Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Back in the old days, when I was a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times (2000-2005), I would often write a Thanksgiving or Christmas column, when my 700 word protestations ran on the appropriate day. This blog won’t run on Thanksgiving itself, but close. In some demented gesture to see all that has changed, I will reprint part of a Xmas day column, one that did run on the day itself, before I was detached from the Sun-Times, being one of many harbinger sacrifices that marked so much of journalism during the still on-going era of cutbacks: 12/25/01 My family (because of my wife's abundant frequent flyer miles) had planned to spend last Christmas in Israel, experience Christmas eve in Bethlehem, but the second intifada began and we canceled. Maybe next year, we thought. Well, not this year, either. Nor likely the next, or the next. The terrorism recession came early to Israel; last Christmas Bethlehem's hotels were empty. This year one of them is burnt and gutted, the Paradise Hotel, which is on a road leading to Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, built over the stable where, legend has it, Christ was born. When the Paradise burned in October during a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen, I found the photograph I had taken of it, when, in '97, we had visited Bethlehem, under control of the Palestinian Authority since the '93 Oslo accords. Israel's cities were relatively calm then, though it is wrong to ever call Bethlehem's close neighbor, Jerusalem, "calm". Peaceful is less wrong, but still not correct. Quiet, perhaps. Jerusalem strikes many as one of the most exciting cities in the world. It is, though it pays a high price for its excitement. There is a tension there that is always pulsing, either below the surface, or above. And it is most especially intense in the Old City, since it is kept walled up there. Not quite twenty years ago, that. What has changed you may ask? My marital status for one. Be that as it may, Benjamin Netanyahu was spoken of back then, at least in my first visit to Jerusalem, as a crook, more or less, around the Clinton administration era. Out of office, to most everyone’s great relief. My how times have changed. Israelis aren’t known to forgive and forget, but Netanyahu seems to be the exception. Of course, back then, Donald Trump was the longest shot to become President of the United States. So long, very few – a handful only – ever gave it a thought. But Reagan had smoothed the way for a second TV huckster to become the top dog. Though redundant on my part, I have pointed out the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of this evolution before. No need for the gentleman when you have the beast at the ready. Times change. Netanyahu not so much. Why am I swimming in the past?, I ask myself. Because The Donald has been so spectacularly odious these past days that I resist chronicling his doings. And, again, because I am suffering the realization that none of this is over. No water colors for Trump, no books to write a la Obama, no grandchildren to dote on as per Hillary, and God Knows What Bill Clinton is actually doing now. Trump still insists on sticking his mug into our daily lives. Lord, he’ll be President for nearly two more months. What outrages are ahead? And the media, the television image-driven side, will help, I’m sure, keep him alive on the variety of screens, large and small. Ratings uber alles. The thirst for disruption has not abated for Trump’s disciples. He is his own version of a Pandemic. And I’m not at all sure Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will institute an Operation Warp Speed to eradicate this particular virus. Happy Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 20, 2020
It’s seven days before Thanksgiving and there are a few things to give thanks for, as much as that might be a dubious claim. How about a vaccine sometime (probably late) in 2021? How about The Donald being ejected from the White House? That, unfortunately, still seems up in the air, maybe the same air where the vaccine resides. Now I completely believe Joe Biden won, as they used to say, fairly and squarely. By a lot. Nonetheless, Trump being Trump, madness continues. The clown show remains prime time, the latest iteration being Rudy Rudy Rudy, the rude, leaking dye, or hydraulic fluid, whatever, from both temples. Temples it is. The Church of Crazy, Giuliani and his two henchwomen, both lawyers, Trump's "legal team." In any case, who would have not have imagined anything different. Like most of the late Trump antics, his most recent forays are yet more exaggerated. Exaggeration is often cited as late life behavior, and Trump has no shortage of it. His adherents are the truly alarming throng. Trump is an old reliable show at this point. His wacky cronies will endure, in some form, longer than The Donald. He back to TV and Never Never Land. Until 2024, but not even me believes he will be on a ticket to run. From Sing Sing perhaps, if New York State officials have anything to do with it. I am not sure why the Secretary of State thinks Israel is the key to his acquiring the GOP nomination for 2024. Puzzling. Most of the answers reek of anti-Semitism, in the twisted way What’s His Name believes in their pervasive influence. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to dote on Secretary Pompeo (didn’t his namesake village, Pompeii, get covered in lava?) and Pompeo does seem to want to remake the world in similar Trumpian fashion (burn it down), but will the electorate still have an appetite for these fantasies after the Biden/Harris administration convenes? But back to the present. Trump is calling obscure functionaries in Michigan wanting their help in reversing that state’s election results, and summoning slightly higher officials to the Oval Office. I’m waiting for Trump’s various dyes to leak from his temples. But he has a better way with cosmetics than Rudy. But the Republicans and Democrats remain at high contrast. Biden doesn’t want to sue, he wants to persuade. His old GOP Senate friends! Good luck with that. Doubtless Las Vegas has odds on when Biden/Harris might get a chance to look at the government’s secrets. January 21st? Again, I expected no difference from Trump, to cling to his throne as long as possible. Graceful exit is, as they say, not in his vocabulary. Graceful is too long a word to fit. A foreign concept, in any case. The GSA woman (Emily Murphy!) is really a trip. For me, at least, one to the past, since GSA (General Services Administration) is the only serious typo in the first edition of my 1972 book, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left. I called it Government Services Administration. Stupid me. The Congress is now on Thanksgiving “recess”. Who would know? What’s the difference? Covid is climbing its most virulent peaks. Warm weather is leaving the northern states. And one possible “vaccine” has to be kept colder than the moon. It goes without saying that the price of today’s turkeys matches the turkey in the White House. That’s not accurate. The turkey in the White House would get less pennies a pound. He did, though, get 70 million votes. What that says about the country is frightening, even though half that vote is for what remains of the “principles” of the Grand Old Party, and the never hotter hatred for Democrats.
Friday, November 13, 2020
Given the results, the number of voters, the actual count, it appears clear that the likelihood of a Biden/Harris victory was less than the faulty polls forecasted. It wasn’t a squeaker, but it took days to conclude and nearly a hundred million “absentee” votes. This is depressing on any number of levels. The Democrats lost a handful of things in early November of 2020, mainly, it appears, a half dozen seats in the House, and control of the Senate – the Georgia special elections could change that, but two wins may well be one Congressional district too far. Stacey Abrams may be a magician, but rabbits out of a top hat, if the hat be Georgia, may strain even her handy legerdemain. It would require a miracle of sorts. And how many miracles can we stand? The Corona Virus can be seen as an especially perverse miracle – insofar as it powered the defeat of Donald Trump. Biden/Harris won by close to five million votes, but the lion’s share of those came from California. What seemed to be the chief mover of the suburban ladies was Trump’s inept handling of the plague. Yet, luckily, the winning margins in the re-blued states, MI, PA, WI, were all in the five figures, as held true for the other new blue states, Arizona (barely) and, still perhaps, Georgia. Nothing like 2000's meager 537 in Florida, allowing Bush to beat Gore, with the help of the Supreme Court. The Donald wasn’t able to give the Corona virus his full attention: it’s often hard to imagine his “full attention.” That presumes a completeness Trump may lack in all things. Though Democrats aren’t as proficient in the spinning of conspiracy theories as the GOP is, here’s one, one that requires Divine Intervention: The Pandemic itself interceded. Evolution seems to require accident as well as design. Where’s Darwin when we need him? In any case, the election year commenced with Bernie Sanders on the way to seeming victory in the primaries. But two things happened before Covid took over the landscape. South Carolina became the dike keeping the Bernie Bros from swamping the Democrats. Mayor Pete and Senator Amy dropped out, anointed Biden right before Super Tuesday, and, with their abdication, cemented the anti-Bernie vote for Biden. The rest, as they say, is history, though history and everything else came to a halt for the Pandemic. Biden in the basement, Kamala made Veep candidate, millions affected, hundreds of thousands dead, Trump being Trump, his incompetency, now, shown to be fatal. Yet, nonetheless, he got 71 million votes to Biden/Harris’s 76. Though Biden’s main campaign pitch was that he would be the president for everyone, 71 million voters wanted The Donald to be theirs, and theirs alone. One could be forgiven for thinking half the country wanted even more Trumpism, though the other half wanted Trump disappeared. His loss of the Oval Office is apparent, his absence from the public’s attention is not. But, again, the luck of drawing to multiple inside straights in many districts came from the worried reaction to the virus. Trump retained more adherents than most commentators predicted, virus be damned. In the current eerie interregnum Trump is installing “loyalists” in every office he can get his hands on. One wonders why, though what he is doing has the putrid odor of a third-world would-be coup, the storming of the power centers, the Pentagon, etc. From Trump, none of this is surprising, though his core government power brokers appear – hard to believe – yet more odious. Secretary of State Pompeo (nomen est omen, since it’s harder to be more pompous than he) looms fat and crazy, staying away from the homeland, cultivating God Knows What as he plans his future. Mitch McConnell does his lesser vampire impersonation, his body getting transfusions of some sort (those bruised taped hands!) in order to do The Donald’s – the impaler – bidding. The rest of the GOP Senators, except for the occasional Mormon, continue to play the undead, mumbling that votes still need to be counted, as soon as they are manufactured. That wall may begin to crumble soon. Trump may be bad, but in a big-bad-baddest competition, he’s got rivals. Why does McConnell get to hold his members together, a solid block of awful, whereas Senator Schumer has uncontrollable outliers, such as West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin? I know, I know, one’s a minor vampire, the other is not. But the problem that still looms is all the voters Trump got, retained. Their allegiance, their solidarity. Our Fellow Americans, so to speak. Time may continue to be halted, certainly deformed, because of the Pandemic, but three years from now I dread the election that will be upon us. Given Biden’s age and the state of the Union, I only see a horror show ahead. Who expects the Republicans to have regained their souls, stolen from them all by The Donald. And his “base” – they, it, will still be here, the deluded and the corrupt and the profiteers. It’s a spectrum of foul smells, regions, income, and clearly nowhere to escape it.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
It’s deja vu all over again, as the redundant say. Last night’s election results reveal how little change has occurred in America’s political life, or voting life, to be more exact. Back in 2000, the dawn of the new century, millennium, whatever, I published a column in the "Chicago Sun-Times" called “Yahoo Nation.” The following is an excerpt: George W.'s America is Yahoo Nation...a large, lopsided horseshoe, a twisted W, made up of primarily the deep South and the vast, lowly populated upper-far-west states that are filled with vestiges of gun-loving, Ku-Klux-Klan sponsoring, formerly lynching-happy, survivalist minded, hate-crime perpetrating, non blue-blooded, rugged individualists. Yahoo Nation, George W.'s electoral bundle--save contested Florida, the toss-up state--contains not one major city, nor one primary center of creative and intellectual density. Looking at the current map of yesterday’s election we see something disturbingly similar. But the sentence I want to point out is the last one above, the remark about Yahoo Nation containing not one major city, nor one primary center of creative and intellectual density. Well, the new map, the Donald Trump Map, makes things even clearer, so transparent none of the highly paid TV types bothered to mention it. I think they might have been afraid to. What was unmentioned, in the more advanced maps of 2020 (though still red and blue) was the detail of the city-versus-the-country divide. If there was some small spot of blue in a large state out West, or Midwest, it was a college town. Otherwise, they would be found in the states' big cities. Thinking of the most cosmopolitan here: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, four states over the last two decades invaded by refugees (and tourists) from California, New York, and other east and west coast places of enlightenment, not even counting the new immigrants from around the world. There are two Americas now, the rural and the urban. There are a lot of reasons for that chasm, some contradictory. Socialism for farmers, Capitalism for the cities. Though the “farmers” that profit are the largest corporate farms, those that make use of economics of scale, in crops, land, and government handouts. Subsidy is a favorite word out in the so-called hinterlands. Texas is going through its own transformation, but its new self hasn’t hatched yet. What is to be done? Find a Democrat, I suppose, who can talk to both “farmers” and citified flaneurs. Good luck with that. As of this writing it appears that Biden/Harris have a decent chance to win, to begin a crippled term with the mean, mad Mitch running the Senate, and a depleted Majority for a Leader handling a feckless House. A Pyrrhic victory is better than none at all. Judges can still be appointed and with luck one of the 6-3 conservative majority on the High Court could disappear and be replaced. It will be four years of ugliness, but Biden and Harris can save us from the worst. Imagine if The Donald had captured his second term! Almost unthinkable. (I hope.)
Friday, October 30, 2020
The presidential race of 2020 has forced me to think about the presidency. Not much that has happened in the Trump years is a surprise, depending on one’s own memory. How good it is, so to speak. When it was clear in 2016 that Trump would win I began to think of his predecessor, or his most obvious counterpart. That, of course, was Ronald Reagan. But it was a case of yin and yang, of inside, outside, Jekyll and Hyde. Reagan being the Dr. Jekyll, Trump the Mr. Hyde. Yes, this was flip side politics. Reagan was a TV star, exploiting nascent television for decades. I recall as a youth my seeing him pitch for General Electric. Both on its Sunday show during the ‘50s and then on the road thereafter. The term used for the fame that brought him to the mega-firm’s attention was, is, “second lead,” in his weird film career, marked by some schizophrenic casting, mainly criminals and dunces. For those who would leap to point out differences between Reagan and Trump, since Reagan was governor of California, I have two words: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan, though, unlike Trump, was the soft side of craziness, of the far right wing, of Hollywood blowhards. Even I am willing to admit Reagan was more substantial than The Donald. Trump is the ultimate bottom feeder, a barely literate spokesperson for the rabble, a rabble that delights in the similarities between its commander in chief and themselves. He reassures all their half-baked deformed ideas and notions. He, truly, is one of them, except, of course, for his money, life style, and entitlements. The Republicans who share those qualities did vote for him, despite the example of those public figures who have quite noisily abandoned the GOP. If Trump is the Dorian Gray portrait version of Reagan, I am slightly straining the analogy and not giving enough credit to Reagan. But, Reagan perfected the treacle presidency, whereas Trump has perfected the opposite. I never associated Halloween with the presidential election till this year, even though there won’t be any typical Trick or Treating this year. Nothing, of course, is typical in 2020, nor the earlier three years. The debacle of the latest Supreme Court appointment points out any number of things: one of the more obscure is how Republicans have managed to stack the courts over the years. Democrats, much to their, our, detriment, haven’t pushed the importance of the Court in past elections. I have, but to no avail. Part of the problem is the Democrats'overconfidence in their positions and ideas and chances in presidential elections. Gore should have won. Hillary should have won, etc. In the sitting Court, the Bushes (G. W. B. and G. H. W. Bush got two and one, Clinton one, Obama two [both women], and The Donald three), so you see, the current six to three conservative v. liberal count leaves the Democrats at a two to one disadvantage. But, you can also see that Gore was supposed to beat George W. and, of course, Hillary was supposed to have defeated Trump. Both those elections were, so to say, close. Of Trump’s three appointments, I currently see Kavanaugh’s as the most disastrous, in the sense that he seems the most unhinged. He seemed unhinged when his confirmation process hit the rocks and his early adolescent and college life was gone over, roasted for its privileged ridiculousness. I, too, went to an all boys Jesuit highschool, the same one Hillary’s veep attended. So I know the Kavanaugh type. It, too, will always be with us. It would have been better if more time on Kavanaugh’s history as a Republican operative and stooge would have been as thoroughly combed through. He, of course, wasn’t the first Justice who worked in the rag and bone shop of Republican politics, but Kavanaugh more than others seemed to relish all the unpleasant work he did. Down in the Florida recount, and working hard for that wonderful man Ken Starr, etc. When women charged Kavanaugh with various indiscretions, he took it badly. In the last days of his confirmation hearings, when questioned by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Kavanaugh was so defensive he seemed to think he wouldn’t survive the grilling and finally reach his promised gold ring,his seat on the Court. Oh, he of little faith. We learned he likes beer. Doubtless he still does, given the incoherence of his latest judgments. The Court will suffer for decades on Kavanaugh’s watch. And then there is the newest Trump appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, giving Trump a modern record of SC appointments. Ah, yes. My knowledge of Justice Barrett is at least close up, if not extensive. She has always seemed, to me, the ultimate Good Student. I’ve had a number of them over my decades as a professor. What they seem to lack, in the aggregate, are original ideas. But, alas, in the time ahead, we will have that tested on the Supreme Court. I hope she has a few original ideas, but, given what is on the record, it seems she is indeed the best of the best of Good Students, and if she only has her formative years growing up as a noted People of Praise member to have nurtured them, God help us all.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Though almost all brief assessments are faulty, I offer these two concerning the last and current presidencies: Obama came into office inspiring such high hopes and failed them all, whereas Trump came in only presaging dread and fear and he fulfilled them all. For certain Democrats, at least. Now the same folk, including me, are awaiting Obama’s vice president’s triumph over The Donald, but are standing on unsteady legs, fearing the worst, while hoping for the best, or whatever cliche seems most appropriate. Riots at the polling places? Absentee ballots being burned in the public square? All of this drama begins in two weeks, more or less. Back in 2016, I was disturbed by the photo of Trump that NBC used most regularly and prominently, because it seemed to be a publicity shot, not strange, since NBC was the host and semi-creator of Trump’s long running show, “The Apprentice.” The trouble was that Trump, the candidate, didn’t look much like the photo. His hair, that is. In the photo, it was business-man standard, a mixture of silver highlights, gray, a bit brown. It was the network’s go-to shot. The problem was that Trump’s hair color was orange, sometimes more blonde toned, but certainly stuck at that end of the spectrum, a decidedly Florida hue. On NBC that photo has been turning up again in 2020. All of TV, I suppose, is fantasy land, but NBC, its top brass, still seems to be in The Donald’s camp. What’s good for television is good for, etc. Putting the Trump “town hall” right up against Biden’s version on ABC seemed to certify some not so latent aura of connection. Though the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, was more aggressive than Bill Clinton’s former lap dog, it appeared that NBC couldn’t cut the cord on the entertainment factor. Obviously, all is entertainment these days, everything is ratings driven, and the mob wants its human sacrifices in the arena. Even the New York Times has surrendered to this ethic. The Gray Lady is gray no more. Full pages of graphics, art, photos, eye candy, almost no text. The Times seems to be turning into a weirder newsprint version of Vanity Fair and the last six months or so, it’s become so heavily Black centric, it seems to be making up for its long, long history of discrimination and neglect. Whatever. The FBI, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, has continued its wacky kidnap case of the governor of Michigan. I’ve wondered if Trump’s recent criticism of Gov. Whitmer, inspiring his MAGA crowd at the Muskegon county airport, after the case had come to light, to chant Lock Her Up, would inspire the Feds to name him and them as unindicted co-conspirators in a subsequent legal filing. A lot of the TV press has expressed dismay at the plot outlined, kidnaping the Addams Family governor, taking her off to the woods, having a trial, doing a citizens arrest, letting her ultimately go, after sufficient humiliation, etc. Such a plot! Though one familiar to me, since I wrote a book about just such a charge and trial and behavior back in 1972, The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left. None of the Dumbo Michigan “Wolverine Watchmen” conspirators (most sporting the usual tasteful Jihadists beards) would have noticed the similarities, but there’s a small, very small, chance that one of the FBI implant handlers in the group would have heard of it back at Seat of Government (SOG), the phrase gumshoes use, or used, to refer to headquarters. The FBI requires informants. Life continues to get stranger and few and fewer seem to remember anything beyond the day before. That’s what happens when you go from a literate culture to an aural/visual one. Images dominate, not words. Trump, of course, is the epitome of this change. His fifty-word vocabulary suits the times. But, this Thursday, we are told, will be the last debate. The Last Debate. Ominous itself. That one, as they say, will be a humdinger, a real knee slapper. And guess what Network is “airing” it? Yes, NBC. I’ll be interested to see what stock promotional photo they use of Trump. I won’t expect to see orange hair.
Friday, October 9, 2020
One thing that continues to amaze me about The Donald and his “Presidency” is that he continues an upward graph of weirdness. It’s a talent, of sorts, I have to acknowledge it. The past couple of days he has been helped by actual craziness, in the form of his fairly secret medical treatments, his steroid dose, which has caused a Ruling Roid, or Roid Ruling, or his threatening William Barr for not indicting Barack Obama, or Hillary, or whoever is on Trump’s long list of criminals who need to be caged. The Speaker of the House wants to employ the 25th Amendment. Well, that’s not likely with Mike Pence sitting there in wait. I’ve had a long history with Pence, writing about him since before he was governor of the state of Indiana, where I live. I wrote about him in 2016, saying he was Mitch Daniels with fewer brains. And I’ve never been impressed with Mitch Daniels’ brain. But Pence, who slithered into the position after Daniels, seemed more of a hallowed/hollow shell, and other than being, becoming, a right-wing evangelical – the opposite sort of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Pence, like Gorsuch, growing up Catholic, though, after college, instead of becoming high-church Episcopalian, chose low-church Evangelical. Pence knew what side of the electorate his bread was buttered on in Indiana and, I suppose, Gorsuch did too, having higher aspirations, and more lofty company in mind. Anyway, Pence filled the flat TV screen for 90 minutes the other day, some sort of visual contrast to Kamala Harris, one alive and animated, the other dead(?) and moribund. At least the fly thought he was dead. Two minutes! Pence’s eyes became redder and redder as the debate droned on and I thought, at any moment, the stage would become the set of a Hammer movie and Dracula would emerge. Glad that didn’t happen. And speaking of Hammer films, the public anointing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett was something out of a bad movie script (or crypt). It’s aftermath, at least. It was as if the Deity (or whoever) was hurling thunderbolts of Covid germs down on the crowd’s heads. It appeared someone on high was not pleased. People of Praise look out. The White House as plague hotspot. Hasn’t been a good few days for the GOP. Not that Democrats have been spared. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, keeping in the pop culture world, looks straight out of the Addams Family, especially the 1964 version. This resemblance has only been enhanced by her almost daily appearances for months speaking of Covid in Michigan. And her "signers" in the background have added to the casting resemblance, given the nature of their work, which, most often, requires broad gestures and pronounced facial expressions. It’s a mad, mad world. Nonetheless, some rough and ready mainly Michigan types have been indicted as potential kidnappers and general trouble makers. It seems FBI informers and plants are involved, so I’ll wait to hear where the brains came from. In cases like these the deep thinkers are often supplied by the FBI. The perps all have beards, which makes them look like deep cover Jihadists of sorts. Things are getting crazier and, given Trump on the loose, it’ll doubtless get even more so.