Long ago I got to met a real estate tycoon who purged his conscience once a year by hiking a mountain all the way to the top and shouting, for only the silence around him to hear and the echo to repeat, “I am an asshole.”
That was in the 1970s, back in the days when being an asshole was not something to brag about in public, even if it did give you an advantage over all those nice guys who famously finish last.
Times have changed. Being an unabashed asshole will get you enough public support these days to take you right into the Oval Office.
If this still comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t. Overt assholism has been on the rise for years. With Donald Trump it stepped fully and proudly into the open.
Assholes have always been around and always will be. According to American social philosopher Aaron James, who’s made a study of them, they’re primarily men, consider themselves more important than others, allow themselves special advantages, have an unshakable sense of entitlement, and are immune to complaints.
Every organization has them, as has every neighbourhood, every rush hour, every mid-night sale. Literature teems with them, from the cads, heels, pricks, and bastards of older days to the shits, jerks, and scumbags of more recent times. They’ve often been known to shape history. You’ll even find them in the Bible.
Then came the moral pornography of reality TV and its obsession with winning at all cost.
And now there’s Donald Trump, the most notorious asshole winner of them all and latest addition to America’s list of great white hopes.
Every age has its hopes and betrayals, its winners and losers, its promises both given and broken. Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize winning speeches did not bring peace to the Middle East, nor did his eloquent pleas for social justice reverse the hardships in the gutted regions of America’s once powerful industrial heartland.
Justin Trudeau’s charming sincerity has not kept him from breaking key campaign promises that garnered him the reputation for being a nice guy. There are no guarantees and never have been, even with leaders who are demonstrably not assholes.
What’s different about Trump is his sheer rawness. Assholes often find it expedient to wear masks, at least in the beginning. Ideology can be a useful cover for opportunism, and there’s no better way to justify betrayal than to plead pragmatism. Trump wears no such masks, nor does he seem to feel that he needs to. He is what you see, as honestly as it gets. Crassly self-serving, obnoxious, offensive. The quintessential asshole.
It says a lot about the state of the American union that enough citizens to vote Trump into the White House believe nothing less than raw assholism can still cut through all the illusions of traditional politics and address their problems.
It’s not just extremism beyond everything ever listed on the political spectrum, way beyond the most abstruse intellectualism on the far left and the most outlandish bigotry and chauvinism on the far right. It’s a shattering cry of despair.
Trump heard it and would like everybody to know that he was summoned. And he’s right. He was. And that’s the scariest part of all. Unlike the tycoon I met years ago, Trump is coming down from the mountain to declare himself an asshole for all of America to hear.
And America should be worried — not about him, but about what it summoned.
Azzo Rezori is a Canadian journalist who retired in 2016 from the CBC in
St. John’s, where he reported both for television and radio. Before joining the CBC, he worked for several newspapers from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland. He was born in Germany, studied zoology in Dublin, Ireland, and switched to journalism after emigrating to Canada in his late twenties. He lives in St. John’s with his wife Brenda and their daughter Gaia.