Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#2)


Poor Hillary. She has had, doubtless, a number of shocks in her life, though the ones I would catalogue might be different from her own list. But losing to Donald Trump! Jill Stein getting so many lefty votes! The Russians! All the African Americans who stayed at home! Etc! No Lurleen Wallace, she. A bit too much of noblesse oblige at work. Oh, to be hated by so many. It could have been averted, but her Brooklyn boys were far too boyish and she ran a lousy campaign. Where to begin? Everyone has their own list.

It was clear to me by October of the election year that she would likely lose, though I continued to hope despite the evidence of my own eyes. I had an old, old friend who was on his last legs in Pennsylvania whom I visited a number of times that Fall. Driving through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania is sobering in the best of times, but it was clear those three states would not be voting for Hillary. I worried, too, about Wisconsin, given its futile fights with the terrible governor, the college dropout, Mr. I Won the Recall!, the wise young man of the Republican party, who knew something about nothing. And Michigan seemed hollowed out, tap water full of lead, empty lots, poverty, damaged businesses of the old sort, manufacturing, cars, etc. And that was after eight years of a Democratic president. Did Hillary ever go to Michigan? I’d have to look it up. She did come to South Bend, when she first ran eight years earlier, against Barack, the Great Black Hope. I stood three feet from her, but didn’t introduce myself. (“Hey, I wrote a book about you!”) But, in 2008, she seemed more...distant, slightly stunned to be in a minor league baseball field in Indiana. She did go to Mishawaka, a neighboring (white) town in '16, in May, when she also went to Michigan! (I looked it up).

Other than the always nettlesome Bernie and his boys she had a certain path to the nomination. What deal had she made with Barack? I suppose it had to do with money, since both the Clintons and the Obamas seem so interested in it. Donald Trump turned out to be the two-edged sword: obviously beatable, though as famous as Hillary. Her Brooklyn crowd, and more so the heartland version of Hillary supporters, actually didn’t know that much about The Donald. Clowns only require so much thought. But, the inverse was not true. America’s bottom feeders of whatever geographical location knew a lot about Hillary, all bad, and so did the rest of the demographic ladder. TV has a lot of effects, though the one-of-the-crowd aspect really made Trump seem, well, all too familiar.

The evangelicals had a history with the fallen, the TV preachers, especially. Televangelist, is the coinage. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker, that lovely couple. The list continues. Today’s crop a bit less gaudy. Donald Trump fell into that category. The Religious Right is all for redemption, the celebrants crazy as they are. Say Mike Pence. I, more than other commentators, have always favored vice presidents’ influence on campaigns. They do help. The counter examples (Dan Quayle) usually just point out the weaknesses of the opposing presidential candidate. See Michael Dukakis. In any case, Pence is his zombie way added his celestial, other worldly, help to the thoroughly damnable Trump.

But even I, me, would have never predicted the denouement taking place. Covid-19. Never, never, never. Though the disease swamping the world does have a Biblical ring: Plague, damnation, etc. Sunny warm days, full ICUs, the Southwest teeming with contagion. Not quite apocalyptic, but close, closer.

Gun sales, it is reported, are increasing. Some percentage of the population is planning for things getting worse. Trump is still trying to get rid of “Obamacare”, wanting to extinguish its name, if nothing else. Though it is hard to tell the difference, Trump does appear more addled than usual. I found it curious his admission (if true, hardly a given) that he had never slept overnight in Washington, DC, till he was elected President. Memories of his shallow life seem to be haunting him. His AG, William Barr, came out to Notre Dame last year and spouted Eighth-grade theology in a speech to a restricted audience at the law school – Notre Dame, where the Catholic Church does its thinking. Barr, too, seems to have regressed, gone back to his younger days, before he became Trump’s tool. Barr shares with Mary Gordon the odd fact that his father was born Jewish, but jumped the Ark, became a Catholic, and a creature as far right wing as one could, also blessed with the same dollop of craziness he shared with Gordon’s dad. Both married cradle Catholics. Sins of fathers aren’t necessarily embraced by their offspring, but some traits do seem to get passed down with a too frequent regularity. Coincidentally, all three of us, Gordon, Barr, myself, were wandering around the same few upper-west-side blocks back in the late ‘60s, though we never met back then, attending Columbia and Barnard.

Death and disease and the old men of Washington, DC, have taken up a lot of the news. Long in the tooth was the dominant image in ‘16, now again in ‘20. Including the titular Democrat nominee, Joe Biden. If only he could stay in the basement till after the election. The turnabout that so suddenly happened – after it appeared that Bernie would actually capture the nomination – astounded me then and astounds me now. Its swiftness and finality, its one two three. My personal favorites, Amy and Pete, turned on a dime and Black Voters Matter worked its will.

Hard to believe that happened the end of February, right before the world changed. Super Tuesday came next and it was a sweep for Biden, more or less, after every Democrat except the Bernie Bros threw their weight for the former veep.

Bernie gone. It happened overnight, so to speak. And then History stopped and the new virus took over. At least current history as it used to be known, reported. The mass media became truly the mass media. Reporters, commentators, politicians, etc., sitting in their homes in front of their computers, laptops, whatever, Dell, Apple, and Microsoft sell and the Chinese make, giving opinions, reports, in mildly irritating visuals, garbled language transmission, amateur hour all around. Bookcases galore, some “authors” featuring their latest publication face front out. A lot of the upper-middle-class-favored decor on display. As noted before, three months seems to be the limit on restricted behavior. We are seasonal animals. George Floyd let the doors open and spilling out on the streets became the new norm. Weirdly, it gave the government(s) cover to do the same: let my people go, sort of.

Rallies of various sorts continue: Floyd’s death blossoming into a thousand flowers, giving people the semi-sanctioned excuses to come out during the night and day. Similar previous killings have been unearthed. And July 4th is on the way. The Covid-19 contagion continues, “spiking” here and there – befitting plagues the vocabulary used is often medieval. The two great American scourges – a medical one, and a long-nurtured one, racism – continue to be on parade and it is not so strange at this stage of history they have become yoked.

[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#1)


As Dickens might have said, you have to be 74 and retired to be fully amazed by the paradoxical Corona virus world. To be among the high-risk group and to be minimally affected, at least in ways that matter. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

My life certainly has been affected, both in superficial and fundamental ways. Yet I do what I have been doing. What has been stripped away is mostly the serendipitous, the new, the throng one never gave much thought to, those people semi-known, the well-known, the unknown.

When I was in my twenties and lived in New York City I was often surprised by how alone one could be in such a highly and densely populated city. This, most obviously, was at night, late at night, largely before dawn. Walking down Fifth Avenue at two in the morning, being on the Brooklyn Promenade viewing the Bridge by oneself after midnight. The streets that could be so crowded, were often empty in many a neighborhood.

As a kid I was always struck by the easy opposites: full, empty, high, low, etc. I considered myself an introvert and was never bothered by being alone, since that was a common condition for me, though I often overcame it, and as I aged I certainly pursued women when I could. When in my early twenties, that avocation only became a busy one after I acquired some notoriety. If you intend to write, you’d better being equipped with the ability to be alone. I certainly had that ability.

But, at 74, after what some would consider a “full” life, it comes as a shock to have it all pulled out from under you, the proverbial rug swept away, by, bats, rats, whatever vile delicacies you can eat, buy, at a Chinese wet market.

One would have thought – this one, at least – that you may have not seen everything, but enough at my age. Certainly, you wouldn’t think that after three-quarters of a century you and the rest of the world would have a new experience, a pandemic affecting the entire globe, taking place almost all at once, the speed of light practically, or by flight, airlines linking the cities of the globe, in mere months.

I write fiction, but I tend toward realism, so the fantasy and science fiction world may have put such a circumstance forward, and movies may have foretold such calamities, but I had never contemplated actually experiencing it. Nor given it much thought at all. Though, doubtless, some, many, have, evidently. I’ve contemplated nuclear war, though, thankfully, never experienced it. All sorts of things. But not a global pandemic visited upon everyone in such a short time.

The ironies pile up: when we reached the nadir in our national politics – President Trump! The Clown in Chief! – we get to experience something brand new (in its rapid spread), a hybrid virus, animal to human, with a multiplicity of effects, affecting many, all, millions.

But, if you are in, say, a quiet place, a small Midwestern town, the strangeness doubles. Big cities are always strange, new, chaotic, rituals disrupted daily. But after three months, where everything has slowly shut down – and now, even after the so-called “phased” reopening – this town still hesitates and, with the largest employer, the University of Notre Dame, still shut now, during the summer, now upon us, remains eerily quiet. The atmosphere is not so much the one found in the Matt Damon movie, “Contagion” (2011), directed by Steven Soderbergh, but an older film, the 1959 black and white “On the Beach,” directed by, who else?, Stanley Kramer. For the hinterlands that movie captures the mood more accurately than “Contagion”: San Francisco’s empty streets, the way the invisible "fallout" spreads around the globe, invisible, capricious, etc.

Partly, it has to do with just such movement, the regions affected. There hasn’t been a true pandemic in America for a century, and, certainly, nothing like this one in my lifetime, the swiftness of its spread. “On the Beach” posits a dying world without much destruction of property, and it came before the general knowledge of the neutron bomb. The flow of air around the world dictates the victims. Again, the cast, besides being filled with stars, is a group of the mainly educated, worldly types. The mood is discussion and despair, masked with attempts at coping with the inevitable. "Contagion" is riots, mayhem, finally success. There is no success in “On the Beach.” (Kramer wasn’t “into” happy endings.) That matches the more pessimistic view of the current situation: No cure, more to die.

Death seems to be the governing metaphor for our pandemic, along with the attendant social injustice. The death of jobs, the death of social life, the death of the poor, the disenfranchised. We have the Charlie Chaplin figure in the White House, playing any number of slapstick roles that Chaplin became famous for: “The Great Dictator,” in particular. Trump has managed to atomize the country, more so that it had been in the late 20th century. Obama brought it together for a brief period, somewhat, but Trump became the trigger for, once again, blowing apart the world Obama – or at least his true believers – hoped would come about.

The one percent, the most comprehensive phrase of the last ten years, has profited from atomization, pitting, as it does, the one against the many, making solitary individuals the winner, in this case, a relatively few individuals. Well, the ninety-nine percent soldiers, so to speak, on. But it remains a numbers game. One of the many contrarian effects of the pandemic is that so many citizens have abided by the new “rules”, aping each other's behavior, when they can and many have. One for all, all for one, so to speak. But there is a limit and three months seems to be it.

People were on the streets, at least in Minneapolis. Not everyone was sheltering in place, only the compliant, the old, professionals working from home, retirees, the middle and upper-middle class. And certainly not the police. The authorities could dispatch four officers to a down-at-the-heels neighborhood store to check on a reported malfeasance. A counterfeit bill. I was once in a Kansas City, Mo. Panera (a long story) and a woman, a slight so-called African-American (how many generations could she be from Africa? Obama was, is, only one: the formerly downtrodden are often stuck with the hyphen. When was the last time you heard Anglo-American used?), was attempting to pay for her lunch with a twenty dollar bill, apparently a fake, and the clerk, a white woman, ancestral derivation unclear, objected. The patron was short, thin, oddly dressed, insofar as some sort of elegance had been achieved, but everything seemed threadbare, not quite right. There was some repartee about the bill and the woman retrieved it, leaving the meal behind, sauntering out retaining as much joie de vivre as the encounter allowed. I, the somewhat Irish American at a nearby table, eating my sad lunch, observed the playlet. The clerk rolled her eyes, and said something to a coworker, and the lunch crowd never stopped eating.

But, in Minneapolis, the teenage clerk at its corner store, hailing from some other ethnic group, called the police, but only after the six-foot-six male customer had departed with the purchased cigarettes. And that clerk had taken the bogus bill and had not objected, given the size of the person who gave it to him. George Floyd didn’t go far. He was lingering outside the corner store, smoking doubtless. Minneapolis never sleeps, obviously, or has an abundance of law enforcement, since they sent four officers to the scene. And since there were people going to and fro (three months of quarantine having sprung leaks) and equipped as they were with the newer phones, with cameras better than the ones that went up with the earliest satellites, caught the denouement, the last nine minutes or so. The world got to see one of the last shows of the now canceled COPS, the snuff film version. The weird look of Officer Chauvin (nomen est omen, Officer Chauvinistic) peering at the onlookers with George Floyd passed out under the cop’s knee to neck.

Speaking of knee to neck, we’ll turn to The Donald, our president. Nothing about him has been a surprise. More was known about Trump’s personal life, public life, than any other previous commander in chief. The Right Wing had tried to make Bill Clinton’s personal life known wide and far before he was elected, but those revelations paled compared to what those paying attention knew about Trump. He strove to be a public figure all his life. The more notoriety the better. Tabloids obliged over the decades. The American electorate is more than fickle – it is hugely ignorant, or, more gently, not over educated when it comes to picking its national (or even local) leaders. It prefers to forget. Let bygones be bygones. There’s always the over informed minority, which is a category I sometimes occupy. Americans are good at what I have called “remembering to forget.” It has helped the country move along over a couple of centuries.

Since his election Trump has had his knee on the neck of the government, and it, at least all the GOP has obliged. The Imperial Presidency was denounced during the late Nixon years (recall the guards’ ridiculous Gilbert & Sullivan uniforms), but in our present time it is clear that the Senate runs the world. So we have the epicene Kentuckian running our political world, enhanced by his dominatrix-seeming spouse. I suppose, over time, the three branches of our government are a shell game, each branch having its way for some period of time. The Senate, though, given Obama’s sorry lack of experience and fight, has been in control for a while.

Nonetheless, the pandemic was a gift horse that Trump looked in the mouth for too long a time. It was a gift. It could have been his redemption, of a minor sort. Something he didn’t start, bring about, a world event he would be swept up into, the Wizard of Oz’s tornado, Dorothy in the sky. But, Trump doesn’t change, has no instinct for salvation. He does what he does, mainly fail, all those bankruptcies trailing behind him. So he continued to botch and bluster. And we are where we are.

[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trump's Terrible Transparency

I write this on the eve of the Senate's "trial" of impeached-for-life President Trump. Some may quibble about how transparent Trump is, but if he has a secret life (other than keeping his own secrets), it’s hard to picture it being opposite of the one he promiscuously reveals to the public. That he really is an anonymous philanthropist, a monkish esthete, a gourmand, a collector of Renaissance art.

Trump is beginning to rival Bill Clinton’s bibliographic record, that is, books written about him by the end of his first term. I still think Clinton is ahead in the count, given that Hillary also had a slew of attack books written about her: Melania, far fewer. Trump shares with his fellow impeached colleague, Bill Clinton, a large cohort of detractors. At this point in history, it is hard for younger citizens to grasp the enmity Bubba inspired among Republicans. His service as governor of Arkansas did give him a head start in enemy book writers. Other than losing his lawyer legal status, being impeached didn’t seem to slow Clinton down. And since Hillary ran for president herself, more books continued to appear. Can’t see that happening with Trump, even considering the remote possibility of one of his brood running for office.

The Starr Report lifted the veil on some of what went on with Clinton in his “private” life; but his public life was conducted in a more or less traditional way. He said what was expected. One of his most famous, quotable lines, though, came about where the public and private crossed: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

But, my point is that Trump’s public life is rife with transparency, even more so than his private life. Trump’s public pronouncements are often quotable, more for their shock value, rather than for their rhetoric. Take the subject of oil. Trump likes oil. Trump orated, “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” when discussing pulling out our troops from Syria, leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves. It’s not likely Trump has read much history on the subject, but he was giving new meaning to Clemenceau’s remark, “A drop of oil is worth a drop of blood.” Meaning, in Trump world, he’s all for it. More drops the better! Most presidents, especially in the modern era, spend a lot of time denying that’s why we're so ready to shed blood in the Middle East, especially the Bushes, oil men at heart. But not Trump. He’ll call a spade a spade. And he does that often in his reckless confessional tweets and pre-helicopter-boarding press availability rants.

That’s one reason, if not the primary reason, why he won the 2016 election. His lies and hypocrisies are veined with unpleasant truths now and then. It seems like a type of Tourettes, Trump blurting out the truth uncontrollably. Supporters are often forced to raise the ignorance defense on Trump’s behalf. In that regard there is no bottom.

Take what he is impeached for. That call to the Ukraine president. As Trump himself points out, many people were listening in on the call. Nonetheless, he barges ahead, asking President Zelensky to do him a favor, to investigate the Bidens, in order to get the money, weapons, etc. In many ways it was a surreal event, one television star talking to another television star. I was against impeaching Trump, seeing it as a distraction Trump could mine before the upcoming election. But, as it’s said, Trump forced the House’s hand. It couldn’t let the Zelensky matter slide by, as so much already had.

Ukraine, in many ways, is both a comic and tragic nation. After it declared its independence in the early 90s and the Soviet Union fell apart, attempts were made to erase Russian as the dominant language of the cities (most Ukrainians were bilingual) and replace it with Ukranian. That played havoc with various government documents, manuals, etc. Kiev was a hotspot of real estate speculation and many American corporations, including unions, rushed there to buy up lavish apartments in historic buildings. A new currency was introduced, though none of its coins fit the reliable public transportation system, so the trolley rides were declared free. Many grim ups and downs followed. So much so they needed a television star to become president.

A lot like home, I suppose, though coins and language weren’t our big problems. What happened here was the opacity and fecklessness of our government, but in a different way. Obama’s eight years showed little overall improvement, except for the naming and rule of the 1%. Nothing much changed, except for preexisting conditions. Our last two Democratic presidents who served eight years got stuck on the shoals of health care immediately out of the gate (or dock, or harbor). Given Medicare for All, they seem to want to do that again. Start off with a terrible fight, one that Obama himself only partly won (the quickly jettisoned Public Option), even though early on he was battling with a Democratic Congress. After the first mid-term elections he no longer had that and the rest, as they say, is history.

Trump voters, other than die-hard Republicans, were, say, charmed by his bull in the china shop approach. They wanted the cardboard facades of propriety torn down, looked for the ugly truth exposed, and it was. What they didn’t count on was that the destruction wouldn’t stop and would only get worse. That wan hope that Trump would become more presidential disappeared quickly, though this week’s pious Senators’ swearing to impartiality by Chief Justice Roberts for the impeachment special shows the cardboard facade is still intact.

The drone killing of Soleimani was the latest example. First, what passes for the new Washington establishment, the Tea Partiers Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pompeo, try to give it a bogus legal foundation, the odor of propriety: the imminent danger, etc. When that doesn’t hold up, Trump says it doesn’t matter. Most of his voters think killing bad guys is the way to go. And no one I heard, when Trump was threatening Iran if they retaliated, saying the response would be very fast and any war would be quickly over, he was actually implying the use of nuclear weapons, something Trump continues to flirt with. He would like to add that as a first to his many firsts, the first to use such a weapon since WWII. Cultural sites? Who cares about them? Many of his voters agree. It’s refreshing for them to have someone in power who shares their dark desires. Kill whomever. Bomb whatever.

The long simmering scheme to tar the Bidens with Ukraine’s help has succeeded beyond Trump’s own half-assed dreams. If his plan had worked, with the 3 Stooges, or Marx brothers, help of Giuliani, Lev Parnas, the Fox lawyers team, we would have held the momentary spectacle of television star Zelensky announcing the “investigation” in Kyiv (it took nearly 15 years for them to change the transliteration spelling in the US to a Ukrainian version), then silence would have descended until and unless Biden became the Democratic nominee. The effect would have been minimal. Instead, there has been months of coverage, daily hammering away, the Biden mess spread everywhere and to everybody. Hunter the hunted, now haunted.

Trump does not have the innocent naivete of Jerzy Kosinski’s Chance character in Being There, the book and movie. Of all Trump’s lacks, naivete is not one of them. He, too, is a television era creation; he and the medium grew up simultaneously. As he loses his mind growing older, television/cable is more equipped to fill it with endless follies. His knowledge and conversation is spiked with scrambled information he gathers from his television and his “confidants”. He makes little effort to be independently informed.

Hillary Clinton lost in the states she needed largely because of the-not-bothering-to-vote crowd, Bernie Bros and others soured on Hillary, who might have cast a ballot, but left the choice for president blank, Obama supporters who couldn’t drag themselves to the polls for the old white lady who called them predators, along with the happy nihilists who decided to throw the dice and vote for the china-shop destroyer.

It’s always hard to imagine Trump as a fellow who came of age in the 1960s, as so many of us have. He was a premature suit, his father’s protégée, not a fringe wearing hippie, or beatnik, or any sort of counterculture product. He trusted people over thirty, especially Roy Cohn. Alas, our generation, those of us who were such products, have received their fatal comeuppance. Imagine, now that we’re in the Raging ’20s, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, any number of ’60s figures in the White House now – Donald Trump, the twisted hybrid of Yippie and Yuppie, has outdone them all.

Monday, July 1, 2019

To Impeach or Not to Impeach

Both modern 20th century presidential impeachments, Bill Clinton’s and Richard Nixon’s, one enacted, the other nipped in the bud by resignation, happened in each of the president’s second term. This is not a small matter. The problem with the Trump impeachment quandary is that this push for impeachment comes on the heels of his election, midway in his first term, thereby thwarting the recently expressed will of the people (or the will of the electoral college.)

This fact, though given short shrift most everywhere, including by Leader Pelosi, provides some lame substance to the president and his supporters' rhetoric of the Democrats wanting to stage a coup, to seek revenge for an election they should have won, etc. Though, for complicated reasons, the second term presidents, Clinton and Nixon, didn’t seem to be newly elevated figures ripe for political defenestration. Nixon, one needs to recall, had actually won his second term by a landslide, an electoral college one, in any case. Clinton, too, had won comfortably. But after serving five years or so both presidents had acquired a shop-worn aspect. Their failings had accumulated and their occupation of the White House had reached a tipping point.

Trump presents different, but not entirely foreign, similarities. One curious, but often overlooked aspect of Bill Clinton’s initial election, was how revealed his life had become. His campaign was shot through with publicized scandals, like Trump, mostly involving women and Bubba's randy ways. Indeed, Trump continues to get a pass on his abuse of women because of Bill Clinton's legacy. And there was, in addition, his avoidance, like Trump, of the Vietnam era draft. Before Clinton won his presidency, and shortly after, there had been many attack books published about him, more, by my count, than any previous contemporary president. In Nixon’s case, his long checkered career had already exposed him to the voters as a flawed vessel, and most of his faults would become more extreme after he was elected the second time. Nixon, as he once claimed, had been kicked around.

Ditto Trump. He likes to brag about how “transparent” he is and in any number of ways that is true. It is unavoidable, like Clinton and Nixon, for voters who were paying attention, to claim that these men were pigs in a poke. Trump looked impeachable before he was elected. And, for so-called low information voters, testy swing voters, those who want to throw the bums out, none of it seemed to matter.

The 2018 election was in its way an impeachment of Donald Trump. The Republicans forfeited congressional seats that surprised even them. The breakdown of voters by sex and race showed which voters Trump lost, or, finally, had second thoughts about who they may or may not have voted for in 2016. Buyer’s remorse was at work.

The shock was that the election didn’t seem to matter. Democrats won the House, but it was quickly made clear that the victory was gelded. With all the current worries about the Imperial Presidency it became obvious that the Senate held the most power, especially when Trump managed to finally find a sycophant Attorney General who actually had a demonstrable intelligence. William Barr, corralling the Department of Justice to be an adjunct of the White House and, coupled with the Senate’s undying allegiance maintained by the oily swamp-creature Mitch McConnell, lets Trump sit atop a formidable fortress.

But the Democrat-controlled House continues to fire spit balls at the Trump castle. Who actually thinks that if the House began impeachment proceedings its enhanced legal powers wouldn’t be similarly rebuffed and laughed at by Barr and McConnell, mucking up and delaying the process? All the House has is the power of the purse, which it doesn’t choose to use. Note the collapse on the Border bill. The representatives still want to spend money.

But, as voters did in 2018, let the people speak. Voting Trump out of office is the only way impeachment and the necessary conviction can occur. Power to the People, as the 60's slogan goes.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What's the Matter with Virginia?

Winning a Trifecta is rare, as any bettor could tell you. Having the top three Virginia politicians mired in scandal, all of whom happen to be Democrats, is quite a statistical coup. The final dispositions of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the state’s attorney general are still very much up in the air and it would take another leap of high coincidence to believe all three of them will eventually resign.

Gov. Ralph Northam, the first offender, has thus far made a botch of most everything. Part of his charm, allegedly, is that he’s not a “polished” politician. Oh, you don’t say? He’s proved that. The man in the middle, the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, has another problem, unrelated to the blackface applications of the other two, since he himself is Black. His alleged offense is sexual assault. (This trio makes up a perverse Oreo cookie; the sweet white innards is the public's usual prurience regarding such subjects.) A woman charged forced oral sex on Fairfax's part. One problem with such a charge is that reading the description of the alleged event hardly cheers anyone up and most readers would rather peruse transcripts of state agricultural or waste management committees. On the heels of that, another woman has surfaced, claiming rape, spelling doom for Fairfax, a lot of people assume.

Be that as it may, these stories all have remained, for the most part, on the surface of the public’s consciousness. In the Age of Trump, it is a familiar surface. But we have learned a lot of minstrel show history. When I looked at the offending yearbook photos of Gov. Northam, I was struck by any number of things. One being, Who is the other fellow, whichever one it is, in the KKK outfit and will we ever know his name? Though the governor currently contends that he isn’t even in this particular photo, which somehow ended up on his yearbook page. Given the ongoing coverage we have also been informed that white folk wearing blackface on special occasions was popular throughout the state in the '80s.

I was a bit more interested in Northam's photograph (I presume it’s him) lounging in front of a Corvette, a new one at the time, back in the early '80s, which shares his yearbook page spread. Virginia medical students seemed to have a lot of money, evidently. They certainly appeared carefree, at least about what the future might bring. Mark Herring, the AG, another wanna-be black entertainer, at least had the familiar excuse of being an undergraduate, rather then a medical student, when he showed up in shoe polish.

The ‘80s were the Age of Reagan, when the rich really began to separate themselves from the poor (the wage gap, particularly), and the wealthy began to swan around the big cities, recovering somewhat from the ‘70s, when they kept their display of wealth a bit more circumspect. Again, unless you lived through the ‘80s, it’s hard to exaggerate the extent of so-called White Male Privilege afoot. Second Wave Feminism was in its adolescence in the early 1980s.

Now, we have Billionaires flaunting themselves as political saviors. Why, we even have a supposed Billionaire as our current President, though one reason given for Trump’s not-seen-taxes is that they would reveal the fact he is a mere Millionaire, not Billionaire.

But, Howard Schultz, the coffee maven, possible presidential candidate, wants to be called a man of means, avoiding a label that somehow doesn’t have the same appealing ring it once might have had. It is yet another coincidence just how similar Schultz, the Starbucks man, is to the McDonald’s man, Ray Kroc,. They both sold supplies to small shops -- in Kroc’s case, mixers and the like to hamburger joints, and, in Schultz’s case, equipment to coffee sellers. Both went out to visit the shops that bought so much of their wares and, in both cases, they had the insight to take them over and multiply them. Schultz and Kroc, their enterprises' success roughly two decades apart, differed on clientele: Coffee shops needed to look more high-end, appealing to a slightly more educated class in the 1980s. Chic, rather than family friendly. Starbucks, hinting of the sea and Moby Dick; Big Macs, in the 1960s, hinting of weight gain.

Schultz now wants his very ordinary intelligence employed to run the country. Or, at least, hand it back to Trump, a different sort of huckster entirely than the Coffee Boy, which is likely what Trump would dub him. Both Schultz and Kroc had the right idea at the right time. Many have had the right idea at the wrong time.

But, the Schultz/Kroc coincidences still pale when compared to the current Trifecta of follies in Virginia. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part II

Starting with his nomination I was taken with Kavanaugh’s first pitch: That he was a great family man, a friend of women everywhere, a coach to his girls, practically a feminist, though he didn’t claim that, just let it be implied.

It reminded me of the political tactic that had been used successfully by Republicans against Democrats for decades. Attack the strength of your opponent. This was crystallized during John Kerry’s campaign for president, though used before. The Swift Boat attacks. Kerry was known as a Vietnam vet, a plus against the stay-at-home George W., as he went in and out of the National Guard, depending on his whims, it appeared.

It’s always been overlooked, except by me, that when W.’s father picked Dan Quayle for his veep, H.W. was playing a long game. He knew someone of that generation had to soften up the hard ground of the Vietnam war conflict and Quayle was his sacrificial Hoosier. He took the heat for his guarding the golf courses of Indiana during that war; that generational battle was fought during the campaign. Bush I was preparing the road for a future presidential run by his son. Little did Bush I know that he was actually helping future candidate Bill Clinton. Had Quayle not preceded him, Clinton would have had even a harder time dealing with his lack of service, his credited draft-dodging, his letter of thanks to the draft board.

In any case, what Brett was doing by trumpeting his women-friendly credentials was a variation on the Swift-Boat strategy. He and his handlers obviously knew that his history in high school and college might come up and this was their preemption of the issue. It almost worked.

Dr. Ford’s “letter”, its existence, must have entered the rumor mill, or Kavanaugh might have been forthcoming about possible youthful minefields. Why else parade his women bonafides so flagrantly?

It turned out the scorpion stung itself. And it all came crashing down when his first accuser and he himself testified. The only rational reason I could find for Kavanaugh carrying on the way he did is that he already assumed he would never get on the Court. The only thing that counters that is that he is already on a Court, a not unimportant one. Obviously Trump wanted his pick to fight back, but what transpired had flop sweat and desperation all over it. Anger, rage, because he had already lost. He wasn’t out to persuade.

One less (never?) quoted remark in his “unhinged” (the commonest description) testimony needs some attention. When he claimed he had already picked four clerks, all women, to serve him on the Supreme Court. I’d like to see their pictures. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by smart, lovely women? Kavanaugh favors harem professions, my term for men who are the boss of many women at once. Male dentists are the most obvious examples. One man and a cadre of women “assistants”.

[The above was written before Justice Kavanaugh was sworn in, before the 50-48 vote, but I will just leave it be and carry on.]

The Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, of Yale, is credited with saying that the new Justice likes a certain type of female clerk. I have yet to find a group picture, but, some day one will doubtless appear. But, I’m sure it’s a harem well worth spending time with.

Obviously, even in the Trump Era, I can still be surprised, since I thought Kavanaugh wouldn’t, in the end, make it onto the Court. But I was once again wrong. Susan Collins fulfilled all the predictions that she was a creature of the Republican leadership, not an independent thinker. Her confirming speech will doubtless be preserved as a lesson in self-delusion, but her squawking voice seems to be a curse that long ago has been visited upon her. Her transformation into an owl may, or may not, be final by 2020.

I tweeted during the final days that if Kavanaugh got on the Court it would be a new, indelible definition of White Male Privilege. As if we need more definitions.... Also, he and Clarence Thomas doubtless high-fived each other when they first met. At least, George H.W. Bush didn’t publicly apologize on behalf of the nation to Thomas.

What Justice Kavanaugh chiefly represents is just the most public signpost of what the Republicans are getting away with in Congress and legislation as Trump continues with his clown show, taking up so much space in the public’s (and media’s) consciousness. This was always the dread, that the Donald would distract and they would act. And now the dread has increased and, given that surprises still happen, I can’t imagine what the world will look like if the Democrats don’t win the House in less than 30 days.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part I

The SCOTUS nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is a creature of Washington, DC, and the problems he is going through now are also a large part of his success. Kavanaugh is first and foremost a Suit, a guy who has credentialed himself as a GOP operative, and he shares a number of attributes with other past DC scandal figures. His roots go back further than Anita Hill; they reach into history, at least, to the Nixon administration, the Watergate episode, complete with eager young Washington GOP lawyers, especially the group that was adept at “ratfucking”.

Kavanaugh reminds me of Donald Segretti, memorialized in the film of Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President's Men. Kavanaugh is not as smarmy as portrayed by the actor in the film, his sad monologue full of self-pity – though about the same amount Kavanaugh showed in his Fox News interview. Indeed, Kavanaugh is a few steps above Segretti in the career advancement sweepstakes. He’s a federal judge, after all, another lifetime appointment.

Kavanaugh has an odd connection to Donald Trump. Being nominated to the Supreme Court might be the same sort of catastrophe for him as being elected President has been for Donald Trump. Everything was going along swimmingly until Trump reached the top. Trump and his circle was shocked and awed when he won. It’s been downhill for them since, though the Republicans in Congress have had a field day. The supposed runner-up for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, should take note and be happy she has a good permanent job and decline any further offers.

Over the last few decades I have watched with some alarm while the bro culture has produced so many successful Republican male lawyers and financiers, Wall Street types riding Harleys: Heavy drinkers, most athletes of a sort, womanizers, hale, hearty and well met. Capitalists all, they seemed; with rare exception they favored the GOP. They did produce the ubiquitous use of the modern phrase “toxic masculinity,” which first entered common usage in the early 2000s. Previously, the rise of Microsoft, Apple, facebook, etc., seemed to cement the hegemony of single-minded men, though that tech crowd was softened somewhat by their West Coast geographies. The East Coast made the men meaner; Washington, DC, or as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used to refer to it, SOG – seat of government.

Given what we know now about Kavanaugh, it looks like Yale finally managed to civilize young Brett, or, at least, teach him that being drunk all the time didn’t lead to success. He seems to have changed his vices to excessive NBA basketball tickets, or, it is suspected, gambling. I, too, went to a Jesuit all-boys high school, one that shares the “men for others,” motto, though I did tweet recently that Brett should adjust the motto to Men Atop Others. I went to my high school in the early 1960s and, to say the least, the social mores were far different than those of the 80s. God knows what the Jesuits were thinking at Georgetown Prep, but supervision didn’t seem to be a priority. Though alcohol consumption has always been the most approved Catholic failing. And Jesuit high schools remain all boys to this day, the last bastion of single-sex exclusivity.

Given his background working for Bush II and Ken Starr, both tainted figures, Kavanaugh does seem to play fast and loose with the truth; he employs a sort of pragmatic lying, well sanctioned by politicians and their staffs in DC. When it came to his clerkship with his “mentor”, Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned after decades of sexual harassment, Brett took the former wrestling coach Rep. Jim Jordan’s ignorance defense: seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing.

I am writing and posting this the day before the scheduled public hearing, which appears to be mismanaged by both sides. Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t appear to realize that a smaller room and one camera will truncate the spectacle and make it less Anita Hill-like than she might want. But, unfortunately, we will all see – or not. In our present culture everything can change in a day. Take this as Part I; Part II will follow.