Friday, September 25, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#7)

The Donald seems, more or less, out of control. RBG dies, not able, unfortunately, to hang on till January. Today (or yesterday) Trump is heckled in the politist way, “Vote Him Out,” by bystanders waiting to pay homage to Ginsberg’s coffin and corpse. The Prez was bemasked, at least, offering up that small bit of respect. But that won’t last long. We will learn Saturday if our local girl, ACB – couldn’t get the alphabet right there – is truly the nominee for the Supreme Court, though her house’s lawn is outfitted with the newest 21st century electronic gear and a guy in a black car watching. It made me wonder if other circuit court judges get that sort of treatment, protection, or just likely SC nominees. Trump, to stoop to cliche, is the most appropriate bull in a china shop, if anyone thinks, or still thinks, of the White House and the Presidency as a china shop. But it turns out that the Presidency is: norms more easily broken than most would have thought. American Carnage, Trump’s Inaugural address’s title, keeps proving itself prophetic, with The Donald causing the most carnage. These days Trump continues to do his Mussolini imitation, chin up, bombast forward. The spoiled child won’t leave the house, stamping his foot and anything else he can find to stomp. Somehow my mind turns to the crucifixion – it’s probably Amy Semple McPherson’s fault, or her new incarnation, Amy Coney Barrett (why couldn’t she have hyphenated her married name as Amy Barrett-Coney, then I would have had ABC, one two three, you and me, etc.? Oh, I forgot, the People of Praise.) Another morbid spectacle ahead, the Golgotha of Senate confirmation. Speaking of the People of Praise, I know it well, or well enough, since they lived, modestly, in the neighborhood some time ago, where I owned my first house in South Bend. A few modest one story houses, they. South Bend was, is, a magnet for all sorts of extreme Catholic cults. A large Opus Dei house was down the block from my lesser dwelling. Tell it to that other dead, now long dead, Supreme Court justice, or the sitting AG. I arrived to teach at Notre Dame in 1981. People of Praise had started there about ten years earlier, given that its founder, or cofounder, was a PhD candidate in the theology department. He had published a book in 1969 called Catholic Pentecostals. When I moved into South Bend People of Praise seemed harmless enough. I knew the Catholic Left well, not so much the Catholic Right, though it took off right at the same time the CL peaked. The Harrisburg trial did sully the Catholic Left’s reputation and, in a way, mobilized the right. The Berrigan brothers had always been a thorn in the side, so to speak, of devout Catholics. In South Bend the most prominent feature of the People of Praise was their school, the Trinity School at Greenlawn (however modest the professants are, they do lean toward highfalutin titles), housed in a former robber baron’s mansion and grounds. It came about the same year I started teaching at ND. It taught 6-12 grades and I toured it some years later when my son was about to enter highschool. That’s another story. Speaking of titles, PoP have scuttled some of their original vocabulary. I was sorry to see “handmaiden” go. Blame Margaret Atwood. They have the common cult interconnected relationships, used to knit followers together and the women members (ACB!) were given, or assigned, handmaidens as, let’s say, watchdogs. Given PoP’s sanctities, if you put them on one end of the smallish cult spectrum, the religious end – forget the Mormons – the other end would have something like Nxivm perched there. American culture was is, riddled, with such groups. One could even make the case that it was founded by them. Or, at least, joining became and remains an American virtue. Mayor Pete has put South Bend on the political map and now Amy the judge may set the bar for lawyers. She does have somewhat local competition, insofar as the Chief Justice is from down the road, and went to a small school, a basketball power, La Lumiere, another Catholic school. Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh are all Catholic. And, one associate justice, Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, was raised Catholic, but in his high falutin’ way became Episcopalian, even though he attended the same tony Jesuit high school that Kavanaugh did. More civilized, I suppose. Now there looms Amy, who knows how to talk in tongues, which should help in a few cases to come. She would make the number of Catholics, according to my count, 6 and a half – the half being Gorsuch. This may or may not seem excessive to some people. I have written about this, all the Court Catholics, etc., in one of my books, opining, as the annoying say, that the right wing finds Catholics more Court friendly than wild-eyed, right-wing Protestants. Maybe. So, we’ll see Saturday. I could be wrong. There’s still that Cuban-American-Floridian (Barbara Lagoa) in the running. Isn’t she Catholic? Doesn’t she have blonde hair highlights (dyed?)? The Donald likes blondes. Doesn’t he need to win Florida? But isn’t the Cuban vote already in his pocket? The old, yes, but perhaps not the young. And if South Bend’s Amy gets it, will they take offense?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#6)

Last week seemed to be a family affair. The Trump family set the tone. And the many family units displayed in bits and pieces during the Republican convention – how about that lovely St. Louis couple toting guns waving at the passing Parade? Then there was the cute mom and son duo, Wendy Lewis Rittenhouse and her pudgy son, Kyle, shooter of three, killer of two, and the random children shot in various yards and houses, homicides that are more perennial than seasonal. The First Family first. The Trump show was more of an extravaganza than the Biden show. More circus than circumspection, more “spectacular” than specific, more Fox than PBS. Though hard to do, setting aside the use of the White House and other government buildings, the Trump week had two or three events that were somewhat grounded in reality, though the four days that encased them was a mountain hard to overlook. We were in Never Never Land most of the time. The final piece de resistance, the last night climax of a sort, the super spreader evening on the White House lawn, below the grand staircases of the Evita side of the building, folding chairs full of Republicans, most mask-less, all disreputable (behind every fortune there is a crime, etc.), of self-satisfied citizens, sprinkled with a few plants of ordinary folk to be used as pawns (echoing the balcony victims often alluded to in State of the Union speeches), showing their mettle, daring Covid to cloud their lives. The event, more or less, was as ephemeral as the fireworks display in front of the Washington monument, that Egyptian inspired obelisk, beloved by many, that spelled out TRUMP 2020. It was there and then not there. But, Trump, who must be descending into his dumbest dotage, didn’t leave the stage, but made the participants turn to face the balcony (no Evita!) and made everyone one listen to semi-operatic renditions of various tunes, including “Hallelujah”, the Leonard Cohen dirge. An overworked tenor, tie-less, sweaty, crooned on – and using opera “stars” to sing pop tunes is a bad choice always – till everyone was about to go crazy – Trump really knows how to step on his endings. Hallelujah, indeed. The tenor is named Christopher Macchio. God knows Trump might have been attracted to him by his name, Macho Macho Man, etc. Macchio did perform at Trump’s 2015 New Year’s Eve bash in Florida. And he seems to be an upscale lounge singer, one to wow the rubes with arias, though I couldn’t detect the usual opera star’s resume in his past. No Met debut, etc. I didn’t know any of this as I watched him, but without a tie, the open shirt, his sweating, he did seem a bit Las Vegas to me. I have had a long history with opera, working, starting when a teenager, in 1964 at the Santa Fe Opera. But, Macchio wasn’t the problem, just the coda to a very strange day, week, first term, and so on. It’s not so much these days what Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (as I knew her when I described her TV appearances in my ‘96 Campaign book, before her marriage to George Conway) called alternate facts early on in the Trump administration, as an alternate world that has been created. It was on full display for four days, with two or three exceptions, one striking one being the appearance of the unhappy parents of a young woman (Kayla Mueller) who strayed into Syria, was “captured” by ISIS in 2013 and tormented by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and doubtless others. Their testimony was effective, given its tone and content. They were obviously unhappy with Obama and Biden, who did not manage to free their daughter (she was killed, it was reported, in 2015). Of course, neither did Trump, but soldiers in late ‘19 launched an attack on Al-Baghdadi’s compound and, cornered, he blew himself up. The raid was named after Kayla. Her body has never been found. Her dad said, "The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration...the Obama administration said it was doing everything it could. The Trump administration actually is...." Hard to counter aggrieved parents, however tragedy has distorted their vision. One other trip in the real world, at greater length, was from my distant relative – very distant – Melania, the Slovenian immigrant and First Lady. My maternal grandfather was Slovenian and was born in a village over the hill from Melania’s home town. Hence my claim to connection, however bogus. Melania is attempting to claim a transformation of sorts, one usually accomplished by older worldly women, who, after a lively life, retreat to the nunnery in old age. Melania is still too young for such metamorphosis, but in her Evita military uniform, marching alone – Trump had wandered out all by his lonesome before her speech – to the microphone, she was a picture of remorse, or, perhaps, seriousness. No easy smiles in this performance. Serious, earnest and measured, a mother’s speech. Empathy heavy. "My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone...." Right on, Melania. She seemed alone. Her immigrant accent, her olive drab outfit, her frozen head looking forward, her serpentine, or, rather, lizard-like eyes locked for a few minutes on one clear prompter, then they would slide over for the same amount of time to the other, a back and forth that became decidedly discomforting as she went on, my phantom relative. She does have my grandfather’s cheekbones; or, rather, he has hers. Well, at least she seemed to occupy planet earth, or a recognizable populated one. Her audience was the typical Trump mask-less crowd, highlighted by the extravagance of the last night to follow, Trump’s own low-energy hour long rehash of his far too many speeches. Melania has never sounded more like an immigrant in her address. Jackie Kennedy had a distinctive voice, cosmopolitan in its way, worldly, but its undertones were American, the Marilyn Monroe breathy-ness, but not Melania’s static discourse. Her outfit was telling. Its slightly authoritarian cut was, is, echoed, in her voice. Somewhere from beyond, not the rainbow, but the Iron Curtain. That semi-oxymoron, Iron Curtain, seems to capture Melania. I wouldn’t ever refer to her as soft. Melania seems to be open game these days, given a new “tell-all” book just published that contains transcripts of her phone calls, catching her in her catty glory, talking to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a friend, author of Melania and Me. Perhaps Melania will get herself to a nunnery quicker than I thought. With friends like these.... Wendy Lewis Wittenhouse, another mother with a young boy, remains at large, a mystery of sorts, given the limited info floating around. Her son reminds me of another killer, the child killer of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, though Adam Lanza was at least 20. His mother, who came to an unfortunate end, shall we say, encouraged Adam’s eccentricities, as Wendy has obviously promoted Kyle’s enthusiasms, the burden, I suppose, of a lot of “single” mothers. We do have one cute picture, Wendy beaming next to her officer be-suited, besotted, son, Kyle’s youthful face betraying the absence of much lived experience. WE BACK THE BLUE festoons a bunting stripe defacing the photo. But Kyle was going to catch up and Wendy was there at his side. Now Adam was convincingly out of his mind and grandiose in his actions, whereas Kyle was, is, much more modest; his fellow gun lovers are attempting to make a right-wing hero out of him. There aren’t many teenage young men ready for such an honor and they jumped at the chance, perhaps prematurely, but since Kyle is very premature, they have a lot to work with. Since a large percentage of protestors in Kenosha seem to be from out of town, especially those who prowl the streets around midnight, it’s hard to tell who’s who without a scorecard. If Kenosha was Beijing the Chinese would doubtless be able to identify every face through the ubiquitous cameras available. But our computer geeks are working on it. Trump, of course, showed up a couple of days ago in the daylight, attempting and succeeding at setting the news, directing the cameras in his direction. Biden came and went, too, with a speech in Pennsylvania, trying to be the reasonable guy compared to the red-tied lunatic. This is thankless position to be in, the Republicans always getting to be pro, the Democrats con. Television tends toward spectacle, not reason. The moderate has no place on the tube, or flat screen. If you arrive at the correct answer, the question is over. Biden is moderation personified, except when he goes off the rails. Trump has abandoned moderation in all its forms, except for his curious fear of alcohol, from which he abstains, replacing it with pharmaceuticals. Biden finally made it to Kenosha on mission to do the opposite of Trump, talking with the victims. The longer Biden talks the more one holds one’s breath, waiting for him to go off the rails. In a church lecture going on at length about taxes, he did, saying if he didn’t stop talking his host would shoot him. Oh, well. It’s not so much age-related, since Biden has always done this. But his handlers should give the hook after a half hour. Here at home we have seven year olds shot in the head at birthday parties. There has always been kids killing kids, playing with guns, but this was a drive-by, a big crowd outside, shots fired. We’re some ninety miles from Chicago, where, for many years, even before I became a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, back in the last of that paper’s heyday, I would read the Chicago Tribune, which seemed to exist to report the number of children who had been killed one way or another in the city the day before. But, slowly, over the decades, South Bend has become a suburb of Chicago and its bad habits have come this way. A couple of kids were killed the last two weeks, one the usual way, one child shooting another after having latched on to some adult’s gun. But, more recently, less than a week ago, there has been the drive-by, the party murder, a Chicago staple. It, too, was a weekend killing, a popular time of recreational activity. The seventy or so people at the party would lead one to believe that some reveler might have recognized the car and occupants. It was still light out. But the See No Evil crowd still exists. In any case, all the family activity of last week was exhausting and much of it disgusting. [To be continued.] I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.