Cyruslly: Donald Trump and Cyrus the Great

Apparently, in their own peculiar numerology, some evangelicals have decided that Donald Trump—the 45th president—enjoys cosmic parallel with Cyrus the Great, who is mentioned in Isaiah 45. Cyrus is the Persian emperor who returned the Israelites from Babylonian exile and allowed them to start rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. Israel’s own Benjamin Netanyahu drew the parallel after Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And since then, the comparison has picked up so much momentum that, last October, Christianity Today published “Is Trump Our Cyrus? The Old Testament Case for Yes and No.”

Honestly, I don’t know what scares me more: The hubris that makes evangelicals yearn so much to place themselves in the center of cosmic events, or the fact that they misunderstand their own history. I don’t know much about Cyrus the Great, except that, for ending the Babylonian exile, Isaiah refers to him as a messiah (or anointed one). Cyrus commands great respect from a variety of peoples (including Iran, who adopted Cyrus’s clay cylinders as one of their symbols). He has a reputation for being savvy in battle, where among other feats, he conquered Babylon. He is best known for deftly managing the largest empire in history, as it stretched from Asia Minor to India. And he eventually managed a collection of quasi-independent states, where he exercised tremendous religious tolerance. Oh. And he released a lot of people from captivity. The Babylonians—the very people he conquered—called him The Liberator.

So… I’m squinting here, and I still don’t see a lot of Trump. Let’s start with “Military hero.” Well, with Mr. T we’ve got bone spurs, and secret leaking, and suggestions to invade Venezuela. 

How about “respect from many peoples, including Iran?” Well, if we look past the trade wars, and the insults to NATO, and the Baby Blimp, we can focus on last July, when Tehran threatened Trump with the Mother of All Wars. And Trump got out his ALL CAPS tweeter to brandish consequences “few in history have ever seen.”

Right. So, let’s look at “deftly managing a vast empire.” You’re kidding. Moving on…

Next, we have “tremendous religious tolerance.” Oh boy. I bet the refugees from the banned Muslim countries don’t think so. I bet Jewish people take exception to Trump’s refusal to to condemn the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. In fact, some of them reject him so much that they requested he not travel to the Pittsburgh synagogue after it suffered an attack—a request, by the way, that Trump ignored.

So finally, that leaves us with “he released a lot of people from captivity.” Dear dear. Since the start of the child detainments, two of them have died in ICE captivity. In total, 22 immigrants have died in detention during the past 2 years. And then there’s the flip side, where in 2018, Trump deported 98 Mauritanians (compared to 12 deportations, a year ago), where these immigrants will almost certainly return to modern-day slavery.

And… that’s what I’ve got. I mean, what am I missing? Trump is Cyrus because Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem? That’s it? That and the number 45?

Oh, wait. This took some digging, and the evangelicals will have to bend a little, because it’s from the Quran. But according to this book, Cyrus the Great finds embodiment in somebody named Dhul-Qarnayn. And this guy’s claim to fame is that he… builds a wall.

There. It all makes sense.

EDIT: After some thinking, I’ve decided that maybe the evangelicals pair Trump with Cyrus, because Cyrus was a pagan who nonetheless became God’s instrument when he restored the Jews from their exile. The Old Testament is lovely in how it’s full of gentiles who do godly things. I mean, there’s the sailors who throw Jonah overboard; there’s Moses’ pop-in-law, Jethro. But the exception is that these guys did God’s will out of decency, or at least outright piety. I don’t see that with Trump—I don’t see it at all. I mean, I suppose that the evangelicals hope that Trump will have a Damascus moment, in the manner of its namesake, Paul. But let’s be honest. Trump probably thinks “epiphany” is the name of a lady he once rented.

When Hatred Has a Young Man’s Face

Screen Shot 2019-01-20 at 3.40.18 PM.png On Facebook, last week, I said that the photo of Trump grimacing in front of the McDonald’s feast was the emblem of Trump’s presidency. This week, I’d say that this photo is the emblem for his followers. You probably know the story around this image. On Saturday, students from an anti-abortion march surrounded a demonstrator from the American Indian Movement, where they jeered, and chanted “Build that wall!” In this picture, one of our sterling youth wears a MAGA hat, while he taunts Vietnam Veteran, Nathan Phillips.

What new insight can I add to the conversation? Perhaps the best I can offer is the fact that there’s nothing new here at all. That’s why the photo is the very emblem of the Trumper. Long before now, Hatred wore a MAGA hat when it threatened violence at Trump’s rallies: “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, ok? Just knock the hell… I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” Hatred wore a MAGA hat when it marched in Charlottesville. And Hatred wore a MAGA hat when Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, featured one on his Instagram avatar*.

Back at Trump’s rallies, Hatred has also chanted “build that wall,” at least as often. Hatred chanted it in Iowa City, in a middle-school lunchroom, the day after Trump won the presidency. And as we saw yesterday, Hatred will chant it even when the phrase doesn’t make sense, (such as when some bigot lodges the line against a Native American). As twitter so aptly suggests, the slogan is basically something that Hatred secretes when it wants to single out one of its targets. The phrase is shorthand for the same thing that MAGA itself signifies: Expel everyone except us.

And that leads me to the third non-newness that appears in this picture. Our good “Christian,” in his baseball cap, came to counter the Women’s March, I suppose. I mean, if nothing else, he came to speak for the babies he purports to save. Such a stance isn’t very far from the rationale that the United States adopted in the 1870s, when they forced Native-American babies into boarding schools, as they endeavored to “kill the Indian [and] save the man.” Hundreds of thousands of Native American children matriculated through these schools, which Native-Americans had no right to resist until the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. The white “Christian’s” disdain for the Native American is very old; we know that. But it takes photos like this to show the non-Native how strong that Hatred still is. Hatred is what moved Dakota Access’s security firms to release dogs on the Standing Rock activists. Hatred is what moved those security forces to shout for the protestors to lay down their (non-existent) bows and arrows. Hatred is what allowed the ND governor to authorize those same forces to shoot water cannons at the protestors in sub-zero temperatures. This Hatred happened under Obama’s administration; the sickness indeed goes back centuries. But Trump has owned assets in Dakota Access, and after he came to power, the suppression of the protest increased to the point where North Dakota now prosecutes 800 cases against Standing Rock activists, while the fed also prosecute 6. When Trump came to power, in fact, James and I stopped our trips to Standing Rock. That’s shameful, perhaps, but the Hatred there had just lost any semblance of a federal backstop.

Standing Rock is the first place I saw the media suppression, the official deception, and the vengeful litigation that the Trump administration would later employ though ICE. It’s the same Hatred we see in Saturday’s picture: This expression of malice—this vile exuberance—is what Hatred looks like when it believes it’s winning.

*According to the Miami Herald, he also placed a MAGA hat in the casket with his liberal mother, when she died in 2017.

EDIT: As the story develops, a video suggests that the altercation was not so one-sided. That might be the case, and it might even bear reflection. But the smugness from the MAGA folks is the outgrowth of everything else I mention in this article.

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.)

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.

New Year’s Eve, 2017

This year, I lost my grandfather. I reckoned with the possibility that my thousand-page novel is a failure that could push me toward surrendering my vocation for a more useful line of work. And in Trump, I have watched the equivalent of a maniac locking himself in my centuries-old family home, and using my great-great-grandmother’s cello to smash everything in the house. I have never felt so ineffective in my life.

If you’re like me, you’re tired. Even just perceived ineffectiveness is exhausting. And honestly, I don’t even know if I’ll stay awake until midnight. But I also know that those who oppose us—both personally and politically—want us to be tired. They want us to perceive our ineffectiveness. And as far as Trump is concerned, I deeply believe he breaks some things in that house, just because it harms us to do so.

So, in pondering all this, I’ve begun to treat it as a kind of depression. People call depression the noonday demon, and I suppose this is because depression can possess. Or at the very least, it can dispossess us of our best sense of self. And in this case, I think our best sense resides in our identity as Americans. That is, we are people who live in a functional democracy where the will of the majority matters. We are educated folk who live in a reality where facts matter. We build our entire justice system on the basis of reason and proof. But suddenly we are at the hands of a government who has abandoned those things, and we’re left wondering where the justice will come from now. We have a president and a Congress who, say in passing a wildly unpopular tax law, have asserted time and again that the majority doesn’t matter. More than that, the facts don’t matter. And all that seems to matter is strength and deceit. 

But I’m here to tell you that this is the lie. Despite what they tell us, we are effective. We have sustained an investigation that may well lead to impeachment. We have stopped a bigoted sexual criminal from holding power in Alabama. We continue to punch holes through Trump’s travel ban. We have built no wall. We have seen our states implement laws that address climate change, even when Trump will not. We’ve seen our cities designate themselves as immigration sanctuaries. We’ve seen businesses—from Cards Against Humanity to 84 Lumber—plant their flag against xenophobia. We’ve donated more to the ACLU than ever before. On television, we devote hours and hours to truth telling. We publish whole magazines that criticize Trump—and I’m talking about TIME, sure, but also Business Insider and the Economist. By our talking, by our writing, and by our comedy, we provoke Trump to lie—which is to say we provoke him to squirm—and that means, dearies, that we are effective. Don’t listen to those who tell you otherwise. That’s how they take hold.

Keep writing; you never know who’s reading. I say this both to you and to myself. Once, a little Russian bot showed up one of my posts. Another time, a Trumpite threatened me physical harm. Both times, I whooped with vindication. If nothing else—if nothing else ever—someone acknowledged the fact of my own resistance. Keep reading; the bad news pelts us to the point where it’s easy to turtle up, but the truth is in the details—which means that justice is in the details—and anyway, our opponents eschew details in favor of the propagandist’s slogan, and we cannot let them control the conversation. Keep reading scripture. Please. It doesn’t matter if you believe it– because our opponents do. It matters to them more than fact. Their interpretation of it is more self-serving than it is comprehensive—and this means that if you argue it with any ability at all, you can maybe change minds. Keep marching. There’s an impeachment demonstration on Jan. 20. Keep active. One of the advantages of our facing such widespread threats, is that we don’t have to look hard to find ways to be of use. Work in a soup kitchen, or a phone bank, or a legal aid group. Speak up at work. Write—again, write. Especially if you live in a conservative area, write letters to the editor. Use what you’re good at. Grab something and pull. You’ll keep from feeling ineffective this way. You’ll warm yourself with your own light. And that means you won’t get as tired while you fight.

The grandfather I lost: He was an American history teacher. He was, among other things, a corpsman on a medical ship during WWII. When he wrote his master’s thesis, he was such an advocate for African American rights that his readers thought he was black himself. One of the last things he gave me was a check—of $100—to “go help the Indians” at Standing Rock. The man fought for his country. And I believe that to honor him—and those millions like him—we have to fight too, in 2017 and 2018, and probably right on up until our grandkids remember what we did. They will remember what we did. So keep doing.

I admit that despite all this, there’s a part of me that would risk basic human ingratitude to say, “Begone, 2017, and take your stink with you.” And maybe, for reasons both shared and personal, you’d say the same. We’d probably also agree that a new month of a new year won’t so much change anything. Broken things won’t reassemble—and Trump won’t turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, no matter how much we hope. But I like the idea of renewal just the same: Something that rolls over in the night—something as smooth and cool and whole as the moon. Tonight, for as late as I stay up, I’ll remember you, my friends. I’ll give you the kiss of hope and peace. You and I are still here. And those of us who aren’t still urge us—now more than ever—to carry the fight.

(Originally posted December 31, 2017)

Child Sacrifice

Well, the tax scam just became law, and I’m left thinking of the Canaanite god, Moloch. This creature was shaped like a man with bull’s horns, and it demanded child sacrifice. To curry his favor, his followers ritually burned their children to death. They beat drums to drown out their screams. Yeah, happy holidays to you.

As far as we can tell, this cult was real; the Moloch sacrifices persist in ancient literature, and some scholars tie him to Cronus. (Honestly, I wonder if there’s some attachment to the minotaur, on account of the bull head, child-killing thing.) At any rate, it happens that the Bible is extremely harsh on the Moloch cult. If you sacrificed your kid to Moloch, you were supposed to die. The Ammonites were a neighboring tribe that worshipped an incarnation of Moloch, and because of this—and maybe some other things—God basically commanded a genocide against these guys. (Disquieting, yes. But actually, the massacre doesn’t really happen, because despite all the biblical tales of conquest, the Ammonites keep coming back chapter after chapter. And this makes me think the genocide command was maybe a figurative description of God’s hatred, in part, of child sacrifice. ie. I never want you kill your children for me; no really, wipe out that practice entirely.) So.

Why am I saying this? Trump’s tax law. It is true that under this law, the tax credit for each child is doubled. Also, if you want to send your kid to a private—say, Christian—school, or even a home school, you’ll get subsidies for that. But by capping state and local tax deductions at $10,000 per household, there is a very real possibility that local taxes that protect public schools will become horridly unpopular. (Mostly because the deduction cap will make them cost more.) In addition to addling K-12, this unpopularity will likely reach into the public university system where, to compensate, tuition will probably rise. And mind you, this deduction cap affects government-funded initiatives across the board. So if your high school is in trouble, so is, say, your state-run home for disabled adults, to speak nothing of free health clinics. (Hmm…) Now in addition to all this, let’s consider the killing of the health-insurance mandate, which experts say will cause premium rates to soar. Furthermore, the CBO estimates that thanks to this plan, 13 million people will go without health insurance. And as a cherry on top of all that, the cuts will raise our deficit by $1.5 trillion. How does the GOP plan to tackle some of this deficit? Here’s Paul Ryan, earlier in December: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit … Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” Health care entitlements. For… CEOs maybe? Well, business just enjoyed the largest tax cut in history. And the super rich now have a 35 percent tax rate instead of 39.6. So maybe not. So are the entitled those who can’t afford insurance? Like maybe single, working mothers? Or those on a fixed income? Or maybe our children, who, in any event, will have to bear the bloated deficit? Oh yeah. The children. That’s where we started. Congress has already shown their hand here, by ignoring the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which starts to run out of money on Jan. 21. Twenty-five states will lose CHIP funding by then, resulting in a healthcare lapse for 1.9 million kids. For those of us keeping score, both parts of Congress will be in session on January 3-5, 8-11, 16-19, and 29-31. So they have eleven days to stop the lapse from happening. If Congress does not renew CHIP by the time all the money runs out, one in eight children will go without health insurance.

I’ve written such a long post that comparatively few people will read, because 1) I’m procrastinating on the last part of my book, 2) because I’m trying to get my head around the tax bamboozle, and 3) because I’m looking for ways to talk to our countrymen who have shut out so much reality in the name of fake news. Scripture has more authority for them than the press, or the universities, or really the public in general. (This might be another reason why they’re taking from the public schools to run their own.) So, with some fear and trembling, I suggest we use scripture too. In fact, I think all of us liberals should strap on the Bible, and become experts at it, and overcome our very-well justified reluctance to use scripture as a tool for argument. Our opponents might listen to us then. And if we don’t start listening to one another, my God we are looking at a civil war. So to the religious Republicans, I say this: If one of them sacrifices our children for his prosperity, then God will turn “against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people*.” They’ll have committed a crime that should be blotted from the earth. It’s all in the reading. According to their own scriptures, the Republican Christians have used this tax plan to resort to demonism.

*You could say, “Hang on. That whore bit sounds as if what God is really peeved about is the idolatry.” And there’s something to that, the way that homosexuality was seen as a crime of idolatry. But God hates child sacrifice. See that little business with Isaac. See Micah. You can probably see other scripture too. My Bible well goes only so deep.

(Originally published December 22, 2017)