A fish rots from the head

Adrien and I would often argue about whether dictators were products of their societies or whether the inverse was true and societies were shaped by the trauma and repression of dictatorship. In Iraq I saw the kidnapping epidemic that swept through Baghdad after Saddam fell—thousands, tens of thousands of children and women were kidnapped for ransom; literally every middle-class family had a horror story—and I tried to make sense of such widespread cruelty and criminality. Perhaps, I pondered, it was the product of an inculcated degradation of public morals. As the fish rots from the head, the example of a brutal corrupt regime had brutalized and corrupted its subjects. Adrien did not agree. He would say, “Yes, but Saddam was Iraqi. He came from that society. He learned brutality and corruption from other Iraqis…” Tarek also shook his head at my theory. Society was not a single thinking thing; neither was “the people.”

—Wendell Steavenson, Circling the Square, (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 245-46.

I’ve some idea of the effects Bush’s presidency had on the Middle East. What might be some of the lasting effects on the American psyche from this man’s tenure? Pershing Summer fears aside, what did it do to us all to have Bonzo’s instructor in the White House? I read daily in the European press of opinions on Donald Trump’s candidacy. How will the national consciousness recover from this time? What long-term damage is being done by permitting consideration of Trump as something other than a vulgar buffoon?

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