Once John Brown's body was "a'moulderin' in the grave," he became a myth, and mythically he was, for sure, a hero. He had, after all, fought the good fight against the beast of slavery as no one else had. Armed with what he considered, prayerfully, God's own righteousness, he'd looked evil and injustice straight in the eye and done something to end it, as no one had since Nat Turner in 1831. In public, as an example, he was hung until dead for a cause the growing abolitionist movement increasingly saw as worthy, even holy.
The most famous public intellectual of his time, Emerson, changed his tune once John Brown was dead. He'd been skeptical of violence as a means to a peaceful end, felt Brown too mad to be a saint. But the gallows did more to raise John Brown than put him down, even in the eyes of the Ralph Waldo, transcendentalism's leading theologian.
Most everything Emerson had ever written had to do with the importance of men and women finding the divinity within them, self-reliance being, really, God-reliance. We all are Christs, he said, or words to that effect. Or we can be if only we listen to the currents of the universal being, the divinity already there within our souls.
Emerson thought a lot about heroism, about becoming the hero within. In Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civilo War, Tony Horowitz' fine biography of John Brown, he takes a paragraph to examine Emerson's idea of a hero because after Brown's death the fiery half-crazed warrior became an Emersonian hero, one of "the abolitionist's greatest champions."
Like Thoreau, Emerson trafficked in ideal types. Years before, in an essay titled “Heroism,” he had conjured an “unschooled man” who feels rather than thinks and “finds a quality in him that is negligent of expense, of health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach.” Unafraid of suffering and censure, and heedless of learned authority, Emerson’s hero also had to be persistent: “When you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself to the world.” Above all, heroism demanded certitude and self-reliance, right to the end. “Its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents.” (215, Kindle edition)If you truly believe Hillary Clinton is everything Sean Hannity claims she is--a monster, a cheat, a spy, and a cold-blooded killer, then Trump is an Emersonian hero. Yesterday's inflammatory utterance was Obama being "the founder of ISIS," it's MVP. Overstatement? No, Trump said time after time in speeches and television spots because Obama is the enemy, as is Hillary. Trump is fighting twin dragons who stand between us and our chance to return America to the glory it once beamed to the world.
Some of Emerson's descriptions work beautifully. Trump is certainly "unafraid of suffering and censure" and definitely "heedless of learned authority," even authority figures in his own party (if he has one). And he's persistent as no other: "It's ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong [Obama and Hillary], and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents [the liberal media]."
Before he weakly supported Paul Ryan in his primary scrap with Paul Nehlen, a man who called Ryan as many names as Trump calls Hillary, Trump praised Nehlen for his strength and courage. "We need strong people," he said, as he has, time and time again. What he means, of course, is strong like he is.
And Trump is strong. He is unlike anything to come along in American politics ever. Nobody quite knows how to understand him.
So yesterday, when I read about Emerson and John Brown and American heroes, I couldn't help think of Trump, a man who "feels rather than thinks" and is "negligent" of almost everything except what he thinks and believes. Without a doubt, Emerson wouldn't agree because Trump is not the prayerful, scripture-quoting John Brown, overflowing with his own ancestral Puritanism. Trump has very little of the Christian faith in him, James Dobson and all those evangelical disciples' praise notwithstanding.
Donald Trump is a perfectly secularist American hero.