“This guy is dangerously unhinged. And, for all the things people have said about me over the years, I should be able to spot Dangerously Unhinged.”
–Glenn Beck, regarding Donald Trump
One day and counting. In thirty-six anxiety-soaked hours we are likely to have an idea of who will be the next President of the United States of America and, quite possibly, an indication of whether the “Great American Experiment” has failed. It is not an exaggeration to consider that the viability of long-term, large-scale representative democracy faces a symbolic referendum when the polls open tomorrow morning. Really.
Full disclosure: while Hillary Clinton wasn’t my original candidate of choice, I’ve come to respect her for her dogged perseverance in the face of ludicrous assaults — most notably the Benghazi embassy attack (blamed for security lapses following years of repeated funding reductions dictated by Republicans) and even more absurd email server hyperbole (in which her actions were perfectly legal and in keeping with historic precedents set by preceding republican administrations) –and, from her opponent and his allies, an unceasing hurricane of foaming-mouthed lies and invective. Through it all she stuck to her points, refused to sink to the barbaric tones being vomited from the other side, and maintained her dignity. She is a solid, if not particularly exciting candidate, and I mean her no disrespect when I say that I would vote for just about anyone standing against the craven demagogue the Republicans shat out as their choice this time around.
What I won’t be doing is voting for a third party candidate, nor can I respect the naive idealists determined to write in Bernie Sanders, or the clenched-jaws anti-system warriors getting ready to darken the oval next to Jill (Who?) Stein, that Libertarian guy, the other libertarian guy, or anyone from any hopped-up semi-serious party with an ax to grind and an interview to give — not even New Hampshire’s Vermin Supreme who, despite his considerable list of eccentricities, would still make a far superior President than would the Republicans’ resident Oompaloompa.
I just can’t help but look down my nose at the hubris of candidates, and their supporters, who materialize from the deep ether every four years as candidates for “third” (or fourth, fifth, sixth…) parties, but not because I’m satisfied with the very, very limited menu we’re given.
The idea of an outsider candidate, and the daydream of tearing down American political orthodoxy and building anew in the shadow of its ruins, is enticing, even intoxicating. Given the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and its progressive influence on Clinton’s centrist core, I know I’m not alone. Sanders was, of course, the ideal candidate — a morally clean, long-tenured independent with a track record of walking the walk and a willingness to brandish big ideas. It may take another 20 years before we see someone possessing anything close to his tangibles — and therein lies the problem.
That person is surely not Jill Stein or Gary Roberts any more than it has been Ross Perot or the boob from Sunday morning television — what was his name? Pat Buchanan. Or Jerry Brown, or Ralph Nader, who despite being the best of the bunch, fell far short of what was needed to grind out a viable candidacy. Some of these people may have made perfectly adequate leaders, but the problem isn’t really them. They’re guilty by association. Who walks into an office and expects to be considered as a contender for any job with no experience and no background?
Some (mostly young) friends still chide me about “making a stand” and “sending a message” about the two-party system, and tell me that the stakes are always going to be high, and that at some point we need to accept short term losses — and the disastrous administrations that follow — as inevitable examples of losing battles but winning wars.
My grandfather would have called that a cockamamie idea. To me, it is just misguided, ignorant bullshit. Not only does that philosophy overlook the long-ranging tumult that would follow a Trump presidency — the likelihood of three (3!) far-right supreme court justice appointments alone would generate waves of regressive, authoritarian influence thirty years into the future, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the adoption of climate change denial as a federal policy, the dissolution of military and trade alliances and alienation from those allies, increased economic stratification, and — though it is seldom talked about — the chilling revocation of first amendment free speech rights, the very cornerstone of our nation. Not only are these things — and the many other frightening changes that will quickly go into place — not worth the dissolution of the two-party precedent in American politics, they are changes from which a society never recovers. Indeed, we are facing the prospect of Trump’s “America Is Not Great” mantra as self-fulfilling prophecy.
None of this means that we do not desperately need louder and more varied opposition. I’m skeptical of multi-party governments in general, given the necessity of building political alliances and coalitions — a process that is somewhat approximated by the state elections and nominating conventions — but clearly we will benefit, particularly on the left, from more influence going to viable outliers, much in the way that the Republicans have their Teabaggers and their Evangelicals. Still, it is arrogant for advocates of these factions to demand a seat at the big table “just because.”
Voters will start taking third parties seriously when they begin to take the process seriously. That means no candidacies that are “sending a message.” When I see a viable candidate, with a history of vigorous civic engagement from the ground up, I’ll listen. In the mean time, I demand more work earning this legitimacy and viability. That means serving on local and regional commissions and boards as volunteers, running for and winning local elections right down to the level of school boards and town councils, mayors and commissioners — while identifying themselves and proponents of their ideologies. That is how the parties can be built, by legitimizing them in the community’s perceptions while building candidates who rise into state houses, leaderships, then congress, then the Senate, governorships, and on. Throwing out a didactic intellectual every 4 years to keep up the status quo really isn’t striving for much more than meeting the lowest requirements for parties to remain on the ballots — which is good for those working for a party, but gives nothing to the folks who support it.
In the “Big Government” Guide to Relationships, how do you know when the girl breaking up with you is Republican? Because she says, fully expecting this to make it better, “It’s not me, it’s you.”
I’m sticking my head out of my rabbit hole…or, to be more regionally themed, let’s call it a Groundhog Hole, in honor of my neighbor to the north, the venerable Punxsy Phil? I didn’t go into the hole to hibernate, rodent-style, but to focus on the oh so slowly progressing final draft of the part-time novel. My slothlike pace notwithstanding, the novel is going well enough, though somewhat hindered by age: I fall asleep more easily and more often, rendering the old caffeine-fueled process of long-hour writing binges impossible. I’ll be fifty years old in a few weeks, and I seem to be fucking immune to caffeine, which is grim. Many of you who stop by here are writers of some sort or another; you must understand?
The Groundhog Hole. If you’ve never been to Gobbler’s Knob, where Phil makes his annual prognostication, here’s the scene. The Hole is not a hole at all, but a sort of hutch that Phil is taken to from his nice warm full time home at the local library. It is usually bitterly cold and dark, and the hutch is surrounded by thousands of mostly drunk and/or stoned revelers and fanatics and the proverbial shit-tonne of media. Phil is shoved in the back door of the hutch and prodded in the ass until he lurches into the glare of dozens of film crews and hundreds of flash bulbs. Sometimes he freezes in place–like that groundhog you hit with your Buick last spring–or tries to lunge to one side or another. That means an early spring. A late and bitter winter is predicted when he recoils back into the hutch, horrified by the spectacle outside.
That’s pretty much what I’m facing, poking my head out of my own Groundhog Hole–horror. And not like any old horror; we’re talking Heart of Darkness horror.
I maintained a pretty good attitude about the USA’s political mess for the longest time, and resolved to double down on the novel specifically because I didn’t want to get caught up in the whole thing. It took me a while to get over Bernie Sanders’ loss, and during that time I determined to sit back and revel at the comedy of it all, and from that perspective, Bilious Billionaire Donald Trump has not disappointed. From a primary that so many of us quickly identified as a metaphorical clown car, the 2016 election has exploded into a full-scale circus.
Well, it hasn’t been funny for a while. When my wife and I sat down to watch the third and final debate last night I did so with a distinctly queasy stomach. Trump isn’t the first politician to elicit a distinctly negative physical response. Gingrich and Cheney come to mind, but the smugly pseudo-intellectual serial philanderer and the robotic hate-bucket pale in comparison to the utterly hideous Trump. I look at him and I want to vomit. Then I want to beat him into submission.
I hate bullies and I hate dumb people who lie to my face when we both know they’re lying. I hate spoiled, entitled pricks; and I hate people whose sheer awfulness compels me to feel that feeling–hate. Growing up, my mom always took me to task for using that word–hate–loosely. “Now that’s an awfully strong word,” was her line. Did I really hate this person or that person?
Sorry mom, I hate Trump. I’d like to beat his stained, flaccid face to pulp–and not in the least because I know that I could. And I can’t help but wonder if that makes me the bully?
The impulse disturbs me. Is the violent disdain I feel for Trump what bullies feel when they’re seeking a vulnerable target, picking a victim to cut out of the herd? I imagine pummeling the man, his scrawny country-club limbs flapping like something between duck wings and tyrannosaurus arms, and I know it’s ugly, but the smug arrogance, the classification and ensuing dismissal of entire broad swaths of my fellow Americans, begs for it. Maybe the thing about Trump is that he plays so much like he’s a tough guy, when he’s really just another prissy, pasty rich guy. Who disagrees? Who wouldn’t want to knuckle-wipe that smug, entitled smirk from his face?
Fortunately, I have no access to Trump, no chance of being close enough to him that he couldn’t run away and, even if I did, I have something he could never understand: impulse control. (Take note, Secret Service) Of course, should he happen to hear about my daydream beatdown and seek to call my bluff, I’d be more than happy to oblige.
And, finally–and even more importantly–the one element of a prototypical bullying scenario is missing from the electoral dynamic. A bully seeks a weak victim, and thus far Trump has come up empty. Secretary Clinton, an imperfect candidate on her best day, has proven more than capable of standing up for not only herself but for the countless demographic groups Trump despises. Thus far she has delivered repeated metaphorical beatings of her own–reminding me of the viral video in which the snotty little kid is mercilessly hounding a big, gentle boy right up to the point where the soft kid picks the douchey little kid up and body slams him.
In case you missed it, Trump is the douchey little kid, and just like that punk, when he staggers back to his feet he’s crying like a baby.
Since we’re slogging knee deep through a year of ridiculous campaigners, I thought I’d roll out this post on a serious candidate’s most ridiculous moment. And all ye gods, goddesses and l’il baby godlets, please bless The Onion, from whence this came.
Image from…”a campaign stop for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis: a ride in a 68-ton M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. The visit, meant to bolster the candidate’s credibility as a future commander-in-chief, would go down as one of the worst campaign backfires in history.”
Not long ago I decided that I would enter the same comment beneath every article, essay, or blog post that mentions his name, no matter how humorous or interesting or disgusting Three short words that echo his nuanced, thoughtful response to the great issues of our day:
F*ck Donald Tr*mp.
It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s as straight to the point as a giant wall in the desert.
F*ck Donald Tr*mp.
Try it. The sensation is a little heady, a little intoxicating, like four shots of smooth, cheap Canadian whiskey poured over a couple of ice cubes in a cool, wide highball glass.
F*ck Donald Tr*mp
You really want to get in on this, to be part of this movement from the ground floor. Imagine a world in which every media mention of him was followed by a cacophonous roar of
F*ck Donald Tr*mp.
It would be just like every day was Christmas, and what a wonderful world that would be.
and here I go:.Fuck Donald Trump. In fact, I”m going to make a post of it, maybe try to start a movement….
The United States does not have a choice as to whether or not it will or will not play a great part in the world. Fate has made that choice for us. The only question is whether we will play the part well or badly.
— Theodore Roosevelt
If you read me regularly, you know that I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, the “last great Republican” who, arguably, was more responsible than any other single person for the grand switch that turned the Republican Party–the power brokers of which regarded TR as a class traitor– towards corporatism, and headed the Democratic Party, in word if not deed, towards populism. That’s how the party of Lincoln became the party of Nixon. The evolution of the Democratic Party is a little more complex, largely due to it’s entanglement in race politics of the south.
In simplest terms, the millionaire President, disgusted by his party’s betrayal of his populist legacy, ran for election under the canopy of a third party, the Bull Moose Party, drawing many of the most moderate Republicans with him. Democrat Woodrow Wilson easily defeated the fragmented opposition. Following the election, the Bull Moose supporters either joined the Democrats or, chastened, skulked back to the Republicans.
As flawed as any man, Roosevelt was not only an idealist, but an iconoclast–a leader with no fear of doing what he felt was right (even when that “right” meant invading Cuba pretty much because it was convenient, and seemed like fun). He was not afraid to embrace the disdain of his peers, and a stubborn son of a bitch in just about every sense of the word. I started thinking about him yesterday, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie–a candidate with much of the oratorical bluster but none of the substance, conviction, or verity and integrity of TR– declared himself as the 14th candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination.
It occurred to me then, that across just the two major parties there are now sixteen hopefuls running for possible election, and if the vote was held today I’d have to defer. What has become of our country that we have so few viable leaders. What does is say that Bill Clinton, with his severely questionable personal choices, shines in comparison to to the ineffective and unremarkable George W. Bush? That even while Barack OBama has accomplished a few things domestically, his management of our middle east entanglements falls somewhere between naive, inept, and highly questionable (drone kills, kill lists, domestic surveillance….), and his most notable accomplishments have occurred not by gathering popular support, but by fiat and litigation–all of it timed to fall after he was free of the possibility of political fallout? To be blunt, he waited until things were safe before he extended himself. Roosevelt would have pushed in his first term.
*Beginning Today, Wednesday Word of Wisdom will be called, simply, Wednesday Words–making for less unwieldy titles and more flexibility in the type or tenor of quotes I include.
In honor of Rick Santorum’s potential run (yet again) for the White House, I offer my very favorite cut and paste tribute to the spasmodically homophobic zealot. If this isn’t the best headline, maybe ever….
Rick Santorum. If you know me, or read this blog often, you know I’m not a fan, and I haven’t been since well before he slithered onto the national stage after his vicious and duplicitous campaign against Harris Wofford for a senate seat twenty years ago. It was an ugly, negative campaign–beyond negative, it was brutal and desperately misleading, and it paid off. The upright, distinguished Wofford, whose achievements dated back to the Kennedy administration and included the establishment of the Peace Corps, refused to play tit for tat, sticking to his vow to campaign on the issues and refusing to shrink to the level of Santorum’s shrill and angry personal attacks. When Santorum ultimately won, his campaign staff scheduled a celebration the day after the election–in the lobby of the office building where Wofford’s campaign headquarters was located, forcing the Wofford’s staff to walk through catcalls and taunts in order to go home that afternoon. It was outrageous, and it’s not anecdotal–I was there in the Federated Tower in downtown Pittsburgh that November afternoon in 1994. I’ve despised the guy–not only for his politics, but for his angry, hysterical persona. When he compared homosexuality to bestiality I wasn’t surprised, nor was I surprised when a reporter discovered that after his election Santorum moved his entire family to suburban Virginia, hiding the fact from the school district where he’d lived in Pennsylvania so they would keep paying cyber school tuition for his children. Yep, this was the same Santorum who worked himself up to a lather denigrating single mothers who received benefits, and who desperately wanted to cut off social security benefits to folks under the age of 70, conning the system. Nobody familiar with him was surprised.
I was thrilled to learn he’d be running again–he’s unelectable, of course, and his backers support him primarily as a tool through which the debates for the republican primary may be swayed to the right–because he’s a car crash waiting to happen every time he steps in front of a microphone, a stereotype of of thew swarmy, insincere politician conning his core constituency (white, racist, homophobic, teabagger christians) by playing to their fears and hatreds. If you’ve ever seen the brilliant political satire “Bob Roberts,” you’ll recognize a lot of Santorum as a living, breathing example of the disingenuous, cynical, power-mad con-man/politician whose willingness to crawl in the darkest, dankest mud and slime and shit in order to grab a taste of power.
More later. (I have to go spend the day shopping for prom gowns. Really.)