Post-Politics

I was just watching the end of a concert by a favorite band, The XX. It was sort of an epiphany – you’d have to see the concert, but it is simply a show full of love. These kids love one another (I’ve seen them in interviews) and I believe they love their fans for giving them a voice. And their fans love them.

It used to be you could just assume folks put love in the “plus” column, unless they’re jerks. But need I tell you? Jerks are on the rise.

And not just love. Everything that goes into it, into art, into soulful expression – into taking that risk of putting yourself out there, in whatever form, to affirm that love is good, to make yourself vulnerable to ridicule by expressing admiration for warm emotions, for friendship and respect. For honor, which is based on honesty, and truth, which is required for honesty.

It appears you risk being some kind of snowflake. Be that as it may, it’s a risk the vast majority of us are still willing to take. Only a few have found this time to be an apt opportunity to reveal an inner, coarser self, one that had heretofore been kept under wraps.

But they are a noisy few!

What my eyes and ears tell me, though, when witnessing an XX concert or a flood of “mad” emojis under a Pence speech, is that they are few in number compared to those who simply want to live and let live. The problem? Of course, it’s simple – though relatively rare, white Christian nationalism is now concentrated in the political class, more specifically the Republican party. This is having, for some, a legitimizing effect on what would have been scandalous behavior not ten years ago.

I mean, remember when you could get impeached for lying about a blow job?

When the governor of Nebraska goes into open battle with public higher education and Planned Parenthood, going so far as to call Nebraska a “pro-life” state (where he is dying to execute his prisoners, but never mind) – this reveals a deeper corrosion that preceded the president’s slimy rise to power. Ditto Walker, Brownback, Christie, Sessions, Bannon, Miller. They were waiting for him as one awaits a savior.

And the Joe Blows out there, with the aid of Facebook, are ascendant in their new nastiness, their on-script, imagination-free on line bullying and harassment.  Feeling their new “legitimacy” [sic] and testing out those “button-pushing” words!

I was never able to imagine how the right-wing political class would normalize Trump. I thought it impossible. And I was right – the man refuses to even pretend to be civilized. But I was forgetting that for a significant minority, it was not necessary to normalize the president’s boorish behavior.

To them, he was already normal.

In this, I believe many of us are “post-political,” in that we know we are members of a sane, rational majority. But we have little representation in the central government or in our region, both of which are seas of deepest, now-darkest red. Our leaders are leaders in name only. They are sectarians. They don’t identify with us, they don’t represent us, and they don’t want to. We are sailing different seas, every day. Our paths do not cross. Or if they do, it is to oppose each other’s ideas.

They are becoming to me as I already am to them – irrelevant.

 

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Two and Two Make Trumpism

I believe we are watching our language break down in real time in the manner described by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984. I believe a lot of people have simply given up on independent thinking and objective reality, and are content to merely spout empty slogans to shield themselves from words they perceive as threatening to their self-constructed, solipsistic world view.

To such people the truth is, in effect, arbitrary and tangential to the goal of communication, which is to win.

This never really occurred to me before, that the principles of Newspeak (i.e. the fewer words people have to use, the better at limiting what they think) would go mainstream in 2016. Instead of the nuanced analysis and acceptance of facts not in support of one’s position required by honest debate,  we get people who’ve been trained to rely on epithets and catch phrases: “swamp creature” and “snowflake” and “lock her up” (complete with 2-minute hates, a la Goldsteinism) and “build that wall” and “violent/intolerant left” and “fake news” and all the other all-purpose MAGA terms that seek to shut down informed debate before it can start.

I no longer attempt to “argue” with self-identified Trumpers, because there will be no reasoned argument. There will be only slogans and Kellyanne-style “whataboutisms” and, if those don’t silence the unwanted sound of information coming their way – insults designed to intimidate or subtly threaten the speaker for not being on the right team, and never mind the details. Wrong team.

What there will never be is an admission that anything Trump ever said or did was wrong or misguided or illegal. Or, if he did make a slight error in judgment, what about Hillary and her emails? What about the murder of Seth Rich by the DNC? And other assorted distracting falsehoods and irrelevancies (oft-repeated to gain that veneer of truthiness).

What supporters of Trump ask of us is that we deny the reality of our senses – that we not believe our eyes and ears. Reality is not the foundation on which their arguments are made – it is the prize to be won by making them. Everything Trump announces about himself on a regular basis – that he is a sexual predator, a misogynist, a narcissist, a bigot, a fraud, a serial liar, a criminal and a cheat – none of these facts can be relevant or even true. They cannot. Because if they were, Trump supporters would be backing a man with no moral authority whatsoever. They would be backing a fraud.

So to Trump supporters, Trump’s not a sexual predator – CNN doctored that tape. He’s not a misogynist – (insert woman’s name) is lying (or she had it coming). He did not make fun of that disabled reporter, even though it’s on tape. He’s not a bigot – Mexicans really are mostly rapists and drug dealers and “maybe a few good people too”, and Muslims are dangerous and need watching anyway. He’s not a cheat – all those contractors who say they got stiffed are lying. The hundreds of lawsuits? Sore losers. And the massive protests? Protesters are all actors being paid by George Soros and the DNC.

Eventually, Trump will have never gotten draft deferments, will never have had five kids from three different wives whom he serially cheated on, will never have called Mexicans rapists, will never have mused about having sex with his own daughter. And he will never have called the press “the enemy of the American people” – once he controls the press.

At that point, the matter will be settled. Two and two will make five. Forever.

***

 

Resist

Let me be crystal sparkling clear:

I have little use for partisan bickering and the “team sports” of American politics. My observations on the impending destruction of this democratic republic are not “whining” by the losing team (I’m not a Democrat). I have no personal issue with modern Republicans, only my profound disagreement with their Ayn Rand-inspired policies (that particular Russian hypocrite once praised a serial killer’s “strength of will,” you know, but ended up living on Social Security). I also find the lack of civility many in the GOP demonstrate in the political arena to be tawdry, immature, and a barrier to progress (and this goes for some Democrats too).

What I am now radicalized to fight against—yes, fight—is not “Republicans” but the white nationalist insurgency that hijacked that damaged and fractious political party in order to install a neophyte authoritarian narcissist bigot in the White House. What I am against is this same group’s acceptance—even encouragement—of a hostile foreign power inserting itself into what is supposed to be a free and fair democratic election. No matter Putin’s exact level of involvement or success, the mere fact of this blatant incursion by a global adversary, a former totalitarian state (and now a plutocracy/kleptocracy) run by an ex-KGB dictator who despises Western democracy—my God, this should be a blaring siren to highly placed officials who are entrusted to protect this society from those who seek to damage or co-opt it. But what do these incoming “leaders” and their admirers in Congress do instead? They dismiss the facts, they obfuscate, they lie, they deny, and they wait.

They are waiting for the last honorable person to leave Washington in disgust—to leave the keys of the capital city’s vault of treasures unguarded and all of us peasants unprotected by the rule of law.

What I also deplore is the normalization of bigotry, patriarchal misogyny, hate-based polices, and plutocracy run amok.

My position has nothing to do with “politics” and everything to do with fairness, freedom, truth, and honor. All of these principles are on the table now, because just enough Americans (nowhere near a majority or even a plurality, but enough) voted against them in November.

I just want to be honest about this. Clear lines are now drawn, and they have nothing to do with politics, personalities or political parties. I don’t want rebuttals or explanations or anything else from those who support lies, dishonor and infamy. I don’t want to hear from tiresome relativist cynics and closet anarchists about how politicians are “all the same” or “there’s nothing anyone can do” or any such self-deluding “I know the secret truth about the world” nonsense. I read widely and a lot, so I’ve heard it. Whatever a Sophist might say, the facts have emerged and are clearly plain to see. They are staring us in the face, with a sick and twisted grimace that openly mocks the good that’s left in this world. We see it because for now, large portions of our free press are still free, and still working. It will be a free press that helps us find our way—or at least those of us who value that freedom. And all the others.

Hate is for Haters

I don’t hate anyone. I’ll leave that to Trump supporters screaming “BUILD THAT WALL!” and “LOCK HER UP!” Notice I didn’t say Trump, but Trump supporters. As they are now learning (perhaps – it’s not a habit for them), none of that is going to happen. They were conned, in one of the most elaborate yet also one of the most simplistic cons in history. According to Trump himself and his closest aides:

  • There will be no wall.
  • Trump: “The Clintons are good people.” So no, she won’t be locked up. I mean, on what charge?
  • “Criminal” (felonious) aliens MAY be deported. But that’s already standing policy. We’ll see if they dedicate the resources.
  • Trump: “Marriage equality is the law of the land, we can’t change that.”
  • Trump’s transition team is chock full of Washington insiders, GOP establishment figures, lobbyists, and other assorted “elites”. Call it revenge of the swamp creatures.

And so on. Sometimes, though, it takes a simpleton to know a simpleton. Trump may be ignorant (he has said himself that he has never read history), but he’s smart in a way that your standard con man is smart – he “knows people”, he says, and he really does. He knows what motivates the least thoughtful of people – hatred and a desire for revenge against those who have “kept them down.” It’s the populist answer to the problems of the poor since the advent of populism: Someone is grabbing all the money you deserve. There can be no other (complex) answer.

As Trump himself famously said, channeling P.T. Barnum: “I love the poorly educated.”

I saw it early on, but the press seems to have missed it. Trump’s campaign was a WWE match writ large, a massive long-term pre-bout trash talk. Say anything! Say you’re going to kill your opponent, mash them into dust! Because The Undertaker is evil, folks, he’s evil! He wants to eat your puppies, I tell you, I know this! And so on. So used to getting riled up about Steve Austin or Dandy Dan or whoever, these same crowds were ripe to explode in a mushroom cloud of hate for….for who? Who do we hate, Donald? Who’s doing this to us?

Donald had two answers, both deftly crafted to lay his path to victory: 1 – Hate the elites. They’re keeping you down. They’re stealing all the money, they rig all the elections – they are making fools of you. To this end, he made a tool of the press corps by “caging” them at his events, then directing the crowd to spew their hatred at these fancy-pants elitists with their nice clothes and expensive haircuts. And 2 – who is the most elite of the elites? Hillary Clinton, of course. She can commit crimes at will – she murdered Vince Foster after all! – and she walks away Scott free. Just like Bill and his serial sexual assaults (note: none proven). She sold out the brave Americans at Benghazi – it’s in the emails! – but you won’t see her prosecuted, because the whole system is rigged.

Donald could not have been more surprised – and elated – when FBI director James Comey swept in during the last week of the election and raised the specter of “treasonous emails” once again, mere days before the election, in violation of Justice Department policy not to tilt the election with hearsay or conjecture (and possibly in violation of the Hatch Act – but law is relative now, as the Senate showed us by ignoring its duty under the Constitution to hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee).  But the real clincher came on election eve, when Comey again violated the protocols of his office and said that – whoops – those emails are OK, they don’t implicate Clinton after all. Never mind.

Could Trump have asked for a more spot-on indictment of the “rigged” system and the untouchable elites? Trump was quick to exploit this news, asking his now-rabid crowds (who were anticipating “the steal”) “how could they have possibly gone through 650,000 emails in a few days? Rigged, folks, all rigged.”

Of course, modern computing resources can search 650,000 emails for numerous sets of keywords (such as “Hillary Clinton”) in minutes, even seconds. But of course Trump supporters in Appalachia (and Western Nebraska) don’t know that, don’t understand that. But Trump knew all too well what these people don’t understand.

I’ll leave a smaller but significant portion of the hatred to anarchists and extremist faux liberals, who also got caught up in the baseless anti-Hillary, anti “rigged establishment” hysteria, people like Susan Sarandon and assorted Bernie Sanders fanatics dripping with white privilege – some of these being former Facebook “friends” of mine. They at least should have the critical thinking skills necessary to put 2 and 2 together to get 4. To wit: if the system was rigged by the “crooked” Bernie-hating DNC, why didn’t Hillary win?

I did not unfriend the haters  because I hate them, or even dislike them. As I said, I’m unfamiliar with hate as an emotion. I’m like Spock on that one. I understand myself, and therefore I know that to hate them is to hate something in me, not in them – motivations of baseless hate are due to some deficiency of empathy, a kind of personality disorder – an inability to see the world through the eyes of those fellow humans considered “others” – not “one of us” (and probably born in Kenya – that birth certificate is phony).

I unfriended them  for the simple reason that I am no friend to haters, and it’s better to be honest about that. I have nothing in common with these people. I don’t base judgments on hate, and I’m not a fanatic blind to facts that don’t fit my preconceived, hate-based agenda. I have to believe they would not want me as a friend either, because I won’t – I will never – just “accept” the fact that the voters of this country put a self-avowed sexual predator in the White House.  A man who cheated on each wife with the next one, who has said it’s time to “trade up” when a wife hits age 35. A man who defrauded the ignorant at “Trump University”,  who cheats his business partners, who stiffs his contractors, and who brags about all of it. A man who mocks the disabled, who got angry at a baby, who is obsessed with demeaning women while simultaneously horrified at their bodily fluids (or their “whatever”).

They elected to lead them a man with no honor, no compassion, no empathy – a man who is no man at all.

I’ve been thinking of my father. He was not from privilege, he was a child of immigrants’ children, one of nine.  His parents had accents. Like all of us, my dad had his faults. But he also had honor, and grit, and perseverance. There was no money for college, so he worked hard and got an appointment to West Point. He graduated (most drop out) and was soon serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he watched his classmates die in a war he had no stake in. But it wasn’t about him. It was about something higher, a higher honor he had dedicated his life to preserving. It was about the motto of West Point – “Duty. Honor. Country.”

My father did not teach me that much – I’m sure he figured I’d be tougher after sorting  life out on my own, making my mistakes. And I’ve made plenty. But I remember one thing he taught me: that honor is worth preserving. That a man with no honor is not a man at all. That the only ones less deserving of consideration than a dishonorable man are those who would blindly follow him.

So I know I’m a Facebook nobody (now even more so) and I like it fine that way. I have no brand to build, and ironically, perhaps, some of my best friends want nothing to do with Facebook for reasons I’m understanding more each day. I don’t “count” friends, I count “on” them. Would I ever count on someone who based their most precious instrument in this democracy – their vote – on hatred or a desire for witless anarchy? No. Do I want anything to do with them? No. I do not wish them ill – I do not want to think of them at all.

Secular Trinity

You live, and you grow, and you change. At some point you realize you’re an adult (for me, around age 25). You feel at that point you are not going to change anymore, although it still remains difficult to imagine yourself as middle-aged (and forget about “old”).

You feel “done” maturing, as if at 25 (or whenever) you will simply lock into place and be the “you” that you are now for the rest of your life.

There’s some anecdotal truths around this. For example, artistic tastes. I believe they tend to form as part of childhood and adolescence, and of course one’s taste matures and is refined by experience. But at some point, usually late adolescence, you have kind of “decided” what kind of art, music, film, philosophy, etc., that you “like” or identify with, and this gets rather chiseled in stone for many people. This is why, for example, Journey and Foreigner are still touring.

(Artists are an exception. They are always looking for the new. But given enough time, even they may lose their taste for the now.)

We’re amazed at how richly detailed our childhood memories are, our adolescent and post-adolescent memories. The time between age 6 and 21 seems a lifetime in itself, a kaleidoscope of change, when recollected at age 50. But the time after that, and all the way up to the present, seems a fleeting moment, punctuated by memories of only the most obvious junctures of change (career start, marriage, children, deaths of relatives, new job, big vacation, etc.). Personally, I can barely remember anything that happened between age 25 and 35, but I have a huge catalog of incredibly distinct memories from childhood and adolescence.

Science now has good evidence that there is a reason we have such vivid memories of childhood and adolescence—our brains are wired to create more permanent memories during these years. It would seem to go hand in hand with our greater ability to learn at a younger age.

And, as science has also proven, as you get older time does literally move faster. At least from the individual’s perspective. Gyp!

I’ve also noticed that physical aging is not a steady degrading of one’s appearance from “youthful” to “codger.” It’s a process with fits and starts. Nature, in her wisdom, seems to be most “interested” in us between the ages of 12 and 40. This makes perfect evolutionary sense if you think about it. And so, I don’t know if it’s by design or just a function of human aging, but it seems I did not age at all, physically, between age 20 and 40. I remember, when I was about 31, I walked into my first college class as an instructor. Some of the students laughed, and as I took my spot at the podium and smiled at them, some of them told me to quit fooling around and get a seat before the instructor arrived. I looked about the same as I did at 18. They ended up being a good class. (And that’s another thing – youth relates to youth. It’s not fair. A lot of things aren’t.)

Why this variability in physical aging, memory creation, and perception of time? I believe it’s because Nature has great use for us between the ages of 12 and 40 – to create and raise the next generation. I’m not saying that’s anyone’s “duty” by a long shot. Every life is valid. I mean that that is our usefulness to Nature, which is insistent that life will succeed, and indifferent to what happens after we help in that task. It is our “golden” time, the time when we are most vital, most animated, and most attractive. It’s all useful to be thus, in terms of evolutionary success. And when we get past that period, we are, I’m afraid, no longer so useful to Nature. We are free to stick around, perhaps to advise, but we’re largely relegated to being observers in the continuous cycle, the generational game that is center stage.

And then, when we aren’t looking, the fun begins.

There used to be an old joke about how when Dick Clark reached age 75 he was going to age all at once. Yeah, he was youthful for a long time. But then he wasn’t. And many are, as I was, slow to age. But to quote my old bud Robert Frost: Nothing gold can stay. Time is, as they say, the great destroyer. Or, if you’re a Jim Morrison fan: No one here gets out alive.

So now I do age. My face is fatter, my hair is thinner and coarser and grayer. My middle is more of me. My skin was perfect, now I’ve got more “character” in my face. I have a crown on what used to be a molar. I’m allergic to everything. My eyes are less bright and can’t see menus in dim restaurants. My body is, in general, less cooperative than it used to be. And I’ll be honest, it gets to me sometimes. All things being equal, it’s better to be young, healthy and beautiful. Right? Sure.

But all things are not equal.

Lately, I have felt a very odd transformation occurring. I can only describe it as being less “me” and more “us”. For my entire life, and largely based on my lifestyle, I’ve been a loner, even an outcast. It was always “me” and “everyone else.” It felt right, it felt safe and contained, and my personal philosophy had a lot to do with the idea of the “sovereign individual,” beholden to no one, bowing to no creed and no nation. I was (and am) a devotee of that famous iconoclast William Blake’s iconic statement: “I must create my own system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.”

That’s changed, at least in part. I would like to say it changed the day I married, but that would be dishonest. I was 28, still in Nature’s grip. I was not done figuring out who and why I am. I had a long way to go, and perhaps that was mutual. I suspect it was, and that’s fine. Nothing important is easy, nothing valuable happens in a moment (well, a couple of things). Building a life – an identity – I find it’s a lifelong process. And once I had decided upon my identity, way back then, it felt sound, but now it has shifted again.

Marriage is complicated, as the divorce and single-parent statistics attest. It’s not always worth it. And, most of all, the future – and our future selves – cannot be predicted, they will come to pass as they do, not as we will them to. So some fail. Marriage is a planned sacrifice of sorts, a giving up (eventually, if the union is successful) of a part of oneself, in order to accept being part of another self. I didn’t really understand this when our drunk minister, Reverend Fred, said the words in October 1990, that we were now “one.” I thought I did, but I didn’t.

Now I do. And not only do I feel I am truly not one person anymore, I’m not even limited to being two people. I can look at my daughter now, hear her words, witness her mature identity growing, and it grows like the acorn into a replica of the old oak. Really. She is a true part of the “us” that we are now, and there’s no competition regarding whom she is “more” like, because in a rather profound way we all seem to be the same person. Of course we are physically independent beings, with as much free will as anyone may have (or think they have). We have our own likes and dislikes, etc. But we do not go it alone, not at all. We are “in it” together, the “it” being life. We share it, as I have never before understood sharing.

No, it’s not readily explained.

But I know this: I’m no longer me, and it’s no longer me against the world. I’m us, and we’re us. And we are a world, within a world. And it feels better than anything I’ve ever felt before.