Friday, August 18, 2017

Congratulations, Chumps

Monrovia, California
August 18, 2017

Well, damn it, things aren't getting any less weird.

By weird I mean ever-changing in their bizarreness.  You've got to give Trump credit for one thing--he's a pure egotist and he's got us all talking about him all the fucking time.  Do you think that after seven months in office everyone was talking about Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton every minute of every day?  Hell no.  But this guy has his finger firmly on the pulse of the nation, and indeed on the essential nature of the modern media.  He knows that our attention span has always been short and is getting shorter by the year.  There's just too much information coming at us from too many directions for us to be able to focus on any one thing for more that a few days or even a few hours.  In terms of our appetite for news, we're like little kids on Christmas morning with not just one toy but dozens of them.  We tear one thing open then go to the next one, not bothering to savor or examine anything much.  It's exhausting as well as demeaning to the entire process of gift-giving, or news broadcasting, as the case may be.  And it's just as much the fault of the gift givers, or the news broadcasters, as it is ours.  Meanwhile the guy who controls this absolutely and unerringly is Donald Trump.  The whole time everyone is talking about how terrible he is because of his latest tweet or ham-handed move he's enjoying the security of being the center of attention, which is all he's ever really wanted.  There's been a lot of talk lately about whether we have learned the lessons of history.  Well Trump sure has.  Lesson number one is that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.  And lesson number two is that there's no such thing as bad publicity.  Ask Hitler, a guy who profited from all the publicity that came his way.  Ask a Kardashian.  Ask Satan.

And, what the hell, I'm feeding into that just like everybody else.  But at least I have a point to make about it.  I know it's just about impossible not to pay attention to the President if he wants you to pay attention to him--he's got too many weapons in his arsenal, literally and figuratively.  You can't just take the guy and put him in the time-out room and lock the door and go have a little peace and quiet.  He's spawned an entire pack of parasitic newshounds, some real and yes, some fake, to report on his every move.  If, like me, you've culled out any right-wingers from your Facebook friends, either by unfollowing them or unfriending them altogether, then other than recipes for delicious things, or photos of cute-as-hell grandchildren, or pictures of people holding fish they've just caught, you have only the shrill voices of the opposition, condemning Trump's every move, and demanding his impeachment, resignation, condemnation, etc.  Everything except for his assassination, and I'm not sure why nobody's urging that.  That's probably the only way to ensure his premature exit from office.  (Pence, you say?  Don't worry about him.  He's an amateur, and would be a lot easier to handle at all levels than Trump is.  We should be hoping that that Hoosier fuck-knuckle will be president soon.)  And the regular TV news isn't much better.  MSNBC and CNN's mission in life is to obsess, negatively, about Trump on a daily basis--a laudable goal in theory, but in practice very wearying and repetitive and, let's face it, pretty useless, unless you're Donald Trump, in which case it's very useful because it keeps you in the spotlight.

Just lately the big controversy has been the neo-Nazi demonstrations surrounding the taking down of statues of Confederate (or is it Covfefe?) warriors.  Since just about everybody's memory of history is somewhere between short and nonexistent, few remember that in the 1970s the American Nazis petitioned for, and ultimately were granted, the right to march through Skokie, Illinois, a predominately Jewish suburb of Chicago.  Back then the wounds of the real Nazi regime were much sorer, and a number of Skokie's residents were actual holocaust survivors or immediate family members of such unfortunate victims.  This was naked provocation, pure and simple.  Still, the Supreme Court upheld their right to march, and congregate in Skokie they did, if rather tepidly, and the country went on, just as the country will go on now.  The President at the time, Jimmy Carter, did condemn the Nazis, while respecting their constitutional right to march, and encouraged counter-demonstrations by Jewish organizations and others.  That was the proper response to the whole thing, and it's exactly what Clinton, or the Bushes, or Obama would have done.  And it got Carter nary a nod or a vote in the next election, because no one takes any special notice when you do the correct thing--the thing that's expected of you.

So why do I even mention the Skokie thing?  Just for this reason:  The most significant difference isn't the number of Nazis now versus in 1978 (only a few dozen of them ultimately showed up in Skokie), nor is it that Nazis are any more or less offensive now than they were then.  If anything, they were more of a blight back then due to their offense to the living memories of so many participants in and victims of the Third Reich and the Second World War.  Nor is the underlying issue any different--white power, white supremacy, opposition to perceived encroachment on the prerogatives of the Aryan race.  That's what it was all about then and now.   Nor it is even the fact that this time a guy drove a vehicle into the counter-demonstrators and killed a person and wounded others.  That's being dealt with and would have been dealt with had it happened then, too.  The difference is that this was an opportunity for us to focus our entire, undivided attention on the President, which is exactly what he wants every event in the country, or for that matter in the world, to be.  Tell me honestly--do you know what's going to happen to the guy who plowed his car into the crowd?  Do you know his name?  Do you know the name of the dead woman, or any of the injured?  More importantly, do you give a fuck?  No.  You only care about Donald Trump, and what he said, and what he's doing.  And next week you'll care about Trump for a different reason.  And that's how he likes it.

Tony Schwartz, the individual who ghost wrote Trump's book The Art of the Deal, is in the news predicting that Trump will resign soon.  This strikes me as a very odd prognostication from a person who claims to know Trump well.  Why would a guy who loves nothing better than attention resign from the job that has brought him nonstop attention?  Why wouldn't he hold onto that job until the bitter end?   It reminds me of a joke an old friend told me once:  A man walks into a bar, smelling like shit, and orders a drink.  The bartender mentions that he can't help noticing how bad the guy smells.  The man says, "Well, it's because of my job.  I work for the circus, which is in town right now.  I take care of the elephants, and one of the things I have to do is to make sure they are healthy.  So when they get constipated I have to stick my arm up their asses all the way to my shoulder and sort of stir things up, and then they start shitting profusely."  The bartender is amazed, and responds, "Jesus, that sounds terrible!  Why don't you get a different job?"  The man replies, "What, and give up show business?"

So congratulations, chumps, for all the help you're giving to the most astute student of history the 21st century has yet produced, a man who will never willingly give up show business.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Novus Ordo Seclorum

Monrovia, California
May 22, 2017

Upon the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, both sides of which are depicted on the back of the one-dollar bill, appears the motto "Novus Ordo Seclorum," which means something like The New Order of the Ages.  I suppose that it was meant to declare to the world, in a certainly self-serving and self-aggrandizing way, that with the advent of the of the U.S. government we'd begun a relatively new way of approaching the concept of running a country.  It was nominally secular, or at least not deliberately dominated by any one religion, and did not include the clergy as one of the Estates, fairly rare at that time.  It eschewed hereditary royalty and nobility, as least in name.  It was a confederacy of independently-run mini-states held together by a federal government in charge of national defense and other essential national prerogatives and tasks.  The independence of the mini-states was strong enough that, regarding the issue of slavery, it lead to a civil war.  We sometimes call it The War Between the States, but in reality is was a war between several like-minded southern slave holding states and the federal government acting on behalf of the rest of them.  As such it was doomed to failure from the beginning for the South, because they just couldn't operate as a cohesive unit, so obsessed were they with the idea that each state should be allowed to operate independently.  By the best historical accounts available, running the Confederate States of  America as a country was akin to herding cats.  Vicious, hateful, prideful, self-entitled cats.  So they lost.  Also because they didn't have a hell of a lot of money, whereas we did.  By "we" of course I mean the United States, the good guys.  But as usual I digress.

Since the inception of the United States, and throughout all threats to and by the country since, we have waved the flag, literally and figuratively, of our Novus Ordo Seclorum.  But our New Order has rested on shifting sands, to say the least.  It has been our rallying cry while defending our own shores (only occasionally), while invading other shores, and while railing against perceived threats to our existence.  But no new order can remain new if it's allowed to stagnate and become old.  Some countries declare new regimes when they shift from one major domestic and world view to another. The French are currently in the midst of their Fifth Republic.  They'll no doubt have a few more in the years ahead, following various wars and vicissitudes.  It's their national way of resetting the clock without resorting to the the Pol Pot-style of Year Zero revolution they undertook around the time when the First Republic was declared back in 1792.  A civilized way of correcting their occasional episodes of backsliding into national incivility--new constitution, etc.  The British, our closest role models, just keep on trucking under the banner of their first major shift, through civil wars and new dynasties.  They like to date everything more or less from 1215, when Magna Carta was signed.  Similarly, we still date everything from 1776 and our subsequent (and so far only) constitution, even though we occasionally declare a New Birth of Freedom, or a New Deal, or a New Frontier.  Until now, at least.  This latest presidential election has most certainly ushered in a new order of sorts, more chaotic and fast-paced and overtly antagonistic and radically rule-changing than previous ones in our lifetimes.

The New American Order is driving me crazy, to the point where I have become paralyzed when it comes to talking about politics or anything close to it.   Here I have this blog where I can say pretty much anything I like, even if it's outrageous and contemptible in some peoples' eyes, but there's no longer anything I could say that doesn't get topped regularly by the words or actions of the administration.  Where once it would have been at least marginally witty and snarky to point out the idiocy of the Republican Party and its members, these inmates now have such firm control of the asylum that they're changing national expectations of normalcy, with the instantaneous help of electronic social media and 24-hour news stations--not just daily, but almost hourly.  TV stations I used to consider essentially conservative, like CNN and the original three networks, have begun to look mildly subversive due to the fact that, although they still rather slavishly adhere to the established format of trotting out "experts" from different sides of the spectrum of political opinion, they don't hesitate to state, point blank, that in such-and-such an instance the President or Sean Spicer or Paul Ryan or another of that bunch, are simply lying. But because they're all news junkies they have to keep talking about all these monsters, even when what is being said and done ought to be beneath contempt and the notice of decent people.  They do this because, well, that's pretty much all they have to talk about beyond the occasional flood or tsunami or foreign war atrocity.  They remind me of nothing so much as Marilyn Munster, the "normal" member of the TV show "The Munsters," who was considered abnormal by the rest of her family because she wasn't grotesque, when in fact she was rather comely, or at least conformed to the adolescent idea of feminine beauty.  People who watched the show got the joke immediately, of course.  Today those lines between hideously monstrous and normal have been blurred.  And while the news is much funnier than "The Munsters" ever was, it isn't supposed to be.  And the administration and its minions in the legislature have become masters at repeating the Big Lie that what the news stations say is false, or Fake News.  Black is white now, or to quote from Orwell's 1984, "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength." I needn't belabor that point further.

As I write this the president is out of the country, and so help me, I think the news stations are going through a kind of withdrawal.  It's a lull they can't quite stand, and in Trump's absence they're really sort of lost.  Some are falling back on the meager footage of Trump dancing, sword in hand, with the guys in the head scarfs in Riyadh.  Others are repeating the fatuous Impeach Him Now mantra (as if any party in power in the legislature would ever impeach one of its own).  Then there's the question of how many Flynns can dance on the head of a pin.  But it's all just filler until Trump makes his next dumb speech or tweets something in the wee hours.  The press would never say it out loud, but they wish Trump would come back home and start acting like the silly guy we've all come to love and hate.  Meanwhile they're resorting to one of their favorite fallback positions--playing back Trump's campaign speechifying to show how contradictory he's capable of being, as if that's up for debate.
Tomorrow all this could be washed over by some new craziness.  But our favorite nutbar is MIA at the moment, schmoozing with world leaders.

My point, in case it's not clear enough, is that Trump's presidency has made the press, and therefore the entire country, sillier and less reliable and less mature than ever, like helpless parents dealing with an uncontrollable child.  Which is more or less what they're having to do.  And like parents who find themselves in this unenviable position, the best advice anyone could give them is to take a deep breath and try to behave like adults.  Leave the ranting to the bloggers.  We can use the work.