A Gorey-Styled Ode to Trump

A is for Alt-Right, whom Trump primps and goads.
B is for Brietbart where Bannon implodes.
C, oh Covfefe, which flew from a tweet.
D is for Dotard, said Kim Jong with heat.
E’s for Election, long-plotted for years.
F is for Fox News and Fake News and fears.
G is for groping, both public and private.
H is for Hair hockered up by a civet.
I is for ICE Raids, Gestapo reborn.
J is for justices, pressured and worn.
K is for Kim Jong, a-wavin’ his nukes.
L is for lies upon lies till we pukes.
M is for Miller who pines for his fuehrer.
N is for NATO Trump put in a furor.
O’s for Obstruction, the tyrant’s best whore.
P is for Puerto, now Rico no more.
Q is for Quislings, the warts on this wart-hog.
R is for Russia, where Trump is the lap-dog.
S is for Spicer, and Sanders, and Sessions.
T is for Tariffs and brand-new recessions.
U is for Utterly over his head.
V is for Voters whom fraudsters mislead.
W is for Wanting a war where he’s wiener.
X is for Xenophobes—make ‘Murca meaner!
Y is for Yelling. They really should bleep him.
Z’s for the Zoo were the country should keep him.

(Thanks to my husband, James, for helping with everything.)

The Artist’s Job in the Age of Trump

Today NBC reported how a religious kind of Netflix–known as Pure Flix–is on the rise among Trumpers. This is a “wholesome” programming alternative that produces–or at least distributes–everything from Bible-story specials to mainstream cinema releases such as The Case for Christ. Pure Flix isn’t new; it’s a decade old, but over the past few years, it’s swelled its subscribers to 125,000 folks.  I have no problem with a network that seeks to provide PG-level programming as an alternative to the HBOs of the world. That sort of channel can even provide a service. But all this so-called wholesomeness becomes far less so when Pure Flix distributes films that claim how intellectualism is synonymous with atheism (as in 2014’s God’s Not Dead), or that Trump is another Lincoln (as in D’Souza’s current Death of a Nation). That sort of shlock heads into FOX territory–which is to say it becomes propaganda.

One could argue, of course, that much of Pure Flix’s programming does not intend to function as news. (D’Souza claims to produce nonfiction, but I’m not sure about God’s Not Dead.) And yet by my lights, the demographic most likely to embrace Pure Flix is the white evangelical. And the white evangelical gives Trump a 75 percent approval rating. And when it comes to Trumpers, the difference between fact and story is both muddy and increasingly negligible. Come to think of it, they are the people of the alternative fact. Or at the very least, they are the ones who dismiss the mainstream media’s critically-vetted facts. All of this is to say that the Pure Flix audience is particularly receptive to the self-serving story (as their FOX allegiance suggests). And this means that the Pure Flix propaganda can become just as influential as FOX itself. In fact, we could make the case that Pure Flix could become even more insidious than FOX, insofar as it presents itself as (particularly!) harmless entertainment while it reinforces the (particularly!) harmful idea that, say, religion (and other disciplines) should not be skeptical.

And that rejection of skepticism has been the point for a very, very long time. “Reject what they tell you,” says the despot. “Listen to me.” With facts increasingly suspect, narrative is nearly all that’s left*. So the narrative programming arrives, with conservative politicians (such as Carson and Cruz) attending its movie premiers and with its production budgets sometimes turning 30-1 profits (excluding marketing expenses). Whether it means to or not, the Pure Flix movement provides the next step in people control. It is the best ratification of that most hateful claim about how religion is the opiate of the masses.

If there’s any good news here, it’s that the Pure Flix propaganda provides the rest of us an opportunity. And it goes like this: If Pure Flix’s audience has truly shed the facts, this audience’s subscription to a “wholesome” entertainment channel suggests that the audience is still receptive to narrative. And narrative affords artists a very large opening. We storytellers–we novelists, filmmakers, painters, and photographers–we too operate through chronicle. We startle, we captivate, we give all the feels–and if we’re good enough, we also move. That is, we use empathy to transport our audience from one stance to another.

Right now, we have to tell our stories to those who cling almost exclusively to narrative. We must. And we have to tell them in such ways that are not egregious with the f-bombs, or gratuitous with the sex and the violence. Do we have to keep them PG? No. The truth is seldom PG. But the truth isn’t salacious either. It has so much power that it doesn’t have to be.

If you are an artist, your job is to fight the Trumper propaganda with your work. Your job is to be accurate, efficient, clear, and authentic. And then your job is to publish your work. Put it on shelves, and in galleries, and in blogs, or even on Facebook. Put it out there in such a way that it says what you mean, and not just what’s catchy. Say what’s true. You are one of our last bastions of truth. And in that way you are vital to the cause.

Listen. We are past the point where we can fight for the Trumpers’ minds. We lost that war. Now the battleground is the soul.

* The other remainder is encounter–the homophobe, say, who re-examines his stance after his son comes out of the closet. Narrative artifice strives for the realness of encounter.

 

When a Stranger Brings a Duffle-Bag to Church

Yesterday, at church, a stranger in military fatigues sat in the front pew with a zipped duffle-bag beside him. He was enthusiastic in his participation. He might have been homeless. And God help me, I kept an eye on that bag. Just as we finished the hymn before the sermon, the man grabbed his bag and walked toward the back of the church. Was he headed out, maybe? Or into the balcony that overlooks the congregation? It turns out that he wandered downstairs, to what I call the mingle bin, where he waited to visit with us over coffee and donut holes.

I didn’t talk to him, but he seemed to be a lovely man—a Vietnam vet. I hope he enjoyed our music, and our quiet, or at least our air conditioning. I hope he didn’t notice that at least some of us imagined scenarios of our diving under the pews, or shielding the children, or even jumping on top of the guy from our vantage in the choir loft. It’s all laughable—we altos of vengeance—until it’s not.

Now a church must be a welcoming place. By definition, it’s a sanctuary. It must especially welcome the stranger. It should certainly welcome the homeless. But according to Business Insider, we’ve had 158 mass shootings* in 2018 alone, where (as of June 28) we have gone 177 days into the year.  According to MassShootingTracker.org, 338 US mass shootings had occurred in 2017, by the start of October. There are, of course, only 365 days in a year.  On top of that, we can all remember the church shooting in Texas, and the one in South Carolina, and the one that killed members of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. So, yeah, I kept an eye on the guy’s duffle-bag.

We liberal churchy types are in an odd spot. Now, more than ever, we want to keep our doors open to those whom society has sought to remove. A few years ago, my own denomination featured a national television ad where we showed conservative churches ejecting undesirables from their pews—the way Trumpers now seek to eject certain people from our border and our military. The liberal church, now more than ever, must declare that because all people enjoy extreme human dignity, all people** enjoy a place before God.

But in the meantime, we say, please don’t shoot us. In the meantime, my church has devised a crisis plan that involves calling police when most necessary, and not calling them at any other point, so that people in our church who are afraid of police can feel that much safer. In the meantime, my church has to stand publicly for the causes we believe in, while we know our stance is at cross purposes with the demographic that has the most guns (and committed the most shootings).

We have to think about all of this—how to become both wise as serpents and gentle as doves. And as I confronted these things in the time it takes to go from prelude to postlude, I decided on a few points:

1.We can make a plan, but it has to stay defensive. Church safety does not involve ushers who are packing heat. I don’ have space to get into this argument, other than to urge you to look into reasons why few (if any) armed civilians have been able to stop a mass shooting, even in a state where guns are plentiful. A man with a pistol and a MAGA hat tried to help at the Texas high school shooting. Police tackled him, and called him a “slap in the face.”

2. A defensive plan is reactive, but not reactionary. The worst thing that could happen with a stranger in church is a mass shooting. That’s probably true. But the second worse thing is a false alarm. A false alarm is also far more likely to occur—and it can damage Christianity almost as badly as a massacre.  Can you imagine a church calling the police on a homeless veteran, or on a couple of Latinos, or on an unfamiliar black man? That one move would ratify every prejudice our opponents say we have. And as for us liberals who work hard—but not hard enough—to differentiate ourselves from the Bible thumper, one mistake like that will throw us right back onto the pile of BS whose stink we have tried for years to remove.

3. This is all to say that we can have a defensive plan, sure–but it can’t displace our cause. As I sat in the sanctuary with the man with the duffle-bag, our minister preached against worry. He was talking about the lilies and their toiling and spinning; it had nothing to do with who had come to church that day. But as these things do, the scripture settled on me until it got under my skin. These days, much of the country’s most appalling behavior comes from fear. We fear the Muslim; we fear the “illegal;” we fear the black man as he reaches for his cellphone. We fear that our enemies take advantage of us; we fear that they plot a war on “American values” (whatever those are). We tremble ourselves toward committing atrocity. And once we become party to that cruelty—to that sin—I believe we’ll have suffered a fate worse than death. It’s a fate that damages our entire line. It’s a fate that damages our souls.

Really. That’s what I thought about while I watched Mr. Duffle-Bag wave at the kids during the children sermon.  There are fates worse than death. Am I going to be foolish about my safety? No. Of course not. But I’m also not going to be predatory about yours. If the Trump era has taught me anything it’s that there exists a group of people who would love for the US to become its own shooting match. In fact there exists other people who would love to see it all break out in a church.

So be still—be still. That’s what faith is. Do what you’re told and love your neighbor. A nation panicked is a national mob. But discipline is what makes it an army, or a team–or a resistance. Be still. And as we stay calm, we can show that every person is made for things greater than fear.

*While still up for debate, the average definition of a mass shooting involves four or more victims, other than the shooter.

**And it’s easy to say, “Wait! The disenfranchised aren’t the people doing the shooting.” And any statistic would show that you’re right. But welcome, if genuine, also must involve the white guy in the army fatigues. And that’s the crux of my problem.

I Think Something Similar Happened with Ivan the Terrible

I’ve lately heard some friends talk about how low the Trumpers will go in their tolerance for their president. And I’m afraid it doesn’t matter how morally repugnant Trump is as long as he can stock the courts and give hell to the “illegals.” To his supporters, the ends justify the means. Dearies. Have you ever been in an argument with somebody like that? You realize, at some point, that they seek to win at any cost—even if it means sacrificing any mutual respect, trust, or goodwill that has ever grown between you. And this suggests that although, in the end, they may win their fight, they’ll have lost the relationship. In this case, of course, it will be a relationship with half the country (and possibly a large portion of the world). And if I were a Trumper, I would think very carefully before accepting a sacrifice like that.

A friend once said she wondered what would happen to the arch right if they finally succeeded in mangling the courts to the point where they toppled Roe v. Wade and marriage equality. What would the conservatives have left to rally around? Who would be their grand enemy then?

I’m guessing it would be immigrants, seeing that Trump is already promising to “save ICE.” That will be his battlecry for the midterm elections. We liberals need to be very cautious about how much we let him frame that contest.

And as for the Republicans, I suggest (again) that they reconsider who they’ve let into their bed. Trump rallies people behind him by pointing to enemy after enemy. That’s what bullies do. The trouble is that there always has to be an enemy. And this means that if you let Trump do everything he wants to quash women’s rights, gay rights, and immigrant rights, you better have some other scapegoats to feed him after he’s done. If you don’t, his enemy might well become you. And then, because you’ll have driven off everyone else in the meantime, there will be no one left to spare you from the very country you saved.

The Law is Death

If in her desperation, a foreigner breaks a rule of residency whose infraction typically results in a misdemeanor, I don’t see how anyone has the right to punish her by abandoning her to atrocity. I don’t understand this. I don’t think I’m equipped to understand it. And when I consider those who are so able, I’m left thinking that if legality is the true cornerstone of their morality, then they must be simpletons, or henchmen, or devils.

(Originally posted June 22, 2018)

Power

I’ve been hesitant to post this, not because of my opinion (As if!) but because I’m not sure it’s pertinent to a wider audience. Then I started to think that a whole mess of us are trying to figure out how to be effective activists, and that maybe any information in one direction or another would be helpful. 

On Saturday, I attended a community-action meeting that was both interesting in how it attracted a diversity of races and laudable in how it sought to strengthen a sense of community among the races. It was somewhat hampered by a presenter who didn’t listen to the conversation among the races, and where this caused the most problem was in relation to the concept of power. The presenter—who was Latino—thought that do-gooder people don’t like power. They don’t mention it, he said, in their churches. This is when some of the African Americans asserted that in their church, they talk a lot about power—the power of God, say, and God’s ability to empower. The presenter blew past that. And he insisted that we don’t like power, because we’re afraid of failure. He also said that the vast majority of us aren’t powerful at all. He then went on to his next bullet point—and I, for one, stopped taking notes. 

At this point, I could hare off on a tangent about bad teaching—but I won’t. (I won’t, I won’t.) Instead, I’d like to return to the conversation the presenter squelched. I can’t speak for other races—and I won’t attempt to. But I would like to suggest that the reason white people like me hesitate to talk about power, is because we have so much of it. This man said that I, as an individual, am not powerful. And he’s right. As a squatty fortysomething from a small city, I’ve got nothing. I spoke my outrage to the governor last month. She lied to my face, and walked away. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. As a white, straight, affluent Protestant I have all the power in the country. Maybe all the power in the world. I am female. So I guess this ties one limb behind my back. But if I may speak for the whiteys who seek to be good citizens, I’ll say that the reason we don’t talk about power in our churches is because we know we use our power to oppress. We do it without trying. Saturday’s meeting took place in an African-American church. All the white people sat in the front, and all the black people sat in the back. All the white people, who wanted to combat racism, sat in the front of a church where they were the guests. We didn’t even think about it.

I suggest that maybe we should. And I mean that we should think in two different directions. The first is the way about which we’re self-conscious—the fact, for example, that we felt empowered to take the prime seating in a neighbor’s house. This is the kind of privilege that embarrasses us—and rightfully so. The other way we should think about power is to recognize that just because we do bad things with power doesn’t mean that power is bad in itself. Our privilege is unfair. We have come to our position by standing on the deaths of millions. But privilege also has vantage. It has resources. It has immunities. Privilege allowed me to walk up to the governor. Privilege lets me go to the front lines of a protest, and not worry so much that I’ll get put in a chokehold (or worse). In Iowa, my race enjoys an incarceration rate that 1/11 of what my black neighbors endure. It’s wrong to ignore that. And it might be doubly wrong if we don’t use that privilege to benefit our neighbors.

My suggestion is that although we should never act as if we deserve our power, we should pick it up. We should present it to our neighbors, in the way of trying (but not ever succeeding) to return something we took from them. And then we should leave it at the cause’s best disposal.

(Originally posted May 12, 2018)