A Faustian Bargain

Alan Zendell, May 1, 2018

One of the clichés of modern life is “be careful what you wish for.” The problem isn’t so much with our wishes as with how far we’re willing to go to realize them, and once they’ve become actualized, with the Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s human nature to want what we don’t have, to dream and fantasize about things we believe will make our lives better.

But it’s also human to be shortsighted, especially when we’re driven by our emotions and so narrowly focused on the trees we lose sight of the forest. We’re most prone to error when we’re driven by baser, more powerful emotions like fear, greed, anger, or lust. It is then that we become susceptible to the serpent’s wiles. It is then that we are most likely to accept a Faustian bargain that will be our undoing.

Our founders did it when they permitted slavery, and the consequences nearly destroyed us in the Civil War. As our country grew in size and scope and wealth, we somehow blinded ourselves to the genocide we were committing against all of the native American peoples who stood in our way, and we live with that ignominy today.

For centuries, hardship, poverty, and oppression have made nations vulnerable to charismatic charlatans who promised they would solve their problems and make them rich and powerful. In the twentieth century, Faustian pacts with Fascists and Communists led to worldwide conflicts and produced the legacy of revolutions and petty dictators that we still contend with today.

In our own country we are living with the legacy of a generation of bad decisions and wrong-headed policies. The twenty-first century has seen problems that have gone unanswered for decades bring our nation to the brink of crisis in many ways.

Our failure to take energy independence seriously when that was inconvenient for our largest corporations kept us engaged in the Middle East because of oil, which drew us into seventeen years of misguided conflict that has done nothing to improve conditions in that part of the world. Corporate greed nearly brought down our economy ten years ago, a shock from which we’re still recovering. And today, as a nation we are putting short term comfort and profit ahead of what science tells us is the health of our planet and the lives of our grandchildren.

Even worse, we have ignored the growth of divisiveness and partisanship until they now threaten the fabric of our country. We’ve had our eyes opened to a level of hate and bigotry that most of us thought no longer existed in America. Our gridlocked, dysfunctional government has reneged on its promise of affordable health care, and we are rejecting the values we were built on, turning our backs on the immigrants that have made us what we are.

Have we made our own pact with the Devil? When Trump took office most Americans believed the greatest threat to our existence was North Korea. As the two Koreas seem to be on the verge of ending their sixty-eight-year-old war, we have to ask some serious questions. Did Trump make this happen or was he just a side show? South Korean President Moon was elected based on his pledge to do everything possible to end the war and re-unite Korea. It’s just possible that this is a family squabble that’s finally coming to an end on its own.

Our president’s buffoonery in Michigan taking full credit aside, he probably deserves some, no matter how offensive his behavior. And therein lies the problem. Because of his ego, because of his need to be a seen as a hero, because of his vulgar, uncouth manner, he distorts everything he touches, and more often than not leaves it in worse condition than it was before.

Even if we credit his rants against Kim as one factor in bringing the two Koreas together, I reject the idea that only Trump could have accomplished this. I’m not confident that his similar rants against Iran will accomplish anything positive – they may make things worse. And when I look at the way our president is ripping at the fabric of our basic institutions and making a mockery of common decency, I have to ask, “At what price? Is it worth it?”

The people who voted for Trump may well have made a pact with the Devil that we all have to live with. Like Faust, they seemed to get what they wanted for a while, railing against an establishment that had failed them, vicariously venting their anger at an obviously corrupted and obsolete system. But in the end, the Devil always gets his due. If we permit Donald Trump to destroy the moral fabric of our country, what will we have gained in the end?

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2 Responses to A Faustian Bargain

  1. jlexpert says:

    Well written with obvious truths, and some measure of liberal exaggeration. Our recent exposure to Presidents “making a mockery of common decency” gained traction and plenty of cynicism starting with Nixon and the Clintons. The Democratic Party accelerated a cycle of implosion starting in the second term of the Obama Presidency. Can you imagine how much education, food and medicine could have been secured for the most needy with the riches passed to IRAN by OBAMA?

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