“Beauty is truth, truth beauty” — John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
In the midst of a presidential campaign, with candidates making promises that they can’t keep and trying to convince voters that our values are in alignment with theirs, it is worth examining the candidates’ sentiments about both truth and beauty. What do the candidates really value?
For Donald Trump, current front-runner of the Republican Party, this is what he values on the eve of another big day of state primaries, March 15, 2016:
“The beauty would be, if we win Ohio, if we win Florida, we can start attacking Hillary, and we don’t have to attack each other.”
That’s a strange sense of beauty to me: the attack. Notice that for him some type of attack seems inevitable, his assumption being that he has to attack in order to win. Notice that he’s not looking to stop attacking, but like any ego-maniac who is determined to wield as much power as possible, he is trying to convince listeners that they are (currently at least, or potentially) part of his “we,” so that “we” can feel justified in consolidating more power and attacking others. That sounds to me like the character of some frightening individuals we’ve encountered in world history. (Watch out if he ever decides you’re not part of his “we.”) Unlike the speaker in John Keats’ poem who equates beauty with truth, Donald’s aesthetic has nothing to do with truth but is instead a violent assertion. To me this represents the worst in American traditions: when we use our power to bully others; when we are self-righteous without self-reflection; when we choose violence over dialogue, attack over understanding. That is not beautiful to me, and it is not what I value and not what I will vote for.
The truth of the matter is that the attack mindset perpetuates violence and misunderstanding rather than beautiful alternatives like peace and collaboration. Based on Donald’s aesthetic as he stated it above, as well as on his performance as a businessman and actor and politician thus far in his life, he will move from attacking one enemy to another (whether that’s within his party, within his nation, or between nations or between citizens), the way the U.S. moves from enemy to enemy in the Middle East, supporting the Taliban to overthrow the Soviets, then attacking the Taliban, etc. ad nauseum and ad infinitum, with ever more and ceaseless attacking, in a state of perpetual warfare. Does this match your sense of beauty?
Do you want a blood-thirsty ego-maniac as president of the most powerful nation on earth, always looking for the next fight, pre-emptively attacking because he is afraid of anybody else demonstrating strength?
It is more beautiful to me to recognize one’s power and use it to empower others. I want as my leader not someone who is always looking to increase his own power and wealth but someone who, frankly, cares about truth and beauty.