February 19, 2017
Change Seven magazine has posted a guest blog entry of mine about surviving a (Trumpian) shock to the system. Here’s the link.
The general theme, in keeping with the magazine’s name, was “change,” and I started to ponder how our former ideas about change seem both still-relevant and terribly quaint. The old term “future shock” popped into my mind—which was kind of like reading a letter you wrote as a teenager and realizing that, back then, you understood far more than you do now.
January 16, 2017
Yesterday in Philadelphia, an event called “Writers Resist: United for Liberty” filled to overflowing a 300-seat auditorium for more than two hours of readings about freedom of speech, racial justice, economic justice, and more. It was linked in spirit to the New York event sponsored by PEN America, but it had a uniquely local flavor, with passages from historical speeches and writings set in Philly. The organizers (and who knew writers could organize so well?) were Alicia Askenase, Stephanie Feldman, and Nathaniel Popkin.
There’s a good write-up at Philly.com, and many ongoing comments on the Facebook site and Twitter feed (@ResistPHL), as well as photos and videos. Most important, the plan is to carry on with further events and actions, beginning next month.
I can’t add much to the eloquence of the other voices, so I’ll simply quote three passages that I found most moving—ones that didn’t have specific connections to Philly but shared a universal resonance.
The program concluded with poet Tom Devaney reading Langston Hughes’s stirring poem “Let America Be America Again,” which includes these lines:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
A dream that’s never quite fulfilled but that we can, we must, keep aiming at—that states it perfectly.
Valerie Fox read a translation of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain,” a reminder not to let ourselves be anesthetized by the quantity of outrages:
The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!” When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
Finally, here’s a quotation that connects with my frequent screeds about American voting behavior. Kelly McQuain read this passage, among others, from Elie Wiesel’s 1999 speech “The Perils of Indifference”:
In a way, to be indifferent to [human] suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.
Let’s say that one more time in capitals: INDIFFERENCE IS NOT A RESPONSE.
November 9, 2016
Waking after the long election night… What, is the world still here? There are people who still dare to go out on the street? They’re, like, heading to work or something? Really?
So I manage to walk the dog, make breakfast and pick up the paper. There I find a column by Helen Ubiñas headlined “Stunned at the Victory of Self-Destruction.” (An updated version of the printed column is here.) Her take on the election corresponds to what I wrote on June 3 about a national death wish. She talks about “the xenophobia and sexism and hatred and racism Americans either embrace or are willing to overlook to send a message. And that message,” she adds,
is one of self-destruction, because although Hillary Clinton has her flaws, her many, many flaws, the message we are sending by being so willing to make a carrot-colored caricature the president of the United States is that we are willing to throw our country under the bus, that we are willing to be the world’s punchline, that we are willing to make a man with zero political experience and less global respect the 45th president of the United States.
Yeah, that says it. My image was a flaming explosion, an Armageddon, but the bus metaphor is good too. I am feeling rather squashed right now, and some of my friends seem to be having trouble breathing.
Wasn’t it ironic to hear that this election was about “change”? When it simply reversed the previous change? How many more times will voters be able to feel like conservatives simply by choosing the candidate who’s sane and competent?Dreading the possibility of a morning like this, I’ve been toying with the idea of moving back to the land of my ancestors (some of them), and living quietly in a stone cottage, enjoying the fruits of the land (see picture) around a wee turf fire. I won’t really do that, of course, but it’s a consolation to have a refuge in mind.
More consoling is the fact that a large majority of those who are not white males voted for Hillary. So did a huge percentage of voters 18–29, and a smaller but clear majority of those 30–44.
These people are the dominant electorate of the future, folks. And they showed their disgust for the vile orange pussy-grabbing dictator-worshiping sexist racist fascist charlatan. (Oops, I was trying to be less polemical than Ms. Ubiñas.)
So what I’m saying is: there’s a good chance this is Bluster’s Last Stand.
Another, less direct comfort comes from nearly a century ago, in a passage by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. In his novel Some Do Not…, the first of the Parade’s End trilogy, set in the years surrounding World War I, protagonist Christopher Tietjens is accused of hating his own country because he detests virtually everyone in charge. His accuser is the young woman he cares for more than anyone else, so he replies honestly:
Don’t say it! Don’t believe it! Don’t even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name … and all the rest of the rubbish … and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we’ve built up the great tradition that we love … But, for the moment, it’s painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole’s. But one’s too near them.
Maybe it’s the same now. Are we just too near the current boodlers to see things in perspective? Maybe Donald Trump is no worse than George Wallace (who wasn’t, however, nominated by a major party) or Huey Long (who got shot before he could be nominated). Maybe Sean Hannity is no crazier than Father Coughlin. Maybe the Alt-Right media are no more scurrilous than Marcus Pomeroy, who wrote of Abraham Lincoln in 1864: “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer.… And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good” (quoted in Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition”).
I hope those maybes are true. I hope.
November 8, 2016
October 15, 2016
After national events of the past couple of weeks, I feel I must step forward. I’ve been silent far too long about this. It’s difficult to confess, and I’m deeply ashamed, but the truth must be told:
I am one of those people who are not attractive enough for Donald Trump to molest.
If I could do it over, I would. I’d go back and be born again, at a much later date, in a different gender and a much sexier body. Then I’d maneuver to sit next to him on an airplane or in a bar, and when he put his hand on my whatever, I’d turn and beam a big smile at him. Then I’d kick him in the balls and knock his teeth down his throat.
Which is not to say the women he’s groped should have done that themselves. It’s just a fantasy. But wait, Caitlyn Jenner’s pretty attractive and still, no doubt, has plenty of muscle. Can we arrange for her and Donald to meet in a club?
Probably, though, they’ve already met. I don’t know, I don’t keep up with celebrities.
Seriously, my fantasy illustrates a theme that’s been bothering a lot of people about the presidential race. It’s so vulgar. Did anyone think any candidate for high office in the U.S. would descend to such public crudity?
I have to admit, however—a real confession this time—that I’ve long been appalled at the vulgarity of American culture. I haven’t watched TV sitcoms since I was a kid, but when I happen to catch part of one and every joke is about sex, and stupid to boot, I ask myself: Is this all we Americans can think about? There’s nothing else funny in our country?
And though I have no qualifications as a psychologist, I suppose that so much joking about sex implies that in some ways we’re deeply uneasy about it.
Of course, I’m not a prude. In fact, I’m a child of the 1960s, when sex was invented. As a young man, I rooted for the revolution against the hidebound morality imposed by the antiquated folks past the age of 30. And, if I must say so myself, my novel The Big Happiness has some pretty darn good sex scenes in it.
Still, my distaste for Donald Trump is rooted not just in his policies (ignorant, biased, dangerous) or his fundamental character (selfish, devious, disrespectful, violent) but also in his plain boorishness. And a lot of my friends seem to have the same reaction. As my wife often says with a grimace, Ewwwww.
Confronted with Donaldian muck, the temptation is to respond in kind. For instance, I have to resist the temptation to refer to him as Ronald Rump—and worse, I’ve imagined creating a picture of his face merged with a bare ass. That would be totally juvenile, so I would never, ever do something like that, believe me, folks, never.
My fantasy about being reborn as a sexy woman so I can kick him in the groin is a more elaborate version of the same thing—responding in kind.
Therefore I post these remarks in bad taste to condemn the bad taste of the election season.
Which is an ironic way to say that our issues actually go much deeper than taste. Deeper, too, than (T)Rump’s own character issues. I’m genuinely worried about our national character. If even 40 percent of Americans vote for this guy, can we preserve the tiniest smidgen of self-respect?
September 21, 2016
Decades ago, in my neighborhood, the city tore down an entire block of traditional row houses on our main street to build a new public school. But neighbors objected to the plan because it’d supposedly create an influx of young people with dark skins. The total pale-people outrage was sufficient to preserve the lot for many years as a debris- and weed-filled mess, which came to be greatly beloved by the residents—because it afforded free parking.
Now, just one block away, a developer has demolished a small, ugly, respectable office building in order to build upscale condos. However, neighbors are again objecting to the new construction, this time because it’ll create extra traffic on the tiny street (barely an alley) at the rear of the property.
Again, as the photo shows, we possess a huge lot full of rubble that may be with us for a long while. And no one seems to mind.
I’m beginning to think, actually, that we have a love for rubble. It’s kind of cool in its own way. It appeals to the common folk. It’s not all rich and snooty like prospective condo buyers, and unlike the developers, rubble is not beholden to political insiders.
If we had a neighborhood vote, Pile of Rubble vs. Designer Condos, I think Rubble might win.
Besides, as I’ve noted in in recent posts about the political landscape, we Americans just like knocking things down and admiring the carnage.
August 10, 2016
A short post to offer some informative links (the phrases in red) about Trumpageddon:
Back in June I surmised that Americans might have, in essence, a national death wish, a desire to just blow up the system out of spite, frustration and boredom. Now Andrew O’Hehir has offered a similar, though more complicated, argument in Salon. “As I see it,” he writes, “Trump is on a suicide mission, acting out a deep-seated national desire for self-destruction that runs alongside America’s more optimistic self-image and interacts with it in unpredictable ways” (my boldface). Definitely worth reading.
To that I’ll add a link to an On the Media radio show/podcast in which host Bob Garfield interviews Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs. (The linked page contains a transcript as well as the audio clip.) For those who refuse to vote for either Trump or Clinton, Robinson provides a strong argument for choosing one or the other to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election, when progressives’ votes for Ralph Nader led to the victory of George W. Bush (who, to this point, may be the worst president in U.S. history—a record Trump would have no difficulty in toppling).
“The basic premise” of Robinson’s argument “is that we should think about voting differently. The way I think of voting is that you should think about the potential consequences of your vote. That’s the most important thing. Voting isn’t necessarily a way to say who you are and what you care about. It’s something that has consequences” (my boldface).
Robinson continues, “If 500 Nader voters in Florida had changed their minds we probably wouldn’t have had the Iraq war, so I think those consequences are the most important thing. You know, people are critical of the term ‘lesser evil’—well, you just want us to vote for the lesser evil. Of course we do, because you want less evil in the world.”
My take on the issue is simple: If you’re a grownup, and not suicidal, you should face the fact that the election is not about you or your ideological or moral purity. It’s about who will run the United States and possibly, or not, blow up the whole effing planet.