• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Man Of The Maxim

July 2019

It’s a maxim, terse as it is true, that no man was ever written out of reputation but by himself. In other words, man—as monstrously autonomous and as autonomously devilish as any beast that’s yet lived—remains always in possession of his own fate. This is the burden of the human being—a species at whose founding reputation was valued before all else and, at whose end, will persist in being the only thing by which he’s remembered. Much though he may try, his reputation is an ownership of a lifetime, an open chapter of which he can’t be disencumbered and one upon which he must sit down and write.

Admittedly, there are few things for which we bother to feel ourselves responsible, but reputation may be the exception to this truant’s undergirding rule. That doesn’t stop him, however, from an attempt to distance himself from reputation’s control. To shirk is to find the least impeded path, and we humans tend reliably to shirk before we sink—at least so far as it concerns the ebbing opinion of another man.

Failing that, however, which inevitably he does, he ends up always the author of his own tale. His reputation is the story by whose weight he ultimately drowns or lives. He bales, so to speak, his own water from his own ship and weathers the tempest and steers its course. He’s the singer of his own song, the sculptor of his own opinion and hopefully, if wrought by a hand with any devotion to aspects of similitude and grace, of that of others as well. This is the mighty power of influence of which too many find themselves bereft. Above all else, be it by the magnanimity of a careful god or the benevolence of a happy muse, he’s the scribbler in whom the cursed gift of self-determination is endowed.

His reputation, you see, is his alone to write. It’s left for others, after his tongue has fallen silent or his hand sapped of its former dexterity and strength, to accept, ignore, or to impugn.

But the maxim, obstinate as it is old, doesn’t exactly specify the reputation from which he begins. It simply says that he, and he alone, is in sole possession of the capability of writing himself into or out of it—be it good or ill. It also fails to make explicit whether or not a man might be tweeted out of reputation, and not merely written to be so, by anyone but himself.

Absent paper and pen, a mediating temper and an honest well of ink, might he still not (within the limiting confines of some two hundred characters and emoji’s and acronyms and “lol’s”) author upon this flightiest of social media platforms the reputation of himself?

The president again has proven, if indeed the ardent auditors to whom he communicates were ever in any doubt, that Twitter certainly is an adequate platform upon which a reputation might be gained, solidified, or lost. In this case, as you’ll see, he achieved two-thirds of these possibilities: solidification and loss. Neither, so far as I can see, is politically desirable nor morally defensible. He also made clear that by the mere act of writing (or, in his case, tweeting) oneself out of a reputation, it doesn’t necessarily land him in a better place.

In what already ranks as perhaps the most exceptionable, odious, and ill-informed tweet ever to have been conceived by his hand, the president exhorted four unnamed but easily recognized freshman congresswomen of color to “go back to the countries” from which they came. The exhortation, as you might guess, was as cursorily conceived as it was embarrassingly misapplied; only one of the four congresswomen to whom the tweet was directed—Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota—was born outside of this country.

An immigrant from Somalia, she came to America (under dangerous, dubious, and—with the emergence of compelling evidence and the later arrival of her brother—perhaps incestuous circumstances) as a young woman. Notwithstanding the antipathy she expresses for the country on a fairly regular basis, she’s as American as you or me—if not philosophically, then legally so. The full-hearted profession of one’s patriotism, as she proves time and again, is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a citizen in honorable standing of this fine state. She is a citizen head to heel nonetheless. The other three, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, though owners of variegated and quite beautifully darkened hues, all can claim America as their shared place of birth. None of the three is an immigrant, irrespective of the physical, religious, or ethnic diversity of which they’re so interestingly constituted.

Erroneously, the president accused them all of being just that: literally alien to this country in a very fundamental way. Ideologically, an argument toward that end could be made, but doing so is a hazard in itself. It tempts no shortage of missteps and pratfalls along the way.

Bigotry lurks behind those arguments whenever their promulgator is white and the people to whom they’re directed, black, brown, or any shade approximating those two. The following ideologies, of which the four congresswomen are proponents in varying degrees, justifiably could be attacked: virulent and unabashed anti-Semitism, Soviet-style rates of wealth redistribution, the abolition of national borders, the liberation of illegal immigrants, the universality of health care and higher education, and a speciously environmentally-friendly Green New Deal—one needn’t too thoroughly examine these proposals before concluding with the president that they are un-American in most ways. That, however, is a separate, a more dignified, and a far more nuanced approach to the combat of these four congresswomen and the ideologies by which they’re so ominously enthused than that which was so slothfully pursued by the president.

By pursuing them not as I outlined above but as he did, the president formally has written himself out of whatever remnant of a good reputation he might’ve enjoyed. Admittedly, the length that he had to travel to do so wasn’t a long one, but he voluntarily made that small leap. He’s now solidified for himself a reputation as ugly as one can be. Frankly, it’s rather deserved after having tweeted what he did. In the final analysis (as if the indecency of our politics knew any finality) it’s a reputation with whose grotesqueness he seems proudly to be smitten and eager to employ. Ultimately, he’s a man of the maxim as inscribed above. The president has written his own reputation, and he’s done it all by himself. It’s by his own hand he’ll be remembered.

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