The Second Coming

With the recent election in the US, my mind has been overwhelmed with apocalyptic imagery. I don’t know what the populist election of Donald Trump means for the world. Like Ronald Reagan, Trump appears to be a man of few concrete ideas, having  little interest in the Enlightenment values that animate the American constitution. Trump, like Reagan, is an actor.

Reagan, on the one hand, superbly played the part of a Hollywood president. He said the right things in the right tones and worked to have everyone believe that he was personally responsible for all that happened in the world. After watching his performance, many were convinced that Reagan, not Gorbachev was responsible for Perestroika and Glasnost.

Trump’s a different kind of actor. His forte is improvisational comedy. He has a broad repertoire of gags and bits of physical comedy, and he brings them forward so long as the audience reacts favourably. It’s hard to say what, if anything, Trump actually believes. All I see is a very successful comedian bringing audience after audience to its feet.

Demagoguery, indeed.

Which brings me to William Butler Yeats’s great poem “The Second Coming”. In the chaos following the First World War, Yeats saw the world he knew spinning uncontrollably, parts flying from the centre, like some out-of-control political gyroscope breading from the body in a wild and uncontrollable explosion.

Yeats was mostly right.

Are we seeing the new political instability spreading into the giant Elightenment democratic experiment?

As this is a blog about public education, let me step aside from my question. (Don’t hold your breath: I don’t know the answer either. But I am fearful.)

What is the appropriate educational response to unexpected and unsavoury election results? It is not the teacher’s job to be partisan. It is not the teacher’s job to praise or to scold the electorate.

Is it enough to just give the facts?

At the very least, students are owed some explanation of the forces at play. What are the legitimate hopes and aspirations of Trump and his supporters? What are the legitimate criticisms and concerns of his opponents? Does he have the legal authority to do what he claims he wishes to do? These questions are all fair game.

I will, undoubtedly, revisit these questions in more detail at a later date.

For now, I leave you with Yeats.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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