I Think I’m Beginning to Understand

image from The Boston Globe

Starting Sunday, I avoided it all. I deleted my Facebook app. I didn’t make my usual rounds of news sites. I left the room when my wife was watching Lester Holt talk about the electoral college. I’d done all I could–what little I could–to influence the course of this election. I’d voted (even waited in line because my wife wanted to be part of the historic first day turn out). I’d donated (to Biden…I had to give money to Joe Biden, heaven help me). I’d put out a yard sign (I wanted to add a little placard off the side of “Biden/Harris” that said, “but mostly Harris”). I’d phone banked as much as I could stand to (which is very little because God, do I hate the very idea of it). I’d run my mouth off online to anyone who would listen (which is not very many, but thank you whoever you are, dear reader).

So I waited.

And on Wednesday I woke to heartbreak. I knew that his die-hard, MAGA hat-wearing, Trump-flag driving sheep would follow this so-called president to oblivion no matter what. But what percentage of the country are those people? Not huge, but I was prepared for, say 30% of the country to vote for him no matter what. But that morning, it looked like Trump might actually prevail, which was the most overtly awful thing. But even worse, I think, he had amassed a record turn out for Republicans. The red states, the conservatives, the Evangelicals, the white suburban moms–had not rejected him as they should have.

And yes, they should have, dammit. Listen: his hard core sheep, the ones who would vote for him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, they would have accepted whatever he said about the pandemic. America was never going to do super well against this catastrophe. We would never embrace or even accept the robust contact tracing that has worked well in Asia, obviously. The story of fighting COVID is not about winning. We are not going to beat this virus. It is too easily spread and too insidious. Since January, epidemiologists have warned us that this disease will eventually infect a majority of the population of the planet. It is only a matter of time.

But time is what other countries have bought themselves. It’s a battle of delaying tactics and it is Trump who is to blame for sending us into the fray like a human wave over the ramparts.

Literally all this man had to do was to tell people in March to wear masks. If he had done that, if he had prevented this absolutely insane politicization of a basic public health precaution, then we would probably have a hundred thousand fewer deaths right now.

Instead, he railed against the logical, sensible prescriptions of every health expert on the planet.

For that, he should have been punished. For that, he should have been slaughtered at the polls. For that, we should not be fussing over recounts in Georgia and Pennsylvania. The whole damn map should be blue right now. No political leader before Trump could survive a failure of this magnitude.

Yet he had. Has. Even though his defeat is all but complete now, he has grown too enamored of those crowds. His ego–what little he has latched on to that simmering fungal growth of id–has become too dependent on the sycophantic adulation of those red hats. He has longed for this kind of attention his entire sad, small life. He will not make good on his promise to go away, to leave the country. The rallies will go on. (But fortunately, his political vision is so narrowly about himself that I doubt he will ever shape policy again, likely will never seek public office again. I say let him have his circle jerks with these people. Let them circle together in the widening gyre.)

This revelation rattled me. When I was in college, I remember an assignment for my intro speech course in which we had to present a speech about and introducing ourselves. I gave mine using the Voyager space probe as an extended metaphor. I said, “We were both launched in the 70s and we’re both dedicated to expanding knowledge and understanding.” That has been the mission of my life: To understand. To try to share that understanding.

But I had failed.

This outcome, I could not reconcile with my conception of humankind. Yes, of course we were capable of irrationality. Obviously, history is replete with societies gripped by horrible regimes, people who embraced evil. But democracy, I had always believed, would protect us from tyranny, from authoritarianism. People, when given the reigns en masse in a prosperous, safe society would not willingly choose the illiberal, the corrupt, the broken.

But they had.

Every morning I take our dog–a pandemic rescue who has upended our lives, befouled our sofa and floors, and ensured that I get a lot more exercise walking–to the nearby park and let her run around. Standing in the chill, green field alone with dawn just lapping at the edges of my serene, idyllic little world, I thought about the futility of all my sad attempts to engage in political discourse. What had they all come to? What had all that energy, time, and thought been for? I thought I should take a vow of silence on all things political.

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.”
You can see how long that lasted.

After walking back from the park with the dog Wednesday morning, I returned to my wife, still obsessively watching every minute of coverage she could. (She would not sleep well until last night, so twisted by anxiety over vote counts.) The hosts of the Today show said something as I was passing through that has rattled in my brain since.

They were talking about how the pandemic and all the other manifest failures of the Trump administration had not broken his support among the broader Republican Party faithful.

The pundit–whose name I didn’t catch–told a story about talking to a conservative voter in Pennsylvania who had told him she had come back around to voting for Trump because she didn’t like the feeling of what the other side represented.

Savannah Guthrie suggested something to the effect of “that feeling may turn out to be more important than any actual issue.”

My son, brigand and iconoclast that he is, is fond of lambasting us, his “liberal” parents and sibling. He has told us often how Trump is all our fault. He is, in my son’s eyes, a reaction to all the excesses of the progressive vanguard in the Culture Wars. By railing so hard to inspire white guilt and extend aide and comfort to more and more narrowly defined fringe groups–LatinX transgender people with celiac disease, maybe–we had so rattled the conservative elements in the country that “in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” (Yes, he really quoted The Dark Knight to analyze politics, which just proves to me, even if he prides himself on not being me, he still is.)

But I’ve always told him that he was being too narrow, keying in on one distorted view of the landscape. So while the Today show comment and my memory of my son’s many, many rants on the subject simmered on the back burners. I returned sometime Thursday to my usual haunts to try again to understand my fellow Americans–48% of whom saw the debacle of the Trump presidency and said, “Yes, more of that, please.”

Anyone who actually pays attention to my political posts (hey, there, dear Reader, whoever you are) knows that my coziest home on the web is The Atlantic. So I read and nodded to conservative Tom Nichols’ lament and warning about what the Trump turn-out means for our political reality in the future. I also read Tufekci’s piece on authoritarianism in America. I’ve always said that what scares me most about Trump is that he has been so successful while also being strikingly inept and that my deepest worry was that out there somewhere, someone much smarter was taking notes and making plans.

But I found myself shaking my head at Lowry’s attempt to explain the Trump red wall in terms of economic policy. It didn’t hold water. Nichols was right: Trump voters didn’t care about policy anymore. They cared about power.

But why? What power did they want? How did they come to believe Trump represented it? Why would, for example, evangelicals embrace a figure as demonstrably anti-Christ as Trump to secure that political power?

Finally, I think I’m coming to understand what’s happening, what has happened to my country, and I think my son was mostly right.

Back in June, I posted something on my Facebook about an article by Arlie Hochschild. he said that the “deep story” that informs support for Trump is basically that, “You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you.”

My post replied to this by urging my Trump-supporting Facebook friends to consider that:  “THE LINE IS A LIE. The line isn’t moving. They’re not really letting anyone through that door. Progressives aren’t trying to let people cut in line in front of you. They’re trying to get enough people together to push the door in.”

I doubt I swayed any of them. I don’t even know how many of them there are.

But Hochschild’s diagnosis only tells part of the story, I think. As I was reading the article in Christianity Today linked above, I remembered the psychological studies that name fear as the driving force behind conservative political affiliation and the simple formula that being afraid of change pushes people deeper into their tribal identities. When the predators circle the camp, the tribe bands closer together.

We hear more and more about how our two countries–the red and the blue–are increasingly defined by discreet and non-overlapping information bubbles. Many conservatives now live in an alternate reality fueled by misleading media like Fox News and One America and react violently at any perturbations in the barriers of those information ecosystems, like when Jennifer Griffin dared to corroborate the unsurprising story that Trump disparaged WWI veterans as he had publicly done to John McCain.

Liberals, too, live in an information and bias bubble, but there is really no comparison here. Even mentioning the truth that there is liberal bias in a lot of journalism smacks of false equivalency. Fox News has a demonstrable history of deliberate, propagandistic manipulation by Murdoch and an unswerving, idiotic devotion to serving Trump’s interests. So much so, in fact, that whenever the network steps out of line and reports something unfavorable about him, he publicly castigates them on Twitter for not doing their job–which he sees 100% as promoting and defending him!

Imagine if Obama had demanded that CNN not report something negative about him like that.

Looking back, I do think Obama was probably the best president of my lifetime, though that doesn’t say much. I have been very critical of some choices of his administration and very skeptical about his legacy overall. He was, though, a good man. Better, surely than Clinton. Better, I would say, in many ways than Bush. Only Carter, who even my father admits is probably the best person to have ever occupied the Oval Office, would eclipse him in this regard. But it is not for nothing that the warmth of Obama’s relationship with his family shines out all the more brightly in contrast with the dim, disconnected images we see of what can only vaguely be described as the Trump “household.”  The presidency is largely a symbolic position. It matters most in what the president represents about the country (which makes Trump’s tenure all the more portentous).

In retrospect, Obama’s time in office looks almost bucolic. In fact, the greatest beneficiaries of Trump’s tenure have probably been past presidents. Bush’s incompetence looks almost charming in the rearview mirror. Clinton’s immorality looks wholly forgivable beside Trump’s excesses. Hell, even Nixon looks like a Boy Scout by comparison.

Another Facebook post from right after Trump’s election that I never turned into something more robust here lays out how quickly this Obama nostalgia set in for me: “I didn’t know what to say. I thought I might say nothing. But then I saw the articles already about how Obama’s legacy has been wiped out by this election. And yes, it may be true. We go from a man who represented the best of us–child of immigrants and the heartland, rational and tolerant, faithful father and husband, champion of compromise and democracy–to someone who represents the worst of us–arrogant and narcissistic, faithless in business and family, crass and unconcerned with empathy. The twin souls of America on display. Every hard earned inch of progress–millions of people with health insurance, an economic recovery finally reaching down to the middle class, the first inklings of momentum on climate change–may be lost. But the Obama era was still one of class and dignity in the White House and I can only think of one of my favorite quotes from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, ‘If it lives only for a while…it still has lived.'”

And I think now that it is Obama who is the key to understanding Trump and everything that has come since 2008.

Why did the Tea Party turn from an anti-bailout group into an anti-government mob with unsubtle undertones of racial animus? Why did Mitch McConnel pledge on day one of the Obama presidency to fight every, single initiative the new president proposed? What was it about Obama that split the rail of this country and created the two Americas?

You think I’m going to say it’s about race, but I don’t think that explains it. After all, Trump surged (well, improved) with some groups like Hispanics in Florida and even with African-American men in some places. Obviously, white supremacy and Trump’s sympathy for and from white supremecists should be yet another deal-breaker, yet another thing that should have damned his political ambitions forever, but didn’t.

But I think race is only part of something bigger here. Something broader and more ineffable.

Obama ran in 2008 under a simple banner: Change.

I think now that that simple word explains everything. Change. Obama put it on a poster, but he also embodied it. He represented a new kind of America. Multi-racial, yes. But also a product of the meritocracy that some believe aggrieves the white working class so.

It is this change that made the conservative tribe tremble so, that made them recoil from the scary shadows in the night, to huddle together and eventually pledge themselves to Trump. He was not strong, in any traditional sense. But he was loud. Loud enough, perhaps, to impose his will upon the chaos, to hold back the change.

If I had to guess, I’d say: The Hispanics who vote Trump often resent the “LatinX” label. That X represents inclusion, but these are conservatives who have won their share of the American Dream. They believe they’ve waited in Hochschild’s line and now look back and worry over anyone shaking up the order. Black men who voted for Trump see him asserting the masculine privilege to say as thou wilt and not be questioned. Will to power. That’s what this conservative tribe wants. The power to resist change.

Yes, I think I understand them now.

So what I want to say to them is: Grow up.

Snowflakes! Oh, no, America is changing! I don’t feel like I know my own country anymore. Boo-hoo. I don’t either. I’m not going to vote for a sociopath because of it. Your grievances are so shallow, it’s absurd. You want to feel powerful? Go play a video game. I can recommend a few. Oh, did you vote to protect your “religious liberty?” You don’t have a freedom not to see that other people believe other than you do. Deal with it. Just like I have to deal with the fact that 48% of my countrymen are you people. Other people having their own liberty doesn’t hurt yours. It only infringes on your privilege, not your freedom.

To quote Dennis Leary: “Life sucks. Get a fucking helmet.”

So what does this mean for President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris?

Work with them, Joe. Go to McConnel and say, “Listen Mitch, I know you pushed back hard at Barrack. He was a new kid on the block, I get it. But you’ve known me for forty years. We’ve got to do something together here. We can’t have this obstructionism anymore. Look what it did to the country. You know Trump was never your guy. You didn’t want to have to follow him. Let’s turn over a new leaf. We’ve got priorities. You’ve got priorities. Let’s get back to the old days where we tried to govern. What’dya say?”

No, on second thought, let’s go to Georgia and get the Senate back and then crush them into dust!!!

I think I’m only half-kidding.

So now, because if I have so little empathy in my heart for these people, then I still don’t really understand them, I think I will try to be silent for a moment at least…try to just listen, to learn, try to understand these people as more than just irrational, more than just naive, more than just misguided fools. I do hope that this election marks an inflection point. America is broken. Our leadership position in the world ruined. Our culture, such that it was, in tatters. Our economy and our health failing. We need change.

Stow your fear, my friends.

Now is the time to be bold.

To the Trump Voter

“Losers…Suckers.”

Now, at last.

Now, at last you have no excuses. No false equivalencies left to fabricate. No way to spin away what is right before your faces.

Now, Trump has shown the very bottom of his nature.

He has shown that not only does he not care about us, his fellow Americans, but he thinks we are all beneath him.

By insulting service members, by insulting our fallen soldiers–our war dead–he has revealed without question that not only is he without empathy, but he is constitutionally incapable of understanding sacrifice and nobility. He is the worst of us.

You cannot hand-wave this away as a fabrication of the “mainstream” media. At least four sources in the room heard this. Four people who were part of the Trump administration. This is confirmed by, of all outlets, Fox News.

Fox News.

And you cannot pretend he is not an unrepentant liar. He lied immediately during his denial, claiming that he was so upset about not visiting the cemetery in France that he called his wife back home to bemoan the disappointment.

But she was on the trip with him. She was right there.

He is a liar. He is a narcissist. He is the smallest man to ever occupy the Oval Office.

Now you cannot deny it.

You cannot.

But it is not too late. It is never too late.

You can still do the right thing.

It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong, but you can do it. I did it when Clinton was revealed to be a liar and a bastard–and quite possibly worse. But his faults and crimes pale in comparison to the display we have witnessed these past four years.

What will America be after another four years of this?

Weaker. Our alliances, tattered now, will be laid to waste. Our enemies and rivals, emboldened now, will tower over us.

Poorer. The economy that is struggling to revive itself will only limp toward profits for a few, leaving the many wounded by these crises in pain and need. The brain drain we are already seeing from slower immigration will accelerate, with more Americans of means fleeing the crumbling United States.

Sicker. Our healthcare system, strained, will be utterly shattered. Our environment, unprotected now, will be completely sullied, degraded by greed.

Uglier. We see in our streets strife and disorder. You think this is something Trump will stop? He has brought it on us. He has led us to this terrible moment by emboldening white supremacists, by stoking violence, by simply being himself–selfish, hateful, petty.

You cannot deny it any longer. Trump is the problem. He has brought us low.

He lied to you. You believed him. You thought he would be different. He was. He was worse. So much worse.

You must admit it to yourself. You must.

We must do better than what this man offers us.

Trump is right about one thing said at the Republican convention: This election will decide America’s soul. And what does embracing this man as a leader say about us as a nation? If he is shameless enough to disparage those who made the ultimate sacrifice for country, how can he be the man to redeem that country’s soul? In your hearts, you must know what you have to do: Admit that this election is bigger than party or party priorities. Admit you were wrong. Do the right thing now.

Reject the tribalism. Reject his hateful, divisive vision for America. Embrace reason.

Vote Biden.

 

The New Game

“None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”

-Rorscach in Watchmen
(and, also, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

 

Look, here’s the Truth: Donald Trump didn’t win the 2016 election. Yeah, yeah, whine all you want. It’s true and this is how history will remember it: He was installed by Russia.

Just wait and see. Any day now will come the revelation that all that stolen Facebook data from Cambridge Analytica made its way to the Russian troll farms so that they could target just the right right-wing rubes (and, in fairness, to keep enough left-wing dingbats away from the polls) to swing just enough counties to “hack” our Electoral College (even if they didn’t literally hack voting machines, which they very well might have) and steal the presidency while losing the popular vote by millions.

That’s how it happened, people. Somewhere in your hearts, you all know it’s true.

But here’s the other thing: A lot of people did vote for Trump.

This train wreck of a human being should never have been within twenty percentage points of winning, but he was.

Some Republicans voted for him because he won their party’s ticket and they didn’t want another Clinton presidency. Some misogynists voted for him because they didn’t want Shrillary in office.

But a lot of others voted for him because he was an outsider, because they thought he would “shake up the system.” (Well, la-dee-da, mother-fuckers. You sure got your wish.)

So this is where we are.

We have a profligate liar in the White House who has completely demolished all the norms of our political discourse and derailed the way our system has functioned for decades.

For better or for worse, Trump has changed the game…forever.

Enter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

This up-start, improbable Congresswoman from the Bronx has made a lot of waves, spurring on primary challenges (like her own) to entrenched and well-established Democrats to try to advance a radical, progressive agenda. Like Trump, she uses Twitter in unapologetic defense of her policies and office, but unlike Trump, she’s whip-smart and thick-skinned.

AOC is playing the new game.

Now, of course, comes the chorus of voices telling her to slow down, to check herself, to listen to all these staid and world-wise figures who’ve been in Congress for decades and wait her turn.

“She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress,” one said, ignoring that we have a so-called president who has maintained his support and even set policy via Twitter. (When I read this, I think of the Parkland kids. Their phenomenal success across the country in sponsoring gun control bills at the state level proves, to me, that activism is the best way to make law in this country.)

Or take Whoopi Goldberg’s on-air castigation: “Sit still…learn the job.”

All due respect, Guinan. She’s not there to learn the job. She’s there to remake it.

Everyone asking AOC to cool her jets is hoping that once we get rid of Trump, politics can go back to the old rules of empowered interests guarding their little lots with paid-for politicians griping over marginal interests as a theater of distraction.

“Those…fools want you gone so they can get back to the way things were. But I know the truth: there’s no going back. You’ve changed things…forever.”

Trump is a paradigm shift. He’s torn down our country’s good name and damaged our economy (Oh, you think things are going great? Wait for that deficit to implode.) and destabilized the world at large (which is what Russia paid for…imagine it: after we bankrupted them in the Cold War by spending trillions on defense and missile shield technology, they have–for a price less than a fighter jet–ruined us for god-knows-how-long).

But he’s also torn down the established political order with him. The Republican party as it was is no more. Now it is a cult of personality with some old dogs following the pack they no longer understand.

The Democrats can either be burned down along with their right-wing cronies or they can pass through this and stake out new territory on the opposite side of the Trumpocalypse.

Ocasio-Cortez gets it. Her policies are exactly what we need to reassert American prosperity and greatness in the 21st century and, what’s more, she sees the lay of the land and understands just how much has changed.

Pelosi has been a highly effective Speaker and a highly effective minority leader for more than a decade. I don’t want to diminish her accomplishments as Speaker.

But that was another era.

If she wants her party to lead America out of this nightmare, she and the caucus are the ones who should sit down and learn the new game.

 

Listen, America, This Is How It Is…

Trump must lose.

That’s it. That’s all that matters in this election anymore.

Trump must lose.

Why? There are so many reasons, really. But let’s put aside his race baiting, his sexism, his documented corruption, his constant lying, his narcissism, his ties to Russia.

Trump must lose to keep any hope alive for American democracy.

Trump must lose because he is a textbook demagogue in the making.

He is actively undermining democracy by calling the whole process into question simply because he is down in the polls. He has suggested that libel laws should be tightened to keep the press from reporting on him. He does not believe in democracy. A man who does not believe in democracy must not be our president.

Trump must lose so that the politics of fear will lose.

Trumps must not only lose. He must lose BIG.

His defeat must be epic. Unprecedented. He must be crushed so that this brand of politics goes permanently into the ashbin of history.

I don’t care what your pet issue is. Democracy itself is more important.

Abortion? He doesn’t care. He was on the record as “pro-choice” for years and years until he decided he might want to run as a Republican. Honestly, look at this man’s track record with women and adultery. You telling me he hasn’t personally paid for a few abortions? Hasn’t pressured mistresses into getting them.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

Immigration? It’s a strawman. Immigrants aren’t stealing your jobs. Net immigration from Mexico is now zero. Inequality, globalization, and corporate citizenship are stealing your jobs. Trump is the last man to fight for you on that front. His assault on immigrants is textbook demagoguery. Really, look it up in any textbook. Attack the outsider, the other, the scapegoat. That’s how it always starts.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

ISIS? You may not have noticed, but we’re already kicking their asses. And we’re doing it without getting sucked into another Vietnam-esque miasma in Iraq. They’re not a threat to our way of life unless we abandon our way of life by surrendering to fear and hatred.

Democracy itself is more important than all of it, and that’s why Trump must lose.

I don’t care if you think Hillary is the most corrupt politician in Washington (she isn’t–millions of dollars in investigations and nothing’s stuck). She is not worse that Trump. Repeat after me: She is not worse than Trump. Even if you think she represents everything wrong with the system, she is still not worse than Trump. As evidence: All the historically Republican newspapers endorsing her. All the actual Republicans endorsing her.

Trump must lose and he must lose big. We must crush him at the polls.

Go vote. Go now. Go on November 8th. But go and vote against Trump.

America must denounce his cynical abuse of democracy to advance his own ego. America must reject the politics of fear in favor of some hope, hope that we can still make progress together, that our system is not so broken that the only option is to nuke it with an orange-coiffed buffoon.

No, America, Trump must lose.

 

So Maybe I Was Wrong…

trump_with_hat

People, $#!% has just gotten real.

Like, really real.

So a few weeks ago I was arguing that a Trump presidency–while terrible, horrible, no good, very bad–would not be the end of the world.

Yeah, so, about that…

This week, evidence is strongly pointing to Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC e-mails. Now today, Hillary’s campaign has also been hacked. (By the way, a huge “screw you” to Julian Assange for turning WikiLeaks into a puppet of Russian oligarchy.)

We all know that the Donald has a man-crush on Putin for being such a strong man, but there is now mounting evidence that he is actually committed to pro-Russia positions should the skies bleed red and the dead rise again to reclaim the earth–er, I mean, “should he be elected.”

Not only has Trump insinuated that his commitment to NATO would not be absolute and that he would try to instill some kind of “pay to play” policy for how committed to our allies’ defense we would be, but his campaign also made one important objection to the Republican party platform.

And I do mean “one.” As in, this is the only thing that his campaign objected to.

They refused to let the Republican party commit itself to the defense of Ukraine.

You see the picture connecting these dots creates?

Not only is Trump intent on becoming an American demagogue, he apparently wants to align our nation with its traditional rival and allow Russia to assert a stronger sphere of influence.

Is this what the party of Reagan wants? Is this the world order they want to establish?

Russia restored to its imperial glory in the shadow of a waning America bent on isolationism?

Now, I’m a strong critic of American imperialism, but I’d still rather see a world dominated by American power than by Putin’s increasingly repressive oligarchy.

So, American conservatives? What will you do now? Vote against another American century?

Trump’s joke the other day may not have actually been treason, but the position he is taking on the future of Europe sure is.

#BlackLivesMatter and #WeStandWithDallas

I saw Snoop Dogg on TV the other day, marching for unity and dialogue in the face of all this terrible violence.

So, yeah, Snoop Dogg gets it.

Snoop Dogg.

Hell, the other day my family watched Zootopia (Don’t ask why, because I don’t know; I’d thought my days of being subjected to slick animated features were behind me.) and that flick gets it, too.

That movie’s theme is all about divisiveness only serving the interests of authoritarianism.

A frickin’ Disney movie.

It’s not that hard to get, really.

But America doesn’t seem to be able to collectively wrap its brain around this mess.

And yeah, I know it’s not as simple as marching in L.A. and having rappers talk to police chiefs. It’s sure not as simple as cartoon bunnies uniting with cartoon foxes to save the day.

It’s a maelstrom of identity politics, the historical trajectory of racism, the evolutionary psychology of toxic masculinity and gun fetishism all swirling together like the wake of some Lovecraftian monstrosity.

I do get that. I do.

But it’s also simpler.

It’s as simple as this:

The injustices done by some police officers do not justify the horrible, murderous violence being directed at officers in general and the violence directed at those officers does not invalidate or negate the merits of the protestors’ purpose in speaking out against injustice.

Look, white privilege and institutional racism are real. You only have to look at the facts. Black men and people of color are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be indicted, more likely to be convicted, more likely to be given harsh sentences–and yes, more likely to be shot while unarmed–than whites.

You can control for whatever variables you want and that fact will still be there.

And you know what, I’m willing to entertain the idea that not every cop who has shot an unarmed civilian was a monster, was evil.

Some of these guys were probably scared. Some of them made a terrible decision, and it probably haunts them.

The solution is not demonizing all cops. And if anyone carrying a banner for Black Lives Matter has done that (and we know some have) then they shouldn’t.

That’s all. They shouldn’t do that. Don’t demonize them either. (We can demonize Micah Johnson. Knock yourself out.)

But again, let’s be clear: the problem with police brutality and unjustified police shootings is not a problem of a few decent cops making mistakes, it is not a case of a few bad apples that just need to be rooted out, and it certainly is not a story of people just doing their jobs.

It is a systemic problem and we as a society need to address it.

Backlashers want to shift the attention to the violence directed against cops.

You know what? I think we, as a nation, can maybe pay attention to two different problems at once.

And that’s what these are (despite what my local police chief thinks): two different problems.

If you want to talk about the actions of Micah Johnson and others who have attacked police officers, then we need to talk about guns again.

Yes, guns.

Because–did you know this–there’ve been studies that show that men are more aggressive and belligerent after just handling a gun.

So the whole “guns don’t kill people, people do” has got to go. Anyone with any sense–and access to international comparisons–can tell you that’s patently bullshit, but now it’s been scientifically rebutted, too.

Gun lovers in this country don’t want to face this reality, but we need to be grown ups now and admit that guns change behavior. So let’s be mature and follow the 2nd amendment, the one that calls for a “well-regulated” population of the great big “militia” that is America.

And yeah, let’s talk about toxic masculinity, while we’re at it, because–sadly–one of our biggest problems here seems to be the Y chromosome.

So there’s so much going on here–so much to talk about, so much to grapple with.

But the way forward is still really simple.

Because we can come together or we can come apart.

We’ve got two political models on the landscape right now. They’re not running against each other, but they are running against each other.

You can either embrace the politics of Trump–the politics of divisiveness, fear, anger, nativism–or you can embrace the politics of Obama–of inclusiveness, optimism, discourse, compromise.

And, by the way, if you don’t think that the above is what Obama stands for then you’re probably only being influenced by what he represents to you and not what he actually chooses to represent. What I’m saying is: if you can’t look at the facts of who the current president is and what he has tried to do while in office–that he is not the racist, socialist, closet Jihadist-sympathizer, or whatever that some people say he is–then you are probably part of the problem. And that’s okay. I’m not demonizing you, I swear. But it’s time to get with the program.

We call it America.

And it’s aspiration.

Not aspiration for closed doors and high walls. It’s aspiration for something better.

Not “us vs. them.”

No.

“E pluribus unum.”

We’re grappling with America’s oldest contradiction at the heart of all this. We’ve come a long way. But not far enough. We just had a fuck-all of a set-back.

But when horrors like the last week and a half occur, we have to keep inching forward.

Because the alternative is intolerable.

Hollywood is Broken

Wow! Mila Kunis is falling. That doesn't look survivable. Do you think she dies? I bet she dies. There's like no way to live through that, right? Yeah, I bet this is the scene in the movie where she dies.

Wow! Mila Kunis is falling. That doesn’t look survivable. Do you think she dies? I bet she dies. There’s like no way to live through that, right? Yeah, I bet this is the scene in the movie where she dies.

Brent Lang over at Variety is arguing that the flop of Jupiter Ascending is a shame, because it was the rare gem of an original sci-fi epic in Hollywood’s usual shitstorm of sequels and remakes. His thinking is that the failure of the Wachowskis’ latest blockbuster means that Hollywood will point to Jupiter Ascending as evidence that original ideas just don’t fly at the box office. He laments that even though they “marketed the crap” out of the movie, audiences just wouldn’t give it a chance.

Yeah, but no.

They marketed the crap out if and showed us in the trailers exactly what a no-plot, over-baked stinker it was. Jupiter Ascending didn’t fail because audiences will only go see sequels. Jupiter Ascending failed because it was obviously awful.

It was never part of the solution to the glut of unoriginal content the studios have been spewing out lately. It was part of the problem all along.

See, the real problem isn’t the economic success of sequels. It’s Hollywood thinking. In Hollywood, they think that the only thing that sells movie tickets is name recognition–no matter how many Johnny Dep movies bomb. They didn’t make this movie because it was a good idea; they made this movie because the Wachowskis made the Matrix. The counter point to this bloated turd is Guardians of the Galaxy, but Hollywood, of course, takes the wrong lesson from that movie. They think it did well because it was Marvel. It did well because it was fun, lively, and had interesting characters.

Hollywood is stupid. If Jupiter Ascending had done well, then it would not have encouraged Hollywood to go out looking for original projects. It would have just convinced them they were right to keep letting filmmakers everybody knows make movies (M. Night Shamalayn, anyone?).

Hollywood is broken and 2015 is proof.

Allow me, just off the top of my head, to rattle off the big releases coming in 2015: Fast and Furious Something-or-Other, Terminator Geriatrics, Jurassic Park IV, Pitch Perfect 2, Ted 2, two more Marvel movies, a Fantastic Four remake that is somehow not exactly a Marvel movie, sequels to both Hunger Games wannabes Maze Runner and Divergent, Mission Impossible 5 (5, I tell you!), a Despicable Me spin-off prequel thing about the f’ing minions (yes, the little yellow guys with no frackin’ dialogue!), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (I could not make that up people; in a million years, I could not invent something as ridiculous as that), and Star Wars VII: Dear God, Weren’t the Prequels Enough?!?

I lied. That wasn’t off the top of my head. There are so many franchises deployed for 2015 that no one could possible remember them all. It’s really a shame that they moved the Man of Steel Superman vs. Batman but also Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg movie out of 2015. Leaving it on this year’s schedule would’ve cracked open the mantle of the earth and allowed the old ones to reclaim this depraved planet like in the end of Cabin in the Woods.

Now, I know, I know, I know. I write about franchises. I watch all this crap. I buy tickets.

You wanna say that I’m part of the problem, too.

Uh ah, nope. Bullshit. I cry, “bullshit.”

I refuse to be held responsible for their depraved decision making. It is not my fault that this industry is so dunderheaded that they respond to all the wrong cues and conduct their pitch meetings in some bizarro world divorced from all logic.

But ultimately, it will be up to us.

We must and will grow sick of this stuff. We have to stop going. We have to stop buying the Blu Rays.

Not to teach Hollywood to make original movies like Brent Lang thinks. You see, it’s too late for Hollywood. They’re already doomed. They just don’t know it yet. Great stories will be told on TV and in emerging digital media, not in movie theaters. Hollywood is too broken to live. Eventually, they will burn themselves to cinders with their idiocy.

And we’ll all be watching something else entirely.

A hearty “Yee-ha” for the Grand Ole Party and the fine, fine Americans who just ushered them into control of the Senate

gop-party-of-no

America: I don’t even know what to say to you right now.

Go ahead, elect a bunch of people to the government who EXPLICITLY DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOVERNANCE and see what kind of progress we get there.

They will now pass bill after bill to defund the protections for your healthcare hard-fought and finally won after decades of talk; to ruin the environmental protections that keep your air and water clean; to cripple any national effort at supporting sound educational practices; to continue the historically unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the capital elite; and to drive a social agenda that disrespects women, minorities, hell, pretty much anyone who isn’t a fat-cat white male. Great job, America.

We get the government we deserve.

The only good thing: they can’t actually pass any one of their idiotic bills thanks to Obama. So we’ll just have two more years of Congress doing nothing but show boating for their corporate sugar daddies while the nation’s real problems–crumbling infrastructure, wage stagnation, atrophying science and research, worsening climate change, and an over-taxed education system–just get worse and worse.

Seriously, congratu-fucking-lations, GOP!

Woe is American Foreign Policy in the Middle East

If you look carefully, you’ll see I have created a new category for this post.

I had begun a post on the situation in Iraq. I’d titled it “R.I.P. The Bush Doctrine 2001-2014,” and I began it like this:

And so now, with a rapidity that should make the US intelligence community question its commitment to reading everybody’s e-mails and start paying attention to the world outside of cyberspace, the new, twenty-first century Iraq that America bought with so many billions of dollars, thousands of dead and even more scarred and broken former warriors is torn asunder.

A new Al Quaida-ish refuge has been created with the capture of Mosul, except this new Afghanistan has much more oil wealth and much greater potential to disrupt the Middle East.

I’ll refrain from saying “I told you so,” since that would feel like the hollowest possible victory.

But you know what, I can’t refrain. Anymore than the confederacy of dunces responsible for this ill-advised war and occupation can refrain from pretending they were not responsible for the situation.

Dick Cheney–DICK FRICKING CHENEY–had the nerve to write in the Wall Street Journal that, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” And he thinks THAT president is Obama? The man with the unenviable task of trying to clean up the mess that he and his president left of the country and the world?

It’s not just Cheney, though. All the Iraq war cheerleaders–Wolfowitz, McCain, Graham, oh my!–are out in force denouncing the president’s weakness. Few are getting as specific as Cheney, who actually bothered to name one thing he thinks the president did wrong.

He did not negotiate a treaty allowing us to stay in Iraq. Now, wait, we were there, Dick, so why is it we would need a treaty? Oh, right, because we had already signed a treaty under Bush saying we would leave! YOU’RE BLAMING OBAMA FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO SUCCESSFULLY REVERSE THE TREATY YOUR PRESIDENT SIGNED!!!

These men are callow and cowardly. When the world has presented exactly the sort of scenario that they ignored in their foolhardy invasion of Iraq, they are despicable enough to point fingers instead of accepting responsibility. It should not surprise us, though. They did not accept responsibility when their casas belli, weapons of mass destruction, failed to materialize. They did not accept responsibility when the Iraqi people neglected to universally embrace us as their liberators and heroes and instead launched into a difficult and painful insurgency.

These men no longer have the capacity to behave responsibility. Everyone of them still in office should be impeached and drummed from public life under a cloud of shame.

Instead, they babble on.

Meanwhile, the grownups left in the room (few that they are) have to try to figure out what to do with the mess in Iraq.

Well, gather ’round my little ones. I have a course of action for us. It will cost billions, maybe trillions in the long run, but it is the only sane course left:

GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE FOREVER.

Let’s go all in on local energy. Wind farms. Solar panels–EVERYWHERE! Let’s float those wind buoy things all over the dang place. We’ve got majestic shores all over the place, let’s invest in tidal power. Let’s fix things so that not one drop of oil needs to pass into this nation from outside our borders. Hell, I’ll even endorse fracking (with a heap of regulations that if written out would stack to the moon) if it means getting us off foreign oil.

Because ultimately, what is this region going to do when the world no longer needs that black sludge hiding under their sands? They will be left in the dirt with only their backward, feudalistic version of their religion and nothing else–nothing to fund their mania with any longer.

I’m not the only one thinking this. I’m just putting it a bit more crassly than most. The bottom line is that this region has only been strategically important because of oil. We know now that this very resource that has dragged us into quagmire after quagmire is also eroding the planet’s ability to support our civilization. Global warming is ruining the globe. We might as well just make the call now and call the Middle East its first real victim. (Okay, so they’re not.)

It may sound cruel or callous to say that we should abandon all those innocent people in ISIS’s wake to their savagery, but what else can we do? Literally, the only crazy-ass option to try to protect these people would be to invade their countries and try to force them to live like members of the civilized world.

And thanks to delusional pinheads like McCain and Cheney who dragged this country on just such an errand more than a decade ago, we already know that won’t work.