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The Jerk November 27th, 2020

America has had a long-standing love-affair with the jerk. I have observed this love-affair first hand over the twenty-five years I have been in America, first as a guest worker, then as a permanent resident and for the past fifteen years as a first-generation Indian-American.

Let’s face it. We love our jerks. The ones in the workplace who “keep everybody honest”. The ones in the supermarket who “keep the riffraff out”. The ones in congress who “keep the other side in check”. The ones on the Supreme Court who “respect only our constitution”. And the one in the White House who still “is fighting the good fight”.

Don’t get me wrong. Most Americans I have met are perfectly normal people. Polite, sensitive, just, rational and scrupulously fair. I learned early in my work life in America that you could shake someone’s hand, make a deal and count on that deal to stand after you turned and walked away. Sadly, this is not true of too many cultures. It was this kind of simple good behavior that made me feel proud as a citizen of these United States. In spite of the many unpleasant things I saw and heard, my faith in this country’s greatness was not shaken. Until the jerks took over.

That first happened, as far as I can tell, after the horror we witnessed on September 11, 2001. That day of infamy will live in our minds forever, but what followed was a classic consequence of the nation running to the jerks, who wasted no time in “coming to our rescue”. I still remember a gleeful young Dick Cheney speaking out of the side of his mouth to describe the hell he was about to let loose on a half million innocent Iraqis, whose only fault was to be the subjects of the brutal dictator he was after. Equally clearly I remember that doyen of all jerks, Donald Rumsfeld, patronizing reporters and the public alike with his Cartesian chatter about knowns and unknowns, both the known kind and the unknown kind.

Oh well, I thought, these people would surely retreat into their holes now that we had “accomplished the mission”, as our then great president told us from the deck if the USS Abraham Lincoln. Oh no. Others quickly stepped up to take their places. This lot were the corporate con artists who goaded us with their impossibly rosy projections and their clever financial instruments until all hell broke loose, when they promptly went back to their friends in Washington for handouts that would help preserve their lifestyles, no matter what the lot of their workers. Poor Mitch McConnell (more on this special jerk in a minute) was faced with such a dilemma – to help his friends survive or to keep his vow to precipitate president Obama’s failure?

The current lot of jerks in congress take their art to a new level. Take Mitch. Four years ago he told us he would not even hold hearings on a Supreme Court appointee until the election, almost a year away, was over. A couple of months ago, he told us he would rush to confirm the nominee his side had put up a few weeks before the election. Hypocrisy? Oh no. His friend Lindsey Graham, congressional jerk number two, justified it thus: “Had your side been in the same position, you would have done exactly what we did!” Nothing hypothetical about it, my friends. Not when you are a jerk and proud of it.

Which brings us to the greatest jerk of all time, our incumbent, lame-Donald-duck president. This guy, whose claim to fame was a series of failed businesses, a reputation in tatters, a debt high as a mountain, and a reality TV show that was popular only because it luridly showcased his inner jerk. “You’re fired,” he would holler, and his audience, a peculiar lot that delighted in schadenfreude, would cheer loudly. This guy decided to bully Barack Obama, a man too decent to bully him back. Little did Obama know that by respecting him, he was helping Trump launch his political career. The jerk won. Again.

Not content with one fortuitous victory, he now wants another. He wants it so badly that he is happily pitting Americans against Americans. So what if a house divided against itself cannot stand? Who cares? And hear what he is saying. He is saying that the votes cast by citizens of mostly non-white cities (Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee) are somehow fraudulent. Why? Because they weren’t cast by “his people”, silly. How come you don’t get it? “Stop the Steal,” they chant, but they might as well be chanting “Libity over Tirany!”

I have an explanation for America’s enduring love for the jerk. And it is a really simple one. You see, back when I was an undernourished weakling of a nerd in a small school in a suburb of Bombay, guys like me, who were threatened by everybody all the time, found that making friends with a few powerful bullies (usually by granting them small favors like a pack of cigarettes or your lunch) served us well. It not only kept us out of trouble, it actually allowed us to strut proudly in front of the other side, knowing that our jerks had our back. It’s the same with America.

Wasn’t it FDR, that great visionary, who once said, referring to the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”?

Well, Somoza, Trump, what’s the difference?