Another Day, Another White House Lie

So many people – including major media figures – are snarking online about how Trump didn’t go to the WWI memorial today because he didn’t want to get his hair wet in a light rain.

While that may seem both pathetic and funny – perfect for Saturday Night Live and late night comics – I urge you to ask the question: what’s really going on?

(1) The international memorial marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI was a big deal – it was part of why Trump went to Paris on this weekend in the first place. Scratching it from the schedule is causing a worldwide embarrassment, which surely Trump’s aides would have told him would happen. So why cancel it? The WH says it’s because of bad weather. But…

(2) The weather’s not *that* bad. Macron and Merkel were out bareheaded. Trudeau later used an umbrella, but he made it through. It’s a light drizzle. And in any case…

(3) The stated White House reason just doesn’t make ANY sense: Marine One can’t fly because of… drizzle?!? It’s meant to fly in the middle of a nuclear attack! And even if there *were* serious weather concerns…

(4) Trump could STILL have gone by motorcade – it’s not far from Paris. John Kelly went by car, apparently.

So… something’s up. There’s a reason for not going that (at least in Trump’s mind) outweighs the embarrassment of cancelling.

Maybe a motorcade would mean having to see miles of protestors lining up to oppose him. Or maybe he’s throwing a tantrum and refusing to spend time with Macron and Merkel. (He did look pissed at the Macron photo op earlier today.)

I’ve been wondering if he ditched the memorial to meet with Putin outside of the glare of cameras, and later offered the bullshit “bad weather” excuse knowing most folks would joke about his hair vanity and avoid asking further questions.

But we SHOULD ask questions. We need to: our paid officials are lying to us. Again.

And we shouldn’t stop at the easy solution: laughing wryly and shaking our heads about how Trump just wants to protect his combover, haha! What a buffoon!

Something’s up. There’s a reason that he didn’t attend this memorial, whether it’s stupid or sinister – or both.

But it sure as hell isn’t because Marine One can’t fly in a light rain.

A Theory of the Case

1

For a moment, please consider this straightforward theory of the case: Trump and Putin made a deal. In return for Putin’s active election interference plus some Russian business, Trump promised to end U.S. sanctions on Russia if elected President of the United States.

See? Easy. You don’t even need 280 characters to lay it out.

It’s worth keeping this theory in mind as Trump prepares for a contentious meeting with our supposed allies of NATO next week, then meets with our supposed rival Vladimir Putin shortly after. (The AP reports that no other Americans will be present at the Putin meeting.)

So if you’re reading this, please take a moment and consider this thought: that Trump and Putin exchanged a quid pro quo some years back, which resulted in the Trump presidency – a deal that will have untold effects our country’s future (and the world’s) for decades to come.

Let’s consider the theory, and its implications.

 

2

First, let me say clearly: if there was such a deal, I think it unlikely that it was cemented in a personal, one-on-one, face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin. Such a bargain would probably have been worked out with intermediaries and underlings, perhaps in coded language and mutual understandings.

So there’s likely to be very little documentation. Putin’s too crafty to leave much of a paper trail – and he’d have been especially careful with whatever he put in writing to Trump and his team. He’d surely have known or seen that they’re DEFINITELY stupid and incompetent enough to leave evidence behind.

So in James Comey’s words, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” – and I hope Bob Mueller has them – but I can’t prove any of this, obviously. I can just conjecture from what has been reported, and what I observe.

And there’s a LOT we already know to be true.

 

3

For despite what Trump and his followers say, there’s zero doubt that

(a) Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and

(b) Putin meddled with the express goal of electing Donald Trump and defeating Hillary Clinton.

For the latest proof, there’s the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) – which was released this week on July 3.

(If you didn’t hear about this report, it may because it was released just as many Americans were traveling, celebrating, or checking out for the Independence Day holiday. Convenient timing!)

Consider this latest confirmation, of many reports that are out there. From The Hill:

The committee’s report is an analysis of the Intelligence Community’s assessment (ICA), dated January 2017, of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The ICA found that Russia meddled pervasively in the election and did so to the benefit of Donald Trump, and at the expense of Hillary Clinton. The committee’s report says it has added new corroborative findings to the IC’s assessment, but it offers no details, perhaps at a later date. The committee report essentially validates the ICA.

Okay, so Russia meddled.

And though Trump claims he didn’t know anything about it (“No collusion! No collusion!”) I’m going to ask you to consider for a moment that maybe, just maybe… he’s lying.

And consider that he and Putin made a deal: if elected, Trump would end sanctions on Russia, in return for Putin’s electoral assistance to defeat Hillary, plus some Russian business.

 

4

So in this theory of the case, both Trump and Putin would have seen their quid pro quo deal as a win-win, no matter the outcome in 2016.

Trump saw that either

(a) he’d lose, start “Trump TV,” and for the rest of his life he could continue ranting to adoring rally crowds and television viewers that the election was rigged and he was cheated out of the Presidency – all of which would stoke his ego and bring untold riches to his brand, OR

(b) he’d win the Presidency and become the most powerful and famous man in America – which would *also* stoke his ego and bring vast riches to his companies.

 

For his part, Vladimir Putin also saw a win-win, but with even far more sweeping, more international gains. He knew Trump would either

(a) lose, but lose in a way that left Putin’s hated rival Hillary Clinton so bloodied – and the country so divided – that she’d find it hard to govern, thus destabilizing the U.S.; OR

(b) Trump would win the election and end economic sanctions on Russia…

…WHILE ALSO (as Putin knew, Trump being Trump and preaching racism, nationalism, and division), Trump would weaken the U.S.’s moral standing, damage the EU, destabilize NATO and other alliances, and partner with Russia, leaving Russia in a far stronger position both in terms of economics and global power.

Which is exactly what we’re starting to see happen now.

 

5

Note that aside from the fact that discovery of this deal could result in charges to Trump of treason, conspiracy, election fraud, obstruction of justice, and on and on – consequences Trump likely didn’t think or care about – such a deal would be relatively “low risk, extremely high reward” for both men.

Putin faced no real consequences for election meddling, even if it had been discovered and called out at the time (which Barack Obama tried to do, but was stymied by Mitch McConnell – but never mind that right now.) The worst case scenario was that President Obama (or President Hillary Clinton, if it worked out that way) could hit Russia with increased sanctions. Putin might have calculated that that risk was well worth the gamble.

And indeed, Putin seems to have gotten his money’s worth – and then some. Just on the stuff we now know, Putin’s investments in active measures were fairly cheap: he…

  • provided trolls to help spread slander and sow division in the American electorate;
  • handed off documents to Wikileaks, with releases timed with the intention of hurting Clinton and her campaign;
  • laundered Russian money through Trump’s businesses;
  • sent representatives to try to peddle “dirt” on Hillary Clinton (though none was actually forthcoming);
  • funneled cash through organizations such as the NRA to Trump’s campaign;
  • greased the wheels for a Trump Tower Moscow, a deal that’s now off, in June of 2018 – but it was in the works well into the campaign, despite Trump’s lies and denials.

There might have been more sinister and invasive methods – specific changes in actual vote tallies in particular states are possible – but I’m just sticking to what we actually know for sure.

All of that cost Putin ridiculously little – and reaped great rewards for Russia, as we’re seeing every day now: the aforementioned destabilization of NATO and the world; Trump’s trade war, which is opening up avenues of trade between other countries and Russia.

Pretty good deal, if you’re Putin. And at a good price.

 

6

But if Putin gave away little in bargain in this scenario, Trump gave away even less: he merely offered:

  • a promise of future sanction relief IF elected (a big “if”)
  • employment to a remarkable number of Russian-connected associates (Flynn, Manafort, Sater, Eric Prince, Kushner, Michael Cohen, and others)
  • at least tacit approval of changes to the 2016 GOP party platform, with language supporting Russian interests in Ukraine.

The biggest bonus was this, though – an intangible, maybe, but a real bonus nonetheless:

  • Trump lavished over-the-top public praise on Putin in Tweets, speeches and rally appearances, which he continues to do to this day.

Altogether, though, it’s not much to offer really – and most important: Trump himself would have had to pay nothing out of pocket, personally. And he hates spending money, as Putin surely knows.

So Trump would have likely seen this quid-pro-quo arrangement as an unbelievably wonderful deal for himself. He stood to gain so much by giving up almost nothing of tangible value: just a promise to relieve Russian sanctions in the future, if things worked out.

And anyone who’s followed Trump knows that’s exactly his favorite kind of deal: ‘You give me everything, while I give you ZIP!’

He might have even thought he’d put one over on ol’ Vladimir Putin.

 

7

As for consequences, Trump’s not a man to worry too much about that – mostly because he’s rarely had to face them. He probably figured that if he won, he could just use the levers of power to cover up his deal with the Russians. He reportedly thought a President is more like a king and can do as he likes, bending the law to his will.

Unfortunately, he may be right.

But in any event, if he thought he’d lose – he also would have guessed (probably correctly) that no one in power would bother to dig into the businesses, finances, or contacts of a failed candidate, and therefore no one would ever find out about his arrangement with Putin.

This is, as has been suggested before, a real-world version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers – one that’s playing out not as comedy, but rather as national and international tragedy.

If you’re not familiar with that film or musical, here’s a refresher: two shifty producers realize they can make more money from a flop than a hit, since investors don’t expect to be paid back for a show that closes opening night, nor do accountants care enough to look into the finances of a failed production. So they raise millions to stage the biggest theatrical flop possible (a musical about, uh…. Hitler), with a plan to pocket the money and run to Rio after the closing notices get posted.

But then, as luck would have it, their play is a smash hit… and in the sunlight that shines on their dealings, they’re exposed as crooks for all the world to see.

Like Bialystock and Bloom, Trump probably figured he’d lose and no one would see what he was up to.

But then he won.

And here we are.

 

8

In some tellings (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, for one), Trump neither expected… nor *wanted to* win the 2016 election.

He thought, abstractly, that being President would be cool, and that everyone would kowtow to him. Proudly, profoundly ignorant, he thought the job would be a snap.

A deeply sick man, he was divided: part of him knew that he was a charlatan and was shook to the core by a deep-seated fear that he wasn’t up to the task.

But that fearful part of his psyche was at war with his other half: the part that said that he was, without a doubt, the greatest, the best, the biggest, the huge-est, the man for whom history was made! That he’d be a president like no other!

Nonetheless, perhaps deep down he knew his best, most profitable endgame… was to LOSE and claim victory.

Again, this is the outcome some reports suggest Trump was both expecting… and truly desiring.

If losing was what he expected and hoped for, this accounts for his shocked reaction, captured at the moment victory was announced:

 

One can read that photo as the moment the thought settles in that now he has to do this… crappy… JOB, with its attendant drudgery and bullshit.

Or perhaps one can read it as the moment he recognizes that he’s in big trouble. Among other things, he knows he has to somehow cover his tracks for the deal he made with Russia.

 

9

This shock would also account for his extraordinary meeting with President Obama at the White House the next day. I’ve been watching Trump in disgust for 30-some years now, since he was a daily tabloid joke on local NYC TV news, and that was the only time in his long career I’ve ever seen him appear chastened, unsure – even meek, awestruck. Even slightly conciliatory.

And it would also explain many decisions in Year One of his presidency, especially in staffing. Though he installed a smattering of family members (Ivanka, Jared Kushner) and far-right, white supremacist zealots (Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller), most of his appointments were more traditional Republican bureaucrats – establishment figures from the right-wing of business, government, and the military: Sessions, Kelly, Tillerson, McMaster, Mattis, Priebus, Spicer… they were all chosen to prop up a Trump who was unsure of himself and foundering, lashing out.

At least, that’s what many commentators (and many citizens… and many conservatives) hoped they’d do.

But what we’ve seen as year one ground into year two is that Trump is cleaning house of those supposedly wiser, more steady handlers. He’s replacing them with figures even further right: Bolton, Pompeo, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Moreover: at the time of this writing, Trump is becoming more comfortable making decrees all on his own, often ignoring advice on important matters: imposing tariffs on allies against the advice of his economic advisers, say; or unilaterally announcing the cancellation of joint military training exercises with our ally South Korea…. without first notifying the South Koreans OR the U.S. military.

These stunning moves indicate that Trump now truly believes he’s the man for the job, and he’s acting more on his own without guidance or check on his power.

And that should scare all of us.

 

10

As far as this theory I posited at the top of this post – the quid pro quo: this is, of course, not a new revelation. Lots of people have suggested that’s exactly what happened.

Christopher Steele, for one, laid the plan out pretty baldly in his dossier: that Trump appeared to have traded Russian business and electoral help a promise to end sanctions.

This is the true explosive allegation in the dossier – more explosive, really, than the sources who reported that Putin had compromat on Trump (embarrassing material of a sexual nature), and that Trump was thus compromised by Russia.

No, most of the dossier was really about Trump’s shady business dealings, and how they were entangled with Russia. This dossier has been in the public eye since at David Corn wrote about it in October of 2016.

Many elements in the dossier have now been confirmed.

No significant information included therein has been DISproved.

We need to face the theory of the case, and try to wrap our heads around its implications.

*

Once again, simply, clearly let me restate this hypothesis: Donald Trump promised to drop U.S. sanctions on Russia… in exchange for Putin’s help to win the 2016 election, plus some Russian business deals.

Positing it often and clearly is, I believe, important. Let’s at least consider that scenario as the next steps unfold at NATO, Helsinki, and the world beyond.

Our way forward may hinge on what happened at that time, and how we deal with that question going into the future.

About That Jacket.

This is all off the table if Melania denounces him, or better yet: leaves him tomorrow.

But for the moment…

Well, here’s the thing: 1) at the very, very least – the absolute, most charitable assumption – is that Melania and everyone around her are exceedingly stupid. It’s a stunning, unbelievable PR disaster. Messaging, images, photos, words, COUNT – and of all people, Donald Trump knows this. His wife knows this. Her staff knows this. They’re all paid for by us, the taxpayers, to do their jobs. And the message they sent today in the middle of a US humanitarian crisis caused by her husband was literally, “I REALLY DON’T CARE.”

2) What makes it so bad is that it lays bare what we can see *with our own eyes to be the truth*: Trump does not care about migrant brown children. Much less for adult migrants: he called them animals. Said they’re infesting the US. This statement – and it is a statement – reinforces this inhumanity.

And lastly: 3) I’m not inclined to give her props for going down to the border. Not any more. Children are going to die because of her husband’s cruelty. And now: she is complicit. She helped get him elected, helped normalize him, repeated ‘birther’ lies, stood by his side. She knows who he is. What he is.

So a show of empathy to these poor kids at the border – even if it’s genuine – will be used by Trump – *is being used* – to burnish his image. To soften him.

Whether she wants it to be or not, whether she likes it or not, it’s now *to his credit* that the First Lady visited these suffering children. It makes him look better by extension. In some level, when we say, “we’ll, at least Melania went to visit…” it makes it easier to somewhere, back in our lizard brains, to say “gee, maybe he’s not so bad… if a good-hearted, sympathetic person could show a modicum of kindness.” Ok, maybe you’re not fooled. But his 40% of US supporters are.

So in the end, this visit, this show… actually makes it easier for him to KEEP HURTING THEM.

Or it would have…. before today.

And this brings us back to the jacket. And the words on the jacket.

Which, again, are “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?”

(Mark my words, this jacket will go in the Smithsonian.)

Trump has been adept at using symbols and words as weapons. Extremely adept.

So I’m sorry, Melania, but turnabout is fair play.

You’ve given us a visual weapon to be used in November… and 2020… and whenever we need it.

There will be a chorus of “at least sweet, good-hearted Melania went to visit those kids.”

There will be a chorus of “oh, don’t criticize the First Lady’s clothes!!!”

(Would Michelle Obama have gotten that slack if she’d worn that jacket? Would HILLARY have gotten that benefit of the doubt? Hell, I loved both those ladies, and if either of them had worn that coat, even just to a cocktail party, I would’ve written that it was tone deaf. If they’d have worn that coat to visit refugee children, I would’ve denounced them.)

Don’t give in. Retweet it. Denounce it. Let them be tarred with this forever. This is Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” times 1000 – especially since, FUN FACT: there’s no evidence Marie Antoinette ever said that.

This is a photo. Images matter. Words matter.

This image crystallizes the cruelty, malevolence, and incompetence of Trump and his administration.

Use it. Use it forever.

IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE: an exhortation

IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE:  an exhortation

by Ed Valentine

www.edvalentine.com

Twitter: @eddyval

 

In the following, I confront some harsh realities – but I also follow them up with some practical steps we all can take to fight against what’s happening in America today. Buckle up.

*

1.

If you’re not inclined towards cruelty, it can be hard to imagine that other people are so inclined.

This creates a blind spot. You can end up excusing, explaining, justifying acts you would never commit yourself, mostly because you simply can’t believe that someone would really do things that you yourself cannot dream of undertaking.

This denial, this blindness, can persist for weeks, months, years – even lifetimes. It can be passed down from generation to generation.

Meanwhile, the people who are inclined to cruelty keep doing what they do – and their cruelty keeps escalating, partly because more tender-hearted people didn’t stop cruelty early on.

This failure to stop evil isn’t just a lack of will, though it is partly that. I maintain that failure is really a failure of imagination.

Again: if you can’t believe that the human heart is capable of such cruelty – or if you don’t want to believe it, despite ample evidence throughout history, all across the globe, that people can and do commit unspeakable acts… well, then your worldview just won’t encompass what your mind can’t conceive.

So you just don’t imagine it could happen.

 

2.

In my work as a playwright, I’ve tried to understand why people do terrible things. I’ve tried to imagine what I, personally, would otherwise find unthinkable. I’ve tried to figure out how people who do awful things live with themselves, and whether or not they can be redeemed, changed, or healed.

In my work as a children’s writer, I’ve tried to imagine a better world than the one we live in, and I’ve tried, as often as I can, to point a way to that better world. To present a world where kids can grow up less afraid, more tolerant, happier, more joyful, more whole.

All writing is a work of imagination springing from some underlying reality. And writers have to confront hard truths and imagine the unimaginable.

*

You know who else has a great imagination? Anyone inclined to inflict damage and cruelty on others: Sociopaths. Career criminals. Mobsters. Murderers. They have great (meaning ‘awesomely terrifying’) imaginations, and they can conceive of evils big, complex, and deadly.

What’s more, these damaged and damaging human beings don’t have the blind spot the rest of us have. They don’t harbor any illusion that cruelty doesn’t exist – how could they? They know it’s there. They see it in themselves. They relish and indulge it – and in turn, they foster cruelty in others. Nurturing it by example, egging it on.

And they also see something else: they see that some other people don’t see true cruelty. They see that some of us don’t recognize, or are too late to recognize, that there’s evil out there, and that there really are evil people who do really evil things.

They depend on those blind spots to give cover to their acts. They know that our blind spots will make us reluctant to call out – or incapable of calling out – evil. Or even naming it for what it is.

That’s why blind spots are so dangerous when you’re driving, after all: you just… can’t… see part of the road, so you don’t see what’s speeding towards you. What’s coming up behind you on the passenger side – a truck? A motorcycle? A drunk driver? You never imagined it coming at you, so you ignore the possibility that it’s there until it’s too late.

That’s human. It’s hard to imagine what you’re not able to see.

 

3.

That’s why I say this to us all, as readers, thinkers, citizens, voters, journalists:

We now need to develop a greater – more encompassing – and indeed more vividly upsetting – imagination.

This week, it’s three years since Trump came down that escalator to a crowd – a crowd in which a number of actors were paid to play avid Trump supporters. He declared his candidacy by calling immigrants rapists and murderers.

Next month marks two years since the GOP convention, with “I alone can fix it.”

It’s a year and a half since his inauguration, when he talked of immigration again, linking deaths in the streets to gangs coming across the border. Said he could bring law and order to stop this “American Carnage.”

That was supposed to be just rhetoric, and we were told to take him “seriously, not literally.” We were told he was all talk. That he was a blustering fool, a clown, a buffoon.

We were assured that laws, norms, standards, and wiser, cooler-headed, more experienced politicians and aides would stop him from acting on his worst impulses.

They were just words, we were told. He didn’t mean anything by them. He just… SAYS stuff, you know? For effect. 

 

4.

Now his racist, nativist rhetoric has turned into racist, nativist action.

His cruel talk has manifested as actual, physical acts of cruelty.

Now we’re halfway into the second year of his ill-gotten administration. Now he’s ripping small children away from their parents, locking them in cages, and telling us baldfaced lies about why that’s happening and who’s to blame.

Children alone, in tents. Outdoors. In the summer heat.

Terrified children, separated from their parents, detained in camps. And let’s call them what they are, according to Merriam-Webster: “concentration camps.”

Merriam-Webster:

CONCENTRATION CAMP: a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined

If you couldn’t imagine someone was capable of such cruelty in 2016, well… maybe cruelty in others was one of your blind spots.

But by now – after all that’s been said, after all that’s happened, after all that’s happening this very moment – we have enough evidence to see that what’s “unthinkable” to us has been thought up by someone else. Not just thought up: thought through. Planned out. Put into place.

What’s unthinkable to you is someone else’s action list. Their five-year plan.

 

5.

So it’s time to develop a bigger imagination.

And by “bigger imagination,” I mean a more encompassing worldview – one that acknowledges that there are people in our midst who are capable of great evil. A worldview that at least entertains the possibility that Trump is one of those people.

I urge us all to develop an imagination that, at the very least, allows us to contemplate that this man and the people around him are capable of cruelty on a grand scale, are willing to escalate it, are willing to lie about it – and are not afraid of any consequences.

If we’re taking infants and toddlers away from their parents and caging them in June of 2018 – and we are – what will we be doing next month – in July?

December?

Next June?

How about November 2020, before the next Presidential election?

The election of 2024? Where are we then? What is Trump doing at that point?

All evidence shows that cruelty, unchecked, escalates.

 

6.

Case in point, regarding escalation: a few weeks ago, he called immigrants “animals.” A round of pearl-clutching commenced, in which pundits dithered over whether he meant *all* immigrants, or just MS-13 gang members. (As if that distinction matters. Dehumanizing language is intended to dehumanize.)

His language – his conception of the world – has now manifested into an actuality.

After all, what do you do with animals? You cage them.

He’s caging migrant children, having taken them from their parents.

So we might stop for a moment to consider Trump’s words today:

“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”

We need to, at the very least, contemplate how his words will manifest themselves in the future – maybe the next few days, weeks, or months.

After all, one is “infested” by vermin, by insects, by pestilence. By disease.

That’s what he’s saying: immigrants are vermin. Insects. Pestilence. Disease. Those are his words. That’s what he’s thinking, and he’s not hiding it.

And once you put yourself in his mindset, once you accept that framing… well, there’s only one conclusion he seems to be reaching, isn’t there?

What does he want to do with what he calls an “infestation”? Exterminate it? Eradicate it? Wipe it out totally? Cleanse it to leave the rest of the body healthy?

That seems to be the logical conclusion of his line of thinking.

 

7.

“Oh,” you might say, “Extermination? That would be terrible! Unthinkable! I can’t imagine he’d do that – that they’ll let him do that.” (Whoever “they” might be.)

Consider: what’s already happening is terrible, and was “unthinkable” – unimaginable – a couple of weeks ago. (Reminder: Concentration camps. For children. In Texas. In 2018.)

Does it comfort you to tell yourself that maybe it won’t come to something darker? Maybe he won’t get that far?

And sure, okay. Maybe he won’t get that far. Maybe he would never.

Or maybe he won’t, if only we stop him first.

But then… can you honestly say this isn’t where he’s going? Extermination. Elimination. On a mass scale.

No? Too hard to imagine?

But… should we consider it? Should we take him seriously AND literally?

Should we consider that he just… might… mean it? That to him, immigrants are vermin? With all that entails?

Words are important to me. I maintain that words have meaning, and I’m aware of how they can used truth – and also how they can obscure facts.  And how sometimes, they reveal more truth than the speaker intends.

Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to refuse to consider that he knows exactly what he’s saying, and means exactly what he says? That he chose those words for a reason? And that they reveal a dark and destructive urge?

 

8.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start imagining he’s capable of terrible things that you yourself wouldn’t do.

We all need to envision acts of cruelty worse than the ones happening now.

We need to acknowledge that such cruelty is possible – history and experiences show us, without a doubt, that it is.

And if you’re in any doubt, it’s time to contemplate that maybe Trump is capable of horrors beyond what we’re comfortable saying aloud in polite society.

He’s not uncomfortable saying these things aloud. And he’s transforming words into action. The unimaginable is already becoming reality.

 

9.

The trick is to contemplate horrors without being paralyzed by horror. More than ever, we have to see the world clearly, even if it’s terrifying…

…but we also need to use that clarity AND that fear to spur us into action.

In the meantime, we as a people need to do whatever we can to oppose him.

  • Speak out. Here, there, everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, family dinners. Speak out loudly.

 

  • Speak clearly, in unambiguous terms. Call a lie “a lie,” call concentration camps “concentration camps,” call a racist “a racist.” People with evil intent depend on others to be too polite to point it out.

 

  • Vote. Vote for people who oppose Trump and his compliant GOP. In every election. At every level, not just the Presidential elections. Oppose the GOP whenever they’re on the ballot, from dogcatcher to Senator. https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

 

 

 

 

That’s what you – what WE – can do, for starters.

 

10.

I didn’t write this post to frighten you. No, I wrote it to embolden us all (myself included) to consider how bad things could get, and take concrete action to stop the situation from getting that bad.

Because acknowledging the possibility of the worst also allows us to imagine its opposite, as well: to envision a world that’s better than we find it to be – a place so good that we strive mightily to make it that way.

So by all means, imagine clearly but boldly. Let your thoughts translate into action as you imagine a better world, and work to make that world a reality.

But while you’re doing that… don’t neglect to imagine the worst. And work, work hard, to make sure the worst doesn’t come to pass.

The danger is great. The choice is stark. The time is now: Today.

Imagine what you previously thought was unimaginable, and work to make sure it doesn’t become a reality. For the good of all of us.

10 Thoughts on “Fire and Fury”

Throughout 2018, I’m going to try to blog on Mondays (more often whenever possible).

So for today, my thoughts on Fire and Fury, in no particular order. I know we’ve moved on to whether or not Trump is a racist (spoiler alert: he is!), but I think many have dismissed the book as being just idle insider gossip.

That’s missing the point. There’s a lot in the book that we should pay attention to.

1) Wolff’s theory of the case (i.e., that neither Trump nor folks on his campaign wanted to win – that the bigger advantage for him and his business was losing and forming Trump TV) is a big deal.

2) Furthermore, the theory that basically nobody on his staff thought he SHOULD win as he was unfit to be president… is also a big deal.

3) That 100% of the people  around him still find him unfit for the office – “like a child” – is the biggest deal of all.

4) That the media has mostly been deferring to Trump and treating this presidency as legitimate is absurd. The picture Wolff paints is NOT the image you’d get from reading, say, Maggie Haberman or Michael Schmidt. If what Wolff says is true, the daily reporters are pulling their punches, big time.

5) Steve Bannon gets off way too easy. I get it, he’s Wolff’s main source – and in return, Wolff gives him respect that’s not even veiled. Throughout, Wolff depicts Bannon as a bad boy, skin-of-the-teeth raconteur.

Moreover: in NPR’s On the Media from January 12, 2018, Wolff himself says “I do not feel good about what happened to Steve [post publication… i.e., losing his job at Breitbart]. I don’t feel good about taking him down. I feel sad about that. I like Steve, I like Steve a lot. I came to, as you can see in this book, deeply appreciate his insights.”

Well, I don’t feel sad about what happened to Bannon. Steve Bannon is a nasty, stone-cold racist and anti-Semite, who helped get Donald Trump elected, who propped up Donald Trump and his racist policies, and who is actively trying to destroy the country. Wolff seems to have trouble seeing what should be so obvious. That’s really worrisome.

6) In a way, Trump himself gets off easy, too. As badly as he comes off (he’s painted as clueless, hapless, even cruel…) Wolff rarely shows him having agency in what he does. Trump is both inept and malevolent, but Wolff goes heavy on the former and light on the latter. This sometimes makes it seem as if Trump is just a meaner version of late-Presidency Reagan, doddering away while everyone acts around him – and while everyone jockeys to be the last one to talk to him so that he’ll do or say whatever turns out to be the last thing he hears.

While this may be true from time to time, there’s no doubt that Trump often acts on his own – or Tweets on his own. He’s been a crooked, rotten person for years, and he often acts on his own rotten, crooked impulses. He isn’t completely devoid of personal agency at all (at least not yet).

7) Wolff therefore misses the big picture to some extent: he’s so focused on depicting the Trump administration as dysfunctional… that he misses how it’s malicious, as well.

8) Jared and Ivanka are terrible people. They’ve jettisoned their Democratic (big ‘D’) and democratic (small ‘d’) impulses to gain power from an autocrat.

9) Trump thought Jared would make a good Secretary of State. Let that sink in.

10) It’s incredible (and incredibly damning) that these things were made known to a reporter. But they knew he was a reporter. Imagine the things they kept hidden? So I hate to end with this, but… as bad as things inside the White House sound from Wolff’s account, they’re probably worse than we even know.

A Tribute

It’s World AIDS Day. Today, I remember my friend Alan, who died in 1996. I can’t believe he’s been gone for over 20 years.

Many people lost whole swaths of friends. A whole generation of young men was wiped out – decimated – gone from the face of the earth. But by the time I reached adulthood, things had started to change – so Alan was the first and only friend I knew was sick. And the first and only one who died.

I often think that if he had lived just a little longer… I can’t know, but I can speculate that he might have been saved by medical advances – drug cocktails and such, which were just coming into use around that time. What would it have taken? Weeks, months? A year? Maybe he’d still be around today – he’d only be in his mid-sixties.

Alan was a gentleman and a gentle man. Southern boy, actor, writer, artist, a bookseller and a lover of books. His partner had died some years before, so he was grieving and would always grieve until the end of his too-short life.

The first time I met Alan, we were acting in a Shakespeare play together off-off-Broadway. I was a last minute replacement, and my big scene was followed by a quick descent from a tall, black platform… in doublet and hose… carrying handfuls of props… during a blackout between scenes.

On my first day of rehearsal, Alan volunteered to be my “spotter” and help me down during the blackout. I remember one of the first things he said to me in his soft southern drawl: something along the lines of “I tend to get really sweaty in this costume – I hope I don’t have a strong odor.” He didn’t, at all – but it was so like him to worry about something like that.

For the rest of the run, all I had to do was scoot off the platform, and Alan would be there waiting in the dark, ready to catch me and lower me safely to the ground.

I didn’t know Alan for long – just around two years. In that time, we did a number of plays together. Every now and then I’d stop by his place in Hell’s Kitchen (back when it really was hellish) – a walk-up where he had an old-fashioned converted transient apartment, with a raised bathtub that doubled as the kitchen sink. We’d talk plays and books and auditions, and he’d make tea. Sometimes he’d talk of his partner and how he missed him. Sometimes I cat-sat for him when he was away or in the hospital.

At least, I think I did. I think he had a cat. Memory plays tricks now.

One other thing: Alan was obsessed with beauty pageants, and he once showed me the box of paper dolls he’d made out of tracing paper, copied from paper doll books. Many of them shared the same facial features but wore different outfits – and he’d imbued each one with a full, rich, inner life and distinct characterizations known only to him. This is hard to describe – I’m not sure I understand it myself, since I never saw it – but he told me how he’d sometimes hold pageants for them, and he’d made paper sashes and crowns to award to each pageant’s winner. He kept long lists of who won, and when. I remember him showing them to me. He started out almost shyly, but as he told me more and more, he became… how to describe it? Entranced. He was really proud of them, and they meant something special to him.

I didn’t fully understand it, but I knew I was in the presence of something… holy. A pure creative soul, who’d found a medium of expression unique to him, truly from his soul: his own preoccupations, his own experience. And he’d made them in spite of – maybe in quiet defiance of – what boys in the south, especially, were supposed to do, were supposed to be interested in.

I remember looking into the box and seeing dozens of these delicate, slight beings, almost as light as air, easily ruffled by a breath.

*

He confided in me that he was HIV-positive very early on in our friendship, probably backstage at the first show we did together, but as his health always seemed to be steady, I wasn’t afraid for him. It just seemed that he’d continue on living with HIV and doing plays and being Alan.

And then he didn’t.

It happened suddenly, unless he was really sick for awhile and he didn’t tell us. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t want to worry anyone. A call came that he was in the hospital, and was very bad. Then he rallied a bit and we all relaxed a bit.

And then he was worse again.

And then he was gone.

*

A few months later, a group of his friends gathered later to scatter his ashes off what was then the Christopher Street Pier. Alan loved New York and always wanted to be here, so it was fitting.

I was there at the ceremony, but I’d somehow gotten confused and told my friend Mary the wrong meeting time. Of course, we had no cellphones in 1996 (remember those days?) and so I was only later that I checked my answering service (again: 1996) and realized that it was my fault she missed our brief ceremony entirely. I’m still sorry about that, Mary.

It was a sunny day. The water was sparkling. There weren’t many words left to say.

*

Before that, though, we had a memorial service for Alan at a theater we’d performed in. His father and sister came up from the south for the memorial. Everyone who knew him, everyone who did shows with him – we all loved him. How could you not?

We had his art on display and read some of his writing aloud to the many who gathered.

I hope we paid him a fitting tribute.

One of the pieces we read, and the most moving to me, was from Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa. It was one of the last plays Alan performed in – maybe the last play. Memory plays those tricks, which is part of what Lughnasa is about.

Alan played Michael, and we see the play through his memories. I still remember his voice speaking the last speech, in the last scene of the play:

(Now fade in a very softly, just audible, the music – “It is Time to Say Goodnight” * [not from the radio speaker].) And as MICHAEL continues everybody sways very slightly from side to side – even the grinning kites. The movement is so minimal that we cannot be quite certain if it is happening or if we imagine it.)

MICHAEL: And so, when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me. But there is one memory of that Lughnasa time that visits me most often; and what fascinates me about that memory is that is owes nothing to fact. In that memory atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory. I that memory, too, the air is nostalgic with the music of the thirties. It drifts in from somewhere far away — a mirage of sound – a dream music that is both heard and imagined; that seems to be both itself and its own echo; a sound so alluring and so mesmeric that the afternoon is bewitched, maybe haunted, by it. And what is so strange about that memory is that everybody seems to be floating on those sweet sounds, moving rhythmically, languorously, in complete isolation; responding more to the mood of the music than to its beat. When I remember it, I think of it as dancing. Dancing with eyes half closed because to open them would break the spell. Dancing as if language had surrendered to movement — as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness. Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in those assuaging notes and those hushed rhythms and in those silent and hypnotic movements. Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary.

noho star

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Where We Are: A Post About Nukes

Long post, so here’s the TL/DR version: (1) don’t be comforted by the thought that “the generals” will prevent nuclear war – and (2) we must decry as madness a doctrine of “trying to prevent North Korea from using nuclear weapons by starting a conflict that would likely cause North Korea to use its nuclear weapons.”
 
Read more to see my reasoning and links.
 
*
 
Though everyone basically acknowledges that a POTUS has full power to launch nuclear weapons – and that little, if anything, can stop Trump from doing so (see THIS LINK.)
 
…many people still hold out hope in the fact that (a) launching a first-strike nuclear war seems unlikely, even for Trump, and moreover: (b) the grownups – “the generals” (Mattis / Kelly / McMaster) – might well refuse to follow an order that could bring about nuclear war, the death of millions, and even the end of civilization as we know it. (During the darkest days of Watergate, after all, the President’s staff had plans in place in case an in increasingly unhinged, distracted Nixon called for the launch of a nuclear attack.)
 
This thought should give us little comfort.
 
I tend to agree that Trump is unlikely to launch a first *nuclear* strike – but that’s probably not how war with N. Korea would unfold, anyway.
 
It’s possible that Trump does indeed strike first – but with conventional weapons in an attempt to destroy N. Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
 
This might seem rational – why wouldn’t we want to take out their nukes? – but as is well-documented in THIS ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC, among others, there’s no good military strategy that eliminates NK’s nuclear weaponry entirely. 
 
And without a doubt, North Korea would surely respond to *any* attack as a provocation and the situation could escalate very, very quickly into nuclear war.
 
I’ve seen some on the right cavalierly advocate first-strike force, but if there’s no good way to take out their weaponry, this would be absolute madness: in effect, “trying to prevent NK from using nuclear weapons by starting a conflict that would likely cause North NK to use its nuclear weapons.”
 
Another scenario: a first strike not by us, but by North Korea, leaving us no choice but to respond. This, also, would get out of hand very quickly and enter the nuclear arena.
 
With his bellicose tweets, Trump appears to be goading Kim Jung-Un into doing just that: striking *first* and taking military action on the U.S. or our allies – at which case, we’d respond and quickly, and there’s no way the generals would stand in the way of a military response to an attack – either with conventional weapons or the nuclear weapons Trump seems all too eager to use
 
As the Atlantic article linked above states – as many articles have stated – now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, there are no good options, only less bad ones. Trump, an ego-driven, poorly-informed, easily-triggered reality show TV host and failed businessman with no military or public service experience, is marching full-steam ahead into one of the worst ones: backing someone with nuclear weapons into a corner, and denigrating diplomacy as useless while threatening that “only one thing” will work on NK.
 
What is there to do? I’m open to suggestion. I fear there’s not much most of us can do – but we CAN speak out. We need to start by calling out the situation for what it is: dangerous madness – a pissing contest between two unstable men with nuclear weaponry.
 
Beyond that, we need to increase public pressure on the Republican Congress. If a majority feels the way Bob Corker says they do – that they as a body feel that Trump is unstable and dangerous – we need to encourage all of them (demand?) to stand up and say so, for the good of the country.
 
It’s starting to happen: Corker has uncorked a flurry of articles assessing Trump’s decision-making, instability and fitness for office.
 
We also need to get less distracted by the daily outrages and tweets. I don’t mean *at all* that we should stop paying attention to the other controversies and fires that Trump stokes, or the very real crises, from hurricanes to wildfires to gun rampages; to racial inequality and injustice; to assaults on the Constitution and on healthcare, civil rights, reproductive rights, and LGBT rights.
 
But we also need to focus even more attention on the matters of gravest concern: the danger and costs of nuclear war, and its impact on the survival of humankind.

Halftime Report: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

twin peaks 3Have you been watching the new TWIN PEAKS? I have. I just watched the WTFy-est ever episode 8 last night, which some are calling the most groundbreaking night of television in history.

It was certainly groundbreaking in cinematic and conceptual terms: strange, terrifying, sometimes incomprehensible, always gorgeous. It touched on the nature of pure evil and brought us into the heart of an atomic explosion.

But do I want something… more? Call me greedy, but I do.

Look, I have to admire David Lynch’s dogged, uncompromising commitment to putting his own vision out into the world. It’s amazing, really: Lynch hadn’t even made a movie in about a decade, his grosses are have always been in the “art house” scale, not the “blockbuster” scale, and his recent ventures (Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive) left viewers and reviewers simultaneously amazed at his prowess and scratching their heads at the plots. Yet somehow he convinced Showtime to pony up tons of money to fund 18 hours of the Twin Peaks: The Return while giving the network little to go on as to what they’d actually be getting. You’ve gotta hand it to the guy.

Twin Peaks 2And no doubt: much of what he’s putting on the screen is extraordinarily beautiful, even when it’s beastly. Given how much crap there is out there in TV land, it IS kind of marvelous that Lynch is putting out such weird, arty, esoteric stuff – when I look at it one way.

When I look at it another way, though, I find myself disappointed. I know there’s still half the series to go – and I know it’s not fashionable to admit (judging by the rapturous reception by most critics) – but I came back to Twin Peaks mostly to reconnect with the characters from 25 years ago. I hoped I’d see more of them.

And that’s the frustrating thing to me. Most of those actors are actually THERE – at least they’ve been cast in The Return. They’ve been hired! They’re on set! But Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost have shown us precious little of their characters in the first half of the season. We’ve only seen glimpses of Hawk, Andy, Lucy, Norma, Shelly, Bobby Briggs (now a cop?!?!), Mrs. Palmer, Dr. Jacoby… we haven’t even seen Big Ed or Audrey Horne yet. Hell, we’ve only seen a few moments of Agent Cooper himself in all his Agent Cooper-ness, outside of his reawakening self inside the life of Dougie Jones.

Sure, Kyle Maclachlan is doing outstanding work – everyone is, really. And the new additions are great: Laura Dern as Diane and Robert Forster as Sherriff Frank Truman. (I’m amazed that I don’t miss Harry Ontkean / Sheriff Harry Truman more since he was one of my favorites in the original Twin Peaks. It’s to Forster’s credit that Ontkean’s absence isn’t more keenly felt.)

I’m just conscious that this is the last time these actors will probably be together – some of them are already gone: Frank Silva as BOB, Catherine Coulson as my personal favorite, “The Log Lady.” I was just hoping I’d see more stories about the characters I grew to love 25 years ago since so many of the actors have reunited for the series.

Maybe we’ll have more time with them in the rest of the season? Maybe they’ll have more than cameos?
Who knows. Lynch and Frost will clearly do what they want to do, and wh
at they’re doing seems to be more than enough for some viewers.

Me, I’ll keep watching and hoping I’ll get served a bigger helping of coffee and pie in the Double-R Diner along with the metaphysical main course. twin peaks 4

STATE OF THE UNION

crocI wrote this script back in 2006, but it feels right for today, this minute: right NOW.

We are divided more than ever before, and I don’t know how we’ll see things the same way ever again.

STATE OF THE UNION was performed in 2011 by the wonderful Three of A Kind Theater Company of North Hollywood, CA – and it may soon be performed in NYC, if all goes well.

I think you’ll find it particularly meaningful today.
 State of the Union script

10 Deadly Failings of the Media, Election 2016 Edition

In this election, Fox and Breibart and other powerful media sources actively worked to elevate Trump to the Presidency. Much of the rest of the televised and print media proved incapable of fighting this man.
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