I have tried to craft this #WritingLife essay twice. Once with the title ending “Covid” the other “George Floyd’s murder.” And then both events have merged together and represent so much more broken within our society. It’s almost quaint to think that a month ago the biggest concern with a lot of writers was “productivity.” The question of: am I creating enough during this down time? Should I be taking advantage of it more? As someone who has been laid off for a while now, I can say from a decent vantage point that none of that matters.
For some inspiration on this topic I conversed with Ed Simon, who has been running a phenomenal series on pandemic writing for The Millions.Here is part of what he had to say on the rise of “pandemic productivity:”
“Maybe they offer an alright corrective to people who feel anxiety about those things, but they sometimes do an over-correction, and are a disservice to people for whom that advice doesn't apply.“
“If I don't write, I get antsy, and I have to actively not write sometimes to recharge. I'm a recovering alcoholic, and not coincidentally my productivity shot up when I replaced getting black out drunk with actually writing. No clue if that's healthy, but it was certainly healthier, and in a very literal way I simply need to write. So the ‘You don't have to be productive’ stuff is probably good for people who DON'T have to be productive, but I kind of do.”
I thought this was a very interesting perspective and shows how a reliance on just putting words to page often backfires. You need to know what you are writing down in order to create something. I know there have been a lot of pieces on “productivity” and writing in the time of these earth-shattering events. But I’m here to tell you even if you read all of them you are not guaranteed to find the road to success cranking out your novel during this time. You may find more success doing nothing at all.
I am planning on delving into this more on the blog over the next year, but getting laid off (again) felt like an odd mirror to how this whole writing career of mine changed five years ago. And instead of thinking I must go back to wage-slave work and do another pointless job for five more years (this time with the added benefit of a pandemic), I have decided to use the little financial resources I have and (for real this time) do this as my career. I know it’s a stretch, a gamble, but it’s also the most freeing thing I could have done.
So be as productive as you want to during your quarantine. I could go on about how I’ve been re-writing my science fiction manuscript over and over in the hopes of this societal upheaval being my big break and whatever. I am more stunned to see my life from the perspective of never having to answer to anyone for my work. Ever again.
(I should add as opposed to last time when I kind of stepped aside from the journalistic side of things, in the wake of the MPD murder of George Floyd I don’t think that’s going to be an option. Those who know me might remember I used to cover City Council races and do investigations and stuff. For now it’s been more shouting on Twitter, but I may write some longer stuff at some point. The important thing is to make people aware.)
Writing in the time of...whatever it may be, don’t feel you must be productive. It’s far more important to understand what you want out of life, and then figure out how to get it. Write during all times, for all reasons. Thanks for reading.
Short stories: what are they? This is a question I'm taking another run at this year, and while I continue to read some of the greats (and will craft more essays on them coming soon) I thought it was high time I started posting my own work on the blog again.
Readers from last year may recall I did something similar with an older college story (check out parts one and two here), but I feel my abilities have grown a bit since then.
To that end, I'd like to present a rather political story, influenced by the events of the last year. This takes place in an unknown, uncertain future in which even Trump supporters have finally started realizing who they elected into office. Please enjoy "#OccupyTrump."
“Thanks, Stan. I’m standing here in the midst of hundreds of people who have camped out at the White House for weeks. As you can see behind me there are dozens of people with camping gear, guns, ammo, and enough supplies to last for quite some time. I spoke to some of the leaders of the OccupyTrump movement earlier today.”
*roll interview footage, then B roll*
“Well, he ain’t done what he said he would. That’s why I’m here.”
(voiceover) “Richard Derby says he came to Washington on a whim, after a friend told him about a bus that was going out here for the protest.”
“He told me they was rollin’ up here to protest The Donald. Now, I like the man, I like what he’s done for the country, how he’s revitalized our side. That ain’t the problem.”
(interviewer) “So what is?”
“I told you. He ain’t done what he said.”
(voiceover) “That’s been the common refrain among many Trump supporters camped out here today, leaving their lives to come bother the president who said was on their side.”
*roll footage of Trump backing out of building the wall, and of replacing Obamacare, and firing his white supremacist advisors*
“I’m mostly upset about the Obamacare thing. How many times did he say it? Repeal and replace, repeal and replace. I counted on our GOP brethren in Congress to do it, and they never did. Trump said all along the campaign that this was a huge priority. Now he’s going to keep most of it? Give me a break.”
(voiceover + B roll of hospital footage) “This woman was speaking about Trump’s many promises to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Despite pledging to get rid of the legislation, the President has failed multiple times to sign any repeal legislation. That gets under the skin of supporters like Max Caldwell of Mississippi, who rode all the way up here with a caravan full of Trump supporters from his state.”
*roll footage of bikers, huge recreational vehicles, people dressed in leather*
“It’s the Obamacare thing, goin’ back on his word. It’s the Hilary thing, basically refusing to prosecute her for the many crimes she committed. And it’s the illegal immigrants, many of which we still see crawlin’ all over my wonderful state. It ain’t their state to do what they will anymore. I’m coming’ to DC to try and get this man to listen to me: these people need to be deported, just like he said he would do.”
(voiceover) “For others, it’s that he hasn’t followed through on anything he said he would. Supporter Casey Rogers of Iowa said she was disappointed about how quickly Trump turned into what she describes as a ‘regular’ politician.”
“It was just shocking to me. I mean, he said all these things on the trail. Made all these promises. Then, after he wins he starts going back on them. Don’t he know these things mean something to us people out here? That he can’t just take advantage of our support? That we’re gonna send our people out to DC to make sure he hears us?”
(voiceover) “When I mention to Ms. Rogers that this movement bares more than a passing resemblance to the Occupy camps that sprung up years ago, she is dismissive.”
“Nah, they was a bunch of hippy dip liberal punks pounding drums in the street. We’re here to spur action.”
“Perhaps the biggest concern here, Stan, is the lack of focus on employment. Despite early promising signs that Trump was cutting deals with some companies here in the US to keep them from outsourcing jobs, that effort has largely failed in the wake of recent mega-mergers, which the administration’s Justice Department signed off on with barely a comment. This might be the biggest reversal that Trump’s fans find upsetting.”
“Oh yeah, that’s been on all of our minds lately. Sure, maybe a few hundred people got to keep their jobs in Ohio. So what? We down in South Carolina been hurtin’ for generations. This week he says he suddenly believes in climate change, so we can’t have no more coal burning here? That’s weak tea, buddy. How am I gonna feed my children?”
(voiceover) “Supporters like Randy Wilson think they’ve been duped. And they want our newly elected President to feel their pain.”
“I sure wish he’d just come out one of these days. I know he’s in there. People spotted his helicopter landing’ yesterday. He’s spent a full week inside there ignoring his own people. We ain’t gonna sit by and let this happen.”
(voiceover + B roll of protesters) “But that’s exactly what the President seems to want to happen, keeping his full schedule of roster events this week while not issuing a single statement to the press about the demonstrators camped out in front of his official residence.”
(footage of protesters) “Build the wall! Build the wall! Lock her up! Lock her up! Deport the illegals!” (illegible crying, screaming)
(quick zoom in on one of the front windows of the White House, in which an orange visage seems to be peeking out before ducking back)
(voiceover) “For now, these protesters will have to be content to not have their cries heard.”
“Well, we ain’t goin anywhere. I emptied my bug-out chamber for this. Since we got Trump elected I have less fear about the world ending. So I felt we could take a chance, since he ain’t been following through on his promises. We got to let him know what we think.”
“Some have been grousing that given Mr. Trump's spurious business record and his history of treating people he does business with as disposable, why couldn’t his supporters see this coming?”
“I just thought he was different from all the other politicians. He said he’d drain the swamp. Instead he invited it right in the front door. That’s not The Donald I know from the campaign trail. He said he’d be our advocate in there. He’s not.”
“And until that goal is met, these Trump supporters are not going anywhere. At least not until police start turning on fire hoses, which is expected by early next week. Back to you in the studio, Stan.”
“Thanks Desiree. We’ll keep you folks updated on the #OccupyTrump movement, and of course you can make your thoughts known using that hashtag on social media. With last week’s major reversal on climate change, here are a few peoples’ thoughts on our own site regarding this.
It’s total bs. He said it was a hoax made by the chineses weirdos, and I still believe that. It’s not like he would make that up for votes. We the ppl need to call him out on the lies. #OccupyTrump
He’s going back on his word. We used to excoriate Obama when he’d do this for lot less. Can you imagine what we could have done with his ‘white house is a dump’ comments? Come on people, we have to up the pressure. Come join us. #OccupyTrump
I don’t trust a lick of politicians, but this one hurts more than most. I thought he was one of us. Come to DC and #occupytrump
Are you serious? You people really thought this guy was telling the truth? No wonder he took your support like the rubes you are. Good luck in 2020, if the planet survives. #OccupyEverywhere
“And now we turn to local news….”
I’ve been struggling for the better part of this week to put something, anything, down to words regarding the recent tragedy in Charlottesville.
First, if you haven’t watched the VICE News documentary HBO posted online, please do so. You really can’t understand a lot of this without witnessing it. And since we’re supposed to put “trigger warnings” on stuff now, there are some incredibly disturbing and violent images within that doc, but again I would strongly recommend every American watch it. Those of you gazing at the angry fulminations emanating from my social media platforms will know how I feel about this. But what does this actually mean?
Next, I feel some basic things about this event must be stated, and repeatedly. A group of white supremacists/nationalists and neo-Nazis marched across a college campus with torches chanting “You/Jews will not replace us,” and finding their rallying base around a statue of a Confederate war general. This happened in America in 2017. The next day, during clashes at a protest people were injured, and after police ordered everyone to disburse a car driven by a supremacist sympathizer rammed over several dozen peaceful protestors, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer. The President of the United States has still been unable to issue any kind of statement making it clear where the majority of the violence on this tragic day was to be found. As of this writing, a week after this all happened, while almost everyone he brought with him to the White House is gone, he still has not issued any kind of statement to correct the record. This is how the President of the United States thinks, in 2017.
Third, these things are all irrefutable. And yet I find myself immersed in social media discussions in which many people out there cannot seem to understand, let alone morally grasp, the terms of this “debate.” This is rather unnerving because we Americans take it as a point of major pride that we helped Russia triumph over the Nazi menace during the Second World War. And yet even that type of speech is now considered by some people to deserve equal footing with anti-racist slogans and agendas. How did this decoupling of morality and consequence occur? Well, it sure didn’t happen one week ago.
We live in an age right now in which we are asking gigantic questions about society that seemed solidly in place even years prior. But many of these changes were accelerating in the first part of the great “War on Terror” with Dubya. This is a time that a lot of young people have no memory of, or if they do remember it’s filled with war. It bears repeating that the United States has been at war in Afghanistan for longer than any other war in its history. The lies came fast and furious after 9/11, and many precedents for Trump were set right here. “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “reality-based community.” Just three examples of words twisted beyond recognition by an administration bent on war and reaffirming the supposed world order of things by any means. And of course there were other egregious cases, such as pretending a great southern city (New Orleans) didn’t really exist in its time of most dire need. These are all things that are barely a decade past us.
Obama came, but we saw very little change in substance when it came to the militarization of our populace. While the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President got a lot of great press for supposedly winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in reality our nation got ever more enmeshed in the Middle East during his tenure, and Obama became known as the “Drone President” for how much he shifted military reliance on this technology. But the twisting of language didn’t stop under this man, as words like “imminent threat” became used to justify the preemptive assassination of American citizens abroad who were suspected of terrorism.
And there’s that word again. The word that has lost all meaning to today’s populace. The acts of James Alex Fields were certainly those of terrorism, especially as the media loves to define it today (car being driven over multiple pedestrians). And yet never more was the establishment media at pains to describe this as exactly what it was: an act of terrorism, perpetrated by a domestic terrorist. This debate has been worn out in the years after 9/11, but it’s hard to pretend as if most people don’t see it precisely this way: “terrorism” is stuff done by “those” people (i.e. anyone not white, but mostly Muslims). Again, the terms of the debate shifted steadily under the Bush II administration, but Obama did very little to quell this. And the GOP was literally using their racist bases’ impulse to go against that president through groups like the TEA Party.
This all leads us to where we stand now. Everyone wants to bemoan the state of “polarization” in our politics today, but very few seem to grasp the roots of our outrage. Could it be because:
The United States has never been forced through a truth and reconciliation process over any part of its horrifying racist past? Talking about the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, KKK, the list goes on. There is a reason why somebody born after 9/11 could still be indoctrinated in this type of evil mindset. Because generations before never had to be fully confronted with the malice of their deeds. And the rest of us were apparently OK with this for our generations.
Most of our US populace has become inherently deadened by the Neoliberal regime initiated by Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s and was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in the 2008 financial crash to be the largest financial swindle in history. This pernicious ideology has led vast swathes to view the entire world as a transactable thing, and leaves little room for other considerations. This alone has led to pain and suffering throughout the world that has the convenient excuse (still today!) of pretending as if it is an unchallengeable ideology (it isn’t). For more on this topic, I’d highly recommend Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.
Or perhaps it’s just a simple lack of education, with our elite betters exploiting it against us at every turn. Millions of people turned up in the streets to protest the Iraq War, but it still happened. Thousands of leftist, anti-racist and antifa organizers turned up at the Charlottesville protest, but somebody still got murdered. And the President sided with the murderers. Hard to think of a more concise example of the stark terms of the situation.
So yeah, this is war. In some ways it’s a war that never got resolved, much in the way the Korean peninsula situation threatens to spiral out of control because the war fought there by our nation a half-century ago led to much death and destruction but very little verdict. These things occur, and then pass us by as our populace becomes more and more inured to the catastrophic future awaiting us through climate change and political instability.
All of these things being predicate, how did we get here in 2017? I have no idea if the concepts I’m laying out here do justice to that question. But, as with the Boston Marathon bombing four years ago, these types of terrorist attacks have a large piece of context that never quite gets discussed in the media even when they happen.
Surely there is a reason these types of attacks are occurring on what appears to be a daily basis. Why is it so easy for most of us to throw around the “terrorism” label when it’s happening over there, and yet have such an inability to realize that it is our own foreign policy providing large amounts of “terror” to the world population? This kind of cognitive dissonance was a large part of what Trump was able to exploit to “win” the election, and continues to balance on moronic statements like “both sides.” It becomes apparent that this is racist balderdash is what the President truly thinks, and why wouldn’t he if his chief news sources are Fox News and Alex Jones? Our cherished belief to insulate ourselves in filter bubbles is only making these problems worse, and for those already massively uninformed, downright dangerous.
That’s essentially what we saw in Charlottesville: a large group of amazingly uninformed people acting on those beliefs in a violent way. Now, one could argue that’s the general thrust of American politics (as Tina Fey pointed out recently on Weekend Update, it was actually us who stole all of this land, another convenient fact to forget), but that is leaving off the hook those other problems I mentioned. And until that type of stuff is resolved, this all is only going to get worse.
The Right wants to paint all of this as “political correctness” gone awry, and while there is a grain of truth to some of that argument, I would argue that the statement of murdering a young woman in cold blood for no reason kinda of puts a lot of that to the side. Doesn’t mean we should go after these people with violence, but I’m finding it very hard to feel bad for some of these guys who are so internet savvy on the alt-Right but didn’t think about how a public doxing of their own might ostracize them from their communities. There should never be a single law against any type of speech in this country, but many courts have rightly made exceptions regarding violence to others. Again, some of this becomes blurry in our age of American insanity, but if the next rallies get worse be prepared to watch all of this take on a larger significance.
For those reading this, I wish I could come to a better conclusion than this. But there are solutions to many of the problems plaguing the nation. Single-payer healthcare, massive investments in alternative energy and basic infrastructure, and gigantic tax increases on the wealthy would significantly help a lot of what ails our country and the planet. But we cannot get there until we wrangle ourselves together as a populace who wants to make things better. The way some of the discussion has tilted in the wake of Charlottesville, I don’t think we are remotely there yet. But there is still time left (not in climate change terms, as we’ve now reached decade zero).
And it is time to get angry. For people like me, who stupidly didn’t understand the current electorate and the powers that seek to manipulate it, and for people who weren’t angry enough even after the bigot-in-chief was sworn in. People are now literally dying in the streets for these principles. It is incumbent upon all of us who reject white supremacist ideology to make our feelings known, online and in letters/calls to our representatives, and especially in the streets and through activism.
Because all of this, I fear, is only the beginning.
If you haven’t been hiding in a cave (either out of ignorance or for your own sanity) you are probably aware by now that we are in the final throes of one of the biggest farces of human interaction perpetrated in centuries. And by that I mean the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Long-time readers know I have been grousing about this stuff for years now, and I have witnessed time and again the very little change brought about by both major party candidates. Now in this possible nadir of American democracy (#demopocolypse), I want to examine the arguments being pursued in favor of one candidate over the other. This is known as the “lesser of two evils” argument, and had been bandied about in political circles since the entire process became much more corporatized a back in the 80’s. Essentially it boils down to this: yes, both candidates are corrupt, venal creatures forced to accept basic bribery to keep their campaigns afloat, but only one of them is “pure” evil. Since that is the case, vote for the other person.
Generally this argument can be laughed out of hand, because it pre-supposes that we as American citizens have absolutely no other ways to affect our democracy. But during this Presidential election, the idea has more allure than ever. This probably has something to do with the orange, misogynistic monster that somehow has captured the GOP nomination. But it also contributes to a softening of the picture on Hilary, overlooking her casual relationship with corruption and deceit throughout a (mostly) decent run as a public servant since being elected to the Senate from New York in 2000. In any other “normal” campaign, the leaks coming out regarding Clinton and her supposed two-faced motives would be potentially threatening. But that campaign left the station right around the time the orange behemoth began spouting white-nationalistic rhetoric like “Mexicans are rapists.”
In the effort of giving this argument the full hearing it deserves, I wanted to take a look at what we are acknowledging when we make the “lesser of two evils” argument.
First, TheDonald. What else remains to be said about this cretin? Misogynist, racist, neo-facist, xenophobe, the list could be endless. But I’ll be honest, what really freaks me out about this guy is what he represents: the conservative worldview as it remains in this decade. Remember when a bunch of old, white people filled up those town hall meetings to protest the Affordable Care Act? They weren’t protesting the legions of problems with that legislation (no public option, allowing the corporate health behemoths to continue to raise prices), but were angry that their hard-earned tax dollars were going to be used to pay for health care for people without their lovely skin complexion. This is just one example of the alternative universe that right-wingers live in these days. I should say have been allowed to live in, as the propaganda factory building to this was initially established in the 1970’s. But the important thing to remember is this: when Trump spouts garbage about building the wall, how our inner cities are like “hell” and regurgitates nonsense like the Clinton machine assassinating Vince Foster, he is saying these things because he believes them to be true. Just like millions of people who get “information” from places like Fox “News” and conservative radio think they are true. For you see, an entire disinformation campaign has been built up on the right for decades. Trump is as pure a form of that type of thinking as I’ve ever seen, and it terrifies me. Growing up in rural Iowa, I listened to a fair amount of Rush Limbaugh as my father and uncles drove around the farm fields. That didn’t prevent me from gaining a great work ethic, but it did contribute to my inability to be a free-thinking individual. Despite rejecting all of that fear-mongering over a decade ago, I still reflect with horror over how much I drank the Kool-Aid, because it was what I was taught to believe. Of course when I got to college and learned the value of free thought I abandoned it, but a lot of people never get to that point and simply become more and more angry throughout their lives. Kinda like the brutish Oompa-Loompa we saw on that stage last night. The people that support Trump might have a hard time dealing with his horrendous treatment of women, but they have no problem with ninety minutes of sustained assault on Clinton. In their minds, everything Trump is saying is true, but the supposed “liberal” media (anything that proves these conspiracy theories are false is “liberal”) won’t tell us the truth about it. This is literally the mindset of a ton of people, and it’s not like they are going away after this election. Many political commentators I read have speculated that it will only take a serious politician with brains another four years to radicalize these poor saps enough so that they might actually take over the country. Because if you believe the world is out to get you, all you really want is somebody telling you that you are right. Trump in certain moments got that correct, but was such a clownish buffoon the “liberal” media needed only to replay the stuff he said in public to show how unfit for the office he is. Just remember, millions of people liked everything they heard over the last year. They are not going away, and they are not going to be exiting their alternate universe any time soon. With real, actual problems like climate change (another part of reality they deny) occurring with scary regularity, now is not the time to have a huge percentage of your population living in a fantasy world.
Which brings me to Clinton. Again, there are over thirty years to pick through, but I want to focus chiefly on her tenure as Secretary of State. This is mostly because when she became First Lady I was a scant ten years old, and then only a few years away from my indoctrination into the conservative universe. I think of Clinton more as the spineless pretender of the 2008 race, in which her campaign surrogates didn’t think twice of revolving around pictures of Obama in supposed “Muslim” garb (remember that?). This woman almost completely defines “political corruption” in the modern world, and anyone who has considered voting for her ought to be well aware of this. This doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified for the job of president, but so what? Just being qualified does not excuse a litany of horrendous, appalling judgement that has led to the suffering of thousands. In case anyone forgot, Clinton was all over the bandwagon of support for the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Oh sure, she later called it a “mistake” but I don’t ever recall her apologizing for the over 100,000 Iraqis who were killed in the conflict, nor for pathetic ineptitude of her party, upon re-taking the Congress in 2007, to end the illegal devastation. But more contemporarily, her tenure as SOS has been littered with disaster (although that word might be a Trump trademark by now). I guess I’ll start with Libya, since Clinton herself seemingly still will not concede what a monumental error in judgement it was to remove Gaddafi from power there. After fear-mongering all summer 2011 (during the height of the Arab Spring), she essentially pushed Obama into bombing the crap out of Gaddafi’s forces, even going so far as to claim credit for the destruction like a good imperialist (“we came, we saw, he died”). Of course, one of the few factual claims Trump has made over the course of this farce of a campaign is that since then, the country has devolved into tyranny and terrorism, which is what happened but will never be acknowledged by Madam Secretary. Another thing that really bugged me during her tenure was that she bragged about how many countries she’d visited and how little sleep she maintained, as if that was an excellent recipe for conducting diplomacy around the world. How many meetings do you suppose she traipsed through due to lack of sleep? And I suppose I should mention the private email server - while yes, this was incredibly stupid and possibly could have allowed classified foreign policy information to be purloined, what really freaking irritates me about this incident is the complete lack of awareness of why this was a bad idea. Remember, this was the same woman who cried endlessly about Chelsea Manning leaking those secrets to Wikileaks six years ago, doing something potentially even worse (Manning was trying to wake up the American populace to the slaughters perpetrated by their armed forces; she specifically did not leak any intelligence secrets to Russia, and of course neither did Snowden) with her own email servers. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and a huge reason why she should not be trusted when she starts spouting garbage about Wikileaks’ supposed menacing connections with Putin. This woman clearly does not understand either how the Internet works or how it is going to be used to keep her in check now that it has become the dominant communication system of the world. Any Millennial with a Snapchat account ought to be aware of how disturbing this is.
So what is the point of this diatribe? Everyone who makes this argument needs to, at the very least, acknowledge what you’re asking people to admit. On the one hand, you have an orange monster, on the other, a corrupt politician who thinks little of the pain and suffering brought by our nation upon the rest of the world. Of course these aren’t even the totality of candidates, but you wouldn’t know that from the obscenely corporate-controlled “debate” process/farce that we saw play out over the past month. The fact that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have viable viewpoints on the future of our nation means little to the corporate elite controlling the “debate” process, most of whom would prefer if Clinton glided into the White House. Recall that by proffering this argument you are saying it’s just fine that our democracy is bought and paid for, and that you have to accept either of these power-mad people in the highest office in the land. You are also stating that we have to accept that this is the way things have to be, instead of the thousands of meaningful ways activists have tried changing the conversation over the past decade. In the “debates” there was not a SINGLE mention of climate change (this happened almost to the letter in 2012, too) - but that didn’t stop activists from shutting down numerous pipelines during the same time period. From the questions asked at the debate, you’d think the Second Amendment had been nearly torn out of the Constitution, instead of the very reality of dozens of black men being shot on the street by their supposed “protectors.” By saying that these two are the most viable and best candidates for the job of POTUS, you are conceding the terms of the debate.
And while I can’t tell anybody how to vote this November, at the very least if you’re going to make an argument about the lesser of two evils, it should be your sworn duty to bring up the many, many things that argument does not acknowledge. For only if we see this nightmare of democracy for what it is, and what it could be, then we can begin to change it into something that works for everyone. It is my hope that this crazy campaign and what it has revealed about America might begin that process, but who knows? It’s gone on this long, perhaps it will continue until we all melt in the wake of Co2 emissions. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
The presidential election is pretty hard to ignore, as it’s taking up all the space in the media these days with speculation about who is going to win the primaries. Two months in, the field has narrowed considerably and all those GOP hopefuls (and uh, Martin O’Malley) who thought they had a shot with those strong 1% poll numbers have been dropping like flies. Readers of this blog who have followed my writing on these matters know I have been no stranger to long political rants about the current system and its lack of choice for voters. I more or less swore off the political analysis in the wake of the 2012 major party conventions, witnessing them to be no more than tired propaganda factories reflecting the current sad realities facing our vox populi.
That bug hasn’t left me entirely, and when I started this blog I did say I would write about this stuff occasionally. The funny thing about being laid off from a cushy office job is that you no longer have time to read over all the depressing news in the world. It’s gotten so bad that I have become one of those Americans who almost solely gets their news from The Daily Show, and even that platform I had problems with up until Trevor Noah gave it the comedic kickstart it desperately needed. I have found this is not such a bad thing, as following the dreck of disinformation pouring out of the major news outlets is hardly the best use of one’s time these days.
If you’re reading this I assume you’re familiar with the state of affairs up to this point, but I will give a pithy summary nonetheless: Bernie Sanders accelerated over on Hilary’s left flank, pointing out her very real contradictions in taking gigantic amounts of Wall Street cash (just like her husband) and attracting a wave of support for the simple action of not sounding like the bought and paid for candidates of the Democratic Party’s past. And on the GOP side, the clown car began last summer exceedingly full of candidates who didn’t have a chance in hell of scoring the nomination, and one guy who fell into that category who might wind up winning anyways. I might find some hate thrown my way for writing this, but to me there’s no denying that Trump is an ideal mirror of our society and its pathetic attempts at creating “democracy” in the day and age of the Deep State and the endless “War on Terror.” For in Trump we see all the aspects that the moneyed class worships: a “self-made” man that was basically born rich and allowed to fail multiple times without consequence. And yet at the same time he uses his talents against the establishment by braying certain code words to the GOP base, many of whom thought Dubya and his torture regime were way too liberal.
While we have a ways to go in this here contest, the important lesson here is to not count out the underdogs. What the establishment media still does not understand is that things are looking especially bad out there in this day and age. We are eight years into the economic “recovery,” having seen the majority of economic gains soar right up to the .001%, and those jobs that have been created are of the vastly menial variety. We’ve hit peak malaise in this nation, as reflected by the two outsider candidates, but it’s your humble author’s opinion that only one of them has a platform up to the challenge. I suppose that’s reinforced by Trump’s inability to articulate what he would do if he gained the most powerful position in our government, but then again he’s only reflecting another disposition of those in his class, which is to do do whatever they want without worrying about the aftermath. The 2008 economic crash (which I’d wager maybe about a quarter of Americans to this day even fully understand) proved this point on a massive scale.
Which brings me to the ultimate point, and that would be the one of voting. Is there a point to this action, which we are told every four years will really make a difference? It’s hard to advance an argument in the affirmative when people like Sheldon Adelson are attempting to use their billions of corrupt dollars denying the rights of millions of people. I can only speak from personal experience, having jumped on the bandwagon in voting for Obama in ‘08 only to be too ashamed to pull the lever for the drone-assassin-in-chief a mere four years later (I made my choice for the Green Party candidate, who was arrested the day before - yay democracy!). It’s just hard for me to say go out there and vote in the general election because it literally will do nothing for you these days. The vastly more important work is out there on the streets, because if you haven’t noticed our nation is literally crumbling before us, both on a societal and infrastructure scale. So go out there and vote if you desire, but if you want to truly make a difference start agitating your local governments and ask them why they don’t feel #blacklivesmatter, or start bothering them about disinvesting from companies that profit from the destruction of our environment. Or check out the increasing agitation against horrendous Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and begin calling for a Constitutional amendment banning money from our political process.
Because when it comes down to it, our lovely democratic system has actually become a system of oppression, set up to create the illusion of choice. Sure it can be changed, but that’s going to take a hell of a lot more than voting in the 2016 election.
Once again it’s Monday and therefore time for your local unemployed author/journalist to regale you with more tales from beyond the working world. Except this time my wife and I are heading out of town in a couple of days and so I’m going to set aside the whole “how to be a writer and get published” business for a political topic that’s near and dear to my heart. So, for those of you who hear the world “politics” in this day and age and immediately feel a little bit of bile rise up in your throat (which might make up a fair amount of the audience for this blog), feel free to skip this one. For those of you concerned with our lovely national dialogue and what’s become of it in the sixteen years since Mr. Stewart took helm of The Daily Show, glad to have you aboard.
Jon Stewart gave us his final show last week. Over sixteen years, this man has blessed America with one of the sharpest, most critical and deeply humorous voices in our collective political life, and I for one will miss him quite a bit. His final show was more of a celebration of that legacy than anything else, with tons of former “correspondents,” including a fair amount (*ahem* Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell) who have gone on to become arguably more famous than the man himself making appearances. I was also glad to see some of my all-time favorite people from the show make a quick return, including Mo Rocca, Ed Helms, Larry Wilmore (whose own show on Comedy Central is a darkly hilarious look at race relations and other political hot topics and provides a desperately needed conversation each night), John Hodgman, Nate Cordry, and a surprise appearance from the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader (who was angry Stewart compared him unfavorably to Dick Cheney).
The entire, hour-long show contained a genteelly cheery atmosphere, featured an incredibly well-edited package taking a look at the people behind the scenes of the show, and also managed to include one final tirade from the man himself about “bullshit” and its many variations, which in my opinion summed up this guy’s general take on life quite well. But I’d have to say it’s better to take in the entire final week of the show to get to the bottom of its impact on the political situation in this country.
One segment in particular, “The Daily Show: Destroyer of Worlds” broke down the media’s obsession with Stewart’s “evisceration” strategy of the targets the show has taken on over the years, appraising whether or not it even made a difference at all. While the package was highly entertaining and showcased the best of Stewart’s self-deprecating take on his position as political jester calling out buffoonery and mendacity wherever it be found, it made me re-consider the show in some ways in light of this Flavorwire article by Tom Hawking I read about the end of Stewart’s run (which was itself a riff on a purely awful article by Karol Markowicz for Time Magazine - do people still read that?). The long n’ short of these pieces was that rather than raise the discourse by offering equal mockery of all sides, Stewart actually contributed to the coarsening of said discourse by becoming as bad as the targets he mocked. While there is some ammunition in his sixteen-year run to provide fodder for this point of view, it’s my view that Stewart’s legacy offers a more pernicious ideal than most critical analysis bears out.
This became increasingly clear to me after watching the final, extended interview Stewart offered to our current occupant in the White House, Barack Obama. Now, my opprobrium for this man has been noted over the years, and it’s no secret that I have not been a fan of the president since around the middle of his first term. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for the guy again in 2012 based on his track record, which includes a litany of illegal offenses perpetrating the never-ending “War on Terror” including (but not limited to): illegal expansion of war to Libya, illegal assassination campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, the extension of surveillance powers across the spectrum of communication platforms, and the war on whistleblowers, which was perpetuated by the previous administration but picked up in earnest by this one. Plenty of things to pick apart there, and Stewart had ample time to lay into any one of these issues with the benefit of a lengthy, online-only interview which he has used to great effect previously.
Instead, he offered a very long discussion about the Iranian nuclear deal which, while very important and a major legacy for this administration, is something that was a long time coming and should have happened decades ago given the constant interference American has played in that country’s internal affairs for the past half-century. Again, not discounting that this was a good topic to bring up, I just think that for his final interview Stewart could have picked a more controversial topic (although given the adamant GOP opposition to this deal, perhaps it’s more controversial than I concede). And true, if you watch the extended interview you’ll watch Stewart fiercely question Obama about his administration's’ incompetence in the face of the many troubles plaguing the Veterans Administration, and rightly called out the president for not fixing these issues, such as ensuring men and women in uniform receive adequate health care after coming home from these interminable conflicts. I would argue that here was Stewart at his best, baldly calling power to account in front of a huge, smart, television audience. This has been an important issue for the host over many years, and he’s covered it with gusto, so I can hardly fault him for bringing it up with the Commander-in-Chief.
But again, with so much to criticize the president on, I found it odd that he chose these topics. It’s not like Stewart has gone after the Obama administration on all of them through various segments, especially after the Snowden revelations two years ago. I just thought it was bizarre he didn’t bring up any of it, choosing to offer the guy a pretty easy interview. This brings to mind the more pernicious aspect of Stewart’s legacy that makes me worry about the future of satire in this nation: the notion that liberal critiques of a liberal president like Obama are only allowed to go so far, and no further. I saw the same example of this in the risible interview Douglas Brinkley conducted with Obama for Rolling Stone around the time of the 2012 election and the seeming inability for a “progressive” news magazine to criticize the very real problems with this man’s institutionalization of the worst excesses of the “War on Terror.” Now this isn’t Stewart’s problem; remember he’s the same one who allowed Obama walk into the “Yes, we can, but…” quagmire of an answer during an interview he gave to the comedian during the same election cycle. I just yearned for that same, hard-hitting interview style now that both men are on the way out.
What does this have to do with the death of satire? Well, I’d say for the most part it might limit the next host, Trever Noah, by attempting to define the limits of proper discourse for the next president. Noah, whose rocket-propelled career has only grown since the announcement that he’d be taking over for Stewart, made his name on the program by using his South African perspective to rail against the moronic excesses of today’s America, and it’s still my hope this incredibly brilliant guy will use the platform wisely to hold up a mirror to our population each night to show us how off-track we have fallen compared to the rest of the world on issues such as the justice system and climate change. But by not taking on Obama on the myriad of troublesome issues he has seemingly made worse, I fear that Stewart, simply by dint of his pedestal and what he has meant to American life since the Bush years, may have cut him short through actions alone. (Similar vibes held forth in his joint “Rally to Restore Freedom and/or Fear” with the Colbert Report some years ago, which, while a hilarious mockery of the current polarized landscape, basically stated the blase message that “both sides do it.”)
Again, this might be a lot of hand-wringing on my part for nothing. Trevor Noah is his own man and surely the producers of this multiple-Emmy and Peabody winning show will give him plenty of space to maneuver. But Stewart’s odd deference to power, seen generally only in his obsequious interview style with those people sitting in such positions within our government, always rubbed me the wrong way. The importance of his show was to declare the stupidity of our current media landscape and how idiotically it framed our national debate, such as it is in the age of social media and thousands of various places to get news. But I fear that by demonstrating the opposite, and declaring it OK because it’s a “comedy” show, often sent the wrong message to those in power, and one utterly opposed to the one Colbert sent at the 2005 Correspondent's Dinner, which to my mind is the greatest example of satire biting the powerful hand that was stupid enough to invite it to partake at the “grown ups” table.
As great and moving as it was to see Colbert’s tremendous, unscripted tribute in the final episode to the man who got him started, I fear that another searing voice of satire has been lost to the demands of network television by his ascension to the Late Show. But that’s another story.
Bottom line: satire ain’t what it used to be, and while greatly advanced by Jon Stewart (for an example in the other direction, check out his voraciously devious tome America: The Book) in some important ways, I fear the general transition of acquiescence to power seen since the time of 9/11 has not reversed course, but has only grown during his tenure in the age of Obama.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cats. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.