Friday, August 18, 2017

The liminal redemption of Donald Trump


I believe strongly in redemption, the idea that anyone can redeem himself or herself with the good of society no matter what evils he or she may have done. Anyone. This includes racists and Donald Trump.The things we do, little things that we may not think about, big things we give a lot of thought to, affect other people and radiate in ways we don't understand fully. We call such things liminal, the confusing, often unconscious transition point between acting and not acting, a doorway between "Someone should do something about that" and "I am someone."

Can this liminal redemption happen? I don't know, but the butterfly effect is real. It's given us the ends of the Soviet Union, American institutional slavery, and South African Apartheid. It's given us smaller, more personal things like the cousin who checks in to make certain you're okay, the employer who gives you a second chance, the busy driver who helps you cross the street. These small acts of compassion demonstrate our humanity. They are what we must do to build us up against those who would tear us down.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's gone too far

The past couple weeks have been maddening, chaotic, not only personally but, more importantly, nationally. It can't be mistaken that I'm in any way a Trump supporter or apologist, but I couldn't have wished on him the clusterfuck he has brought on himself.

I don't think I have to explain much of anything about what happened this past weekend in Charlottesville, VA. By now just about everyone knows at least the basic facts: that an event calling itself Unite the Right obtained a permit for a march on Saturday, ostensibly to protest the removal and relocating of some local statues to the Confederacy. That the Friday night before, various groups there for the march held a pre-march march through the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting slogans like "You will not replace us," "Jews will not replace us," and "Blood and soil." That this encouraged more counter-protesters to appear the next morning; that the rally was declared an illegal assembly after there were violent outbreaks that included beatings of counter-protesters by Unite marchers, in one infamous instance using poles (warning: not only a brutal scene but very annoying ads to get through for the video). That in one related instance a helicopter crashed a few miles from the rally, for as-yet-unknown reasons, killing the two VA State Troopers inside; but not before, tragically, a car driven by a rally attendee rammed into several groups of counter-protesters, injuring nearly twenty and killing one.

At least it used to be that just about everyone would know that back when we had three channels with nightly news. With innumerable sources claiming to be collectors and disseminaters of what they call "news," some of it legitimate, most of it conjecture if not outright wishing, a reasonable commentator can't assume everyone is up to speed in the same way. Trump, famously, is primarily a consumer of a single network that provides news entertainment and a few websites, most of which present him in as positive a light as possible. Most recently, we have learned that he may be given a twice-daily set of memos detailing nothing other than "screenshots of positive cable news chyrons..., admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful."

Which may be why Trump reported in his initial statement on the violent events as the deaths and injuries were something that could be blamed on "many sides," a statement that defies analysis. We don't say that a mugger or an arsonist has "a side." Beyond his version of events, he doesn't have a side for having done what he did that we need to pay attention to. Barring exceptional circumstances, robbery and arson are bad acts unto themselves, not to be addressed as if they have a "side." Similarly, assault and intimidation by self-identified Nazis and KKK members against unarmed protesters don't have a side. 

If we had thought Trump had reached his nadir, then we weren't prepared for what was to come. Having made a further statement on Monday making more explicit his condemnation of racism, naming "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups," on Tuesday night he made what one supposes he hoped would be a final word on the subject. Naturally, being Trump, it will not be. At least not by commentators and, one hopes, by Republican lawmakers. 

His comments were nothing less than offensive and accusatory. “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he began, before going on to do exactly that. In the ensuing days somehow the counter-protesters had become armed attackers. “You had a group on one side and group on the other and they came at each other with clubs – there is another side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group." That defies verified videos of the events, although Trump explained to reporters he had watched videos "closer than you did." 

He made the further argument, "You had people that were very fine people on both sides...Not all those people were neo-Nazis, not all those people were white supremacists. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee." There is an argument to be made that not everyone who joined the National Socialists believed in their policies or their actions. That argument can be made for members in the 1930s and 1940s. Not for members in 2017. There is no parallel argument to be made, by the way, for members of the Ku Klux Klan at any period of history. Both groups and their auxilliaries have, by their words and actions , put themselves beyond the scope of society, and while their right to exist and to present their "side" is protected by the Constitution, it is only so long as it is done peacefully, not with guns, poles, and torches, and certainly not with hurtling cars. So far as the comment about people there to protest the statues' removal, yes, they are probably "fine people," but it isn't their argument about the statue that's at contest here, it's their actions of rushing the counter-demonstrators, hitting them, and intimidating them with guns and ersatz riot gear intended to make them look like official police. 

We are at an important moment in history. Trump and the thirty-five percent of Americans who somehow continue to think he is doing a job worth approving are at the end of their influence on the important policies of American governance. I've often pointed out that more people believe in ghosts than believe in Trump and we don't allow them to run the country. 

Trump has reached his sell-by date; in fact, in the fact that it's cost at least three Americans their lives, he's passed it. The sooner he resigns (preferable because we don't want the martyrdom that might come with impeachment), the sooner the reconstruction of American political life can begin. I don't like Mike Pence as the president, I think in some ways he'll be worse than Trump. But he'll be consistent, he'll play by the rules. And he'll know not to confuse self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and members of the KKK with voters whose endorsement he wants. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

a little hope

I have, as some might imagine, much to say about the burning dumpster fire which is the situation in Charlottesville, VA, and I will say it. But today, as I've been reacting and texting, I came across a short ad that fills me with hope.

I say an ad because it's a trailer for a BBC show. Amazing Humans, and the episode is subtitled "Every Child Deserves the Right to Play." It chronicles a group of people who had an idea to help, tried it, were absolutely stunned at the realization they had no clue how they were going to accomplish it, and discovered that being there is sometimes all the planning you need. Watch it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Sam Shepard Story

With all the mishigas of the past week, national and personal, I've held back on this, my Sam Shepard story. This was, maybe, twenty years ago. I was working for a company  that parceled me out like a paid friend to a number of people, most of whose caregivers needed some kind of time off. One of them was a retired farmer named Lamoine. His wife needed three hours a week to herself on Thursdays for shopping and sociability. One afternoon I arrived and there was a red truck with Minnesota plates in the drive, and a big red lab in the bed. I said, "Hey, bud!" to the dog and he came to the gate wagging and sniffing my face and mouth. We bonded real quickly, and I went over to the house and knocked on the door. Sam Shepard opened it. 

Now I knew he was buying land from Lamoine but hadn't expected he would be there visiting. I stuck out my hand and said, "I'm Bob." He stuck out his and said, "I'm Sam Shepard." Now at this point there were several different things I could have said: "Buried Child. Wow No one saw that coming."; "Fool for Love; what the hell was that?"; even, "I saw King Kong, Jessica has great tits." But I ended up saying what struck me right then and there. 

"Wow. Sam, you got bad teeth."

Because he did. His whole top row of front teeth were set back like a firebreak line of trees to protect his palate; he wore false teeth when he acted or was in public. He smiled a little and covered his mouth. We got along okay.


Cut to a week later and my wife and I are in a nearby WalMart. It starts raining and we're wandering around the place, not looking anymore for anything in particular. And suddenly Sam Shepard is standing in front of us. I went up to him and said, "Hi, Sam." And he put out his hand and said, "Bob, right?" He had his falsies in. I introduced him to my wife and we talked for a little bit about the area, the horses he planned to stable on what used to be Lamoine's land. And then the rain let up and he said, "Well, gotta go." We said goodbye and wandered around a little longer because we didn't want to seem to be following him. 


A few minutes later we were checking out and the cashier was all agush, pointing to another cashier a few rows over, saying, "She just checked out Sam Shepard!" And we said, "Oh, yeah, Sam. Nice guy. Bad teeth."

Friday, June 30, 2017

Should the president be a role model?


Short answer: Absolutely.
Slightly longer answer: Abso-fucking-lutely.

Much longer answer: Since he's assumed office, Trump has gone out of his way to rudely respond to anyone registering the slightest grievance with his policies, his choices for officials, his use of his weekends, even the tweets with which he communicates with the country (and apparently with his staff, since he often announces new and different opinions daily).

But even within his large list of offensive tweets, it's understood that his most recent offensive message heralds a new low point, and probably a new difficulty for those Republicans foolish enough to continue trying to negotiate a channel by which they might actually govern.

In trying to defend his ever-increasing nastiness, his deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Americans might be better off looking to God for behavior modeling than to the POTUS.

Setting aside that God's behavior, unlike Trump's, can't be articulated (some people get long, painful, lingering deaths, others quick ones; some places receive wave after wave of decimating environmental and economic disasters, others simply do not; there is no theology that explains that, only several suggesting we get used to it), there's also the important command, imperative to Christianity, that all adherents try their best to emulate Jesus. Trump claims and has had claimed for him that he is a Christian. Perhaps Huckabee Sanders can explain to us: What aspect of Christ's behavior is he modeling in this most recent tweet?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I don't want to be in charge

I've spent the week in The Thick visiting my dad at his nursing facility, and while I'm here my wife has been having difficulty dealing with the Tall Kid, our foster son. According to her, one of the things he's told her several times has been, "Well, Bobby lets us [whatever it might be he wants to do and she doesn't want him to]. He doesn't have an issue with it."

So naturally relationships between fathers and sons has been on my mind.

She's right when she suggests I'm inconsistent in disciplining him. This is a part of why I've never wanted kids: I can be quite consistent when I'm working, say, with teenage boys and girls because it's only for a number of hours a day, and then I go home and I don't have to care about them. When I'm home, I don't want to be in charge, I want to drink a couple beers and read a book and go to bed. In my defense, I knew going into this situation that could not be how things happened, but I didn't really think much about it.

But I can't be like my dad who, for all his plusses, was not much of a disciplinarian or involved in my day to day life when I was a kid. My mother was easily the primary fount of good and bad behavior, punishment and praise, in the lives of my sister and I. When she was disappointed or angry, or proud or happy, we were aware of it. She was a larger-than-life personality, a Mama Rose without the pathetic demands for attention or the murder accusation. I think I was, somewhere in the back of my brainpan, under the impression I could count on the same happening as a foster dad.

Since my mom died my dad has played a larger role in my life than ever before. One of the things he's done of which I'm proudest is to have been the priary caretaker for my mom the last decade and a half of her life. A favorite memory from those years is his gently tugging a scarf around her neck and making certain her shirt collar was comfortably inside the scarf, reminiscent of my own actions readying residents of group homes where I worked for winter walks. After his retirement as a banker, my dad spent several years volunteering at the same sort of group homes, often doing overnights, work he has since said he wished had been his career.

The Tall Kid lives for basketball and I am watching a WNBA game, part of my determination to watch as many games as I can because I want to appreciate his playing and I want to share that appreciation with him in his language. This is another difference between me and my dad, who never tried to be a part of my life outside (or, so far as I could see, inside) our home. I don't know this will make me a better dad than him, I don't think about it that way. I like to think, since I'm not his father, this will make a difference as the Tall Kid matures.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

We Have a Kid

I think a month and a half break from publishing is long enough. During that time, much has happened. Trump's first hundred days have come and gone, numerous scandals relating to said 100 days and earlier have been discovered or uncovered, members of a family were murdered during an argument between a woman and her "bully[ing,] ticking time bomb" of a husband who nonetheless had access to a gun, people were killed by van and knife in London, and a lot of people naturally were killed between May 1 and May 31 around the world in various terrorist attacks. And during this period, we finally took in a foster son.

It was a long process, begun last year. Since, over the years, we have housed up many of my homeless and traveling friends, my wife said, "I think I'm getting the hang of this. Maybe we can have a kid come live with us." We'd talked for years, mostly in the theoretical language we appreciate, of having a teen come to live with us, but now we decided we had crossed the Rubicon between theory and practice and were ready to give ourselves in place of lectures or a little charity. So we began what was, in retrospect, not so bad a process but at the time seemed a huge burden to carry, essentially explaining the way we'd decided to live our lives in such a way that people for whom anything much outside the lines was a line too far (and they begrudged us that, oh yes, they did, keeping us on tenterhooks down to the wire as to whether they would even accept us or not) to be satisfied that we would not assault or eat any teenage children they threw our way. We knew, from the beginning, we would prefer teens as that age is very hard to place, but is the age group with which we were most comfortable.

The Tall Kid is a good kid, 6'4" of opportunity and issues. Like any of us are. Without getting into his history, I will say he's in foster care for the first time, having been placed with different members of his family and being rejected in each case. He behaves well around home, and while there are missteps, they aren't major ones (well, except using my wife's still-working credit card information on her former phone he uses to order sneakers, but we caught that fast and dealt quickly with it. One of the major elements I insist on is that, once a situation has been corrected, that's the last he hears about it, unless he does it again); it's been different at school. There, he's an authority-confronting, teacher-defying frequent user of their In-School Suspension Room, and the day before the end of school his principal called to tell me he had worn out his welcome there and was now suspended for the rest of the school year (which meant, of course, a day and a half).

We are hoping he makes the changes he wants to over the summer before starting high school. We suspect many of the problems at school are attributible to his past behavior and the fact, as someone new to the foster system, and as a Tall Black Kid, he's a focus of attention. At least high school offers  a place for new behaviors. I'm not so naive to assue he suddenly straightens up and flies right. I remember my own teens too well. But I am hoping the new place makes him want to be a different, better person.

I'm reading a book that's 20 years out of date, but is nonetheless one I'm learning a lot from: A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence, by Patricia Hersch. If nothing else, it gives me an insight into the way his parents might have grown up and why they treated him in the ways they did. Color me hopeful.