50 BULLET POINTS CONCERNING AMERICA’S GUN PSYCHOSIS

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  1. Let’s politicize these acts, if for no other reason because, in America, we politicize everything else.
  2. Of course it’s a mental health issue.
  3. For starters, the mental handicap of anyone who thinks this weapon, in the public (or private) sector is useful, safe or justifiable on any level. ar154. Oh those annoying, anti-American liberals, right? Wrong. Let’s allow General Stanley McChrystal the floor: “I spent a career carrying typically either a M16 and later, a M4 carbine…and a M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. That’s what our soldiers ought to carry…I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look — I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want — we have to protect our children and our police and we have to protect our population. And I think we have to take a very mature look at that.”

5. Certainly I’m not the only person who, immediately upon hearing the news, suspected that Omar Mateen was a closeted, likely tormented gay man—a reminder that religion is always the problem.

6. President Obama has, as of this date, had to give fourteen press conferences to address gun-related massacres on American soil.

7. If you continue to rationalize the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are not merely part of the problem, you are the problem. We can—and do—count on the NRA and the cretins bought and paid for by their blood money to assume the hardest and most irrational line; they count on moral equivalence, sanctimony and above all, hope for frustration to lead to social media sloganeering with no action.

8. If you continue to defend the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are a traitor, however ignorant or unwitting.

9. Fuck the 2nd Amendment. Follow the money.

10. No, seriously. If certain entities weren’t making obscene amounts of money (and spreading it around to keep craven opportunists on the payroll) this issue would have been remedied decades ago.

11. Special committees have been formed to explore, just to cherry pick some low-hanging tempests in a tea (party) pot, the proliferation of witchcraft, opposition to the dangers of dancing, the creeping spread of communism, the hidden, evil messages in certain rock lyrics…and the mere suggestion that maybe an amendment written when muskets were cutting edge weaponry is grounds for scorched earth opposition. This is a profound sickness.

12. This is still the single best commercial on the topic.

13. You know the commercials with first-hand testimony to what cigarette addiction can do to the human body? Start making commercials with statistics of kids shooting each other. And find some brave people willing to go on the record about what unintentional gun violence has done to their family. Or people whose loved ones have been victimized. Tasteless? Too personal? Well, the possibility that any of us could be killed by an accidental (or, in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, intentional) gunshot couldn’t possibly be more personal. And the fact that, thus far, the will of a clear and overwhelming majority is thwarted by a relatively tiny faction with unconscionably deep pockets is about as tasteless as anything imaginable.

14. Be clear: it’s not that nothing can be done, it’s because so much can be done. Sensible and overdue gun control is a slippery slope, as it should be. The people with nothing to lose, except money (and, presumably, those with minuscule and/or impotent penises), are very aware of this.

15. Whether it’s a drive-by, a road rage incident or a calculated assault, guns are the refuge of sissies who wouldn’t last three seconds in a fist fight.

16. Good guys beat bad guys with the benefit of bigger guns. This is the America we have manufactured, via movies and the marketing of war.

17. Speaking of marketing: lobbyists and the political machines they’re paid to pimp have made a sick science of selling unreality to a nation of terrified suckers.

18. Speaking of terror, how many different variations of the same formulation will it require? gun photo

19. If the only time you pay attention to gun violence is to grandstand on your Facebook feed (or worse, send “thoughts and prayers”), you are not merely a coward, you’re acting entirely within the pre-approved script.

20. Imagine if we felt “hopes and prayers” were sufficient, or all we could do every time a drunk driver killed someone.

21. If you’re still alive, you’re not Orlando. Do something.

22. We have made airport travel into the most inconvenient, obnoxious ordeal conceivable, yet it’s many times easier for anyone to bring a gun into any public place than it is to board a plane, even without luggage*. (*White males, that is.)

23. Guess what demographic (hint: not Muslims) is responsible for the majority of gun massacres on American soil?

24. Start showing the dead bodies on the news.

25. Ditto for returning soldiers. As T.S. Eliot once observed, “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Americans, of course, can bear very much reality TV.

26. “Hate will never win.” Hate isn’t trying to win. It’s trying to kill.

27. “Well, if he didn’t have a gun, he would have had a bomb!” No, he wouldn’t. Because, for starters, you can’t buy a bomb at Walmart.

28. Although we have a specific cultural malady, mental illness is, of course, experienced by all ages of all people in all countries. Without guns, you can’t easily enact slaughter. Full stop.

29. Any time anyone walks into an establishment with a gun and body bags are required in the aftermath, it’s an act of terror.

30. All it would take is one shooting spree in the United States Capitol to ensure extreme action was immediately taken.

31. Anyone in congress expressing condolences without mentioning the word “guns” should be shamed from office. Anyone in congress expressing condolences who has accepted money from the NRA should be shamed from American citizenship.

32. In America, the only thing more powerful and effective than money is shaming. Call on any and all elected officials to return their soiled money, or send it to the families of victims.

33. Guess what? Here’s a list of GOP senators who voted against ensuring people on terror watch lists can’t buy firearms. (Props to journalist Ivor Volsky for doing heavy lifting in the service of exposing this illimitable hypocristy.)

34. It takes considerably more time and effort to adopt a dog that’s facing being euthanized than it is to purchase a firearm in America.

35. Seriously, America is the only place this happens.

36. This is the single best (and hilarious, to boot) take on America’s unique gun psychosis.

37. I’d rather have a limb hacked off than be censored in any way. That said, Hollywood has a lot more blood on its hands than anyone acknowledges.

38. Video game manufacturers too.

39. Enough with the accommodations and equivocations, let’s treat—for a start—gun manufacturers the way we treat cigarette companies.

40. Start taxing the shit out of organized religions. Why? Because the same type of illogic and—be clear—highly organized, orchestrated and effective propaganda keeps these institutions unregulated and unaccountable.

41. In our society, police forces have become more martial and intimidating in direct proportion with our dread of potential danger posed by anything “Other”—inexorably people who aren’t white. This is not coincidental.

42. An average of seven children under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.

43. Read this.

44. Just like actually speaking to issues of economic inequality and the dissipation of a healthy American working class (and commensurate wages) is politically viable, action on gun violence will attract, not repel voters.

45. Seriously, Democrats have been paralyzed for the last half-century by the ludicrous trepidation to offend a constituency that wouldn’t, under any circumstances, vote for them anyway.

46. Whatever you want to say about Obama, this is what he had to say on June 1.

47. This is what the presumptive nominee for the Republican party had to say in the wake of the single biggest gun-related massacre in American history: dt48. At one point in our nation’s history, women’s suffrage, civil rights—first for women, then racial minorities, then gays and lesbians—were all considered insurmountable obstacles, politically suicidal, and, a special bonus, “endorsed” by biblical scripture. Progress is inevitable, so long as people clamor (and are willing to work) for it.

49. If we can’t set the bar at the embarrassingly low level of getting the AR-15 banned from civilian ownership, we are officially the Roman Empire, super-sized and on Soma.

50. William Carlos wrote “It is difficult to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day for lack of what’s found there.” That’s always worth remembering.

*This piece originally appeared in The Weeklings on 6/14/16.

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Donald Trump: The Man in America’s Mirror

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i. Orwell, Again (Obviously)

Even before the Reality TV circus American politics and, by extension, American life, degenerated into late last year, George Orwell was the go-to guy for so many writers and thinkers. His observations on everything from class to work (and the inexorable connections between the two), to literature and, yes, politics, has often helped inform and explain how things could become, or how they’ve always been.

This has less to do with the critical laziness that declared him our ultimate quote machine and seer of modern existence (it’s amusing to think how many, particularly in the political sphere, have invoked him without reading much if any of his work; like with Shakespeare, why bother to read the books when the aphorisms are readymade?). Rather, it’s for the simplest and rarest of reasons: Orwell was the real deal, a peripatetic and curious theorist, a philosopher one could claim, never mind the color of their collar. Not content to report from afar, he needed to put himself in the mix, as a dishwasher, a soldier, an officer; a sort of restless cylinder distilling the truths and deceptions of the 20th Century. Simply put, there was never anyone quite like him, and this, above all, is why he matters. It’s why he’ll endure; his work is not timeless so much as incapable of aging. This, regrettably, is in no small part because humanity persistently proves the most cynical and saturnine prognosticators somehow uninspired. (Especially here in the United States.)

Still, for both indolent and obsessed, the embarrassment of riches contained in his last two works, Animal Farm and 1984, tends to suffice, sui generis source code. It’s somewhat ironic that of his writings, these two have arguably aged most poorly. Not because what he depicted was improbable, but history has shown them to be, remarkably, almost trivial. We look at the spectacles of Mr. Jones’ farm and our textbooks and think: Been there, done that. After the successive outrages of dictatorships beneath us and across the pond, the mendacity of totalitarian impulses inevitably worked its way west. Between The Patriot Act and color-coded terror alerts after 9/11, it was like life imitating artless farce. (Think about Hitler, in theory; in actuality: virtually everything he did and said is risible, ludicrous, embarrassing. The mistake we’ve made trying to get a handle on him is not what skills or charms he ostensibly brought to the table, but the fact that millions of angry, credulous citizens enabled it, clamored for it. His repellant genius was in knowing precisely what thirst he was quenching.)

 

ii. Are We Not Entertained?

Which brings us to Trumped in the U.S.A., circa 2017.

Just like the man with the funny mustache, a grandstanding, solipsistic and soulless imbecile like Donald Trump could never be taken seriously unless a country didn’t take itself seriously. That’s both diagnosis and epitaph for the circumstances making the improbability (the impossibility) of President Trump our unique national nightmare.

How can—or should—we grapple with the fact that the right wing has made its bacon for decades castigating virtually everything Trump represents? Hollywood, immorality, gambling, infidelity, insufficient fealty (and/or downright sacrilege) regarding all-things-military, wild and easily disprovable boasts (in this regard making him the anti-Al Gore). For starters.

And speaking of Al “Internet” Gore, perhaps it’s as simple as this: politics aside, he played well on T.V.

Something more is at play, obviously. Yes, white racial antipathy is a YUGE factor. To argue otherwise, at this point, is both delusional and dangerous. Scarily, thought, it goes far beyond folks being whipped into a self-abnegating fury by Fox News. It’s the 21st Century, and we’re obliged to wonder: are the better angels of these folks’ natures being corrupted or, at long last, did the right cult of personality disorder finally reinforce the things they want and need to hear?

The hollowness of the Christian right is now irrevocably laid bare, as they don their MAGA hats in support of a man representing practically everything Jesus denounced.

And yes, there’s no question that as actors, athletes and even “Fake Media” outlets print money at unprecedented rates while red states insist on electing people opposed to living wages, Trump can be seen as the symptom, not the disease.

Still, it’s a combination of resentment, rage and denial that make anyone, whoever they are and wherever they live, able to suspend disbelief to the extent that they still, after eight months, support President* Trump.

Sure, we could talk about the undeniable Russian collusion, the unconscionable decisions James Comey made, or the myriad mistakes the Clinton campaign is begrudgingly beginning to acknowledge—none of which should ever let the obstreperous Bernie Bros off the hook. We certainly must contemplate the havoc right-wing media has wrought, a decades-long work in progress which, in hindsight, makes Trump seem almost inevitable. And despite the imperfect storm of factors that contributed to Trump’s win*, the fact remains: it should never have been close. So, even if we come to discover every worst-case scenario and fear is true—that votes were rigged, Russians did their worst, that God Herself made it so—we must grapple with the depressing fact that even Trump probably never realized how incomparably he appealed to every horrific instinct simmering just beneath the surface of America’s cauldron.

Just because there are plentiful reasons to explain how and why Trump happened, it doesn’t mean we should accept it. Or worse, resign ourselves to it. Indeed, as more evidence of the mendacity, cynicism and malpractice (both political and journalistic) pours in, we are presented with an opportunity. And therein lies a sliver of hope for these very ominous times.

iii.                On Tramps and Trump

Revisiting Orwell’s first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, I wasn’t prepared for the shock of recognition that occurred in the latter pages. With his laudable compulsion to be involved in his reporting, the author spends several months as a dishwasher in Paris, and then living amongst the tramps in London. In a scene that could have been written today (In Paris, London or especially America), Orwell complains about the mindless waste of food he witnessed while working in one of the charity kitchens. His companion—a veteran of the rough roads—manages to astound a writer celebrated for not being easily astonished.

“They have to (throw away the extra food),” he said. “If they made these places too comfortable, you’d have all the scum of the country flocking to them. It’s only the bad food as keeps all that scum away. These here tramps are too lazy to work, that’s all that’s wrong with them. You don’t want to go encouraging them. They’re scum.”

I produced arguments to prove him wrong, but he would not listen. He kept repeating:

“You don’t want to have any pity on these here tramps—scum, they are. You don’t want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me. They’re scum, just scum.”

…I imagine there are quite a lot of tramps who thank God they are not tramps.

Sound like sentiment we’ve heard once or twice these recent months, as unemployed “patriots” in opioid-infested states clamor for their “big, beautiful” wall?

The cynic might inquire: same as it ever was?

Maybe. But this passage serves as a necessary reminder: the cancer (which is, take your pick: anti-patriotic, anti-reason and most definitely anti-Christian, all three labels Republican branding has brazenly co-opted for decades) metastasized long before a slum lord scion became Tweeter-in-chief.

If there’s any silver lining in Trump’s curious and untenable ascendency, it’s that this monster of our making is no longer operating under cover of darkness, abetted by propaganda and innuendo. It’s out in the open and, for once, some of the (literally) torch-carrying villagers are chasing him, not because he’s a monster but rather a perverse Pied Piper.

Of course it’s depressing that, post-Katrina and Wall Street meltdown, this seemingly ceaseless reminder is even necessary. Race, resentment and political malpractice, again, aside, we are seeing how the GOP rolls when they’re obliged to do something aside from obstructing. Trump’s victory* proved we still hadn’t learned. Does this mean we are not capable of a course correction?

(Regarding malpractice, Obama in particular, and the Democratic party in general, own their fair share of the blame: they had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a forceful, irrefutable case for the efficacy of government and policies that used to be both uncontroversial and bipartisan. To insist that Obama counted on some collective accord just as Trump has instigated a cultural cacophony is at once accurate yet insufficient. Unreasonable hopes, naïveté and overconfidence allowed an imploded ideology to rise, and rally.

There’s plenty of tragedy and dark humor regarding what could have been. The pertinent issue is whether Democrats can, finally (for once?) organize, unify and convert this calamity into…change we can believe in? It’s hardly hyperbole to insist we’re at a threshold moment.)

Books and careers will be created describing how 2016 happened, but if we’re not able to excise this tumor, Trump will endure as preview instead of apotheosis.

This piece originally appeared in The Weeklings.

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Cruel DeVos

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I.

TRUE STORY. MY WIFE teaches grade school. In addition to the stories I can tell, and the ones my many friends who teach or are married to teachers can tell, during the school year, I hear a new one practically every day.

Here’s one: several teachers noticed that three siblings (third grade and younger) were digging through the garbage at school. Turns out they were looking for food to take home for the weekend since there would not otherwise be enough.

Here’s another: one of my wife’s fifth grade students broke down in class one day, and explained she was having trouble studying for the standardized test—a whole other topic—because she hadn’t eaten and was hungry. A few teachers pitched in to get her fed, and take some snacks home. Turns out her family was homeless and living in a motel.

My wife, a veteran with more than a decade’s experience in public schools, is not easily upset: it’s been her practice for years to keep extra non-perishables in her desk for the kids who can’t concentrate on empty stomachs.

This is not Appalachia, or even the most desperate inner city; it’s a county less than thirty minutes from the nation’s capital (the state of which is itself a never-ending metaphor for all we need know when it comes to equality, opportunity and our collective genius at hurting the most innocent and vulnerable amongst us).

Another story. Several years ago, she noticed one her students hoarding ketchup packets from the cafeteria. He was bringing them home in case there was nothing to eat.

(The Swiftian irony of this last anecdote is one that surely would have Reagan smirking in his grave.)

The worst one? For me, it’s the story of the student who claimed he wasn’t hungry at lunch time. Because he was embarrassed. He didn’t want to admit he had no money. My wife could literally hear his stomach rumbling as he pretended he wasn’t famished the same way Republicans pretend they care about people.

ii.

Never mind Trump. One need look no further than Betsy DeVos to understand the true depravity of the contemporary state of all-things GOP.

(Yes, Trump is the oozing pus from the Id of America’s underbelly, but if there’s any silver lining, it’s that light does expose the rot. Our Toddler-in-Chief has emboldened an element of our society we thought had either fizzled out or at least was content to spew its spleen safely—and anonymously—online. The smart money says this is not a fad or a trend; it’s a virus that’s required centuries to fester and one megalomaniacal half-fascist to bring to a feverish boil. It will, nevertheless, be flushed out and retired to the sewers of our lower frequencies, hopefully forever and sooner than later. Or, even more optimistically, Trump continues to do damage to the “brand” we figured George W. Bush had so indelibly done, and our next contender can do what Obama never had the heart or stomach to bother with: making a compelling case for Democratic politics with a heavy side dish of populism. As we know, first the Tea Party, and then The Donald wormed into the post-2008 vacuum and stole all the oxygen, which halfway explains why we’re where we are, today.)

But to fully understand the next-level sociopathy of our present administration, we must look at DeVos. Unqualified? Duh. Ignorant? Yes. Not only wealthy, but married to the King of Pyramid schemes that prey upon the poor and gullible? Even Dickens at his most heavy-handed would throw this away as clichéd opportunism. But there it is; only in America can we have and know so much and insist on making it worse for everyone but the .01%

iii.

Did you catch any footage of DeVos’s hearing? If you have a strong stomach, you should, especially if you think the criticism of her has been over the top.

How about the footage of her speed-walking away from a group of protestors?

These fanatics have been insulated by their money and blissful ignorance so long they’re flummoxed (and genuinely frightened) by the slightest resistance. And all of them (look at ongoing embarrassment of Republicans scurrying away from their own town halls, or The King of the Cowardly Cretins, Mitch McConnell, doing everything possible to avoid any public scrutiny of his healthcare bill) have no means to debate or defend themselves when challenged. Classic bullies.

Take DeVos’s brief confrontation with some citizens who dared oppose her, on principle. What an opportunity: she was on camera and could have totally owned the moment, engaged these people in conversation and made them look unreasonable if they shouted her down. Instead, she retreated like the rat she is. (By the way, this isn’t just normal political resistance from one party to another; that Trump even appointed her—and she accepted the gig—is an act of aggression, a calculated outrage to dismantle the very department she’s long had her sights on, and intended to demoralize opponents.)

iv.

How is any of this different from the way Republicans have rolled since the day Reagan declared government our enemy? It’s pretty much the same, only more so. And that’s where things have crossed all lines of normalcy and decency. Circa 2017, it’s no longer sufficient to merely reinforce the wealthiest and most powerful; the GOP, with virtually no internal dissension, is on the public record (with votes, statements and, importantly, no comments to the contrary) advocating policy that literally takes away the (drastically underfunded) funds from those with the least, and disguise it as “choice”. Indeed, in another moment that Dickens, Orwell and Kafka, tag-teaming with three typewriters and ten bottles of tequila, couldn’t muster the imagination to invent, DeVos invoked segregated schools as a testament to the empowering benefits of “choice”. (No, seriously.)

Extolling the alleged virtues of the free market, no matter what contrary evidence accrued, mostly worked wonders for the Republican party these last few decades. We now are at a point where they’re acting, in concert, to raid the already paltry provisions of the disenfranchised. And to what end? Funding infrastructure or some national emergency? Of course not. Exactly what they’re after is simple, and truly staggering: to ensure that those born with every advantage will have still more opportunity and money. Revolting in the extreme.

But therein lies an opportunity. Audacity of this level is so breathtaking it’s negligent to become cynical; unacceptable to be indifferent. We’re at a threshold moment, where otherwise apathetic spectators must determine if they are, at long last, disgusted with the direction we’re headed. Doing nothing, at this point, is abetting evil. (And this includes not just going toe-to-toe with the True Believers across the aisle—many of whom, of course, stand to be most drastically impacted by all these reverse Robin Hood policies—but the pampered and recalcitrant nitwits who still insist Hillary Clinton was, at best, the lesser of two evils, or remain third party or bust when we see, daily, the disparity between what Democrats and Republicans do, when in power.) Advice: frame an argument, for once, that puts liberals on the right side of Scripture (what a concept!) and put the stakes in stark relief: it’s no longer a shell game, no more talk of trickle down; this is straight-up thievery, taking from those with the least. I think Jesus said a thing or two about this.

Finally, it’s tempting, even irresistible, to catalog the myriad flaws, hypocrisies, moral failures and rank opportunism that has virtually defined DeVos’s existence. But it’s more effective to look at her as the caricature she is. She represents the faceless figure epitomizing the worst Republican impulses, all untethered by our incurious, incompetent Tweeter-in-Chief. Never mind him, or her, and remember it’s not who she is, but what she represents. DeVos, and her merry band of nihilists, are the boot in the face Orwell warned us about. That is what must be resisted, mocked, defeated.

A final story. One of my wife’s friends, who teaches high school, had a student who was arrested for shoplifting. It turns out he had been doing this from a young age. He was stealing food. To eat.

Think of this kid, and all the other ones, especially the ones with increasingly fewer advocates who can defend or assist them.

Rage against this Machine.

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Donald Trump and Participation Trophy Politics

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I’VE BEEN THINKING A lot?—?since the election and particularly during the past two weeks?—?about the cliché (typically, in personal experience, uttered by my right-leaning friends) involving our so-called “participation trophy” generation and how it’s making everyone so soft, and spoiled. You have to earn it, this complaint implies. You have to understand defeat to fully appreciate triumph. If you expect to get rewarded just for showing up, it cheapens it for everyone, et cetera.

There’s no shortage of context and counterarguments about how a win-at-all-costs mentality translates to society, or if emphasizing sportsmanship is the worst thing, or, finally, how in America we instinctively ignore the fact that all people don’t start from the same place, physically, mentally, economically. Marginalization has historically worked best when the people in positions of privilege don’t acknowledge or even imagine themselves as anything other than fair, objective and industrious folks.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

I find myself at once dismayed, yet not at all surprised to behold the increasingly sorry spectacle of a newly-elected president?—?who has benefitted from virtually every advantage?—?endorsed by those he’s spent his life ignoring, ostracizing, swindling. (Never mind how this pathology of Americans voting against their best interests is a phenomenon that, to an extent, has always existed, but super-sized itself in recent years.) Here’s a candidate who undeniably had outside assistance (Russia, voter fraud, James Comey) to squeeze out the narrowest of “wins”, who is obsessed with approval, not understanding it must be earned, and who inexorably makes every occasion about himself (etc.). None of this is especially perplexing for anyone who’s paid attention over the last several decades. He was never an especially confident or competent man, but he played one on TV.

(And despite the hysteria and hand-wringing that’s followed Hillary Clinton’s loss, the key takeaway seems clear: it’s not that she (or Democrats in general) don’t talk to working class Americans; it’s that she (and they) still don’t know how to. A lot more on that issue, here.)

As we enter a steadily surreal landscape of alternate facts, braindead braggadocio masquerading as foreign policy and daily dumpster fires that titillate social media but also provide cover for the shady shit going on behind the scenes, it’s painful to conclude that idiocy has found an unprecedented symbiosis: only the most eager to dissemble can consistently reach those most in need of being deceived. Donald Trump is not the president most of his voters actually need, but he’s the one a distressing number of them want.

Again, enough can never be said about the myriad ways Democrats (including, of course, Obama and his team) were either too haughty, impatient or sane to belabor how demonstrably beneficial the vast majority of their enacted policies have been. But have we reached a point where a black man providing affordable health care is literally less tolerable than a billion-dollar baby with a bad combover taking it away from them? Are we through the broken looking glass where a tenure without terror attacks on American soil (not counting our homegrown terrorists with unconstrained access to firearms, all of whom tend to skew fascist, I mean conservative) is less savory than an isolationist bellicosity cut with impetuousness and pig-ignorance? Are we, at long last, in an irony-free fantasy land where virtually all regulation (safe drinking water is such a liberal diversion), much of which has been a century or more in the making and inspired by avoidable calamities, is the real roadblock to collective prosperity?

I think, and fear, we are.

And that, more than fake news, bigotry and not-so-quiet desperation, may explain Trump’s atavistic appeal. The red hat brigade is definitely not safer, but they feel safer (they want to); their wages won’t increase but their Dear Leader promises we’ll get tired of winning so much; no immigrants are stealing their jobs, but finally they have a Bully-in-Chief who feels their perceived pain. It’s a new world order of rationalization instead of realization (emphasis on real); it’s participation trophy politics.

With the invaluable assistance of an alternately prurient and supine media, we’ve unleashed an orange genie who reinforces our most brutish instincts. In this less kind and gentle America, it’s those who talk toughest most in need of mollification (it begins at the top and tweets its way to the bottom), who require readymade villains and celebrate their victimhood, who need a Big Daddy to remind them they’re special, that no sacrifice is required on their part.

(Behold, with equal amounts of bemusement and disgust, the way our part-time custodians of culture are submitting themselves (spines and shame not required), excusing and/or overlooking this manifestly unqualified adolescent: a man who proudly declines to read books, or learn, or make efforts to be coached by anyone with insight and experience. A man born rich who refuses to play by any rules (where are those tax returns, genius?), a man whose callousness and incuriosity makes George W. Bush look like Ralph W. Emerson. Behold, with maximum disdain, the way these bought-and-sold bitches live to do the wet work for Big Business. These same frauds, who make themselves arbiters for morality and decency, are entirely enabling this ongoing disgrace, a man they loathe, a man they’d otherwise decry and avoid (#NeverTrump? The only problem with shaming people like this is that they require a sense of shame, and a soul, for it to matter). And make no mistake: it’s all in the name of lower taxes for the wealthiest percentile, as ever, as always.)

In The Donald’s America, everyone can live vicariously, eliminating doubt, self-discipline and consequences. All that’s required is the renunciation of cause-and-effect and Truth-with-a-Capital-T. The only losers are the saps who refuse to trust Trump’s lying eyes. The (White) House always wins, but everyone gets a trophy in this game.

*This essay originally appeared in The Weeklings on 2/3/17.

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Cheer Up, Trump Haters: It’ll Get Worse!

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WELL, THAT PRESS CONFERENCE was…something, huh? Predictably shambolic to the point of parody. Only more so. Satire and ridicule no longer register; we’re down the faux-golden rabbit hole, and it smells a lot like…urine. The unprecedented combination of incompetence and unscrupulousness on display makes George W. Bush look like Thomas Jefferson. What a national embarrassment. And if we’re counting on the media (many of whom laughed dutifully like dead-eyed show dogs at the appropriate moments, proving the only thing more astonishing than Trump’s truthless mendacity is the imperturbable fashion with which these bootlickers lap it up — for access, for ratings) to hold this buffoon in any way accountable, it’s going to be a long, brutal slog.

Special kudos to Jake Tapper, sitting afterward beside the emptiest suit in modern journalism, Wolf Blitzer, and making a play for his colleague’s crown: that immediate capitulation, equal parts petulant but unctuous, marks a new low in what may become a bottomless pit in the years (months? weeks? days? minutes?) ahead. Like a pathetic nerd willing to endure endless wedgies from the jocks for the pleasure of being in their company, these cowards are pleading with Trump to understand they aren’t the ones pushing “fake news” about a man who started the Obama “birther” conspiracy. For anyone struggling to understand why what Buzzfeed did is not only defensible, but imperative, it’s useful, as ever, to turn to our man George Orwell, who wrote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” That precept, already in grave peril pre-Trump, is going to be tested to previously unimaginable limits in the years (months? weeks? days? minutes?) ahead.

Yet, in a surreal best case scenario for the GOP, even the most plugged-in fanatic can’t keep pace with the outrages and things-that-would-normally-qualify-as-headline-dominating-scandals (Exhibit A: that stunt, during the press conference—with the lawyer spewing falsehood after ruse after gambit to explain why, in fact, there are no conflicts of interest—normally would require, by the laws of irony, a lightning bolt to crash into the room, incinerating everyone present. Exhibit B: the mere fact that a wretched poltroon like Jeff Sessions is being mentioned, in 2017–outside a Top Ten list of most despicable public servants in American history–would usually oblige weeks of discussion and deliberation). We can’t even wrap our minds around the depravity of Trump’s alleged Russian adventures (when The Donald denied being down with water sports because he’s a germaphobe, and some of the press tittered, it was a particularly low point in yesterday’s spectacle), so these types of distractions will likely enable a host of unsavory cretins to coast through their confirmations unscathed, assuming their roles in Trump’s administration.

I’ll confess that after yesterday’s infomercial, I mean press conference, I had a fleeting (however naive) revelation: despite his bluster, once the polling became clear, Trump would not willingly take away health care from so many of the red state suckers. As more folks figured out what’s really going on, and we saw more stories like this, we could count on Trump, quite paradoxically and only because of his colossal ego, to be the unforeseen monkey wrench in Ryan & McConnell’s vision of undoing everything positive, post-FDR.

And yet, we wake up today to discover (once again), by having no shame whatsoever, the GOP is figuring out that in a nation increasingly populated by children, obfuscation without apology (or explanation) is the best way to advance an agenda and suffer minimal, if any blowback. In today’s America, our reality is that a black man giving millions of people health care is many times more politically damaging than a rich white man taking it away from them. Until, that is, they figure out exactly what they had, what’s gone, and the person they voted for did what they thought they wanted

And then, some accountability, at long last? Not necessarily.

Guess what? It can get even worse.

Just after the election results came in, I realized most of what passes for Republican intelligentsia were so many dogs that inexplicably caught the car. Demonizing Obamacare by any means necessary was easy as it was effective, because it didn’t require any action, aside from reciting boilerplate propaganda and whipping useful idiots into the type of frenzy that could make a President Donald Trump possible. But, even the most cynical of these charlatans had to know, once it got down to the nuts and bolts of fucking over tens of millions of citizens, it might prove…complicated. My prediction, cynical in its own right, turns out to have been optimistic (!): I proposed that, if they were smart, Trump & Co. would immediately “repeal” Obamacare, replace it with the exact same thing (never forget, the ACA is a compromise crafted in conservative think tanks), call it Trumpcare, and convert the most spectacular sleight of hand in political history.

But I overlooked one important thing: the current crop of Republicans don’t give the slightest shit about people, or their health care, and we now have the votes to prove it.

It occurs to me that doing this maneuver (in the dead of night, natch), effectively forcing repeal (damn the torpedoes, declare victory, mission accomplished, etc.) without a net — or the pesky collective conscience to fret about how it will play in the media, much less actual peoples’ lives — proves that luck, combined with a brazen will to power for power’s sake, provides (another) miraculous opportunity. If, in fact, today signals the beginning of the end of Obamacare, effective immediately, people will steadily figure out what’s going on (way too late, as always) and they will, of course, be apoplectic. Someone will have to answer for that rage, and it won’t be Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. In a perfect storm so repellent it causes one to ponder the actuality of the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, they’ll use Trump as ballast, impeach him, and tie the repeal of Obamacare to…Trump. And it will work, because enough Republicans (and all Democrats) will relish the idea of jettisoning Mr. Make America Great Again from the Oval Office. A win/win for all involved, right?

Wrong. The unfathomable good fortune bestowed on Pence (and Ryan and Big Mac) will reach wet dream proportions: with Trump gone (and presumably having the stench of failure providing cover) a unified GOP will finally have unfettered access to dismantling anything and everything these sadists deem “progressive”. Worse, they’ll likely have years of accountability-free momentum, because between blaming Obama (duh) and Trump (who, of course, they all hate anyway), they’ll somehow position themselves as the ones who got rid of Obama and saved us all from Trump.

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Trump is sufficiently unconscionable he tends to camouflage the horrifying prospect of Pence as the ultimate GOP fantasy: a perfect amalgamation of Reagan, Newt Gingrich and Jerry Falwell, where mendacity meets opportunism, all gussied up in an aw shucks, superficial piety. He will, without the least reservation, blank-check the most ruthless Ayn Rand fetishists in history, making the Bush/Cheney years seem like a utopia of regulation and civil rights and market stability.

The typically gullible and feckless Democrats will think—abetted of course by an ever-pliant media—that since Pence is calm, soft-spoken and smiles a lot, they can reason with him. And with a shit-eating smirk, he’ll shut them down on every single issue, including ones (privatizing Social Security) that Trump, possibly, would have blanched at. And for every policy that undoes equality or the hope of middle-class advancement (The working poor? Face, meet Boot), credulous sycophants like Chuck Todd will allow weasels like Paul Ryan to frown meaningfully and talk about how none of this is easy, but governing requires difficult decisions and God Bless America.

And best case scenario, in four-to-eight years there’ll be a Bud Lite type of reckoning (the Democrats emboldened enough to campaign on positions that were middle of the road a decade ago), and the GOP (and their enablers in the business community and media—assuming the two entities are distinguishable by this point) will start whining, again, about the debt being amassed to pull us out of the mess, the one no one could have seen coming. That is, unless the hole is not finally too deep, a fantasy that causes so many of our right-leaning members of Congress to arise with Sildenafil-assisted morning wood every day.

Cheer up, things can get worse. Much worse. Impeaching Trump, that big, bloated white whale, may not be the prize we’re after. Indeed, there’s a possibility that keeping him in office may be the only thing preventing the half-ass Ahabs behind him from partying like it’s 1929.

This piece originally appeared in The Weeklings on 1/12/17.

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RICH ASSHOLES PAYING NO TAXES IS UNPATRIOTIC

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Did you catch this? (Trigger warning: you’ll need to Windex your screen and take a shower after watching to disinfect and rinse the slime off.)

This embarrassing exchange merely confirms what anyone with a semblance of political, business or psychological acumen has known for decades: Trump is, in addition to being an irretrievably wretched human being, also an appallingly bad (albeit opportunistic) “businessman”, serial liar and hypocrite. Bonus reminder: Rudy Giuliani remains an execrable, race-baiting, sexist troll who has made a career off the suffering of others.

But what should not be lost in the melodrama that will unfold this week is a very revealing and, if the Democrats manage to handle yet another gift correctly (for once?), useful opportunity. For entirely too long, Dems have been on the defense against the easily disprovable claims that if not for the richest of the rich, there’d be no job creation or tax revenue since, of course, the government doesn’t create jobs (ha) and the wealthiest pay the lion’s share of taxes (ha!). In addition, the working poor (keywords: working and poor) have been consistently and successfully marginalized for not paying their “fair” share, even and especially the ones who are below the poverty line. (A primer on the playbook that has worked, pretty much without fail, since the early ‘80s is HERE.)

And of course we blame out-of-control welfare (which, among other reasons, was created to ensure we don’t have children starving, and, in many instances, an opportunity to help pull willing would-be workers out of privation…unless, of course, you want to believe the racist and classist malarkey that there are thousands (millions?) of Americans who don’t want to get ahead; who are perfectly content to cash those checks and—not having the remarkable good fortune of inheriting wealth from their parents—perpetuate the cycle of hopelessness for their families).

The GOP has been able to have it both ways, with minimal pushback from the “liberal” media, lionizing the wealthy 1%; those “job creators” who, when the rocks are lifted from their shady but—courtesy of 21st Century Capitalism on steroids—not only perfectly legal, but encouraged dealings, are very happy to ship jobs overseas, fight against regulation (which directly enriches them while causing all sorts of health issues that cost working folks more money…if it doesn’t kill them), and—wait for it—pay no taxes. We’re not talking about taking advantage of available loopholes (themselves an indication that the system is, of course, rigged so that the richest of the rich get away with the most while stiffing the rest of us); we’re talking about ensuring that they pay close to nothing. And, at long last backed into this corner, we get brazen sycophants like Giuliani calling Trump a “genius” for paying no taxes.

Herein we have, at best, a conflict of interests.

Because, if enjoying every available loophole was unassailable proof of his savvy business instincts, why wouldn’t Trump have happily released his tax info months or years ago? After all, he could make the case that his successful avoidance of paying taxes underscores his brilliance. But…that’s complicated because Trump has played the poor/race card, calling out the tens of millions of Americans who pay no federal income taxes—you know, the “takers”.

(Sidenote: any person who laments out-of-control entitlements or social programs, but is unperturbed by –or applauds– the psychopathic swindling by the Masters of the Universe is not ignorant so much as an unwitting victim of very purposeful and politically motivated propaganda. That this is based, at least in part, on a far-from extinct culture of prejudice, alive and unwell, and so disgustingly exposed at any Trump rally, scarcely requires elaboration.)

Is this revelation going to sway any hardcore Trump supporters? Of course not. (Anyone capable of rational thought when it comes to Trump would have rightly been pushed past endurable limits with the knowledge that he’s unashamedly stiffed workers who have built or provided things for him, a venal sort of bullying that makes the aforementioned psychopathy seem almost quaint.) This “revelation” is simply overdue acknowledgment of the hatred so much of our entitled class (and the political party that serves them) feels for the rest of us peasants. They have largely held—and acted on—these beliefs with impunity, on occasion even marketing themselves as the real populists. That farce can, and should, reach its tardy expiration date, effective immediately.

Back in 2014, as the Dems, running away from Obama’s accomplishments (obviously) and downplaying the demonstrable good Obamacare had already done (naturally), I wrote the following:

During the Tea Party shenanigans in ’09, I kept asking myself: when is Obama going to start reminding everyone that this big bad government has historically been the bulwark between the people and an Industrial Revolution lifestyle? Does it need to actually get to the point where the Republican Party literally says “let them eat cake” before people start to realize wages are stagnating, prices are rising and the only people getting fat are the wealthiest one percent? Apparently it does.

(This is an opportune time to remind any recalcitrant Gary Johnson supporters that, in addition to your candidate being a vapid loon, his libertarian policies—you know, the ones you claim more closely align with yours than either Trump’s or Clinton’s—double down on all the pro-business, anti-regulation Republican nonsense and ignore or oppose what most of us would consider sensible things like climate change, engagement with foreign allies (or enemies!) and government services. Never mind the Ayn Rand jokes that write themselves: just ask yourselves about things like maternity leave, minimum wage and 40 hour work weeks. Then try to square these, or virtually any single progressive advancement (the ones Bernie Sanders rightly, and heroically, has spent his life articulating and endorsing) with anything Libertarian. Please gang, resist your sexist tendencies and slack-jawed gullibility. Or and, if you insist on not being remotely conversant with the issues, at least stop deluding yourself that Johnson has anything whatsoever in common with either Sanders or progressive politics. Also, being nihilists without a clue is never a good look. Finally, vote for Clinton if for no other reason your dream of legal marijuana has approximately 100% better chance of happening with a Democratic administration.).

Speaking of, just as every politician was once (still?) asked if they ever smoked pot, going forward every single aspiring president should be asked—ceaselessly—what, if any, taxes they paid. (Oh wait, that did happen with every candidate until the supine media rolled over for Trump? My bad.)

The takeaway here is the same as it ever was: actions speak more eloquently and loudly than time-tested boilerplate does. In addition to exposing, without any gray area or subtlety, what these entitled and wealthy elites truly believe, the attack line going forward must be as direct as it is devastating: failure to pay any taxes might make you a more successful—and wealthy—businessman; it also makes you unpatriotic. If you’re unwilling to pay your fair share for the services that often make America exceptional, you’re not merely putting your money where your heart isn’t, you’re letting the country know no rules can, or should, apply to you.

That, sadly, will never be enough for the Fox News watchers, bigots and our angry old guard (Hey millennials: vote for Clinton if for no other reason than to savor what the next 4-8 years will be like for bitter racists for whom “making America great again” would be outlawing abortion, not letting women vote, no separation of church and state and—yikes!—reinstating the draft.). But it just might open some eyes of inexplicably “undecided” voters, and certainly should resonate with the younger demographic—the one with school debt and uncertain job security, whose taxes helped bail out the 1% when they systematically and deliberately tanked the economy less than a decade ago. The one that gets younger and less white every day.

*This essay originally appeared at The Weeklings on 10/3/16.

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Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

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Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

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1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

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  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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Some Day A Real Rain Will Come: What Travis Bickle Can –And Cannot– Tell Us About Tucson (Revisited)

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Voices In Our Heads

You talking to me?

It is the pivotal scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it remains one of the seminal moments in movie history. Not so much because of its improvisational nature, or the uncanny way Robert De Niro (playing the alienated and ultimately violent Travis Bickle) disappears into this character, managing to seem invisible and menacing all at once. Most important, this short scene echoes a question that all of us, to a certain extent, ask the world every day.

“Are you talking to me?” we ask, and the tone may be inquisitive, rhetorical or defiant. It may be those and many other things. Mostly, as we interact in a mechanized, sped-up and increasingly unreal reality, we want to make sure people know we are there. We use our voices, our eyes, our frowns or smiles, our horns, our phones, our e-mail, our clothes and a thousand unspoken thoughts to affirm that our presence does not go entirely unnoticed.

In a way, it was easier a few decades ago, around the time Taxi Driver (1976) was released. There was no Internet, no texting, no cell phones, no cable TV, no electronic anything. If you needed to reach out and touch someone, you had to do just that. It’s possible that with the proliferation of devices and toys, in our information-overload moment (which, as it relates to art, content and information, is definitely not a negative thing), we are lonelier than ever before. This ground has been well-covered and there are compelling arguments on either side. On one hand, it can be conjectured that by remaining indoors, behind a glowing screen, we’ve effectively cut ourselves off from old-fashioned interaction and our communication—however ceaseless—lacks intimacy and engagement. On the other hand, people who in another era (including this one) may be best described as socially awkward (due to a variety of societal and self-imposed factors) have myriad opportunities to connect that simply did not exist even ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the above observations almost entirely relate to action as opposed to reaction. It’s difficult to accurately gauge precisely how a constant bombardment of content, opinions and steadily louder voices is affecting our perception. Not too long ago it was a common joke to talk about (either in celebratory or castigating tones) how we had one hundred channels to choose from via cable TV. Now we have hundreds of channels, as well as streaming video, social media, blogs, and a dedicated website for every news channel, program and talking head in the world. And all of these voices are trying to tell, or sell, us something. Always urgently, never off message, constantly competing with all the other noise to get inside our heads and influence our opinions in one way or another.

 

Who Owns The American Dream?

You’re in a hell, and you’re gonna’ die in a hell like the rest of them.

It was horrifying enough when we had Travis Bickle types who, for their various reasons, sought violent ends to make some type of statement or try and quell that voice screeching non-stop in their ears, like a demented wasps’ nest. Taxi Driver, though wrongly or at least simplistically described by too many as the story of a psychopath, is very much a cautionary tale about what can happen when an alienated citizen has no one to talk to. The fact that it’s set in one of the busiest cities in the world is less ironic than tragic: anyone who has spent time in a bustling urban environment can confirm that it’s sometimes—if not often—the case that one can feel most alone when surrounded by millions of people who don’t know or care about them.

Loneliness, alienation and even violence are sufficiently commonplace as to be unremarkable facets of American existence: watch the news or consider your own life story. This certainly holds true in any society, particularly our plugged in but often disconnected post-millennial era. It seems safe to suggest these conditions are most rampant and profound in the United States. There are countless reasons and/or symptoms, and they are rooted more in myth than reality. For instance, while America does not have the rigid and stratified class systems that still plague Europe, we do have a collective addiction to the white-washed fantasy also known as the American Dream.

Lest that sound like a facile dismissal of a very complicated and, in many ways useful illusion, there are undeniably certain aspects of the American Dream parable that are provable and worthwhile. The ceaseless influx of grateful immigrants is sufficient testament to the inherent promise of an ostensibly free society. The same promise luring men and women to illegally enter our country is the same impulse that served as a siren song for Irish, Italian and other immigration movements through the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, this speaks to the dream of America itself more than what we call the American Dream. Being able to do something is altogether different from being able to do anything. Most of these immigrants (then, now) are obliged to work excruciating hours doing horrific work at woeful wages, and the only thing making it tolerable is that it is (usually) better than the alternative.

The proposition that any of us, regardless of who we are and whatever our initial station in life can, with the correct combination of industry, initiative and luck, ascend to a status of wealth festers as one of the more powerful, if poisonous fictions our country has produced. More, it is not merely promulgated but actively inculcated: history books and sentimental movies tend to tout the exceedingly rare rags-to-riches allegory while ignoring, denying or conveniently dismissing the typical reality, which is that the working poor are likely to remain exactly where they are. In fact, as we’ve seen in the last few decades, this is more—not less—the case in a political and cultural system that has steadily ensured that those who have more will get more, usually directly at the expense of those who have little.

This dichotomy between what we see on screens or inside magazines is not new, but commercials, ads and websites telling us how can be or who we should be are incalculably more prevalent and powerful in today’s world. Thus, the same types of alienating forces that the lonely, angry and outcast citizens have historically been subject to are alarmingly more intense in a 24/7 info-tainment unreality. Which brings us to the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular. The GOP has auto-piloted the Horatio Alger story to the extent that counties receiving the most federal aid will lash out most indignantly (if ignorantly) about the perils of “big government”. Indeed, generation after generation illustrates that those who benefit most from higher taxes (and who have the least likelihood of ascending to the upper tax brackets) are consistently fanatical about keeping taxes low for those who earn the most. There are an unfortunate number of tragedies we commit as Americans, but this is one of the more profound examples.

Someday A Real Rain Will Come…

Loneliness has followed me my whole life…there’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

One of the more devastatingly poignant (or poignantly devastating) scenes in Taxi Driver occurs when Travis sits, silently in his apartment, watching the attractive and fashionable folks dancing on TV. Alone in his sweltering studio walk-up, the look on his face—at once longing, frustrated and confused—reveals the hastening recognition that he will never attain the easy, if superficial, security he sees on the screen. With subtlety and lack of sentimentality (the script is actually somewhat slight, which only underscores the astonishing work De Niro turns in), we see that Bickle is the ultimate loner, an underground entity who is as much insect as human, scurrying in and out of his pointless and preordained routine.

Add to this the fact that he is a veteran, perhaps the most overlooked, yet prescient touch of the film (flash forward thirty-plus years to see how we treat our soldiers when they return from the wars we ask them to fight; little coincidence that it’s the same party that salutes the flag most tearfully who are quickest to slash and burn the programs designed to provide physical—and especially mental—assistance). The result of these circumstances and lack of choices provide us, circa 1976, with a character sketch of someone who, if one thing leads to the next, might opt for a more sociopathic solution to his problems. Importantly, Bickle is not revealed as a man destined to snap; while he is far from blameless for his predicament, he is very much a casualty of the world (the real one and the manufactured one) that he can’t master but must exist in. Therefore when he decides “my whole life is pointed in one direction…there never has been any choice for me”, it is both a confession and a one-man verdict, his indictment against this world.

There is some irony, looking back on the candidate he turns his grim attention toward: Palantine, running under the campaign slogan “We Are The People”, seems to espouse a very optimistic (if clichéd) message. (Further irony in that this notion of a collective synergy only amplifies Bickle’s isolation.) Imagine all of these elements contributing to Bickle’s disintegration placed in the context of our contemporary culture, with venom being spewed 24/7 by charlatans and circus clowns like Beck, O’Riley and Palin. Imagine Travis Bickle watching Fox News each day. If you can, you may begin to see why the concern and loathing of the Tea Party movement had much more to do with what happened this week in Arizona and little to do with comically misspelled signs and morons telling the government to stay out of their Medicare.

Travis gets his guns after a frightening encounter in his cab (and having heard about the violence fellow drivers have suffered). Only after he feels himself finally out of options does he contemplate using his gun on an innocent person (and later, people). Even in 1976, this was sufficiently compelling commentary on the ease with which Americans get access to guns. Today, appallingly, gun laws are looser than ever (and—shocker!—one political party defends this madness with the same tenacity they bring to cutting taxes and eliminating federal aid programs) and instead of a lone madman with one round, we have the sickening spectacle of semi-automatic weapons. Flash forward to Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.

It slowly comes into focus: it is easier, now, for more people (except perhaps the politicians and mainstream media, the two most culpable parties) to understand the calculus that made this weekend’s tragedy predictable and, perhaps, inevitable. There are and—as ass-covering TV talking heads remind us—always will be lunatics in our midst who will kill and maim others and there is little we can do (other than disarm them). That said, it is way too easy to suggest this was an ambivalent act with random victims: in the same state the cretinous Sarah Palin put gun-sights on in a map of “targets”. It’s not necessary to pile on Palin, no matter how much blood she has on her carefully manicured hands; it is every bit the supine and opportunistic media’s fault, since they have breathlessly provided this imbecile with a public platform every step of the way. Special disgust, certainly, must be reserved for the reprehensible propaganda machine at Fox News: that so many Americans receive their “information” (and/or marching orders) from these scavengers debases us all.

And so, while the GOP gleefully fed the ill-conceived ire of the Tea Party faithful, they continued to double down on the very things that have caused so many of these folks to feel genuine hardship. It would almost be comical, except for the immorality and the guns. If someone in a red (or blue) state wants to endorse candidates who blithely promise to increase the collective misery, one can only laugh—unless one can’t help but cry. But when we see these candidates urging “Second Amendment remedies”, we need not wring our hands and ask how we all share the blame. No, the bulk of the blame can easily be laid at the spit-shined shoes of the pied pipers leading these rats to the water’s edge. That, an older and/or more cynical observer might suggest, has always been the case. Except now these rats are packing heat and they don’t mind taking out as many of us as they can, smiling as they do it.

This essay originally appeared in PopMatters on 1/26/11 and is now in Murphy’s Law, Vol. One –available now.

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50 BULLET POINTS CONCERNING AMERICA’S GUN PSYCHOSIS

 

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  1. Let’s politicize these acts, if for no other reason because, in America, we politicize everything else.
  2. Of course it’s a mental health issue.
  3. For starters, the mental handicap of anyone who thinks this weapon, in the public (or private) sector is useful, safe or justifiable on any level. ar154. Oh those annoying, anti-American liberals, right? Wrong. Let’s allow General Stanley McChrystal the floor: “I spent a career carrying typically either a M16 and later, a M4 carbine…and a M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. That’s what our soldiers ought to carry…I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look — I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want — we have to protect our children and our police and we have to protect our population. And I think we have to take a very mature look at that.”

5. Certainly I’m not the only person who, immediately upon hearing the news, suspected that Omar Mateen was a closeted, likely tormented gay man—a reminder that religion is always the problem.

6. President Obama has, as of this date, had to give fourteen press conferences to address gun-related massacres on American soil.

7. If you continue to rationalize the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are not merely part of the problem, you are the problem. We can—and do—count on the NRA and the cretins bought and paid for by their blood money to assume the hardest and most irrational line; they count on moral equivalence, sanctimony and above all, hope for frustration to lead to social media sloganeering with no action.

8. If you continue to defend the NRA’s role in these atrocities, you are a traitor, however ignorant or unwitting.

9. Fuck the 2nd Amendment. Follow the money.

10. No, seriously. If certain entities weren’t making obscene amounts of money (and spreading it around to keep craven opportunists on the payroll) this issue would have been remedied decades ago.

11. Special committees have been formed to explore, just to cherry pick some low-hanging tempests in a tea (party) pot, the proliferation of witchcraft, opposition to the dangers of dancing, the creeping spread of communism, the hidden, evil messages in certain rock lyrics…and the mere suggestion that maybe an amendment written when muskets were cutting edge weaponry is grounds for scorched earth opposition. This is a profound sickness.

12. This is still the single best commercial on the topic.

13. You know the commercials with first-hand testimony to what cigarette addiction can do to the human body? Start making commercials with statistics of kids shooting each other. And find some brave people willing to go on the record about what unintentional gun violence has done to their family. Or people whose loved ones have been victimized. Tasteless? Too personal? Well, the possibility that any of us could be killed by an accidental (or, in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, intentional) gunshot couldn’t possibly be more personal. And the fact that, thus far, the will of a clear and overwhelming majority is thwarted by a relatively tiny faction with unconscionably deep pockets is about as tasteless as anything imaginable.

14. Be clear: it’s not that nothing can be done, it’s because so much can be done. Sensible and overdue gun control is a slippery slope, as it should be. The people with nothing to lose, except money (and, presumably, those with minuscule and/or impotent penises), are very aware of this.

15. Whether it’s a drive-by, a road rage incident or a calculated assault, guns are the refuge of sissies who wouldn’t last three seconds in a fist fight.

16. Good guys beat bad guys with the benefit of bigger guns. This is the America we have manufactured, via movies and the marketing of war.

17. Speaking of marketing: lobbyists and the political machines they’re paid to pimp have made a sick science of selling unreality to a nation of terrified suckers.

18. Speaking of terror, how many different variations of the same formulation will it require? gun photo

19. If the only time you pay attention to gun violence is to grandstand on your Facebook feed (or worse, send “thoughts and prayers”), you are not merely a coward, you’re acting entirely within the pre-approved script.

20. Imagine if we felt “hopes and prayers” were sufficient, or all we could do every time a drunk driver killed someone.

21. If you’re still alive, you’re not Orlando. Do something.

22. We have made airport travel into the most inconvenient, obnoxious ordeal conceivable, yet it’s many times easier for anyone to bring a gun into any public place than it is to board a plane, even without luggage*. (*White males, that is.)

23. Guess what demographic (hint: not Muslims) is responsible for the majority of gun massacres on American soil?

24. Start showing the dead bodies on the news.

25. Ditto for returning soldiers. As T.S. Eliot once observed, “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Americans, of course, can bear very much reality TV.

26. “Hate will never win.” Hate isn’t trying to win. It’s trying to kill.

27. “Well, if he didn’t have a gun, he would have had a bomb!” No, he wouldn’t. Because, for starters, you can’t buy a bomb at Walmart.

28. Although we have a specific cultural malady, mental illness is, of course, experienced by all ages of all people in all countries. Without guns, you can’t easily enact slaughter. Full stop.

29. Any time anyone walks into an establishment with a gun and body bags are required in the aftermath, it’s an act of terror.

30. All it would take is one shooting spree in the United States Capitol to ensure extreme action was immediately taken.

31. Anyone in congress expressing condolences without mentioning the word “guns” should be shamed from office. Anyone in congress expressing condolences who has accepted money from the NRA should be shamed from American citizenship.

32. In America, the only thing more powerful and effective than money is shaming. Call on any and all elected officials to return their soiled money, or send it to the families of victims.

33. Guess what? Here’s a list of GOP senators who voted against ensuring people on terror watch lists can’t buy firearms. (Props to journalist Ivor Volsky for doing heavy lifting in the service of exposing this illimitable hypocristy.)

34. It takes considerably more time and effort to adopt a dog that’s facing being euthanized than it is to purchase a firearm in America.

35. Seriously, America is the only place this happens.

36. This is the single best (and hilarious, to boot) take on America’s unique gun psychosis.

37. I’d rather have a limb hacked off than be censored in any way. That said, Hollywood has a lot more blood on its hands than anyone acknowledges.

38. Video game manufacturers too.

39. Enough with the accommodations and equivocations, let’s treat—for a start—gun manufacturers the way we treat cigarette companies.

40. Start taxing the shit out of organized religions. Why? Because the same type of illogic and—be clear—highly organized, orchestrated and effective propaganda keeps these institutions unregulated and unaccountable.

41. In our society, police forces have become more martial and intimidating in direct proportion with our dread of potential danger posed by anything “Other”—inexorably people who aren’t white. This is not coincidental.

42. An average of seven children under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.

43. Read this.

44. Just like actually speaking to issues of economic inequality and the dissipation of a healthy American working class (and commensurate wages) is politically viable, action on gun violence will attract, not repel voters.

45. Seriously, Democrats have been paralyzed for the last half-century by the ludicrous trepidation to offend a constituency that wouldn’t, under any circumstances, vote for them anyway.

46. Whatever you want to say about Obama, this is what he had to say on June 1.

47. This is what the presumptive nominee for the Republican party had to say in the wake of the single biggest gun-related massacre in American history: dt48. At one point in our nation’s history, women’s suffrage, civil rights—first for women, then racial minorities, then gays and lesbians—were all considered insurmountable obstacles, politically suicidal, and, a special bonus, “endorsed” by biblical scripture. Progress is inevitable, so long as people clamor (and are willing to work) for it.

49. If we can’t set the bar at the embarrassingly low level of getting the AR-15 banned from civilian ownership, we are officially the Roman Empire, super-sized and on Soma.

50. William Carlos wrote “It is difficult to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day for lack of what’s found there.” That’s always worth remembering.

*This piece originally appeared in The Weeklings on 6/14/16.

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Bernin’ For You

 

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I’m…

Don’t say it.

I’m F…

Don’t say it!

I’m Feel…

Don’t say it!!

I’M FEELING THE BERN!

Are you serious?

I’m as serious as the heart attack The Establishment is about to have!

Well, you know what they say…

What’s that?

Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.

Love is all around us.

Are you serious?

What’s the problem?

You mean other than Bernie Sanders can’t get elected?

Yes, other than that.

The other party is imploding and you want to hand them the election?

We’re not handing them shit. This country is not going to elect Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

But why take the chance?

What if going with Hillary turns out to be the losing bet?

That’s what you said in ’08.

Exactly.

Don’t you want the next president to be able to get anything done?

That’s my favorite argument: that anyone is naïve enough to think the Republicans are going to work with Hillary!

At least we know what they’re going to throw at Hillary. They’ve already done it.

I’ve got several hundred million Koch dollars that say you ain’t seen anything yet.

At least we know what we’ve got with Hillary.

If we wanted half-measures, we should have just voted for Hillary in ’08.

It might have worked out better…

Better? Hillary would have one-and-done Jimmy Carter style and been beaten like Mondale.

No. Hillary getting elected would have killed the GOP. Just the fact of her in office would have annihilated the entire Republican party.

Actually, she would have energized them for a generation.

No, she would have won. The Clintons always win!

Except in ’08.

Okay, fine. But why not get on board now?

I can’t.

Why not?

Because that’s what the Republicans always do.

Do what?

Going with the safe bet; going with the Establishment choice.

They’re not doing it this time.

Yes, and it’s going to cause them to lose in historic fashion!

Not if idiots like you make a Socialist the nominee.

Democratic Socialist.

Full-on Mao Communist by the Time Fox News is finished with him.

Fuck Fox News!

No. Fox News fucks you. That’s the history of the last two decades in a nutshell.

Those days are over.

Those days have scarcely begun.

It’s different this time.

That’s what you suckers say every four years.

You’ll see.

What is your problem with Hillary?

Nothing. If she wins the nomination, I’m behind her 100%.

Why not now?

She wants it too badly, which is alarming. She expects it, which is insulting.

Can’t you say that about any candidate?

No. Her husband wanted it more badly than breathing, but he never expected it. Dubya expected it, but his life wouldn’t have ended had he lost. Obama cut the balance.

So what’s Bernie’s secret?

He is allowing the people who want it badly to make the difference.

You mean like Ralph Nader?

No, this is different (and that is insulting).

What’s different?

Well, for starters, look at his poll numbers.

Well…

And, um, how about his showing in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Well…

And the fact that, from jump, Nader knew he was playing spoiler, at best. Also, fuck Ralph Nader. And fuck Gore for not fighting harder. And double-fuck him for running a campaign that made Dukakis look competent. And fuck Scalia and the rest of the so-called Constitutionalists for handing the election to Bush, just like the founding fathers intended…

Look, I’m all for fairy tales and rainbows, but I’m also about reality.

What’s unrealistic about the most grotesquely wealthy country on the planet investing in its own?

It’s unrealistic because it can’t happen.

It has happened.

A long time ago.

Yes, and even a long time ago, it was the result of struggle, and a politician who was willing to fight the special interests.

You mean FDR?

Yes, I also mean Teddy Roosevelt.

That was a long time ago.

You know what Obama could, and should, have done, at any point during his first six years?

What?

Borrowed the “I welcome their hatred” speech from FDR.

He did the best he could with what he had.

No, at first he was too cocksure everyone would go along with him, then he was unwilling to get his bully pulpit on, and he only started fighting back once he’d been already been shat on for three years.

So a rational, moderate liberal can’t get it done, but a full blown Socialist can?

Yes, you’re falling into the trap again. It’s not because Obama really wanted it, it’s because he was too easily corrupted, too easily cowed, too easily distracted. I’m not saying he didn’t do his best for the most part, but do you actually believe he really wanted it, like up in the middle of the night agonizing over it?

So you’re going to fall for this Sanders flavor of the month shtick?

Sanders has been walking the walk for decades.

So has Hillary.

Sure, she’s evolved, and fought the pretty-good fight. But Sanders was marching for minorities, women and gays when Hillary was still a confused Republican. (Also, let’s not rehash the policies from the Clinton years that hurt employment, fucked minorities and opened the casino doors to the Wall Street shitshow that crashed our economy.)

Look, every Democrat can get behind the spirit of what Sanders is saying…

I think Hillary—and her supporters—are incredibly wrong to assume voters, especially young or undecided voters, are going to be swayed by caution and the same formula that fails to work in every mid-term election.

It’s not Hillary’s fault she isn’t exciting.

No one gives a shit about that. Do you think people find Bernie Sanders exciting? It’s what he’s saying and the lack of fucks he has to give that is resonating with liberals and, quite possibly, people who usually tune politics out.

People get scared of what they don’t know.

No, people get enthusiastic about what they never knew was possible. Bernie’s support thus far has already proven that.

Hillary isn’t promising people magic and dreams.

No, she’s promising that she’s going to tack to the center even quicker and more naturally than Obama did. And that’s why she’s not inspiring people. Don’t blame the people who fail to be impressed that she hasn’t been impressive.

What if Bernie has already hit his ceiling?

Bernie hasn’t even begun yet. Wait until the mainstream media can no longer ignore or further marginalize what he’s accomplishing.

What makes you so sure?

We know Democrats tend to sit at home during mid-terms. Do you think the debacle of this last cycle that might have had something to do with that load of craven, faux-centrist shitheads running away from Obamacare and trying to split the difference between tea-party lunatics?

So they won’t sit it out this time?

Have you seen the crowds Sanders is getting?

Are they sustainable?

Here’s the thing. We know Democrats get demoralized, especially when they’re offered the same old shit. But how about the fact that Republicans undoubtedly sit out too? Maybe a whole lot of them. Maybe the ones who are, at long last, fed up with being taken for granted and generally fucked over during the last three decades, but pandered to every four years, and every time jobs go overseas and wages freeze and their kids are sent to ill-advised wars and their water is poisoned and they’re told how great America really is, maybe some of these otherwise impossible to reach old and young red state voters might find someone who’s actually telling them precisely what he’d do and exactly who he won’t work with and how his policies will tangibly improve their lives. Maybe this is proof that all the inside-the-beltway, elitist Democratic strategists with their lobbyist friends buying them dinner are entirely wrong and being forever surrounded by career consultants, like Hillary, is exactly why she suddenly finds herself battling for her life against Bernie Sanders.

Won’t you feel silly even if Bernie gets elected and none of his promises are attainable?

You know what I think is silly? Not prosecuting a single Wall Street executive. Insisting that it was way too soon to have reasonable and belated action taken on same-sex marriage (thanks again, Joe Biden!). Going to the negotiating table meeting intransigent Republicans half-way to the farthest right position (then getting shut down), and making that mistake time after time throughout the better part of two terms.

But what if little of what Sanders talk about is achievable?

By moving the conversation to the left and resetting the terms of the debate, he’ll be doing, at long last, what the GOP has been doing for their cause since 1980. If nothing else, Sanders will work toward a very overdue recalibration.

If he helps Hillary be more outspoken about liberalism, isn’t that a good thing?

It’s not a bad thing. But the fact that it requires Bernie’s presence to persuade her speaks volumes about why people are flocking to Sanders.

But at the end of the day, we’re not Europe.

We’re not Europe. We’re not even America anymore, as we once knew it. And just accepting the very least we should expect from representative government is neither tolerable nor sustainable.

I still think you’re dreaming.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

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This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 2/19/16.

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