Continuing with my comparison of Donald Trump to the villain of Maruki Hurakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (see yesterday’s post), here’s a passage that describes Noboru Wataya’s contempt for losers. The more I read about Trump, the more I see a man who is so insecure that he lashes out against anyone who makes him feel small. It’s why Trump can’t overlook any slight, Amanda Marcotte of Salon yesterday speculated that he wants to become president mostly so that he can revenge himself upon his enemies and perceived enemies.
Here’s Noboru Wataya heaping Trump-like contempt upon Toru Okada, the man that his sister married. It should be noted that Toru, although unsure about his future, has substance and he deeply loves his wife, who relies on him for support:
From the first day I met you, I knew better than to hope you might amount to anything. I saw no sign of promise, nothing in you that suggested you might accomplish something worthwhile or even turn yourself into a respectable human being: nothing there to shine or to shed light on anything. I knew that whatever you set your hand to would end up half-baked, that you would never see anything through to the end. And I was right. You have been married to my sister for six years, and what have you done in all that time? Nothing, right? All you’ve accomplished in six long years is to quit your job and ruin Kumiko’s life. Now you’re out of work and you have no plan for the future. There’s nothing inside that head of yours but garbage and rocks.
Why Kumiko ever got together with the likes of you I’ll never understand. Maybe she thought the garbage and rocks in your head were interesting. But finally, garbage is garbage and rocks are rocks. You were wrong for her from the start.
As I read the passage, I think of Trump’s assessment of John McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
To fail is to be a loser in the eyes of both Trump and Noboru Wataya. Both attribute their success to their ability to excel in the world of dog-eat-dog capitalism, even though their own success owes much to a privileged upbringing;
Noboru Wataya’s boyhood there was strangely distorted in another sense. The parents were mad for their only son, but they didn’t merely shower him with affection; they demanded certain things of him as well. The father was convinced that the only way to live a full life in Japanese society was to earn the highest possible marks and to shove aside anyone and everyone standing in your path to the top. He believed this with absolute conviction.
It was shortly after I had married his daughter that I heard these very words from the man himself. All men are not created equal, he said. That was just some righteous-sounding nonsense they taught you in school. Japan might have the political structure of a democratic nation, but it was at the same time a fiercely carnivorous society of class in which the weak were devoured by the strong, and unless you became one of the elite, there was no point in living in this country. You’d just be ground to dust in the millstones. You had to fight your way up every rung of the ladder. This kind of ambition was entirely healthy.
It sounds like an episode of Apprentice, Trump’s reality show. It also may give us insight into the psychology of some of Trump’s followers: they thrill to Trump’s contempt for others, thinking that identifying with him somehow exempts them from that contempt. Although Trump indeed has contempt for them (“I love the poorly educated”) and they may well harbor a secret contempt for themselves, they can feel superior to McCain for being captured and to all the suckers who fell for Trump’s various scams, whether Trump University, his vitamin supplement kits, his various real estate deals that ended in bankruptcy, or whatever else. Oh, and he provides them useful scapegoats against which they can channel their anxieties (minorities, women).
Toru’s account of Noboru Wataya’s upbringing sounds very much like Trump’s, further helping un understand the New York billionaire (or is he merely a millionaire?):
And so his parents pounded their questionable philosophy and their warped view of the world into the head of the young Noboru Wataya. They egged him on, providing him with the best tutors their money could buy. When he took top honors, they rewarded their son by buying him anything he wanted. His childhood was one of extreme material luxury, but when he entered the most sensitive and vulnerable phase of life, he had no time for girlfriends, no chance to go wild with other boys. [In Trump’s case, his father sent him to military boarding school.] He had to pour all his energies into maintaining his position as number one.
What emerges in the novel is a man who casts a big shadow and who corrupts everything he touches. In response to Noboru Wataya’s “rocks and garbage” speech, Toru responds with a parable that pretty accurately describes the Trump’s world—and what America itself could become if Trump were to be elected president:
“Do you know the story of the monkeys of the shitty island?” I asked Noboru Wataya.
He shook his head, with no sign of interest. “Never heard of it.”
“Somewhere, far, far away, there’s a shitty island. An island without a name. An island not worth giving a name. A shitty island with a shitty shape. On this shitty island grow palm trees that also have shitty shapes. And the palm trees produce coconuts that give off a shitty smell. Shitty monkeys live in the trees, and they love to eat those shitty-smelling coconuts, after which they shit the world’s foulest shit. The shit falls on the ground and builds up shitty mounds, making the shitty palm trees that grow on them even shittier. It’s an endless cycle.”
I drank the rest of my coffee.
“As I sat here looking at you,” I continued, I suddenly remembered the story of this shitty island. What I’m trying to say is this: A certain kind of shittiness, a certain kind of stagnation, a certain kind of darkness, goes on propagating itself with its own power in his own-self-contained cycle. And once it passes a certain point, no one can stop it—even if the person himself wants to stop it.”
I’m still trying to figure out Murakami’s antidote to the Noboru Watayas in the world and within ourselves. When I teach works of inner monstrosity–such as, say, Beowulf–I tell my students to pay close attention, not just to the monsters, but to what it takes to defeat the monsters. In Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Toru must undergo an inner journey, guided by the love of his wife, to confront and overcome Noboru Wataya. There is meditation involved, along with a centering of and belief in the self, a refusal to be taken in by appearances, and dedication to saving another person. But that’s all a bit vague. When I gain further understanding, I’ll share it with you.
After all, if Toru Okada offers us a convincing way to defeat the Noboru Wataya who is the presumptive GOP nominee, we need to know what it is.