Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Impeachment isn't the answer

Now it's become reality, it's time to recognize that, for most of us, impeachment of trump is not a dream come true but the shameful recognition we screwed up so badly we have to use extraordinary measures to fix our error.

I'm old enough to remember the people crowing that Nixon's impeachment hearings and subsequent quitting was evidence of the system working the way it was intended. That may have been true, but trump's trial and potential ouster wouldn't be a proof of the system's efficacy but of how, faced with a misbehaving and harmful leader, who should have been surrounded by people who could check the worst impulses of a candidate who had proved he was all impulse, the system allowed him to dismiss the adults in the room, bring in his sycophants, and allow his fantasies of making himself chief executive officer over not just a corporation but over a nation where real lives are affected, and now has to make the argument that only in his removal can the system be set back to factory settings. This should be easy, too, given his predilection to act out in public. But he's shown to have surrounded himself with such toadying miscreants willing to excuse and ignore all the harm he does that there's a genuine fear not only could he receive exoneration from them, but they could actually enable his reelection.

Despite all the harm and abuse he and his family, both blood and behavioral, have done the American people and the people relying on them, I don't want him impeached. I want an end to his reign more in keeping with it. I want him, his family, and his upper administration sneaking onto Air Force One at midnight with the clothes on their backs, clutching loot grabbed from White House shelves in last-minute desperation, heading to permanent exile in Moscow, knowing their alternative is arrest and the Hague, living out the ends of their lives like Marcos, Duvalier, Pahlevi, in constant fear one of those toadies will gladly give them up to curry favor with the new administration. They have made this country a banana republic, let them endure the poetic endings of those rulers.

They can have Air Force One.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Trump is a virus

The closer we come to the potential, whether acted on by the Senate or not, of trump's impeachment, the more some of us are accused by right-leaning friends of enjoying the proceedings and of wanting impeachment. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I would prefer the sight of the entire trump family and administration and its toadies schlepping onto a jet with nothing but the clothes on their backs moments before the arrival on the runway of vans full of FBI, only to see the plane take off for the Ukraine where, like the Duvaliers or the Pahlevis or the Marcoses, they live out their days in asylum on state aid, I know that's unlikely.

Much as that fantasy tickles my sense of justice, and even if impeachment arrives, as promised by Moscow Mitch McConnell, dead in the water, I am not looking at it gladly or seeing its possible playing-out gleefully. I don't think anyone seriously is.

I'm old enough to remember how the Nixon impeachment went down and the observation that it's a positive event because it meant the system works. But I think it means exactly the opposite, that the system is so befuddled that, like a wanky program, our only way to fix things is to hit the reset and hope for the best. In this instance we can't even return to the factory settings.

Donald trump has been such a malignant insertion into our nation's system, think of him as spyware or a zombie bot, that our only solution is bodily removal of him and his infections from the system. He has operated the presidency as a business in the most criminal sense, as a way to enrich himself and his cronies by looting. He has not provided a service--ask any supporter for an example of something he's accomplished that provides for anyone other than his coterie and at best you get splutters of "America First"--but an excuse, a sense of greed justified by fear, hatred, and false self-victimization. Removing him won't, of course, make things better because he isn't the problem on his own. At worst he's the popularizer of a way to look at government-by-looting, and at best he provides cover for the worst natures of people who have waited for just his sort of greed. But kill the head and the body will fall. He shows no sign he recognizes his oversteps or misbehavior. His supporters ignore or cover them. Those of us who recognize that sin is treating other people like steps to your own advantage have to show them it isn't acceptable. He must be removed like a weed, wholly, so not even a root remains.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

I just like it

I've enjoyed comic books since I was a child. Hardly a revolutionary or unique statement, you can find any number of blogs and websites devoted to reading and appreciating them. You probably grew up with them too. But I have a special set of memories for the comics of the 60s and 70s, when I was most impressionable. They say the music you loved when you were 14 (David Bowie, in my case) is the music you'll love the rest of your life.

Because I read not just the comics of that period but reprints of earlier comics, strips, pulps, I enjoy the mystery around the Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. The mystery comes from the sense I get reading a panel and trying to work out who is being referred to, who is being depicted, what situation is being faced. It's a little harder (and thus more thrilling) to me because most of his references are from British comics and media, which I'm not always familiar with. When I was a tween, I bought a stack of Punch magazines from the 70s, and tried understanding the references and satires of political figures. It was the progenitor of what Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson wanted to make Spy for 80s and 90s America (and to a large degree succeeded). But what I mostly understood from Punch were the comics.

A compendium like this is wonderful for figuring out who is who, what image is being suggested, how an otherwise dissociative series of events (say, the voyages of Gulliver and the fascism of Big Brother) might lead to one another. It's as if Moore took The Avenger from the pulps, images from New Yorker cartoons, Major Hoople, EggheadAngio MaggioDorothy Gale, Richard DiamondPercy Dovetonsils, and slammed them all together in William Burroughs' Freeland. (Here too, I loved Philip Jose Farmer's Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life whose family tree of the Wold Newton universe was an early example I devoured with pleasure.)

All told, I'm sorry to see that the series is ending, but all good things of course. And this essay is a good wrap-up of the wrap-up.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

We will survive

I have long thought of myself as a basically optimistic person. The ascension and glorification of the trumpian model for government has made a considerable dent in that, as does this authoritative analysis sounding contemporary civilization's death knell. But I feel that optimism reborn while reading this essay.

It's true, we do have a history as a species of resilience and adaptation in the face of near-total destruction. While it's tempting to think of the responses by the majority of a populace to allow problems to accumulate until there's nothing left to be done, there are a lot of other people who, in the author's words, "use the meager acknowledgement of our knack for survival as a launch point for innovation and change," from the development of biodomes to electric cars to more resilient crops. She's right, we aren't starting from scratch. We have thousands of years of experience to draw on to counter "fluctuations in climate that [left] humans and deal with...droughts, floods, extinctions, and collapses of entire civilizations." 

One book I read some time back serves me as a reminder of the 7th Generation Principle of the Iroquois. Morris Berman's The Twilight of American Culture reminds us that, as the Dark Ages flowed crepuscularly around whole societies and cultures to finally drag all of Europe back to a period of malignancy and savagery, there were small clumps of individuals, most of them monks of one kind or another, who carved out little niches (sometimes literally) to keep learning and acquired knowledge from disappearing. And there are earlier examples, from the Rosetta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls, of groups caching important works for future, less reactionary generations to find. 

This should give us positive pause, the recognition that the billions of lives on Earth are ourselves the descendents of adaptive groups. And each time we seem to have gone on to, if not always better, newer times.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Laugh in his face

When I was in my late teens or early 20s, I wrote a bad short story. This isn't anything in itself. At that age and at that point in our lives, most of us write bad stories of one kind or another. And my story wouldn't have risen to the "so bad it's interesting" level; it was simply an overwrought story full of its own importance and cleverness, and to be honest the only thing I remember of it is that it was part of an attempt I was making then to have all my stories interconnect by showing the different sides of the same characters (for instance, by having one character, an attempted rapist in one story, die in Vietnam saving a wounded soldier in another story), and as an indication of its poverty, I don't even remember the title.

But I do remember its denouement. The story was about elementary students whose teacher opts not to have a Christmas tree in their classroom, leading one child's father to confront the teacher in the parking lot after school in front of the kids. The father, who I modeled after a short, scared, violent man I knew in real life, punches the teacher in the face, knocking hm into the snow, and then drops into a defensive stance. The teacher, straightening up, instead of fighting him the way the kids hope for, laughs loudly at the father, collects his things, and walks to his car, still laughing. This might sound better and more nuanced than it was, and my story suffers from the teacher having to explain to the narrator why he did that.

But my point, that people who mete out violence deserve the deflation of a loud laugh and the unwillingness to take them seriously, is a good one. I don't remember where I got that but it's a good point: Try putting yourself above others by one means or another, and try to keep yourself there by violent reaction, and you need to be brought back to reality by a hearty belly laugh at your expense.

Not with you, but at you.

This is what I think we need in this age of trump, a solid laugh at what he and his supporters say about themselves and about him. To be sure, what they are doing and attempting to do, by taking on for themselves the responsibility of turning back the clock to a time when old rich white men make the rules everyone but them play by, is not a laughing matter. It hurts people in reality, sometimes killing them, and often the most vulnerable. That's what they count on to keep ourselves in line, that they are too serious and frightening in what they can do to us. How much more crushing to their sense of self to be reminded that we know they're afraid. They deserve no solace or pity.

Laugh in their faces.

Your uncle forwards a message that climate change as we're experiencing it is natural. Return it with a laugh. Someone you're having a debate with says trump is doing well for the economy. Laugh in his face. I'm not talking about a titter or a chuckle. I'm talking about a full, inarticulate, unstoppable belly laugh. As if what they are asserting is so obviously on the face of it ridiculous that the only rational response is to laugh at it, because it must be a joke. And make no mistake because trump and his assertions are a joke.

Would this have made a difference, had we treated trump as the empty suit he is at the start of his campaign as a self-referencing buffoon? Some would argue that we did exactly that, and further that it was our inability to take him and his ideas as a serious threat that led us to where we are. That may be the case. Perhaps our having done so worked in his favor, giving him and his followers the impulse to show us up for not having taken him and them seriously. I don't know. But I do know that they're expecting us now to take them seriously, and it's time to point out to them, no matter what harm they may try to do us, that we do not.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Nostalgia in a box

I've been doing jigsaw puzzles lately, sometimes with my mother-in-law who turns out to enjoy them and will stay up until all hours doing them. This is one I'd bought last winter for my wife and I to do on cold nights.

It's difficult to see, but the subject is girls' adventure books of the early 20th century, and what interests me is the depth of nostalgia I found as I was putting it together. I used to read the boys' version of these when I was what we now call a tween. While I can't say I remember them well, I do remember the sense of, if not adventure, then of calm they gave me. I'm certain what both boys and girls series were intended to do was to give growing kids the sense of optimism about their future. If these misfit characters--in the above examples, The Girl Who Lost Things or The Worst Girl in the School; in my memories, Smilin' Jack and Red Ryder and Little Beaver and the Rover Boys, Paladin, even Mickey Mouse--could grow up into some sense of normalcy, defined in the novels a sense of belonging both to society at large and a smaller community of people who looked up to and appreciated the misfit, then I certainly could.

For me, these were eventually supplanted by the Whitman Big Little Books of the late 60s and early 70s, featuring more contemporary characters like Batman or Major Matt Mason or Frankenstein, Jr.
What I remember best about these series was the inclusion of death in them: the killing of a strangely behaving mouse in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the deaths of some of The Invaders, the deaths by shootout of typical bad guys in Bonanza. These led me to the Doc Savage and The Shadow novels republished in the early 70s and a mainstay of the drugstore book racks. In them, death was a constant, both for the unwary and ultimately for the villain. Someone not paying the right attention or meddling where he didn't belong could become the victim of the machinations of an unscrupulous would-be world conqueror or petty criminal, eventually given his comeuppance by the hero.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Red-Monster

I certainly wasn't his best friend. And although I knew him for a long time and we stayed in touch as well as we could, I couldn't call him a close friend. But he saw me, in his wife's words, as "a good shit." I would have said the same, and for a lot of us, that's about as good as it gets.

We were in grad school together, his first time and my second. He was part of what another friend described as "the Raymond Carver crew," writers in the 90s who felt the power of the word lay in saying things plainly, without flowers, without elaboration. Back then he only wrote fiction, so that when I found out years later he'd published a chapbook, I wondered when he'd started writing poetry.

He married, had kids, found steady work that was meaningful and often frustrating. If I hadn't kept in touch with him on Facebook, I wouldn't have known him if I'd passed him on the street. He went from a Marky Ramone shaggy mullet to a hairline rivaling Patrick Stewart's for brevity. When he died a couple weeks ago, it was a shock. He hadn't been sick, had stopped drinking a long time before, didn't even smoke or eat much fried food. I heard it was his heart and I like to think it surprised him too, so he didn't feel anything more than the snap of an artery.

He was the kind of good shit that, when a lot of us got together last Saturday to remember him, the words said more often than any others were, "I'm gonna miss him." We told a lot of stories about him, and I wrote this one down for his wife and kids. He might have told them, but maybe it's mine to tell.

This was back before I knew him, back when he was still drinking and living the sort of life he would write about. "I was in jail in St. Peter, on a DUI charge. The judge gave me a choice, I could stay in my cell during the day or go to college. I chose school because I'd been in cells before. There was a school in St. Peter but I couldn't afford that, and Mankato is about 12 miles south, and they accepted me.

"They took away my license and my car, so I had to bike the distance. I took classes every day so I didn't have to stay in my cell. It was dead winter, and there I was biking there every morning and back every afternoon. I did that my whole sentence. I was about 7 weeks in when I realized I must be getting something out of it."