Trump am Bebelplatz

(much of this first appeared in a series of Tweets sent Saturday 10 February 2018 from @destroy_time; please follow, if you’d be so kind —I follow back 😁)

Along Unter den Linden, Berlin’s majestic Prachtstraße, flanked on one side by the imposing Staatsoper, on another by buildings of the prestigious Humboldt-Universität and on the other by the first post-Reformation Catholic church built in Prussia lies the Bebelplatz. Were he curious about the man for whom the square is named, the American President would learn about a devoted socialist, writer and intellectual. That alone would be anathema to Trump’s infinitely malleable set of “principles;” what’s more, August Bebel was one of modern Germany’s Founding Fathers — a founding member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany.* The Bebelplatz, then, stands at the intersection of culture, learning, beauty and knowledge, but that’s not the source of its historical relevance. It was here on 10 May 1933 that one of the more infamous mass book burnings of the Nazi regime took place, as works by authors as varied as Marx, Heine, Einstein and other “suspect” or “degenerate” authors were piled high and set ablaze.**

The president doubtless would be unaware of this horrific history, but perhaps he’d notice a square glass plate set into the stones, around which groups of people stand, mostly in silence, some with iPhones out pointed downward. And perhaps this “very stable genius” who’s “like, really smart” and “went to the best colleges” would shuffle over to see what the fuss was about, why these people weren’t paying attention to him. Once the Secret Service had cleared the way, Trump would look down into… a room with empty bookshelves? A plaque is engraved with some nonsense in German, but thankfully there’s an English translation: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”*** He’d turn to the animated corpse that calls itself Stephen Miller and mutter, “What’s this shit, Stephen? …I don’t get it.”

And of course he wouldn’t. Books mean nothing to one who doesn’t — or can’t — read them. It’s not that Trump is functionally illiterate, if not literally illiterate that’s ghastly — it’s that he takes pride in his ignorance. Decades of right-wing mockery of “eggheads in ivory towers” have led to a president with the IQ of an egg. Among his predecessors, Dubya was no intellectual heavyweight, but by all accounts, he read his Presidential Daily Briefings and asked questions; a scholar? Hardly. But at least he seemed interested in and somewhat curious about the world the Supreme Court picked him to lead.

Trump, on the other hand, isn’t just knowledge-averse — he’s knowledge-hostile. He mocks cognition, confident that his (ample) McDonalds-fueled gut is more reliable than reason or logic. He seems to yearn for the Dark Ages, when priest-Kings held absolute unquestioned authority, whose touch alone could heal the sick.

As someone for whom the quest “To follow knowledge like a sinking star / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought” represents the holiest of grails, this is more than a kick in the face — it’s a denial of the validity of the thirst, the passion that gives my existence a direction, a polestar, a raison d’être. To him, I am less than zero. But thus are autocrats made; entire blocs of his subjects are brushed aside as social parasites, unproductive hangers-on, milking the state of resources that “real” citizens — you! not them! — should be beneficiaries. Now, I’m not comparing the plight of the scholar or the artist to that of the refugee, the truly marginalized and ostracized, but the mechanism is the same and familiar, all-too familiar.

Trump is a man who’d watch with glee as the Library of Alexandria smouldered, chortle with delight were the Met and MoMA to erupt in flame. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Trump would be , were he not trapped in a gilded room with not three, but all four! wall screens installed. In his wildest dreams (can a man lacking in imagination, purged of even the tiniest creative spark, be said to dream?), Trump would spend his days and nights surrounded by a neverending Fox & Friends paean to him, a living monument to the solipsistic megalomania of illiteracy armed with a button bigger than anyone’s.

*—Bebel cofounded in 1869 the SDAP (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei), forefather of the present-day SPD (Sozialdemokratisches Partei Deutschslands), which in a Große Koalition (Grand Coalition) with the Christian Democrats (CDU, Christlich-demokratische Union) have governed Germany for nine of the past 13 years, and with the conclusion of recent negotiations following the autumn 2017 elections, will continue to do so until at least 2021.
**—The monument, designed by Micha Ullmann, has a truly disorienting effect, terrifying if a bibliophile.
***—The quote is from Heine’s 1821 play Almansor — “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” 
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~ by Benji on 10 February 2018.

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