On History and Loyalty

My mother said something to me once that has informed much of my political thinking in the years since.  Back when Ollie North was being held up as some kind of hero.  “No one wants to tell the truth more than I do” North who worked diligently on Reagan’s behalf to deceive Congress and deliver weapons into the hands of people who used them on schools and clinics.  It baffled me that people could find his actions not only defensible but somehow heroic and honorable.  When I opined that in my opinion he should be court-martialed and shot for treason, they looked at me as if I’d just stepped out of flying saucer and didn’t understand.  “He violated his oath as an officer.”  He made an oath to defend the Constitution.  What he did broke that oath.

A lot of people didn’t understand me.  I certainly didn’t understand them.  And then my mother pointed out, very simply, “Most people can’t be loyal to an idea, they can only be loyal to a person.  Even very smart people.”

Meaning, Ollie was loyal to Reagan and anything else didn’t matter nearly as much. He didn’t have the capacity to see beyond that, to the importance of abstracts—or law.

I’m looking at the Bernie or Bust folks and wondering if some version of that isn’t at work.  They have invested in a man and a movement.  Interestingly, though the man has moved on—like an intelligent, well-informed human being who understands there is more at stake than his success or failure—many of his followers can’t.  It would seem on the face of it that they have been captured by the inverse of my mother’s dictum and have pledged their loyalty to an idea rather than a person, but I don’t think so.

Because Sanders is still championing an idea, one they seem not to get.  That the system must be allowed to work and that right now letting it do so in order to achieve the kind of results that will keep the country from further fragment and possibly see its dissolution it is time to act pragmatically and reasonably.  That the problems we face today are from the system not working and for a very simple reason—people don’t vote.  Sometimes they can’t and that needs to be addressed, but often they just won’t, for any number of reasons.  (I remind people all the time that the Tea Party gained control of Congress based only on around 21 to 23% of the eligible voting public, because the people who might have kept them out stayed home.)  That his revolution is one to make the system work as it should—not destroy it in order to erect a new one.  And with that in mind,  in another four years, you’ll all get another shot.  Or eight.  That’s the way it works.  Bernie’s idea is not that the system has failed but that it has been ignored and poorly used—and we let it happen. But endangering that system right now by abetting the election of a walking clusterfuck could do far more harm, possibly permanent damage that might see that opportunity to bring this to the stage again die.

The other side of the coin is the sheer hatred of Hillary Clinton.  So it would seem that the obstinate, short-term loyalty being shown is still about a person.

A person who is being abstracted out of reality and turned into a symbol while the walking talking breathing man is in the process of being relegated to the bin of Also Ran and treated like an aging uncle who has apparently lost touch with what’s important.

You want the revolution to work, go home and start electing city council members, state senators, mayors.  Start with county commissioners, sheriffs, D.A.s, circuit attorneys, and local judges.  We have become addicted to the notion that for something like this to work it must be top down, even as we’ve been complaining that top down (trickledown) policies are anti-democratic and elitist.  Bernie started something.  It can be brought to fruition through the hard, unglamorous work of electing local representatives and building it from the ground up.

But not if you break the system by facilitating the election of Judge Dredd.

In the meantime, pay attention.  History has just been made.  I know, I know, you don’t trust Hillary.  Has it occurred to you that much of your distrust is a result of lies fed you by the very people you are presumably trying to work against by championing Bernie’s revolution?

That aside, frankly, you don’t have to trust Hillary.  She will be, as all presidents are, an employee.  A public employee.  And you have the power to regulate her job performance through your representative in Congress—if you get out there and elect the ones you wanted.  She will still have to work with Congress, you know, and when the system works as it can—and as it should—she can only do what she is allowed to do by virtue of that system.

In the meantime, an Idea has been made real.  A woman is a viable candidate for president.  This is a symbolic moment and in all honesty Hillary was going to be that candidate because to date she’s the only one who has been able to marshal the necessary forces to make it real.  The next one will be easier, but there has to be a first, and Jill Stein was never going to be her.

You’ve got four or eight years to build the foundation for the next candidate, but that won’t happen if you go home in a petulant snit and piss and moan about how you were betrayed and then cast a protest vote that gets Sauron elected. Classic cutting your head off to spite your neck.

So I ask you, what is it you think Hillary might do that would be so bad it would justify the stupidity of assisting Trump into office?

A rhetorical question.  It is just possible she’s not the terror you’ve been led to believe she is.

All the rest is politics.

An Open Letter To Eric Greitens

Dear Mr. Greitens,

This morning, at the gym, I got on the treadmill, switched on the tv monitor, plugged in my headphones, just in time to catch one your campaign ads.  It prompted me to write, to ask a couple of questions.  Clarification seems in order.

Several years ago you founded the Mission Continues as a community activist agency and I was very impressed. I thought, this guy has a lot going, and when rumors began to circulate that you might run for governor, I thought here’s a Republican I could vote for.  I know there are Republicans worth my vote, they just seem overwhelmed by those who aren’t. You, I thought at the time, were an exception.

Then I saw your ad.

Not the first one, the one you pulled, on the shooting range.  An ill-conceived mistake, taken away.  Not a message appropriate to the people served by Mission Continues.  No, not that one.  The one in which you are looking at the camera, dark background, and earnestly telling us your positions.

I was very disappointed.

You preface your claim to be “Pro-life, pro-gun” but declaring your belief that Obama is the  worst president ever.  Or at least in your lifetime.  Granted that you’re only 42, which means your first opportunity to vote for a president would have been Bill Clinton, so as an active participant you don’t have much to choose from—three presidents.  But as someone aspiring to office I would expect you to have a better grasp of history than such a statement shows.

Worst president ever?  By what metric?

I hear that from people who hate Obama.  I look at them and while I can understand the emotionalism I cannot understand on what basis they make that claim.  Granted, most of them are not running for office.  They have not seen much of the world.  They do not have the experiences you have.  Most of them do not have a degree from Oxford nor have had your first-class education from Parkway to UMSL.  History is a foreign language to most Americans, but I expect people who aspire to high office to know better.

I have yet to hear one thing that merits such an assessment about Obama.

Now, there are many things you might have said which would not have sparked my reaction.  Had you said you think he is a middling or even mediocre president, I might quibble, but fair enough.  It’s a complex office, context matters, and mileage varies.  I might disagree (I do) but I can respect an assessment like that.  It indicates a degree of thought went into it.  However, a blanket “worst ever” is nothing but political bombast irrespective of reality.

It is not what I expected from you.

So I repeat: by what metric?  Because based on the metrics Republicans usually use to claim success for their own, Obama is a raging success.

Therein lies the problem.  If I thought Republicans were critical of the situation that boasts an unemployment rate that disregards those chronically unemployed who simply have fallen off the roles, then I might listen.  If I thought Republicans were critical of trade deals that injured American job prospects even though the stock market shows the economy booming, I might listen.  We could go on, but you see my point.  The fact is, Republicans—at least those in office—are not critical of those things and if under the same circumstances one of them were in the White House with these numbers, they would be hailing that president as the second coming of Lincoln.  So it has nothing to do with what Obama has done.  By their own metrics, he should be lauded.

But he’s the wrong man for that, isn’t he?  For a number of reasons.

That kind of cheap denigration should be beneath you.

I repeat, by what metric?  Explain to me what he has done that has been so terrible that you would take the opportunity to craft an ad for your campaign that leads with that cheap shot?

And then I have to ask, compared to who?

Because if we’re going to dig into the box of history, we can come up with several far worse, including but not limited to Obama’s predecessor.

Memories are short.  Politicians rely on that.  People forget.

But let me move on.  Your next claim.  “Pro-life, Pro-gun.”  Do you have any idea how that sounds to reasonable people?  It is oxymoronic, a logical inconsistency.  You are pro-life in support of the personal means to take life.

I know that’s not what you meant, not exactly.  You’re playing to an audience.  People who don’t like abortion and think someone is about to take their guns away, which they need to protect themselves from people hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  Because in spite of what we see on television and on Facebook and hear from the pulpits of jingoistic opportunists, crime is on a downturn in this country.  Things have gotten better over the last few decades.  So feeding the myth that everyone needs their firearm because the crazed bad guys are coming through their doors any minute is just irresponsible nonsense.  This is the politics of fear and completely inconsistent with the Greitens of Mission Continues.

As for the pro-life part, that is pure emotionalism wrapped up in a bundle of distracting falsehood.  You want to cut back abortions, then you do something to provide women with the means to manage their own fertility.  Birth control, sex education, and empowerment.  We have the proof that these are things that work.  It is not guesswork, not wishful thinking.  Make birth control available, provide for comprehensive sex education at an early age, stop shaming people for their private lives, unwanted pregnancy goes down.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is the exact opposite of policies that work.

This is not opinion.  We have seen it work.  More, we have seen the abysmal, tragic failure of so-called Abstinence Only education.

Nothing in your c.v. to date would have suggested to me that taking a principled stand based on fact and reality would bother you.  Was I wrong?

As to the gun stuff.  Please.  Reasonable measures to keep weapons from easy access to people who clearly should not have them would not, in any sane world, constitute an infringement on anyone’s rights.

But a lot of people are having their rights infringed by the thoughtless support of public policies that see birth control as somehow worse than murder or suicide.

So what happened?  Did someone talk to you and explain that if you wanted to be governor you would have to toe the party line?  Did someone point out that if you took reasonable stands on these things, the party would not back you?  Did someone show you how all this requires money and those who have it don’t like politicians who think for themselves?  Was there such a conversation?

Because I am very disappointed.  The GOP has been pushing the same set of policies now since Reagan inaugurated the age of fear-based religious-driven right-wing powermongering and we have seen, repeatedly, how they do not work.  Every time the GOP gets its hands on enough power and authority, the average person suffers.  Wages go down because of the anti-union assaults.  Teen pregnancy goes up because money dries up for education and clinics.  Jobs vanish because deals are brokered with WalMarts and their ilk.  Tax revenues disappear and infrastructure decays.

Oh, sure, these things happen under Democrats, too.  But we just see them as bad at their jobs and eventually vote them out.  Republicans seem to have embraced this stuff as if it had been handed down on tablets from the mountain.

Even as strategy, this makes no sense.  You are appealing to a shrinking demographic.  A frightened, shrinking demographic that responds to the charge that our president is the worst ever based on nothing but confirmation bias.

It’s a cheap strategy.  I would have thought you above that kind of thing.

I guess not.

Yours truly,

 

The Campaign

Hillary Kaine.

Trump Pence.

Part of me—a large part—sees this as a no-brainer.  Who, with any claim to sense or logic, would vote for Donald Trump?

But voting is as much, often more, emotional than rational, so one cannot depend on that for preferred outcomes. A lot of people are emotionally committed to Trump. Their reasons are, from what I have seen and heard, based on nothing tangible about Trump.  It is all about their own discontent with things-as-they-are.

The problem is—for all of us—that such assessments are based on what we see.  And a lot of what we see is scary.  It is extremely difficult to take comfort from logical conclusions based on impersonal data when we are deluged with images of pain, death, and imminent catastrophe.  Humans are visually-oriented.  We panic.  If someone with presumed credibility and/or authority goes “Boo!” there is a small, slippery, worm-like core of our inner Id that vibrates in terror and drives our emotional responses.

Trump has been saying “Boo!” very well and he is aided by the news cycle that thrives on ratings bumps from mass shootings, political insanity, scandal, and predictions of collapse from around the world.  Saying to yourself, “Now, calm down, this is not a true picture,” is very difficult in the face of events like the Dallas shootings, predictions of lost jobs, the Munich massacre, the continuing struggle in the Middle East.

Even though what we see is based on reality, the conclusions to be drawn are difficult with the lack of detail and the conflicting arguments over what these things mean.

“Why don’t our leaders do something!

It does little to mollify that worm to be told “They are, they are, you just don’t see everything that’s going on.”

And of course sometimes they aren’t, at least not what we think they should be doing.

Because it is all those unseen machinations which you know are going on that serve to undermine your faith.  Because we have been told for decades now that those “back room” goings-on are to our detriment.  Powerful people doing things out of sight of the public for their own ends.  Nothing good can come of it.

Well, I am prey to the same misgivings.  I won’t lie.  When it seems so obvious what The Problem is, the demand to know why nothing seems to be happening to solve it is perfectly reasonable.  Patience frays.  And you know—you know—deals are being done of which you would not approve.  And clearly not all those deals work the way the people who made them intended.  That only stands to reason.

So you have to ask, “What were they thinking?”

NAFTA is held up as one of the great deals that backfired.  What were they thinking?

Well, I don’t think many of them did it with the intent to undermine the American labor force and cost us jobs.  Some did, the CEOs and business industry moguls who stood to profit, I’m sure they were looking at the way their expenditures would evolve in that new environment, but even among them I doubt it was with the kind of cynicism one might find in a Darth Vader.  They, like most of us, are as susceptible to myth as you or I.  They probably “believed” what losses occurred in one sector would be made up for in another.  The great American job creation machinery would fill the gap.  As well, the immigration problem drove some of that, and we all know that the major driving force in most of that immigration had to do with the lopsided economies of Mexico and the United States.  All those people were coming here because at home they could not find work and what work they could find did not pay enough.  NAFTA might have brought the economy of Mexico up to as viable level to provide jobs at home and thus curtail the flow of illegal immigration.

I don’t think anyone expected the drug war to reach the heights it did.

But even without that, the machine logic of cost-benefit analysis ultimately swept away any “higher purpose” behind NAFTA and it became what it is, a horrible construct that has gutted a lot of American industry.  To my mind, the crime was not that it failed but that in the face of that failure it wasn’t scrapped.

That almost never happens, though.  Does it?  We put these huge and complex things into place and, oh my, they don’t work the way we thought they would.  But do we ever go back and say, “Enough, shut it down, this won’t work.”  Rarely.  Very rarely.  Because of their complexity, because of the ancillary deals made to put them in place to begin with, because of the evolving dependencies they create, they become Rube-Goldberg structures impossible to undo without bringing destruction down upon even more people.  So they have to be modified, amended, something over here has to change before we change this thing over there, otherwise…

Otherwise chaos.

Whether we like it or not—and for the most part we don’t—this is how the world works.  It is all a huge, complicated Rube-Goldberg Thing that works inefficiently but is kept in place because otherwise chaos follows.

Trump is telling people he can tear it all down and we can start over—without killing anyone.

Or at least without killing anyone here.  On some days he talks blithely about bombing the shit out of people who are not here.

Either way, he is telling people that huge, vast machine can be removed and things will get better.

It is flat out untrue.

Those mechanisms have evolved over time to do one basic thing—prevent chaos.

Granted, chaos happens anyway.  Here and there, now and then, in relatively small pockets and doses.  Because the mechanism changes—on its own or by intent—and that is one of the consequences.

Ronald Reagan gutted our national healthcare system which provided succor to the mentally ill.  The consequence of that single act was to shut down facilities that had been caring for those suffering a variety of mental illnesses.  They ended up on the street.  We have the homeless problem today as a direct result.  People died.  He broke a system and probably, naively, expected the slack to be taken up by private institutions, and instead people died.  Did he intend that?  Certainly not.  But he believed in certain myths and falsehoods and acted without regard to realities.  He thought he was doing something correct, if not necessarily  good.

So when Trump promises to undo, repeal, destroy, etc in order to make the impatient and the poorly-informed and the uncomfortable vote for him, he is lying about it being a good thing.  People will die.  Chaos will follow.

He’s lying willfully, because he understands “deals.”  He knows about unintended consequences and he knows the pernicious tenacity of such constructs.  He knows very well that if he does half of what he’s promised you and I will be in a world of hurt.*

Which brings me to Hillary.

I’ve been listening for years as people on the Right—and even in her own party—have vilified her.  No doubt, some of the complaints have bases in fact.  She is a technocrat.  She understands those Rube-Goldberg systems of which I spoke.  And for better or worse, she seems to understand that they must be managed.  Destroying them leads down rabbit holes from which escape may be problematic at best.  So she has spent her career engaged in the unglamorous, often unexamined job of maintaining systems which many regard as horrible.  Here and there, from time to time, change can be worked on them, but never quickly, never in sweeping gestures, and rarely in terms that are easily explicable to those determined to not understand.

This is one of the reasons we see president-elects, almost always, change at least the priorities of their promised policies upon taking office.  The difference between desire and the achievable, between the ideal and the possible.  Sometimes that difference is not so great that the perceived “abandonment” of principle is very obvious.  Sometimes it is.  But it is, I believe, the responsible acceptance of the realities that creates the discontent for a president who seems to back off from campaign promises.  You cannot just displace or destroy what you don’t like—unless you’re willing to see people die.  Change has to come slowly.

It is the logic of our interconnectedness.

I believe Hillary Clinton understands this.  Probably better than most.  During the primary season, comparisons showed consistently that she and Sanders were mere degrees apart in terms of policy.  Bernie was, in his own way, promising what Trump is promising—tear it all down and put up something that “works.”  Hillary is more cautious.

I’m not going to rehearse her presumed “crimes” here.  As I’ve said before, anyone who has moved in the circles she has for as long as she has will have made deals and done things that can easily be construed as criminal, depending on how they’re spun.  The fact remains that the Republicans have spent millions and millions to find something that would put her out of the running if not in jail and have flat out failed.  Hillary’s reputation as untrustworthy is perfectly understandable, because we go to that simplistic metric at all levels—the guy arrested and jailed, despite the Constitution, is always presumed guilty, otherwise why would he have been arrested and accused?  Whether we like it or not, that’s just where we go.  Hillary has been accused and accused and accused and found not guilty so many times that now, even if she did do something wrong, likely the accusation would have no greater force than all the false ones.  But it has backfired by proving her to be one of the more honest candidates.  Of course, those who already don’t like her won’t ever believe that.

No matter.

Her choice of vice presidential running mate has caused further consternation among those who want to see sweeping reform.  The desire was for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  Two thoughts on that.  One, I have almost never seen a presidential ticket—at least, not a successful one—with two firebrands on the same ballot.  A president doesn’t need a co-president, and frankly I would like to see a return to the days before Cheney in terms of the personality of VPs.  Elizabeth Warren or Sanders both would be constant critics and because of their reputations and status it would be impossible for them not be in the limelight.  Someone like Kaine is a smart choice.

But the other thing about both of them is their power in the Senate.  I want them both there.  We need a congressional overhaul and you don’t make positive change by sidelining your best people.  I would have been disappointed had Hillary picked either of them.  It would not have bode well for the Senate in the long run and would have gained Hillary only short term benefit.  As I said, she understands how these systems work and this was a clear demonstration of that savvy.

To all the Bernie fans who claim they won’t vote for her.  Don’t shoot the rest of us in the foot.  Bernie needs to be in the Senate where he can be both effective critic and strong ally for a president who will be inclined to work with him.  Refusal to support Hillary this time around is petulance on par with Trump’s die-hard acolytes.  Think long term.  The system needs change, but you don’t do that by wrecking it first.  I know you don’t like Hillary, but so what?  It may well be that she’s your best hope of getting some of what you want—and what we need—done.  Saddle her with the same GOP congress, minus either Warren or Sanders, and that likelihood goes down.  View Sanders and Warren as the anchors of a new congress, we could see some good stuff happen.

My two bits, adjusted for inflation.

_____________________________________________________________________

*The Gold Standard for the idea that sweeping change can happen is FDR.  And yes, he did a LOT.  But consider—the system was already cracked and dysfunctional and nearly broken, globally, when he did that.  And then WWII happened.  The situation provided the opportunity by itself scrapping huge parts of that apparatus.  His job was less changing the mechanism as it was creating new machinery to do the job no longer being done.  We do not have that situation now and we had better hoe we don’t see such a situation.  2008 was bad but things still functioned.  As bad as it was it was still not historically on par with the Great Depression.

Unqualified

The clown car rolled into the station, the occupants decamped, and the frollicks began in earnest.  Lots of shouting, foot-stamping, and low-grade denunciations from the podium of this or that.

Trump is almost universally seen by all but the most ardent supporters as unqualified for the office of the president.  We keep hearing that, squeezed in between all the other verbiage being spewed about him. That in fact the only reason for some to vote for Hillary is because Trump is so thoroughly unqualified.

And yet, it would seem that most people who support him have a “Yeah? So?” reaction.

Consider:  that very accusation, leveled by people despised by Trump supporters, makes him all the more appealing.  For many, the very fact that he is unqualified to fill an office which they have believed filled primarily by ideologues of the “wrong” stripe for decades is a bonus.  His very unsuitability in comparison to all others is the whole point.  So hammering on the “unqualified to be president” charge is counterproductive.  You’re only reinforcing what they already know—and approve.

What Trump has successfully managed is to project as counternarrative an image of the ideal outsider. Not only is he outside the mainstream of political circles but he is outside the traditional bounds of informed citizen.  The people to which this appeals most strongly are those who no longer believe in any kind of constructive dialogue.  In their bones, they seem to believe that because they either don’t understand the system or the language of cooperative discourse, they are always shut out of any major public dialogue.  They’re tired of the ongoing discussions because, for them, nothing ever goes their way.

This is not Trump’s doing but he has tapped into it very well.  He knows his audience.  Tell them you’ll put up a gigantic wall to keep foreigners out, any attempt at examining the merits of that proposal will be met with impatience and derision. “We don’t care about your ethics or even your cost-benefit analyses, we like the idea of a wall, so stop telling me it won’t work or shouldn’t work or—more to the point—that I have no right to feel that way!”

Trump won the GOP nomination very simply, by appealing to those who are fed up trying to understand “processes” or “paradigms” or “dynamics” or the intricacies of a system they feel—often correctly—is bent on screwing them, by telling them that he will be their John Wayne and clean up the town.  Which usually means gunplay and some form of segregation.

Yes, it does come directly from the implicit “Make America White Again” which is the essential motor in his campaign car.

The reason this never works and only succeeds in making a lot of other people extremely angry is that it is a fantasy.

And Trump knows how to play this. His wife’s speech at the convention, clearly cribbed from Michele Obama, is a seriously twisted example of cultural appropriation that compares well with anything George Orwell might have come up with.  An anti-immigrant candidate’s Eastern European wife steals a speech from an educated native born black woman and represents it as a model of what the GOP should strive for.  This is done without the least hint of irony and the floor erupted with glee at the profundities they heard.  Which they had heard before and, as with just about everything else attached to Obama, rejected.  Rejected without any consideration as to content only with regard to who was saying it.

Of course, if Trump’s presumed policies actually went into effect, his wife might have trouble staying here.  He’d have to give her a special pardon.

But his base doesn’t care.  Melania will be fine, she can stay, because what they want more than anything is the power to say who fits and who doesn’t.

Hence the comparisons to Nazism.  The Green Card will become the new Yellow Star.  What’s in your wallet?

Shifting to the other side, the lukewarm support for Hillary is in some ways based on the exact same set of criteria.  Qualifications.  She may well be the most qualified candidate for president we have ever seen.  On paper, I cannot think of any presidential candidate ever who brings more preparedness to the office.

And that very thing is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Because America has developed, over many decades, a culture that exudes contempt for professionalism, especially in politics and especially in someone who is the wrong kind of person.

The reason Melania Trump’s plagiarism (and let me stress, I don’t for a second believe Melania did that, her speech was written for her, but someone knew exactly what they were doing) will pass through the Trump base without stirring a leaf of indignation is because Michele Obama should never have been able to make it in the first place.  She’s the “wrong” kind of person to be smart and powerful.

So, in similar fashion, is Hillary Clinton.

Now, if she were a man…

How can I suggest that?  Because the kind of subterfuge, oligarchism, and political insider creds for which she is being criticized is shared by just about any career politician who has moved for any length of time at those levels of power.  Dig deep enough, you can find exactly the kinds of shenanigans of which Hillary is suspected, but in the main none of it ever gets before a Senate committee, because in the main all of them are men and the overwhelming majority are white.  It only becomes actionable when the status quo is threatened, and here the threat is to the gender bias that should have gone away in the Seventies.

At it’s simplest, the choice is this: we have a candidate who will effectively execute the office of president and run the country; and we have a candidate who will run the country into the ground.  The funny thing is, both of them are in equal measure cheered and reviled over the exact same question of qualifications.  One is amply qualified, the other is profoundly unqualified.

As for the direction of the country, I suggest that the important elections this year are not for the presidency.  If Hillary wins—and I suspect she will—she will be overseeing a political landscape that will either be in chaos or will be in the early stages of serious reform.  Her job will be to keep it together in either case.  Because it will be in congress that the real changes need to be made.  If we send the same congress back, Hillary will simply be there to be blamed for the same stagnant nonsense Obama has been putting up with.  If, however, we see record voter turnout and a massive overhaul in the Senate and the House, then a great deal of repair work will start, and that will be messy in a different way.  I’d still rather see Hillary there that Trump.

One thing, though, that has to change—our indifference to education and our suspicion of ability.

Oh, one other thing—we need to vote.

Embracing Stupid

I’m hearing from some folks about Brexit and by and large what I’m hearing says this is a calamity.  The idiots “broke the U.K.”

There were plenty of people explaining what would likely happen if they did this, but hey, what do experts know?

Well, quite a lot, actually, but that fact alone makes them unpalatable to the voters who actually cast a Leave vote.  We see precisely that kind of—what would we call it?—“learning fatigue” here.  Who do you think supports Trump?  People who know little or all the most useless things when it comes to politics and economics and quite adamantly do not want to know, because knowing would contradict the fantasy world in which they stand forth at weekend keggers loudly proclaiming positions that might hold some value in a Game of Thrones episode, but since the folks they’re holding forth to know just as little or less, no one challenges them and they feel justified in clinging to their ignorance.

This is the same crowd whose collective eyes glaze over when you start talking about the mechanisms of trade deals, the dynamics of boom-and-bust cycles, or the pathology of bigotry.  People who can’t seem to think outside of very broad categories (i.e. Radical Islamists are Muslims therefore all Muslims want to kill us) and feel empowered whenever someone gets up on a podium and tells them they’re right to be terrified of boogeymen.

So a lot of people, and by the demographics a majority of older British voters, decided that leaving the EU is the same as getting rid of the immigration problem (and somehow they’ll be safer, even though they ought to know better because of past history, namely the IRA, but they at least were white) and that all their money, which will now disappear at an even greater rate because of the catch-up homegrown institutions will have to do to replace EU systems (either that or just let people die, which may happen anyway), will magically reappear in their private bank accounts, and anyway they didn’t understand a lot about what was going in Greece much less down in the Levant and they’d rather not know, as if removing themselves from a source of information somehow eliminates the problem.

Look, knowing things is hard.  Not only is it a bit of work to find out in the first place, but it can be difficult to know what to do with what you’ve learned, and often enough knowledge has the consequence of making you feel responsible.

And that, I think, is where much of the problem is.  People are past exhausted being told to give a damn.  And the less they know, the easier it is to be confident in dismissing problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with them.

But of course, problems always have something to do with you.  Maybe not directly or even tomorrow, but somewhat and eventually, and left ignored will grow.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

I’ll let that sit out there for a while.  More later.  But think about it.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

Come Again?

The evangelical embrace of Donald Trump is, to my mind, one of the most bizarre aspects of this election cycle.  The pretzel logic by which these endorsements come defies Oedipus.   If there had been any doubt before that the Christian Right (which is in substance neither) is dedicated to any program that will see the established order overturned to make room for their brand of idiocracy, this would be it.

Because the only way this makes sense is to see Trump as the prophesied  Anti-christ who will bring about the Apocalypse and prepare the way for His return.  Back when Bush was in the oval office, it came out that a umber of “advisors” were pushing his Middle East campaigns because it comported with their view of biblical fate.  Whether Bush himself bought into this is a matter of conjecture, but some of the people whispering in his ear did.

So whatever the evangelical right claims to believe about Trump, on its face  they can only hope to gain one thing—the demise of the secular state, either through mismanagement, revolution, or the intervention of heavenly hosts.  Trump, if his rhetoric is to be believed, will bring a wrecking ball to the office of president and, lo, chaos shall follow.

Jerry Falwell must be grinning in his grave.

I listened this morning to such a booster on NPR describe in glowing terms how he “knows” Trump and sees a man ready for repentance.  Wouldn’t that be a feather in their cap, to convert a man like this?  And his serious ineptitude is a bonus.  This is a flawed, fallen soul who will fail and in failing come to the lord and all these sycophants will be waiting with prayers and possibly militias behind them to move into the gap left behind by broken institutions.  Trump, they must imagine, will preside over the end of the secular United States, thus bringing on the Last Days and the salvation of the world!

Because such people say “Jesus” every third or fourth sentence, people are loathe to see them for the empty suits they are.  Well, some people.  I suspect most people find them…odious.  But it’s hard sometimes to condemn the mouthpiece without being seen to condemn the apparent message.

On the other hand, if, as might be possible, Trump has been playing the part of the Big Guy in the ultimate reality show, and is doing all this in order to bring the vermin out of the woodwork and completely disrupt the Fundie poison that has been sickening our republic since Reagan brought the Moral Majority into mainstream politics, then these fatuous rubes are playing into his hands with the wide-eyed fecklessness of a kid at Christmas, participating in what could be their ultimate loss of any political credibility.  Trump is making them all look like the fools they seem unable to understand.

Moderate Republicans, if any actually remain in the Party, have been scratching themselves, trying to get the funk off, seeing what is nothing less than the distillation of everything the GOP has been moving toward, supporting, and embracing since 1979 rise up out the swamp and shamble toward the convention.  Because of the Tea Party, because of the Christian Right, because of the supposed constitution fundamentalists—because, really, all these elements have been bought and paid for by the moneyed interests who would love to see the federal government either completely emasculated or safely conjoined to Wall Street—and the unholy growth of the thing Eisenhower warned us about back in 1960, the GOP is a caricature of what it once was.  It has become a haven for the intolerant, the small-minded, the regressive, the xenophobic.  Perversely, I think, not because they actually hate but because protecting the rights of the marginalized, the other, the outgroup requires a strong government dedicated to civil rights.  And they have set themselves in opposition to a strong government purely because it is strong.

And the Religious Right has cheered them on because they see, whether admitted or not, a strong government as a barrier to their preferred template for the country.  If the government says you may not discriminate against anyone based on their religion—or lack thereof—then they have no real power to aggressively convert.  When you let people make up their own minds, many, maybe most, will do things you just don’t like.

It’s been a close-run thing for them all this time.  They had to couch their intentions in rhetoric that played well to an audience not wholly sympathetic.  They couldn’t just come right out and say what they wanted.

Till now.  They think they have their shot.  Trump’s their guy.  So the gloves are coming off.

I think they’re in for a serious shock.

Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.

The Anxiety of Innocence

I have too many reactions to what has occurred in Orlando. They clamor for attention, shove each other aside, roil and ripple. Fifty dead, and why?

Because a man decided, on his own, to “do something” about homosexuals.

Why?

I don’t think anyone will ever have an satisfactory answer to that, but it would seem to stem from the same impulse that drives certain men to beat their wives, to terrorize their children, to post hate-filled screeds on social media, and then, once they have done all these terrible things, go arm themselves in anticipation of the inevitable storm troopers they expect to come silence them.

And when those storm troopers do not show up?

They have the weapons, they might as well carry the fight to the enemy.

An enemy they have created, for themselves, to give shape to the loathing inside that dominates all their waking hours.

It must.  Everyone has a bad day, gets up with an antisocial cloud around them, from time to time. Snapping and snarling, nothing working right, stumbling through interactions that do nothing but abrade.

But we don’t kill people as a result. We solve the problem, get some sleep, be with friends, and the mood or whatever passes.  To get anywhere close to this kind of insane reaction, you’d have to live with the brooding ugliness day in and day out, for months or years, until you can’t even see other people anymore, only the threat they represent.  Until you can’t carry it anymore and you have to Do Something.

But where does that come from?

That someone can get to this point does not dismay me.  It saddens me.

That others goad him on, cheer him, then in cowardly support behind the anonymity of a faceless mod fistpump the air when the bodies have dropped—that enrages me.

One post I saw applauding his actions was glad that he’d “taken out” the perverts.

It’s that question of innocence that seems to underlay so much of this.  Protecting the innocent, dealing with the guilty.  Somewhere back in the 1980s Reagan dropped a remark, late in his presidency, about AIDS victims after visiting a hospital ward with infants and children:  he didn’t know “innocent” people could die from this disease.

Innocent.

We hear this in so much.  Innocent people.

Who are they?  Why aren’t we all?

More to the point: who the hell are you to say who is or is not?

We feed on hatred, vampirically. It drips, intravenously, daily. Most of us seem immune to the worst effects, but some embrace it.

Omar Mateen thought They were out to get him. They must have been, he hated them, it only makes sense that they hate him back.  And we helped him do the hating, every microcerebral homophobic lapel-pin patriot goading him on, ranting about the state of the country, posturing and pissing in the ocean, venting frustration as if it were a holy cause, listening to professional demagogues who peddle bigotry to meet their bottom-line who delight in the slaughter because it makes their irrational squeelings seem somehow prophetic, and then the rest of us who are polite or incapable of separating common sense from ideology or want to believe we do not enable the broken and malign, who are so terrified of losing a presumed right that we hand over our humanity in exchange for a safety we refuse to believe can be had by better means.

Because when our bitter uncle or our next-door neighbor starts ranting about how They are ruining the country, we demure, we don’t want to make a scene, we don’t want to wreck the day. Worse, we may not be so certain they’re wrong, because who, after all, among us is innocent? Maybe…maybe…it might be…well, I don’t know…everyone is entitled to their opinion…who am I…?

And then one day we wake to the news that the monster has fed.  We’re shocked.  We condemn.  But maybe we helped.  Not directly. No, we didn’t give him the gun or send him to the address or—

We just never challenged the sickness.

Make America…Again

Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate.  One may wonder how things have gotten to this, but it’s not that hard to understand, just hard to accept.

There is a good side to this.  Ted Cruz will not be the next president.  We may see him try again, but not this time.  All the rest of the slate that began last year has fallen by the wayside and rarely have we seen a scarier bunch of potentials.  It’s not even so much their policies as that they seemed so incredibly unintelligent and uninformed.

But this is America and if it’s one thing we have plenty of it is unintelligent and uniformed people.  Someone has to represent them, I suppose.

Not that Trump is any better.  In fact, he’s become representative of the fact that for some people the less substantive content you put out there, the more you’re liked.

His tag line has been Make America Great Again.

I hate that line.  We’ve seen it before, it’s not like Trump is doing anything original here, but it doesn’t matter who uses it, I find it offensive.

Not, for anyone who might challenge me, because I wish my country not be great, but because that line is a fraud.

First, it assumes we’re not.  Great, that is.  In order to make that claim you have to define what you mean by Great. Right there we run into a problem.  Great by what metric?  According to who?  In what way?  Define your terms.  What do you mean when you suggest that we are not great?

And you then run into the million-issue problem.  What I might mean by the term is not what you mean.  And what you mean might be cause for me to reject that definition.

But set that aside for the moment.  Assume your terms.  Next, you have to explain why we are no longer that.  Why aren’t we great, even according to your values?

Then look around and see how true it is, what you believe.  Don’t rely on that guy behind the podium to tell you what’s wrong, go see for yourself.  If you know how to google at all, do some research.  Or go to some community center meetings.  Or, for the love of the future, read something other than the usual feel-good screed.  Stop watching Fox news.

And get some perspective.  History, oft-neglected and painfully necessary, goes a long way to bleeding off the panic of current-affair myopia.

But I suspect the people really supporting Trump will not do that.  If it was in them to do so, they would not be supporting him.  They would recognize the jingoism, the empty emotionalism, the patriotic deceptiveness.  But it also means they have no idea what he’s actually saying that is getting them so pumped.

Replace one word in his tagline and it makes perfect sense.  He’s not challenging his base to Make America Great Again, he’s challenging them to Make America White Again.

Several years ago I wrote an essay about the blowback on the part of the extreme Right against social change.  I asked what it is these people are so frightened of and I suggested that what really bothers them is that they don’t like the way their country looks anymore.  It’s pretty much that simple.  They don’t like gay people living right out in the open, they don’t like women holding certain jobs and having their own lives, they don’t like the fashions, the food, and they certainly don’t like the banners raised protesting what they never thought were such bad things—like big banks, segregation, and constant war.

They certainly don’t like the complexion of the country these last few decades.  It’s why they often can’t tell the difference between a citizen and a terrorist when their skin color or choice of attire is at odds with what they think America ought to look like.

I’m simplifying, of course, but only in the details.  As individuals, everyone has their own trigger for intolerance.  But when you look at Trump’s rhetoric and the things he gets cheered about and the reactions of his fans, it’s fairly clear that, however one might dress that pig up in pseudo-intellectual drag, it comes down to white people scared of colored people, be they Mexicans, Syrians, Asians, Africans, or Native Americans.

So Making America Great Again seems to be code for making things so we don’t have to pay any attention to Other People—their rights, their cultures, their privileges, their needs, or how they might have reasonable grievances against Business-As-Usual Americanism.  It’s code for trying to make the country resemble what we think it was like just after World War II, with Frederick March coming home to the wife and the picket fence.

You may think I’m being facetious, but I’m not.  As Tom Brokaw showed us, there is a Greatest Generation aspect to that entire period.  It was one time in our whole history when we seemed to be all on the same page and everyone pulled together and things were simple and when the War was over we were “blessed” with an explosive economy and just gushing oodles of righteous purpose.  WWII and the Fifties are this monumental epoch that we worship, idolize, and compare ourselves to constantly.  If only we could return to those days, when everything was so simple and we knew who we were.

That is the image, I believe, intended by all the politicians who use that line and accepted by all the people who swallow it and follow along.

There was something special about that era.

But we can’t have it anymore.  We aren’t those people, the world is not that place anymore, and things aren’t like they used to be.

In short, we have to find a new standard for Great.  That one was used and belongs to another time.  And forcing the country into some kind of mold so it kinda sorta resembles that just because the future frightens you is, well, infantile.

Besides, it wasn’t all that great then, either.  It was just that certain issues were so big as to dwarf the other things that needed fixing.  We were segregated, civil rights were not equally distributed or accepted, many women lacked the opportunity to be their own selves, and poverty still clung to vast areas,mainly in the South.  We had problems, some of them the same ones we have now.

Things aren’t like they were in the “good ol’ days”—and they never were.

But myth has momentum (and creates inertia) and we take from the past what we need to dream a new future.  That future, no matter what, will be different and many people will be afraid of it, no matter how shiny it looks.

You can’t maintain a civilization based on fear of change.  Change happens whether we want it to or not.  We have one choice—be part of it or try to stop it.  If we’re part of it, we can help shape it.  If we try to stop it, we will be run over and forgotten.

As far as I’m concerned, what’s great about this country is that we can, if we want, make a wonderful and wonder-filled future.  We’re not bereft of talent and imagination or resources.  We have everything we need to build a really cool tomorrow.  What makes America Great is what has always made it great—the potential of its people.  I get up in the morning and I can live and work with great people.  I can find and enjoy great art, music, I can eat well, I can think crazy thoughts and sometimes do something amazing because that’s the heritage I choose to recognize.  In that sense, we don’t need to be made Great Again—we are, have been, and will be.

But some people seem to believe that greatness is measured by military strength, social conformism, high-minded bigotry, and constant paeons to nationalistic bombast.  They believe it’s us bullying the rest of the world and telling poor people to just get a job.  It’s size and influence and the ability to order other countries around.  It’s a willingness to reach for a gun at the first hiccup in diplomacy.  And it’s inculcated in nurturing a wealthy class that has no regard for anyone else anywhere else as long as the GDP keeps going up, in spite of the consequences to the environment and working people.

That’s not greatness.  That’s just size.  And arrogance.

So I’m not inclined to accept Mr. Trump’s challenge, because on the one hand it’s without meaning to me.  On the other, I’m not sure we could survive being that great.

 

Power Hypocrisy

My father worked with a man once who made a big deal out his religious conviction regarding abortion and birth control, roundly condemning both. He based this on his self-professed Catholicism.  It evidently got to the point where weekly there would be a virtual sermon at lunch time on the evils of promiscuity and the horror of contraception.  Finally, my father had had enough.

“How long have you been married, Bill?” my dad asked.

“Fourteen years,” the man responded proudly.

“How many kids do you have?”

“Three.”

“Three? Where are the other eleven?”

The point was made—publicly, in front of several co-workers—and the sermons ended.

Had anyone suggested to this man that the state should have a right to knock on his door, request records of his sexual activity, and then, warrant in hand, search his house for condoms, and upon finding them indict him for wanton disregard for life, he would have been horrified.  More than that, he would not have taken it seriously.  And yet when pronouncing on the should-haves and oughts of other peoples’ private lives, it never occurred to him that what he prescribed would necessarily include him along with some unintended consequences.

It’s never about the person doing the condemning, it’s always about Other People.  There is evidence showing that a goodly percentage of the women dutifully picketing abortion providers end up in those clinics, availing themselves of the very option they then resume trying to deny every other woman.  The mirror fails to show them the nature of their hypocrisy.  They prefer to be seen railing against something they feel is evil rather than sit down and do the hard work of looking inside and understanding that this thing has nothing to do with them—and everything to do with them.

Among people who often stridently take the position that None Of Your Damn Business is the unwritten law of personal liberty in this country, it is amazing how many of them assume this—and this alone, really—is very much their damn business, when of all the things that might be this one surely isn’t.

We’re seeing a spate of anti-choice legislation in states across the country right now.  Judging by the reaction to large numbers of Americans, these are not as popular as the legislators apparently assume they are, and will cost them.  It makes no sense really…

Unless they are actually thinking longterm and assume that it will be harder for their replacements to repeal these laws because they won’t want to appear unchristian or immoral or, gawd forbid, Progressive.  The same with the so-called religious liberty bills passing in the South.  These are traps, perhaps, cudgels in waiting to beat up on any politician with the temerity to suggest they be repealed.  If so, I think the legislators passing these monstrosities are even dumber than they seem to be.

But it’s all about appearances, isn’t it?  Things don’t get done because people are afraid to look a certain way.  In the film Kinsey about the sex taxonomist Alfred Kinsey there is a scene where Kinsey, desperate for funding, is appealing to a millionaire for support.  The millionaire is clearly in his sixties, maybe seventies, and has at his side a young wife, at most in her early thirties.  This aged and privileged sybarite refuses Kinsey’s plea because “If I do that, people will think I support sex.”

A beat. Look at the young bride. Another beat. Look at the ridiculous man afraid of what people might think. Wait another beat. Realize that “people” really would react that way, even while pursuing sex with all the ardor nature has given them, and denying that they approve the act for anyone else.

But really, it’s None Of Anyone Else’s Damn Business and it’s about time we stopped all the posing and posturing about this.  Before those ominous men with warrants start showing up at your house looking for those other eleven kids.