Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump, Nero: Playing (to) the People

Nero, whom Trump resembles astonishingly, always played to the plebs. Oh, sure, they grumbled about that nasty fire destroying their slumland homes, but Nero very entertainingly killed a bunch of scruffy Christians for that, and besides they all loved his gaudy palace, his outrageous theatrics, his ostentatious vulgarity, his open mockery of the senatorial elite.

Thus, though he clearly considered them expendable and exploitable losers, he kept the "little people" on his side with handouts and spectacles, using his popularity with the mob to check the power of the patricians (because, you know, he COULD, not for any moral or ethical reason). Ultimately, though, the traditional ruling class--which had at first cravenly supported Nero (in hopes of "regularizing" him)--exacted its revenge, dumped the ridiculous showman emperor and restored government to "serious" oligarchs who didn't fiddle around entertaining poor folks.

I suspect a similar fate awaits DJT, once our political class--both Republicans and Democrats--gird up their loins and realize that they are being played, and that unless they take action, they will no longer direct the show (as they feel entitled to do); rather they will BE the show.

All very entertaining to an outside observer, I suppose. But who is outside?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Safety-Pin Love

Rant coming. I hope you understand that these mini-essays are mostly for me: MY attempts to cope with MY disarray in reaction to our election of the unconscionable Donald Trump. But I rather need to say it "out loud," too, publicly, just in order to feel less alone in my derangement.

So, some thoughts on the current vogue of safety-pin love (wearing a safety-pin on one's lapel to declare love for and solidarity with groups threatened by Trump's vile policies):

Love is the most uniquely human and therefore indispensable of our emotions. In that lovely chapter in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us of why it is so central--it bears all things, it endures all things, it makes it possible to carry on in the midst of all things. In that sense, indeed, love never fails. BUT by the same token, it is not love's role to FIX the things that are being borne or endured. St. Paul, when we read between the lines, was a pretty mean and belligerent SOB. Yes, I suppose he might have consented to wear the first-century equivalent of a safety pin, but I doubt that he would have considered this act more than a banal, albeit comforting, gesture in his bitter and, indeed, pretty unloving, battles with Roman magistrates, Jewish religious authorities, and especially other Christians with whom he disagreed and whom he denounced vehemently.

In short, those of us who wear a safety-pin need to be aware that this is not the end of our responsibility--and that our declaration of love may commit us to go beyond safe symbolism and act in decidedly unloving ways. Sometimes the safety pin must be open, the point exposed and, yes, even inserted somewhere--at least if we really intend to keep our friends safe, and if anything at all is to be "fixed."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Hillotaur

I heard that Hillary Clinton had an alien baby and hid it in a labyrinth beneath the White House. Dr. Jill Stein has seen the Hillotaur, but refused to vaccinate it for fear that it might develop alien-adverse autism. Gary Johnson has also seen it (several times simultaneously) and smoked a couple of doobies with it. Donald Trump has not seen it, but vows that when he does, he will grab it by the pussy and proceed to make America great again.

Make America Great Britain Again

Pursuant to considerable surfing of the Internet, Her Majesty's Government have obtained irrefutable proof that egregiously illegal procedures were employed by forces disloyal to the Crown at the Battle of Yorktown (1781). Overwhelming evidence from historians, bloggers, and trolls, proves beyond reasonable doubt that thousands of alien (primarily French) soldiers were imported thereto with the express purpose of deceitfully undermining British chances of victory. Said troops were also deployed in unconventional, unexpected, inappropriate, and disturbingly sneaky ways. Moreover, recently leaked documents reveal that Crooked George Washington accepted millions of pounds sterling from dubious self-interested foreign sources, monies which the Corrupt Continental Congress  thereupon wantonly dissipated in order to secure unfair advantages in weaponry and tactical materiel. Inasmuch, therefore, as this conspiracy nefariously and undeniably "rigged" the battle in favour of the Criminal Colonials, HM Government hereby revoke all writs and articles of surrender and declare the previously-accepted outcome of the "American Revolution" null and void. Consequently, all rebellious colonies (except South Carolina, which HM Government deem too fractious to be governed by any established authority) are ordered to submit without resistance or dispute to any duly credentialed representative of the Crown, in the event that any such personage should eventually appear.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pussy in the Barnyard

Donald J. Trump is running for president. He has accused Mexican-Americans of being rapists and drug-dealers; he has denounced Muslim-Americans as potential terrorists; he has belittled blacks and gays and disabled people. Most of all, though, throughout the whole campaign, he has ridiculed and demeaned women. Yet oddly, until now, there has been no overwhelming public outcry about DJT's primitive, barnyard view of "acceptable" human behavior.

Then, last Friday, an eleven year-old videotape surfaced. In it, Trump gloats with characteristic swagger of his supposedly irresistible skill in "getting women," even married women--indeed, in actually assaulting them in any way that he wants, including "grabbing them by the pussy."

And that, finally, was too much. Even Donald's GOP pals gulped, backed off, backed down and backed out of the picture. Because that repulsive video made every male in the country squirm--and every woman shudder.

Predictably, a pseudo apology arrived the next night, but it indicated no real change of heart or of fundamental thinking. Instead, it merely pointed out that "all men" (and, notably, Bill Clinton) talk like this sometimes--and that such locker room loutishness "doesn't mean anything."

But it does mean something, doesn't it? Something pretty important, actually. Read on.

Trump is partially right, of course: an awful lot of men (usually sexually insecure and usually a good deal younger than Trump was) have engaged in or sheepishly "gone along with" vulgar, snickering braggadocio of the sort revealed in the aforementioned video. But I find the nearly universal condemnation--by men as well as women--nonetheless heartening. Even though some of the censure is merely "cover your ass" pretense, much of it arises from a recognition that DJT's mindset and demeanor, despite their persistence and our frequent bad-faith complicity, are ultimately not laudable, not acceptable, and not excusable merely because "others do it, too."

Rather, in our disapproval, we acknowledge (often shamefacedly because of things we, ourselves, have said or tolerated) such attitudes are both demeaning and harmful to the entire human family--to men as well as women. Because as our vaunted self-awareness informs us, human beings are better than that; our brains and our reason give us the potential to rise above and control stupid, brute urges. Isn't that is what it means to be civilized and "human"? In rejecting DJT's locker room (or barnyard) approach to interpersonal relations, we are demanding that our country, and indeed our species, strive to realize the potential we ourselves have glimpsed above the muck, and which the nobler minds among us have articulated as a moral imperative.

Overall, then, I view Trump's political message--his insincere apology notwithstanding--as little more than a base appeal to return to the animality of barnyard strutting, rutting and gutting. Let us resist pussy-grabbing with all the human dignity we can muster.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Make the Plantations Great Again! What Have You Got to Lose?

I think that Trump's so-called "outreach" to African-Americans is mostly a dog-whistle message to the white people to whom he gave the speech(es) in white suburbs: "Look, the Democratic policies, even under black President Obama, help no one, not even their black 'favorites.' On the other hand, MY policies (whatever they are) will help everyone on the plantation, starting with you white 'planters,' of course. Then there will be trickle-down (for the, er, black 'workers'). Make the plantations great again! What have you got to lose?"

(Truthfully, I don't have any idea whether DJT is sufficiently self-aware to actually conceive such a weaselly plan: but I DO think that it--the "black outreach"--will have the effect I described and be thus understood by his white votaries, just as it will be derided and despised by African-Americans who will easily see through its pretense.)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Lunch With Mrs. Stein: Doing My Part

So, a dozen friends and I went online and rented (from a supposedly reputable agency called the DNC) a nice, spacious beach house, where we planned to spend two fun-filled weeks together.

But horrors! When we arrived we discovered that the house was absolutely filthy and, worst of all, completely infested with giant, loathsome cockroaches. This is not at all what we expected and, frankly, the place is nearly unlivable--unless some compromises in hygiene are made and some considerable clean-up undertaken. We are utterly disgusted, but no one, including me, wants to give up the vacation entirely. That being the case, a quick inquiry revealed that the only other rental in town, owned by Republicans, Inc., just had a massive septic tank explosion that flooded the whole main floor with a two-foot-deep layer of human excrement. Obviously, then, the run-down roach motel we are currently occupying, as unpleasant as it is, remains the lesser of two evils. We will just have to make do somehow.

So after some quick thinking, I made this (quite reasonable, I felt) proposal to my friends:

"Gosh, this place is certainly a mess, isn't it? Haha. Well, we'll all just have to pull together and each of us will have to contribute to making things better. Now, listen; I've really put my mind to it, and here's what I think we should do:

I figure that, unlike me, most of YOU don't mind getting dirty and killing bugs, so it makes sense that the 12 of YOU should be responsible for getting the house in shape. YOU should mop the floors, wash all the bedding and cookware and, of course exterminate all the roaches. I know you won't mind if I excuse MYSELF from this dirty work, and besides, you really don't need me, do you? MY contribution (it's only fair since I am better at talking than cleaning) will be to go next door to chat up our nice old neighbor--her name is Mrs. Stein, I think (she raises organic vegetables)--and solicit her thoughts and ideas about how to keep beach houses from becoming infested with cockroaches. I certainly hope we won't have to surround the entire building with raw cucumber slices! But you never know. Someone has to find out.

Anyway, in order to lay a good foundation for this anti-roach revolution, I'll undoubtedly have to be absent all afternoon (Mrs. Stein and I will probably have lunch, you see--maybe even organic green tea), so I won't be here to supervise. Please, please, therefore, do focus on your task! Just roll up your sleeves and make every effort to have this nasty mess cleaned up by the time I return with my long-range pest-proofing plan. I'm counting on you, people! Don't screw this up! Do your duty and I'll do mine! We are better together, as I always say.

P.S.: No, of course you can't join me at Mrs. Steins'. If too many people go over there, who will be left to do the dirty work here? Be responsible, people! Come on, now, get out the mops!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Social Contract and Free-Riding, Third-Party Voters

Petulantly throwing away your vote on a hopeless third-party candidate is a form of bad faith within the social contract. It's asking for a free ride, refusing to pay or to take any responsibility for the "messed up system," but self-importantly expecting that same system to convey you to your personal destination anyway.

Dan Savage is right: the only people who reason this way are "assholes" (to use Aaron James' term)--i.e., those deluded by an entrenched sense of entitlement to believe that they--because of some presumed superior intelligence or wit or morality or wealth--have a natural right to special opt-out privileges (euphemistically called "voting one's conscience") not accorded to ordinary "little" people--people who, in their inferiority, remain bound by the social contract and obligated to ensure (by voting for a candidate who has an actual chance of winning) that the asshole gets his free ride. Quite dishonest and egotistical reasoning, that. I don't like it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I've been thinking a lot lately about several related fallacies of reasoning, all very popular in our current political debate: whataboutery (well, what about that awful thing Y did?), relative privation (well, X is even worse off), tu quoque (well, you do it, too), not as bad as (well, that's certainly not as bad as what you believe), appeal to hypocrisy (well, how can X say that when just last week he did this?).

What we tend to overlook is that none of these arguments can be legitimately used to prove the objective rectitude of any position. (The fact that Hillary Clinton erred in deleting emails does not prove that Melania Trump did NOT err in plagiarizing Michelle Obama; Trump's fraudulent business schemes do not justify Clinton's questionable money dealings). All that this reactive finger-pointing can do is call attention to inconsistency and hypocrisy in an opponent's behavior or thought.

We all engage in this kind of visceral, relativistic thinking, and it's undoubtedly a pretty normal evaluation process. Still, we should be aware of what we are doing. Whataboutery can help us prioritize and choose the least bad among possible alternatives--all of which (all sides, intriguingly, agree) are flawed. In other words, with reference to our personal rubric of expectations, whataboutery allows us to assign and compare DEMERITS for failures. But it can never prove that the performance of one of the alternatives merits our approbation because it is NOT flawed. Some other form of evidence-based assessment is required for that.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

You're So Vain: You Probably Thought This Election Was (Just) About You

Dear Bernie or Busters,

Perhaps it is time for you to consider the upcoming election in a new light: is it really about the country, or is it in fact just about you?

Yes, I know that you are thinking of voting for Jill Stein. You feel that you simply have to do this; it's the only way you can maintain your integrity, the only way you can remain faithful to your high-minded principles.

Which, by the way, are very high-minded, aren't they? Well, of course they are.

For example, you espouse the admirable notion that politicians and citizens alike must be conscientious, responsible, and--above all--caring. ALL of us must do everything we can to advance the common good, to help our country and our fellow humans.

And so, of course, you intend to vote for Jill Stein, an individual (like yourself) of high moral standards, someone devoted to the notion of making a better world, and...but wait, but wait.. also, alas, someone who has absolutely no chance of winning any political office whatsoever or of changing the world in any way. No chance. Absolutely none.

Hence, I must ask again: on behalf of whom are you taking this confidently noble stand? Are you sincerely thinking about the country and the common good (which Stein can never influence)? Or are you actually thinking somewhat more selfishly--of yourself, of your self-respect, of your "honor," of what you like to call your "personal integrity," of your self-image, of how you would look (or smell) to yourself and the other members of your high-minded fraternity if you let down your Righteous Guard? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I mean, how could you face yourself in the mirror if you actually allowed yourself to vote for someone like Hillary who, well, is just not as beautifully conscientious, responsible, and caring as you are? Mercy, she has made so many compromises, so many thoughtless blunders; she has so many political zits. No, no, clearly you must vote for unblemished Stein, the good person (like you), who does not calculate, misrepresent, scheme, break promises--who does not, in fact... do anything at all! There is such ease, such safety in stasis and pimple-free selfie-righteousness, isn't there?

Safety, at least, for your vaunted self-image. Perhaps not for the country or the common good--since your wasted vote for Stein might very well help deliver the presidency to Donald Trump, his acolytes and their poisonous programs and pogroms.

Yes, Hillary is a flawed candidate, one who--if elected--might fail to deliver many--or even all--the worthy changes you have been so hoping (somewhat naively perhaps?) Bernie would miraculously effectuate. But as much as you dislike her carelessness, her mixed motives and her lackluster liberalism, surely you do not consider HRC a threat of the same magnitude as Donald Trump. Do you? In your deepest progressive soul? Surely not. You've been excoriating him for months now.

So let's face it. You have repeatedly asserted that you want to do the conscientious, responsible, and caring thing for the country. And you have yourself said many times that this election is about the country, not about you. Well, then, BernieBros, are you just spouting insincere formulas or do you actually mean what you say? If so, then you simply cannot shirk your responsibility and waste your vote on Jill Stein--a vain, petulant gesture--intended merely to enhance your personal self-image, not to advance the common good of America. Vanitas vanitatum says the Preacher, calling you on your inauthenticity and bad faith. I agree.

You and I should both be with her.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Twitter Solutions: 140 Character Thinking

Isolationism, protectionism, nativism, wall-building--all are pretty trendy these days with those at both ends of the political spectrum, particularly those who favor "Twitter Solutions" of 140 or less (fewer) characters for all problems confronting us.

Now, I realize that circling the wagons can provide some useful immediate defense when one is actually under attack. But in the long run, if we want to get anywhere (wagon trains had a destination--no one wanted to just "sit tight"), we have to un-circle ourselves, venture out into risky territory, encounter our supposed adversary and either a) fight him (losses on both sides), b) negotiate non-aggression treaties with him (no gain, no loss), or c) cooperate with him in a mutually beneficial way (both sides win).

Note to Bernie Sanders and other anti-free trade Democrats: we can, without sulking in stasis or retreating into resentful protectionism, make legitimate demands on our wagon-masters about how negotiations should be conducted and how benefits should be distributed.

Note to Donald Trump and his crowd of rabid, anti-outsider Republicans: staying walled-up in your little jerry-rigged fortress will never get you anywhere and, moreover, killing all the "savages" (the only other option you seem to like) is undoubtedly the cruelest, costliest and stupidest way to move toward your coveted goal of Greener Pastures Over the Hill.

As medieval Europe, Ming Dynasty China, Tokugawa Japan all demonstrated, walled-in feudal societies tend to stagnate, rigidify, self-mutilate. Anglo-Americans have traditionally rejected such whiny, unimaginative navel-gazing. Therefore, shame on us 21st Century Little Englanders ("Brexiters") and Fortress-Americans ("Trumpsters" and "BernieBots" alike) for our pitifully lazy 140-character thinking.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

We LOVE Trump: He's OUR Son of a Bitch

The Trump phenomenon: an oligarch worth billions (and boasting of such as a qualification for the office of President) nonetheless selling himself as an anti-oligarch and man of the people. The plebs who (as he boasts) "love" him, do so not because they really believe his faux populist, anti-oligarchy claptrap, but rather because they recognize--or at least dimly perceive--that this claptrap is simply the unvarnished, undisguised nastiness of all the oligarchs. Trump is what those other assholes also are, but un-prettified, unabashed, unselfconscious (the squirming of the Other Oligarchs at having their hypocrisy thus exposed is both palpable and satisfying).

In other words, the Trumpistas seem to be saying: "OK, we're always gonna be ruled by an SOB--that's just the way it is--so let's elect an SOB who doesn't give a shit about trying to fool us--in fact, an SOB who doesn't give a shit about those other assholes either, or about much of anything but winning. That way we'll at least have the 'consolation' of knowing what hit us when inevitably we, too, get run over by the Trump steam roller: we were in on it, you see. Trump is our son of a bitch and we love him to death (even our own)."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pity Party at Bernie's

Rant coming! I am really quite weary of the whining about our "rigged" primary system. Yes, it's ramshackle and inequitable and inefficient and could benefit greatly from reform and uniformization. But it's still one of the only systems in the world that gives (sometimes and in some places) ordinary, unaffiliated citizens the opportunity to participate in choosing a major party's leader/candidate. In most places party elites and regular party members ONLY have any voice. One of the "fairest" of such "cartel systems" is in place for Britain's Labour Party, but even there, MPs decide who runs and only about 500,000 party members are eligible to vote.

Neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump would/could have been nominated for party leadership in such a closed system. They would have had to form their own parliamentary party, with all its infrastructure, etc., get elected as leader of said party, and THEN present candidates in every constituency in order to have any hope of winning a majority in parliament and thus becoming Prime Minister. The universe is NOT picking on anyone in particular, people. It's just muddling along in all its messy imperfection. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves; do what you can to fix what you can. And. Get. Over. It.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Trump Is a Doggone Dummy

People keep saying that Trump isn't as dumb as he seems to be. Nonsense! Of course he is. Sure, it's possible that at least some of what he says and does is carefully thought out, but thinking carefully about stuff that you have simply made up in the first place is no proof of intelligence.

In her final years, my poor Grandma Kirkeby used to spend a lot of time thinking about the little dog she (but she alone) saw under her chair. The thinking changed nothing: the dog still wasn't there.

Grandma K was old and demented and can surely be forgiven. But there can be no forgiveness for Trump. He is simply and inexcusably dumb! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Fizzle of Barely Imagined Communities

In his often-cited book Imagined Communities (which I confess I have never actually read) Benedict Anderson apparently asserts that nations are essentially "imagined" communities--constructed by our minds rather than imposed upon us by any transcendent ("primordial") logic of geography or genetics. We are Australian or French or Brazilian because we see ourselves as such, because we associate ourselves (albeit to varying degrees) with a set of values and a way of thinking that carry that label and to which other like-minded people adhere. This is not necessarily a "choice" we make (though it can be); usually, though, we begin to think of ourselves as members of this community at the very moment that we begin to think, shortly after our birth at a given time and place. Initially, and perhaps even throughout our entire lives, we reflexively and unselfconsciously embrace this identity, barely even questioning the matter.

However, as I look at today's world map, it appears to me that an "imagined community" is not necessarily a group of "brethren" who hold warm, fraternal feelings toward their fellow citizens or whose thinking on everyday subjects is homogeneously aligned. Such communities of benign, cooperative, similarly focused citizens may indeed exist (in Northern Europe, say, or in New Zealand or in Japan). But other imagined communities comprise a citizenry whose like-mindedness is relatively limited--sometimes to little more than a mutual agreement to compete and attempt to prevail by following a brief and undemanding set of "ground rules"--a skeletal social contract like the Constitution of the United States. The members of such a barely imagined, heterogeneous community may not, in fact, share an especially large number of cultural traits or values (they may, for example, espouse profoundly divergent views about personal morality, religious practice, economic systems, educational policy). In such nations, the communal feelings depend almost entirely on a common allegiance to the aforementioned ground rules (i.e., constitution) and manifest themselves most frequently in a) disputes over what the broadly stated rules "actually mean" and b) disputes with members of other imagined communities (in wars, financial affairs, or sporting events). Otherwise, there is little internal fraternity or "communion"(Anderson's term) and little consensus about what goals the commonwealth as a whole should pursue.

It is this lack of consensus or agreed-upon focus that disturbs me most about barely imagined communities--of which the United States is surely a prime example. I simply see scant evidence that such societies, held together as they are by little more than a skeleton of legal precepts (as opposed to a homogeneous society where nearly everyone shares the solid flesh of linguistic, economic, ethical, religious and culinary values) can genuinely function effectively as democracies. It seems to me that effective democracy requires the existence of a genuine demos, a kind of collective ego, a shared vision of Where We Want to Go. Unfortunately, alas, in our barely imagined framework, instead of such a collective vision, we encounter only multitudinous individual visions--an Alice-in-Wonderland intersection of roads to choose from--all of which constitutionally, at least, have equal validity and no single one of which is therefore likely to command the commitment of a majority of our barely imagined community. Like Alice: we do not know where we want to go, and worse, we don't even have a Cheshire Cat to offer hints about what lies ahead. Instead, we simply dissipate all our energy dithering, quarreling about virtually everything, paralyzed by the sheer quantity of possibilities and by our democratic equality. In short, by the operation of our so-called democratic processes, we cannot decide which, among all these roads, is worth taking--so we spin collectively about and take none at all.

What is lacking here, and what is not lacking in more completely imagined communities, is guidance, either a guiding principle or guiding person (more helpful than the Cheshire Cat)--something or someone to provide the direction that our focus-less equivocation requires. In Norway, such guidance probably comes from the citizenry's shared internalized beliefs about the common good--and in such a context, traditional consensus-based democracy can undoubtedly be successful. But in big, raucous, heterogeneous societies--where internalized common focus is notoriously lacking--democracy seems to merely aggravate indecisiveness. Interestingly, our much revered Founding Fathers--all basically planter/merchant philosophes--never in their wildest dreams "imagined" a community structured as a true "one-man-one-vote" democracy. Isn't it amusing, then, that modern-day Americans "imagine" that the Founders did indeed "imagine" a democratic community? Oddly, it would seem, our "barely imagined" community is also an "imaginary imagined community."

Well, OK. So what's my point? In a  nutshell, this: in the absence of shared internalized values to direct us, our barely imagined community requires not democracy, but some form of (let us be frank) absolutism. To the extent that our democratic indecisiveness renders us powerless to escape what the Cheshire Cat labels madness, we are precisely to that extent in need of a strong hand and a strong mind to lead us out of the bewildering roundabout. This is not a comfortable thought, I admit. Autocracy, despotism, dictatorship--all are terms that have acquired negative connotations--precisely because, throughout history, individuals entrusted with such concentrated power have, all too often, severely and disastrously subverted their assigned duty as overseer of a nation's well-being.

And yet, despite the abominations (Caligula, Savonarola, Attila, Ivan IV, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot), so many of humankind's most admirable moments have crystallized around the leadership of an autocrat: Pericles, Alexander, Augustus, Lorenzo de Medici, Akbar, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, the Tokugawa shoguns, Peter I, Napoleon, Bismarck, Churchill, De Gaulle. (OK, all of these people did harm as well as good, but, grosso modo and in the long view, more of the latter than the former.)

In American history, though, I can think of only two such moments of widely-recognized greatness--and in both instances, an overwhelming national crisis actually obliged our people to disregard the fractiousness encouraged by the Constitution and grant (reluctantly, but in direst necessity) autocratic powers to a president: the Civil War gave us Lincoln; the Great Depression and World War II gave us Franklin Roosevelt.

Alas, with the subsidence of those crises and their aftermaths, we have reverted once again to our lazy default position of barely imagining any common goals and of doing basically nothing. Must we await, then, another life-or-death crisis before we rouse ourselves once again to entrust out common destiny to the vision of an autocrat? If so, such a moment is probably not for tomorrow. But it will undoubtedly come one day--and there's a good chance that it will be bestowed upon us by the actions of more easily accepted autocrats in other more logically imagined communities--China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, a yet-to-be-born Islamic Caliphate.

This is a very discouraging line of thought, isn't it? In fact, I wish I had never begun it. It seems to offer so little chance for my barely imagined country--in its futile attempt to nonetheless function as a democracy--to achieve any enduring greatness. All civilizations die eventually. But some move the human trajectory forward--whereas others just pop, fizzle a while, and then trickle forgettably away. I think I hear a lot of fizzling.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Trump and Camp

I have just reread Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp," an essay which explains a lot to me about Donald Trump's puzzling appeal. He is camp. As camp as a lava lamp, as camp as Grand Guignol, as camp as WWE wrestling (a great favorite of Donald's). I should note, as a prelude to discussing Donald's specific campiness, that Sontag makes a distinction between "pure" camp--defined as naïve, unintentional awfulness (e.g. art nouveau light fixtures, which earnestly but preposterously attempt to portray snakes climbing the stems of oriental flowers) and "deliberate" camp--which is conscious, ingenious outrageousness (e.g., Mae West's self-parodying in certain movies).

For Sontag, this self-aware camp is "usually less satisfying" than the naïve, sincere variety, though I find it difficult to follow her reasoning here. Nonetheless, I do agree with Sontag's overall definition of camp as extravagant artfulness which, sincerely or deliberately, spectacularly fails and thereby produces an impression of undeniable awfulness. It is just so bad, so artificial that it becomes enjoyable--it becomes "good" badness.

Sontag notes, by the way, and I must concur, that "camp sees everything in quotation marks." Furthermore, she concludes, "camp is the victory of style over content."

In other words, the appeal of camp lies primarily in a) its extravagant, outré ambition and b) the very artfulness of its awfulness--the impressive amount of work that goes into failing to realize a grandiose--albeit perhaps insincere--goal. The Donald, as he himself tells us (yes, his campiness is mostly of the self-conscious variety), deliberately adopts "flamboyant" positions which defy convention ("political correctness" he calls it) and, with a playful wink to the audience (there is always an audience), suggests that this is all a show--an elaborate edifice of style, entirely divorced from sincere content--which is meant to be appreciated for its very "fabulous" awfulness. His campaign thus resembles a marvelously yuuuge drag show with Trump, himself, as the show's headliner drag queen.

So obviously, we shouldn't be talking about a Trump candidacy as if it were a normal, uncampy and tedious political operation--à la Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz. Instead, we should be talking about a Trump "candidacy." The quotations marks make all the difference.

Why? Because in a regular candidacy, despite some theatrical moments, objective reality does count, and citizens are expected to make judgments based on the content of the regular candidate's character. But in a camp "candidacy"--conducted by a political drag queen--the only thing that counts is how skillfully he/she has contrived to distort, deform or defy reality. Voters are necessarily limited to judgments based on the "candidate's" style, and his style alone. For as we have seen, a camp "artiste's" actual character has no bearing whatsoever on the appeal of the performance--it is the artful awfulness that counts, certainly not the raw material which the artifice has deliberately obscured.

So what, then, is drag-queen Donald's "candidacy" really about? Walls on the Mexican border? Deportation of eleven million immigrants? Nuclear bombs for Japan and South Korea? Surveillance and incarceration of Muslims? Trade wars with China? Waterboarding political prisoners? Limiting press freedoms? Punishing women who have abortions? Growing longer penises (schlongs)?

No, of course not, silly people. These "positions" must be understood as mere accoutrements (subject to alteration or abandonment at any time), nothing but adornments used by a skilled political "artiste" to enhance his "show" and to induce applause in observers who cannot help being seduced by the improbable excessiveness of this swag. I suspect that most Trumpistas do not really--no, not really deep down--believe that these flamboyant costumes constitute Donald's real-world attire. But, you know what?--they don't care because, well, WOW, this drag is just so fabulously tawdry! Good show, Donald; good show! An A+ for campiness!

On the other hand, what then is DJT's real-world attire? Silly question. Obviously, no one besides The Donald has any idea about his true values or his genuine "moi." And perhaps Trump himself couldn't say, having been "camping it up" for so long that even he has forgotten what, if anything, lies beneath the layers of disguise. Maybe, in short, there is no longer any"there""there."

P.S.: My apologies for all the quotation marks. But I'm sure you see why they were unavoidable.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Peeing in North Carolina

Now, about that "save-our-Christian-women" bathroom bill (HB2) in North Carolina...Why in the world would a cis-gender male go to the trouble of dressing up like a trans-gender woman in order to sneak into the ladies' room and rape or abuse someone? All he would have to do is whip out his gun (or unbutton his trench coat), barge in, and grab a victim, without bothering about any disguise or lipstick shade. Trans or cis, dress or pants, with or without supplementary legislation, molestation in any venue is already a crime, isn't it? So what is the sense of this gratuitous and demeaning law that newly criminalizes (for some people) the mere act of peeing unobtrusively behind a closed door?

Obviously, HB2's claim to "protect our women from predators" is a clumsy sham--another bogus attempt to use "Christian love" to cloak blatant discrimination against people deemed to be "weird" or "unnatural"--people who, simply by existing and peeing in a neighboring stall, might somehow contaminate the flower of Southern Baptist womanhood. The folks who voted this bill know perfectly well that human rights ordinances do not threaten anyone's personal safety--rather they threaten something these bigots cling to much more tenaciously than their faux pearl chokers--their assumptions of moral superiority to "those people."

Again, therefore, Americans find themselves immersed in the murky depths of the cultural wars crapper: the holier-than-thou turds attempting to escape defilement by contact with the more irregular chunks that are merely thous. What is to be done? What IS to be done?

Well, one tactic quite familiar to both sides of this debate is the old American tradition of duping people with gimmicks. Americans love gimmicks, especially if they're very expensive (e.g., the new and useless B-21 bombers that cost $790 million apiece). The major attraction of such elaborate flimflammery is that the ingenuity of the gimmick generally bamboozles the quick-to-feel and slow-to-think into believing that "everything is under control." As the talentless, horn-tooting stripper Miss Mazeppa (in "Gypsy") sang so convincingly, "Ya gotta get a gimmick, if ya wanna get a hand."

Accordingly, in an effort to calm the Right to Pee controversy, I have devised a gimmick. It's every bit as unnecessary as the B-21 bomber, and every bit as stupid as HB2, but what the heck? It might be so confusing that, like Miss Mazeppa's horn, it will bamboozle us into applauding a bad show. Here's my proposal:

First, everybody must go to their local DMV (fun!) and register their Personal Potty Preference (PPP). This preference must be the individual's choice, not the clerk's haughty assumption. Next, a picture is taken of the individual, looking like he/she intends to look when entering a Potty Place. Then, a plastic Potty Pass--somewhat resembling a drivers license--is generated and an encoded magnetic strip is affixed thereto. Now, only one step remains:  all the restrooms in all the states must be fitted with subway-entrance turnstiles which can be activated only by appropriately-coded Potty Passes. This could probably be done for the price of oh, say two or so, B21s.

And voilà. Once all this falderol is in place, can you imagine what will happen if an individual, duly certified (by his own choice, remember) as a user of MALE facilities, suddenly and incongruously feels impelled to swipe his card at the entrance to a FEMALE loo?  Well, goodness! that will set off an alarm even more earsplitting than Miss Mazeppa's bugle. Swiftly, the Potty Police (an elite new force "dedicated" to this one task) will descend upon the perpetrator, confiscating his/her Potty Pass and arresting him/her for being "en situation irrégulière." Onlookers will either applaud or retreat bemusedly to their stalls--secure in their confidence that everything is all right. In short, the gimmick will have gotten a Miss Mazeppa-style hand.

Unnoticed will be the fact that nothing at all has actually changed: everybody will still be using the bathrooms that they feel comfortable using (for which they possess a Potty Pass encoded with the gender identity they chose), and everybody will still regard public toilets as rather unpleasant places that must, unfortunately, be visited occasionally. But maybe, our attention deflected by the spurious "legitimacy" of a government-issued ID--and lots of gates, barriers, bells and whistles--we'll all just do our business and get out quickly, without worrying overly much about the "moral" implications of Peeing Where We Want in North Carolina.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Ontological Absences: Deconstructing the Aphasia of Dilatory, Coprophagic Recidivism in Post-Ellipsoidal Democracy

It is, of course, common knowledge that, as expressive aphasia manifests exponential bicameral bifurcation, this absence of absences must necessarily propagate entropy with parallel exponentiality in all post-ellipsoidal political venues and contexts. What is less obvious is the near occasion of such vacuums, their underlying support systems, or ontologically speaking, their foundational intra-organic vacuity. Fortunately, a recent study commissioned by the National Academy of Discursive Disorders and conducted in synapses-controlled hypnotic environments in an underground, and hence solipsism-neutral laboratory, has yielded unambiguously recondite data in this matter.

Hence, we can now state with absolute socio-spatial, diachronic certainty that individuals possessing severalized and compendious authoritarian proclivities respond neo-necrologically to any meta-geographical structuration of pneumatic liquidity. Indeed, the aforementioned study demonstrates sine dubito that all those of political persuasion, even individuals relatively uncontaminated by derivational fiduciary symbiosis, manifest a perspicuous nexus to and with strangulated or mutated glossolalia as well as a concomitant predisposition to coprophagia. Corroborating, albeit anecdotal and occasionally otiose evidence of this recidivistic etiology can be assayed daily in the pages of the New York Times. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lucky Americans: We'll Always Have Paris...and Canada

As the unthinkable becomes increasingly thinkable--the actual possibility of a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz presidency--I am taking stock, while nonetheless attempting to avoid panic. After all, if recent history is any indication, America's basically dysfunctional system of checks, balances and redundancy would probably prevent either of them from implementing the maddest and most inhumane of their vile schemes, in which case I might be able to just slog along, pissing and moaning, without feeling an absolute moral imperative to renounce--and leave--the US itself. 

But if a worst-case scenario were to develop, if either of these despicable creatures managed to enact the malignant (and yes, un-American) fundamentals of his platform, I suppose I would have to take steps--try to sell my house, cash in the remainder of my IRA, and attempt to live out my remaining years in Canada or France. The bell will eventually toll, of course--for me as for all--and I am already an old man. Yet, this certainty of death only heightens the irony of my grief--as I reflect that now, at the end of my life, the only place where I might be able to die with a measure of self-respect (faithful to what I have always considered decent American values) is on the soil of a foreign land.

Well, I must lift up my heart anyway, I suppose. After all, this peculiar reverse "home-sickness" is not a new phenomenon, nor is my experience unique. From the Revolutionary War loyalists to the Underground Railroad runaways to the Jazz Age expatriates, dissenting and disheartened Americans have always looked North and Abroad for refuge, perhaps, renewal.

Lucky Americans: we'll always have Paris...and Canada.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Liberty, but not Equality and Fraternity

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Noble goals, all, but despite our lip service thereto and our prattle about liberty and justice for all, these three ideals (also piously enshrined in the national motto of France) have proven very difficult to reconcile with one another, especially in our American context.

This is so because, in truth, Americans simply don't believe very strongly in equality (or even in justice, for that matter). Oh, sure, we complain when others seem to have "more" of something than we do, but at the same time, we continue to believe that we have some genuine right to have "more" of that very thing than others less "worthy" than ourselves. (E.g., we bitch that our local school doesn't have as nice a gymnasium as the school in a neighboring town, but we certainly don't want some government agency to step in and make our school equal to that school by, say, building us a gymnasium and taking away our fancy computer lab, something that school doesn't have.)

Moreover, these contradictory feelings are not tempered in any meaningful way by a sense of fraternity--we truly don't feel much compassion or camaraderie for the "others" down the road; heck we don't even think of them as real Americans. In short, Americans want liberty ("freedom") and consequently are willing to tolerate, even support, a great deal of inequality, a preference reinforced by our resentment of "those other people" whom, at any rate, we tend to blame for the inequality. These other people, of course, feel exactly the same way about us--with the result that nearly the only equality we all espouse is our equal right to defend our self-defined freedoms by employing firearms to intimidate or even eliminate pesky competitors with conflicting claims.

Indeed, a willingness to limit one's personal liberty in order to achieve equality seems to go against the very grain of the American dream to "get ahead," unless, of course, we're speaking in very relative terms. To be sure, other countries, notably in northern Europe, have worked hard to limit inequality by also limiting individual liberty--but the degree to which a populace will tolerate such restriction depends substantially, as I hinted above, upon their adherence to that third ideal--fraternity. Individuals who actually have fellow feeling for their compatriots, who genuinely sense that the entire national community is involved in a shared enterprise, these individuals are more willing to accept restrictions upon their personal freedoms in order to benefit the common good (including, of course, their own). But without such a sense of fraternity, any movement toward equality will be experienced by instinctively selfish individuals as an aggravation (at best) or a threat (at worst).

So apparently the key to harmonizing liberty and equality is fraternity--but alas, I don't see very much fraternity on the American landscape. Among those states labeling themselves commonwealths, only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seems occasionally to manifest any sense of a common good to be served by all citizens. (Forget about Virginia and don't even think about Kentucky.) A few other states or regions may marginally qualify:  Utah (because of the Mormon Church), Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Hawaii, San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, Austin, Madison, Santa Fe, Des Moines, Denver.

But even within these enclaves of "niceness," fraternal feelings are often tenuous and subject to extinction by anxieties arising from social, political or economic uncertainty. Only the most stable and secure of societies can successfully foster a sense of fraternity, and only if that communal spirit can be sustained over time does a community have any realistic hope for an enduring equilibrium between liberty and equality.

Meanwhile, such an equilibrium remains a remote fantasy in gun-toting, individualistic 21st Century America--a country in which we seldom hold fraternal feelings for our fellow citizens and in which we almost never wish to help them achieve equality with us. No: in America, despite "America the Beautiful's" pious assertion that the "good" are crowned with "brotherhood," we really aren't much interested in anything but freedom. With Patrick Henry, the typical American continues to shake his fist and shout belligerently at his compatriots--people he regards as not his brothers and not his equals, "Give me liberty or give me death!"