Monday, February 20, 2017

Sometimes, Life Does Imitate Art

In the 1991 movie Soapdish, Sally Field plays a neurotic soap opera actress obsessed with her popularity. Accompanied by the show's head writer, Whoopi Goldberg, she ventures out to shopping malls whenever her insecurities threaten to overwhelm her. There, Goldberg contrives situations where Field is accidentally recognized on-purpose by her fans.

Surrounded by the adoring throng, Field takes great comfort in posing for pictures and signing autographs. Relived that her shelf life as an actress hasn't expired yet, her anxiety dissipates as she realizes the addictive heat of the spotlight is still hers to enjoy.

In 2017, it's hard to watch our so-called president on his victory lap through the south and not recall this movie. In an arena full of the room-temperature IQs who elected him, Trump presides over reenactments of last summer's campaign stops, with the faithful dutifully chanting “Lock her up!” as if it were still relevant.

It has to be a godsend for the man heading an administration so wracked by controversy and conflict.

But if our so-called president is swigging from the nostalgia glass barely one month into his term, what does that say for the future? If The Donald is seeking the reassuring warmth of past triumphs just thirty days after his inauguration, does this mark him as a president unable to cope?

Men like Donald are used to giving orders. Wielding unfettered power. Checks and balances rarely exist in the corporate world. Especially in privately-held corporate monoliths like Donald Trump's.

Donald isn't used to democracy. Donald isn't used to being challenged. Donald isn't used to being overruled.

Donald is used to “Yes, Mr. Trump. Right away, Mr. Trump.”

As the oldest person ever to hold the office, his presidency becomes an exercise in seeing if old dogs can truly learn new tricks. Given his thin-skinned nature and stubborn, resistant and combative ADHD personality, I don't like the odds.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As it is said, give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself.

We can only hope.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Learning Curve

Yes, it's taken me this long to process the events of November 8th. Despite my bolted-to-the-floor cynicism and unshakable belief that you absolutely cannot underestimate the collective intelligence of Americans, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has given me a really bad case of what-the-fuck.

Donald Trump? He's the so-called President? How did that happen?

As is so often the case with Donald Trump, he was lucky. First off, the Democratic National Committee seemingly decided sometime after Barack Obama's election that come hell or high water, Hillary Clinton would be their next nominee. After backing the first African-American for president, the DNC was hell-bent on naming the first woman as well.

(If you're a sports fan, you'll recognize this as a text book example of an athlete's selfish pursuit of a record at the expense of their team.)

Whatever your opinion of Clinton, you'll have to agree she wasn't the best candidate for the 2016 presidential race. She reeked of of experience and was a confirmed Washington DC insider. To large portions of an angry populace just emerging from the Great Recession and sick of politics as usual, this was a decided disadvantage. These folk didn't want polish. They wanted punk.

Adding to Trump's good fortune, Bernie Sanders, a left-field candidate himself who would have blunted Trump's severest criticisms of Clinton, was waylaid in large part by his call for free college tuition, which made potential supporters blanch (as if Trump's we're-gonna-build-a-wall-amd-make-Mexico-pay-for-it gambit was a clear-eyed and entirely reasonable immigration platform).

It was all falling into place. Critical blocks of Republican voters turned out en masse and got the billionaire elected despite a record-setting vote deficit of 2,868,519.

Like I said, lucky.

But more than anything, what got Trump elected was his supporter's collective ignorance of history. Writer/philosopher George Santayana is credited with the expression 'Those who remain ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it', and thanks to those who put Trump in the White House, so we shall.

The learning curve will be a painful one.

We will learn anew why restrictions were placed on the snarling jackals who inhabit Wall Street. We will learn why the Environmental Protection Agency was created. We will learn why consumer protection agencies were created. We will learn why the gentle art of foreign relations evolved the way they did, and the importance of playing well with others. 

We will learn why America remained the number-one destination of the oppressed and the abused the world over for so long. We will learn that as in nature, diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.

We will learn that a free press is a critical element of a functioning democracy, however sensationalist and invasive the worst of it may occasionally be. We will learn of the prescience that led to the creation of public lands protected from businessmen. We will learn why unions were created. We will learn why ego and arrogance were regarded as negative personality traits for the balance of human history. We will learn why we prized the clarity and absoluteness of truth.

We will learn the importance of objectivity. And of trust. We will learn to appreciate the beauty of our three-tiered system of government and its system of checks and balances. And we will learn the depth and breadth of our ignorance in electing a man whose penultimate moment before ascending to the White House was sneering at contestants on a pre-fabricated “reality” show before fiendishly informing them “You're fired!”

George Bernard Shaw said one of the two greatest human tragedies is to get what you want. 45.9% of the voting population will learn this, too.