Category Archives: Fog Of History

The Americans Thread: Bugging Out

Hunger was the main theme of the third episode of The Americans. We heard Tuan the Vietnamese commie kid’s story about eating “garbage off the streets” back home and saw a flashback to Philip’s time as a hungry Russian lad. I was half-way worried that this bloke would knock on my door:

It could be worse. Simon Le Bon Bon might be there with Duran Duran:

That’s the last wolf song for now. I promise, promise.

I almost needed a snack after watching the episode, but resisted because I was afraid that Aussie Midges had invaded my fridge. Oh yeah, The Midges is the buggy title of this pestiferous episode.  As far as I know, they have nothing to do with Patricia Hitchcock’s character in Strangers On A Train

I’m still trying to avoid spoilers so I’ll send you to the break with the song they played as Philip and Elizabeth packed a corpse into a rental car. (It’s not the first time they’ve done that, so how can it be a spoiler?) I’d hate to be the guy who rented that ride after them. It Hertz just thinking about it.

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Tea About The Tillerson

I had a lot of fun with my first post about Trump’s Secretary of State: Tea for the Tillerson. It’s time for a variation on that theme and meme. The above meme reflects the fact that Rex Tillerson is an empty suit with neither power nor influence. It’s fascinating that a man who wielded *real* power at Exxon/Mobil is under the thumb of a 35-year-old real estate developer and his sloppy neo-Fascist pal. This is no way to run a railroad, let alone a country.

It has become painfully obvious that Tillerson is out of the loop on major decisions: 

 At times, the president seems to be actively undermining the secretary. While Tillerson was in China over the weekend, taking an approach so conciliatory that he was even dropping Beijing’s favorite diplomatic buzzwords into his remarks, Trump was on Twitter complaining that China had “done little to help!” deter North Korea’s bad behavior—an accusation the Chinese have bristled at.

This is the second time Trump has said disparaging things about a country while Tillerson was visiting it. When Tillerson visited Mexico in February, trying to smooth over Trump-era differences as the natural disagreements of “two strong, sovereign countries,” the president was proudly telling a crowd in Washington about his administration’s work to get “bad dudes” out of the United States and predicting that Tillerson would have a tough trip. Those inclined to give this administration points for strategic acumen might see this as a kind of good cop, bad cop scenario, but it looks more like incoherence to me.

Tillerson is the most disrespected and undercut Secretary of State since William Rogers way back in the Nixon administration. Nixon ran foreign policy out of the White House and Henry Kissinger was a skilled bureaucratic knife-fighter. They at least had a coherent foreign policy even if much of it was appalling. Trump hasn’t a clue and neither do his key advisers. Jared and Steve know as much about foreign policy as Oscar the cat.

The administration’s recent saber-rattling on North Korea was not only shitty policy, it was poorly timed. Tillerson was in the Republic of Korea and issued a threat while the Korean government was in crisis after the impeachment and removal from office of President Park Geun-hye. Note to the Trumpers: the ROK does not like being referred to as South Korea. What’s next? Calling the PRC, Red China?

I remain mystified as to why the head of a massive multi-national corporation traded real power for playing second-string to Kushner and Bannon. I’m not sure where the new National Security adviser fits into this equation, but at least he’s not crazy or a Russian pawn like Flynn. It’s unclear, however, if he’ll prove to be McMasterful…

Team Trump’s next foreign policy trick is for Tillerson to skip the upcoming NATO summit, then travel to Putinville shortly thereafter. Way to send a signal to our friends where they rate, y’all. Whatever its flaws, NATO has helped keep the peace in Europe for the last 68 years. The Russians want to undermine and divide NATO in favor of chaos and right-wing nationalism. The Trumpers are playing along because the president* thinks foreign policy is a protection racket, and Bannon wants to provoke some kind of Armageddon that will bring on his new world order. I have no idea what Tillerson thinks about any of this. Repeat after me: he’s an empty suit.

There was a swell opinion piece in the Guardian that posed this question: Is Rex Tillerson the Weakest Secretary of State of All-Time? In a word: Yes. It’s an office that’s been filled by a long line of distinguished Americans: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Seward, John Hay, Charles Evans Hughes, Henry Stimson, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, George Schultz, Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry to name a few. It’s a long list and Rex Tillerson’s name doesn’t fit. He’s starting to make JFK and LBJ’s mild-mannered, long-suffering Secretary of State Dean Rusk look masterful.

Presidents have long tried to run foreign policy out of the White House. But it’s particularly unnerving with these bozos in charge. They don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing and their main talent seems to be fighting with our closest friends in the world: Australia, Mexico, Germany, and Great Britain. How is it possible for a Republican administration to fight with center-right governments in Australia and the UK? It’s a rare talent and the Trumpers have it.

Some GOPers insist that Tillerson is lying low and will emerge as a force to be reckoned with. I believe that’s called whistling past the graveyard. Hopefully, the Trumpers won’t provoke a war somewhere in the world to distract attention from their ineptitude and corruption. That’s where I see this heading, especially with a weak Secretary of State whose main qualification for the job is that he looks like a diplomat. And that’s the weak tea about the Tillerson.

Finally, I have a theme song suggestion for Tillerson’s State Department:

UPDATE: REX SPEAKS- The ineffectual Secretary of State has this to say:

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” he said. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

After a conversation with President Donald Trump that Tillerson described as “about the world,” the President offered him the position.

“I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids,” he said, adding later: “My wife convinced me. She was right. I’m supposed to do this.”

Sounds like a Fifties sitcom to me: My wife made me do it. Take this job, please.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Disturbance At The Heron House

Elijah and the Ravens by Ralph Chessé, 1945.

Winter played a fleeting return engagement in New Orleans this week. Unlike the Mid-March blizzard in the Northeast, it wasn’t anything to write home about but we ran the heater and shivered a bit. I’m not a fan of the new practice of naming winter storms even if the first one is named after a famous theatrical character, STELLA. Unless, that is, it’s named for the Hunter-Garcia ballad Stella Blue. The mere thought of a blizzard makes me blue so that could be it.

It may have been chilly of late but Spring allergy season is upon us with a vengeance. I have a mild case of red-eye but I’m used to that. A worse pestilence is this year’s flea crop. We haven’t had a hard freeze for several years so the nasty little buggers are dining on Oscar and Della Street. All we can do is treat the house, medicate the cats, and hope for the best. The idea of putting a flea collar on Della is particularly unappealing. She’s been known to draw blood so I’ll pass. Chomp.

This week’s theme song comes from R.E.M.’s classic 1987 Document album; more on the album anon. It’s my favorite record in their catalog and Disturbance At The Heron House is the kat’s meow. The lyrics were inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is another reason I like it so much.

Here are two versions. The original studio track and one from R.E.M.’s appearance on MTV Unplugged. The second video has Radio Song as lagniappe.

The “followers of chaos out of control” indeed. In fact, they can follow me to the other side after the break. I hope it’s sufficiently chaotic.

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The Americans Thread: Trouble In Paigeland

Americans Pests

You know things are bad when the man whose best friend is a KGB illegal notices there’s something wrong with a teenage girl. Of course, Stan Beeman is alternately clueless and perceptive about life in general. He’s right: there *is* trouble in Paigeland. I have an alternative theory as to why: I blame that dreadful brown geometric wallpaper in her bedroom. It looks as if Piet Mondrian  projectile vomited on the wall. No wonder Paige is sleeping in the closet at the beginning of this aptly titled episode. Pests abound this week but we’ll get to that after my feeble attempt to make this thread spoiler proof.

Before the break, let’s get in a 1984 mood by paying a brief visit to Heartbeat City:

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Malaka Of The Week: Keith Smith

Flags

Photograph by Jim Otey.

You’re probably asking yourself, who the hell is Keith Smith? I had never heard of him until ninety minutes ago when I first read about his flag flying exploits in Indianapolis.  One in particular, and his explanation of why he flies it, has caused a furor, pun intended. It’s always intended. And that is why Keith Smith is malaka of the week.

Smith is just an ordinary Joe with an ordinary name. He’s also the sort of collector you’re unlikely to see featured on the Antiques Roadshow:

Smith said the Nazi flag is about history, not race. He bought the flag from an antique dealer, and he’s been collecting neo-Nazi memorabilia since he was 14. He has badges, military pins and other commodities.

“It’s a part of history,” he said. “Someone sacrificed their life fighting and brought the flag back as a trophy.”

I suspect the folks at the Indy Star mean that he collects Nazi memorabilia. I doubt that there’s a market in George Lincoln Rockwell gee-gaws and tchotchkes. The bigger problem with Malaka Smith’s collection is how he displays one of his prized items: the flag you might have noticed at the top of the post.

For Keith Smith, flying the Nazi flag makes a point about how he’s being slowly stripped of his freedom.

The 58-year-old Indianapolis man has flown the flag three times in front of his house before, joining the Confederate flag and the Gadsden flag that reads “Don’t tread on me.”

“Everything is being stripped from us, everything is being turned into an issue,” Smith said. “I mostly flew it because I’m tired of seeing stuff across the U.S. Some want to cry about their hurt feelings, but this is a part of history being taken down.”

Does anyone understand Smith’s reasoning? I certainly don’t. It strikes me as the essence of malakatude. Flying the flag of one of America’s greatest enemies, one of the worst dictatorships in history, is an affirmation of freedom? That’s just plain nuts even in the era of alternative facts and neo-newspeak.  That’s also how the man who posted a picture of Smith’s flag on Facebook sees it:

Mr. Otey further elaborated on his sentiments to the Indy Star but I think fucking Nazi flag sums it up succinctly:

Jim Otey, a 51-year-old who lives in Smith’s neighborhood, said the flag represents an overall symbol of hate for him. He drives past Smith’s house daily and always saw the Confederate and Gadsden flag, and just shook his head. But the Nazi flag went too far.

“It’s the ultimate symbol of all the evil and bad things that are in this country,” Otey said. “It’s frightening to see that in your neighborhood.”

He made the original post on Facebook about the flag, and said he was astounded to see how far it spread.

“It makes me feel good that everyone is getting on board here,” Otey said. “That’s not going to fly here.”

The people who carried that flag plunged the world into the bloodiest war ever waged. It’s a symbol of genocide and war criminality, not a quaint relic. I have no issue with Smith owning the flag but displaying it flies in the face of simple human decency; something that seems to be in short supply among Trumpers in the heartland. Our country fought the Nazis; many of us lost relatives in Hitler’s war of aggression. It’s a symbol of repression, not freedom. And this bozo’s Confederate battle flag is a symbol of slavery, not freedom. It’s all so simple. Perhaps too simple for the likes of Keith Smith.

Trump’s electoral college victory gave the green light to bigots and racists; both famous and obscure. They have friends in high places such as Steves King and Bannon. The latter has been busy turning the White House into the Brown House while the former proudly parades his  fascist ethno-nationalist views without rebuke from fellow Republicans. Those who think of themselves as “decent” Republicans own the Steves and their ilk. I’m done cutting them any slack whatsoever.

As to Keith Smith. If he were a WWE wrestler, we might call him the Hoosier Hater. I have my own word for it: malakatude.  And that is why Keith Smith is malaka of the week.

King Of The Bigots

Our old “friend” Congressman Steve King of Iowa used to claim that he wasn’t a racist. Now that white ethno nationalism is fashionable among the deplorables, those days are gone, gone, gone:

Guess who applauded King:

The Wilders mentioned by King is far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders whose ironically named Party for Freedom is running first in the polls in that nation’s upcoming election. A headline in the “failing” NYT captures the horror of what’s happening in the Netherlands: How The Dutch Stopped Being Decent and Dull. I’d like to throw another D word in the mix: depressing.

The good news is that, thanks to Holland’s multi-party system, Wilders is unlikely to be the next Prime Minister BUT his party has gone from being cranks to contenders. That’s bad news for those of us who have admired the Dutch for their political common sense and cultural tolerance. The French presidential election is next up and Marine LePen may lead in the first round. The conventional wisdom is that her opponents will unite against her as they did against her father in 2002 but the CW has taken a beating in the last few years. Stay tuned: if France leaves the EU, it’s as dead as the Weimar Republic.

Back to Steve King. The Iowa cornholer is standing by his statements. It’s now safe in certain circles for an elected official to sound like David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Geert Wilders. King was on CNN this morning and went into a rhapsody about his horrendous views:

“I’ve been to Europe and I’ve spoken on this issue and I’ve said the same thing as far as ten years ago to the German people and to any population of people that is a declining population that isn’t willing to have enough babies to reproduce themselves. And I’ve said to them, you can’t rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies,” King said on CNN. “You’ve got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values.”

There you have it, we’re not “making” enough babies. It’s what happens when women get uppity and think they can do other things and not just be baby factories as in The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a new teevee version of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic and it couldn’t be timelier. Make sure you read Ms. Atwood’s essay about The Handmaid’s Tale continuing relevance in the “failing” NYT.

In addition to supporting the King of Bigots, the erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer is bragging about his own fertility. Duke only has two kids whereas his role model Joseph Goebbels had six. Of course, he murdered his children in 1945. Some hero. Some role model.

Remember when mainstream conservatives ran away from David Dukkke? Now they sound just like him: Steve King is merely a canary in the coal mine. That’s life in the 21st Century, which is starting to feel like the 1930’s with memes. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland recently had a great deal to say about that, so I’ll give him the last word:

If there’s a common thread linking 21st-century European nationalists to each other and to Trump, it is a similar, shared contempt for the structures that have bound together, and restrained, the principal world powers since the last war. Naturally, Le Pen and Wilders want to follow the Brexit lead and leave, or else break up, the EU. And, no less naturally, Trump supports them – as well as regarding Nato as “obsolete” and the UN as an encumbrance to US power (even if his subordinates rush to foreign capitals to say the opposite).

For historians of the period, the 1930s are always worthy of study because the decade proves that systems – including democratic republics – which had seemed solid and robust can collapse. That fate is possible, even in advanced, sophisticated societies. The warning never gets old.

But when we contemplate our forebears from eight decades ago, we should recall one crucial advantage we have over them. We have what they lacked. We have the memory of the 1930s. We can learn the period’s lessons and avoid its mistakes. Of course, cheap comparisons coarsen our collective conversation. But having a keen ear tuned to the echoes of a past that brought such horror? That is not just our right. It is surely our duty.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Top Of The Pops

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

It’s time for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade later today. This year’s route is so long that it should be renamed the Uptown/Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day. We’re fleeing to our friends Greg and Christy’s annual shindig, which puts the bang in shebang or some such shit. And I know the parade isn’t happening on the day itself. This is New Orleans, we do things our own way. Y’all should know that by now. There will, however, be drinking involved. We’re not that bloody different: walk me out in the Tullamore morning dew…

The big local story is that the Fifth Circuit has lifted an injunction against removing the white surpremacist monuments. They’ll be gone pecans soon enough. The erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer has been relatively silent this time around. He’s too busy fluffing Trump on Twitter to get worked up about it. For now. I guess that makes him a fluffer nutter. I hereby apologize to others out there who love marshmallow fluff, which recently celebrated a somewhat sticky centennial.

This week’s theme songs qualify as benign earworms. My mind keeps drifting back in their direction, which is why I’m taking you to the top, top, Top of the Pops.

We’re going in reverse chronological order with the 1991 Smithereens tune first. The video was filmed in Atlantic City. I looked for Chalky White but didn’t see him.

This week we’re back in same title, different song territory with the Kinks who were the band that most influenced the Reens. I’ve always preferred this loose live version of Top of the Pops to the more buttoned down studio track:

Now that I’ve rocked your world, it’s time to insert the break. This post grew like Cat’s Claw vines on an abandoned shotgun double so one is in order. See you on the other side.

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The Fog Of History: George Orwell On Trumpist Autocracy

I’ve avoided discussing all the 1984 references people are making because I’m a genuine admirer of George Orwell, especially the collected essays.  As you can see from the Time cover above, the last wave of Orwell chic took place, well, in 1984 when the Reaganites and Thatcherites tried to claim him. It was a poor fit: Eric Blair was a man of the left who had slowly moved to the social democratic left as he observed what was going on in *his* world. He chose the title 1984 for his oft-cited, little understood novel by simply flipping the last two digits. The book was about Stalin’s Soviet Union, not some dystopian future state, and Animal Farm was about the false egalitarianism of Leninism. He was a political writer, not a sci-fi guy.

Having said that, there are some quotes from 1984 that are applicable to life in 21st Century ‘Merica. Plus, I had a lot of fun quoting Sam Clemens and Henry Mencken not long ago, so why not Eric Blair? Obviously, Orwell wasn’t writing about Trumpist autocracy but these quote work quite well by analogy. In fact, Trump puts the anal in analogy.

The first quote reminds me of Steve Bannon’s admiration of  Tailgunner Joe McCarthy:

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

I thought of the next quote when reading about how Obamacare repeal is about freedom. You know, the freedom to die without medical care:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”

Orwell, of course, was a fan of  Britain’s NHS. He knew that good health is freedom.

We’ve heard a lot about newspeak but what the Trumpers specialize in is doublethink.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

I don’t know if the average Trumper understands the big words, but the concept is surely not alien to Spicy as he spews lies from his gum hole.

As a veteran of the Spanish Civil War-he fought alonsgide the far-left  POUM militia-Orwell even has advice for today’s resistance:

“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

Unconsciouness seems to be a Trumper trait; that and believing whatever nonsense comes out of their dear leader’s big bazoo.

In one of his essays, Orwell warned the world about how history was being twisted.

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.

He specifically had Stalinist rewriting of history in mind. Did you know that everything good was invented by a Russian? Me neither, but that’s what they taught in schools in the USSR. It explains Putin’s national chauvinism rather well.

Finally, Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language, has been posted in its entirety online. Make sure you read it. Here’s how it concludes:

Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.

The Americans Thread: Summer Of ’84

Americans S5 E1

I’ve thought about recapping FX’s brilliant spy series The Americans for several years. I have finally taken the plunge with Season 5, which finds Philip and Elizabeth digging a hole. Literally.

I posted the picture above even though it comes from Season 4 because I *adore* Frank Langella as KGB spy daddy Gabriel. Langella brings a feline presence to the proceedings with his silky, smooth voice, nondescript sweaters, and wise eyes. If they decide to kill Gabriel off, I plan to go on a hunger strike. No wheat for me, y’all.

In preparation for last night, I watched the first four seasons on Amazon Prime so I’m primed with information, especially if they serve prime rib. I’m just ribbing you: there’s no food in the shops in Moscow when KGB hunk Oleg returns home in the premiere. His new mission is to root out corruption, which his boss  informs him is the wish of then Soviet Leader Constantine Chernenko. I had a good laugh at that: Chernenko was as crooked as a snake and his sole qualification to be Soviet leader was that he was Breznhev’s drinking buddy. Vodka is some evil shit. Zazdarovje.

For those of you who DVR’d the season premiere, I’m going undercover for the rest of the post. The only thing spoiled in this post is Dylan Baker’s body. I just lied like a spy. I’m merely inserting a break but first some contemporaneous music:

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Resist Smart

The good news is that this will not be another episode in the ongoing saga of <cue soap opera organ riff> how the blogger’s stomach turns. It was a helluva bug but I’m on the path to recovery. I’m about 70% today but still jittery about drinking coffee or anything acidic, so a nice cuppa tea it is. I look forward to a cuppa joe tomorrow. The worst thing about that stupid MSNBC show is that it’s ruined a perfectly good phrase. I’m fighting back. Why? I’ll never know.

I’ve been pondering how best to resist the Trump-Bannon regime. My social media feeds are full of people over-celebrating minor triumphs. Yes, it’s great that Jeff Beau was caught in a stupid lie and while it damages his credibility as AG, it’s not going to bring either him or Trump down. Or if it does, it’s going to take time.

We have a predominantly 18th Century removal process in place. Impeachment is designed to be a slow, arduous process. That’s why only two Presidents have been impeached by the House and none have been removed by the Senate. Some of the Senators who voted against Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, hated the drunken, racist moron. They just didn’t think he’d committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” as constitutionally required. It’s supposed to be hard and slow to prevent injustices such as removing Bill Clinton for being horny and needy.

The 20th Century wrinkle on the removal process, the 25th Amendment, requires Republicans to turn against Trump. If they cared about the country, they would but tribal Republicanism got us in this mess and all they care about are tax cuts and placating angry Trumpers. The hardcore MAGA maggots are still out there, but had difficulty mustering crowds to support their dear leader this weekend even in the Gret Stet of Louisiana:

I am also perturbed by those who are praising former President Beavis for implicitly criticizing the current occupant. Remember: the Bushies lied their way into an unnecessary war, intimidated the media, outed an undercover CIA agent, and smeared their opponents. W has never recanted or regretted any of this. I’m willing to give him credit for being a better man than Trump but, given his track record, that’s faint praise. Repeat after me: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

Then there were the people who fell for Trump’s diversionary tweets. You know the Obama bad/sick guy who bugged Trump Tower one. Yes, it was inflammatory and untrue but it was tirade with a purpose: to get his opponents to take their eye off the ball of the slowly unfolding Russia scandal. It’s a classic reality show tactic: one-up an accusation with an even more inflammatory one. If you watched the Real Housewives of Atlanta last night, you know what I’m saying. (I’m Team Kandy all the way, y’all.) Keep your eye on the ball and don’t fall for Trumpian smoke blowing. It’s what he does best; that and lie like a gaudy orange rug.

Another surreal moment took place on MSNBC’s AM Joy last Saturday. Let me preface this by saying that I love and respect Joy Reid but nobody’s perfect. She was discussing Trump’s obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Celebrity Apprentice. Joy actually said that Arnold was an ideal foil for the Insult Comedian because he was “an immigrant and conservative.” Unfortunately, Joy also dismissed Arnold’s extensive record of groping and pussy grabbing as not as bad as Trump’s. This is akin to saying it’s okay to praise GW Bush because he isn’t as big a liar as Trump. The current term for this is normalization. I hate the word but if the shoe fits, throw it. Repeat after me: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

Back to the post title. Smart resistance requires neither getting too high over momentary triumphs nor too low over setbacks. This is going to take time and patience, which are qualities that seem to be in short supply in the 21st Century. There’s no scandal genie to grant your wish of removing Trump from office. The genie is out of the bottle and is hanging out with Bannon at the Brown House. They’re mocking the mugs who think this will be easy.

The people who think a quick fix is possible are the same ones who thought faithless electors would deny Trump the Presidency even if they were hazy on the details of how the electoral college works. Smart resistance also requires being better informed and taking some time to digest the news as opposed to issuing hot takes and fighting with strangers on twitter. I know people who do that but it’s not worth it, as the line from a film classic goes, “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

These are surreal times. If anyone had told me in 1987 that Senator Al Franken would be a leading critic of president* Donald Trump thirty years later, I would have told them to stop bogarting the joint and share. One advantage the resistance has is that, as Athenae pointed out yesterday and I’ve said repeatedly, Trump has no plan, he’s making it up on the fly. In fact, Winging It With The Insult Comedian was the title of a post I wrote way back on December 9, 2015. I make no claim to be a prophet but while Bannon may have a plan, his boss has ADD or something much worse. The best response to chaos is to organize, organize, organize.

Resist smart and remember: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. The last word goes to the late, great Paul Kantner and Jefferson Airplane:

Vive les Maquis. I continue to have trouble sticking to that whole last word thing. Oh well, it’s the era of a demented president* who says shit like “the leaks are real, the news is fake.” So it goes.

Worst Person Ever To Live In The White House

C-SPAN recently did a survey of historians as to which Presidents rocked it and which dropped the rock. It was the first time former President Barack Obama was ranked and he made a strong first showing coming in at number 12. That’s pretty darn good for a man scorned by the alt right and left alike. I think they got it right: Obama’s stock is likely to rise in contrast with the menace who replaced him.

I’ve long hesitated to do my own Presidential ranking because of my wildly mixed feelings about Lyndon Johnson. Based solely on domestic policy, he would be a strong fourth behind FDR, Lincoln, and Washington on my list. (They’re almost everyone’s top 3.) The Vietnam war messes everything up as it did at the time. Bigly. LBJ came in 10th in the C-SPAN survey. One of these days, I’ll try the C-SPAN grading system, but it’s Carnival and I have hosting, cooking, drinking, and throw groveling to do…

That brings me to the Current Occupant. Many have already proclaimed him the worst ever but it’s too early to call. He’s certainly building a case. I do think he comes in dead last on a list of the best human beings to serve as Oval Ones. I’m uncertain of the exact order but I think that the four best people to be President were Taft, Obama, Garfield, and Truman. There’s also a good case to be made for JFK, Poppy Bush, Carter, and TR.

It’s time for the other side of the coin. The worst human beings to serve were Andrews Jackson and Johnson, and, you guessed it, the man I call the Insult Comedian. It’s true that Trump isn’t responsible for genocidal policies like Jackson and isn’t as overtly racist as Johnson but he’s capable of such misdeeds. He’s already the most corrupt President in history so I think a slot at the bottom is warranted for the Pussygrabber-in-Chief. Nixon and LBJ could be horrible sons-of-bitches but they had redeeming characteristics. Trump has none. Therefore, he is the worst person ever to live in the White House. Yeah, I know Washington never lived there but there was ZERO chance of him making this list. He was a bit on the dull side but rock solid otherwise.

Finally, a graphic that shows where Trump rates with the public compared to the last five Oval Ones:

16837725_10210760454639662_1493686501_n

It only gets worse, Donald. Believe me.

Saturday Odds & Sods: The Forecast (Calls For Pain)

Rockwell

The Problem We All Face by Norman Rockwell.

We’re back on the weather roller coaster in New Orleans. One day it’s unseasonably warm, the next it’s colder than average. It’s almost as crazy as the Current Occupant of the White House. Did you see that insane press conference by the least racist and anti-Semitic person ever? In response to the crazy, I tweeted this:

I hope all the Busters and Steiners are happy right now. They insisted that there was no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They were wrong. She’s sane.

Did y’all see the cartoon that was based on the Norman Rockwell painting that’s this week’s featured image? Here it is on the Tweeter Tube. I refuse to upload it:

That’s right, folks, Cartoonist Glenn (Not The Real) McCoy compared billionaire dilettante Betsy DeVos to NOLA’s own Ruby Bridges That’s preposterous and typical of the whiny titty babies on the Right in 2017.

Btw, BuzzFeed: You got something wrong.

On Sunday, the Belleville News-Democrat published this cartoon by Glenn McCoy. It appears to equate Betsy DeVos, Trump’s controversial pick for secretary of education, with Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South.

Ruby Bridges *was* the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. She was not the first overall: that honor belonged to the Little Rock Nine in 1957. The last I heard New Orleans was in the South. Y’all should spend less time cutting and pasting tweets and more time on research.

This week’s theme song fits both my mood and the temper of the times. The Forecast (Calls For Pain) comes from Robert Cray’s brilliant 1990 album Midnight Stroll:

It’s time to take a midnight stroll to the break. The forecast is for more mirth than pain on the other side.

Continue reading

Power Before Country

Comatose 2017

Krewe of Comatose float. Photograph © by Ride Hamilton.

It’s not original to think that the 21st Century Republican party *always* puts power before country. It’s Athenae’s pet hobby-horse. She wrote quite eloquently about it just yesterday. It’s time for me to climb on back of said rocking horse and join in. I’ll try not to break it. That would be too much like Henry Drummond’s Golden Dancer story in Inherit The Wind for my taste, and I try not to be overly derivative.

What am I on about? Read and learn:

I was seven years old, and a very fine judge of rocking horses. Golden Dancer had a bright red mane, blue eyes, and she was gold all over, with purple spots. When the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see. But she was a week’s wages for my father. So Golden Dancer and I always had a plate-glass window between us. But—let’s see, it wasn’t Christmas; must’ve been my birthday—I woke up in the morning and there was Golden Dancer at the foot of my bed! Ma had skimped on the groceries, and my father’d worked nights for a month. I jumped into the saddle and started to rock— And it broke! It split in two! The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance! Whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming—all gold, with purple spots—look behind the paint! And if it’s a lie—show it up for what it really is!

That’s how Republicans *should* have reacted to the Trump phenomenon from the git-go. The Trump “movement” is all shine and no substance, much like the Insult Comedian’s taste for gaudy, glitzy, goldleafy decor. I shuddered when I heard that the Trumps might redecorate the White House living quarters. It’s the people’s house and the thought of any of it resembling Trump Tower is nauseating. In the immortal words of Garth Algar: “I think I’m gonna hurl.” Holy crap, I’ve gone from Spencer Tracy and Fredric March to Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. And I’m okay with that. 2017 is the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World, after all. Excellent. Party time.

Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, the rottenness beneath the surface shine of conservative ideology. They’ve made a deal with the devil to get tax cuts for the 1% and to take away people’s health care among other horrors. It’s being done in the name of freedom but it’s really just selfishness. In that way, Donald Trump epitomizes what has happened to the GOP since the Reaganite wave election in 1980. Who’s more selfish than the Insult Comedian? If you know anyone, please keep them away from me.

In the wake of the Out like Flynn moment, there was a fleeting notion that Congressional Republicans might conduct a proper inquiry of the improper Russian connection. That moment has already passed because they realize this fiasco is apt to land at Donald’s doorstep. He was warned weeks ago that Flynn was susceptible to blackmail and nothing happened until Monday night. Why? I believe Trump (aka Putin’s Pawn) knew of, and initiated, Flynn’s contacts with Putin’s people. Flynn is not the only senior administration* official who has been compromised by the Russians: every word spoken, and action taken, by Trump indicates that he is susceptible to KGB-style blackmail. As Josh Marshall put it this morning: Flynn doesn’t matter. This is about Trump.

I’m not sure where this is headed. Events have been Russian by at a break neck pace. Flynn resigned while I was publishing my post about him, which had my head spinning like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. It’s certain that Trump administration* is headed for the rocks, it’s only a question of how extensive the damage is and who will be forced to jump overboard along with Flynn. It’s irrelevant whether he was pushed or jumped. The scariest thing about this week’s events is that Bannon is piloting the ship. The B3 Brownshirts are trying  to turn the White House into the Brown House. They’ve even unleashed Bannon’s creature Stephen Miller on the media. Unlike the rocker, he’s no Joker. Maurice would kick the little bastard in the balls.

There’s been a lot of discussion about prosecuting Flynn and other Trumpers for violations of the Logan Act. I, for one, am leery of that idea. The statute has been on the books since 1799 and it has only been invoked twice with no convictions. It was passed by a Federalist Congress and signed by President John Adams. It was aimed at the Jeffersonian Republicans who sided with the more radical factions of the French Revolution. In short, it was designed as political payback. It was mentioned by pro-Roosevelt forces during the isolationist America First moment but was never used. Wise choice.

Dusting off a 218-year-old statute to go after the Trumpers is a bad idea as far as this lapsed lawyer is concerned. It is a very frail reed and could easily be ruled unconstitutional if tested in the courts. That means anyone convicted under the law would walk and the GOPers would scream political persecution. The potential for backfire outweighs any positives.

The Logan Act is much like Golden Dancer in Henry Drummond’s story. A conviction obtained under it would be like Henry’s rocking horse: “The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance!”

There’s an understandable temptation to fight fire with fire and sink to the Republicans level. I’m all for the resistance but we lose if we become carbon copies of them. Unlike our enemies, I believe in putting country before power.

I’ll give Spencer Tracy as the Clarence Darrow-like Henry Drummond the last word:

 

The Fog Of History: Explaining Trump

Ron Rosenbaum wrote one of the best books about the Hitler phenomenon and its persistence through the years: Explaining Hitler. In that brilliant work, Rosenbaum talked to some of the explainers-from the crazy to the reputable-to try to understand how Nazism could have taken hold in a country known for its literature, music, art, and cinema. Rosenbaum also endeavored to understand *why* Hitler’s demonic spell continued after his catastrophic failure and revelation as the war criminal’s war criminal. If you’re interested in the subject, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. What’s not to love about a book that has a chapter titled The Hitler Family Film Noir?

Rosenbaum was approached by some publications to explore comparisons between Hitler and the man some call Hair Fuhrer and I call the Insult Comedian: Donald J. Trump. He was initially reluctant to do so for reasons he explains in a brand spanking new piece in the Los Angeles Review Of Books:

Until the morning after the election I had declined them. While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide. He did not seem bent on anything but hideous, hurtful simplemindedness — a childishly vindictive buffoon trailing racist followers whose existence he had mainstreamed. When I say followers I’m thinking about the perpetrators of violence against women outlined by New York Magazine who punched women in the face and shouted racist slurs at them. Those supporters. These are the people Trump has dragged into the mainstream, and as my friend Michael Hirschorn pointed out, their hatefulness will no longer find the Obama Justice Department standing in their way.

Bad enough, but genocide is almost by definition beyond comparison with “normal” politics and everyday thuggish behavior, and to compare Trump’s feckless racism and compulsive lying was inevitably to trivialize Hitler’s crime and the victims of genocide.

As a believer in Godwin’s Law until the 2016 election, I understand where Rosenbaum is coming from. It’s why I still prefer using the term Fascist to describe the Trump-Bannon “movement” and their loathsome followers.

Now that they’re in power, Rosenbaum detects a methodological similarity between the Trumpers and German Nazis. It’s rooted in both the big lie technique and the war on the press. In Hitler’s case, his fiercest foes back home in Bavaria were the reporters of the Munich Post who were referred to as “the poison kitchen” by the Nazis.

I really should let the master explainer explain himself:

But after the election, things changed. Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values.

What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. And they’re not joking. If you’d received the threatening words and pictures I did during the campaign (one Tweet simply read “I gas Jews”), as did so many Jewish reporters and people of color, the sick bloodthirsty lust to terrify is unmistakably sincere. The playbook is Mein Kampf.

Trump, of course, is not only incapable of writing a book on his own, he’s a notorious non-reader. Instead, he’s the teevee-watcher-in-chief. But Hitler was *not* an intellectual. He was a demagogue with an acute sense of his audience and what we would call his base. Trump may not be a true believer in the white nationalist ideology that Bannon and Miller have cobbled together BUT he *is* its best salesman.

Back to Hitler and the poison kitchen. The Munich Post did its best to expose the petty criminality and nationalistic bigotry that drove Hitler and the Nazis but in the end, we know what happened. They lost the kampf: Hitler came to power and plunged the world into an orgy of chaos, hatred, and violence. Steve Bannon is on the record as wanting chaos and destruction in order to bring on his own B3 new order and I’m not talking about the band of that name. He’s a right-wing Leninist. I’m a John Leninist myself.

Rosenbaum is even more worried about the normalization of Trump now that he’s the Current Occupant:

Cut to the current election. We had heard allegations that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, but somehow we normalized that. We didn’t take him seriously because of all the outrageous, clownish acts and gaffes we thought would cause him to drop out of the race. Except these gaffes were designed to distract. This was his secret strategy, the essence of his success — you can’t take a stand against Trump because you don’t know where Trump is standing. You can’t find him guilty of evil, you can’t find him at all. And the tactics worked. Trump was not taken seriously, which allowed him to slip by the normal standards for an American candidate. The mountebank won. Again.

Suddenly, after the inconceivable (and, we are now beginning to realize, suspicious) Trump victory, the nation was forced to contend with what it would mean, whether the “alt-right” was a true threat or a joke to be tolerated. Did it matter that Trump had opened up a sewer pipe of racial hatred? Once again, normalization was the buzzword.

And I remembered the Munich Post, defending Weimar Germany. I reflected on how fragile democratic institutions could be in the face of organized hatred. Hitler had been tricky about his plans until he got the position and the power to enact them. Trump had been tricky, neither accepting nor rejecting the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke. David Duke! The KKK! In this century! He claimed he didn’t know who he was. He couldn’t be disqualified because of someone he didn’t know. That’s where we all went wrong, thinking he was stupid and outrageous, not canny and savvy and able to play the media like Paganini. The election demonstrated the weakness of a weak democracy, where basic liberties could be abolished by demagoguery and voter suppression.

Rosenbaum is concerned that normalization is taking place in too many sectors of the public and press. The MSM wavers between exposing Trumpian excesses and normalization. I am cautiously optimistic that vast swaths of the American people do not accept Trump’s legitimacy and will never normalize his “movement.” Look at me: I am fundamentally a center-left Democrat who belongs to the “get shit done” wing of the party. That’s been suspended along with my adherence to Godwin’s Law. I am committed to resisting Trumpism and everything about it. This is not the time to make a deal with the devil. Trump regards offers of compromise as signs of weakness. I will continue to show him the same level of respect that Republicans gave to Barack Obama: zero, zilch, bupkis, nada.

People need to be patient. Given the current make-up of  Congress, Trump can only be removed if Republicans turn on him. That will only happen when they think the cost of supporting him outweighs the cost of pissing off rank and file Trumpers. That’s why public displays of disapproval are so vital. And the much ballyhooed 25th Amendment solution requires the support of his cabinet. It’s one reason why, with the exception of Generals Mattis and Kelly, the cabinet is loaded with wealthy political non-entities, sycophants, and right-wing ideologues. They *might* rebel if Trump continues his manic ways but it will take time. You know things are bad if I think Mike Pence is less horrific than Donald Trump. Why? He’s less likely to plunge us into a war caused by the last thing he saw on teevee. Trump puts the boob into boob tube as well as the idiot into idiot box.

Pressure and patience must be the watchwords of the resistance. We didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of it quickly either. Satire is one of our best weapons. It hits Trump where he lives: he wants to be loved and admired. It’s our job to see that he’s neither. We don’t want him to think he’s Chaplin’s Great Dictator, Adenoid Hynkel. If Trump tries to dance with a global balloon, we need to pop it.

Vive les Maquis.

Sunday Morning Video: The Murder Of Emmett Till

I wrote yesterday about Emmett Till’s lynching and its importance to the Civil Rights movement. Here’s a 2003 American Experience documentary about it:

 

Saturday Odds & Sods: Trouble In Mind

Woodruff Underground RR

The Underground Railroad by Hale Woodruff, 1942.

Another week, another mural as the featured image. Hale Woodruff is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. If you don’t recognize Trump’s Frederick Douglass quote, I have failed as a blogger.

It has been a Krewe of Spank-centric week at Adrastos World HQ. We’ve been helping with the float, buying costume bits, and even went to a pizza-n-shirt-iron-on party. Bet you’ve never done that. We also drank beer. Bet you’ve done that.

This week’s theme song was selected with our politically chaotic moment in mind. I am mindful of the fact that Trouble In Mind was written in 1924 by jazz pianist Richard Jones. It has been recorded oodles of time by oodles of artists. I have selected worthy versions by Big Bill Broonzy, Nina Simone, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the post only without the dirt or the band. That’s right, this post will be unbroken…

Emmett Till: Every social movement requires a spark. For the Civil Rights movement, the spark was provided by the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. In fact, Jesse Jackson describes a conversation with Rosa Parks that confirms the importance of Emmett Till:

“I asked Miss Rosa Parks [in 1988] why didn’t she go to the back of the bus, given the threat that she could be hurt, pushed off the bus, and run over, because three other ladies did get up. She said she thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and she couldn’t do it.”

There’s a new book about the murder of Emmett Till wherein author Timothy Tyson got the woman who was allegedly the target of unwanted attention by Till to admit that nothing much really happened. Vanity Fair’s Sheila Weller has the details.

It’s abundantly clear that the Current Occupant has no knowledge of the Civil Rights movement or how important it is to many of us. It didn’t involve him directly so it’s off his radar screen. I suspect Trump and his dreadful, racist daddy regarded the movement as a nuisance. It made it harder for them to discriminate against black folks in their apartment buildings in the outer boroughs, after all. So it goes.

We go from the crime that inspired the Civil Rights movement to a look at how Hollywood is taking on the  Insult Comedian.

The New Culture War: We tend to think of Pats Buchanan and Robertson when we think about the culture war. Buchanan’s 1992 GOP convention speech scared the living shit out of middle-American and was a factor in Poppy Bush’s defeat. Thanks, Pat.

The culture war used to be a right-wing thing. It no longer is. The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries takes a look at how Hollywood and others on the left are standing up to the Insult Comedian. My favorite bit involves the divine Julia Louis-Dreyfus:

At last Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild awards in Hollywood, barely anyone who got to the stage failed to denounce Donald Trump’s immigrant ban. Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for instance, accepting her award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series with her portrayal of a (with all due respect) venal and useless president, said: “I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father fled religious persecution in Nazi-occupied France, and I am an American patriot … I love this country. I am horrified by its blemishes. This immigrant ban is a blemish, and it is un-American.”

Her speech came from the heart and was clearly not written by Selina Meyer’s staff. They would have found a way to fuck it up and elect Hugh Laurie President…

There’s already a backlash over comments like Julia’s and Meryl Streep’s but, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. The rank hypocrisy on the right about celebrities in politics is breathtaking. The GOP elected an actor President, sent Gopher from The Love Boat and Sonny Bono to Congress, and now they complain about free speech from Julia and Meryl. As the Cowardly Lion would surely say, DA NOIVE.  I fed Siri that sentence and she had a nervous breakdown. It was most amusing.

Speaking of the culture wars, our next segment takes a look at cursing. Hmm, I wonder if we still have a fuck quota at First Draft.

Fucking Around: There’s a motherfucking good review at the New York Review of Books by Joan Acocella of two bloody buggery bollocky books about swearing. You should read the fucker. Fuckin’ A.

Speaking of people who got fucked over, here’s a look back at Grateful Dead’s 1970 arrest in New Orleans. They did not return to the Crescent City until 1988.

Busted Down On Bourbon Street: The Grateful Dead were “set up like a bowling pin” in New Orleans on January 31, 1970. The city fathers were terrified that hippies would overrun the city and interfere with their drinking. They simply could not have that.

There’s a fun look back at Live For Live Music.com. I can say fun because nothing much came of the bust except for semi-lurid headlines and this mug shot of a certain lead guitar player:

man_file_1055638_jerry-mugshot-1970

Notice that Jerry had the good sense to smile, not glower in his mugshot. Never let the bastards see you sweat.

I obviously have to post a version of Truckin’ at this juncture. This is a good ‘un complete with tight musicianship and sloppy vocals, both trademarks of the good old Grateful Dead:

Let’s move on to a sporadic Odds & Sods feature:

Separated At Birth? I added a question mark because I’m not 100% sure this works but it cracked me up when I saw it on the Tweeter Tube.

Instead of being leery of the idea, Leary responded without so much as a leer:

Just imagine it: Denis Leary in The Bowling Green Massacre. He really needs to wear Kellyanne Liar’s inauguration day outfit:

conway-meme

Let’s move from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Saturday Classic: I posted the Queen of Soul earlier, it’s time to listen to the King of Soul, Otis Redding. Note that the album begins with Ole Man Trouble. It has nothing to do with the Insult Comedian but we do have more than our share of trouble right now.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back with more hijinks and shenanigans next week. Who better to have the last word than three Jokers? Heath, Jack, and Cesar beat the hell out of the joker in the White House. Figuratively, not literally.

jokers-memejpg

Your President* Speaks: Name That Bad Hombre

I didn’t plan to do another Your President* Speaks post until next week but the Insult Comedian has had a vintage day. We learned that he hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, threatened to chase Pancho Villa into Mexico if he can dig up Black Jack Pershing, and has no earthly idea who Frederick Douglass was. I know you’ve already seen it, but let the stupid wash over you anew:

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

We’ve also learned that Black History month is about-you guessed it-Donald Trump. I knew he was a blackguard but had no idea he was a black dude…

I started some shenanigans on my Facebook feed tonight. I thought I should share:

After kicking that around awhile. I decided that game should be called-drum roll-Name That Bad Hombre. We can throw names out and guess if the Insult Comedian knows who the hell they are. The answer must be in the form of a Trumpism. Remember, he speaks Jerkish, not English so keep it simple, stupid. Speaking of KISS:

Gene Simmons? Yes. He was on Celebrity Apprentice. Amazing tongue, he’s doing a tremendous job with it.

Meatloaf? Yes. Cried too much when he was on Celebrity Apprentice. But Meatloaf is amazing, especially with ketchup.

Philip Roth? Not sure. Was he the gambler who went to Cuba with Tony Soprano? Tony is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.

Beethoven? One of the beatniks. A bunch of bad, smelly dudes. My yuuuuuuuge wall will keep them out.

Zapata? One of the cartel guys, right? A very bad hombre. Believe me.

Susan B. Anthony? Was she the ugly skirt with the ax? A very, very nasty woman. Sad.

George Patton? The General whose name I mentioned during my record-setting landslide win. Not sure what war he was in but I love his leather: Patton leather. Beautiful.

I could go on and on but I won’t. Name That Bad Hombre could easily turn into a tremendous drinking game and we all need to drink more while the Trump-Bannon regime is in power. Believe me.

 

Philip Roth On Trumpism

Roth

There’s been a lot of chatter about dystopian novels of late. I cannot imagine why. I’ll save my take on 1984 for another time, but if you haven’t read Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. In the book, Charles Lindbergh is nominated by the GOP in 1940 and defeats Franklin Roosevelt on a platform of  isolationism and appeasement with the help of Nazi Germany. In the real world, the Nazis were paying off prominent isolationist Senators who, despite the rhetoric, put America second and their wallets first. It all sounds painfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The 83-year-old Roth has retired from writing but shared his views about Trumpism via email with the New Yorker’s Judith Thurman. Below are some excerpts of their electronic epistolary exchange. Try saying that four times. Dare ya.

Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”

Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

It’s hard to argue that point. Trump has become the most successful flim-flam man in American history. In fact, his white nationalist regime has stolen our history and put it on a perilous path of putrid populism. I love the smell of alliteration in the morning.

Another quote from the great novelist:

“It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States.

“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

That’s a tremendous analysis of a very, very bad dude. Believe me.

I would love to hear Roth’s take on the brown eminence behind Trump, Steve Bannon. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about Bannon since last summer. I’m glad people are finally taking notice of this sinister albeit rumpled figure. Trump is not only Putin’s useful idiot, he’s Bannon’s as well.

I’ll give Philip Roth the last word:

“My novel wasn’t written as a warning. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history. I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us. As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”

 

Bannon’s B3 Brownshirts & The Chaos Principle

It’s official: Donald Trump had the worst first week of any President* in American history. It was so bad that I debated with a friend as to whether he was already the worst ever. I still think it’s too early to tell since Buchanan and W are responsible for wars and economic calamity. Trump hasn’t passed Andrew Johnson either BUT he’s building a strong case for worst ever and he’s only been at it for 10 days. I don’t think our cause benefits from hyperbole and overstatement. You can only fight lies with the truth and delusion with reality.

I admitted the other day to knowing very little about higher maths. I have, however, heard of the Chaos Principle:

Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on.

It looks like Steve Bannon and his B3 Brownshirts are inspired by the Chaos Principle, at least by analogy. Team Trump is trying to inject so much chaos and confusion into our polity that repression will be required to maintain order. I seriously doubt if the Insult Comedian himself has such a plan: all he ever does is wing it without thought to the implications. Bannon, however, has emerged as first among equals in the West Wing. He’s capable of complex, devious, and downright evil thought. Bannon has Trump’s ear and the Dear Leader Wannabe seems to agree with the last person he spoke to.

In short, Bannon and his fellow white nationalists want to create the circumstances in which a right-wing revolution is possible. Those circumstances do not currently exist. Bitching about the government is as American as apple pie, it doesn’t amount to instant homegrown fascism. That is definitely a long-term threat but we have the mechanisms to stop it: people power and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. Political courage on the part of elected officials seems to be in short supply but the longer this constitutional crisis lasts the bolder they will become. Talk of collaboration with the Trumpers has become much less common since they came to power.

The good news is that Team Trump’s Muslim ban was issued without co-ordination with the agencies obliged to enforce it and they didn’t even run it by their own lawyers. That makes it eminently susceptible to legal challenge. It was, apparently, pulled out of Rudy Noun Verb 9/11’s ass:

I’ll tell you the whole history of it. So when he first announced it he said, “Muslim ban.” He called me up and said, “Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.” I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us. Which is a factual basis. Not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.

That is, of course, nonsense. The order discriminates against people because of their religion, and all the lies in the world won’t change that. The fact that an exception was made for Christians from the affected countries is proof of discriminatory intent as is Giuliani’s need to brag about his role in the ban. He’s really turning into his master. Giuliani’s success in masterminding the Comey coup has gone to his head, and he was already a raging egomaniac. This is terrific evidence for the legal eagles to pounce on. Thanks, Rudy. I can imagine Justice Anthony Kennedy’s head spinning as I write this. I am as likely to vote Republican as he is to uphold this executive order if it reaches SCOTUS.

This policy is based on Islamophobic fantasies, not reality. That’s a recurring theme for Team Trump’s Bannon wing. In addition to the Chaos Principle, they believe in what one might call the Goebbels corollary: the bigger the lie, the more believable it is. This is propaganda, not spin. The MSM is finally showing signs of coming to grips with that. It’s a pity that they didn’t do so during the late campaign. The MSM and the “Clinton is just as bad as Trump” crowd bear a lot of responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in. I hope the Steiners and Busters enjoyed the events of this weekend. They have a share of the blame. I may “Nazi punch” the next purity troll who tells me their vote didn’t matter because they were in a red state or some other lame excuse. Every vote in every election matters.

The Trumpers have clearly overreached. The order placing Steve Bannon on the National Security Council is the best example I can think of. That body has been moribund for many years BUT excluding the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sends a dangerous signal that Steve Bannon is running the show. It doesn’t get much worse than that but the order’s impact is symbolic for now. For now. That’s always the rub with this crowd.

One thing I’ve noticed about Bannon and his B3 Brownshirts is that they admire Soviet-style tactics. They’ve done some things that Stalin would have applauded such as placing what amounts to “political commissars” at cabinet departments and agencies. This sort of convergence of the far left and extreme right doesn’t surprise me at all.  This creeping Sovietism/Putinism is also reflected by their Holocaust remembrance day proclamation. It’s the first time an American administration has referred to the Holocaust without mentioning Jews. They’re pandering to the Holocaust denialists and minimizers. What’s next? An invitation for Davids Irving and Duke to visit the White House? Nothing would surprise me in the Chaos Principle era.

The one piece of advice I have for the nascent anti-Trump movement is to pace yourselves. The world is a complicated place and it cannot be changed in a day. This is going to be a long, hard slog and burn-out is a risk. Make sure to do whatever it is you do for fun It’s a lesson that New Orleanians learned during the post-Katrina/Federal Flood era. We were widely criticized for having Carnival in 2006. We knew better. It was necessary for our collective mental health. We continued rebuilding and pressuring the local, state, federal government for assistance but we took time out to enjoy life. It’s something that we can teach the rest of the country. There *is* a constitutional crisis now but stopping it won’t be helped by freaking out. Instead of freaking out: become better informed about American political history, and organize, organize, organize.

Vive les Maquis.

Saturday Odds & Sods: End Of The Line

Rivera

Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera.

The image you see above began life as a joke at a rich man’s expense. Nelson Rockefeller commissioned the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to do a fresco at Rockefeller Center. Big mistake: Rivera was not only a lefty, he was a Communist. If you take a closer look at the image you can see Lenin, Trotsky, and Karl Marx among the figures. The future Governor of New York was not amused and had the mural destroyed. Mercifully for art lovers, Rivera had a friend take pictures of the Rocky mocking work. He later did a second version in Mexico City. Take that, Rocky. There’s a lesson in this story for our times even if Rocky’s politics weren’t as odious as those of the Insult Comedian.

This January is a time for sad songs. End Of The Line is a rock torch song. It was written by Bryan Ferry for Roxy Music’s brilliant 1975 album Siren. I listened to Siren obsessively during the bleakest time of my life and it helped me get through it. Thanks, Roxy.

We begin with the studio version; sung by Ferry as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. It’s followed by a swell but less overtly emotional 1993 cover by Concrete Blonde:

I’ve also been known to sing End Of The Line under my breath when taking the bus or streetcar downtown to Canal Street, which is the you know what. I don’t think I’ve been caught in the act but ya never know. I suppose this is as good time as any to insert the break thingamabob. See you on the other side.

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