Party way to do so. Both “ways” would be a disaster for America, in all three areas. The two most recent presidents (Bush II and Obama) tried to change all three and look where we are today with hardly any change except HC. Well over 60% of “Americans” did not at all like ACA, until another change was proposed and now 53% like it just fine, it seems, even OBL!(Ozark Billy Long, not the dead guy in the Indian Ocean).

    One thing Americans can agree upon. They want low taxes (just for themselves but tax others all you like), lots of government programs that give away “free stuff” and reasonable tolerance for “strangers” unless such people can’t speak English, are “poor” and thus need more “free stuff”, and overcrowd schools and street corners selling “bad stuff”. Internationally, Americans hate bullies but will not lift a finger to shut them up or put them down. Nope, not “their job”, just the job of “government” and a couple of million volunteers (25% of whom are sexual predators or so claim Dems).

    Since 9/11 we have had a Nazi-like militarist, a wanna be European Socialist and now an Orange Menace with no chest. No wonder we can’t govern ourselves considering the choices we make at the polls and how the “40%” react when they don’t win an election.



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