The rise of Il Douché and the untimely death of J.P. Barlow

On the same day Donald Trump aka Dear Leader, Il Douché, announced he wanted to throw a military parade for himself, I happened to become reacquainted with John Perry Barlow’s 25 Principles of Adult Behavior. Barlow was in the news that day due to his untimely death at age 70 and because he was a great visionary, poet and optimist. On the other hand Orange Julius Caeser was all over the news because, well, grinding up the pavement on Pennsylvania Avenue so he could get his ICBM-sized dopamine fix was only one of the sixteen stupid-ass things he thought of before he got to the oval office for “work” (at 11 am or so) that day.

And there…see? He made me do it again. In the previous paragraph alone, by my quick count, I violated 12 of the 25 J.P. Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior. And it’s still pretty early, like way before 11 a.m. which is when Trump starts his frickin’ shift as PRESIDENT during the 4 days in the week that he’s not off at Mar a Lago (which translated means White Male Privilege Sanctuary). Make that 13 violations.

So I have a few posthumous Q & A questions for J.P. and how his 25 Rules apply in the Age of Trump (with compulsive, snarky commentary.)

1. Be patient. No matter what.

I get this, I really do. And I’m trying. But “no matter what?” Really? What if the fate of the democracy is at stake, like it really, really seems to be right now? Weren’t Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain a bit TOO patient with Hitler? And conversely, didn’t Winston Churchill exercise the appropriate level of impatience with Hitler? And yes, I’m comparing Trump to Hitler, which I realize is a bold move so early in the post.

2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.

So I get that you’re  drawing a distinction between responsibility and blame but here’s the conundrum; responsibility is something grownups take when it becomes clear they’ve made a mistake or could have performed better. Trump conflates the slightest criticism for blame and then reflexively lashes out at his critics, effectively indemnifying himself against owning responsibility for anything past, present or future. So for this rule to apply he has to accept responsibility on some level, for anything; forgetting to sign a bill during a bill signing ceremony, missing a gimme putt for crap’s sake—anything! Start small. The disturbing thing is that if he did, he’d likely lose points with his sycophantic base who clearly prefer the dictator brand of cartoon infallibility over authentic humanity. So what’s left but to assign blame? Even in court genuine contrition goes a long way in deciding a sentence.

3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

Not a big ask. But after we avoid making that assumption let’s not indulge too much in relative morality. Take the Nazis..again with the Nazis because well they’re just so handy to use as moral use cases in these discussions. They thought their cause was “noble” and that the “master race” was the paragon of nobility. Sorry, but tolerance, acceptance and openness are simply more empirically noble than in fear and irrational mistrust of the “other”. Maybe it’s about how one defines “noble” but it’s hard to equate a white supremacist rally with the civil rights movement. Hate debases, tolerance ennobles. End of discussion.

4. Expand your sense of the possible.

A lot of us have been forced to do this every day for more than a year and not in a good way. I know that’s a glass-half-empty interpretation but it’s a double edged sword.

5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

Yeah yeah, the Serenity Prayer and all that but then how do you know what’s changeable unless you take a serious run at it? Hasn’t meaningful change always occurred after some poor sod decided to “trouble” him or herself…sometimes over and over…and over? I guess the key word here is “truly”. Often clarified after enduring forehead scars from repeatedly running into walls.

6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.

This is a broad brush statement with which I don’t 100% agree but then you might be referring to “more” in terms of character vs. skill set.  Obviously I expect my eye surgeon to a better job…etc.

7. Tolerate ambiguity.

I’m a little vague on this one. 🙂

8. Laugh at yourself frequently.

It’s funny, I think most people who know me would say I’ve got this covered. Except my wife. She sees the “me” who would benefit by taking this principle to heart more often. I will take this opportunity to point out that almost all the ex-Presidents, world leaders and public servants I’ve admired in my life have had a sense of humor. Trump the Grump has none, at least in public. Humor requires a level of self deprecation he seems not to possess. He can’t tell a joke without weaponizing it and his jokes are never funny. In my opinion the lack of a sense of humor is a dangerous quality in a leader. Think back to the playground…were the bullies ever the class clowns?

9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.

An argument against going all ad hominem, right. All previous snark notwithstanding, I need to recite this as a koan morning, noon and night. It should be the anthem for the Left, and may be the political strategy that results in success in 2018 and beyond. It’s just insanely hard given the cult of deviant personality surrounding the current WH occupant.

10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.


11. Give up blood sports.

Back to the military parade and Trump’s fetishizing of war—a blood sport he has no personal knowledge of. In terms of this list, I’ve always found this principle to be a bit discordant among the other 24. Not sure if you’re referring to the literal playing or participation in activities like hunting, fishing, et al, or national pastimes like football, which 30 years later is arguably being regarded as a “blood sport”. It opens up the whole discussion about how we translate our basest war-like instincts into relatively harmless games that allow us to benignly act out our basest instincts. Either way, do sports in general make us less “war-like” as a species? I doubt it. Maybe we can do without them. Not soccer, of course.

12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.

This is an interesting concept…that OUR life belongs to someone else. At first I found it hard to wrap my head around this idea. Loneliness and disconnection are epidemic social diseases fostered and made more virulent by the very internet Barlow believed could provide a platform for unanimity and social connection. Time has shown him to be naively unrealistic. Instead, the internet has made possible a new kind of digital exile that helps turns young disaffected white, males in particular into monsters.

13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)

Is it remotely reasonable to expect our public servants to aspire to this standard? See #4 and #6. I guess it starts with those of us who elect them.

14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

Yes. This shoots me right back up to #1.

15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Seems to me that doing the latter gets us closer to the former? As an old friend, therapist and mentor once said, “all that most us us are striving for is to truly be who we are and to truly do what we do”. I know you’re talking about the hyper-distraction of wanton materialism, the illusion of consumerism, etc. but hasn’t that cow just simply left the barn in the U.S.? Again, I’m growing more encouraged each day by a generation who seems to be more mission-centric than I ever thought possible. New hippies? With cell phones? Who vote?

16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

I assume he means “I, me”mine” that kind of thing. You undoubtedly realized by the time you died how social media had made this next to impossible. If anything we’re becoming a society obsessed with the “first person”. Eek…this blog post = no exception.

17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.

I learned a corollary to this principle shortly after I became a boss of someone for the first time—to praise in public and critique in private. Wouldn’t it be great if our Tweeter in Chief modeled this principle?

18. Admit your errors freely and soon.

I, and I expect the rest his critics, might forgive many of Trump’s failings if he only exhibited this quality, ever, at all, to any degree. In my experience, it’s amazing how quickly humans will forgive a multitude of sins if someone simply fesses up and takes responsibility but the sad, broken little boy inside that grownup suit just won’t allow it. And I’m not sure his loyalists would really care anyway.

19. Become less suspicious of joy.

First reaction = huh? But yeah, after a little mulling I think I get this. These days I feel a bit like joy equates to letting down my guard. Joy seems to be a fleeting luxury easily extinguished by constant angst about the future, and for good reason. We’re hard wired to survive, to predict the next challenge to that survival. When chaos reigns joy becomes a luxury . Hyper-vigilance is such a buzz kill.

20. Understand humility.

Astute and well said, instead of advising that one “be more humble”, which is the snake chasing its own tail. But is it too late on a societal level? How do we understand humility if it’s not taught as a value any more? I fear that ship has sailed sometime in the 50’s or 60’s along with the teaching of virtues like courage and integrity, which aren’t words heard much around dinner tables these days. Maybe because dinner tables are also an endangered species. Again, if Dear Leader only understood how much strength and respect is reflected in someone who even tries to understand humility—just a little—his poll numbers would be up and and our national blood pressure would be down. Isn’t true humility the understanding that you can never really achieve it? I can hear him saying…”Everyone tells I’m the most humble person they’ve ever met.”

21. Remember that love forgives everything.

I’m sure the true heroes of this age will be those who could somehow integrate this principle while fighting tooth and nail to restore the dignity and justice we’ve lost.

22. Foster dignity.

Don’t punch down. Stay high when they go low. Stay true to all the above. So true, So hard. Especially these days. Maybe the most “adult” of the Rules.

23. Live memorably.

If this means to live daily as the person you’d like to be remembered as, then yeah…I get that. Pretty lofty and impractical right now, it seems, but yeah, I get that.

24. Love yourself.

Does this not require at least some semblance of having embraced the other 24?

25. Endure.

Other choices? Anyone?


Being an adult in the time of Trump is hard. When the President of the United States proudly defends alleged sexual abusers, considers anything less than adoration “treasonous” and now wants a military parade complete with tanks and missiles and whatever other phallic hardware can be trotted out for his “review”, aren’t we in “nice-to-have” territory when it comes to “patience”, “assigning responsibility not blame”, “tracking how often we praise vs. disparage”? At least until the fox has well and permanently been evicted from the henhouse? I agree with and aspire to all the rules that seek to civilize our public discourse. The jury’s still out on whether the more Montaigne-esque admonitions shouldn’t be suspended until we wake up from our collective national nightmare. Either way, you set a high bar, Mr. Barlow.

I suppose it’s good that someone is asking us to be better versions of ourselves, Lord knows it’s not the President.

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