Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What If?...Trump's America in 2018

Washington DC
July 4, 2018

For the fifth straight day President Trump has not appeared in public. The president was absent from all July 4th celebrations today, including public floggings of those accused of flag burning, a popular event for tourists on the National Mall and an event where Trump usually gets the crowd fired up in advance. Today those flogged had already been stripped of their citizenship by the National Tribunal, and are slated to be sent to the newly expanded prison at Guantanamo Bay. This time around the crowd was treated to a speech by Sean Hannity, the Director of National Morale.

There are a variety of theories as to the president’s situation, none of them confirmed as of yet. Because the White House press office was dissolved in 2017, it is very difficult for the BBC to get any clear word on what is happening. The president is still tweeting, but his recent tweets have been notably articulate and even-tempered, stoking speculation that one of his handlers is speaking in his name.

Rumors have abounded over the past week in Washington. Some speculate that the president was secretly taken to the Presidential Tower (formerly Trump Tower) in the dead of night. Others speculate that he has had a stroke or heart attack, and the president’s haggard appearance when he presided over the new National Beauty Contest last month has only fueled those rumors. Up to this point in his presidency Trump has been notably absent from public, usually only seen out of his residences when attending beauty pageants, his many rallies, or public floggings and executions. His presence has mostly been through Twitter and television, where his reality show about his cabinet has been a roaring success. Ratings were highest when he told Elaine Chao last week "You're fired."

Press secretary Laura Ingraham has refused to speak to reporters on the issue, only adding to the sense of confusion. Some speculate that Ivanka Trump will address the nation early next week on her father’s behalf.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Free Design, "Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas)"

From now until Christmas I am making all of my tracks of the week holiday songs. For many years I could've taken or left Christmas, but since getting married and having kids I've been enjoying it a lot more. Seeing the joy in my children's faces has rekindled my love of Christmas. This year, with all of the impending doom in the air, I need the distraction of the holidays more than ever.

In recent years I have also been searching out holiday music that doesn't suck. It is probably the most wretched genre of music, where even great artists like Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys produce atrocities like "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Little Saint Nick." Most of the time I stick to jazz interpretations of holiday standards, old school country Christmas songs, and the Christmas songs of James Brown and Bessie Smith. Last year through a podcast I discovered a totally different song by The Free Design, an obscure vocal pop group of the late 1960s-1970s.

"Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas)" is jazzy with the same subtle bongo drums that underlay the original Star Trek theme. This is the kind of thing that 90s neo-lounge groups like Saint Etienne drew inspiration from. The mood is relaxing, and not stereotypically "Christmasy." There's no bells or glockenspiels or overly earnest lyrics. Nope, it's a nice little chill tune about putting away the "bank book" and enjoying Christmas as a time for connection and family, not for consumption. I appreciate how this message gets delivered without the usual treacly sentiment or over the top bombast so common to Christmas music.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Brother Bear's Black Friday Sermon

[Editor's Note: From time to time I let my shadowy friends and relatives post on my blog. You've heard a lot from Cranky Bear, but my old pal Brother Bear has yet to have his voice heard. Here's a transcript of the sermon he  gave outside of a shopping mall today.]

Sisters and Brothers!

I am talking to you today on this most unholy of days, the so-called "Black Friday." And no, this is not the Friday when our Lord and savior gave his life on the cross, no sir. This is that awful day when so many of our brethren give in to their lust for consumer goods and the mad desire to shop and shop and shop. As the esteemed Reverend Billy has testified, this unholy day is one whose devilish call we must resist! It is a day that shows the sinfulness of our society, its slide into selfishness and materialism.

And yet, sisters and brothers, if we all stopped shopping today my heart would still be heavy with sadness. Because in less than two months the Golden Calf will be ambling his way into Washington DC in the form of Donald J Trump, a supremely wicked man with foul intentions. He spins webs of lies that would make Beelzebub blush. He brags and boasts of sexually assaulting women. He has preached hate against so many good people in this country, and his devilish minions are afoot spewing that hate forth on the vulnerable and marginalized. If there was a man in this world who represented the opposite of the example of Jesus, it would be him. In him I see the face of the devil when he tempted our Lord in the desert with money and power. In him I see Babylon.

It is easy to find people to blame for this state of affairs. We can blame the Russian government, our byzantine electoral process, our servile, shallow media, or those unholy men trying to prevent our sisters and brothers from voting. They are all to blame to be sure, and will hopefully someday face God's judgement. But we too are to blame, brothers and sisters.

Trump is a wicked man, but he is a mirror of our wicked society where we worship wealth, celebrity, and status over virtue and goodness. Where we trash Mother Earth so that we can buy another trunkload of useless pieces of plastic. Where we have children going to gleaming schools with all the best amenities within a handful of miles from schools that are literally falling apart. As the gleaming spires of New York City grow more and more, there are more and more of those left homeless in their opulent shadows, left to beg for their daily bread. Jesus must weep every day at how much want we have amidst so much plenty.

But much worse is the fact that so many who walk the streets refuse to see what is staring them straight in the face, or perhaps just don't even care. They care about themselves, and care not a thought for the lives of others. They spend their time fantasizing about having more. Having more stuff, more money, more power. Are we to be surprised that a man with money, power, and fame who preaches contempt for others has become the leader of this country? We worship the famous, we pamper the powerful and we bow to the wealthy. Our souls are so empty and bereft that we listen to the voices of those who we think wise because of the number of Twitter followers they have.

And on this most unholy of unholy days, we see the elevation of the Golden Calf, and then go worship it in the malls and megastores. Awaken your souls! Open your ears to the message of the Lord! Jesus commanded us to do for others as we would have them do unto us, how then can we be comfortable with such a constant violator of that rule at the throne of power of the mightiest nature on earth? Get out of the mall and onto the street! Get off of your phones and into the streets! Turn off your televisions and get into the streets! There, amidst your brothers and sisters thirsting for justice, there you will find the Lord!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Notes On A Night Ramble In Central Park

Last night I went out with some friends to play bar trivia, but between the end of school at seven o' clock, I had some time to kill. I decided to go on an urban ramble, perhaps my favorite solitary activity. Now that I have a family, the opportunities for it are far too rare. I started off by heading to The Strand bookstore, one of my happy places on this earth. Whenever I step through its doors my serotonin levels just shoot through the roof.

After that I wasn't sure what to do, and I aimlessly and stupidly caught the 4 train going north, which was crowded cheek to jowl. I found escape at 59th street and Lexington, knowing that I had to somehow get over to Amsterdam Avenue and 96th Street, about three miles away. I decided that I would hoof it with a stop at 72nd and Broadway for some delicious hot dogs at Gray's Papaya. (No urban ramble is complete without street food.) I thought about cutting over on 59th and gazing at the Trump Tower, aka Eye of Mordor. I was morbidly curious and felt like gauging the mood outside, but then decided that I wasn't up for seeing Cthulu and the madness that might engender. I walked up to 61st, then cut over to the park.

By that time the cold winds, now full of winter's bite, started lashing my face, but I didn't mind. There is something I love about Manhattan on nights like that, the cold wind fitting so well with the cold stone and steel of the city streets on the elegant but quiet uptown streets I was walking. I eventually cut into the park around 68th street, never having been in it when it was this dark. There were few joggers, and only a couple of solitary bikers. It was both exciting and scary to be so alone surrounded by the dark in the middle of the megalopolis. I was achieving the kind of revery I seek in my urban rambles, the time for reflection I need now more than ever. I have let cyberspace invade almost every moment of my shrinking free time, and desperately needed a break.

I decided to cut up to the 72nd street transverse, so that I could gaze at the Bethesda Fountain, one of my favorite spaces in New York City, much less the world. The terrace surrounding the fountain has a kind of lush elegance so indicative of its Gilded Age origins. The angel in the fountain is a believable angel, wearing a modest dress Tony Kushner described as "homespun." If angels could come to our rescue that's how I would imagine them. That statue also played an important role in his play Angels in America, which might be the most profound statement we have about Reagan's America. In this time of trouble I went to the fountain for a moment of grace. I was surprised not to see it lit up at night. Standing there in the eerie early winter dark, the angel was sleeping and distant, like Walter Benjamin's "Angel of History" constantly shrinking from the human wreckage piling up in front of it.

Needless to say, I did not get my solace. I trudged on, and suddenly I didn't see any other people in the park, as if the great city had been hit by a neutron bomb. Without doing to intentionally, I came across Strawberry Fields and its quiet dedication to John Lennon, which seemed both poignant and feeble in the dark, absent the people and musicians and shysters surrounding it during the day. I emerged from the park into the urban noise, crossed Central Park West, and strode past the gates of The Dakota, where Lennon was senselessly killed. Searching for grace, I was reminded of the cruel indifference of the universe to our lives. There have been far too many reminders of that sad fact of life in the last two weeks.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, "Night Rally"

As I always do in times of depression and stress, I have turned to music these past trying weeks. I remembered last night the late 70s-early 80s Elvis Costello tunes referencing fascism. There was a rise of racist nationalism in the late 70s akin to what we're seeing in the world now, which he decried, along with the rise of Thatcherism. His songs drew a straight line from the history of the 1930s and 1940s to his time, forcing the listener out of their complacency.

"Night Rally," which closed out 1978's This Year's Model, was a reaction to the fascistic National Front, which was then brazenly parading down the city streets England. Unlike the rest of the album, which is dynamic and rhythmic, "Night Rally" starts as a slow, dirge-like march with Costello's vocals foregrounded. It is a grim start, the first verse ending with the lines: "They're putting all the names in the forbidden book/ I know what they're doing but I don't want to look." The chorus lifts the song upward, the intensity increasing: "You think they're so dumb/ You think they're so funny/ Wait until they got you running to the night rally." It's a warning: these ridiculous people marching in the streets could just win. As the song rises and rises, Costello's voice getting louder, he tosses off a line about "a melody to get you singing in the showers" which I've taken to be a clear death camp reference. The dirge becomes a rousing jeremiad against complacency in the face of evil, but then goes into a strange echo at the end, a sign that resistance may indeed be futile.

Most people think this is a minor Costello song, but it's always been one of my favorites. The vocal has such passion, the passion of a man crazed by the thought that others fail to see the heinous threat right in front of their faces, and frightened that the soft ones will get swept up with the fascist mob. It's a feeling that I've had a lot lately.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is The Second Reconstruction Over?

In 1869, at the height of Reconstruction, Thomas Nast imagined an America where people of all races and ethnicities were free and equal. That dream would soon be destroyed.

As the election neared its end, in my dark times I thought a lot about the history of Reconstruction, which proved that history does not automatically move in a straight line towards progress. A breath-taking attempt at creating a multiracial democracy ended in violence, white backlash, and indifference from whites who had once supported Reconstruction. The 1876 election drove a nail in the coffin of Reconstruction, and the Democratic Party's slogan that year was "This Is A White Man's Country: Let The White Men Rule." An eleven year window of rights and opportunities for African-Americans was slammed shut, and legal equality would not be established again until the 1960s, almost a hundred years later.

Of course, we are only talking here about equality under the law, economic and social equality have proved much harder to secure. The last few years have seen a lot of activity pushing against structural racism, and I think it's hardly incidental that this happened with a black man in the White House. As during the original Reconstruction, when black men served in the House and Senate, having people of color in high positions was the most potent symbol of change.

What we see now looks like a backlash against it, and in my darker moments makes me think that the period from 1965 to 2016 may to future generations be akin to that of 1865 to 1877. The parallels are getting too clear for me not to see it. During the 1870s, the Supreme Court whittled away at the 14th Amendment, and when the black defenders of Colfax, Louisiana, were massacred by a white militia, the Court ruled that 14th Amendment protections did not apply, since it was a mob and not the state that had done it. (Even though the mob basically grabbed power in the state through their actions.) This makes me think of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Shelby case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and then unleashed a wave of suppression aimed at voters of color.

Leading the charge in the 1870s were the deplorables who called themselves "redeeemers": the KKK and white militias. These days we have our own deplorables, operating with impunity online and one of their leaders is poised to be the chief advisor to the president of the United States. They made themselves known after the election in a campaign of harassment intended to make people of color understand that this is a white man's country.

Those deplorables were always around though, then and now. In the original Reconstruction there was a time when the government stepped in and used the military to suppress the Klan. The Klan was there, but it was being fought and defeated. After 9/11 the deplorables attacked mosques and murdered Sikh men because they assumed their turbans meant that they were Muslim. Anyone who's spent any amount of time on the internet knows that racist trolls have been roaming cyberspace for quite some time. New social media platforms have basically let them run amok and made them so much more powerful.

However, back in the 1870s the issue was not just the "redeemers," but the politicians in the North, who began to back off their commitment to racial equality. They began to see the whole thing as a folly, and in any case, were too invested in white supremacy to be willing to fight to the death against it. They made the decision, consciously or unconsciously, to ignore racial inequality and the fate of freedmen and freedwomen. I am beginning to see the same thing happen right now among white liberals, who have got it in their heads that it is somehow impossible to appeal to the economic anxiety of working class whites while simultaneously advocating for diversity and equality. Exhibit A is Mark Lilla's piece in the Times today. They say "identity politics has failed" when it was a white identity movement that beat them! Not only is their perspective grounded in a massive misunderstanding, it also tends to act as if the concerns of people of color ought to be forever secondary to those of white people. Pieces like Lilla's basically amount to" "Shut up about being shot by the police, there's a mom from Altoona here who doesn't like talking about race!"

We are going to see a lot of this from white liberals in the coming years, I fear. This is why we need people in the streets holding their feet to the fire and holding them accountable. We want to think that there's no going back to pre-1965 America, but that's only because so many of us accept the myth of progress. It's exactly then that most Trump supporters thought that America was "great." The fact that birthright citizenship, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, is under assault today should be a big tell. Don't get complacent. Don't assume we've just progressed beyond the evil past. Don't let there be another ninety years of darkness. Don't let history repeat itself.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Billboard Top Ten November 17, 1984

For the past week and a half it has been very difficult for me to write about anything except for the rise of a racist, incompetent, misogynistic authoritarian to the presidency of the United States. I feel like taking a breather tonight with an old top ten chart. I chose this one because it was what people were listening to after Reagan's re-election, the moment where movement conservatism's hold on power was definitively cemented. It was also a time when those wanting a more fair and just America were in despair, as they are now. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of music on this list that's escapist or reveling in the excess of the 80s. And now, on with the countdown.

10. Lionel Richie, "Penny Lover"

Richie, the Judas of funk, had long left the Commodores by this point, and ruled the charts in the mid-1980s. This here is a standard pop soul ballad of the time with an easy groove, electric piano, gated snare, and reverby production. Richie seems to have found that place he had been searching for: the absolute middle of the road.

9. Cyndi Lauper, "All Through The Night"

Cyndi Lauper was another artist who had her peak in the mid-1980s. The sparkly synths have a little New Wave in them, but the melody is much more Top 40. She gives the song just that little dose of emotional yearning, the thing that made her ballads like this and "True Colors" and "Time After Time" more believable than the others on the charts at the time. I still can't help getting drawn in.

8. Sheena Easton, "Strut"

The drums hit you at the start, big and 80s-tastic with the slappy bass preferred by producers at the time. Also along for the ride are some bright horns and wriggly synths. It's a real time capsule, but funkier than the rest of the songs on this chart. It can be interpreted as a feminist song, but of the self-empowerment variety so well suited to the Reagan era.

7. Tina Turner, "Better Be Good To Me"

Tina Turner's renaissance in 1984 is one of the greatest comeback stories in popular music. While "What's Love Got To Do With It" was her most memorable moment, she cut some other good tracks, too. This song is more of a rocker, indicative of how in 1984 rock and R&B were melded into the reigning top 40 sound. The backing music is very basic, but she gives it her gruff Tina snarl, investing the song with way more heft and passion than others would have been able to give it. I was fascinated by Turner's songs back then because their perspective was so *adult*. This song is a middle-aged woman letting her suitor know that she's too old and wise to mess around with a man who won't treat her right. That kind of adult perspective seems to be totally absent from pop music today, which has become an entirely teenage domain.

6. Hall and Oates, "Out of Touch

I'll admit, I LOVED this song back then. The splashy production, the catchy chorus, the big beat. My opinion has changed, mostly because I see this period as a departure from Hall and Oates' more soulful beginning. Their earlier hits had more musicianship and groove, this song is like a bright shiny car fresh off of the 80s top 40 assembly line. It's a good model, but I'd rather listen to something less plastic. 

5. Stevie Wonder, "I Just Called To Say I Love You"

Okay, confession time: this song was my introduction to Stevie Wonder. Sad, huh? Nowadays I am a huge fan of his funky 70s peaks, and this song really pales in comparison. But even though this is hardly a "Superstition" or "Higher Ground," it's good for what it is. I hear it as a sweet little pop confection similar to "My Cherie Amour." Like that song it's damn pretty and catchy. 

4. Chaka Khan, "I Feel For You"

Oh man I loved this song back in the day. My local top 40 station growing up in rural Nebraska didn't play any rap music, but the start of this song gave me a bit of a taste. The record scratching blew my mind, but I liked the song's groove and the bright Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica. When it came on the radio it was like a sunburst cutting through the room. Sure the beats are spewed out metronomically by a computer, by Chaka Khan delivers a whole lot of soul on the vocal. This song is a good reminder that the 80s produced some good top 40 dance music.

3. Billy Ocean, "Caribbean Queen"

The mid-80s produced a lot of minor key pop songs with jaunty tempos that could only be played after dark. This is the sound of driving rain on slick city streets underneath pale lamplight on a murky night. Its darkness and mysteriousness are even more compounded by some classic 80s sultry sax. This is one of those rare 80s-tastic songs that still holds up despite being a total product of its time.

2, Prince and the Revolution, "Purple Rain"

2016 has been tough for music fans with the passing of so many great musicians, with Prince at the top of the list with David Bowie. This was not as big a hit as "Let's Go Crazy" or "When Doves Cry" or as resonant, but it's still a great song. Listening to this after all these other songs shows just how innovative and original Prince was; this sounds very different than the other songs on the countdown. The music is deep and the emotions complicated rather than typical love song stuff.

1. Wham! "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"

Well, right here we have a prime specimen of 80s escapism. As Reagan was ripping the social contract to shreds, everyone was dancing to mindless music like this, sung by a hunky Brit in an oversized "Choose Life" t-shirt and hypercolor short shorts. It feels more like a parody of the 80s than anything else, an exercise in camp. There are elements of Motown soul here, but drained of feeling and replaced with the hair-sprayed sheen of empty 80s consumer culture. In the midst of growing inequality and the AIDS crisis the denizens of the mall just kept on dancing to songs like this. Despite its brightness, I find it to be such a sinister song considering the context.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Take It From A Bubble Jumper

I've been hearing a lot about "bubbles" in regards to the election, much as the discourse of "red vs blue America" dominated the post-2000 election landscape. Right after the election there was this surge of writing about how coastal "elites" needed to be able to talk with rural white conservatives. Of course, most of this stuff was written by coastal liberals. I'm also hearing a lot of "your reluctance to talk to your family about politics got us into this mess."

Both of these perspectives have kernels of wisdom in them, but are both fundamentally misguided. I say this as what I would call a "bubble jumper." I grew up in rural Nebraska, a red state that hasn't gone for a Democrat since LBJ in 1964. My family members were pretty much all conservative and religious. In 1992, when my junior year history class did a mock election, I was the only student in the room to vote for Bill Clinton. I have since moved on to different bubbles, living in Chicago, spending time in academia, and now in the NYC area working at a very progressive school. In between I also lived in some very conservative parts of the country, including west Michigan and east Texas.

I know very well multiple parts of the country that progressive folks like myself are supposed to evangelize in. As all arrogant inhabitants of the metropole do, plenty of folks around here engage in gross generalizations, grouping everything in the interior of the country together. Some places in this country are simply beyond political redemption. A pig will fly and land on the moon before a Democrat carries east Texas, for example. A lot of rural areas of this country are literally dying, so when I hear this talk of young progressives who grow up there needing to stay I just laugh my ass off. Stay and do what, exactly? There's little to no opportunity, and why on earth would you choose to live in a place where people constantly treat you as weird or different, or if you are gay or trans, a reprobate?

As a former bubble dweller my goal is not to convince the person with a Texas secession bumper sticker to vote for Hillary Clinton, but to protect and support those folks out there fighting the good fight against long odds. (This is why the DNC needs to run candidates in districts they know they have little chance of winning.) In the town where I used to live in Texas a city worker unleashed a fire hydrant on protestors as Trump supporters in trucks blasted black clouds of smoke from their trucks at them by "rolling coal." A friend and former colleague there got a harassing email sent to her by a Trump-supporting former student. Forgive me if I'm not leaping to sympathize with Trump supporters. Progressives in other places should be focused on helping their brethren facing this kind of hate.

It is pretty much impossible to have a political dialogue with people who spend hours of their day listening to talk radio and watching Fox News. In East Texas I remember being inundated by it every time I went to the doctor, the bank, or even my favorite burger joint. Other places, however, are more purple and have Trump voters who voted for Obama in the past (crazy, I know) or have a good number of Trump voters of the anti-establishment stripe. Many of these people can be talked to, but it takes someone with knowledge of the area and the people to do the talking. For instance, Obama won an electoral vote in Nebraska in 2008 by winning Omaha and the surrounding area. That's where the focus ought to be, not on the whole state of Nebraska. I can say much the same thing about western Michigan. This year Clinton lost Kent county, where Grand Rapids is located. Obama just managed to win it in 2008. Having lived there I know that there are both a lot of blue collar voters and conservative evangelicals. It's mostly a matter of appealing to those white blue collar voters and the white moderate middle class suburbanites in that place.

I know I am rambling a bit here, but I think that attempts to win back states like Michigan have to be focused, and that focus can be molded by the progressives who already live there. I'd wager that about of 80% of Trump voters are completely irredeemable. The other 20% are actually willing to live in a multiracial democracy, and thus are persuadable. Just ask my fellow bubble jumpers, and those progressives living in places where they don't have the privilege of having a bubble. Ask, but also be prepared to listen, because if knowledge of red states was TNT, most coastal pundits couldn't blow their noses.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cranky Bear Weighs In

[Editor's Note: My rather impolitic friend Cranky Bear has not been heard from on this site in awhile. The election result has prompted him to come out of hibernation, and send me this missive from his compound.]

Hey gang, it's the Crankster here with a bottle of porter beer in my hand and a rage in my heart. I've long told y'all that this country is a headin' down the track to disaster, but shit, I didn't expect it to go down like this.

For years now whenever I've wanted to point out the wrong turn American society has taken since the Reagan Era, I've always trotted out Donald Trump as the ultimate example of what our corrupted, materialistic values have begot. The fact that a man so vulgar, crass, and immoral could be lionized and admired for over three decades was proof that we were living in a sick society. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the man so reflective the garbage values of late capitalism would end up getting elected president. He is a mirror of what America has become.

And so the hand-wringing and chest beating has begun, and you know what, I want it to end. The blame game is a luxury that we can't afford. In any case, he won the election through voter suppression and the electoral college, essentially through undemocratic means. THAT should be the focus, we can leave the internal fighting until some point where our heads aren't all on the goddamned chopping block.

What we have to do is fight, and to fight long hard and potentially to give what Abraham Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion." I don't mean to alarm y'all, but we are looking authoritarian rule right in the face. Trump is a man with zero understanding of the checks and balances of the government, and more importantly DOES NOT CARE. Like a typical CEO he values loyalty and obedience above all, and thinks political dissenters can merely fired like so many malcontented employees. His first statements on Twitter after getting elected were to attack the New York Times and to attack the protestors in the street. One of his flacks threatened Harry Reid with legal action for daring to criticize him, and his minions have tried to delegitimize the protests against him. Like a typical authoritarian ruler he has surrounded himself with family members and die hards, no matter how incompetent or clueless.  Most importantly, he is prepared to make a man beloved by literal Nazis, Steve Bannon, his closest advisor.

All the while the Quislings and Petains in the Republican establishment have bowed down to the strong man. Trump insulted McCain's bravery as a Vietnam POW, then came crawling back. Trump read out Lindsay Graham's private phone number so that he could be harassed, and he came crawling back, too. This is the typical strongman tactic of humiliating a man in public in order to politically "own" him going forward. That's why Trump belittled Christie and joked about his weight after he joined the Trump train. In the fight to come there will be very, very few on the other side of the aisle willing to turn on Trump, no matter what he does. If this election has taught me anything, it's that their hate for their perceived enemies matters more than any principle they have. When people start disappearing in the dead of night they will secretly be ecstatic. So many people in power who are supposed to be on our side will be shocked, but too chickenshit to fight with the vigor that is needed to win.

Neither will the media be any help in the coming struggle. With Fox and Breitbart, Trump will have two state media outlets, one ruling cable and one ruling the internet. Another thing this election has taught us is that facts and evidence are inconsequential, so Trump will use these outlets to unleash a tidal wave of horseshit, obfuscations and lies that will show up in your reactionary uncle's Facebook wall unless you haven't mercifully unfollowed him by that point. The remaining media will face a choice: access or no access. Those choosing access will try hard not to offend the Great Leader. Those not choosing access will be banned and lose the ability to have much of a public voice. They will be harassed and sued. In any case their voice will be drowned out by the shadow state media. As in Putin's Russia, only those already critical of Trump will take the time to find the media critical of him. There will be no need for official censorship.

We only have ourselves, folks. So stop fucking around! Back in the election, were you knocking and doors and organizing? No! You were refreshing 538's home page and biting your nails. STOP THAT SHIT NOW! Get out into the streets! You have time to binge watch a new season of the newest HBO tits and violence prestige show? Guess what, you have time to get your Congresscritter on the horn and give them a piece of your goddamned mind. If you can afford that daily latte you sure as shit can afford to give Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and many other fighting organizations some of your dough.

And we may lose, but we cannot, must not go down without a fight. When your are old and gray and the young ones ask what you did to stop the march of Fascism, what the hell are you going to tell them? We've spent years asking ourselves what we would do if an authoritarian regime would come to this country, well know's your time to see if you really meant what you said when it was only theoretical. The other side knows there's a war on. It's high fucking time that you acted like it, too.

Stop backbiting. Stop grandstanding. Stop snarking. Stop hemming and hawing, for fuck's sake.




Cranky Bear out.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Chauncey DeVega Show Guest Appearance

In case you didn't know, I was a guest on the Chauncey DeVega Show podcast last week. Chauncey is an old friend from my Chicago days and has really helped me out a lot by highlighting my stuff on his much more popular site. He also was instrumental in getting me to get off my butt and submit my recent piece to Jacobin.

We talked on Sunday night, when I still thought that Clinton would squeak out a victory in a tight election. I was wrong, but at least I'm happy with what I had to say about the nature of Trump's support. I come from Trump country and lived in another corner of it not long ago; I feel like I have some insight that many national journalists lack. I'm also glad that Chauncey edited my comments down to something somewhat coherent.

My conversation with Chauncey and those with others this trying week have been crucial for my sanity. As my recent Facebook experience showed me, it's a lot better to talk about these things in person rather than online. If I can recommend anything to those hurting right now it's to call your old friends and commiserate, without the artificiality of online conversation. If we are to organize and fight we need those human connections and longer discussions to figure out just what they hell we need to do. Enough with the post-mortems for now, we can't unfry things. It's time to fight, and to do that we need to draw strength from each other.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Iggy Pop, "Sister Midnight"

This has been a hard week. I feel like I have lived a lifetime since Monday. Music has been one of the few things capable of me getting through my days, and I have been leaning hard on some old chestnuts. Today I listened to a ton of Berlin-era Bowie and Iggy Pop, my mourning for the nation intertwined with my mourning for Bowie. This music has always been perfect for me in my dark times past, since it comes from Bowie and Pop both recovering from addiction and getting their lives on track after some years in the spiritual wilderness.

"Sister Midnight" is the first song on The Idiot, the first of the Berlin albums (the others being Pop's Lust for Life and Bowie's trilogy of Low, "Heroes," and Lodger.)  It sets the tone perfectly with a rigid, robotically tight groove, an inspired combination of Kraftwerk and Funkadelic. The guitar, as on the rest of the album, buzzes with dread and fear. I imagine its otherworldly hum being the constant background noise in the heads of the replicants from Blade Runner. Iggy intones with his deep voice, "Calling sister midnight," which I interpret as a call for spiritual help in the midst of being consumed by darkness.

Iggy tells of his disturbing, Oedipal nightmares, asking Sister Midnight for help. He confesses that "I am a breakage inside." This is someone at the end of his tether, but oddly calm about it, as if he cannot imagine what it was ever like to be happy and normal. This is what it is like at the very pit of despair, abandoned by everyone.

Sometimes it feels good when I'm down to wallow a little in that feeling, to look into the abyss. So many dark cold nights I've spent with this song, and when those first spooky chords hit I'm able to turn inward and let get at the core of ill feelings. Tonight is no exception.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nationalism Nationalism Nationalism (redux)

For a long time now I've been saying that Trump owes his rise to nationalism, a political force that has long been significant in American life, and is usually ignored by the punditocracy. Nationalism is powerful because it cuts across class lines, and because it cuts across ideological divides. We are now witnessing a global tidal wave of nationalism, from China to Russia to India to the UK to the United States.

Some people like to theorize that this is somehow a cry against globalist neoliberalism, but Trump will most certainly enact tax cuts and deregulation when he's president. Nationalism is also running high in China, which has perhaps benefited from globalization more than any other country. I simply do not buy the thesis that nationalism comes from economic anxiety, though I will accept that it can be a mitigating factor. The economic anxiety thesis is a kind of comfort to the Left, who can think that a leftist politics will somehow drain away nationalist agitation by improving the lives of those hurt by globalization. It won't.

American nationalism of the sort peddled by Trump is deeply rooted in white supremacy. Historically a lot of working class whites have violently enforced the color line as a way of ensuring a superior economic position. A large number of working class whites will never, ever, join in solidarity with their black or brown brethren, sad to say. They love their skin privilege way too much. When someone comes along with a leftist program, that means lifting up the black and brown poor, and white workers will not that.

Not only does nationalism elide class differences, it is endlessly self-perpetuating. There are always enemies to the nation, external and internal, that any failures can be blamed on. Any disloyalty to the Trump regime then becomes disloyalty to the nation itself. I remember after the invasion of Iraq how any criticism of the Bush administration was treated as treason. The notion that criticizing the president in time of was unseemly also helped Bush win a second term. Every time Trump will fail he will blame people in this country who are not sufficiently "American."

We are in an epoch of nationalism. Of closed minds and closed borders. Of hate and suspicion. I see America becoming much like Putin's Russia, where an already servile media will polish the image of the Great Leader. Dissenters will live in fear or exile. Criticism of the president will become criticism of the nation, and that won't be tolerated.

The Republican leadership sees Trump as the demagogue front man that will allow all of their free market wet dreams come true. He has lied and dissembled so much that I cannot even tell what he's going to do, whether he just wants to hold power or whether he has any firm beliefs about what to do with it. I do know that holding and wielding power for its own sake is at the top of his list. Woe unto us.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The 16 Years (and counting) War

So tomorrow the election ends. Or at least I hope that it does. It has held a mirror up to this country, a mirror that reveals some pretty nasty things. Whoever wins, it will not break our national political deadlock, which has been in place at least ever since November 7, 2000.

That was the night that it looked like Gore edged Bush, then lost to him, and then ended with the outcome up in the air, to be decided by the Supreme Court. Up until that year someone could say there was little difference between the parties, and I would nod my head. I voted third party in both 1996 and 2000, disgusted by the Clinton administration's triangulation and its conservatism lite policies on incarceration, education, marriage equality, and the welfare state. The Bush administration would soon make it difficult to conflate the two parties.

After the 2000 election, in his only worthwhile contribution to world civilization, David Brooks talked of two Americas, one "red" and one "blue." Being a pundit, he missed (like most of his brethren) the deeper, and more disturbing reality. America, like France at the turn of the last century, was divided between those embracing modernity and those wishing to reinstall traditional society, and the reactionaries then and now would easily sacrifice democracy to get what they wanted.

Those who call themselves "real Americans" really do think that they represent the "real" country and that their opponents -enemies within- are out to destroy it. To protect the nation anything is permitted in their minds. Hence Bush won in 2000 after 1. Getting a fewer votes 2. Having a mob of Republicans shut down the recount in Florida 3. Benefitting from the Supreme Court ending the recount. In more recent years they have destroyed the Voting Rights Act and have actively worked to suppress the vote.

On the fringes the alt-right mushrooms have sprouted in the dank corners of the internet, feeding off of rhetorical feces. In an almost unbelievable coup, this faction has captured the nominee of the Republican Party. The militias, which once flourished under Clinton, vanished under Bush. Now, they are back, bigger than ever under Obama. After failing to hold the White House, the "real Americans" are even more inflamed than before, and increasingly impatient. Their allies in the Deep State have evidently tried to undermine Hillary Clinton via the FBI.

If Clinton wins, which looks likely, the 16 Years War will just keep going. The Democrats have failed and will continue to fail to gain control of the Congress and state governments. The reactionaries, seeing themselves as "real America" will man every battle station in their obstructionist fortresses. There is no end in sight, and if this election has proven anything, it is that an authoritarian demagogue is capable of subverting our system of government. Trump has been calling for voter intimidation, he has shown himself more than capable of inciting violence, and he has the police and elements of the Deep State on his side. If the election was as close as it was in 2000, I could easily see Trump as the caudillo, riding into DC on horseback/luxury jet, while law enforcement and military pave the way. Our militarized police would be more than capable of suppressing rebellion in the streets of America's cities. If Trump wins, the 16 Year War may likely end, with his opponents locked up in jail.

As I sit by the river of history tonight, watching its dark waters flow, I am having a hard time figuring out which way it is bending. We seem to be stuck in a permanent state of political war, and demographic replacement will not move fast enough to end it soon. In fact, it is the very changing demographics which are enraging the reactionaries and making them feel backed into a corner. It has to end, because the country cannot endure too much longer in this state. I fear that it may well end with a bang, and not with a whimper.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Plea To My Republican Friends And Family (updated)

I understand that we differ in our politics. I understand that you may really dislike Hillary Clinton. But I beg and implore you NOT to vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Although I voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, I never would have asked you not to vote for McCain or Romney because as much as I disagreed with them, I at least thought they were legitimate candidates for the presidency.  Look, you don't have to vote for Clinton, you can go third party if you wish. Heck, I did that in 1996 and 2000 after being disgusted by the equivocating and conservatism lite of the Clinton-Gore administration. And I am not asking you not to vote for Republicans further down the ballot, as much as I may dislike them.

Trump is a special case. This is a man who has openly inflamed hatred against immigrants and Muslims. He has introduced notions once considered outside of the pale in our politics to the mainstream. The Klan, America's oldest terrorist organization, has endorsed him, and his campaign has attracted flagrant white supremacists. He is instinctively authoritarian, and doesn't seem to have much interest in the First Amendment or the judiciary if those things can be used against him. He does not appear to have even the most basic understanding of the law and constitution. For that reason he is also massively unqualified to be president, from his childish temper tantrums to his complete lack of experience in public office to his complete ignorance and lack of intellectual curiosity. He represents a danger to this country.

Although I disagree with your politics, I know you, my Republican friends and family, to be decent people. Why give your vote to a man of such indecency? Many of you are devout Christians, but here is a man who is as opposite of Christ as you could find, from his spewing of hate to his celebration of crass materialism to his bragging of sexually assaulting women. If he was just a random someone who lived in your town you'd probably really dislike him, and judge him negatively for his two divorces to boot. Anything he has said about religion and "values" has been lip service, anyway. Do you really want to be played like that? You might think that he will give you a Supreme Court justice who is anti-abortion, but he has broken every promise he has ever made. He's also floated Peter Thiel's name as a potential justice, and Thiel is someone whose moral worldview is the opposite of yours.

Some of you are in the business world. I've heard you complain of companies that use the justice system in frivolous lawsuits to shake you down for money, something Trump is known for.  Would you do business with someone who has such a rash of bankruptcies?  I even know one of you specifically has had business dealings with Trump and you have spoken negatively about it in years past. Are you now going to give your vote to a man that you would not trust enough to do business with? You pay your taxes, are you going to vote for a man who has skipped on his taxes, and thinks he's better than you for it?

A lot of you are women. Are you really going to go out and give your vote to a man who has a long history of treating women with disrespect? A man who seems to regard women as some lesser form of life? A man who has been credibly accused by several women of sexual assault? I know you see yourselves as strong women, why would you openly support a man who seems to have an insane hatred of strong women?

Knowing that many of you might be willing to vote for a man who appears to be against who you are as people and what you stand for, I am sad and disturbed. Just because he is the nominee of the party you vote for doesn't mean that he should automatically get your vote.  Just because the likes of Rubio and Ryan have shown themselves to be abject cowards does not mean that you ought to follow their path.

You should know, last of all, that if you do vote for this man next Tuesday, I will indeed question my assumptions of your decency, morality, and strong womanhood. None of those qualities are consistent with support of Donald Trump.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Dozen Years In The Woodshed, Or Why Blog?

Yesterday I was elated and shocked to find out that my piece for Jacobin, "21st Century Victorians," was an editor's pick on the New York Times' mobile site. I know this makes me old fashioned, but I've long thought of the Times as my own Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden. If I could get published there, I'd know I'd made it. While they did not publish me, just being recognized by them gave me a huge thrill. Perhaps its getting a bout at the Garden, but on the under card, or Carnegie Hall as an opening act. I'll take it, anyway.

This all got me thinking about this blog and what it's meant to me. And yes, I am going to navel gaze for a bit, please forgive me. I started blogging way back in 2004, when my blog had the unruly title "Fugitive Streets/Jackal Tombs," which was a reference to a line from Proust and a line from Melville. Yes, I was a pretentious grad student at the time.

Blogging was the hot new thing, and it was a needed outlet. For the preceding couple of years I would often write up political rants and sent them to my friends over email. The blog let me do that, and to pretend that I was some kind of pundit or essayist. Truth by told, that had always been something I'd aspired to be.

My intellectual awakening came about in a strange way. I was in junior high, and after school I would often go to the public library and wait for my dad to get off work. (The factory where he worked in the office was just a couple of blocks away.) While the library I would raid the magazine racks. Remember, this is a time before the internet and when cable was mostly reruns and second rate trash. I spent a lot of time reading sports and music magazines, but after awhile I was picking up Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, and yes, National Review. (My politics would not be more formed until I was in high school.) I gravitated to the columns and the reviews more than the news stories. I studied the writing, and thought having a column or writing reviews would be a great job. When I was in high school in my creative writing class I tried to write some social commentary essays, but mostly stuck with poetry and short stories.

I also didn't do journalism in high school, mostly due to the tribalism of that world. I was a debater, and that was my nerd calling, not journalism (or so I thought.) There was also a very subtle but very real social class exclusivity marking the borders of the journalism club at my school.

But my desire to write commentary remained, if buried deep inside me. Debate got some of it out of me in high school and college, but I did have a friend with a very primitive website who posted some of my album reviews. I knew I was never going to be a music critic, but it was fun to play one. In grad school I would write critical essays down in notebooks, and later write up those ranty emails. Blogging was such a sweet release of all the thoughts I had and all the commentaries I wanted to write. If somebody out there in the internet void liked them, so much the better. The blogging helped me process the re-election of George W Bush, but also personal matters, like my failure of an academic career.

As those dozen years rolled on, blogging became less and less hip. Twitter took the wind out of its sails, and people started using their blogs less as spaces for writing, and more for self-promotion. Friends more adventurous than me parlayed their blogs into writing for more respectable and well-known sites. I, being the stubborn German-American Midwesterner that I am, persisted in using the same unprofessional blogspot blog and writing under a silly, culturally referential pseudonym. This blog was my comfort zone. I could just say what I wanted to say and people liked it I was happy, and if not, no big deal. I got to play at being one of those columnists and reviewers that I idolized back in junior high. Wasn't that good enough?

Well, I am glad that I took the initiative to put something out outside of my blog, and I can thank my friend Chauncey DeVega's encouragement for that. I might try to focus more of my writing on that realm, rather than in my humble little corner of the internet here. But most of what I write will still be right here. Blogging might be going the way of the 56K router, but it's been good to me.  My twelve years in the woodshed have made me a better writer and thinker, and introduced me to some great folks that I never would have met otherwise. Some people garden, some people fish, some people play music, but I cast out rough essays into the internet void two or three times a week. As hobbies go, it ain't bad.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Billboard Top Ten November 2, 1968

For this month's installment of the Top Ten retrospective I thought I'd look back at the eve of the election of 1968, perhaps the last election year as momentous as this one. (I should add that there was a lot more going on in that year than now, so it's not an equal comparison.)

10. Cream, "White Room"

Cream was pretty much the first hard rock group, or at least the one that set the template for so much to follow. along with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Ginger Baker's drums stomp like a Stegosaurus and Eric Clapton's guitar bludgeons out a caveman riff. While Clapton would abandon Cream's heavy psychedelic sound for the rootsier Derek and the Dominoes, Cream would beget Led Zeppelin and by extension the whole hard rock universe. At the end of the sixties, this is a clear taste of the seventies.

9. Diana Ross and the Supremes, "Love Child"

Motown finally started getting a little more topical in the late sixties, even with the Supremes, perhaps the label's most successful and mainstream act. This is full Motown pocket symphony mode, the stabbing strings insistent behind Diana Ross's breathy, fragile voice. It is a song about shame and also about a woman claiming her independence. The song's narrator refuses to have sex with her boyfriend because she does not want to give birth to a "love child," since she herself was one who grew up in a "tenement slum." It's the Supremes' first hit without the great Holland-Dozier-Holland production team, and also a sign of a new, more socially relevant Motown.

8. Johnny Nash, "Hold Me Tight"
I honestly never knew that Johnny Nash had a hit in the US before "I Can See Clearly Now." This is a sweet little rocksteady song with a Jamaican rhythm beneath Nash's smooth, sweet voice. Like the last two songs, it's a sign of things to come, as in the next decade Jamaican music would start having a major influence on the US and UK. I hear this and also realize how narrow oldies stations are in their playlists. Some wonderful songs just get left by the wayside to be forgotten.

7. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, "Over You"
On the other hand, oldies stations in the Midwest play the shit out of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. I wish they wouldn't. This group was responsible for a lot of overwrought, bombastic pop balladry, including "Young Girl," perhaps the creepiest song to ever hit the top ten. This is the kind of thing that The Guess Who and Bee Gees were doing a whole lot better at the time. Unlike the preceding songs, this is the sound of a kind of pop music on its way out.

6. The Turtles, "Elenore"
The Turtles as another group very firmly rooted in this period, but much more pleasant to listen to. The song has a swingy, jazzy beat and interesting vocal harmonies. It also hits on that common theme of sixties pop songs: "I love her but her parents think I'm a loser." It's a trope one almost never hears after this point in time, apart from Bruce Springsteen songs.

5. The Grass Roots, "Midnight Confessions"
It's yet another vocal pop (as opposed to rock) group. This was still an obviously popular formula in 1968, and not much afterward. The Grass Roots had a sackful of hits, but aren't remembered all that much these days. This song has the advantages of a pleading vocal and an almost freakily insistent organ sound.

4. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, "Fire"
Ahhhh yeah! Now this is what I'm talking about. "Fire" has got to be one of the weirdest fucking songs to ever climb this high on the charts. I mean, it starts with ol' Arthur screaming "I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE!" Musically it's mostly just drums, a demented organ and some scratchy horns with Brown getting progressively more psychotic in his singing. A performer who took the stage in a flaming helmet, he paved the way for KISS and Alice Cooper.

3. OC Smith, "Little Green Apples"
Now this here is a strange song. It combines Burt Bacharach, southern soul, and some country music twang. It was written by Bobby Russell for country singer Roger Miller, and the song's waking up in the morning with the blues lyrics are very country. Smith's version has got a loose, funky background but with a prominent glockenspiel. It's a reminder of a time when songs existed much more independently of the artists who sang them, and that they could cross over genres much more fluidly. It's one thing about the pop music world of this time that I truly envy.

2. Mary Hopkin, "Those Were The Days"

Nobody does maudlin and sentimental like the Brits. All of the emotions they spend their days repressing come out in sappy-ass pop music. This is a song of nostalgia, of remembering old friends past. The music (produced by Paul McCartney) recalls old timey Western barrooms, even if it has its origins in a Russian folk song. The fact that this song hit so high on the charts on the eve of Nixon's election perhaps shows a strange longing for a pre-sixties past, the kind of "make America great again" nostalgia that plagues us today.

1. The Beatles, "Hey Jude"

I've heard some songs so many times that it's difficult hard to see their greatness anymore, no matter how good the song is. "Hey Jude" is one of those songs. But if I think really, really hard I can remember the 11 year old who got a Beatles comp for Christmas and would listen to this song over and over and over again, absolutely transfixed. Yes Paul McCartney made some schlock at this point in the Beatles, but he also made some real pop music magic. The melody is irresistible, but what makes the song is the powerful ascent into the fade out chorus, an ecstatic emotional outpouring like a gospel song. I get high every time I hear it, even now.