Thursday, December 31, 2020
When I think of old people – now that I have become one – I recall as a youth the various literary puzzles I was presented with in grammar school. They all pointed out that one goes from being a child all the way to the end of one’s life becoming, once again, a child. Shakespeare, Grimm’s fairy tales, literature throughout the ages, many things point to this paradox. As the year tumbles to its end, it’s clear how politics has aged us all and how those, in positions of power, are in the main terribly old, on both sides of the aisle, capping this ignominious year. Death from Covid (like the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court) kills off a lot of old folks, with a sprinkle of the young, the middle-aged, here and there. Mitch McConnell, The Donald, the new president-elect, Joe Biden, are all very long in the tooth. Stephen Breyer is the oldest member of the Court at 82, followed by Clarence Thomas at 72. But it has been the method of modern presidents to pick younger justices-to-be, so as to lengthen their stay and influence. RBG, of course, was the oldest, 87, till replaced by the youngest, ACB, 48. Who is likely to be president in 2025? Someone middle age? Or aged? I guess we’ll see. Now we’re in the last gasp of gerontology. Two things, I suppose, have forced these musings. The end of the year and the end of the hideous Trump administration, which, of course, may not yet have done its worst. New Year’s is always represented by an infant with a sash (2021!) and the departing year a unisex crone with a cane. Out with the old, in with the new. Well, with Biden/Harris we have a two-fer. The old and the new, combined. It’s not yet known whether the Senate will flip, but there’s not a lot of confidence expressed on the airways by those in the know, the Democrats, that is. Trump, of course, never disappoints. His kind of intelligence, if he has any, is reflective, meaning he does the opposite of what people with sense want. And, given his history, he has some proof of such behavior’s efficacy. Never concede. Say you won over and over for weeks on end. Some generous portion of the public will believe it if said often enough, broadcast by one and all, over media, in every form. If an individual says such things to his or her small circle of friends s/he will be a candidate for a rest home, or worse. But have the means to say it to everyone, day in and day out, and it becomes something else. Not madness, but food for thought. What’s clear, shown over and over the last four years, is that the responsible folks never wanted to admit how bad things have become, admitting to having a semi-lunatic, or, rather semi-literate know-nothing, as president. Republicans, orchestrated by Mitch McConnell, could do their dark work and it would be worth the embarrassment, especially if the culture had reached the point where the populace no longer could be embarrassed. Speaking of old saws, as I was in the first paragraph, another comes to mind: The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, producing a slogan which devolved to the emperor without clothes. There never was a universal chorus of disapprobation for The Donald, only, especially early on, scattershot shouts of the fabled child’s insight: No clothes! No clothes! Republicans had too much to lose. Trump knew he just had to reprise his role on The Apprentice. Often, that task turned out to be too difficult. The Legislative Branch continues to be an embarrassment. The two GOP Georgia Senate candidates, Senators Loeffler and Perdue, are poster children advertising the many representatives of no redeeming social value in the Congress. Given their lack of virtue in any area, except economic, they could be a cat and a dog, merely symbolic Republicans to fill their respective seats. Could they have drudged up more shocking examples of the species, corruptable nobodies filling space? And then there is the new Senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley. Hawley and I share a past. We went to the same high school in Kansas City, MO, though decades apart, an all-boys prep school run by the Jesuits. (Hawley's two winning races were against women, not an insignificant fact.) I got a good education there in the early 60s. Its campus is on the state line, moving there the year I graduated, so across the street is Kansas. I don’t think Hawley and I would have been friends. I presume he had friends there, but I’m not sure. Hawley understands the virtue of propinquity. He clerked for John Roberts. He mimicked, in a strange way, Barack Obama’s career: as a youth Hawley won an attorney general race in Missouri – which, as usual, was in the midst of governmental scandals all around – served only a year and then ran for the Senate. He realized that it is easier to win in chaos rather than calm and he faced an 11 person primary, but, like Trump, he survived the clown show. (See above remark about women opponents. Note Trump's opponent the year he won.) Biden, too, survived the Democrat primary, but Hawley had it easier. Like the Catholics Trump has appointed to the Supreme Court, Hawley clings to the faith’s hottest margins. Well, Biden is a Catholic. Catholics everywhere these days. Now, of course, Hawley has volunteered to get as much publicity as possible, posing as a Trump toady, to object during the Electoral College Senate vote count. See Josh run. Obama jumped quickly from one election to another, the Senate to the Presidency. All of this just points to the fact that we aren’t leaving the politics-as-asylum show any time soon. And Trump, for whatever terrible reasons, has abandoned Mar-a-Lago today to return to the White House, forgoing the gaudy New Year’s eve party held there. Happy New Year, though the new year won’t actually start till January 20th.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Well, who expected anything different? The cliche, Hope Springs Eternal, proves itself again. From the time The Donald came down his escalator, he has been a buffoon, just what he always has been, a huckster dying for attention. One still wonders about the singularity of his elevation to President. I have been writing about this phenomenon – the accidental presidency – for many years, how chance plays such a disproportionate role in our modern (all I’m claiming) history. I don’t want to go through a litany, but let’s start with LBJ. Lee Harvey Oswald, the president maker. Need I say more? I could, but let’s carry on. But Trump descending from a Trump Tower escalator, as a metaphor, has no bottom. Down, down, down we go, went. I don’t know if debased comes from the de-basement, the cellar, but it appears there is no basement to be found with Trump. How he began is how he ends – though, given that there are more than 30 days left, we most likely haven’t gone as low as we can go. I recall the beginning of his reign, when there was some faint hope expressed that the presidency would “elevate” his conduct. Ha, ha, ha. One end of Trump the builder is Trump the wrecking ball. Out with the old, in with the new, the new being chaos and destruction. Trying to discern his appeal, I did notice his narrow version of populism. There’s always a bit of attraction in that. And never appearing to be smarter than his audience. That accounts for a large share of his horde of followers. And being so dumb that the powers-that-be in the GOP, ensconced in DC, thought, for the most part correctly, that they could do pretty much what the party leaders wanted. Even the cable media giants are worried these days about the boring Biden/Harris administration to come. The Donald did manage to create a new outrage a day, which fit with the times, given the 24 hour, short attention-span public of watchers. Though I never watched Trump’s “The Apprentice,” I occasionally land on some prime time network television show these days and find myself appalled anew. And the so-called intelligent shows, what few still exist (has anyone noticed the steep decline of “60 Minutes”?) have abandoned all hope and become weird versions of “Dateline,” often hosted by NBC’s prime television’s news anchor, cheery Lester Holt. PBS, I suppose, still tries, but, really? So we have to resort to the growing thirst for documentaries, which show up here and there, series often, rather than one-shots, for information, but here, too, entertainment values dominate. But back to Trump. Again, by just being morbidly contrary, he manages to rack up more firsts. The first sitting president of the new era, to damn democracy and libel elections, chanting daily, often hourly, how the whole system, the one the country has used for centuries, is a sham and a fraud. You would think that would upset a few people. But the citizens who seem most upset are Trump’s legions, agreeing with him. The Republican establishment thinks all his blandishments are just fine. They are patient parents to the worst of children, thinking he will outgrow, or become exhausted, and eventually abandon his tantrum. January 20th? Television will still succumb to The Donald’s catnip and, after he exits, it will feature him and his scurrilous antics for the sake of eyeballs and ratings in the parallel universe he already occupies (and helped create), contrasting it with whatever the Biden/Harris administration can mount as competition. Given the demon Mitch McConnell, that won’t be much, I’m afraid. We haven’t left crazy time and, I suppose, once again, it’s because of technology over sense, and the lowering of all standards over time. Along with the lowering, is the paradoxical rise in “liberals” censorious control of culture, where, in the last decade or so, neo-neologisms have prospered. Not invented words, but older language that has been newly dressed up. Two examples: “curated” and “cancel”, the new C words. When I began to hear fellow academics use the word curated, or curate, I took an interest in the sociology involved. It was “privileging” the role, not of the creator, but of the already created, those who notice or claim value, not the progenitors. I thought that dangerous. It seemed to be an abandonment, but also an elevation. The cancel culture followed. Those who choose can also not choose, but cancel. I’ve always been a fan of choosing between good and bad, but this was something different, a corporatization of judgment. Why do I mention, or go on, this tangent? Oh, I suppose it has to do with why Trump won, when so many educated people didn’t vote, or didn’t vote for Hillary, voting instead for the ridiculous third- and fourth-party candidates, or, because of the dispatched Bernie, might have cast their lot with the rube Trump as a protest vote. Trump didn’t so much win the 2016 election as it was forfeited by those who should have known better. We have all gone through a terrible four years, topped off with a Pandemic (without which Trump might actually, probably, have won reelection). And now he, dare I say legitimately, has about half of the country’s voters on his side. And absent a post-Xmas Miracle of Georgia the next four years loom ominously. Trouble ahead.
Thursday, December 3, 2020
Given what Amy Coney Barrett’s first case to garner attention turned out to be, one could think there was Divine intervention. It was one of those instant – in terms of the court’s usual mode – decisions responding to someone’s idea of a crisis, such as, how quickly can we make George W. president? – or, in this case, how many of the faithful, mainly Catholics and Jews, can we cram into a church or synagogue or temple, during a pandemic? It seems always to be an End of Days event. Since the Supreme Court itself is all Catholics and Jews (though Neil Gorsuch, the snob, became an “Episcopalian” when he reached early adulthood) it seemed like a family affair. Even Gorsuch’s decision, letting the-more-the-merrier attend, drips with his classic hoity-toity disdain: “...but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians....” Bret Stephens, in the Times, loved it. He would. The Chief Justice threw up his hands and joined the “liberals”, wishing it, the case itself being terribly premature, would just go away. Public health be damned. Anyway, I wonder what Justice Gorsuch would have said about the not-Kool Aid, but cheaper flavored sweetener, suicide-by-religion in Jonestown, Guyana. More the merrier, doubtless. Amy Coney Barrett did her duty to the Lord and fulfilled His Wish for putting her on the Court. She was the deciding vote. If the congregants want to dare potential death, let them. Again, I might seem obsessed with the makeup of the Court, all Catholics and Jews. I’ve been writing about it for years. I just find it peculiar that actual Protestants have so fallen in disfavor. This comes about since ardently religious Protestants tend to be zealots, perhaps not as extreme as ACB, but out there, evangelical-wise. Think of famous Protestants and you get the idea. Who knows? Will President-elect Biden appoint a protestant, if he gets a chance? (I’m talking about you, Clarence. Don’t you have better things to do?) Biden, of course, is our second Catholic President-to-be. Given the early evidence of Biden’s appointments, perhaps we’ll get a non-western religionist. Something a bit more exotic for the America First crowd, a stab at stepping free of ecumenicism. We’ll see. We have less than 50 days to go of the bottom-of-the-barrel presidency of Donald Trump. Some doubt that, but not me. I can’t imagine – whatever my powers in this regard – anyone worse. Yesterday’s news was the reported likelihood of a Trump 2024 run, to be announced on the same day as Biden is sworn in, another ratings bonanza for someone. Trump’s imagination equals or surpasses his IQ: just do the opposite of what the smart people do. He is the unsightly reflection of the sightly. The Mr. Hyde to the Dr. Jekyll. One of my many objections to the man is that I, like many, never saw his “hit” TV program the years it ran. I wasn’t part of his demographic, the mob that makes up the bulk of his voters. It wasn’t a matter of politics, it was a matter of stupid. I avoid stupid. The new developing conventional wisdom is that Biden will be too old to run again in 2024. Maybe. And it does create a sour foreboding that will lurk over the White House for three years, given that The Donald will be the age Biden is now when Biden assumes the office, the Presidency. God save us all.