Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Diary Entry, 6.30.20/20 On Puppy Duty This Morning

I read Carl Bernstein's Repeat What We Know But With Details story on the CNN news site. Did you? It's a line by line, written in ersatz-numbered sentences on legal documents take down of Trump selling out the country for nothing more than more incompetent narcissism.  Another news cycle?  Until the next tweet.  It's been that bad for awhile, maybe three plus years now?

Nothing surprising. But I do rather enjoy the matter of fact late 70s style newsworthy banality of Bernstein's sentences. If you're going to repeat the obvious, do it in style. (<---can that be a t-shirt?) This article has a direct parallel to what you see in professional journals about religion, anthropology, and psych. The boredom is so pedestrian and benumbing because it _means_ to restate the obvious. If it's not obvious enough please don't stop me from making more so. An old Tantric once wrote that when you get this buzzed by the truth you can't not walk like a drunken sailor, and he was not all wrong. Not all in a good way. Don't yawn just yet because I just did the same thing complaining about them all.

Two further comments. Why can't I stop?

First, Bernstein writes about a source, "One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as 'abominations' so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President." I think this source is dead wrong. Republicans will do nothing but support Trump because they follow Fox Nation's simple directions. That 85% support for Fearless Leader is not going anywhere, as deplorable as that is.

Next, when we hear more details about Trump's vile sexism, the kind passed over as more incompetence and puerile imbecility we also learn nothing new about the German Chancellor: "Merkel remained calm and outwardly unruffled in the face of Trump's attacks —"like water off a duck's back," in the words of one source -- and she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel's visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed "very questionable behavior" that "was quite aggressive ... [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, and that's what she does on the phone."

Angela Merkel can apparently maintain leadership in the face of...well, that. We're grateful for her decency and decorum, her maturity and for as far as possible saving the western world from...well, that.

But at the heart of all this, as far as I can tell, there is no more incredulity or disbelief, no shock or awe, nothing but more the same strange brew I feel inside almost every day out here at the end of the driveway. There's an alchemy of feelings all too easy to identify but impossible to describe in just one word. Shall we try two?

Ambient dread? Professional anger? I leave that to the gods though I'm willing to cover it like a bar band. Best not to leave things to any gods. They are only another you that you have to deal with.

There are always going to be more possibilities because there are never fewer regrets. That's not only a bad thing. Regrets make for a far better soul cocktail. What's an Old Fashioned without a bit of bitters? Sometimes I can reduce it to: Would that help? And let that be enough to make a choice, if there is one.

Just what _do_ you call this malaise cocktail of frustration, anger, outrage, (not) disbelief, embarrassment, and genuine pain and depression? There is a tincture of hope in something like the diversity of young people and the yellow paint on the streets. But how much does it matter that you know the majority shares your views and you also know that he _still_ has a chance? Just one nano-moment of his "re-election" brings on me a despair like none to which I can compare, as if it would be losing something so precious I would have to grieve every moment.

Something about the possibility of America would be worth that grief. I have never "believed in" that possibility. That is not a confession or much of a belief. I am sure it disqualifies me from public office or speaking on TV. Like Hitch, I countenance no virtue in belief. Shall we call that America we've all gone to search for a dream? That's a speech for a far more important thinker.

I might prefer to call America a myth because myths are neither true nor false. That myths can hold deeper truths in the form of self-conscious lies is something very few people learn to consider, much less learn how to make happen. Even the most useful efforts have their golden ring on a merry-go-round quality. We must be careful too when it comes to magic rings (thank you, Frodo), even when we know that going into the fire is the only best choice. Can we also remember that good folks are often confused and always imperfect? I take consolation from being made of mistakes and trying to learn something from them. It's how we might make a difference.

That we have never been the America we say we are, much less who we aspire to be, that isn't all just bad news---I mean there is a tincture of waking that might be happening even right now from the majority. Maybe. We could fuck it up. But it's not _all_ bleak (if only because all-anything is as unlikely). And you want to say that this being ruled by imbecilic anarchy will end too? Will it? Can it possibly happen soon enough? I have learned to inhabit questions as an alternative to answers that would be nothing more than my most unconstructive lies, more like answers but without mythologies because they would lack any more value than the facts presented.

Only in the clear evidence of his defeat and departure will we breathe as if there is any chance at all. He might not. Either way, bring a mask and do mind the fact too that the world is burning. It's been burning while we have been dealing with deadly disease, social upheaval, economic nightmares, and...umm, that. That indignity we experience by being party to this craven, disheartening depravity. If we can't deal with the truth, there's no future.

In my own versions of America I still think a lot about the future no matter how much or how little there may be left. You have to want a world that you won't live to see to sustain your own humanity. That is reason enough to keep it real and to keep trying. There's no deal to be made but to send those who would burn us down to the margins and hope there is time to recover.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A House Divided? Say Yes. Now What?

“I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free...I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” ---Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln spoke these lines in acceptance of the nomination for the U.S. Senate some 162 years ago this month. This was no call for unity. This was not about making peace or seeking reconciliation. This was a rare moment of moral clarity when Lincoln understood the matter before him. It is the matter still before us.  At present Lincoln's "Republican Principles" are at best an oxymoron.  At worst, right before our eyes.

We continue living, some 162 years later, with the consequences of our national failure to practice equality and equal justice under the law. Actions and policies must follow but the reckoning is as much a matter of hearts and minds. Lincoln describes more than our sin of national origin and the vile principles of human degradation on which it was based. He tells us that it must be rooted out, brought plainly into the light of day for all to see, admitted, addressed, and acted upon.

Lincoln deserves no apologetics for his own failures but what he understood here was that one does not compromise over matters that can only be deemed human iniquity, barbarity, plain wrong. We are either a nation of equality for all or we are a house divided that must not stand. There are times when we must decide for decency and face the deeply discomforting truths we have likely not realized implicate us too in the injustices.

White America has to accept more than its collective historical responsibilities for complicities. It has to decide with whom we stand and what we really stand for. Or we will carry on investing in ethical bankruptcy and we will at last ruin this great experiment.

Trump provides at the very least, just such an example of what happens when our moral deficits and malignancies of character are so plainly revealed. Those who comply, agree, or race to the elevator to avoid the reporters' questions, those who take his side are on the other side of our argument. I can offer them no more solace than to say, you can change, you can evolve and you can come to realize that as you continue to support his leadership your own actions are morally corrupt and your character is deficient.

If you are a Trump supporting Republican, you are an essential part of the problem now. There is no other room to occupy in this divided house. Our house can divide over the particulars of policies but the actions that will must be taken to survive as a nation demand a reckoning.

I do not mean to suggest that as individuals we are all as feckless in our malignancies as Trump. But America elected Trump and he told us who he was. He is the president for all Americans; our disavowals and denials are trivial. What we now see hopefully are these two Americas.

The one America I dream permits dissent, even vile speech, and it tolerates more than is right. But it does not tolerate inequality and it will act to root it out and create a more just society, despite those who would abuse our freedoms. That is our public responsibility: to tear down the house built on inequality and rebuild with the rubble that we will need as a reminder, so that we never forget or even forgive our past. We progress and include the whole story to become better for it. We tell ourselves the truth because we can only stand together if we can stand the truth. 

The America that remains for Trump is not one that must be allowed to endure. It must be defeated and it must be changed. We are a house divided and while no one can be glad for that, we can be determined that our division does not endure. We are no longer allowed another bypass, another bit of fakery for the sake of profit, stolen labor, and human degradation. I do not seek another reconciliation built on the foundations of hypocrisy. 

Do we mean it now? At last? We are not unified nor will we achieve some meaningful compromise. We will become a nation imperfectly in pursuit of freedom and justice for _all_ or we will continue the failures that Lincoln understood are at the core of our moral corruption. We must have a free and fair election and we must use the corrupt institutions we have to try to survive this decisive moment. I welcome the opportunity to see what America stands for because only then can we begin the process of a more perfect union.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Follow the Need to Feel Powerful, It Not only Explains the Sociopath but his Supporters

It's interesting when the point of the lies is to dare those around him to question them, to disavow or question him. If you do, you will be insulted, dismissed, rejected as inferior. It's not about whether what he says is true or false, it's about power. Now it's a test of loyalty to him personally.

He doesn't even care if people believe the lie because all he wants them to feel is that, like him, they can be feared. Like him, he can say whatever he wants, paint it however he wants, and there is nothing that can stop him or challenge him. Like his followers so desperate to have their "opinions" be their own, there's no need to care if anything that's said is true.

To be feared is a key component of his insatiable need for respect, which can't be had any other way. That is crucial too. He knows he is not respected for any honest reasons and doesn't care because fear will suffice. When he feels others' fear, he gets his pleasure, he feels good about himself. He must repeat this endlessly because there can never be enough personal satisfaction.

So as the lies, often pointless even trivial lies, like the size of the inauguration crowd, have accumulated and experiences of fear have been repeated, those who fear what he will do to them personally or professionally are now merely numb to the truth. The truth doesn't matter to them because everything he says is really a dare, an I told you so, the bully's threat. The lies are no longer a disdain for the truth. They are merely disdain.

General Mattis telling (at last) the truth misses the point that the lies are virtually irrelevant. The lies are expressions of personal power, much like the insults, like everything he says. Their point is to say, you can't touch me and I will get away with anything I want. So far, Trump's right about that.

So thelies say nothing more than I can say anything I want and if you dare to question me then I will hurt you. _This_ is what the base loves most because it is the power that the want. They are longing for an identity that is incontrovertible, "I did it my way." My way. And that means anyway I want. That is power. If it involves an expression of disdain, then the disdain suffices to express the certainty of self.

Americans pride themselves on doing or saying or being anyway they want, no matter the cost because that is apparently an unalienable right, it's what that makes them free, that secures their desire to be "authentic". Every time someone says, "I don't give a fuck" they take up the cause of securing an identity leading with disdain.

As Bret Stephens wrote in The NYTimes, "He doesn’t lead his base, as most politicians do. He personifies it. He speaks to his followers as if he were them. He cultivates their resentments, demonizes their opponents, validates their hatreds. He glorifies himself so they may bask in the reflection." That reflection is white identity terrified of their non-majoritarian status, deeply resentful that America is not a "European" nation or a "Judeo-Christian" nation but rather a multiracial pluralistic nation. They will do anything they can to deny that reality and in the most cowardly ways. It is their nation, that is their sincere belief. It is being "taken" from them. They mean to make that nation "great again" and that means claiming their rightful superiority over all others.

Murkowski this week provided a particularly pathetic example. She just couldn't say what she knows to be true: that there is no choice, that Trump is a virulent sociopath. Her tepid, morally bankrupt declaration was merely to agree with General Mattis. But she couldn't say the words. Trump of course promptly promised to campaign in 2022 for a Republican ready to primary her.

But why does the base like this fear mongering, knowing quite well the lies are lies, that the whole thing is a bully show? Because they identify with the dare, they like the bully because the bully represents their own feelings of "I will say or do anything the fuck I want and don't care what you think or how you feel." It sets them free.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Confronting the Endemic Cultures of Violence: Honest Expectations Ahead

The firing of cops, military leaders like Mattis, Mullen, and Allen speaking out, police chiefs hired for their ability to say the right things, even a serious effort at changing the rules of engagement (with body cams, etc.) and creating mechanisms of accountability, none of these collected points of inflection will be sufficient to change America. In fact, we may be looking at an America where brutality and violence divide along partisan lines that are unlikely to change much at all. Not in the short term. Not for perhaps a generation, if at all.

I am not resigning to cynicism but rather responding to facts. More remarkable than the Admirals and Generals speaking up against Trump and military overreach is the Senator from Arkansas who we have good reason to believe represents more than his constituents but the majority of the military and police. (I present the evidence for that claim below.)

I strongly recommend a look at Senator Tom Cotton's dangerously and despicable call for the use of violence against protestors that was published this week in The New York Times. It is must reading because it reflects cultural and political views that may not be those of majority but are deep and significant. Barry Goldwater lives but without even a shard of decency. In truth, "conservatism" is more dangerous and ideologically Trumpist than it has been since Goldwater. The restraints are off. Their positions are explicit.

Cotton's views are right before our eyes in the continued, self-evident police brutalities we are seeing reported daily (e.g., the reports this morning out of Buffalo and in NYC). However these are mitigated by anecdotes of take a knee kumbaya moments between cops and protestors, what we are seeing is part of an entrenched culture that is driven by worldviews and ethos. Those worldviews are fascist and that ethos is violence. The military guarding Federally controlled sites in D.C. have all the appearances of the secret police. But it is their conscience that troubles me as much as their behaviors.

What we have are problems so deeply rooted, so structural and systemic, we must take a sober breath and serious look at what our American future portends. Yes, we are looking at endemic racism that saturates all of white America. But it is not all the same across American culture or even among whites.

The majority and "liberal" white America surely needs to listen and learn and to be educated. But this strikes me as possible. What I am referring to is a significant segment of America that is unteachable and unreachable because their commitments to violence are ideological and visionary, not merely circumstantial.

America's "conservative" culture, it's Fox Nation is not an exception. It is a worldview shared by millions. It is the dominant voice of police and military culture and we have the unfortunate evidence to prove that. Those with the power to brutalize hold deeply held convictions that are not likely to change.

We know that too and have only begun to come to terms with the relationship between explicit forms of violence and the authority to use it. That discussion faces a cultural wall that may be higher and less climbable than all the brutalizing fakery that supports Trumpism. America's "conservative" and "Christian" white culture

I would hope that bad cops know that they can no longer count on the current culture of policing to condone and support their outrageous behavior. But I am not at all optimistic. The current situation is more likely to reflect another partisan divide that is so deep and so pervasive as to present a nearly-intractable problem.

To wit, a United States Senator's op-ed piece in the NYTimes advocated violence against protestors and not only police but military force. Further, some 42% of voters apparently still strongly support Trump and Trump supporters are far more adamant and committed to their fascist predilections. We can expect Trump's support not to change much in the coming months before the election. Why? It hasn't budged one bit really. Senator Cotton's despicable views were a resume and a job application for the Secretary of Defense job so that Trump can fire Esper. Does anyone think that McConnell would not confirm Cotton in that job?

And given the way "acting" appointments are used, what is to stop Trump? The fascist regime has deep support if not majority support---and those same fascists are racists, homophobes, and willing to do anything to advance their agendas. All in the name of Christianity too. This is not some fringe element of America.

According to a July 2019 Pew poll in a survey of nearly 1,300 veterans conducted in May and June, 57 percent of respondents said they approve of how Trump is leading the armed forces. In contrast, about 41 percent said they disapprove of how he has handled running the military.

The numbers are the mirror image of the overall American public. In a separate, non-veterans poll from Pew Research (a nonpartisan polling and analysis group) conducted over the same time frame, 57 percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of Trump’s work as commander in chief, and 41 percent said they approve. The culture of the military, like the culture of police, is decidedly against the majority of Americans. And the truth is, we know this and are scared for our lives in the streets because we should be.

What happens next is nothing less than a fight for the soul of America. But even if Trumpists are all soundly defeated in November---somehow there is an election that defeats the chaos that Republicans know they need to "win"---these forces and cultures of violence are not going away. They are entrenched it would appear in the rank and file of the police and military---not necessarily their leadership or at least all of it. The majority culture of those within these ranks appears ideologically committed to the deeper racism and bigotry that infects our nation.

Can this powerful minority culture that advocates violence and secures its bigotries be changed? It will take changing their children and their children's children. This is in part already happening with what we are seeing now in the streets. It is a multiracial coalition of predominantly young people risking their lives in a pandemic to fight for democracy without violence and bigotry.

My hope is that this will continue unrelentingly until November at which point we vote the worst to the margins. Senator Cotton will still be in office. Those majority numbers of police and military are likely to still support these views. But if we commit to keeping this accountability our principle objective then we are not powerless and there is a future. I hope to teach their children well for at least another decade.