Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hubris, Chutzpah and the Whole Damn Thing

It’s a fine and wiggly line between hubris and chutzpah. The former was a crime in Greek society as in a violence committed for the purpose of humiliation. Think rape. Over time it took on broader meaning; an act of arrogant pride which trespassed into the province of the gods… of which there were many. Icarus got his just dessert when Zeus melted his wings.

If hubris stole the fire of the gods chutzpah sold it back on eBay. Trump might one day patent his slogan of making America great again and sell the t-shirt for $1,000.  The classic example is someone who kills his mother and father and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

Chutzpah has its virtues. It might connote courage and risk-taking but audacity can also cross the line into shameful impudence, the sort of arrogant pride that comes before the fall.

American exceptionalism is a term which comes close to hubris. One is still advised not to mess with the gods. Our model of inclusive diversity no longer pertains. Empires come and go and we may be the last to know it.

Ancient Athenian Greeks also thought of themselves as special compared to Sparta. And they were, as the cradle of democracy, along with their drama, philosophy and architecture. Science and art flourished but so did slavery, subjugation of women and eventually a chest-pounding hubris which demanded expansion to bestow their gifts onto the entire region. The result was a resounding defeat in Sicily and the ultimate ceding of their domination to Rome.

The previous occupant of the White House held himself to high standards. He left his term with one of the highest approval ratings (almost twice that of Truman) because his temperament and demeanor transcended the acrimony of party politics, even to a fault, one might argue. By contrast the man who now sleeps in Obama’s bed has stained the presidency with unprecedented indignities which extend the definition of hubris to new depths. We have never before witnessed such recklessness, flouting the precepts of our founders. He seems heedless of the limits to executive prerogatives with pronouncements shamelessly self-serving.

In a new version of chutzpah and the orphan this administration has killed off the investigator, hot on his trail, claiming Comey was derelict in helping Trump become president six months ago.

One can only hope that this period which smells like tyranny carries with it seeds of its own destruction. Trump is redrawing that fine line from hubris / chutzpah to the criminally culpable. He has impeached the office. If it was indeed the voice of the people that mistook the real estate mogul for the messiah I can only believe it will be their awakening that will topple him from the pedestal.  

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