• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Reason v. Passion: The Election of 2020

January 2021

The great dictum of David Hume, star of the Enlightenment and genius of an age, is one of which I’m forever mindful: one’s reason is, and shall always be, the slave of his passions.

Of course, by pledging my allegiance to the immortal insight of the brilliant Scot, upon which, so far as I can see, centuries of psychology haven’t yet improved, I intend not to relinquish the former to the latter—my head to my heart. Insofar as he’s human, and, as such, endowed with an intelligence of which neither the grunting beast nor the unlettered fool can’t yet dream, a thinking man mustn’t accept passion as his life’s guiding force. That, we know, is the path of a lower form, of an atavistic type up from which he’s lately climbed. It is, if I might put it bluntly, an earlier, youthful, barbaric breed to which he, a civilized man, won’t voluntarily return.

No, I’m not in the habit of foregoing my reason simply because, for better or worse, it’ll never quite ascend to that superior role of which passion is the dread occupant, and emotion the decided leader. I call to mind Hume’s wisdom, rather, to remind myself that, while reason may never succeed in its bid to be the master, and might always be relegated to a diminished and secondary role, it can try, with every ounce of its effort, and every turn of its thought, to resist that end for which it’s so clearly destined. Even though it’s determined, by the joint force of our psychology and our genes—the one peculiar, the other immutable—to live out its life in a servile state, a condition of being over which passion is king, it must exert its influence, whenever given the chance.

It was to the words of David Hume, then, that I naturally repaired when confronted, but a week ago, with that daunting choice to be made between two candidates vying for the presidency of the United States. It was a choice by which thousands of Americans like me—those sensitive to the deficits of personality, yes, but not so much as to lose their focus on the importance of policy—were burdened. I imagine there were many similarly placed.

Frankly, it was a decision with which I, helplessly susceptible to the imposition of my conscience and liable to my passions, painfully struggled, as did many of my neighbors by whom I’m surrounded. We were given the unenviable task to choose between two men for whom, in either case, one was made to feel little confidence, and even less zeal.

On the one hand, constrained by the misfortune of a binary choice, an option between two alternatives beyond whom, for fear of shaking up the status quo, we’re always discouraged to look, we were offered the incumbent—a man as undisciplined as he is daring, bumptious as mendacious, successful as mean. His celebrity mystique, orange-tinted skin, Queens colloquialism, and disregard for rigid norms were all traits by which we, an electorate unaccustomed to so confusing a presence and startling a man, were frankly overwhelmed. Yet for all of his large and disruptive character flaws, upon which neither confidante nor family member succeeded in having a moderating effect, his achievements were numerous, his approach unprecedented, his outcomes brilliant.

Under his direction, three conservative supreme court justices were confirmed in as many years; Israel and its enemies were brought to a state of unprecedented comity and ease; China was exposed as the genocidal, incorrigible menace that it’s been since the twentieth century’s turn; regarding our economic relation with that nefarious state, a trade deal was negotiated from which, uncharacteristically, America finally stood to gain; Venezuela’s Marxist dictator was sanctioned, as was Iran’s Holocaust-denying Ayatollah; North Korea’s diminutive despot was courted, flattered, threatened, and dared, with the result being no nuclear explosion on his peninsula or abroad; no foreign wars were incited, and the only heads upon which American drones descended were those previously attached to radical Islamic terrorist necks; those who professed a more legitimate and peaceful belief in some religion, whose holy book and priestly mediators go to the trouble to muffle every encouragement to kill, found themselves in an unusually tranquil and supported state; they found in the Chief Executive an unexpected ally to their faith, as well as a honest defender of their inalienable right to worship as they might; those who defended an unborn child’s opportunity to life, which is currently dictated by the whim of the woman in whom so vivacious a seed hastens to grow, relished the idea of a president explicitly being on their side.

On the other hand, we were encouraged—though not without the tacit threat of continued urban unrest, weekly desecration of statues, clogging of highways and avenues, and blood-spurting violence—to vote for the challenger, the former Vice President and Senator, Joe Biden. We were advised, if only because of our distaste for the annoying habits and deeply-engrained vices of an incumbent for whom our patience had grown thin, to opt for the venal, insipid, senescent, inarticulate, paper cut-out of a man. Sorry—that’s but one man’s opinion; surely not to be entertained by the glaring eye of the bien pensant by whom, like Big Brother, we’re watched. He was, in their thinking, the supremely virtuous, inarguably honorable, feel-good candidate behind whom, if only under the direction of our passion, we should place our fullest support.

We were told that the restoration of our integrity as a nation, as well as the return of our dignity as a people, were contingent on the victory of this doddering, old Washingtonian fixture, this lifetime-politician, in the truest sense of the phrase, who’s spent nearly five of his eight decades in the halls of power in the Federal City. We were assured of his scruples, guaranteed of his infallibility, and encouraged, on this basis, to commit our suffrage to his cause. His goodness, probity, and, dare I say, empathy (a word by which, for well-neigh two years, we were beat over the head) were attributes to which our Liberal media pundits breathlessly attested. Biden, we were told, was the antidote to the indecency of Trump, the refined and polished statesman with whom the debased vulgarian president ought not dare to compete.

Meanwhile, Biden’s own moral, political, and personal shortcomings were studiously concealed. When, perchance, they cracked through their shell and filtered into the light of day, darkness was expeditiously discharged to smother their escape. The valiant, tenebrous members of our media ensured they’d shine no further, and from our line of vision, they were hastened away from view.

The foreign escapades of Biden’s loutish, profligate, constantly-inebriated second son were revealed, and then promptly buried. Like the mole that emerges from the earth to expose its tiny head and bask, if only briefly, in the distant radiance of the sun, they were swiftly whacked, and sent away from public view. The New York Post, reporting on Hunter Biden’s economic entanglements and indecorous behavior overseas (in which, as many believe, and as further evidence has suggested, his stately father played a role), received not only the hostility of the media platforms around which, with dizzying velocity, its story first spread, but its punishment and censorship, as well.

With a rationale for its suppression by which none was convinced, and most were enflamed, the social media companies (namely Facebook and Twitter) claimed the New York Post’s stories to have been inadequately sourced and incompletely vetted. Thus, they proclaimed, from the height of the Palo Alto summits from which their regal fiats are issued, the New York Post’s story was the inedible fruit of a poisonous tree. It mustn’t, for that reason, be consumed. Therefore, its circulation would be discountenanced on Facebook and Twitter and sites such as these, sites to which the upholding of the First Amendment and neutral standards is, as we’ve been informed, ever-so important.

Of course, had such standards pre-existed this remarkable event (that by which the Biden family’s financial corruption and chronic venality were exposed), Trump’s tax information, channeled through what must’ve been a former “fiduciary” of the president to whom the writers of the New York Times enjoyed quite profitable access, surely wouldn’t have been published. As we know, it was.

Assuming one was successful in pilfering the opportunity to read the story, he was urged, thereafter, simply to ignore it. It was called, repeatedly by Biden and the defensive surrogates by whom he was flanked, a “smear campaign” and a “baseless allegation”, the type by which only the most desperate and unethical of Republicans would try to reduce him. We were also told to ignore Biden’s rather bilious nature (aggressively calling citizens by whom tough questions were posed, fat or mentally inferior), his disconcerting history of sexual predation or, short of that, unseemly prurience (have we forgotten the name Tara Reade, and the many unfortunate women within whose personal spaces still harbor the scar of Joe Biden’s specter); his animus or indifference toward Black people (suggesting they use crack-cocaine and are intellectually undiverse); and his utter lack of acquaintance with the history of this land (call forth to mind, if you dare, his cringe-inducing, unintelligible effort to quote the Declaration of Independence).

After all this, though, we were still encouraged to believe that Biden was the candidate of passion, by which I mean to say, emotion. He, by the industrious and clever work of his campaign, and the connivance of a media by which, from the very start, he was so vigorously propped up, was molded into the empathic candidate par excellence. He was made into the candidate by whom, in some odd way, every uncertain voter and polite citizen would be made to feel, for a change, good. In contrast to him was President Trump, the candidate of reason, as I think of him to be. Doubtless, he’s not the person by whom, naturally, one’s made to feel so cheerily warm and cozy, but he’s the one by whom reason, often colder and soberer and, therefore—at least when it comes to politics—correct, is appeased.

And so, the policy achievements of the latter enticed my reason, while my passion, with every step of my approach closer toward the ballot box, that sacred space in which an American’s suffrage is finally expressed, was quieted—the heart having been made the mind’s temporary slave.

Of course, the triumph of reason over passion, if ever it occurs, is never as enduring as we might like; its priority of position is, at best, ephemeral, and the relationship to which it’s been accustomed, no sooner restored. Yet, in making our political decisions, reason must be elevated as high as it can. I’m reminded, in thinking so, of a quote not by David Hume—to whom, unwaveringly, I remain devoted—but by Nikolai Gogol. In his great work, Dead Souls, to which the contradictory label of “epic poem in prose” is usually applied, he says:

“Numberless as grains of sand are the passions of man, and no one of them is like another. Initially, they all—whether base or noble—submit to man’s will and only later do they exercise such fearful tyranny over him. Blessed is he who, from all their multitude, has selected the noblest passions”.

With all due reverence to the genius of Gogol, and the Russian society of which he was so artful and scrutinizing a critic, my objective is not to select passion—be it noble or base—but to opt for reason. It was for this reason that I opted for the incumbent, why I voted for that troubling, polarizing figure—President Trump. Passion is a tyrant to which one unknowingly submits; not even the most constant vigilance can deter it. But, from time to time, reason plays the part of liberator, by which the fetters of emotion are cut clean. The president, in this instance, was the one wielding the heavy sword to which those chains must yield. Let us, then, choose liberty over tyranny, and reason over passion. In this way, I justify my choice in favor of an unsavory incumbent, to an empathic challenger.

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