“This American carnage”: Trumplandia and the Ultimate Rise of “Careless People”

Do an Internet search for “carnage” now and the first matches are from Trump’s inauguration speech, in which he invoked “[t]his American carnage” to launch into his standard use of false claims to speak to his misinformed and misguided base.

Setting aside whatever anyone may assume is Trump’s intent—if “intent” even is applicable anymore—this use of “carnage” sends a message I am certain is lost on Trump and his “America first”/”Make America Great Again” crowd.

A century ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby dramatized a scathing message that the American Dream was a wonderful ideal that Americans mostly allowed to slip through their fingers, as novelist John Gardner examined:

That idea—humankind’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—coupled with a system for protecting human rights—was and is the quintessential American Dream. The rest is greed and pompous foolishness—at worst, a cruel and sentimental myth, at best, cheap streamers in the rain. (p. 96)

Gatsby is new money in the novel, and portrayed by the mesmerized narrator Nick as the embodiment of the American Dream, as “cheap streamers in the rain”; Gatsby’s money is ill-got and he is a very delusional man.

Having taught the novel for nearly two decades, I think far too often studying the novel (what we do in formal schooling, as opposed to reading the work) becomes lost in idealizing the novel’s technical achievements against the rules of New Criticism (much as Nick idealizes Gatsby)—and as a result, we are apt not to pay adequate attention to the carnage.

The Great Gatsby is a novel about carnage as much as a work deconstructing the American Dream.

By the end, we are confronted with Myrtle left like an animal run over and ripped apart in the middle of the road and with George committing suicide after shooting and killing Gatsby floating alone in his opulent pool.

Among the dead, the common denominators are Tom and Daisy, who Nick comes to understand while talking to Tom:

I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…. (p. 179)

While Daisy and Tom Buchanan flee, essentially unscathed, to Europe, the images of Myrtle dead in the road and Gatsby face-down in his swimming pool haunt Nick’s final lines of Fitzgerald’s so-called American classic:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (p. 182)

In the days after Trump’s inauguration and his pronouncement about “carnage,” if you are looking for the U.S., there it is—Myrtle’s corpse in the wake of Daisy driving a gold Rolls Royce, Gatsby and George Wilson both dead at George’s disillusioned hand.

Myrtle and George as the slaughtered white working class who attract our sympathetic but myopic gaze—let us not ignore that The Great Gatsby is a very white novel, itself a demonstration of how we whitewash even in art.

Trumplandia, however, is all too real and is a free people’s abdication to the ultimate rise of “careless people” who depend on our being as mesmerized by their wealth and delusional as Nick.

“[G]reed and pompous foolishness,” Garnder’s words, ring now in the wake of the grand and dishonest pronouncement of “this American carnage.”

We cannot claim we haven’t been properly warned.

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2 thoughts on ““This American carnage”: Trumplandia and the Ultimate Rise of “Careless People”

  1. Dear Paul Thomas,

    This is a good essay, and I enjoyed reading your analysis. Thank you for posting it!

    Best wishes for 2017!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990), the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).
    My website is http://www.janetruthheller.com/

  2. Dear Paul,

    I so agree with your sad insight about the unwittingly un-breasted and gun-toting white working class being victimized and “slaughtered” by the very pompous, greedy, “careless people” they idolize. But I want to propose that Daisy, Tom, and even Gatsby— though they drive too fast in gold armor and also surely rise to pollute our vision, like Trump has, in a slick fossil-fueled nightmare from the valley of ashes—are JUST “careless:” they lack the (yes, applicable) INTENT of Trump and his partners and appointees, the INTENT to punish and rape, repeal and replace, and rip to shreds and kill — and all for profit and power-erection. Nothing “careless” about it; it’s VERY well planned, conscience-less, maybe, but totally conscious. And we’ve given the green light and allowed it to be in the works for way too long now. There is something worse than “careless,” even as it similarly slinks in seeming “retreat” into the gold-encrusted jungle of its stolen wealth when it feels the need to shelter.

    So we miss “it;” because we, like Nick, do our share of slinking into retreat too. We are the “beating-on” bystanders to “it.” We are the real “careless” ones. “Myopic”? —sure; but Nick—and we who would stand civilly by as the consciously crafted carnage happens—CAN see, and well at that. We know that we are readied seeds (“nicked,” so to speak) who could, if we would, fertilize “eggs” both east and west to produce something new to alter the course of our world for the better. We just choose not to risk our vitality or to get into real caring intercourse with what we spectate: instead, anchored safely to the couch, we “beat on.” I have to think about the scene in the elevator (“hand off the lever [ellipse. . .ellipse. . .]”) when I read “beat on;” and so I have to think that Fitzgerald meant to have us feel the jerk-off motion that so many of us will resort to amidst this “current” of Trumpian carnage-coming, replacing the body and repealing the soul. You see, Fitzgerald really did get the spelling right in his first edition of GATSBY: the word is “orgastic” — without the “i.” America, like Nick, is about the attained-at-any-cost thrill that always recedes after it comes and makes us reach for it again, rather than about the risky, scary, messy, get-really-stuck-in-the-emotion-wrench of irrevocable involvement with and attachment to what—or who—moves us.

    What Trump and the corporate giants who will subjugate and rule the world openly now know (because, like eyes over our ash pit, they have spectated us) is that we LOVE to be “mesmerized.” Any one of us who turned on our TVs or devices on Jan 20, any one of us who did not haul ass and march for five hours plus yesterday (or haul off and write a piece, as you did), any one of us who strokes his Trump-voting relative and says “I respect your views but . . .” is forever CAST in the unreality-TV show (without a paycheck, by the way) that those behind Trump have been carefully producing for a long, long time. Counting their profits, they have counted on us.

    And one fine mourning—And so. . .[ellipse. . .ellipse. . .]

    Can’t we get our hands off ourselves? Can’t we get our foot off the pedal or our train off the tracks back? Can’t we turn ourselves off and hold—still. Shouldn’t we ACT on Fitzgerald’s warning and CARE? Can’t we fill in the blanks drilled into us as we’ve fixated on the billboards that watch us? Why not stop consuming the goodies they peddle to make our empty seem full—and “great”? Red light.

    Catharine E. Clohessy
    Pomperaug HS, CT (retired)
    Professor of English, SUNY Westchester Community College

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