Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Two weeks after the Apocalypse

Yesterday morning I spoke on the phone with Rogelio, a mellow, slow-talking childhood friend from Cuba who after I mentioned Donald J. Trump raised his voice several decibels and erupted into a torrent of expletives not suitable for a family blog like this. He said he hadn't slept the night of the election and had felt nauseous the day after, before skidding into nearly a weeklong depression.

His reaction was typical but probably the most extreme was that of a friend who said she was so upset she ate a whole pecan pie right out of the box. She is still cursing Trump, two weeks after the election.

To say we are all just sore losers is a false and unfair equivalence. I was disappointed when George Bush Sr. defeated Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988, particularly after the racist Willie Horton ad aired by the Republicans; dismayed when the U.S. Supreme Court handed the election to George W., in 2000 even though Al Gore had won the popular vote; and doubly dismayed when Bush was reelected in 2004, with the catastrophic, multi-trillion-dollar Iraq War already thundering in the background. I'm sure Republican friends were angry too when the Kenyan-born Barack Obama was elected and reelected. But we all accepted the results and moved on.

This is different. For all the faults and misjudgments of the Bush father-and-son team, and later Obama, they were basically honorable people with political agendas we didn't agree with. Now we've turned the presidency to an out-and-out racist, xenophobe and misogynist, who lies almost as often, and as casually, as he breathes. It feels as if he is about to desecrate the highest office and the White House, bringing along, for added insult, a former topless model to pose as First Lady.

Michelle and Barack, whatever your faults, we're going to miss you.

The first reaction Stew and I experienced after the election was the usual stage of grief—denial. Not that we didn't believe Trump had won but that we could shield ourselves against that reality by not watching or reading any news. We even abandoned the PBS News Hour, then headed by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, our favorite news team. To worsen matters a notch, Ifill died unexpectedly a few days after the election.

Then, for a moment, I embraced the "accepting the things we cannot change" fatalism proposed by some. But I don't buy that. I like Rogelio's rage much better—if only a bit more focused than yelling at friends on the phone, and seasoned with some historical perspective and even optimism.

Indeed, both Rogelio and I came to the U.S. in the early sixties and since then have witnessed this American democracy that is now our home go through some awful, seemingly catastrophic crises that would have plunged a lesser country into dictatorship or civil war.

Think of it: Today is the fifty-third anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, which was followed by the killings of his brother and of Martin Luther King, and attempts on two more presidents. The political fabric of the country was ripped by race riots, wars, domestic terrorists, and seemingly unbridgeable political chasms. All this may seem like distant history but should reassure and help us get through this latest low point.

A starting point is a searching, bipartisan post-mortem of how our political discourse has turned so poisonous and illogical. How did working class Americans, who for decades were well served by labor unions embrace a Republican party—think Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—that has set out to undermine or destroy labor unions? Or how did Democrats—think Bill and Hillary Clinton—join hands with Republicans to become shills of Wall Street interests that led directly to the economic debacle of 2008 that punched middle-class Americans right in the gut? Why do Republicans, historical supporters of open markets and free trade, now talk about walls and trade wars? And hey, didn't Sen. John McCain and liberal Democratic paladin Sen. Ted Kennedy co-sponsor a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2005? And didn't Ayn Rand—libertarian goddess and guiding light of Rep. Paul Ryan—vehemently defend personal freedoms, including the right of a woman to choose whether to have abortion?

It's a screwy political era we live in, no doubt, in which winning at any cost trounces reason, principles or comprehension of other points of view. As Toni Morrison eloquently wrote in The Nation, "...when the political discourse is shredded by an unreason and hatred so deep that vulgar abuse seems normal, disaffection rules. Our debates, for the most part, are examples unworthy of a playground: name-calling, verbal slaps, gossip, giggles, all the while the swings and slides of governance remain empty."

To pull political discourse from the present swamp we'll need new leaders, probably some unknown to us right now. I wouldn't dare to propose any Republican candidates except there has to be a better lineup than the cavalcade of clowns we witnessed during the primaries, like Texas vacuum tube Gov. Rick Perry and others who just refuse to go away. Republicans need candidates who can articulate an economic and political platform that stands on something other than attacks on groups of Americans deemed to be different—be they immigrants, gays and lesbians, blacks or Muslims—that promote the discord that has led us to the present conundrum. If the emerging Trump cabinet is any indication, Republicans are a long ways from that ideal.

The Democrats too, need to find some new leadership and quit pretending that a jigsaw puzzle of special interests equals the national interest. Clinton, smart and capable as she may be, was no such inspirational figure. Instead she was a bruised and battered warrior with a sense of entitlement that it was "her turn." Millions voted for her with resignation rather than enthusiasm. To paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, "Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine, and Hillary, you're no Jack Kennedy."  Who the new Kennedy might be isn't clear. The Democrats have just four years to find him or her.

But perhaps the most essential but challenging ingredient to a political renewal is a sense of individual and communal compassion. The coal miners in West Virginia are not "deplorables" or white trash, but working folk desperately clinging to the only way of making a living they know. Mexican immigrants, even those who are undocumented, are not rapists or criminals but people who work to bring you the cheap and wonderful fruits and vegetables that you demand at Whole Foods. Muslims hanging on to sinking boats in the Mediterranean are not all fearsome terrorists but the latest image of souls trying to survive a horrible situation, just like the boat people from Cuba, Haiti or Vietnam, or the Ellis Island hordes that included Stew's parents from Norway.

If the rage, disgust and exhaustion most Americans feel after the recent presidential cycle is channeled into compassion for each other and a faith in the proven history, it can pull us out of this mess, I'm sure. We've done it before.

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14 comments:

  1. Your response mirrored mine. Grief and denial. Very painful. I think both parties (since so many Republicans don't like him either) will be taking a hard look at themselves and hopefully the needs of respectable people who felt left behind by our economy and lashed out this way. Then, maybe something good can come out of this.

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    1. I share and applaud your optimism. It may be that the country is headed for a realignment rather than endless conflict.

      al

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  2. Trump was not my first, second nor third choice to represent our party. But he is a far sight better than Ms. Clinton. He will not take us into a war with Russia or China. He will not sell us out for a few bucks.
    I wish people would listen to what he says, and not what CNN or MSNBC say he says. He is not a bigot, not a racist and not an anti semite. His daughter, son in law and their kids are practicing Jews.
    Give him a chance! The interest of our nation are his primary concern. We cannot allow unrestrained immigration from the Middle East. We have to know who is living here and why they are here.
    After the election, people in the neighborhood were concerned they would be deported. They are not murders, rapist or criminals. They have nothing to fear. The media is still on their "Trump is awful" rant. We need to speak up when their broadcast licenses come up for review. We need to shut down the lie machines.

    Robert Gill
    Phoenix, AZ

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    1. Robert, you probably shouldn't begin your note by titling it "Anonymous", then signing your name at the bottom. There's a conflict there somewhere.

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    2. The biggest problem I find with Trump is his lack of clear ideological moorings: His policies are often more stream-of-consciousness rather than the result of thoughtful analysis of the problems. He already has abandoned his vow to "jail Hillary" and rethinking his stance on climate change, before even taking the oath of office.

      I expect that post-campaign realities are going to force him to shift gears on a number of other issues.

      The Wall? Wait until someone, maybe the Army Corps of Engineers, puts pencil to paper and figures out the logistical issues (a great deal of the land is privately owned, for one thing) plus the multi, multi-billion price tag.

      Deporting millions of undocumented immigrants? Maybe the Georgia onion growers, Michigan and Washington State apple producers, the owners of the chicken processing plants and packing houses in the Midwest, and the vast vegetable farms in California—just some of the industries that depend on Mexican immigrants—may have something to say about that, as may the consumers of those products who expect cheap prices that come from cheap immigrant labor.

      Tear up the Iran nuclear treaty? Has someone spoken with Boeing, which just signed an agreement to sell 80 passenger planes to the ayatollahs for billions of dollars?

      And so on. I don't deny there needs to be immigration reform and a rethinking of American foreign police which has given us non-stop wars for the past, twenty? thirty years? but this and many other issues need more thoughtful, nuanced solutions.

      As for "lie machines", the thought of the federal government going after media outlets because it does agree with what they say, is an non-negotiably bad idea. Remember the First Amendment, Robert.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to express your opinions (even though in this case I don't agree with most of them, LOL)

      al

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  3. To say this is an unusually good post is quite a compliment, since all of your posts are really good.

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    1. Thank you very much for your compliments. If I ever get elected president, which I doubt because I wasn't born in the U.S., I'll be sure to set aside a cabinet post for you.

      al

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  4. All you "liberals" should take a deep breath, exhale, look at the night sky, see all the stars and planets in their correct positions, and know that in time you will calm down and realize that President Trump is doing an excellent job. You will see your beloved minorities in positions of authority. He's already started. You will see women. You will see blacks. Heck, you might even see gays. You will see charter schools that improve education in the ghettos and elsewhere. You will see "sanctuary cities" fold like dominoes and begin to enforce law and order. You will see border enforcement improving -- something all nations should do if they expect to remain a nation. You will see lower taxes, higher take-home pay, and you'll see a more rational health-care system. Believe it. Be patient. Quit name-calling.

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    1. Felipe: May all, or most, of your wishes come true, particularly the last part about lower taxes and a more rational health-care system!

      You're right that at this point, friends or foes have no choice but to give our prospective president (hold your horses, he hasn't taken office yet) the benefit of the doubt.

      What I worry about most are the deep divisions in the country. Remember that the much-loathed Hillary received a vote plurality of about 1.5 million votes, and that some of the rabble in the American netherworld (neo-Nazis, racists, white supremacists, alt-Right etc.) have taken the Trump victory as license to take matters into their own hands. I hope Trump rises to the occasion and tries to unite the country.

      al

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  5. Since many states now give drivers' licenses to "undocumented immigrants" and since many states only require a DL identification to vote, not proof of citizenship, and since there are millions of "undocumenteds" in the U.S., how much of the Hillary plurality was legit is impossible to know. They would have all voted for Hillary.

    On a separate matter, haven't you noticed the seas of white space below your posts? It's particularly big on this one. It's due to your hitting the return key repeatedly. Back up your cursor to the end of the post before "publishing" and that won't happen. A matter of aesthetics, young man. Enjoy the day. You don't have to pass this along to the comments if you don't wish. I won't be offended.

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  6. Your string of observations about undocumented immigrants tilting in favor of Hillary is provocative but unfortunately held together only by self-serving speculation.

    There is no credible proof whatsoever that there is large-scale voter fraud in the U.S. On the contrary a number of court decisions that have annulled onerous registration requirements that disproportionately targeted minority voters. See the recent North Carolina case (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/appeals-court-strikes-down-north-carolinas-voter-id-law/2016/07/29/810b5844-4f72-11e6-aa14-e0c1087f7583_story.html)

    To require proof of citizenship (passports? birth certificates?) is crazy and would only further depress voter turnout).

    As for superfluous carriage returns, thank you for the observation. I think I fixed it. No one had mentioned it before.

    Alfredo

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  7. The Greens are asking for a recount in a few swing states. They think something is hanky with the voting system. The paper and the electronic voting machines are spitting out an anomaly in what would be statistically normal. Can't hurt to check. There was enough hacking before the election to spit up a fifty pound hairball. Who knows if the Russians or even our trusty FBI maybe took a flyer, it can't hurt to check...

    A lot of the wing nut Trump voters are shunning me-I just do not care. They elected a nut. nk

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