Last week the new edition of Chronogram came in. That's the regional magazine I've written for every month since early 1996. Chronogram always has excellent covers which by design are unconnected to any specific article. But they are often timely comments. With one glance my jaw dropped: the artist had summed up the state of the nation in one image.
It's called Hobo Supermans. The artist is Tim Davis.
What's happening in this picture? It looks like the Supermans have given up. They're homeless and unemployed. There are two of them, which is odd. And they've lit their fire on the train tracks, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a train could come careening at any moment. Maybe they think they can stop it with their bare hands when it does, which it will, sooner or later.
Since they're obviously just regular guys in costumes, that probably won't work too well.
I've always thought the Superman concept was truly strange, which is to say, the character and also people's enduring obsession with it. This extends to all superheroes, who are aspects of the same archetype, though Superman is the central character.
He's the idea that someone is going to come from the sky and save us, which is so old the expression is in Latin: Deus Ex Machina. Basically, he's God in superhuman form, and somehow people find this reassuring. The concept is the American equivalent to some Nazi notion of the perfect man.
By 1938, when Superman first went into print, the German race was busy trying to purify itself with the help of gas chambers and crematoria.
Now, in 2016, a couple of these guys have thrown it in. They're despondent, worn out and bored, even though there's plenty of work to do. They're not God—they are us. They're our phony presidential candidates. They're one answer to Elvis Costello's question, "Where are the strong, and who are the trusted?"
I understand the anger and alienation that has led many people to think that Superman has secured the Republican nomination.
He's going to save the economy and seal the borders and get rid of the pesky Mexican criminals and work with the blacks who love him so much and clean up all the corruption in Washington and punish all those lying journalists give us some fabulous health care and destroy Isis and we'll all get a bottle of fancy wine every week and the best pastries and turn the White House, and your house, into New Versailles.
We, too, will be able to shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue and cherish women more than anyone, more than anyone. Believe me. Believe me.
He knows people are pissed off or they wouldn't fall for this bullshit, so he plays into their anger and their ignorance. I saw a Trump campaign attack ad last night promising to go after everyone who contributed to the corrupt Clinton Foundation—which failed to mention that Trump himself donated and exploited the Clintons. That's just what you do.
He has offended and alienated everyone, but like my father says to his students, "I know you're not going to remember this because I said it five minutes ago."
I understand the rage behind all of this, just like I get the anger of a child who wants adult privileges and has not earned them. So just leave the gun loaded and in reach. You paid for that gun and you have it by right, so why not?
Most Americans think that working hard entitles us to everything, and that having rights is a waiver from responsibility. Look where it's getting us.
The missing piece is the personal one. It's the part about the significant work of becoming human. We have human bodies and human DNA and all that, but actually evolving into one's humanity is about the work of self-awareness and growth. This is challenging for people who admit that neither exist.
It's about questioning one's assumptions, which requires becoming aware of them. There's also something about discernment: doing the work of deciding what is true and what is false; of deciding what is in accord with one's values, which means knowing what they are.
Experiencing one's inner being, what some call spirituality, is more perilous than deciding that abortion is wrong and thinking that makes one a superior person who has God's favor. Most of what religion encourages people to do is to play God and avoid the issue of death. In the United States, that means Jesus as Superman.