Choosy Beggars (Election 2016)

By Michael Brod, Robert Chametzky, Benj DeMott, Joel DeMott, Ty Geltmaker, Eugene Goodheart, Casey Hayden, George Held, Adam Hochschild, Wesley Hogan, Ben Kessler, Brian Kinstler, Bob Levin, Greil Marcus, Scott McLemee, Dennis Myers (x2), Yasmin Nair, Nathan Osborne, George Scialabba, Budd Shenkin, Fredric Smoler & Alison Stone 

The “Silent Majority” & the Cult of WikiLeak

By Ben Kessler

Trump University tells you all you need to know, if you still needed to know it. The allegory for the Trump presidential campaign is so plain it all but socks you on the nose. Yet Trump voters who style themselves as “real Americans” fail to identify their candidate as that most quintessentially American of rogues, the con man. Even mainstream journalists, proudly flexing their empathy, sojourn in Trumpland and declare they’ve found the “kernel of truth” amid Daddy’s (Trump’s alt-right nickname) incoherence—as though any confidence game were complete without a little something true to prestidigitate with.

It seems that the main prerequisite for “real American” status these days is a lack of receptivity to American culture—highbrow, lowbrow, whatever. From such insensibility flows an inability to interpret specifically American experiences, to hear the ring of American truth and feel accordingly. Otherwise, how could Trump supporters fail to see themselves in Trump University’s victims, with whom they largely share a socioeconomic dilemma? A society able to confront itself—i.e., a democratic society—would refuse to shrug off this episode, not because middle-class dreams are inviolable but precisely because their pummeling is by now so common, so recognizable.

But WikiLeaks though! For the cult of Assange, democratic impulses are thwarted by “the voyeurism of childhood” (Janet Malcolm’s phrase from The Journalist and the Murderer). A burning desire to know every little thing Bad Daddy bureaucracy’s been up to takes the place of democratic self-assertion. The moral imperative to work towards emancipation is nullified, because one has already been handed the keys to the kingdom, the undifferentiated data-stream that runs the world.

In their totality, WikiLeaks’ implications return democratic subjects to political virginity and allow them to relive their own deflowering by corruption, over and over. As with Trump University, quick wisdom is promised, but the deceptions of government agencies, like the real estate market, are ever-changing—so one had better stay attentive. Just as the music of Adele unites young and old by mingling self-infatuated ignorance and nostalgia—while concealing the truth of their twinship—WikiLeaks appeals to the part of us that is forever coming of age. With the exception of ice cream, anything that pleases so easily across the generations is probably not free of fascist potential.

I’m not denying WikiLeaks has its uses, but those who believe unmediated truth dwells there alone should watch their wallets. The insidious con within WikiLeaks’ stated aim of “total transparency” resides in the equivalence it confers upon large and small evidence. Only unimpeded vision satisfies the voyeur. On alt-right forums, casually snide comments dredged from the email data-dump are assigned dread import. Denizens can’t distinguish between such insider banter and genuine moments of arrogant candor when power’s mask slips. Their precious skepticism wasted, they’re perfect gulls for Trump, with that kernel of truth nestled in the palm of his sizeable (believe me), outstretched hand.

Meanwhile, if the other side wins, we should apparently watch out for quiescence of a different sort. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias writes that Hillary’s coalition of supporters constitutes a “new silent majority” of slobberingly grateful women and minorities too high-minded to rock the boat—or, in Yglesias’s words, “tempered and realistic in terms of exactly how much respect and recognition a minority slice of the population can expect.” Sounds like someone had trouble getting cross-town during the Puerto Rican Day Parade! If American PoC and feminist women are to be forced to surrender their sense of outrage in exchange for grudging acknowledgement from their government (which, it goes without saying, can be rescinded anytime), the Democratic Party will have become no better than a protection racket. No less than WikiLeaks zealotry, “tempered and realistic” represents democracy’s death drive, or the triumph of demography over democracy. Nixon’s silent majority was depicted as a sleeping giant; Hillary’s promises to be roadkill. Be roused.

[Ben Kessler can be reached at His Twitter handle is @koolfresh]

Tragic Magic

By Yasmin Nair

Yasmin Nair has contributed to False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton — a collection of pieces (edited by Liza Featherstone). Anticipating resistance to those feminist critiques of HRC, Nair muses…

So now everyone who disagrees with Hillary Rodham Clinton — and who might, for instance, oh, I don’t know, think that her statement on abortion was not great AND that it only reaffirmed shitty liberal discourse on how abortion is always a “tragic choice” — is “unhinged” and a woman hater.

A quick note on that word, “tragic”: It’s even worse than the one she finally stopped using (at least in public, and by now we all know that she has two distinct faces), “rare.” It’s worse because it allows women ABSOLUTELY NO AGENCY in determining abortion as a choice. This is why I write about affect and emotion as much as I do, because you can’t understand oppression without seeing how it’s amplified by our needless emphasis on how people *feel.” Listen, we need to worry less about how women feel about abortion and more on making sure they have access to it. AND to any other kind of support they might want around the procedure — but that choice needs to be theirs.

Also, please remember: LOTS of women have absolutely no regrets about their abortions. LOTS of women don’t think of abortion as a difficult choice. I realize this kind of talk makes a lot of liberal women shriek with horror because, omg, the right wing, and that kind of cowardice is exactly whey the most vulnerable women are now being criminalized for seeking abortions.

The biggest problem with abortion is that we let the RIGHT determine how we talk about it. In that, leftys and liberals have failed, utterly failed women.

… [L]iberal feminist discourse, the kind that only paints abortion as tragic, has meant the end of choice for most women. The Lena Dunhams and the Chelsea Clintons will be fine, the rest are screwed.

And in case I have not made it clear: Until women everywhere have the choice to reproduce or not reproduce, until they can move across borders without the fear of being raped AND of having to carry the spawn of their rapists to term, until they can decide when and whether to ever have children, there will never be an end to inequality. You cannot have an end to economic inequality until roughly half the world gets to make those choices.

Red Zone

By Wesley Hogan

Election 2016 is a pivot for the South and the nation. I’m tempted to raise “big picture” questions here.  55 years after the Freedom Riders, why hasn’t the presence of Black and Brown officials at all levels of government in the South led to equal treatment at every level of law enforcement? Who’s listening to the dog whistle call of HB2?  Will Dreamers force the nation to reconceive U.S. citizenship?  Can we challenge economic inequality and the ongoing concentration of wealth among the one percent?

All these questions, though, have been subsumed by an incident last week at my daughter’s school here in Durham, North Carolina. It’s not a toney place. The demographic profile is 44% Black, 26% white, 24% Latin, with the rest describing themselves as “mixed,” Asian American, or Pacific Islander. A little more than half of the total student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. Last Tuesday, a sophomore boy came into the school with this hat:


The school has a dress code that restricts revealing or inappropriate clothing. One young woman responded on Snapchat with righteous sass: “When you can’t wear tank tops but encouraging sexual assault is OK.” The school subsequently suspended the young man.

This boy’s photo of himself, more than any meme, represents for me the impact Election 2016 has had on the country. It’s not as hilariously terrifying as Samantha Bee’s imagery of Lady Liberty playing Russian Roulette. Not as memorable as #WhenTheyGoLowWeGoHigh. Not as Constitutionally deplorable as “I will put Hillary in jail.”

Yes, the school suspended the young man. And we will certainly need Durham parents of goodwill from all political persuasions after the election to help us get someone on campus who can discuss with this kid and everyone else: where’s the line between free speech and hate speech?  How can Americans who support the first Amendment respond with a “free speech approach” to hateful expressions? After all, just because the school can stop the kid at the door and say “You can’t wear that here,” students are going to encounter hate speech in the culture at large, and must learn to handle it with dignity. Kids need school to be a safe space, but we want their opinions challenged. That’s part of any good education.  And we need a robust democracy where people express unpopular views.

But. The heaviest message of that kid’s stoplight hat remains: “Trump said it, so it’s OK for me.” Trump, Melania, Ivanka, and other Trump supporters dismissed the Billy Bush/Trump exchange as boyish banter. Trump, they claimed, was just bullshitting, as guys do in locker rooms and other all male spots. Yet imagine you have a teenage daughter at a school where boys feel it’s OK to act like Trump. More than OK, actually, since the president of the United States proved it was all good, not when he was a teenager, but when he was in his fifties.  Do you take your kid to the firing range and arm her? Will the law support her if she “stands her ground” when someone just “grabs her by the pussy?” You start thinking like that. Or at least, I did. And it felt horrible. Surreal.

Here’s where my ADD brain traveled: Seriously? Why didn’t I force her to keep doing karate after 4th grade? She would have been a triple black belt by now. What can I do to help her feel like school is a safe environment for her? Is it really? This isn’t just a one-off.  Who raised this boy? Wait, that’s wrong, he’s just the lightning rod for fear, anger, helplessness. What are we going to do after the election to stitch the fabric of the country back together for our kids? For ourselves? MLK’s warning an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. And really, what is fair to expect of the school? It’s so underfunded, it can’t fix the bathroom stall doors, keep the soap dispensers filled, and keep classes reasonably small. Aren’t I asking too much to have teachers deal with haters too? But if they don’t, who will? Such internal dialogues inform my support for Hillary.

HRC’s neo-liberal FDR lite stuff won’t do much to make the economy work for everyday people. She won’t spend her political capital to take up the cause of the most significant civil rights movement of her time or try to push through the Movement for Black Lives platform. As the first woman president, she may feel that she has to prove she’s as tough as the boys. So I assume she won’t be bringing about a more peaceful and just foreign policy.

Yet here at home she will draw one crucial line in the sand. She will not brag about grabbing people by their private parts.  Her election will ensure that the guy who does doesn’t get to appoint administrators or judges to uphold our law (or not). And she will keep Trump’s grubby, grabby fingers off the US military’s trigger.

HRC’s election, in other words, is a necessary stop-gap measure. What she offers is a (barely bearable) bare minimum: She will not jail her opponents or recklessly disregard the Constitution. She will keep open the space for people to organize themselves to have a say in their own lives.

The Great Yesterday (and The Woman Question)

By Adam Hochschild

I’ve spent most of the last few years writing a book about the 1930s, only to emerge from my research and to feel, at times, as if I’m back in that time period again. I’m talking, of course, about Donald Trump’s campaign, and the many ways in which he’s taking moves from the playbook of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and some of their paler imitators in Eastern Europe during that sordid decade.

There are several points of comparison. The first is Trump’s instinct that the best way to appeal to an appallingly large chunk of the American electorate is not to go into any detail about policies, but to project himself as a strong man who will take any problem by the horns and fix it. Precision about his medical insurance plans? Forget it: we’ll throw out Obamacare, put in a new program, and “it’ll be terrific!” The same combination of affirmation, vagueness about specifics, and just-trust-me goes for almost  everything else.

Second, of course, is to blame all problems on a specific group. For Hitler, of course, it was the Jews; for Stalin, it was “enemies of the people”—millions of Soviets secretly conducting espionage or sabotage for Western powers; for Franco it was a sinister alliance of Bolsheviks, Jews and Freemasons. For Trump, it’s Mexicans and Muslims, and sometimes, his alt-right supporters hint, again the Jews.

Third, think about “Make America Great Again.” Most of the demagogues of the ‘30s offered a similar appeal. For Hitler, it was to restore Germany to its pre-1914 preeminence. For Mussolini, it was to hark back to the Roman Empire; like the Romans, he spoke of the Mediterranean as “our sea.” For Franco, it was to recall the glory days of Spain’s colonial empire in the Americas—although it was always foggy, of course, just how all that was to be regained. Such demagogues base their appeal on what the brilliant Polish writer Ryszard Kapuściński calls evoking “the Great Yesterday.”

Finally, for Trump and most of the ‘30s crew, one characteristic of that Great Yesterday is that it was a time when women knew their place. They weren’t uppity, they didn’t run for President, they didn’t take jobs away from men, they were content to be wives, mothers, sexual objects. In Germany, mothers who bore four or more children were given a special medal, and women were barred from upper posts in the Nazi party. In Franco’s Spain, a woman was, in legal terms, dependents of her husband or father, whose permission she need to do a variety of things ranging from opening a bank account to applying for a job. A husband had the right to kill his wife if he caught her committing adultery. In Trump’s America? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

“Grab Them by the Pussy”

I’ve never met an angel, but I know
fear better than I understand gravity,

some formula that keeps us from careening
into the waiting abyss. Are all the calm folks

angel-touched and anchored?
Whatever light I’m missing,

I know terror
has its own wings. How they beat

in the belly, teach
the law of boy and prey.

What would it feel like
to be a woman, and whole?

—Alison Stone

Worried Man Blues

By Bob Levin

My brain has this toilet bowl-like refill-capability worrywise.  So after the second  debate had flushed away my Trump-sized turds of anxiety about this election’s outcome, I was not surprised when a replacement flowed back in.

It did not help that I had  recently read Dan Ephron’s Killing a King, an account of the 1995 murder of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by the 25-year-old ultranationalist and Orthodox fundamentalist, Yigal Amir.

Rabin had signed a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat which ceded land to the Palestinians that, people like Amir believed, God had given to the Jews.  Some of these people, including prominent Israeli politicians and rabbis, denounced Rabin.  “Traitor,” they called him. “Murderer.” Some compared him to Hitler.  Some chanted Kabalistic death curses outside his home.  Amir, whose beliefs placed him within a  fringe of this fringe, believed that  the Torah demanded that Rabin be killed.

In my lifetime there has been a flow and ebb to the murder of political figures in the United States.  Until I turned 20, none had scarred me.  Then came Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and the attempts on the lives of George Wallace, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

Recently the guns have not been pointed in the direction of potential guests on Meet the Press.  But the carnage inflicted upon school children, night club goers, movie viewers, and minor government employees keep me from believing we no longer incubate those who wish to write statements in blood.

Americans now curse Hillary Clinton. “Traitor,” they call her. “Murderer.” It isn’t just Vince Foster, by the way. The alt-right web site “Political Insider” says ominously that 46 people “close to the Clintons have died during their 3 decades of political power.”  “What Really Happened,” its sociopathic sister, puts this number at 118.  (By comparison, looking through an old address book of mine, even counting aunts and uncles, you couldn’t link me to half that number.  By further comparison, this is about as many bodies as the entire National Security State is said to have silenced while covering up its role in JFK’s assassination.)

I don’t know that any rabbis – or priests or ministers – have accused Clinton of capitol crimes.  But many political figures have sprayed her with poisonous abuse.  Not the least is Donald Trump.  Trump has called Clinton “crooked,” “corrupt,” and “unfit to serve as President.” He considers her “a major national security risk.” He believes she has plotted with “international bankers” to destroy the sovereignty of the United States.  He believes her crimes disqualify her from even seeking office.  (If he is elected, he promises to jail her.)  His repeated, frantic claim that the election has been “rigged” against him throws into question the legitimacy of an eventual Clinton presidency.  (Polls say over a quarter of Republican voters agree with his “rigged” assessment.)  And he has suggested that a solution for this illegitimate, security-endangering presidency would involve action by “Second Amendment people.”

It would only take one.

I prefer not to dwell in gloom.  I like to believe progress is occurring.  I cultivate statistics about declining global poverty and increasing life spans worldwide.  (I keep Lexapro on board in case I slip.)  And while this election year has emitted the most toxic public discourse I can recall, a friend who served with me in VISTA in Chicago in 1968 reminds me that fewer cities have burned and fewer demonstrators have lain tear gassed and clubbed upon the concrete.

When I think about who might be pacing America’s open-air back wards, fueled, like Yigal Amir, by the words of God – or Alex Jones – I wonder how much rhetoric matters. Ephron is convincing that the leaders of the Israeli right created an atmosphere which further agitated those already opposed to Rabin.  (His security detail, Ephron writes, wondered “how long it would take before some hothead interpreted the verbal abuse of Rabin as a greenlight for a physical assault.”) But Ephron does not persuade me that this abuse triggered or even contributed to Amir’s act.

In fact, he says, that at the moment Rabin and Arafat shook hands over their agreement, Amir “decided instantly that… (this) was an act of treason by Rabin.”  (Emp.supp.) Then it became only a matter of Amir twisting his way through his foul thought processes until he had reached his hideous act.  The public clamor outside his head was mood music, not a march to which he stepped.

On the one hand, the verbal shitstorm falling upon us from sea to shining sea may not matter. On the other, as I previously said, it only takes a single nutcase, and, for this, our fruited plains are excrutiatingly adept yielding a bumper crop.


This conclusion reminds me of where I came out on Edward Snowden (See: FOTM Oct.  13, 2016) as well as my recently published blackly comedic novel The Schiz (See:, in which a homicidal paranoid schizophrenic stalks the streets of San Francisco.

I seem to have this thing about uncontrollable, undeterrable, fearsome forces out there.  So maybe, as a political analyst or creative artist, I can be explained away.  Or maybe it’s just my recognition that we all await the bullet with our name on it in whatever form it takes.

Defiant Requiem

By Greil Marcus

When asked about Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention, Greil Marcus averred he’d preferred Al Franken’s. But Marcus is anything but indifferent to Obama’s oratorical gifts (and gifts of the spirit). He was deeply into the address the president made at the Dallas Memorial service for the slain police officers two weeks before the Convention (which Obama willed into an affirmation that blue and black lives matter). Marcus began his Real Life Rock commentary on Obama’s “music” by recalling a “mesmerizing” lecture given (a few days before the Dallas Memorial) by Stefan Zweifel at a dada 100 symposium.

Zweifel delivered a 40-minute address of finely woven themes without a pause, a hesitation, seemingly without drawing a breath, his tone never varying. …Using almost exactly as much time as Zweifel, Obama played it differently. The pauses in his talk were so long that, if you were listening, not watching, you could wonder if the broadcast had stopped. They weren’t dramatic; they didn’t feel like effects. You caught the feeling—no matter how contrived—of someone not struggling for the right words, but thinking through each sentence or clause to the heart of the events he was facing, events that cut so deeply they could not be summed up, which is to say dismissed. Obama suspended not his words but the event of seven murders in the air, and then, as was said of Jonathan Edwards delivering a sermon at Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741, while his eyes were fixed on the bell rope at the back of the church, “looked it off,” as if the collective event—Alton Sterling, dead in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile, dead in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael J. Smith, Michael Krol, and Patrick Zamarripa, dead in Dallas—was too much to look at. His clipped speech at the end of sentences, sometimes irritating, sometimes seeming to communicate impatience or lack of involvement, here had the effect of taking any gaze off of him, and directing the locus of gravity onto what he was talking about, with the sense that what had happened over three days resisted words, and that words resisted, too, as if they knew they would fall short. Obama put all of that into a rhythm that even he will never match.

“Rachel Maddow is ALWAYS Irritating”

By Joel DeMott

In re: Maddow’s 17 minute wannabe tour de force openings (before ad #1).

Words of a terrible person.  But ordinary people can repeat themselves, sometimes their repetitions are funny funny, or touching.  News talkers?  Christ, Rachel, we got it 12 minutes ago, fifth time you said zackly same thang don’t make you colloquial or profound.  (To quote Billie, age 5:  “[she] is bothering to me.”)

Rachel worked Chris Hayes (Nation conservative, but I’ve come to like him) out of the line-up, but more fun at the kids’ table with Chris Matthews, where he is apres debate.  But I resent the fact Rachel and O’Donnell get 2 repeats on late night MSNBC, now he only one.  Fer those of us who don’t schedule our watching . . .

Rachel sucks dick.  Her self-love has only one virtue:  after it, Lawrence’s pales.

Showing Your Ass

Scott McLemee

Originally posted on October 2nd at Counter Statement.

In a column last month I discussed Aaron James’s Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump with no expectation of writing about the book again, despite my nagging awareness of having neglected an interesting distinction the author makes. But in working through the articles accumulating in my reading queue, I noticed this morning that the specific aspect of assholery in question has recently been identified, if not labeled, at Talking Points Memo.

The occasion was Trump’s cross-country grievance marathon in the matter of Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe winner, who he not only gave demeaning nicknames but also made a special point of humiliating about her weight on television some twenty years ago. Such behavior is entirely typical of him, which was Clinton’s point in mentioning it during the debate. And Trump’s refusal to apologize — or to express the slightest embarrassment about it — rounds out his exemplary status, per James’s definition, as an asshole: someone “who systematically allows himself advantages in social relationships out of an entrenched (and mistaken) sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” James gives as instances of the asshole someone who nonchalantly and without apology cuts in line or lights up a cigar in an elevator. In either case, the asshole remains “unmoved when people indignantly glare or complain.”

I’m not sure “immunity” is the best word for what James has in mind, since he goes on to note that the asshole “will often feel indignant when questions about his conduct are raised,” because “from his point of view … he is not getting the respect he deserves.” That, of course, is just what Trump spent much of last week doing. At TPM, Josh Marshall wrote:

By Wednesday night, in his appearance on O’Reilly, he started the show off with a lengthy monologue attacking Machado. Far from mistreating her, he said, he’d saved her job; he’d given her the opportunity to lose weight (yes, this is a fair characterization of his words). And this was the thanks he got!

He then quotes evidence from the transcript, though nobody who’s been paying attention would doubt his paraphrase. So on to the paragraph where Marshall verges on the insight available from asshole studies. Trump’s indignation amounted, as Marshall puts it, to

what we might term ‘stand-up narcissism’, a demonstration of a personality defect so profound and total that it becomes comedic in a way that makes a decent run at transcending its own awfulness. His self-regard and conscienceless-ness is so total that it is beyond him to realize that his ‘a good deed never goes unpunished’ lament doesn’t make him look like a chauvinist asshole so much as a clownish version of a chauvinist asshole. It so perfectly mirrors Trump’s self-immolation with the Khans that it’s hard to believe the Clinton staffers who planned this could have imagined it would work so well.

(Marshall is probably wrong on that last point, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it turns out the Clinton people had a pool for bets on how many times @realDonaldTrump would tweet about it.)

The reference to Trump’s seeming inability to understand “that his ‘a good deed never goes unpunished’ lament doesn’t make him look like a chauvinist asshole so much as a clownish version of a chauvinist asshole” converges with James’s discussion of another character-type: the ass-clown, “who seeks an audience’s attention and enjoyment while being slow to understand how it views him.” Elaborating:

The ass, among types of persons, is slow to understanding. Perhaps he’s dull, stubborn, entrenched in his position, or just plain stupid. The clown, by contrast, seeks to entertain an audience with playful pretending or comedic exaggeration, with sharp sensitivity to what others find amusing or delightful or shocking. Putting these two types together, there is such a person as an ass-clown….As one definition puts it, [the ass-clown] is a person who is ‘inept or ill-behaved to the point of being found laughable by others’ or ‘who uses his/ her nature as an ass to bring humor to others, buts [sic] ends up being the butt of the joke.

Similarity in nomenclature notwithstanding, the difference between asshole and ass-clown is considerable. James clarifies it by contrasting how they would behave at a party — the social and not the political sort. An ass-clown might dance on a table with his pants on his head; the asshole would pick a fight or pee on the couch, possibly both. I take it party-goers would be amused precisely by how hard the ass-clown is trying to be entertaining while missing the mark, while feeling contempt or anger, at best, towards the asshole. As examples from a different sort of party, James identifies Newt Gingrich as a political asshole, while Sarah Palin is, arguably, an ass-clown.

The Republican presidential nominee is something else again, and James’s taxonomy has to be modified:

The asshole/ass-clown uses his ass-clown powers for asshole purposes. He soils or sours or degrades the party for reasons of his own entitlement (e.g., being entitled to the absolute center of attention, on account of being rich, or beautiful—in case there’s a difference). He stages an entertaining spectacle, dancing on a table with his pants on his head, and then urinates on the carpet when people aren’t paying enough attention to him.

Sounds about right.

Team Craven

By Budd Shenkin

In a year of assholes, it appears that the formidable task of being crowned Asshole of the Year has now been achieved by James Comey.  Usually the question is, is this Team Stupid or Team Evil? And the answer with Republicans is often, both.  In view of the affirmations from all sides that he is a straight up guy, I’m opting for the usual combination, but with emphasis on Team Stupid.  And in his case, we might insert Team Craven as well.

It’s only been two days, so not a lot is known.  Thanks to the path-breaking post-election story-telling of Teddy White, who answered the publisher’s question of will anyone care once the result is known, we can be assured we will in fact know intimate details, probably sooner rather than later.  But the current vacuum cries out for speculation…

Comey is a Republican and that is his reference group. So even as he tries to be the Boy Scout he is reputed to consciously aspire to be, when they criticize him, no matter how cravenly stupid and partisan and evil they may be, he cowers.  He doesn’t want to endure yet another bout of abuse from them.

But why doesn’t he understand that failing to follow the dictates of his superiors and of precedent and of guidelines will open him up to something worse than abuse — he loses his reputation and respect.  Maybe he doesn’t see himself as a Boy Scout; maybe he sees himself as a Boy Scout Troop Leader — Mr. Independent Judgement and Individual Responsibility.  Maybe he thinks that will look heroic.  Guess again.

Instead, what it looks like to me, and I’ll speculate it will look like to history, is that he has been ground down by the Republican Right Wing, a despicably unpatriotic bunch, and, like so many of Republicans one might have hoped would be stand-up guys and gals, he has not been able to withstand Hurricane Trump.  Team Stupid, Team Craven.

Or maybe there is something more nefarious going on.  Jason Chaffetz might be in his ear. They might be in cahoots, or something that hasn’t even been imagined, maybe Chaffetz has something on him.  You can believe anything about these guys, really.  Maybe he was spotted in the Minneapolis airport men’s room taking a wide stance.

In any case, from the July press conference that was unprecedented and immoderate, to this ambush in October with all innuendo and no apparent substance whatsoever, he has fully achieved his sad fate as Asshole of the Year.

Didn’t any of these guys read Profiles in Courage in high school?

Boss Tones

By Robert Chametzky

With the exception of McCain, Republicans have had businessmen as POTUS candidates in 4 of last 5 elections. It might be noted that they have become progressively more businessmen: W an MBA but, basically, not much in the way of business success (though he did well financially), and had various forays into politics throughout; Mitt another MBA (and JD), big success in consulting/private equity, also Mormon stuff, Olympics, MA gov; the Donald,
only real estate etc. Note that as they have become progressively more businessmen, they have done progressively worse as POTUS candidates.

Don Trump is, preeminently, a Boss (and much less human than e.g., Don Corleone, it seems): he’s never, so far as one can tell, been anything else. W was head of two failed oil businesses, then a board member of a third and managing general partner (2% owner) of Texas Rangers, and Mitt was head of Bain Capital, so all have certainly been Bosses. But the other two have politics, too, while The Donald is Pure Boss, and it shows. That’s what really distinguishes him, in his manner, his treatment of others, his evaluations of  himself. None of this should be surprising, coming from a Pure Boss, but maybe it could give some just a bit of pause in thinking that “business” is a good model or preparation for anything else.

Moment in the 1st debate, when Don Trump said… “It’s because it’s about time that this country had somebody running it that has an idea about money.”…was exactly to the point: “. . . it’s about time that this country had somebody running it. . . .”

The POV from the Boss.

(One other thing that is noticeable in the campaign, and has been commented on albeit briefly and not so much in the Main Stream, is that the jobs that have been lost, that made American great, were, after all, unionized jobs. That word and fact, and that it maybe, just maybe, mattered some, don’t seem to get much play.)

Boss Tones II

By Brian Kinstler

I doubt the right-leaning population is going to abandon the tycoon-president model any time soon. Here’s why. I think Trump reflects the perfect, naked convergence of two of the Right’s most irresistible psycho-religious attractions. First, there’s the Ayn Rand-ian “big man” theory of human nature. Multiple conspicuous Rand fans running for the last two Republican nominations — one actually named Rand, and the other currently running the House of Representatives (and therefore in line for the presidency in the event of a “Second Amendment” solution). Hmmm, where have we seen this before? A lost sense of of national identity…an economy punched hard in the gut…a surplus of powerless scapegoats…a cultural tectonic shift in our public restrooms and wedding halls (ok, that’s new).  Free trade, you scary! Hell yeah, people want an ass-kicker-in-chief. No doubt about it. And this guy fires people.

But here’s the second factor, and it’s what makes Trump even more powerful as a figurehead: it’s the economy, or more accurately, the Free Market. The Right’s Free Market narrative has evolved over the last few decades into a religious ideology, nearly pushing God out of the number one spot (sorry God) — that the Market is an omnipotent, rule-ordered, self-governing, super-organic entity that selects for outcomes based on the ethics and behavior of individuals. It’s like social Darwinism, but without the warm fuzzies you get from reading Call of the Wild. Those who abide by the rules of the Market prosper (Trump) and those who don’t (well, me) obviously deserve their fate. More importantly, it reflects the belief (shared by Republicans and Democrats alike) that government regulation, taxation, aid to the poor, infrastructure-building, education, etc. interferes in the natural functioning of the market, which in turn interferes in the economic health of everyone. It’s the dominant narrative — Free market good, government bad. America fundamentally buys this view, as faulty and flawed and inaccurate as it is. For example, this is why Trump loses no support whatsoever when he brags about not paying taxes. And this is why the financial industry was completely immune from prosecution or loss after the predictable collapse of the world’s economy, and managed to make even greater gains as the market recovered. This is why the poor are taking all the money. This is why money is speech.

So this Trump — and the next Trump — have two powerful psycho-historical trends for support.

And unless the psycho-historical momentum changes, the Trumps are not going away. They know which way the wind blows.

On the other hand, where’s the counter-narrative? Crickets.

Bernie had the tiger by the toe, and now he’s carrying water for Hillary.

It’s no wonder why so many people want a Boss.

I’ll tell you what I’d do if I was Boss.

Rules of the Game

By Dennis Myers

In 1989, Milton Bradley created the Trump The Game, the Donald’s own version of a make-believe Atlantic City.  The objective was clearly stated on the cover:  “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”

Here are some choice excerpts from actual rules, complete with the original exclamation points:

  • Now that you are about to play my game, I invite you to live the fantasy! Feel the power! And make the deals!
  • During the game, try not to reveal your total cash holdings to your opponents. That way it will be harder for them to tell if you are cash rich or poor.
  • If you think an opponent may be low on cash, consider playing a tax card on him or her. If your hunch is correct, you’ll get some cash and a property worth at least $50 million!
  • If you are clever, aggressive and lucky, you could end up with a billion (dollars) or more!
  • Here’s where shrewdness really pays off! Just about anything in the game can be bought, sold or traded!
  • The player with the most money is the winner.
  • If you still have a question, call our game rules hotline: 1-413-525-6411.

Trump without Money

Trump without money
Would be no more funny
Than the Donald with towers
Who thinks fiscal powers
Can win him the Presidency.

Yes, Trump without money
Would lose his big tummy,
His dyed hair would grow gray
And his pate would display
Not comb-over but clay.

And Trump without money
Would no more be funny
Or be seen on TV
To inspire the fascisti;
No threat to the Presidency.

But Trump has big money,
Mobs think he is funny,
The thoughtless and sore
Ignore he’s a bore,
And the Homeland is running on empty.

—George Held

Merci Beaucoup, Derrida & Cixous

By Ty Geltmaker

So much of contemporary, dangerous rightwing neo-fascist Trumpian/Brexit/Le Pen nonsense amounts to a recycling of badly-written junk by post-structuralists talking up anti-empiricism. Trump crap is informed by the same assumptions popularized by ostensibly enlightened, even leftist, writers such as Foucault, Baudrillard and that whole school of French pseudo-psychoanalytic semiotic hacks (including the feminists and their Anglo followers in the humanities). You can look them up. They even invaded History Departments such that evidenced stories were swamped by “narratives,” as our “news” coverage is now overwhelmed. Thanks for the false memories. Merci beaucoup, Derrida and Cixous.

It’s been clear ever since the revelations about Paul DeMan’s fabulations that the “intellectual” basis of this nonsense is post-World War II French intellectuals’ rationalizations — incorporated into hifalutin philosophical/psychoanalytic lingo — of Vichy.  The continuities between yesterday’s “fascinating fascism” and today’s isn’t just notional.  And then, there is the “rite of writing obfuscation” for its own camouflage sake, as in Foucault’s admission to Edmund White here.

Going with this French wave, the “liberal academy” decades ago normalized a whole attitude — a mode of thinking and writing and talking and researching which assumed there is no such thing as truth. In what was called — thrillingly — “the linguistic turn,” the academic  “Left” left behind its own historic tradition of challenging false stories made up by the right, settling instead for a “narrative of narratives.” And now here we are today with Trumpists taking the plunge (and pages out of texts) made fashionable by deconstructionists. (Try Bryan Palmer’s Descent into Discourse which takes up the “Left’s” decades-old embrace of anti-materialist “theories” founded on a refusal of despised “objective standards of evidence.”)

The historian Eric Hobsbawm summed up his objection to the “linguistic turn” and fetishizing of “narrative” over “story” when he quipped: “Either Elvis Is Dead or He Isn’t.” But in our post-modern world clarity about Elvis being dead (and footnotes to prove it) seems less punctual than speculative, “narrative arcs” and babble about how such “narratives” rule. Word games.

Thus Trump thrives in our mythic present — the “society of the spectacle” where lies are true if enough people buy them.

How Long, O Lord, How Long?

By George Scialabba

In Affluence and Influence (2012), Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens summarized years of detailed statistical research into the relation between what voters want and what we get: “For Americans below the top of the income distribution, any association between preferences and policy outcomes is likely to reflect the extent to which their preferences coincide with those of the affluent. Although responsiveness to the preferences of the affluent is far from perfect, responsiveness to less-well-off Americans is virtually nonexistent … The concentration of political influence among Americans at the top of the income distribution is incompatible with the core democratic principle of political equality.”

To translate from political-scientese: this land is not your land or my land, it is their land. Obviously most Republicans are worse than most Democrats; but equally obviously, most Democrats are part of the problem more than they are part of the solution. One way or another – by taking over the Democratic Party, by pressuring it, by founding a third party, or by some combination of these – people who believe in popular sovereignty, self-determination, political equality, and the rest of the democratic playbook will have to work together, in large numbers and for a long time.

Though Clinton is only a little less friendly to plutocracy than Trump, I’m glad we will have an intelligent and serious woman as President and not a racist, sexist buffoon. But I would really like to live in a democracy.

Call & Response

By Casey Hayden & Benj DeMott

A Facebook exchange…

Hayden: I know I have friends on this site whose interests and perspectives are deeper and broader than the coming election, so why am I only getting superficial reposts of political commentary from the media, the folks who make their living creating tension and misunderstanding in the world? Must be something the digital age and world capitalism sponsor—short-sightedness and self-interested focus on one’s own niche. One can only hope the pendulum will swing back toward the commons, the poetry of life, the long view, somewhere down the line…

DeMott: Your post reminds me of a poem of Orwell’s. He muses on how he’d been shaped (as a writer) by his times. A couple verses…

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are clean shaven…

I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls
And woke to find it true
I wasn’t born for an age like this
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

It might be nice to say good-bye to all that is NOW. But there’s no way out. Trump needs to go down hard. Are you sure folks paying attention to his twisted turns are narrower than you? What if 7th gen perspective or, ah, natural mystic reduces to quietism? American democracy rarely deserves more than 2 cheers. And no one could pretend our system has been working too tough lately. OTOH…My kid’s African-American. I bless my pres for giving him a model of grace, imagination, endurance, and high Americanism over the past 8 years.  America will be a diminished thing when he’s out of the White House. But going forward we must trust our tribune of democracy and the Black Nation. Obama’s base (and Hillary’s, sorry Bernie) are omni-Americans and their political imperatives are bigger than the identity politics you’ve shunned ever since you dared to join in the Movement’s original interracial, Beloved Community.  When I think on darker shades of blue in the American electorate (and my African Muslim wife—a relatively new citizen and proud Hillary voter), Stein backers (like that Facebook friend of yours who’s down with your disdain for regular party politics) seem way off-white.

The Deplorable, the Desperate & the Complacent 

By Michael Brod

Has Trump burst the pustule of American racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism?

The answer is YES.  Trump has made these prejudices part of the national dialogue by drawing out all the closeted and not-so-closeted racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and bullies. They step into the spotlight of his aura.

What a guy. Maybe if he wore sunglasses like pastor Jim Jones he’d get even more support for surely his most desperate fans are nearly suicidal.  Despite the clear evidence that Trump is the enemy of the disenfranchised, the exploiter-in-chief, who stomps on others’ trust as though it were a cockroach…still they flock to him.

They’re driven. But what excuse do these guys (and a few gals) have?  Last month 130 Conservative scholars, intellectuals, writers and academics put their names to a letter, “Scholars and Writers for America,”  in support of Trump? Do they know something the rest of us don’t?  Has he told them his plans for the economy, for the Middle East, for Europe, for Asia, for the rest of Latin America?  The answer is NO. Yet Daniel McCarthy, one of the complacent one hundred thirty, writes:

Trump….promises to be a much greater force for change.  Already he has changed the Republican Party and the conservative movement, reopening essential questions of foreign policy, immigration, and the needs of the American workforce…If President Trump does keep out of wars like the one the last Republican president started in Iraq, if he limits immigration and helps restore the US labor force to prosperity, he will have done what no other Republican or Democrat could do.

But just in case Trump “…should live down to the worst expectations—getting into wars like Iraq, to, as he puts it, ‘seize the oil’, or inflaming racial tensions at home—I have no doubt that he would be even more effectively opposed in his folly than George W. Bush was.”

Does he really think that gets him/them off the hook? These 130 conservative luminaries shed a very dim light.


By Dennis Myers

#this election pisses me off.  Of course, I say it that way because profound profanity is now okay, ever since our exquisite acceptance of DonaldJTrump’s polished rhetoric.  The man says what he means…whatever that means. So I can say it again:

#this election pisses me off. And I’ll tell you why.  Typically, I would find some snarky, satirical voice to rant about the generation-long absurdity of American politics.  I have only silence.  Last time out, Rick Perry gave us “duh,” the original “Aleppo moment:” rewriting Mr. Trump only gives me the same blank stare that Dan Qualye perfected.  Because, in election 2016, the truth already sounds like satire.

#this election pisses me off.  Because…hey, like I need the minute-by-minute barrage of emails from the DNC and its cohorts admonishing me for my lack of beingness with Herness.  Hades is opening because of my neglect. True, they offer redemption at the small price of my three dollar donation to the party.  (Ah, the only lasting legacy of the Sanders revolution: DNC donation requests have dropped from a 25$ minimum to the more vox populi 3 bucks.)  The world may be ending, but I’m not truly the direct cause of its collapse, even if I live in Manhattan. So, who’s to blame?’

#this america pisses me off.  Sure, we can trace the rise of this incoherent demigod to the fertile ground made rich by the “government doesn’t work” shit tossed out by neo-con farmers over the years on fallow DC fields.  I nod when my Pennsylvania friends say they are just looking for someone to “shake things up.” Driving back on the Henry Hudson, I pass the sign announcing the beautiful highways sponsor for my 79th street exit:  one Donald J Trump.

#this new york city pisses me off. Ah, you get what you pay for…you also get what you don’t pay for. We New Yorkers bought into the illusionary Midas glamour of yet another gold tower with his name placed at street level.  Where were our feeble cries – fraud, fraud, hoaxster, clown – loud enough for the world to hear? (The world outside the American bubble apparently has heard Trump truth.)  The Donald:  perhaps he is just the epitome of New York values.

+#this future pisses me off.  New York’s own carpetbagging republican in sheep’s clothing will certainly defeat the Trump threat.  He will retreat back into the seething goldwaters of discontent, taking with him the poisons to fester.  But the worst of it, I suspect, is waiting for us, patient, hungry and predictably evil.  And we only have four years to wait to answer this question:  will the next anti-Christ arise from Gotham?

Looking Beyond Our Dismal Election

By Eugene Goodheart

Hillary is elected and we avoid a Trumpian catastrophe, but the prospects are bleak.  Democrats may recapture the Senate, but the House seems out of reach and gridlock will persist.  Even if the Democrats capture the House, their Senate majority of fewer than 60 members will be too small to overcome Republican threats of filibuster on important legislation.  Through no fault of her own, Hillary will be viewed as ineffectual.  Like Obama, she will be held responsible for Republican perverseness.  Or miracle of miracles, the Republican conference suddenly will open itself up to negotiation and compromise. Hillary will then risk betraying her Sanders and Warren constituency, unless they become partners in the bargaining, in which case they together with Hillary will be accused of betrayal.  In the likelier event gridlock persists, she has the option of executive action.  But, as we have seen with Obama, that has its limits and can easily backfire.  An administration cannot subsist on executive action alone.  Hillary’s problems will be compounded by already being the object of widespread mistrust.  The most ominous prospect is the sense of outrage among his supporters stoked by Trump in the wake of defeat.  Having failed to gain the White House and to imprison his rival, he will challenge the legitimacy of the election.  His hardcore supporters will remain stubbornly in place and threaten obstruction and violence, a veritable assault on our democracy.  (We may be fortunate that Trump lacks discipline and organizational ability and has no storm troopers at the ready.  But there are militia groups and loners speaking of assassination who may be available.)  Gender will replace race as the target of the deplorables.  We already hear threats of impeachment from the so-called “Freedom Caucus” in the House of Representatives even before Clinton begins to govern.  Oh, another possibility, as a result of warfare between the Trumpistas and the Republican establishment, the party implodes. The immediate result is legislative chaos, but then the future is open—for good (a reconstituted or new sane party) or for ill (a party completely in thrall to the Trumpistas or simply more of the same).  Except in its authoritarianism, a Trumpian Republican party would be little different from the establishment it overthrows, a party of low taxes on the wealthy and indifference or downright hostility to minority interests and needs with minimal government investment in infrastructure, education, the safety net and climate change.  In opposing immigrants and trade agreements, it would continue its strategy of deceiving white workers as to where their true interests lie.  It is the strategy of dysfunction by the Republican party, the party of Trump, that has broken the system in Washington.  Until this obvious fact is made clear by the reporting media and understood by the vast majority of citizens, our broken system is beyond repair.  There is one bright prospect: Hillary’s filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, unless of course a Republican Senate majority or 40 seat plus minority refuses to advise and consent.  John McCain has already signaled that a Republican controlled Senate will refuse to approve of any Clinton nominee.  This from McCain, not Cruz!

For a more optimistic view of the post election future, see Paul Krugman’s column on “Clinton’s Agenda,” NY Times, 10/14/16.   Hope against hope for a future of sanity and decency sorely missing in our political life.

Optimism of the Will

By Fredric Smoler

It now looks as if something over forty percent of our votes will be cast for a vicious buffoon almost uniquely unqualified for the presidency.  Even assuming Trump’s crushing defeat, which sadly seems a bit less likely this morning than last, his probable share of the vote is dismayingly large.  Bad news is not good news, but explanations for Trump’s support consistently incline to the dystopian, to what is probably very bad political effect.   If four in ten Americans are imagined to be risibly ignorant of the simplest economics and hopelessly in the grip of the crudest racism and the maddest misogyny, with vicious trolls and the twitter mobs baiting Trump’s critics imagined as his most typical supporters, almost half of our fellow citizens are simply our enemies.  The meaning of politics then changes pretty drastically:  argument becomes a waste of time, and optimism means waiting for death to thin the ranks of adversaries happily assumed to be as elderly as they are taken to be ignorant and malevolent.

What would a less pessimistic interpretation of Trump’s support look like?  It might first note that the only people Trump has so far defeated are other Republicans, almost all of whom ran on promises to shrink the American state and ever more aggressively police American bedrooms and lavatories.   Trump is quite strikingly neither a small-government conservative nor (despite cynical signals about abortion) a culture warrior, and he has equally cynically but to startling effect run against Wall Street and the banks.  He is noisily scornful of almost all of the politics and postures the post-Nixon Right has adopted, and it is a bit strange to assume that his success to date is not an opportunity as well as a threat, for Trump’s very likely defeat means that in the long the opportunity may be greater than the threat.  If he is crushed the factions his rise showed to be discredited will attempt to regain their ascendancy, and his voters will be up for grabs.

A less pessimistic interpretation might note that Trump’s lack of qualification is not something to which his supporters are simply blind, but rather (in their view) his chief qualification.  They see our politics as grossly corrupt—a ubiquitous word in Trump’s idiom—and wholly failed, so that anyone practiced in them is at best fabulously incompetent and more probably a villain. Imagining American politics as only the power of elite wealth perfectly defended by unbreakable stalemate is dystopianism, but dystopianism strongly suggests the concealed comparator of a dangerous utopianism, a Golden Age when our politics were unmarked by such things.  But as Oscar Wilde memorably observed, a map of the world that does not include utopia is not even worth glancing at.

A less pessimistic interpretation would note that while the excesses of both anger and hope in Trump’s supporters are dangerous, a widespread conviction that nothing much can be done about rising inequality, low wages and high unemployment is the most reliable defense of existing injustice.   The politicized demand for a significantly less unjust state of affairs is not only bad news, since there is no good evidence that Trump’s voters define justice as chiefly consisting in the restoration of racial privilege.  Claims that Trump’s supporters are generally pressing such a demand are nonetheless constant.  The logic for the charge is that if Trump’s voters are disproportionately white, male, old, formerly racially privileged and filled with grievance, such a restoration must logically be their chief demand.  This is unwarranted inference resting on very little indisputable evidence, and it is unlikely to do anything other than enrage the people it repeatedly insults.

Evidence of Trump’s voters’ racism is alleged to exist in their sharp hostility to illegal immigration.  The hostility is clear, but does it have any origins other than mere xenophobia?  At a guess, many of Trump’s supporters may not share his noisy lunacy about Mexican rapists, because traditional American racist imagery about Mexican immigrants does not focus on violent criminality.   What may matter more is that unrestricted immigration historically preceded the welfare state, with which Trump’s voters seem to think it incompatible.  Why nationalism rather than their self-conceived betters’ proudly professed cosmopolitanism?  Perhaps for the same reason:  because it is the citizen who has rights, rather than mere moral claims.  Enforceable political claims exist only within democratic nation states, and citizenship may share that property of culture and jelly noted in an old joke of the soixante-huitards:  the further you spread it, the thinner it gets.

Are Trump’s voters more strikingly economically illiterate than any other large group of voters?  More economically illiterate than German voters committed to sado-monetarism, or French voters committed to an unjust and unsustainable regime of generational privilege?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Trump’s voters appear to suspect that, ceteris paribus, when there is more of something it usually becomes cheaper, and this belief may not be evidence of their storied economic illiteracy:  unskilled and semi-skilled labor is something that immigration, both legal and illegal, does make cheaper.

Trump’s voters also have their misgivings about freer trade, and this too is often portrayed as evidence of economic illiteracy.  But people who keep up with the technical literature have come to think that along with its great virtues freer trade has destroyed a few million jobs in American manufacturing.   The next wave of job destruction is far likelier to be achieved by robots than by immigrants; immigrants will pay the taxes funding the transfer payments that may soften the blow.  But Trump’s voters, like most people, vote in response to what they think they know of the recent past, not about possible industrial and demographic futures.  Like the proverbial stopped clock they are right twice a day, and there is a bitter irony in their support for a political party that has taken the lead in destroying those jobs while blocking most or all attempts to soften the blow and ease the hoped-for transition. There is another, even more bitter, in Trump’s fabulous abuses of the tax preferences he so selectively inveighs against.  But the ironies are bitter enough that displays of bilious scorn for the folly of unlucky people is as ugly as it is destructive. I am not sure that we can successfully appeal to enlightened self-interest rather than mock presumed stupidity and cheer the imagined political consequences of differential demographic decline, but we really ought to try, and it would be nice to stop calling illiterate what is far too frequently honored as a critique of neo-liberalism when it is voiced by members of other tribes.

Again, bad news is not good news, but with a sufficiently stupid and heartless response one can always make bad news worse.  Ouvrierisme—sentimentality about traditional working classes—was an old and bad habit on the Left, but it has almost disappeared.  Sentimentality about other groupings, real and imagined, has expanded to fill the gap, but neither a generously expansive sense of justice nor a minimal sense of electoral arithmetic suggest that this is a change we should welcome with no reservations of any kind.  Trump’s voters admittedly tend to overlook or minimize evidence that if faced squarely would make it much more difficult to vote for the ridiculous and odious man they have so grievously mistaken for a possible savior.  But they are scarcely unusual in their selective indignation; they are rather unusual in their desperation, and in being one of the few groups of low-status Americans so incapable of arousing much real empathy on our campuses and op ed pages.

Stranger in a Strange Land

By Nathan Osborne

Out here in rural southwestern Ohio the Trump signs outnumber the Clintons by at least nine to one. And that’s counting one for each household: more so than for any other candidate in memory, Trump inspires not just one or two but a whole yard adorned with signs, flags, and banners. The standard blue Trump/Pence sign’s the most common, but the sizes range from your standard yard sign to billboard-worthy yuuuge.

Some of my favorite are those that seemed self-printed or made. Proudly displayed outside a genteel-looking house, along with the standard Trump and local candidate signs was a what looked to be a piece of cardboard. Sharpied and all caps like a newspaper headline: “VOTING AGAINST HILARY AND DOWN THE BALLOT”. In short, it looked like shit, and made me wonder the point of it since it was already clear he was voting “down the ballot” from the rest of his signs. Out in the Midwest, bumper stickers and yardsigns are the most direct form of political conversation, and I guess this sign was the guy’s version of some suburban rebel yell.

Or instead, there’s something carnivalesque (orgiastic?) about being a member of the Trump Train®. Another sign I see makes me feel slightly queasy inside every time I pass it; on a plain background and in red letters:

trumpAnd at our Fourth of July parade the Republican headquarters rented out an actual train to ride down the street, passing out candy to children. The adults went crazy for it too.  A couple floats down, the Democratic Party float passed by. If they would have came first, a couple of cheers and jeers perhaps, but after the Trump Train spectacle there was an overwhelming hostility in the air. A profound silence to be exact. It reminded me of when those students in California protested by standing en masse as the college president was escorted out of her office. Silent, staring, and nonviolent, but one sudden move and all hell could have broken loose.

Around that time, early in the summer is when I began to feel a bit unsafe in my unrepentant liberal skin. At that time I did not know anyone who was planning on voting Hilary. My social circle isn’t huge, but not nonexistent either, and the only people I could relate to politically were the embittered Sanders supporters who were planning on voting third party or not voting at all. They stared at me like I was an SOB when I mentioned I thought Hilary was the better choice against Trump in a national election. One by one people I talked to who in January said Trump was crazy began to jump on The Train. With that and the daily hysteria of the news cycle, I sank into a pretty dark funk about the election prospects. The one house I pass with a Clinton sign got trash strewn all over it one week. And on my daily commute to work, Trump after Trump after Trump after Trump…

I guess to feel a little bit better about myself, around that time I donated five dollars to the HRC campaign. That was my little part I was going to take and then I could just hide out in some dark corner until November, or posterity. A couple of weeks later, however, I received an HRC bumper sticker I guess to thank me for my donation.

It sat in its envelope for a couple days; bumper stickers I thought reek of self-righteousness. But eventually I stuck it on. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how long it took until somebody tried to run me off the road or how many people would ride my ass for no good reason. I pass a good number of people who have Confederate flags mounted to their pickup trucks.

And: nothing happened. No one tried to run me off the road; I parked for gas once in front of one of the motherfuckers with the Confederate flag and he didn’t call me out or give me a dirty look. Of course, you might think; and yeah, of course. But I’ve heard a lot of violent language used against HRC and Obama in the last year; I’m kind of numb now to people joking about assassinations and spouting off conspiracy theories. But as an individual no one has yet disrespected my right to display that I will never be down for Trump. Trump supporters make up almost the entirety of those in my life, and yet I had some primal fear of violence or ostracism. To get over that, I think, I had to get over myself.

Plus, my sticker has started a couple of conversations at work and school about the candidates and, believe it or not, the pros and cons of their individual policies. I’ve leveled with people and confessed I’m not naïve about Hilary’s failings, but in light of what Trump represents to me I’m getting behind her one hundred percent. I don’t know if I’ve shed any further light for people on how truly dangerous Trump is to our democracy. I’d like to think though that through one-on-one conversations I’ve resisted (if only for a moment) the psychosis of polarization that prevents people from even hearing each other.

At the end of the day, I don’t give a shit about the bumper sticker or the yard signs. I have a hazy conviction that they’re just totems of a profound alienation from public life and that thing known as society. (Is it an illusion?) What’s real is that as the East and West coasts are whipping themselves up into ever greater self-righteous concern and indignation at the Red states, here in flyover country we’re drowning in a spiritual cesspool in which voting Trump doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Mad props to intellectuals standing athwart our fascist moment yelling “Stop,” but no one out here reads the Atlantic  or New Yorker anyway. There is a fascist strain beginning to take hold in American politics, and what’s worse, it’s making converts of a lot of normal people. Regardless of November’s results, this strain is out in the open now, and the struggle against it is going to be a long, hard one. That fight can’t be won with a shout; it probably won’t be won with a pen. It’s going to take a firm, calm voice that’s willing to meet those on the other side, including the benighted, half-way even as it is unwavering in defense of democracy.