Trump’s First Disaster Alert

My guess is that it would go like this:

Hello, this is THE REAL PRESIDENT of the United States, talking on everybody’s own telephone, because I want all of you to listen to the national disasters: The news media—almost the whole news media—is a national disaster. It’s a real disaster for all the real people in this country. My alert system will give you the TRUE information when this and other disasters are getting out of control. Also: We have a national disaster at the border. This disaster’s been around longer than the media, and it’s really a very illegal disaster. It will do all sorts of non-lawful things to all the people who actually stand for what the United States really means—which is not taking any more of anybody else’s disasters, which are very much out to cheat us. We have enough disasters of our own, so be sure to vote. Unless there’s a disaster, which I’ll tell you about. Like a big black out or a brown out. Those are worse disasters than you think. Far worse than Puerto Rico, which, believe me, wasn’t really a disaster at all. I know all this, and now you’ll also know, because thanks to my alert system, you can count on me to bring you the disasters. Go USA.

Notes from the Hell’s Ape

Well, I love that the anonymous NYT op-ed came out. I love how it corroborates Woodward’s account. I love that even people like Pence are having to deny that they wrote it. I love how some of the most effective resistance to Trump comes through the newspapers—the writers—those who wield wordswordswords.

But I wonder what all has happened here. It sounds to me that the op-ed author acted from a few motivations. The first is that he put a savage stop to Trump’s claims that the Woodward’s book is BS. “No, really,” says the author. “That’s what he’s really like.”

The second motivation is that this author was so moved by the recent passing of a certain public servant that the author chose both to evoke and emulate McCain’s stance. Ex. 1: I choose to love government over governors. Ex. 2: I will take up McCain’s renunciation of Trump, even—as with McCain—it imperils my position.

The third motivation is that the author wants to save the Republican party. The funeral for McCain was essentially a public mourning over the passing of political statesmanship, especially as it has presented itself on the right. When Biden paraphrased Hamlet about how we shall never see McCain’s likes again, he was talking about the death of that nobility and its shameful replacement with the Trump era’s reality-show, Russian-fed corruptibility. (Seeing that Biden is speaking Hamlet’s line where Hamlet discusses his assassinated father-king, we can also pick up on a call for political retribution over the political destruction of political statesmanship. But that’s another post.) The op-ed author, maybe feeling a little Hamlet of his own, might be speaking for what’s left of level-headed Republicanism: We’re still here. We’re going to come back. We’re resisting in ways the Left could never dream of.

And that’s fine. That’s good. The op-ed’s proclamation serves the Republicans, sure. But we need sane Republicans. We need them because we need two strong parties. And if the op-ed shows how some corners of Republicanism are still healthy, while also disclosing how the current White House is outright diseased, that’s a win for us all. Because I think ousting Trumpers will take us all. That’s what the op-ed said. That’s what McCain said. That’s what any hope of lasting, post-Trump bipartisanship has been saying all term. We can fight about foreign policy and de-regulation another day. (And lordy, we must.) But in the meantime, we have to address the fact that we have suffered a foreign-aided coup that continues to use divisiveness, lies, and civil-rights suppression to tear down the very core of the country we have so long built and defended. The op-ed’s Republican knows that. And I suspect that as much as they’re telling the nation that the old Republican tribe still exists, they’re also begging Congressional Republicans to come back to it.

These are all the reasons why the op-ed should have appeared in the NYT. But now I have to discuss my worries about what might happen as a result. When WH staff talks about Trump’s reaction to the op-ed, the word they use is “volcanic.” In terms of the op-ed, Trump himself has used one of his favorite words, which is “treason.” What do despots do when they sense treason but can’t find it? They kill everybody. Blooey. Meltdown. Orange lava all over the place. If nothing else, Trump needs to become the punisher, just to save face. I don’t know if Trump will terminate his whole staff*, but I’m guessing he will fire someone. And chances are very good that he’ll seek to replace that someone with a staffer who has less expertise and more willingness to do what they’re told. Being the bully that he is, Trump will also likely make life very difficult for his remaining staffers. He might remove more security clearances, or prevent work-a-day cooperation, or I don’t know. Imagine ways a paranoid ruler can impede his staff. Trumpy’s probably doing the same. What’s also strange is that, through the op-ed, Trump now has incontrovertible evidence that his staff frequently—if not routinely—works against him. Now, you’d think he’d have realized this beforehand. He says to assassinate Assad, for example, and that order never goes through. I suppose that he could be unhinged enough not to keep track of his day-to-day impulses. The staff says, “Don’t listen to him. He’ll move onto something else.” And then he does. That sort of chaos is a horrible possibility. But an alternative one is that Trump has only suspected that his closest people are out to oppose him—that is, until now. “Trumpers!” he’ll say tomorrow. “Look! The enmity I’ve talked about has been here all along.” I mean, what do Trumpers like to say? “You never gave the president a chance.” Well, now everyone can see how, for reasons that might well be heroic, members of his own executive circle did not. At least not for long.

So James and I texted about all this yesterday. For the White House’s coming climate, James used the term “hellscape.” Autocorrect changed that to “hell’s ape,” and we laughed at the new moniker for our tyrant-in-chief. James and I like to consider ourselves a couple of above-average thinkers, but we would both admit that if we can consider this stuff, the op-ed author probably did too. The op-ed author knew there would be fallout. Depending on who the author is, they may have known that every person has a written voice as well as a spoken one. In the face of a little research, their identity might disclose itself as easily as we do when we speak to a friend over the telephone. Still, they published. This writer, who knows Trump’s paranoia better than most anyone, likely realized that they could be taking down the rest of the WH staff with them. Still, they published. For all we know, with some of the staff’s permission, they published. The NYT, almost certainly realized that Trump and his goons would use this op-ed as Exhibit A in their case for strengthening libel laws. And still, they published. So, by the way, did every news outlet that repeated it. Last night, ABC News read the thing almost verbatim, as the top story in its 6:30 time slot.

The so-called leader of the Free World—the one who once tried to throw his high-school roommate out a window—is now “volcanic.” And according to some of Trump’s closest staffers and observers, the consequences of publication are worth it. Mentioning the 25th Amendment is worth it. Evoking McCain is worth it. Last week, commentators called that man’s funeral a “war council.” I see that now. Because yesterday, dearies, brought war’s declaration.

*It’s interesting to note that the only member of the executive branch whom Trump can’t outright fire is the VP. Now we see why Pence was so quick to deny any association with the op-ed.

Time is a Builder

“Per longstanding Supreme Court precedent, the president’s authority over security clearance matters is both constitutional and plenary. Although there is no known precedent for the action [Brennan’s revocation] proposed by the White House, nothing legally prevents the president from unilaterally granting, denying, or revoking a security clearance,” said Sean Bigley, national security attorney and managing partner at Bigley Ranish. (This is from a July 24 article on the threat to revoke Brennan’s security clearance, by Government Executive.)

So let’s think about this for a minute. This exclusion inflicted on Brennan is something Trump can pull on anyone. In fact, today, he announced (per NBC) that he’s revoking the security clearance of the DOJ official “whose wife worked for the firm involved in producing the dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia.”

I would like to make seven points:
1. Whoever’s situated Trump to do his damage studied our Constitution and our executive branch more than most Americans ever will. And they banked on that.

2. Let’s not underestimate FOX News, whose commentator was the first to suggest Brennan’s revocation. (Rand Paul repeated the idea a few days later.) FOX is not only becoming the Trump State’s sanctioned news service, but it also seems to wield incredible sway over the government itself. This means it’s not too impossible to assume that Trump could revoke security clearance from most people who know something about the world (and thereby tend to disagreement with him), while he both replaces these folks with yes-men and continues to heed the urgings of a network that basically lies for a living.

3. If you have to dodge forest fires, hurricanes, fracking earthquakes, and the whole damn Ku Klux Klan, find a way to vote in the midterms. That’s a critical step–and if Dems don’t win, I honestly worry about civil unrest.

4. That said, this November’s elections alone will not stop Trump. See Point #1. (Come to think of it, also see Point #2.) It will take years for this country to recover from the Trump State. Our enemies knew this. So although it sounds horridly pessimistic, let’s come to grips with that reality. We’ve been attacked by foreign agents, and by domestic propagandists, and by all those in power who care for their own longevity more than they give a flip about their country. They’ve given ordinary people permission to openly hate one another. And they prop up a man who increasingly seeks to control information until–among other things–it deepens the national divide. Starting in November, and going forward, it might take our whole lives to rebuild.

5. That’s a difficult realization. I didn’t know this post would land us here. But in another way, this truth might not be a tragic one. All said (and with all respect to Trump’s victims), it can be a fine thing to recover your country. It’s a good life’s work. It’s like clean-up after a massive tornado. It’s sad work–traumatic, even. But it’s our work. It’s a common purpose. It’s solid good. Somebody once said there are two kinds of heroes: There are the ones who prevent catastrophe. Then there are the ones who respond, and reform, and rebuild even after they’ve inadvertently played a part in bringing about that catastrophe. I think the first hero mostly operates through ability, bravery and luck. The second operates through ability, bravery and wisdom.

6. There are more of us than there are of them. There always have been. The world itself is mostly with us. And as our nation becomes worse off, some of those supporting Trump will step away from him. In time, we will win. But in the meanwhile, we are at the mercy of a government that hates the government. And while we fight and fight again to save it from itself, the civilization that is the soul of this country will have to find safeguarding outside of the White House.

7. I nominate the schools and the arts. I choose the internet and all the other public libraries. I look to the mosques, and the churches, and the synagogues–not the hate clubs, but the ones that read a breathing scripture, those who are houses of love. I look to the immigration safe house, and the resistance-teach-in coffee house, and to the food-pantry shelter house, and to your house, and to my house, and to that neighborhood–that collection of houses–that recently discovered how a resident received hate mail for his rainbow flag, and put that same banner on all their porches. There are more of us than there are of our opponents. If nothing else, as the decades come, they will lose by sheer demographic. And they know that. And it’s why they work so hard to cheat, and hate, and lie. Because they realize that unless they set up some kind of fact-controlled dictatorship, unless they bring about a (deeper) American apartheid, we will simply outlast them all.

Truthtelling

NBC: “A Gallup/Knight Foundation survey published in June found that U.S. adults estimate that 62 percent of the news they consume is biased and that 44 percent is inaccurate. A Quinnipiac University poll published on Tuesday found that 51 percent of Republicans believe the media is the enemy of the people. The same poll reported that 44 percent of American voters are concerned that Trump’s criticism of the media will lead to violence against people who work in media.”

If you’ve ever been called to write (good) journalism, do it now.

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.