When I was eighteen going on nineteen, I joined the Army. Which was a complete mystery to me. When I was eighteen going on nineteen, I let the recruiter talk me into volunteering for the parachute infantry. I asked what “infantry” was, and he told me is was someone who learned a lot about light weapons. My impression was that I was going to learn how to gunsmith.
I was eighteen going on nineteen, and I knew little of the world. In fact, I was part of the first generation to grow up with television almost from birth, sheltered in many respects, so what I thought I knew of the world was mostly wrong. When I had graduated High School the year prior, we lived in an all-white, working class barracks (er, suburban subdivision) that was filled with families whose adults were employed making war planes for what was then McDonnell. Were we naive? Oh yeah, really really naive. I was, like my peers, an easy mark . . . first for recruiters, then for a time — until I wised up — for the card sharps and petty con-men in the ranks, many who’d been given a choice by some judge to go to prison or spend three years in the Army.
“There’s a sucker born every minute,” goes the apocryphal quote (never confirmed) from P. T. Barnum, the great carnival barker turned circus magnate. There are people — especially people who systematically take advantage of other people’s naiveté — who seek out suckers; and most of us start out as one kind of sucker or another. No one is born with knowledge and guile.
I was a kid who was also on a path to the same aircraft factory that employed every dad and half the moms in our neighborhood. So, yeah, I was a loser. The military loves losers and suckers, because they are like blank slates upon which the military can write “functional solider.” Donald Trump inadvertently tells the truth sometimes. And indicts himself — in this case as a cheap con-artist raised by an abusive rich pimp and swindler — because while Trump can state an accurate fact, he lacks the basic intelligence to comprehend context. His only real context — as someone who was mutilated by his father into a raging narcissist — is a great cosmic Me. He’s trapped inside it like a boy in a bubble, and he can never get out. His watchword is twofold: always be a winner, never a sucker.
His reported remarks about military veterans some days ago, calling us “losers” and “suckers,” created a minor firestorm, in large part because he had violated the norms of nationalism and militarism which are woven into the fabric of American culture. And I piled on, even though I am deeply critical of this whole auto-valorization of veterans that is bricked into American militarist nationalism, in part because I think it will hurt Trump, and I can be as selectively honest as anyone else when faced with what I consider to be an emergency. Trump is an emergency, precisely because — lacking any context as he does, and being self-suckered by his wealth into believing he is smart enough to run the government of the world’s hegemonic nation-state — he does shit without thinking . . . at all . . . and he is himself being conned by a whole raft of Miller-Bannon archetypes into doing things that are malicious and frankly insane. But I also reacted because I want to talk about this . . . this being taken in by smooth talkers and long-tongued liars.
Morally speaking, the losers and suckers are superior to the winners and sharpers. There is no shame in being suckered; and the correct response to discovering one has been had is to (1) get good and pissed off and (2) don’t let it happen again. Unfortunately, our culture has become one that is very like Donald Trump and his pimp progenitors, with its exaltation of individual victories in the Thunderdome of a dog-eat-dog world. That ethos is manifest in the inability of many people to do something that was once considered a virtue — admitting when we are wrong, admitting our vulnerabilities and errors. I’m working on a piece about Baby Boomers (like me) where I’ll give this far more attention. It’s only in this context — there’s that word again —that being a loser or sucker is somehow a source of shame, a mark of weakness in a Hobbesian nightmare world. Think of it as a collective moral disability.
Most of us have been losers and-or suckers. Winners are often the biggest moral wretches. That’s how they win.
I’m for the losers, because some of us don’t punch down. And I’ve been a sucker. I was suckered into a string of immoral wars while Donald Trump was spending Daddy’s money on trafficked women and cocaine. Options and lack of them are a real thing.
Right now, there is a 40 percent fraction of the US voting population that has been taken in by the dissipated swindler in the White House. Trump’s suckers and losers . . . yes, some of them are vets like me, conned by the military-industrial complex, bamboozled by crackpot nationalism and martial masculinity, and sent on various bullshit tips to attack foreigners in order to ensure the continued accumulation of capital for shitbirds like Trump.
We have always been a nation nursing a rot at the center of our being, led by carnival barkers and mountebanks. So, yeah, a lot of vets have lost things (losers), and a lot of vets have been suckered. But as in many things, when you widen the frame, you find out that this applies to a lot more than vets. Who here has not lost important things (along with our innocence), has never been taken advantage of? Which of us has learned from it?
When I was first reacting to the revelations about Trump’s remarks regarding war dead, soldiers, and veterans, I even made this little meme:
I like things that rhyme, and I was in a fit of pique. Did this overlap with the very veteran-worship I have criticized for years? Okay, kind of.
So this little missive is to add that context. I’m not pissed off at being called a loser or sucker. I’m admitting it freely. I’ve been both. We are losers and suckers. The shame in today’s world is being a winner! A victimizer.
Donald Trump is the victimizer-in-chief, the abused boy in a bubble called Me. The danger is not that he sits by — the way liberal politicians do — and allows the inertia of capital to continue burning down the world. The danger is that he pumps his own massive reserve of intestinal gas into those fires to make them burn hotter and faster. Speaking of which, if you want to mobilize a far greater outrage than his comments about veterans, take note that as the West Coast burns in the fires of a destabilized climate, he has been silent and absent from the scene. There is this world-historical horror show, and he’s doing unmasked fuck-you rallies in Freeland, Michigan.
I don’t care that Trump is a “chickenhawk,” who avoided military service. I count no one as less-than for not joining the military. I wish so many of us didn’t depend on it as a lifeline in this Hobbesian storm.
I care that he has access to nuclear launch codes and a base of millions who are resistant to believing that they could be suckered.They’re victims, too, and they just haven’t realized it yet. Be like some of us veterans and own it. Yeah, we were chumped. No shame. By admitting we were chumped, we acquired the tools to prevent being chumped again. That admitting and learning was once called a virtue, when swindling was not.