Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m so afraid we’re living through October, 2016 again: the favorable but wavering Democratic polls, the hope that our national nightmare will soon be over, the fear that it will never end.

It’s amazing how quickly the Saudis have eclipsed the Kavanaugh hearings in the headlines–and how absolutely catastrophic both stories would have been to a less catastrophic administration. It beggars the mind that the Trump and Kushner tax evasion revelations and the terrifying global warming report barely stayed in the news for more than a day. By election eve, who knows what we’ll be talking about? If Trump and company have their way, the Democrat penchant for lawlessness and violence and the white male apocalypse.

The big lesson that I take from the last two years is that we were never as united or forward-looking a country as forward-looking people liked to think. White high school graduates were united, no doubt, but mostly in their disdain for non-white men and women and progressives of all colors. Victories were won, of course. But Trump has exposed a racist/obscurantist/authoritarian bedrock to the American polity that me and most others of my ilk had convinced ourselves was much more crumbly than it is–and that is certain to outlast Trump and Trumpism.

That whole “we” thing has turned out to be a hallucination.


Bart O’Kavanaugh

Dahlia Lithwick offers a typically incisive take on Brett Kavanaugh’s “championship” of women: “The women who matter to Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans in this process are the high-status women—the lawyers and the girls’ basketball team and Amy Chua’s daughter. Their experience of Kavanaugh is all that should be credited. Other stories about Kavanaugh can be ignored.”

Of course, it’s not just women that Republicans erase–it’s the whole non-white, non-Christian, non-suburban, un-moneyed demographic that exists outside their bubble.

I think there’s a specifically Catholic aspect of the Bart O’Kavanaugh/Mike Judge world view too–the virgin/Madonna thing. And though it’s presumptuous, I really wonder if the real Kavanaugh doesn’t have a massively addictive personality, though I suspect his weakness is gambling now rather than black-out drinking. My interest in this isn’t just partisan–until Trump gets to replace someone else on the court in the next few months or years, Kavanaugh will be the linchpin of the unraveling of what’s left of the New Deal and the Great Society. Unless his liver fails or a loan shark murders him, he’s going to be on the court for a couple of decades at least.

John McCain, 1936-2018

Washington (CNN)White House aides drafted a fulsome statement for President Donald Trump on the death of Sen. John McCain, but it was never sent out, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN.

Several staff members believed the official White House statement, which went through an internal approval process, would be released at the time of the Arizona Republican’s death, which occurred on Saturday. But as the President spent Sunday at his Virginia golf course, the statement never went out, the source said.

White House aides did not make plans for a televised statement on McCain’s passing, which would have been routine under similar circumstances in other recent presidencies.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Trump went against the advice of senior aides to issue an official White House statement praising McCain for his heroism and decades of service, telling aides he instead wanted to post a brief tweet.

Trump’s tweet Saturday night did not mention his military or Senate service or include any praise for the late Arizona Republican.

It’s actually possible to not like McCain in a principled way. As a staunch Reagan Republican he was an ardent hawk and a good friend of pro-US authoritarians abroad; he elevated Sarah Palin to a risible height (arguably paving the way for Trump); and in general, was much less of a maverick than the media that he flattered so assiduously gave him credit for. But Trump isn’t principled. He’s as petty as a 15-year-old mean girl. If McCain had just said “nice” things about him once in a while (instead of just voting for all of his policies but healthcare that one very dramatic and memorable time), Trump would be happy to jump on the grief bandwagon too.

I still believe that this is a terrible world, but that it is filled with decent people. Am I wrong? Do enough Americans resonate with Trump’s shallowness, stupidity, mean-spiritedness, ignorance, and racism to keep him in power? Can the Democrats, as divided and wishy-washy and compromised as they are, turn out enough voters to overcome the Republican firewall of gerrymandering and voter suppression this fall?

Trump is so vindictive and so impulsive that he can’t even put on a sad face for McCain’s death for 24 hours. Can he possibly get through the next two months without firing Mueller, pardoning Manafort, and perpetrating some new horror on the world? And will those things hurt him or help him? I honestly don’t know. Trumpism has made me rethink just about everything I thought I knew about politics.

Womp Womp

Funny thing, I was just looking at collections of Ronald Reagan quotes. They’re banal as hell, and you can tell which were written by speech-writers and which were said off the cuff. For example, “If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen” was definitely a speechwriter. And then there’s “unemployment insurance is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders.” That one came from his heart. But most of Reagan’s quotable quotes, authentic or concocted, pay lip service to freedom, self-determination, independence, dignity and patriotism. “Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

For all his flag-hugging, Trump doesn’t think much about those things. His agenda for America is “I alone.” He alone can make the world a better place, because only he can have the greatest relationships with the best people. America is good because it has white people in it for sure, but mostly because it has Trump. His election was the not just the happy ending but the beginning and the middle of the story too: America vindicated him and anointed him. He beat Hillary, Obama, and Angela Merkel, and they can all kiss his ass. So can Mike Pompeo, for that matter. And John Bolton. And certainly John Kelly. If Putin helped him win, then that reflects well on Putin. There is literally no room in his brain for anything else.

“No colusion!” is from Trump’s heart. So is “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful.” The rest is just womp womp, to borrow a phrase from Cory Lewandowski.

Ode to Billie Joe

Yesterday morning, for reasons unknown to me, “Ode to Billie Joe” started going through my head. I was ten years old when it was on the radio. As haunting and Gothic as “A Rose for Emily” or “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” I don’t think any pop song has ever demanded as much in the way of negative capability from its listeners.

Google tells me that when asked exactly what was thrown off the bridge, Bobbie Gentry replied, “The song is sort of a study in unconscious cruelty. But everybody seems more concerned with what was thrown off the bridge than they are with the thoughtlessness of the people expressed in the song. What was thrown off the bridge really isn’t that important. Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”

And then there is the mystery of Bobbie Gentry herself–gorgeous, extravagantly talented, ultra-articulate, and dripping with Las Vegas glitz–who stepped out of the limelight in 1975, never to be heard from again.

For what it’s worth, my mother was certain it was a baby.

My new theory

My new theory is that Trump is Satan, unknowingly carrying out one of God’s obscure plans (it will all become clear in retrospect in the Revised Gospels that will be carved onto stones a few centuries after the nuclear dust settles and the survivors emerge, blinking, from their caves), and that Avenatti is an angel that the Almighty deputized to torture him, just to keep things amusing.