When the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper was released, at the start of the Summer of Love, America was an optimistic place. Yes, we were getting entangled in Vietnam, the civil rights movement was stalled, and women weren’t allowed to have their own credit cards, but we were moving in the right direction.
Fifty years later, to the day, the American president took actions that directly imperil the future of humanity. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord is the act of a deeply disturbed human being. I often wonder about the fucked up parenting he received, but I don’t really care enough to waste time reading any books about him. But here he is, getting the attention he so craves, the whole world disgusted by him, as he stubbornly, maniacally, threatens the very survival of the human species. This is a foolish, hateful act of depravity by an angry guy who never learned how to play well with others. His defective humanity is on display every day.
Months into office, the paranoid, aggrieved president’s contempt for his predecessor—who had the audacity to be competent, cool, and black—still drives his hateful agenda. The GOP, also driven by hate, has put forth a budget that hurts the most vulnerable Americans in myriad ways. There is much that can be said about returning the Russian compounds that Obama took as a punishment for Russian meddling in our elections—and I have no doubt the Russia thing will bring down the current administration, eventually—but reversing this decision was also another way to express his hatred and stick it to the black guy. He wants to reverse our new relationship with Cuba for the same reason.
Trump’s presence on the world stage, the cultural oxygen he consumes, has diminished the quality of life, in a variety of ways, large and small, for millions of Americans. He is a constant reminder of the ignorance and hate that keeps us from moving forward as a country. This emperor is so naked his marrow is showing.
I respect the work of journalists, especially those few who push back with tough questions. But watching talented, hardworking journalists demean themselves trying to find meaning in the word salad and typos of a deranged old man is a sad spectacle. The media gets sucked into playing along with the cliffhangers and the “stay tuned” reality show approach, taking us through some kind of looking glass.
Pulling out of the international climate agreement, ignoring the devastating and already obvious consequences of climate change, and ignoring the advice and warnings of scientists and security experts, speaks to a level of pathology that is truly frightening. But anyone paying attention has been seeing Trump’s frightening levels of pathology since he took office.
Fifty years ago, at this moment, the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper were a cultural focus for people of all ages. We listened to the uplifting music. We studied the now iconic cover, flipped it over and read the words. We noticed the glint in the Beatles’ eyes in the sweet color-saturated gatefold photo, and wondered if they were high.
There was always intrigue around the Beatles, always much to talk about. But the focus of that intrigue was a group of four people singing about love. The objects of our attention were artists, not con artists. They inspired us and enriched our lives. Today, the object of the culture’s attention depresses us, degrades all that is good, and inspires fear. Doctors are still seeing it in their offices—that wasn’t just an immediate post-election phenomenon.
It’s often said that 45 is an amalgam of the worst of the American character and American culture. This is certainly true, especially the greed and misogyny. But it’s worse than that. He behaves like a less highly evolved human: The dominance games, showing teeth when he talks, a tough guy neither capable of cooperation nor understanding its value. He knows only how to recklessly seek advantage in a world where life is but a zero sum game. Add to this a potpourri of pathology with a lot of paranoia in the blend. The twisted, monstrous result is that he sees the world disrespecting us and then acts in ways to make the world do just that.
I will remember the day the president decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord because it happened on the fiftieth anniversary of Sgt. Pepper, and there’s something poignant about that. I witnessed the cultural upheaval of the 1960s as a young person and I’ve seen the sweep of history since. It took us a long time to get where we are. We still have a lot of problems—income inequality, sexism, racism, and fixing our healthcare system come to mind—but in a period of months, much of the social progress of the past fifty years will be pushed back by Trump, Sessions, Bannon, and the other kakistocrats now running our government.
It feels like we’re at the end of a cycle of some kind, a cycle that began with the optimism and new consciousness of the Summer of Love, and ended with the destructive ignorance of a Summer of Hate.