For observation and consideration.
For observation and consideration.
Optimism. Maybe this year will be clear, sharp, allowing for vision.
I sold two new stories in 2019, after spending a year or so working at recovering the skills to write short fiction. To my complete dismay and pleasure, both stories sold to a market I have traditionally been unable to crack—Analog. Diligence and energy permitting, I intend to write and sell several more stories this year.
Other than that, I do not have much to say about 2019. We lost friends, our dog, suffered unexpected disruptions. Personally, politically, creatively it was not much of a year to remember.
So rather than do the usual retrospective, I will only say that going forward I intend doing all I can to make the next 12 months better.
I have the best partner anyone could hope to have. Without her, I believe I would be a gibbering idiot in a padded cell somewhere. I have excellent colleagues. I work at a place that is an intellectual and spiritual oasis, a garden in the midst of so much wrack and ruin. I have friends.
I have work.
In the coming months, I intend doing more with my photography. Changes on my art site have commenced, modest to be sure, but I intend calling more attention to it. Please, if you are in any way inclined toward hanging original work in your home or office, pay a visit.
But more than that, I intend publishing more. I’ve been too long absent from the short fiction environs. I have novels waiting in the wings. I have more stories in process.
It may be that in a couple of years I will have more time to devote to all of it. We shall see.
But whatever happens, 2020 offers a chance to be more and better—for all of us.
So. Be well, be clear, be alive. We’re living in the Future.
Travel well, travel far.
He is impeached.
The senate, as it is currently configured, will likely not convict and remove. Mitch McConnell has already thrown his conscience and oath of office and any claim to adherence to the Constitution on a trash heap and set it on fire. The GOP have the majority and unless there are major defections, the trial will be a formality, a joke. But the impeachment is real.
I believe the man currently holding the office of the president is a feckless, somewhat clever opportunist who has no real grasp of the meaning of the office. I actually believe he is having a hard time understanding what the problem is with the Ukrainian affair. He has a very General Motors attitude (circa 1950): What’s good for me is good for the country. He should be removed for basic incompetence, but unfortunately that is not illegal or unConstitutional.
But the rest of the Party, that is another matter. It’s not even so much that they’re backing him, but that they keep trying to put a respectable gloss on it. Reputations are descending into a pit the longer this goes along. It is fairly clear that they are desperately trying to hold onto enough legitimacy to convince people not to throw them out.
They should not worry. Even a bad act seems to have fans. Many of them will retain their seats because too many voters see this as a contest between different forms of America. It does not bear too much examination to understand the motivations of many MAGA supporters. That onion has too many layers, but every one of them will make you cry.
The economy is rolling along like gangbusters, so many people believe he’s doing something right. They still do not grasp the nature of economy trends and the realities behind those numbers. Many people seem to feel that growth at 2 to 2.5% is barely better than depression, and yearn for 3.4 to 5%, not realizing that such growth rates are like shots of ether in an engine, and while it will run magnificently for a short while, it will quickly tear itself apart because that level of growth is unsustainable. The compromises necessary to achieve it will result in recession and damage to certain segments of the population when the entire system seeks to find equilibrium. It doesn’t matter. What is sad is so many people think high growth will redound to them in some way, and it rarely does.
Wages are going up. This is likely the result of many factors having nothing to do with the president. But too many people are working longer hours, or multiple jobs, or are chronically underemployed, and we still do not count the unemployed who exhaust their benefits and fall off the rolls of those who are counted.
It is possible to build economic infrastructures that sustain and include, but it cannot be done so long as we do nothing about the extraction of wealth by the top 1%—who do not spend it, but hoard it—and simultaneously do nothing about the power inequity between employers and employees. Also, we need to address the whole monetary system. We need to look at basic economic policies that put necessities out of reach for too many and the burdens of cost on the wrong people.
But that’s not what has been happening. Because there obviously is no comprehension on the part of the party in power as to what any of that means.
Next year will require historic voter turn-out. Not so much to remove the president but to do something about all the other offices held by people who think doing less means offering freedom. Local, state, and federal offices needs to be changed over. We know this. We also know that many people will assume a high-minded attitude about who gets their vote that in the past has resulted in split tickets, no-shows, and low turn-out. This is no time to stand on inappropriately applied principles that might leave the corruption in place. We may have to do this several times in the next couple of decades before the message is made clear.
For myself, I have come to the end of my patience. A young girl from a foreign country steps up to speak truth to power. She is eloquent, she has her facts in hand, and she speaks from the heart, and the response of this administration is to ridicule her. If the message is sound, the messenger is secondary, but the utter contempt on display by these people is appalling.
That alone should be enough to turn away the support, but it will not for too many because this has become like a football game, and winning is the only thing that matters.
There is not a single cogent, well-considered, thoughtful justification for this man to remain in office. To try to assert otherwise says nothing about him and everything about the defender. And the defense now reeks of desperation.
So he is impeached. He is at the head of an army of the cornered. With every tirade we are shown the complete abandonment of responsible, principled governance by them. The word salad has become incomprehensible. What world are they seeing? Not the one I live in.
Not one I want to live in.
The frightening thing is, they seem to believe their own blind mouthings. What must it be like to indulge that level of self-deception?
In the last couple of years I have been in a number of exchanges with his supporters. Not one has said anything coherent about policy. All of them lead, continue with, and end with vitriolic attacks on anyone who offers the least criticism. Maybe some of them don’t know the difference. But it has been consistent to such a degree that I find it no longer tenable to try to find reason in such defense.
This is the populist politics of fear. They are frightened. Of something. Many have personal complaints that often make perfect sense, but when translated into national policies, the sense vanishes in a cloud of righteous anger.
We’ve been through periods of this kind of terrified divisiveness before. I don’t believe this one is any worse than past tearings, but it is far more communicated because of the tools at our disposal. It feels worse, and that feeds the fear.
Stop. Take a breath. Step away from the newsfeeds for a week or a month. Do human things.
And then let us actually make things better.
Again, from Little Rock.
We stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the way back from Houston. We landed in a hotel less than half a mile from the Clinton Presidential Library, which is an extraordinary place and prompted us to decide to return at some time for a long weekend. But on the walk over, I saw this.
We were away, on a trip to Houston, last week. It was a good trip. Met some fine people, ate great food, shared wonderful times.
Made some new photographs. There are more, certainly, but I thought I would just leave this one here for the time being.
During my lifetime I have witnessed what some people call “revisionist history” overturn cherished myths and traditions among people who, in my experience, when questioned lack the solid understanding of history in the first place and the role played by cultural propaganda, appropriation, and the narrative of conquest. I grew up being mindlessly expected to laud the Pilgrims, draw inspiration from the Opening of the West, mourn the deaths of Custer and his cavalry, and uncritically praise the martial adventures of our various periods whether they were legitimate or not. Sifting through all this, you find that occasionally there’s something of value in the narratives, but more often than not it’s all just cheering from the grandstands for the winner, as if history is nothing but a football game and the heroes are the ones who make the most touchdowns.
This is not to say I am unhappy about where I am personally in all this, but that is largely an accident. I had no part in all the occurrences that have led to here and now. Which leaves me really only with the responsibility and obligation to have some perspective and not blindly accept the epic triumphs I’ve been told I should just because things might have gone otherwise, and “then where would you be?” Which is beside the point.
The point is, having that perspective, knowing a little bit more about what happened—and why—contributes to how we behave today. Some things you really do not want to repeat. Some things you might want to do again, only differently. And some things edify simply by showing us how we got here and what we should be about.
But for a lot of people that is no easy thing, sorting out the great stories from the real history, and when often reality fails to support the good feelings we may have gleaned from the Stories, some might choose to believe the actual history is either irrelevant or itself a lie. Because the only response of which they are capable is either helpless shame or absolute denial. There seems to be no spectrum that contains learning, improvement, and a sense of justice.
I was a kid during the heyday of “America, Love It Or Leave It.” I confess I never accepted that as anything but a ridiculous attempt to silence criticism, criticism which we desperately needed. It never meant what it said. It always meant “Shut Up.”
We can talk about context, circumstances, try to explain it this way or that, but sometimes wrong is just wrong.
But some people really do not handle criticism well. They want things to be fine. They do not want to feel responsible and the fact is that when confronted by the revelations of the past, it is legitimate the ask “What the hell can I do about it?” Because if one has any kind of a conscience, that question is natural, because when confronted with a wrong, if we have any sense of decency, we want to try to help, try to fix it. But some things cannot be addressed effectively by one person overwhelmed with the problems of just getting by. And when the revelations keep coming, it becomes such a burden that one response is to seek a place where the hammering of truth stops, at least for a little while. A little distance, a little peace, and maybe we can find something to do that’s helps.
Others, however, never get to that point. All they see and hear is the continual march of new facts telling them that everything they believe about something is wrong or at least only a half truth. They reach a point where telling the voices to Shut Up is very appealing.
Clapping hands over ears and squeezing eyes shut changes nothing. Wrongs do not go away because we refuse to look at them.
They can, however, get worse. Bigger. More perverse.
The attraction of a great many people to Donald Trump has been his continual attempt to shut people up. His entire campaign was basically “Vote for me and I’ll say ‘Shut Up’ on your behalf.” Shut Up to the voices of justice, to the historians who tell us we come from not very nice people, to the scientists who tell us that we have large problems that need attention, to the proponents of economic and social equality who tell us that our system is broken and the poor are being used to scare the rest of us into giving all our resources to the few. Because these problems are complex and often rooted in pasts we thought we knew but really had never been taught about, it is all too much, and the surcease of just shutting them all up would be so very welcome. Trump does that. He has tried to undo everything that has been put forward to try to redress these problems with the promise that America Will Be Great Again, but meaning that you may all sit back and enjoy your John Wayne view of who we are unchallenged by reality.
In exchange, he gets to try to be king of the world.
Well, it may be more complicated than that, but at base that’s about it. He’s pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt on horseback, bullying the world, and promising people they can relax and be who they wish to think they are. In so doing, of course, he’s been ruining a lot, wrecking the machinery that might actually do some good, and reducing our capacity to do good in the world, all in the name of shutting up the critics, who are too often quite correct.
We can explain this, make excuses, try to find something in the rubble to justify it, but some things are just wrong.
His people are, apparently, seeking to threaten Colonel Vindman’s family to get him to shut up. You can question Vindman’s patriotism if you want, but that’s kind of beside the point. Some things are just wrong.
This man was never fit to be president. He’s not even doing what people elected him to do. He can’t even manage his avarice properly. He fundamentally misunderstands his position.
But it’s like football, isn’t it? The one that makes the most touchdowns wins? And isn’t winning the only thing that matters?
Well, no. Or at least, if you accept that Trump is representative of your values, then I have to say, you don’t even know what winning means. For you, perhaps, it really is just getting the other guy to Shut Up.
It never works, by the way. Here is some of that inconvenient history. In 1856, Senator Preston Brooks attacked and beat Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate. He used a walking stick and horribly injured Sumner, who damn near died. Brooks was pro-slavery, from South Carolina. Sumner was an abolitionist and had given a speed critical of slaveholders, among whom he mentioned Brooks’ cousin. The “code of honor” of the Southerner empowered Brooks to seek physical retribution for the perceived slight.
It was not, however, an answer. Sumner challenged slavery on moral grounds. All Brooks could bring to the debate was a cane and the demand that Sumner Shut Up.
Sometimes wrong is wrong. In this case, the wrongs compounded. Sumner’s arguments were correct and his position morally sound. Nothing any slaveholder could say could counter it, argument for argument. Four years later, Lincoln was elected, the South seceded, and people like Brooks lost their argument anyway. Of course, recently we have seen the old justifications re-emerge and an attempt to recast the Civil War as something other than what it was.
My point being, if you have no cogent answer to a criticism, getting the critic to Shut Up is merely an admission that you have nothing.
Three years in, it is clearer than ever that Trump has nothing. Nor do his supporters.
Of course, I’m told occasionally not to be so categorical about them, that there are reasons for their support, that circumstances are not quite so cut and dried, etc etc. Yes, surely.
But sometimes wrong is just wrong.
(Of course, you might say I’m wrong, because, well, look at the economy. And what about North Korea? Yeah, well. The virtues of those may be debatable, but we could have done those things without turning into world-class dicks. As I say, sometimes wrong is wrong.)
I haven’t been posting here as often because I’ve actually been working on fiction. So just to let everyone know I’m still around, something to look at until I build up to another vent.
Impeachment now seems likely. I understood Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance. In this, timing is extremely important. Pull the trigger too soon and you run the risk of handing him more power. By the same token, wait too long and you risk normalizing this situation by implying that while it has been unpleasant, nothing seriously destructive happened, which everyone knows is not true.
And by Everyone, I mean everyone, even his supporters. After all, destruction is what they signed on for. If they had not wanted him to rip things apart, they would have backed someone else they knew wouldn’t. But pretty much from the beginning the point of this presidency has been destruction. His supporters have long been convinced that the republic is off the rails and very drastic measures must be taken to “fix” it, which include destroying institutions they have come to hate because they’ve been told by their chosen spokesmen that this is so. The republic is in peril because of policies leading us to the brink of losing our special identity, our place in history. It has gone on too long to be ameliorated by simple “adjustments.” Something has to be broken.
For those now opposed to him, the destruction is plain to see and it is a bad thing. But the fundamental belief in the corrective genius of our institutions has kept many of us from pulling the trigger on impeachment because that, too, will be a tearing.
Arguably, it’s past time.
But it’s been past time now for 40 years. Longer, probably. The danger just now is that we reduce all our troubles to a pinpoint named Donald J. Trump and, once successfully dealt with, march blithely forward on the assumption that we have Solved Our Problems.
A significant segment of the American public has been persuaded over the last four decades that in order to maintain our position in the world, our wealthy class must be made secure. Not just secure, but virtually sacrosanct, because our enemies have all struck at their own wealthy people. The Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, their satellites, all stripped away individual wealth as an essential part of their program for world domination. Obviously there must be something about individual wealth that is threatening to them. Not only that, but something about it that keeps countries from becoming just like them. Therefore we must render all aid and assistance to our wealthy class in order to preserve our unique status as savior of civilization. Within that has been the implicit promise that anyone or all of us may one day join that class. There have been examples, especially in the tech industries. We see this in newish fields, where people migrate between economic strata because the rules are temporarily in flux. Otherwise, economic migration most dramatically happens when someone wins the lottery. Not a particularly reliable way of upward mobility and a scam that sucks even more wealth from those who can least afford it. (Let’s face it, the Lottery is gambling, and as we should all know, the House always wins.)
In fact, I would argue that it’s this “lottery mentality” that has put us here. A single winning ticket, one roll of the dice, lightning strikes, and we’re all winners. Elect the Right One and all our problems (more or less) can be solved. Except this is politics and the future of the country, not a gaming table and the loss of a week’s wages.
The people who chose to stay home in 2016 succumbed to some version of this, I believe. Whatever their thinking, clearly they felt the only election that mattered was for the presidency. Which meant they refrained from congressional, state, and whatever local elections may have been on the ballot. It seemed not to have occurred to them that they could have simply not voted for the top slot but then run down the rest of the ticket and maybe—maybe—have done something worthwhile in congress or in state legislatures. Believing that electing a president may solve all problems shows a serious lack of understanding, certainly no attention to the larger picture, and zero foresight.
But that election is over. We now see the consequences of apathy and desperation in starker terms than ever before.
Talk of impeachment has been growing. It has been there practically since the election, and for a long time it has been put off, first because the Republicans held majorities in both houses, then because Nanci Pelosi was playing a cautious game, knowing that moving prematurely could backfire.
There are two major factors in this. The first is his hardcore supporters, who exhibit all the surface credulity of dedicated cultists. Reason seems to have no purchase among them. The second is the core ideologues of the Republican Party, who are well-versed in the gamesmanship of party politics, who see the president as their last opportunity to see their program into being. If they abandon him, they lose.
Between these two groups there is the potential for even more breaking of our institutions. A premature move to impeach might have strengthened the resolve of both groups and combined them into an extralegal effort to preserve the president out of fear of losing the gains presumably made by his election, gains which on their face are contradictory, confused, and contrary to our stated principles as a nation.
What has been important all along is to make sure the culpability of all the players is as clear as the incompetence and malice of the figure at the center. If all the blame is centered on the president, as if he alone is responsible for the wreckage, the problems that allowed him to sit in the oval office could conceivably be overlooked. We like single-issue politics, we prefer neat packages of blame, and we relish monolithic solutions. None of these traits must be allowed to dominate the process. Our current situation has been over four decades in the making and is comprised of the efforts of many people for many ends. We have at hand a conspiracy of effect more than anything else, simply because all these players have come together for different reasons and have taken advantage of a moment of confluence to get all the various things they want. Performing prophylaxis so this sort of mess cannot happen again will require that we hold all the various elements up for judgment and enact laws to hobble those who would butcher our ideals in the name of personal achievement.
The difficulty for some is that at the locus is a serious misreading of our national identity and a profound failure to understand our operating assumptions.
(Ironically, an old prejudice has resurfaced in the form of the proper electorate. The Founders famously—or perhaps not—distrusted democracy because many of them believed the hoi polloi incapable of the proper judgment to actively participate via the vote in our government. The very people they may have had in mind at the time are the ones who have demonstrated, to greater or lesser extent, an apparent inability to exercise responsible judgment and it is this group more than any other that has been used to spearhead an assault on the very institutions the Founders believed they should not be allowed to access.)
I think it not unreasonable to say that in no way was Donald Trump ever going to be a reliable advocate for the country. He is, depending on the given day, a poor advocate even for himself. We knew this. We could see it. It didn’t seem to matter.
I will not here rehearse all the reasons to want him removed from office. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, he has reduced this country to a joke internationally and he has come perilously close to destroying the very idea of the rule of law.
One example: the recently collapsed talks with the Taliban. The central flaw was that they had left the legitimate government of Afghanistan out. How do you conduct peace talks with an aggressor without even apprising the people who would be most affected by any outcome that might be reached? This is an example—one of many—of his self-assumed deal-making ability, which any perusal of his career shows to be a virtual total failure. More than that, the arrogance and complete lack of regard for anyone is apparent. This was a bad idea—even his own advisors thought so—pitifully attempted and poorly handled.
His entire administration thus far has been one of these after another.
What must be decided—by what mechanism, I’m not sure—is who we believe ourselves to be and what steps must be taken to become that. Because right now we are adrift. In such circumstances, an impeachment proceeding has the potential to be a disaster because of the lack of common identity.
That said, I no longer believe we have much choice. The wrack and ruin of our institutions is reaching such a point that we must move to stop it. But it must not be isolated to a single point. Trump remains a symptom more than cause. If he is to go, his enablers must also go. But along with them must be a recognition that we have slid into a quagmire of paralyzing doubt in so many ways.
Symptom? I argued before that he was ineffectively opposed by the GOP because he did not represent any significant departure from anything in their program. He added a level of obnoxious nakedness to the basic message, which had by then become “anything the federal government does that it not tied directly to military preparedness and tax relief for the wealthy is anathema.” It appears they have concluded that a successful country is one that makes its self-appointed “champions” rich.
There is, obviously, a deeper problem, and it has to do with a self-impression of Americanness that is almost comic when simply described. It is, as best I can determine, the notion that tough guys never complain, never criticize, and never let anyone tell them what to do or show them they are wrong. Which translates to a profound aversion to be told anything that does not conform to already-held beliefs and opinions and seeing the teller as some kind of enemy of Americanism. Hence, climate change is a challenge to our self-image, not because it’s wrong so much but that it’s a complaint. Social justice issues are derided because they are criticisms and fail to take into account how “wonderful” we are as as nation. Worst of all, those who are, essentially, “victims” who doing the criticizing and complaining have simply decided to take advantage of “our” good offices and won’t do the necessary work to climb out of their situation. Like the “rest” of us.
(Of course, the people who believe this are themselves the worst kind of complainers.)
Being told that all these attitudes rest upon myth, bad information, and a failure to understand how systems work to thwart personal or group goals and efforts is a species of Intellectualism, which has always abraded a significant element of America, which has been deeply anti-intellectual almost since the Founding, and proudly so. In the past they have managed to foul the works to some extent, but with the advent of social media and the proliferation of alternative narrative sources (cable, satellite, podcasts) this characteristic has swollen to hazardous proportions.
Trump took advantage of a deep conviction, generally unstated and almost always unexamined, that a “true American” is somehow born perfect and all modifications are foreign contaminants. Which is why it seems not to bother his supporters when he reaches out to people like Putin to assist him, because they do not see it so much as Trump allowing foreign involvement as Trump “making” the Russians (or whoever) do what he wants.
As an American should.
This has to be dealt with. There is no good way to do it other than constructing a new narrative. Because this is a narrative in the first place. A story.
The question is, what is that story?
Well, basically, that Americans are innately good and wise and anyone criticizing us simply knows no better or is actively opposed to us. And that the enterprise of tolerance and inclusiveness has sapped our strength and mocked our principles by diluting those qualities of innate goodness and wisdom. As a corollary, anything not innate—that is, learned, especially from “outside” sources—is to be viewed with suspicion and people who advocate such learning are not to be trusted.
In this case, it manifests very simply but with complex consequences as: Do Not Make Me Question Myself. I am an American and I am organically complete. Make me question others, question nature, question life even, but do not make me question myself. Only god has the right to do that and he’s not here.
A current example of how this plays out is the absurd reaction among certain people to Greta Thunberg. A sixteen-year-old girl challenges the world to fix itself before it is consumed by its own greed and in this country there are people who hang her effigy, attempt to “put her in her place” because she is young and female, dig up all manner of ridiculous comparisons in history to discredit her and undermine any legitimacy she has or that her message contains. Smear her, tease her, insult her, try to force her back into some box they think she belongs. Why? Because her message requires that we question ourselves and the reasons we reject her message.
But instead of challenging the message they attack her. Because it doesn’t matter whether she is right or wrong, she is requiring that we question ourselves and maybe, just maybe, re-evaluate what it is we’re doing, what we’re supporting. A certain kind of American is very bad at that kind of self-examination.
(We can see this very clearly in the apparent contradiction of christians supporting Trump. It may be argued that he is completely contrary to a christian ethic, but in my opinion critics have it the wrong way around: in this mindset, Americans are by definition christian, so anything they countenance is, by definition, christian, actual theological dogma notwithstanding.)
It is, in my opinion, that kind of American that is exemplified by Trump.
There is absolutely nothing defensible about that kind of obdurate, proud ignorance.
As we move forward with impeachment, we must bear in mind the underlying problem that he is in office by virtue of fraud and the support of people who refuse to accept that things must change if we are to not only survive but thrive. He enjoys the support of people who cannot muster cogent arguments against the things they do not agree with so almost always default to attacking the characters of those advocating such positions, and—this should be undeniable—if you cannot address the message other than attacking the messenger, you have no counterargument and should, if you have any self-respect at all, either say that you simply do not like the facts being presented or recuse yourself from the debate until to you know something.
We are facing a moment in history wherein it may be that we will define human dignity for decades to come. What it is and whether it merits defending. If anyone doubts for a moment where Trump stands on that question, his recent abandonment of the Kurds in Syria should serve as demonstration. Even his steadfast congressional supporters are flinching at this. They know it’s wrong. Their problem is, they have hitched their politic fortunes to his coattails and know that as he falls, so will they. They have a choice to go out with a modicum of dignity or become part of the wreckage that will be their legacy.
I’ve watched, along with probably the majority of Americans, this unfolding calamity with deep bewilderment. While I can see what has happened, it baffles me that we have been so unwilling, collectively, to stop it. Maybe one of our national characteristics is that we allow things to go until they are unendurable or broken before acting, and it’s possible there is some kind of utility in this. But this is not the America I grew up expecting. I was raised to be part of a country that valued fact as well as truth, did not flinch from self-examination, and willingly extended tolerance and the benefits of learning openly. Granted, none of this was as I thought when I was a child or even an adolescent, but these were the virtues, and that we continue to work toward them seemed to excuse much. In the last forty years I’ve watched us retreat from fact, become complacent with success, and jealous of our gains, to the point of repudiating some of our most important stated ideals.
We must keep in mind that Trump is not the cause of our divisions. He is the beneficiary of them and those divisions have been long in the making. When he is gone, we have rebuilding to do, and we must do so with the view that we are not the end product of civilization. We were never that. If the world is to survive, we must end the worship of the powerful and the fear of change.
Impeachment is only the beginning. We have some building to do.
Archon is coming up. Next week, in fact. Once again, I will have work in there art show. Last year I won the best in show nonprofessional. I’m not changing my status, because I am not doing this as a professional, but that doesn’t mean I’m not for hire.
Anyway, along with some very cool panels with some amazing people, here’s a peak at what I’ll have on display. Just one.