Perfection elusive in grammar and politics
Because language matters, editors consider themselves guardians of grammar and syntax to whom rules are important. One editorial stricture involves the combining of absolutes, comparatives and superlatives. For example, “unique” means one of a kind, so something can’t be “less unique” or “the most unique.”
The same applies to superlatives such as “ideal.” “More ideal,” makes no more logical sense than “most worst.” In binary (either/or) situations, you can’t use comparative adjectives — e.g., a woman can’t be a “little bit” pregnant or “more pregnant” than another woman. And combining two superlatives is redundant: A jet shouldn’t be described as the “most fastest,” unless it was procured by the Dept. of Defense Dept.
Many superlatives and absolutes aren’t just linguistically problematic. Those that involve the concept of infinity also present logical and philosophical difficulties. One problem is we humans can always envision more. Even living in an infinite universe, we still ask what’s beyond its edge. Time may encompass eternity, yet we can speak of a time “before” the moment of creation and “after” the end of time.
Although we can imagine infinity, we can’t really comprehend it. According to physicists and cosmologists, the Big Bang occurred when all the matter and energy in the universe exploded from an “infinitely small” point, but I doubt that more than a handful of people on Earth can make sense of this. As a man of modest intellectual gifts, it’s as incomprehensible to me as Sanskrit.
The same is true of the theology of an infinite god. By definition, nothing can be further beyond us than an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. Mankind talks endlessly about god, but anteaters will master quantum mechanics before mankind can fathom an infinite being. The concept of omnipotence results in questions such as George Carlin’s classic paradox, “If god is all-powerful, can he make a boulder so heavy, even he can’t lift it?”
How does one reconcile infinite power and perfect goodness with pediatric cancer? The only people who don’t struggle with this are heartless, brain-dead fundies. And a deity defined as “omniscient” makes predestination inevitable. Theologically, an all-knowing god must have known when he created mankind that we’d sin, damning the vast majority of us to eternal punishment, a less-than-beneficent outcome that makes only evangelicals and Calvinists smile. No wonder so many Americans convert to Scientology.
Voltaire coined a phrase that loosely translates to, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Christians often say, “Because god is perfectly good, he can never lie,” but such constraints diminish his omnipotence. And it raises the question of which deity is more “godly” — one that “could not tell a lie” or one with unlimited powers. If the cultish devotion being lavished on our president by the GOP is any indication, I think I already know what half of Americans would answer.
Americans have sought perfection since Gouverneur Morris penned the grammatically awkward “to form a more perfect union” in the preamble to the Constitution. Of course, it’s an iconic document, so quibbles about word choices seem trivial. The framers were practical men who didn’t expect to exceed perfection, or even achieve it (if they did, they wouldn’t have established an amendment process), so it’s likely the phrase was more aspirational than utopian. Besides, it’s conceivable “perfect” didn’t have precisely the same meaning in that bygone era.
For example, the Declaration of Independence’s “All men are created equal” clearly had a different nuance in the 18th century. Assuming the meaning of “all” hasn’t changed, “men” must have literally meant “male” (i.e., without ovaries), rather than “mankind.” “Men” also had a racial component that would establish nonwhites as three-fifths of a man in the Constitution. In much of the nation, this would persist for centuries, even after slavery had ended.
During the 2016 election, the “perfect” became “the enemy of the good” among many liberal voters. Rabid Bernie Sanders supporters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a centrist Hillary Clinton. As a result, progressives helped elect the least progressive candidate since George Wallace. On the Democratic left wing, ideological purists are always seeking the “most ideal” candidate, and often reject the “less perfect” liberal.
As Bill Clinton put it: “Democrats need to fall in love with a candidate; Republicans just want to fall in line.” This an advantage for Republicans, who feel no embarrassment at supporting perhaps the most narcissistic, dishonest, racist and unqualified con man ever to befoul the Oval Office. The next logical question is whether Trump voters chose him despite the fact he’s a vulgar, bigoted hatemonger or because of it.
Among the 33 percent in his hardcore base, it’s become increasingly obvious it’s the latter. The rest of the Republican party is willing to overlook the “Dear Leader’s” unsavory qualities because he’s promised to balance tax cuts for the rich with benefit cuts for the rest of us. Both voting blocs fall into the category of supporters who wouldn’t abandon Trump if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he so presciently and correctly observed.
Nancy Pelosi has good-enough political instincts to know that impeachment, which too many Democrats consider the “most ideal” outcome for this president, would surely end in acquittal by a GOP Senate. Even “less ideal,” this might just assure his re-election. We’d be better off waiting until he’s out of office, and allowing the Southern District of New York to try to put Orange Mussolini in an orange jumpsuit.
Besides, removing the president now would leave us with Mike Pence, who shares Trump’s values, with the added blight of being a religious fanatic, which Trump fakes only when it suits him. These days, the GOP offers uniquely “less-than-ideal” leadership.
Greenwich native Mark Drought (email@example.com) is an editor at a Stamford IT firm and was an adjunct English professor at the University of Connecticut-Stamford.