Editor’s Note: Every now and then I like to work around some aspect of my English major background. For those of you out there who were also English majors, I’m aware that I’ve taken a somewhat complex subject and oversimplified it. However, I don’t think the average reader wants to hear some boring grammatical dissertation on when you should remove the “to” from the infinitive to get the subjunctive. Enough said on that arcane subject. This one did get a response from a very right-wing Trump cultist, who is pretty outraged that anyone would criticize his Messiah in print. Click here for a reaction from Trump’s loyal base.

Wishful Thinking


One of the more obscure aspects of syntax is the subjunctive voice, a grammatical construction involving beliefs, hopes and wishes, as well as suppositions contrary to fact. Notable examples include the Cowardly Lion’s “If I were king of the forest” and Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I were a rich man.” In such phrases, the normal subject-verb agreement (“I was”) is replaced with the ostensibly mismatched “I were.”

The subjunctive reflects the human condition. Proselytizers hoping to make converts seem to think people can just choose what they believe, as if it were an act of will. If I were promised eternal bliss (or $100) for merely saying I believed L. Ron Hubbard to be a prophet, I could do so easily, but if I had to honestly believe it, I might just as well try to pretend the Earth is flat and bourbon is health food.

I’d like to believe I look like George Clooney. That I can’t results less from choice than from the mirrors on my walls. I’d love to think I’m as smart as the late Stephen Hawking, but no one who’s met me would agree. And I’d like to believe age has imparted enough wisdom that, if I could go back and live my life over again, I’d be able to change some of the stupid and embarrassing things I’ve said or done. But I stopped getting wiser at around 25, so, even with a “do-over,” I’d probably just do or say different stupid things.

The world is full of things I wish or hope were true, but can’t believe. For example, despite the History Channel’s endless programming about Area 51, alien abductions and ancient astronauts who’ve built everything from the pyramids to the Golden Arches, I see the absence of hard evidence for UFOs as evidence of absence. Besides, according to the laws of physics, nothing can move faster than the speed of light, so interstellar travel isn’t feasible. Warp drives, tachyons, wormholes and other forms of Star Trek/Star Wars locomotion may be the stuff of science fiction, but ET probably can’t get here.

I don’t believe in flying saucers, but skeptics whom I respect have had close encounters that I want to believe in, and I’d be pleased if aliens were coming here. I’d also have no trouble believing in god, if it weren’t for the total lack of evidence. Although I’m not thrilled with the cruel and irrational theologies of evangelicalism and Islam — with their deities torturing most of mankind in hell for eternity for practicing the wrong religion — I’d be more than happy to see proof of a kinder, gentler, more-compassionate god. And it wouldn’t take much to convince me of heaven — a color brochure, slides of someone’s vacation in paradise, and I’m on board. Hell might be a harder sell. (I think I’d need to see video.)

Speaking of overheated climates, I’d like to believe global warming is a hoax. However, that would mean ignoring the vast majority of the scientific community and siding with right-wing politicians, fundamentalists and mercenaries from the oil company payrolls. This would be about as reasonable as accepting that Southern Baptist preachers know more about evolutionary biology than the paleontology department at MIT.

I also wish I believed conservatives aspire to be good Christians, but that’s always been iffy, and their cultish idolatry of Donald Trump makes it increasingly implausible. Jesus never once mentioned any of the Religious Right’s Big Three themes: guns, abortion and gays (GAG), and Trump-worshipping evangelicals’ attitudes toward children and the downtrodden, whom Jesus actually did speak of extensively, would probably make the Savior gag. During the Sermon on the Mount, if you’d asked Jesus how he felt about “the meek” and “the poor in spirit,” I doubt he’d have answered, “Lock ’em up … in cages!”

I’d like to think the 80% or 90% of the GOP now supporting Trump are acting out of some sort misguided patriotism. But spending time with conservatives has convinced me that most of them care as little for American ideals or democracy as he does. Pre-Trump, I thought the Right and Left differed mainly on how to get things done, but now it seems we lack any common ground of shared values.

Too many D.C. Republicans have simply abandoned their principles. Spineless toadies like Lindsey Graham (R.-Moscow) fear being primaried and losing their seats (and the money and power that go with them). Worse still, too many in the GOP — e.g., ubertoady Devin Nunez (R.-Mar a Lago) and bigot Steve King (R.-Berchtesgaden) — share Trump’s values or lack of them.

I want to believe the Democrats are serious about winning in 2020, but they won’t get the rust-belt state votes needed to drag us out of the Trumpian swamp by raising issues such as busing, reparations and the elimination of private health insurance. And when all 10 Democratic hopefuls raise their hands in support of non-mainstream causes, such as free medical care for illegal immigrants, the prospect of four more years of Orange Mussolini becomes ever-more frighteningly real.

Finally, I hope that, if defeated in 2020, or when his second term ends in 2024, the president will step down voluntarily, but I have my doubts. Should he act on his fantasy of emulating Kim Jong-un or Vladimir Putin and becoming dictator for life, does anyone believe Mitch McConnell and his conservative sheep will defy The Donald to protect the Constitution?

If nothing changes, we won’t need the subjunctive voice to describe the “what if” of eight years of corrupt anti-democratic and white supremacist rule. And no matter what we believe, hope or wish, help doesn’t seem to be on the way. Aliens aren’t coming from the heavens to rescue us, and, although the Trump presidency may not be proof, it’s certainly evidence, that, even if there were a god, he’s no longer on our side.

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