Thursday, September 29, 2016


Two news stories this morning: the first is the San Diego cops shooting the Requisite Unarmed Black Guy in the Requisite Parking Lot with the Usual Woman screaming (while filming) that he’s unarmed and not to shoot. 

The cops were loaded down with a handgun each, Taser, pepper spray, baton, handcuffs, and knife,yet apparently were in fear for their life. So they shot the guy.

The second story is about Donald Trump scrambling like a cat on a hot tin roof as he both denies that he gave a lousy performance in the first debate with Hillary Clinton, and blames everyone but himself for the lousy performance he apparently didn’t give. Amongst the blam-ees are an ex-beauty pageant queen of twenty years ago and a couple of sound technicians.

I dislike both these stories so much that I realized I was conflating them in my mind, perhaps so that I could more easily digest the facts. And in so doing, I came to an amazing realization. There are similarities between these two nightmares that persist in recurring.

Donald Trump and the cops, the cops and Donald Trump. Consider the following shared attributes:

BOTH ARE RACIST: Both institutions (I now consider Donald an institution, as who does not?) operate under a core racist tenet, while protesting that they do anything but.

BOTH ARE UTTERLY ILL-TRAINED FOR THE JOB THEY HAVE CHOSEN: Trump not only doesn’t know who or what the nuclear triad is but he shows no interest in learning what the actual job of President entails, or what a President can do versus Congress.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone who watches the news that the modern American beat cop is also untrained for their job in some pretty fundamental ways. Their job, in fact, is to keep the peace in the community they serve. That’s it. Unfortunately, anyone who watches the news knows that when our local law enforcement is asked to do anything more threatening than getting a cat out of a tree (or is that firemen?) their response is, simply, to kill. 

See a guy with a knife? Someone off their meds? Looking at you the wrong way? Holding what could be a gun, could be a shopping bag? Kill him. It avoids all that hassle of learning conflict resolution, or how to disarm a person who is flipping out, which I thought was part of police training.

A PROPENSITY TO BLAME OTHERS: Trump loves blaming everyone else, never once pointing the finger at himself. His other thing is to whine about people who “were really not nice to me” (in a Presidential campaign, yet) and therefore are going to “get it.”  

In many ways, the cops have mastered the same trick. Just as Trump calls up Fox and Friends after he’s made an ass of himself the day before, we always get the Police Chief at the Podium two hours after The Requisite Shooting of the Guy in the Street/Parking Lot. The chief almost always tells us they need the public to work with them and we must comply with how the police want us to behave or this kind of thing is bound to happen again. In other words, it’s our fault.

THEY’RE BOTH WOEFULLY ISOLATED FROM THE REAL WORLD: Just as Trump seems protected from reality by his family, his advisers, and the flunkies that work for him (“Every poll shows I won!”), the cops are equally isolated from reality, baffled as to why certain members of society aren’t grateful for the job they’re doing, seemingly unaware that today’s unjustified killing is coming after yesterday’s unjustified killing, and is only prelude to tomorrow’s and we're seeing it all (often in real time).

BOTH EXHIBIT AN INABILITY TO CHANGE: Trump shows amazing consistency on this score. His thing is to abuse vulnerable people over whom he has power, from the poor “Miss Piggy” beauty queen, to the African-American families that were denied housing in the Trump family rental units, to all the contractors who have been stiffed, to the unlucky suckers who maxed out their credit cards to “attend” Trump University, to the slave girls represented by the Trump modeling agency.

American law enforcement has, I’m sorry to say, a similar history. Images of Baton Rouge cops dragging peaceful protesters out into the street this summer reminded me of Sheriff Jim Clark sending his cops to brutalize civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, or the Chicago Police Department – long before Laquan McDonald – clubbing unarmed citizens at the 1968 Democratic convention.

Neither of these institutions deserve the whole-hearted respect or consideration they seek – in the case of the cops, from the citizenry they serve, in the case of Trump, from the citizenry he wishes to serve – until they clean up their act. 

For the cops, the first step toward that goal would be admitting there’s a nationwide problem in definition of their job, the training of their entire force, and implementation. For Trump? Perhaps just applying for a different job. Not, however, Commissioner of Police.

Monday, September 26, 2016


The taste of nothing in your mouth when you leave the movie theatre, trying to convince yourself that you really enjoyed what you have just seen (and at a quick $60 romp for you and two kids, popcorn included, you'll convince yourself you enjoyed anything), is due to one reality: movies cost too much.  They don’t need to cost too much – that’s another issue – but they cost too much, and as a result the studios make sure they appeal to as wide and broad a public as humanly possible.  And the minute you do that, in as diverse a culture as ours, things get... bland. 

It’s the same reason that Americans are so cautious about discussing real politics in local coffee shops: no one wants to offend.

The problem is that in order to have any bite, art, like politics, pretty much has to offend somebody.  Has to.  If it doesn’t, it will get steamrolled anyway.

Example: Pat Boone singing Love Letters in the Sand can’t be said to offend anyone.  Not really.  And it was a huge hit in 1957.  But Elvis came around the same year, offending almost half the country with his gyrations as he wrecked his vocal chords shouting Jailhouse Rock, just as punk came around to give Air Supply a knock twenty years later, praise Jesus.

More: in the early 1880’s, one of the most popular novels around was a thing called Hester, by Margaret Oliphant.  Don’t even bother to look it up.  Will Roland marry Hester?  Will Catherine throw a tea dance?  Will the two families come together?  Fortunately, rescue was in the offing: a weirdly tasteless polyglot of farce, low comedy, and poetry called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was to give us the declaratory and blasphemous line, “All right then, I’ll go to hell.”  Offending, I believe, everyone, perhaps even Satanists.

When I’m in an optimistic mood, I suspect this proves that people naturally rebel against too much good taste and decency; witness William Burroughs, the films of John Waters, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, all impressionist paintings, Debussy, and even Tennessee Williams. 

Right now, I’m in a darker mood.  I believe that as a society, contrary to popular belief, contrary to political blowhards trying and shock us and talk radio trying to outrage, we’re  currently stuck in one of the longest and most entrenched ages of dangerous conformity. 

There is no new music in my kids’ playlists that rebels against or speaks to any real subject of importance.  Mostly it’s about romance, boy-girl stuff, and reflects absolutely nothing about the time and place in which we live, or even the deeper questions about boy-girl stuff.

There are certainly no novels that threaten our status quo, no movies that are going to challenge (none that can reach an audience, anyway; those movie studios I mentioned earlier have to get their money back somehow, so the latest superhero trash edges out everything else), and you’re sure not going to hear real political discourse on cable television.  We even have commercials on the air about not judging... anyone.  Being fair to everyone.  No labels. 

Nice idea, but in our political correctness and fairness to all, we are listening to Love Letters in the Sand, and as long as no one takes our iPhone away, we’re going to continue to be happy to do so.   But there's a downside to this, perhaps even more dangerous than the class of 2017 listening to Taylor Swift in the Golden Meadows Senior's Home of the future.

The downside is that the only exception to the rule that I can come up right now is the current idiot running for President.  He certainly offends everyone, and that, I suspect, is his real appeal. He’s the Sex Pistols to Air Supply, and I am left to wonder how I wound up on the side of Air Supply. 

Maybe I know.  Right now, I’m scrawling this in a Starbucks, the dulcet tones of singer Jack Johnson washing over me from their speakers.  I ask myself, isn’t this the guy who did the Curious George soundtrack?  Yes, it is.  Which I bought. For my kids.  And I listened to it in my car for my own enjoyment.  See, it was just so easy...

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Kind of like dragging the lawnmower and weeding tools out of the garage in order to do undesired yardwork, I have to turn to Donald Trump, even if I simply don't want to. We are told we are living through an amazing time right now, and I simply don't want to be left out of any Amazing Time. So let me at it. With the first debate just around the corner (and maybe that should be capitalized too, given the importance laid on it, this First Debate), it's no time for me to be found wanting.

"Can you believe it?" 

This is all anyone says. In coffee shops, in Starbucks, casual exchanges in the grocery store line-up, even at the orthodontist’s office (kids, not me). This phrase -- "can you believe it?" -- means only one thing: Trump. It means they are as horrified by the possibility of this character as the President of the U.S. as, well, everyone else. However, as just about everyone who says "can you believe it?" is a registered voter, we have to assume that 43% of them are liars, that they can very much believe it, because who else is keeping this blowfish afloat? 

We are told it's the rednecks. If this is true, then the redneck vote has clearly been denigrated all these years; rednecks, it appears -- and who knew? -- will stick with you not just through thick and thin, or inanity and lies, but through famine and the flood. We should all be so lucky as to have friends who will literally come to blows to defend us when we can't find our taxes or we get caught for cheating... well, everyone. But of course the people I'm talking to in Starbucks aren't rednecks. They're regular people, and 43% of them are lying when they say, "Can you believe it?" 

(Actually, I believe more than 43% of them are lying. I believe something spooky like 48% of them or more are lying, because with a candidate so unappealing to those burdened with a college education, it's likely there are a lot of closet Trump voters who shudder at the thought of professing their views at the dinner party, so don't be surprised November 9 when this country gets the government it deserves, or pray that there are closet Hillary voters).

The Democrats and liberals like me are easy to understand. If you want to know what they think just turn on the Lawrence O'Donnell show on MSNBC and witness how it's morphed into "The Hate Hour" ("Goldstein Goldstein Goldstein!" from 1984, we shout quite happily). The other night, the atrocities were so great that for no reason at all, Lawrence got two full hours!

The Republicans -- or those who profess to be Republicans -- are, as usual, a much more interesting lot. While I called it in July 2015 that Trump would probably win the nomination and most likely the Presidency, I got the Republican reaction completely wrong. Real Republicans, apparently, despise Trump -- so don't worry on that score -- but for reasons that boggle the mind. The issue isn't that the man is an out-and-out fascist who can't spell the word, a Huey P. Long without the sincerity, a George Wallace without the conviction, and certainly the most oddly successful con man the country has ever known (even P.T. Barnum didn't dream of the Presidency); no, the problem is, he isn't a traditional conservative. That's right, he just doesn't swear by trickle-down economics. Deal with that for narrow-mindedness.

It's an amazing situation we find ourselves in. There is absolutely no proof that this man is anything that he says he is, and a great deal of reason to believe he is a con man guilty of actual fraud, and yet we have no legal recourse to demand more honest and accurate tax records -- or any records -- from him. He is, in fact, a sort of Professor Marvel as played by Frank Morgan in the "Wizard of Oz", minus the charm and integrity.

Capital endeavors such as the modeling agency with the slave girls are so sordid and seamy that one wonders how anyone can credit the notion of him as a captain of anything, little less industry. This seems such small beer, and it's so hard to imagine a Bloomberg or a Gates considering this a source of income, that it really tips the hat to the idea of Trump as a virtual bankrupt, ripping off 16-year-old eastern European beauties (and doing God knows what else with them) while charging the credit cards of "students" of Trump University. Meanwhile, there are the Trump steak knives and Trump ties in the trunk of the car. How in the world is he getting away with this?

Well, firstly, he's getting away with it because members of the Republican Party forgot that they were Americans first and partisans second. They birthed this idiot through birtherism, and are now literally willing to flush the Presidency and maybe this country's next four years down the toilet rather than lose this one, although, as I say, some are such soldiers to their ideology that they'll stand against him -- again, not because he's a disaster as a human being, but because he isn’t the God Reagan. 

Secondly, he's getting away with it because our education system is so abysmal that most people don't even know how the government works, including what the President does and doesn't do. It's just too complicated for them to think about, so when a snake oil salesman like Trump comes along and says he's going to make America great again "so much so that we're gonna get tired of winning, folks, we really are, we're gonna win so much" that they believe him! Even one compulsory civics course in high school might have steered us away from this particular iceberg. 

The last culprit, of course, is the press, which from the beginning didn't take Trump seriously because they know almost nothing about the country, about the real pain real people feel, the frustration, the hardship, and the sense of smallness in the face of implacable forces that they feel rightly, view them as a punchline. To wit, Obama, the king of Hope and Change, golfing with Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, utterly unaware how repugnant that image was, particularly to the 12 million Americans who lost their homes from 2008 to 2014. 

The main thing all this has done for us, however, is reveal the tremendous flaws in the American system. Trump could win. And if he wins, only an Article of Impeachment would remove him, which sets the high bar of proving High Crimes and Misdemeanors (well, maybe not so high for him), to say nothing of a compliant Congress. But even if it's pulled off, an impeachment sends the country into a spiral. So, therefore, the system is flawed.

Add to that what I'm calling the Nuremberg Principle. If Trump wins, there will be an entire generation of legislators and civil servants who will have to answer for how this all came about, and exactly what their role was in the Trump Administration. If Trump loses, that blood-letting will be reserved only for the Republican Party, but the damage will (with the acquiescence of Ted Cruz today) be almost universal. As a result, I have no idea who they're going to run in 2018 and 2020 or even if there's going to be a Republican party. That is not a good thing. 

What's most amazing for me, though, in the final analysis, is that Americans aren't running around pulling their hair out screaming, "MY GOD! THIS GUY COULD GET ELECTED! WE NEED A NEW CONSTITUTION!" No. It's just, "Can you believe this?" 

If this is an Amazing Time, we ought to act like it. 


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