Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#4)


The Corona virus is everywhere, everywhere in every sense of the word everywhere: geographically, locally, mentally, physically, in our dreams, Covid-19 spins its Dance of Death. As the 20th century cliche goes, it covers the waterfront. It controls the news, only allowing subsets of dying or death’s handmaidens, mayhem and remorse. The upper west coast was one of the first centers of attention, the early cases in Seattle, and boisterous Portland has taken over, conducting its long-running, uninterrupted nights of protest. President Trump has chosen Portland to test out some of his fantasies, deploying his version of the privatized military to provoke the provoke-able. The evenings are filled with glowing white clouds, shooting-star projectiles, noise and confusion.

During the daylight hours we have notable deaths and all their attendant pomp and circumstance. Given Covid at the helm we can’t stray far from death worship. By circumstance and/or coincidence, since a Black death (George Floyd, death becomes him) was a trigger, the recent passing of Rep. John Lewis, retains the governing principle, Black Lives Matter, especially if they are in Congress. Pick the other notables who have gotten less play and reverence, those who are no longer with us. Monday and Tuesday's NY Times (7/27 and 7/28) finally spared us – at least in its national edition sent to the rubes in the Midwest – a host of pandemic deaths. Monday’s paper did devote a page (along with two other entertainers and a wine merchant) to a former star of Gone With the Wind. Gone with the wind, indeed. (Alas, spared only to Wednesday.)

Trump is attempting to turn his ship of state in the Hudson River, an arduous task, given its size, rivaling the largest aircraft carrier the US has, christened the USS Gerald R. Ford, of all people. Trump the new mask booster (though remaining, in that regard, very low key), Trump the soother of the populace, resuming his “daily” briefings, brief indeed, petulant and bored reading, mostly, from a script. The first was him alone, the second added a human or two as props on the stage, and, who knows, if they continue someone else maybe allowed to talk. Or not.

Trump’s Wall Street types have now taken over the government, it seems, though not quite as steadily as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, managed to do(who, in DC back then, was often referred to as President Rubin), but we have been seeing a lot of Steve Mnuchin lately. Less of his wife, though, thank God.

Various pandemic storms are on the horizon: the start of “schools”, of all stripes, elementary, “middle”, high school, college. The young are poised on the edge of various precipices, willing to jump off into the Covid pools and see how things go. It is the older teachers who are, in the main, balking.

Golf may be the only professional sport that endures, given it is a lone man (predominantly) and a small ball and a club, instruments that go way back, to the cave man era, at least. Hard to kill off. And even if it becomes a “team” sport, there is little to no interaction. Baseball has aspects of individuality, though proximity and glad-handing often make it a crowd. It can be a contact sport. Tagging, etc. Ask the Marlins. Baseball may be on its last legs. B-ball, football, hardly need to be explained. Perhaps tennis can be spared.

The election looms, another cloud over the country as a whole. Biden largely stays in the basement, a good strategy. He did emerge to talk at a safe distance with the former President, Barack Obama. That encounter was somewhat surreal, partly because it looked like a theater experience, a new play opening, two men talking on a stage. I found it highly ironic, two people who certainly know how to act, who have learned the rhetoric of the world. Something by a witty Brit, say, the late Harold Pinter, or Caryl Churchill. A one act. We’re in an upside-down world. Obama, unfortunately, has a history of misjudgment. A pertinent example, thinking Hillary would make a better candidate than Joe. Imagine, for a moment, what might have been, if Biden had been the candidate four years ago – and had he the sense then to choose a Black woman as vice president, what might we have been spared.

But, it shouldn’t be ignored, the presidency has largely become a figurehead position, beginning with Reagan, who was the far more acceptable version of Trump, a public figure who could, at least, approximate, play, the role. Recall, Reagan had been an actor and an effective shill for the right-wing’s favorite hobby horses. Today, Republicans put up with The Donald’s shortcomings, because they have gotten, mostly, what they’ve wanted. The trouble is when King Kong gets loose from his cage and wants to climb up the Empire State building holding Lady Liberty in his mitt. If it wasn’t for that pesky virus he might have been easily reelected.

Hillary, evidently, believed the ubiquitous guff that the Veep doesn’t matter in a Presidential campaign. I differ. I could make a list: take Dan Quayle, for one, a seeming loser all around, but, no, he made the Presidency possible for George W., Quayle being the “veteran” who plowed the hard ground of the Vietnam war hangover, softening it up for the home-based slacker W, who went on to defeat a vet who actually was in Vietnam. (And, at the time, I wanted John Kerry to be Gore’s Veep – two actual in-country vets – but no one was listening to me.) The vice president selection always matters. Take note of Hillary’s running mate, if you can remember him.

The less populated states, down South and the Southwest, have taken the brunt of the plague the last month or so. They were ripe for the picking after Trump-minions loosened restrictions. Covid has taken on a polio aspect: mysterious deficits even if “cured”. The young at the cusp of “school” aren’t succumbing at the same high rate, but they are being turned into human experiments. For possible effects long term. We shall see what we shall see.

The spirit of the protests have altered, become largely events of the night. Darkness prevails. Violence ensues. Early on they were held in the daylight. Name changing has been fetish-ized. In that way, the early in-the-daylight protests have “won” – monuments toppled, brands rebranded, more words made taboo by the vocabulary vigilantes.

Now, especially in Portlandia, in the dark of night the protests are turning into anti-Trump fests, with Fed rent-a-cops outfitted splendidly. We’re practically in August. When September comes we will all be enduring, on top of everything else, the campaign plague to come.

[To be continued.]

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#3)


I have a long history with Roger Stone – at least in a literary way, insofar as I wrote about him in my 1997 book (Campaign America ‘96: The View From the Couch) about the 1996 Presidential campaign. Just a paragraph or two. It was a fairly long book, over 500 pages. Though I am struck by this bemusing fact quite a bit, no one seems to consult my remarks, however superficial they may have seemed back then. Not superficial to me – I was deliberately writing about the surface: in the book I wrote Stone looked a bit like John Dean, if Dean had taken a lot of steroids, and that Stone had a café con leche tan that appeared to have been applied with a paintbrush. And that the estimable publication, the National Enquirer, had a story with the headline: “Top Dole Aide in Sex Orgies Scandal” (poor Bob Dole) and Stone was taking to TV to defend himself. He was, as I wrote, El supremo tacky, and shared the suspect aura of the California GOP swinger set, epitomized by Alfred Bloomingdale and his consort Vicki Morgan. There were tabloid pictures of Stone and his buxom wife, charmingly outfitted, offering themselves as play-pals, etc.

Now we move on to the Trump era – not that Stone vanished, no sir; he showed up in Florida during the Bush/Gore count-the-votes saga – but he had now arrived full flower with The Donald. Since I had written a book on the ‘96 campaign, I was still paying attention. But it shocks me how little attention the present crop of, mainly, news-people pay. Where is the collective memory of the press? I wonder. Why can’t they add at least a sentence about Stone’s colorful history in all the recent copy expended upon him? Well, one reason, I suppose, is that times have changed and Stone’s past has become superfluous, given the President’s colorful past, most everyone’s past, shared by most all of those who have survived the last few decades.

I think that Stone still has the same frisky wife (his second) when I catch a glimpse of her and him in short clips on TV, usually coming or going from a courtroom. Her outfits have changed, but she still favors black. Stone, well, Stone looks like our 21st century take on Dorian Gray: he is the portrait itself, not the air-brushed simulacrum.

One point of my '96 campaign book is that the inside has now become the outside. Sort of like the museum in Paris (the Pompidou Center), the one that’s all pipes and beams and exposed structure on the outside, looking more like an oil refinery operation than a building housing art. It’s architecture that resembles a genre of horror films, where and when some “human” is turned inside out. Anyway, Stone looks corrupt. And is. That face! Mouth! But who cares?, seems to be the modern take. Look at the President, etc.... Look at Lindsey Graham, whomever. But, the idea of the damning portrait still lives. Stone had Nixon’s head tattooed on his back. Doubtless, Stone has willed his sketched flesh to some museum (in Paris?) for a lampshade to come. The long abused George Orwell once wrote that, more or less, after 50 every man has the face he deserves. Stone deserves his face. I suppose that’s why, especially in Washington, DC, so much money is spent on men’s clothes, to distract from the bodies within.

In addition to the inside/outside phenomena, the bit players around Trump have become the main actors. Trump’s crowd, rustling up all the former bit B-players in his orbit, hence Stone, hence all those Tea Party pols who are running the show in the Trump administration. My 1997 campaign book first captured Stone’s essence in print, but he was elevated in the public mind by Jeffrey Toobin (who is nothing if not prolific), at least the selective public that reads high-end journalism. He rolls out books almost yearly on the scandalous, boys and girls, pols and performers. This summer we will be treated to his Trump book and I am sure we will revisit Roger and The Donald. Toobin wrote about Stone in 2008 (recall, for a minute, 2008) for the New Yorker (Yes, the New Yorker). Rereading the piece now, Toobin makes Stone seems positively wholesome, practically a Democrat (though of the Libertarian bent [and I mean bent]), a guy to contend with. Perhaps it’s the New Yorker’s style. Trump makes a brief cameo in the piece, criticizing, mildly, Stone. I would say times change, but they do and they don’t.

Disease is a metaphor often employed. Except these days it’s literal, not figurative, and has the entire world paying some sort of obeisance to its power. The deadly and infectious virus is everywhere. Trump has always been, at least in the last three and a half years, a master of distraction. And, since he can make gold out of offal, he treats the pandemic as the coin of his realm, more distraction.

[To be continued.]

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

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.