There is a scene in Lord of the Rings where Sam and Frodo, on their way to Mordor after the idyll in Ithilien, come to a crossroads. The landscape has steadily become more blighted as they arrive where the road from the west crosses the north/south road along the Mountains of Shadow. In both the book and the movie, this is painted as a scene of both hope and despair. There they find a statue put there by the Men of the West, the last remnant of which is Gondor and, in secret, Aragorn. It is a king of old, decapitated now, head replaced by a leering representation of an Orc’s head. The king’s head lies some distance away where an enduring vine of flowers, in defiance of its environment, has blossomed into a ragged crown. Frodo and Sam stop for a moment to gaze at it as the sun falls to the western horizon, illuminating the fallen king and his crown of flowers for a moment before plunging below the horizon and leaving only night. It is at this point in the book that the point of view switches from Frodo to Sam and remains there. The reading audience never really hears Frodo’s inner voice again. In a way, he dies there, retreating into a remote past.
I think we may have finally come upon that crossroads. We’ve been listening to Mr. Trump’s point of view for more than a year now, his unassailable, improbable, unfazed and mesmerizing point of view. We gasp, grin, grimace, shout, cry, laugh, shake our heads but always we pay attention. Mr. Trump cultivates the morbid fascination of a fatal car wreck, blackened machinery bent and twisted around a shell of a corpse, alive only minutes before. We hate ourselves for rubbernecking but we do it anyway.
By the end of this week all the political commentators, with the exception of what’s left of Fox, blasted the Trump Administration for its insensitivity and racism, its stupidity, its inability to speak or even perceive any sort of truth. The great road along the Mountains of Shadow, constructed to keep the evil in, is his thoroughfare; he uses our transparency and ingenuity against us. All attempts to make him repent, to make him see anything resembling sense fall on, not only deaf ears but upon inanimate stone ears as well. He was never capable of hearing anything except the endless refrain in his head: he’s the greatest. He reacts only to those who sing that phrase or variations thereof.
The press has predicted the end of the Trump Administration since the Inauguration; always to no avail. Trump et al. are as enduring, as narcissistic and self absorbed as the Eye of Sauron, if not quite as cunning. Trump is not so much a genius; his inability to perceive other people as anything but vague shadows precludes that. He is, rather, a master at figuring out other people’s weaknesses and exploiting them. His hubris, like the fictional Sauron’s, is that he thinks we all think the same way he does, or we should anyway.
If the current administration carries the mood and direction of the country, then the fact that we are awash in a dirty flood of truth these days makes sense. Men around us, powerful men, beloved even, are proving one by one to be venial, vulgar, reprehensible and only too happy to indulge in their own petty desires, mostly because they can. Not only that, they go out of their way to oppress. They, like our fearless leader, think only of themselves, their civilized facades encased in layers of talent and forced secrets. They do not know truth. Turns out, they never did. As a friend of mine said this week, it’s beginning to look like you can’t trust men at all.
That road constructed by the King’s men was supposed to banish evil forever. When the Internet went into wide use, about 25 years ago, it was seen as a great force for good, a great road; it would democratize the world, spread uncensorable information, defeat the gatekeepers, give the little guy a chance to circumvent the propaganda of media and politics, even of oppression and censorship. You could laugh at the big people, encircling, probing, exposing evil.
Now, however, that road is being used by the very people we wanted to get away from: advertising propaganda and its instagramming shills, influencers we call them now. We are assailed with hours of stupidity, shoddy temptations and hours of old fashioned and now soft porn as portrayed even on “mainstream” media. We read pretend journalism that is little more than rank speculation or ignorant opinion; it is the National Enquirer on steroids. Facebook, one of the most powerful entities in the world, gives us a picture of just how boring, mundane, banal and infuriating our friends/relatives can be; it is the hell of Thanksgiving dinner 24/7. Finally, we have been roped by our myriad weakness into a political reality show, masquerading as the Trump White House, featuring lots of white is black commentary of the highest order.
The King’s head, once handsome and noble, is rotting away along the side of the road. We gaze at the Orc’s head, wondering how we can make peace with it or perhaps just ignore it; maybe it will go away. The disgraced King, meanwhile, head strewn among the rocks, shows us the way, his fleeting crown of flowers a last vision of warning and hope. We can sit there and mourn only to be overtaken by Orcs, or we can pluck up our courage and head into the darkness, and though we lose ourselves, perhaps we can defeat it.