Ending a Chapter, not a Book

I watched the presidential inauguration this Wednesday with my wife, who cried halfway through the ceremony. Hers wasn’t the only emotional response that day; the last four years have been tumultuous, to say the least.

Four years ago I wrote a great deal about the presidential election in the United States. Disgusted by the outcome and embarrassed at my naive analysis, I decided there were better topics for my blogging efforts.

Finally having The Fraud out of office isn’t going to inspire any political writing from me, but I do feel a need to bring this subject to a proper close. So here goes…

***

Civil unrest this spring kicked my butt off the recliner, and I spent an evening each week in the fall fighting racist policy. I resumed that work in December for the Georgia Senate run-off elections, and since I posted my stats for my earlier work, here are the results for my later work:

Total calls: 100
Left voicemail: 37
Not home: 25
Already voted: 12 (I wonder how many gave that answer to end the call)
Number disconnected: 8
Hung up or refused to talk: 7
Busy: 4
Moved (i.e., wrong number): 4
Will vote: 2
Asked to be called back: 1

The political outcome in both November and January was what I’d worked and hoped for. While I can’t claim credit for a single vote, I do feel I contributed to record-setting voter turnout. I didn’t do much; all I did was make a few phone calls. But I acted in response to my values, which is where it starts.

***

Four years with The Fraud in the White House. He wasn’t as disastrous as I’d feared, mostly because he turned out to be as incompetent as he was daft. (The accomplishment of which he boasts, economic growth, was enabled by cranking up deficit spending. That’s not innovation; presidents have done this since FDR.)

The man who’s replacing him doesn’t inspire me. The next four years will see incremental improvements at best. The President’s 78, the Speaker of the House 80, the Senate Majority Leader 70… substantive change won’t happen until we get fresher minds in charge.

But knowing we’re finally rid of a lunatic who admires dictators, and clearly aspired to join that dark brethren, outweighs any ambivalence about the coming mediocrity.

The United States has survived an existential threat, and it won’t be the last. Our next would-be tyrant will likely be more competent and politically savvy. Those who value democracy can’t afford to relax. But at least for a moment, we can feel a little relieved.

Songs of Freedom

Last evening, I attended an outdoor concert and fireworks show in honor of Independence Day in the United States of America. During intermission of the concert, popular music was played through the loudspeakers, and among the songs played were John Mellancamp’s “Pink Houses” (with its refrain Ain’t that America, for you and me, ain’t that America, home of the free), the Lenny Kravitz cover of the Guess Who’s “American Woman,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony:

  • Mellancamp’s song is a bitter satire of the American dream, and implies that the reward for hard work in this country is little more than a little pink house with a freeway running through its front yard
  • Guess Who is a Canadian band, and their 1970 song is a protest against America’s military action in Vietnam (I don’t need your war machines)
  • Born down in a dead man’s town… The opening to Springstreen’s song is dark, and the lyrics get progressively bleaker, ending with Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.

While I wasn’t offended by the choice of these songs for the event, I did think it showed astonishingly poor judgement. At first, anyway. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m actually believing the playlist was brilliant.

There is a long history of dissent and protest in our country. The Constitution gives legal protection to citizens redressing their grievances. As the recent Broadway musical Hamilton demonstrates, Americans were arguing with each other, often violently, years before declaring its independence.

Internal conflict is part of our country. We argue in times of war, and peace. After engaging in a devastating civil war, we acted with haste to return the rebellious states to the union, all but guaranteeing they’d find some other way to disobey.

So as we celebrate America’s independence, it does seem right and good for us to think how our old crazy dreams just kinda came and went, to let our northern cousins tell us they don’t wanna see our face no more, to remember that many of our citizens have become long gone daddies. The freedom to give voice to our dissent is one of the aspects I admire most about my country.

The Roots of Change

I was fortunate enough to travel through Israel last month, and the group I was with attempted to avoid behaving like the oblivious tourists in the Yehuda Amichai poem. One of our many stops was to an organization attempting to overcome the distrust and violence that has plagued this land for centuries.

Roots/Shorashim/Judur (the English/Hebrew/Arabic names for the organization) is a group of Israeli and Palestinian citizens in the West Bank. The organization’s goals include working together on community projects, resolving disputes among their neighbors, and fostering dialog between communities that have had little contact with one another. They don’t have a political agenda, unless you consider peaceful cooperation a policy platform… and if that’s what you choose to believe, you should get over your cynicism and support their cause.

As our group listened to two young men, one Jewish and the other Arab, two realities became apparent:

  • They fully realize that a millenium of fear and hatred will not be easily overcome
  • They are taking responsibility to break the cycle of violence in their land

Here’s how the group’s web site describes their mission:

Based on a mutual recognition of each People’s connection to the Land, we are developing understanding and solidarity despite our ideological differences. Roots is a place where local peoples can take responsibility. Our work is aimed at challenging the assumptions our communities hold about each other, building trust and creating a new discourse around the conflict in our respective societies. This is a grassroots and local model for making change — from the bottom up.

Perhaps I’m being naive, but I believe that if peace is ever to come to the Middle East, grassroots efforts such as these will have to be more effective than treaties negotiated by politicians in faraway lands. A century of drawing lines on a map and asking people to remain on either of its sides have left the people in this land in little better shape, and I’ve given up hope that someday we’ll figure out a line that’s juuuust right for peace. The top-down approach simply has not worked, so the bottom-up approach advocated by Roots/Shorashim/Judur should be given a chance.

For more information on this organization, visit their website or Facebook page.

Goon Squad

Bigots, racists, and wannabe fascists have lived all across America since the colonial days. I went to school in rural Maine with a few of them, and when I flew out to Chicago for college, I met a few more. I’ve had to work with more than I care to remember. Over the years, I learned the rules of engagement — when they start talking nonsense, let them know they’re full of shit, and walk away. Avoid them if possible, and if not, refuse to indulge their ignorance. Years of evidence has shown that arguing with them is ineffective; the only way they can overcome the absurdity of their beliefs is to throw off their shackles of fear.

There are plenty of Richard Spencers in this country, and will be for a long time to come. But last year’s election gave these thugs political legitimacy. They have the support of a presidential administration, and the voice of a media empire.

Two years ago, if someone had told me Africans benefited from being enslaved, I would have dismissed that person as a lunatic. Today, I’d wonder if he was running for Congress.

We can’t ignore them any more. The goon squad has gained power in the United States, and unless they are defeated and kicked back into the gutter from which they came, we’re in for some troubling times.

It Already Feels Like Four Years

As the Presidential election in the United States approached last year, I wrote about a possible Trump victory and attempted to think of reasons why it could possibly work well. I had a lot of fun with that post, because like most people in this country, I didn’t think it would come to pass. A year after we’ve been proven wrong, I want to revisit that jocular entry, and see if it was in any way prescient.

The reasons I gave for hope in a Trump presidency were:

  • He’s an outsider. Trump hasn’t been afraid to rattle cages, even among member of his own party. But all his tough talk hasn’t lead to any change in the status quo. Washington seems more, not less, dysfunctional since he’s taken office.
  • He is distrusted by both major political parties. How naive was that statement? The Republican party has decided to take advantage of Trump’s surprise win, and attempted, with very little success, to pass their legislative agenda. From time to time, a GOP congressman will raise objections to Trump’s leadership, but most quickly capitulate in response to a presidential tweet. Any hope that the Republicans would attempt to rein in Trump simply has to be abandoned.
  • He doesn’t care what people think. That’s the definition of a sociopath. Nothing that Trump has done as president has provided any evidence that he can ever overcome his narcissism.

In short, President Trump has been as awful as any of us feared, and we’re likely to have three more years of incoherence and incompetence. A Republican House would never impeach him, no matter what comes out of the investigations of Russian election interference, and should Democrats take control of the House next year and pass articles of impeachment, there aren’t 67 Senators who would vote to remove him from office. This isn’t Armageddon — there is still much that is great about our nation — but anyone looking for progress in America had best look somewhere other than Washington until 2021.

The Passive/Aggressive Despot

Mark Aldrich, The Gad About Town, posts regular updates on journalists imprisoned for simply doing their job, such as the Egyptian photojournalist Shawkan. His post today focuses on the United States, and the Donald Trump administration’s attacks on media credibility. I find a lot of wisdom in the following excerpt:

Autocrats in our current era will not march into newspaper offices and destroy printing presses, as they did once upon a time; they will simply shame and harass them into silence. They will cajole their credulous supporters into not believing credible evidence and into a resistance of critical independent thinking.

I’d like to expand on Mark’s analysis with the following two comments:

  • Comparisons of Trump to notorious dictators of the past are an ineffective distraction. Journalists in America aren’t going to be arrested (unless they choose to investigate a riot), but they will be subject to a sustained passive/aggressive attack from the President. No direct accusations, but rather a continuous series of suggestions; no call to action, but should some lunatic decide to take the law into his own hands… well, the President never told him to do it, and besides, the victims had it coming to them anyway. Mark doesn’t compare Trump to Hitler, Saddam, or Stalin (the comparison to Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is made to demonstrate parallel tactics), which is wise, for Trump’s brand of maniacal despotism is unique, and needs to be called out and combated on its own terms.
  • Expressing outrage at Trump’s behavior is a waste of time and energy, and I’m glad to see Mark’s post is free of self-righteous indignation. Anger will never get Trump to admit he is wrong, as maniacs are by definition incapable of the self-reflection required to acknowledge error. And while outrage might persuade some of his supporters, a core group will continue to believe in “alternative facts,” no matter how vehemently we present the truth. I also believe Trump and his supporters welcome the outrage, seeing it as yet another distraction from his more nefarious policies, such as his increasing friendship with Vladimir Putin. We can, and must, fight every lie with the truth, every false assumption with logic, every attempt to circumvent the law with all our available resources; outrage does nothing to help in any of these fights.

The current regime is less than a month old, and it’s proving to be just as mendacious as we’d feared. We have not only to chose which battles to fight, but also must take care in how we chose to wage those battles.

Ignorance is strength

George Orwell

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Devastation]

Over this past weekend, a dystopian novel first published in 1948 entered the bestseller list on Amazon. The “alternative facts” promoted by President Trump’s leading spokesperson has evoked comparisons to doublethink and newspeak, concepts introduced in George Orwell’s 1984.

I’m glad to see Orwell re-enter the public conversation. My doctoral dissertation in the 1990s relied heavily on the writings of Eric Blair, but as I studied and wrote I wondered if Orwell would remain intellectually and culturally viable in the 21st century. He had a lot going against him — deceased for almost half a century, the title of his most famous work evoking a year sinking further into the past, ridiculed by academics as a lightweight (“let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about” was a frequent punching bag for postmodern philosophers, who argued that meanings didn’t exist outside of language), castigated for his role as a government informer in his later years. Orwell seemed headed for the dustbin of history; I’d been fascinated by his work since high school and was still moved by his call for simple human decency in defiance of political oppression, and I regretted what I saw as his coming demise.

Well, perhaps that’s changing. Trump’s America is certainly no Oceania, but in less than a week we’ve seen this administration intimidate the press and attempt to control how information is communicated. The Conways and Bannons in the regime seem to realize that while any third-rate despot with enough guns can temporarily control a population by force, a tyrant who controls people’s thoughts can remain in power much longer — and what better way to control people’s thoughts, than to bring devastation to their language?

So welcome back, George Orwell. You felt out of time in your own age, and for all the wondrous technological advances since your passing, I’m sorry to say we’re no less fearful and brutal than what you remember. Maybe it’s that sense of alienation, your feeling of not belonging in an age like this, that gives you an insight that, for all your faults, make your voice still so valuable at this time.

The Good, Fight

Mark Aldrich (aka The Gad About Town) supplements his always entertaining Today In History series today with an extensive analysis of last month’s Presidential election in the United States. As Mark shows, Trump’s rise to power is not entirely unprecedented, as his rhetoric has been used by many American politicians in the last century and a quarter. History, as the saying goes, doesn’t actually repeat, but it most certainly rhymes.

I haven’t written about politics in this blog since the day after the election. The time required for NaNoWriMo certainly had something to with that, but so too did my shock and yes, disappointment and anger at the outcome. My opinion of The Fraud has not changed — he’s a maniac who admires dictators, and an existential threat to our country. We’ve faced greater threats and the checks and balances built into the Constitution will allow us to survive, but I also believe he has to power to cause a great deal of damage that could take decades, perhaps generations, to undo.

To minimize the damage, the incoming President and his administration will need to be resisted by people of good conscience. The punctuation of today’s post is entirely intentional — there not only needs to be a good fight, we need the good, to fight. I’m not sure what exactly that means yet (although I’ve all but given up on the Democratic Party, at least at the national level — yes it’s important to vote, but it’s also foolish to believe that Presidential and Congressional elections are the solution to our nation’s problems). Maybe the answer will come to me at the end of the month, during an overdue vacation in a land of abundant warmth and pleasant sand, or perhaps I’ll come to the conclusion that I need to create my own answer. All I know now is that staying in my comfortable home while the world around me falls on its face isn’t going to work for me.

It’s time to fight. Don’t know where the battle will take place, who or what foes I’ll be facing, or what weapons I’ll wield. But the fight is coming, as sure as the dawn, and I’m not running from this battle.

When You’re Wrong

Guess I should stick to fiction rather than political commentary on this blog.

My analysis of the 2016 Presidential election in the United States was completely wrong, and the fact that many people far more intelligent than I were also wrong does not make me feel any better. Come January, the most powerful office in this country, and arguably the entire planet, will belong to a man completely unfit for the responsibility.

People have asked this morning how I feel about last night’s results, and I don’t know how to reply. I’m still numb. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be — what? Angy? Depressed? How should I be?

All I can do now is admit the obvious. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It starts there, and where it leads will be an answer for another day.

What Comes Next

As I write this, all fifty of the United States are currently voting in the 2016 Presidential election. Polls will begin closing in about five hours, and if the final projections that came out this morning hold true, Hillary Clinton should have the votes necessary to clinch the election shortly before midnight Eastern time. I’ve written extensively about the race on this blog, and feel some sense of obligation to provide some final thoughts.

I declared my disgust for The Fraud long before he became the Republican nominee, and over the past several months he’s proven to be even more boorish, unstable, and potentially dangerous than I had imagined. When his inadvertent confession to sexual assault was released to the public, I was sadly unsurprised; I had already dismissed him as a serious candidate without considering his behavior towards women, but it’s been good to see that behavior come back to punish him with what I hope will be a convincing defeat. In The Fraud’s juvenile view, there are only two types of people in the world: winners and losers. If there is any justice, history will place The Fraud in the latter category starting tonight.

But I remain unenthusiastic about his opponent, and likely winner. Electing its first female President is certainly a big deal, and my country will feel satisfaction from having reached that milestone until sometime around next February, as attention returns to the dirty business of leading the country. The economy will get better, then worse, then better again; several changes to improve access to health care will be proposed, but none will be approved; somebody with a gun or a bomb will kill a lot of people, so we’ll start yelling at each other until we’re exhausted and then not do a damn thing to prevent the same thing from happening again. And two years from today, we’ll elect a whole bunch of congressmen from the other party, then complain about gridlock.

There will be speculation about the demise of the Republican Party, having just lost the popular vote for the sixth time in the last seven Presidential elections. However, I have complete faith in the Democratic Party’s ability to screw up its advantage. The Democrats have become a party of conservative elitists, and its younger and more liberal members, the ones who came out so strongly for Bernie Sanders earlier this year, are not going to like being ignored. A rift will emerge in the Democratic Party, a divide as wide as the one we’re seeing now within the GOP; within eight or perhaps even four years, membership in the two major American political parties will once again be almost equal, as the number of independent voters increases.

But the fate of political parties, while entertaining to observe, is really inconsequential. What mostly concerns me now is the immediate impact of what has been a nasty election campaign. The Fraud’s repeated threat to challenge the result should he lose is chilling enough; what is even more disturbing is the possibility of someone even worse trying to outdo him four years from now. America, the land of the melting pot, has always recovered from its sporadic bouts of xenophobia — yet this year, appeals to nativism has brought a maniac to within a few percentage points of the White House. I fear that whoever comes next might be more politically clever than The Fraud, but no less dangerous.

America is about to elect its first female President, and send The Fraud back to h0sting his crappy TV show; we should feel good about both accomplishments. But while the contest ends today, the struggle does not, and I hope we continue to make wise decisions in our future battles.