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 cafĂ© 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.