Category: personal musings

They really are burning down the house

You know what the hardest thing for me to accept about Trump’s structural support is? Not the ignorance and neediness of so many Americans, which is sad but commensurable. It’s the cynicism and fundamental lawlessness of the people they trust to lead them. I look at McConnell and Rudy Giuliani, at Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence and I wonder if they bother to pay for the TicTacs they pick up at airport newsstands, never mind their taxes. They lie, they cheat, they steal–they don’t give a damn about anyone or anything but themselves. They make me feel like such a sucker I can’t tell you. Why did I ever waste a minute feeling guilty about anything when I could have been robbing my neighbors blind?

When you read about early Protestantism, you’re struck by the terror they had of antinomianism–the heretical belief that once Jesus saves you, you can rob, murder, and fornicate to your heart’s content. Someday if I catch him sober, I’d like to have a chat about that with Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Sic semper tyrannis

One of my life’s great privileges is my long-standing friendship with the famed science fiction writer Barry N. Malzberg, with whom I have shared countless emails about Trump and Trumpism over the last five years. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Barry’s many books, stories, and essays, his world view is somewhat, well, dark. This morning’s message strikes a different note….elegiacal, even, dare I say it, a tiny bit optimistic.

“I don’t blog, I do not know how to blog, if I had a blog it would be for an audience of seven so it is to you I turn with a statement I really would like disseminated; would take it as a favor if you would put it in the air.  Awoke remembering as I often do Jimmy Breslin’s column (must have been the POST, the Herald-Tribune was gone then) on the day after the day of Nixon’s “address to the nation” on the White House lawn before he boarded the helicopter.  Breslin wrote of the vista on the eve of that resignation, he walked the streets surrounding the White House at midnight.  Absolute quiet, serenity, a couple of stray police in front of the white House.  Utter calm.  Isn’t this a wonderful country? Breslin wrote.  No mobs, no noise, no protests, no guns, no militia, no heaving turmoil, just a Summer night in the breeze.  Historically and in many countries today (Eastern Europe, South America, Africa) the scene would be chaos but here nothing at all.  The most powerful person in the world was going to leave ignominiously and quietly and life rolled on around him .  It was a wonderful night to be a citizen of this country.

Breslin is dead, his daughter his dead, his wife is dead, Nixon is dead, everybody from that era except Kissinger is dead and I doubt that there is anyone who remembers that column.  But I do.  Maybe you could make reference.

Nixon accepted the situation with the gift of reason.

(This is ill-written but it is 6:30am and my own reason is tilted.)”

The Center Won’t Hold

It’s too early for postmortems as this thing could still go even further south, but I do have some emotions. Trump has turned out to be 100 times worse than even pessimists thought he’d be four years ago, but he is exactly as popular as he was back then, if not a little more-so. That’s just a fact.

I wish I could go on to say that we as a nation just have to make our peace with that and accept our differences, but when your differences go to the heart of your values, you can’t paper them over. His side hates my side; they want to destroy my way of life. I can’t shrug that off, anymore than they can shrug off the threat they believe I pose to them.

So, the center won’t hold, even if Biden gets to run a divided government. I think the next four years may be even worse than the last four years, because we at least cherished the hope of repudiating him.

The center isn’t going to hold.

Four Years Ago

So four years ago this morning, I got up very early so I would be at the head of the line at my polling place. It was already a block long when my son and I got there, which I took to be a good sign. When we got home, there was an email waiting for me from a Nazi who had posted dozens and dozens of antisemitic screeds on this very blog; he said he was renouncing that chapter of his life and asked me to take all of them down. I did and I took that as yet another propitious sign.

So, let’s see what today brings, shall we?

What we are fighting for

I’ve stopped believing that anything I say or write about politics makes any kind of difference. Like religion, like conspiracism (which is religion at its most primitive and unformed), politics is driven by the emotions attendant on one’s feelings of power or powerlessness.

Trumpites fixate on his power because they know they have none. “Look at me,” he says. “I went to the best schools, have the best genes, the greatest mind, the most money, the hottest wives. I won the White House. I am immune to Covid. And all you have to do to participate in my greatness is love me unconditionally.” Deep down, they are nihilists; they know the world is on fire, that they and their children are doomed. But at least he makes their enemies suffer in the meantime.

Democrats believe they have power and agency and potentially a future, but only if they acknowledge the hard facts. “Look at him,” we say. “He is fat and stupid and a serial bankrupt, a lech, a liar, and a loser. We are in terrible shape as a nation. Thousands of us are dying.”

Trump gives his people a sugar high and we give them a cold bath.

“Those of us with money and security owe our good fortune to structural inequities that we wouldn’t tolerate for a moment if we weren’t their beneficiaries,” we say. “We have to make sacrifices. We have to pull together and put our shoulders to the wheel.” As Nietzsche said of the Christians, it’s a philosophy that could only appeal to a sucker or a slave. The only advantage to it is that it supposes a future that’s worth fighting for.

Some more convention-inspired thoughts

If Trump is reelected, I don’t think the country will hold together for a minute; there will be general strikes and riots and it will look like Syria. If Biden is elected, the stock market bubble will burst as people realize that the bottom has genuinely and truly fallen out of the economy. The pandemic will eventually recede and the economy resurge, but not on anybody’s schedule. The challenges that we have to overcome–economic inequality, race, environmental degradation, climate change–won’t change, but the national context in which they are either addressed or exacerbated is completely up in the air.

Whether it’s Biden or Trump, in a few years American Exceptionalism will sound like as crazy a creed as QAnon.

The New York is Dead strain in punditry

This is a pretty good piece about the “New York is Dead” strain in Covid-19 punditry. The whole genre strikes me as unbearably classist and narcissistic, and I imagine it does to most people who don’t live in Manhattan, who bring home less than $200,000 per year, and who aren’t white (which is to say, about 99.9 per cent of the people in the US). The longest I ever lived in Manhattan was two months—my first five years here I was in Jersey City and then I moved to Brooklyn, where I stayed for 35 years. I was white and hence privileged, but I wasn’t entitled—I never saw the city as the romance-drenched backdrop for the movie I was starring in (as it was for Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the 1940s or Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies today). It was where I worked, and a lot of it was always unaffordable, culturally other, or dangerous. Even then, most of Manhattan fit into the first category, while Jersey City fit into the second and third. Brooklyn only fit into the third, and in time that changed. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that the city doesn’t take its definition from me—it was here before I laid claim to it and it will be here long after I’m gone.

Great cities like London, New York, LA, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna are agglomerations of people and economic activities. They are growing hubs, so they support a lot of innovation, artistic and otherwise. Economically and situationally, the quality of life they offer changes. Diseases and economic downturns come and go, as do occupying armies and technological shifts that superannuate existing industries. If they are single-industry cities, those shifts can prove fatal. But if they’re ports, centers of different kinds of trade, of government, universities, and media; if they are magnets to internal and external immigrants, then they regenerate. They regenerate after fires, even after volcanoes blow up and kill all their inhabitants; certainly they regenerate after epidemics.

Most of those articles are so anecdotal and self-referential. Yes, certain numbers of mid-level financial people and lawyers may move ten miles to the east, west, north, or south of Manhattan, but in the scheme of things, what does that matter? The metro region has always been a more relevant economic unit than the over-priced neighborhoods of Manhattan. Anecdotally, I visited my lawyer sister at her second home in Long Island last week, where she’s been sheltering since this started. They don’t know when they’re going back to Manhattan but they have absolutely no intention of selling their apartment. She told me about friends and colleagues and friends’ and colleagues’ kids who have shifted to their second homes, but none of them were giving up their city houses. Who would they sell them to, even if they wanted to?

As for the creative people, they are going to have to come together somewhere, because even solitary creatives like novelists and poets and painters of still lifes crave company or work in academia or media to support themselves, and most collaborate. Odds are, they’ll congregate here.

Trump as Messiah

Greg Sargent does a good job of summarizing the most Trumpolotrous moments of the convention, which seems from the coverage this morning to have been a festival of cultism. I was only able to watch about a minute and a half of it before I had to turn off the TV (the coffee shop lady who prayed to Jesus and got PPP from Trump, but who feared that Joe Biden would destroy all that she, he, and Jesus had worked for).

I guess that’s what it feels like for normal, everyday Americans, when forced to watch “radical liberal” shows like Anderson Cooper 360, see football players kneeling, or hear Anthony Fauci pouring cold water on Donald Trump’s latest medical insight.

All Trump’s brand needs to do next is the impossible

Since Trump failed in real estate, casinos, sports, and airlines, he’s built a successful second career as a brander. The brand he flogs is his persona–brash, brilliant, scrappy, over-sexed, and authentic in a cheesy, inauthentic way–and it has worked well enough when it’s slapped on gold-plated hotels and condos, golf resorts, clothes, steaks, vodka, even real estate seminars. It worked for a fantastical TV show about business success, and it opened up some really profitable money-laundering opportunities. It worked for a political campaign in which his supposed street smarts prevailed over the cluelessness and malice of the elites. It even seems to be working for a deranged death cult, in which he heroically but secretly battles the latter-day Elders of Zion–a vast secret society of child-molesting Jeffrey Epsteins who control everything except Trump and the Q believers.

If Trump’s brand was faced with a global pandemic, you know what it would do? It would prove itself smarter than the doctors, more efficient than the politicians, more caring than the blood-sucking fat cats who seek to profit off it. It would do the impossible, curing it at a stroke, just like it built the ice skating rink, just like it crushed the Clintons and sent Obama back to Africa in shame.

This is Trump’s challenge over the next 70 days: to hew to his brand proposition with absolute discipline. But this time, he actually has to DO something, because he already occupies the most powerful office in the world. Announcing that he can cure the virus, restore the economy, and put black people back in their places isn’t enough: he actually has to do so.

Light or Darkness?

Biden made the conflict and the stakes perfectly clear: light versus darkness, love versus hate, hope versus fear. And he put himself and America on the side of light: “there has never been anything we have been unable to accomplish when we do it together.”

Trump’s reaction is similarly clarifying: Biden attacked and lied about America and Americans, delivering a message of despair. We are enjoying “the most successful period of time in the history of our country from every standard.” Anyone who believes that America or Americans could do better should not just be shamed, but crushed.

If there is any suspense leading up to Trump’s moment next week, it’s not what new face he will present to the world, or what new tactics he will unleash. We know him well enough by now to know that there will be no surprises. He will cast Biden as a senile crook, Harris as a ravening witch, an avatar of the African/Asiatic hordes who eat white babies. “They are coming for you.”

The question that keeps me up at night is which vision reflects this country the best. Do more than half of us even want to work together to improve things? Or do more than half of us believe that things are as good as we should ever hope–that the only injustices that need to be corrected are those visited against Trump?