The noun, “provenance” is an elegant one and is pleasant to enunciate; it utilizes the lips, breath and a minor bit of nasal resonance. An authenticating concept, it is used in the fine art and antiquary business to investigate and evaluate origin, authenticity and prior ownership (or possession) of a subject item.
The word is most often used to designate origin but can also be utilized regarding issues of sequence. It is in this latter sense of the word that we would devote this writing. For example, the most magnificent feature of Darwinian evolution is its revelations concerning the origins (or provenance) of man, vital to the understanding of the human body, and explanatory of its vestigial organs.
In an earlier post, whose subject was, our sadly underused exercise of natural reason, we cited a true personal experience of ours. When only a young sophomore in high school, we were confronted with a verbalized challenge from a classmate (the magnificent prize being two candy bars). We were asked the apocryphal question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg.” After the expenditure of a few moments of thought, we flabbergasted the challenger with the correct and logically undeniable answer. Since most of us believe in Darwinian evolution (even as children), and since it is common knowledge that all chickens, without exception, are hatched from eggs, the answer presented itself, necessarily, to be the egg. That first egg, logically, was laid by the creature which was but one step prior to the chicken, as we know it, in the evolutionary process. This example of provenance was cited, in the earlier setting, to show that we can utilize our reason to solve many of our problems, but often, do not seem to bother; as shown by the fact that this famous question is still heralded as among man’s so-called, “unsolvable problems.” The solution was, of course, based on logically understood provenance.
In matters of human experience, the determination of sequence, causal or otherwise, may not be as easy of solution; they are not simply matters of logical deduction (or induction). Events are subjectively attributable to variable causes, agreement as to which, is an additional subject of debate.
A great many American voters were completely nonplussed and blindsided by the unpredicted result of last year’s Presidential election. An egotistic, glitzy, television game show host, who was universally determined by experts to be incompetent in character, ability and knowledge to be the President of the United States (and ipso facto) leader of the free world, was elected to that historic office. Mr. Trump has validated all such prognostications, embarrassing the nation and confusing the entire world with his obvious and overt ignorance as to all affairs, national and international. His unprincipled and unembarrassed use of the office to enrich himself and his immediate family, resembling the corrupt governance of a banana republic, his expressions of support for racial and gender bigotry, his frivolous, unpredictable behavior, his derogation of learning and science (especially climate science), his adolescent predilections, all result in the conclusion that our country is beset with a virtual tsunami of jeopardy.
Despite this summary recitation of many of the concerns regarding the Trump administration, this post is not intended to center on that alarming travesty as such, but rather, to deal with its factual provenance. How did America get here, a subject, certainly relevant to the concern of all ardent citizens. We see two possible scenarios, the first, productive of a more optimistic and hopeful vista, the second, infinitely more pessimistic and indeed, profoundly worrisome.
[The first scenario] The election of Donald Trump, with its attendant pathology, was but a singular, one-off aberration, and based on the ensuing deplorable results, will not soon be replicated. It was an outcome driven in large part by a conglomerate of discontented voters, notably including the low-information, flat earth, reductionist cohort of our population, which generally does not vote, mesmerized by Trumps’ snake-oil salesman’s unspecified promises of a better tomorrow; in tandem with their tactical manipulation by well financed special interests, cynically seeking to increase profits from deregulation, regardless of the impact on the health of the nation and the planet. This was in combination with a lower than customary voter turnout from the more liberal, educated voters, disenchanted with the candidacy of Hilary Clinton.
[The second scenario] The contemporary quality of the American voter has markedly declined to a level, far below the Jeffersonian standard for the successful operation of a republican democracy (the literate and informed citizen). The national tendency regarding its preoccupation with superficial entertainment, in preference to literate and cultural activity, its derogation of scholarship and educational achievement including scientific progress, has resulted in a severely degraded citizen-voter, whose insular ignorance and reductive understanding makes him an easy prey for demagogic legerdemain. The elevation of Trump to the Presidency was not merely an episodic event, but a representative expression of the contemporary quality of the nation, and is predictive of future election outcomes.
In this regard, it may again be worth noting that the creation of plinyblog, two years ago, was dedicated to the goal of personal development and self- enhancement, for the dual benefit of the individual and the nation. It will continue to urge the reading of good literature, participation in the arts, awareness of government issues, the practice of empathy and secular based morality. It sees the avoidance of the virtually unlimited life potential, made possible by the generous gift from evolution of an advanced brain, acts of shameful ingratitude.
Of the two cited scenarios, we are dogmatically inclined to choose the first. We continue to retain faith in the ultimate and redeeming good sense of the American people. While a popular preference for superficial diversion and the tendency to insular and reductive thinking is far from desirable, we hold fast to the expectation that in each era, a substantial number of intelligent and thoughtful citizens will, responsibly and devotedly, manifest the appropriate criteria for useful citizenship, intended and confidently foreseen by our founding fathers.
Most encouraging and heartening is the realization that the quality of the nation’s electorate was recently such that it elected President Obama, an ideal embodiment of the criteria for a capable, intelligent and empathic chief executive and citizen, and did it, resoundingly, twice.