Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story …

Desiderata, 1927

Stuff got real today in the great Republican race for the nomination/plunge into nothingness, ahead of the five-state east-central primary: Pennsylvania, Maryland, a few trash states. Stuff got real, and then it got unreal again, in the space of hours.

On Sunday, word crept out that Ted Cruz and John Kasich had concluded some sort of deal going into the final weeks. Kasich would concede Indiana to Cruz, and would not campaign there, and Cruz would stay out of Oregon and Montana further down the track. The reason for this late-in-the-day deal was the deepest passion in politics: the maths.

After Donald Trump’s yuuuuge win in New York, the two remaining candidates took a long, hard look at the numbers, and stopped spouting bullshit about all being in, etc, and made some moves to limit the possibility that Trump would get the nomination before the convention, with the magic 1237 votes. That turns on Indiana, which is a winner-take-all haul of 41 votes, if Trump could get above 50%. Though the state abuts Ohio and might be seen as Kasich territory, it is by far and away the most religious and socially conservative of the rustbelt states, a l’il chunk of the south in the north, and its inhabitants — “Hoosiers”, in common parlance — are known as having a far more reserved and inward countenance than those of the states that surround them. The place is the home of Max Ehrmann, the businessman/poet who wrote Desiderata, the homily that was on a poster in every rumpus room in the 1970s, next to the “oh shit” kitten and the skeleton on a toilet.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself …

Desiderata

There is thus a bet that Trump’s schtick might not go over quite so well in the Hoosier state, and that Cruz may have a chance to either edge him out, or at least deprive him of the magic majority. Kasich was given a couple of states largely as a sop, a way of saving face. His delegates don’t matter, other than that he has some. He wants either a VP slot or a 2020 run, or that, looking at the polls, and in desperation, the Republican convention will turn to the only guy who can beat Hillary (and draws with Bernie), and batten down the hatches and bear whatever shit-storm is directed at them, and choose Kasich. Were they to do this, god knows what would happen in terms of some third-party challenge, from the Trumpkins, with a few Berneyites, and old Paulites (when your politics starts to sound like theology, well that’s a diagnosis of the problem right there).

But I know one thing: any Democratic supporter should be scared as hell of a Kasich candidacy. The man is like catnip. You can go into one of his meetings knowing his hard-right positions on welfare, unions, abortion and countless other things — and leave them floating on air, thinking you have found the one true man. All the more remarkable, given that many people who’ve worked with Kasich say he’s kind of a prick. Not on the Cruz level — no one’s on the Cruz level — but not exactly WYSIWYG. Is WYSIWYG still a thing …?

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Desiderata

By this evening, the deal was already falling apart. Kasich, interviewed, said he just wasn’t campaigning in Indiana, that’s all, and if you wanted to vote for him you should. Which is not exactly a pact, not even the beginnings of one, and suggests Kasich might be, well, a bit of a prick. Whether the pact would work at all remains to be seen. Denied a chance to vote for Kasich, I think his supporters might split evenly between “staying home” and Trump. I don’t think there’s much of a Kasich-Cruz transfer, and I don’t think many of Kasich’s supporters would feel the Republican Party was “saved” by having Cruz pre-empt Trump. Those who would go from Kasich to Trump are those who would believe that what is needed in the White House is a doer. They would see Kasich as a real one, Trump as a flim-flam man. But they would see Trump as someone who would at least shake things up.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Desiderata

Trump tried to be presidential for a few days. He even referred to Ted Cruz as “Senator Cruz” rather than “Lyin’ Ted”. The pose didn’t last. When the Kasich-Cruz primary deal became clear, Trump launched a fusillade. He didn’t have a nickname, but focused on Kasich’s trencherman application to the traditional New York political campaign duty, eating ethnic foods. Kasich took it on as some sort of challenge, inhaling pizzas, lasagnes, knishes, chow mein, paella, sandwiches named after long-dead theatrical agents, and on and on.

There was something just a little forced and performative about it, and Trump zeroed in on it immediately: “The way that man eats, my god, what is that? He eats like no one else ever ate, mwummwummwum …” Jesus it was funny. It was Trump back to his old schtick, something learnt, as any Queens kid rich or poor learnt it in the ’60s — watching Johnny Carson, and the stand-ups he had on. If you want the source of Trump’s pile on, well, despite all the alleged hyper-masculinism, it’s actually Joan Rivers. Trump’s monologues have the exact structure of Rivers’ pile-driver routines which, framed by the safe confines on evening TV, pushed past them conventional morality and what was hidden (“I’m getting older, I had a hot flush so bad it melted my IUD — OH COME ON!”). How weird that Trump is the safe masculinised version of Rivers’s far more edgy act. (If you want more, there’s also this — and a lot more on the ‘tubes.)

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
Desiderata

Gahhhh, so where we? Trump cannot help himself. He’s a New York guy. The great hope of everyone is, he’ll get the nomination, be good for two weeks, and then go wild beyond measure, and it’ll be an incredible ride, and Hillary Clinton will get 45 states.

It’s this possibility, borne out by innumerable polls, that has really focused the minds of the Republican establishment — on the possibility that any shit fight is worth it, to deny Trump the nomination. That was buttressed by an interview with Charles Koch, of the notorious Koch brothers, who said there might not be a Republican candidate they could support, and that he would potentially vote for Clinton if no better alternative was presented. Which was another vote for Kasich, buried under many layers.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Desiderata

(Those who want a soundtrack to the last part of this article, you might want to cue up Les Crane’s version.)

So it’s on to Indiana, after the results tomorrow, which should be a five-state Trump slam, with maybe one recalcitrant state. Pennsylvania is both key and irrelevant, since at least 50 of its delegates are free agents, even on a first ballot, in a system which no one really understands. So this round will deliver him not the 1237, but bragging rights. And they don’t really play in Indiana.

Max Ehrmann was an upper-middle-class type who returned from Ivy league in the early part of the century, determined to make it as a businessman — but only so he could pursue his career as a poet. Like that other businessman/poet — Wallace Stevens — Ehrmann recognised that daily work was a muse of sorts, a connection to the real flow of life, that might make something more than “poesy” possible. Unlike Stevens, Ehrmann was a terrible poet. His self-published volumes were saturated in the fascination with the East that took over the United States in the 1910s and ’20s and beyond — the essentially atheist musings of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, that became, for an educated class, a halfway house out of Christianity. Such a sensibility flows through Stevens’ poems, but he brings it under his control. It’s in Huxley, in Isherwood and many others of the time. Ehrmann had some inkling that he was not of their ilk, and he prayed — to whatever he was praying to — that he would get one chance to write a poem of the ages. Desiderata was something he worked and worked and worked and I reckon it is probably the finest example of that contradiction: a man with absolutely no talent, nevertheless creating something, that someone can take something away from, a poem planed so flat that the grain of life shows through.

Ehrmann had some luck with his poem in the ’30s — its idea of God “whatever you believe him to be” is clearly at the root of the “12 steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous founded in the late ’30s, and which, by the late ’70s, would become the most powerful spiritual movement in the US. But it was only when a New England vicar included a copy of it in care packages to serving soldiers in the brutal post D-Day campaign of 1944-45 that it took off. That led to a fortuitous misunderstanding — the vicar noted his 17th New England church as the source, of the particular pamphlet, and for several decades it was taken to be a 17th poem, even though the plain language clearly did not match the era. By the time that was sorted out, the hip ’60s outfit Athena Posters had done a version of it, selling in the hundreds of thousands, and the ’60s DJ Les Crane had been persuaded to do a spoken version of it, which became a huge hit, and extended its life all the way through the ’70s when, to be honest, people would believe anything.

In Australia it got a lease of life in the ’90s when Shirley Barrett included it in her great film Love Serenade — a movie which is really the completion of the whole Australian “new wave” cycle, the masculinsed Australian outback rendered as feminine yearning — as a track that the mysterious new DJ who comes to a country one-man radio station plays incessantly, to the general derangement of the entire village. It was a way, as this article is a way, of disguising one’s fealty to the poem, to its schlock version, without owning it. But hell, one can only dissemble so much. It is a ridiculously silly poem and song, but it has helped me through one or two dark times. I suspect a few listenings to it are equal to two or three of the cognitive behavioural therapy sessions Medicare offers, and I would urge Health ministry budgeters to consider this as a first line defence against the universal sadness of late capitalism.

Anyway, they’ve finally put up a statue of Ehrmann in Terre Haute, Indiana. The melancholy of this is that both Trump and Cruz are the anti-Desideratae, their spirits, in different ways antithetical to the poem. And so it is that, after tomorrow’s results, Indiana may surprise us all.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy
— Max Ehrmann, 1927

Peter Fray

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