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So, George H.W. Bush passed, and that was… a thing.

Like most progressives, I put him on my shit list for a number of reasons – war, policy, the usual.  But then again, on a personal level Bush seemed to be a decent guy; Bill Clinton’s 2004 autobiography offered a couple of interesting insights into that “decent human being” that his fans and even some of his detractors talk about.  In one passage, Clinton talked about visiting DC for a gathering of the nation’s governors and their families, and Bush having no pretensions about showing then-child Chelsea Clinton where the bathroom at the White House was.  Bush 41 didn’t shuffle it off to a staff member, or point Bill and Chelsea in the right direction.  Nope, like a grandfather and basically kind and humble person, he dealt with it himself.

Bill also wrote about how gracious and helpful George and Barbara were when the Clintons were figuring out how to set up their term in the White House to accommodate raising a child.  And he noted something I’ve read elsewhere:  Bush 41 had a habit of sending hand-written thank you notes, very old school.

I wish Bush could have extended this kind of courtesy to some areas of policy, but that is behind us now.  Specifically, it’s not current; I’m sure the 41 presidency has left its own legacy of violence and a certain amount of deceit (Maddow’s “Bagman” podcast has shed new light on that).  But this post isn’t about all that; I just note it in passing to lay out my own complicated views of the man.

It’s not restricted to Bush 41; generally I’m able to hate what a person in power implements in policy and action, and still admire them in other ways.  As much as I hated Reagan, I could admire his ability to stir crowds, to have a bigger vision of what the U.S. was and could be; after he died I learned enough to understand he and I were more aligned on anti-nuke policies than I’d thought.  As much as I despised Nixon, I could see in the video of his resignation speech to his staff, that he deeply cared about those who worked for him and the ways in which he betrayed them.  And with Bush 43, who up until our current WH occupant, was my least favorite president, I could still admire the way he urged us not to fall into Islamophobia after 9/11, his support for world health issues, and there was something about his goofiness I’ve always found strangely appealing; it was there even today with his candy-handoff to Michelle Obama.

It says something that I cannot find anything to admire, not one thing, when I think of Trump.

So.  The funeral.

The former presidents and their spouses were seated in the front row, and it’s been noted by a whole lotta folks before me that when our current pretender-to-the-throne and his wife were seated, the greetings were tepid at best (the Obamas, the Carters) and conspicuous cold-shouldering at, well, other best.  The clip that’s been going around social media illustrates the stone-faced Hillary not acknowledging the dufus she warned us about, and who’s ruining everything:

That cold look, that resolve to not acknowledge someone beyond the pale, took me to the words of an old friend from college, a woman with a discerning sense of decorum and symbolism, and the ability to remember behavior from past eras that can be quite useful in the present day.  She wrote this initially in response to the social shunning of cabinet members and Senators who were supporting Trump’s crueler policies, but I think we’re well advised to practice this more broadly.  Hillary certainly seems to have it down.

art of social cut- M Boyer July 20182

 

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That’s what I’m scared of, that what The Handmaid’s Tale proposes is true; that having to survive the incomprehensible will slowly, incrementally, insidiously, become reality.

That can’t happen, right?

But then again, I was almost convinced that Trump couldn’t win. Almost.  I knew it was statistically possible. I doubted it, but I knew it was possible. Statistically. Statistically! Statistics matter, right?

And that was before I knew about the Russian ratfucking of the election.  Or the duplicity of a FOX-induced electorate. Or the sheer depravity of Trump, or his minions, or his handlers, or those complicit in putting him in power – and here I’m thinking of Mitch McConnell, the most talented and depraved politician of my time.  Horrible people, doing horrible things.

But back to Gilead.handmaids-tale-future

I’ve only seen the first three episodes of the Hulu interpretation of The Handmaid’s Tale.  I got to the end of the third episode, not too long after it was released, and had to quit.  I was totally, thoroughly, at my very core, freaked out.  And I had read the book, two or three times. I knew what was coming.  Each time I revisited the story, its observations, lessons, its vantage points taught me something new about the perspective of religious extremists, and about surviving that extremism, about surviving catastrophic failure of a society. And I’d remind myself that in that fictionalized future, as in the world around me, not all survive.

So I knew where the story was going when Hulu released their version; I wasn’t surprised by its cruelty.  But I couldn’t keep watching.  It was the Spring of  2017.  The horror of the Trump administration was obvious from the outset, but it kept getting worse.  I had a need for escapism, not an extrapolation of what was going on around me.  I remember watching a lot of My Little Pony with the grandkid, and some other lighthearted Netflix binge-watching.  I could barely deal with the New Cruelty, as Wonkette,com continues to term it, let alone some horrifying futuristic fiction.

But it’s been a while now.  I haven’t stopped being outraged, but the wounds aren’t quite so raw.  From afar, I watch people chatter about The Handmaid’s Tale.  I know it has relevance.  It has resonance.  I know I “should” watch it, according to some inner voice that tells me to listen to the tale-tellers, the story makers, who react to what’s happening around all of us.  The story is old – originally published in the mid-80s – but it’s captured the attention of people now,  in this time, in this context.  And that matters.  The story has new relevance, and there’s a reason why.  I sense it, want to explore it, want to be in sync with others around me.  And still feel the reluctance.

The second season is out.  I suspect that this miniseries has taken liberties with the story that Margaret Atwood conceived; still, it’s probably in line with her original ideas.  I feel some need to “catch up,” to keep pace, to see where Hulu, of all corporations, has chosen to take this story about female oppression, debasement, and ultimate resistance.  I feel like I “should” watch it, like it should shore me up, but I’m frightened.  I don’t want to go there,  don’t want to “live,” in my mind’s eye, in Gilead.  I don’t want my country, my society, my communities, to go there.  It’s too close, too possible.

What a horrifying world, that I should feel that gap narrowing.

I have to include here a memory I can’t shake, from many many years ago.

I was in a small academic study group at The Evergreen State College, and The Handmaid’s Tale was an assigned reading.  Another student told me she found the book “pedantic” and too preachy. I took great offense at this; I saw in it some of the same themes found in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, where the social control mechanisms are a combination of ginning up hate and fear, and killing off – sometimes literally – any opposition in action or thought.  In the Republic of Gilead, you survived by keeping your head down, by playing along, by actually believing if that’s what it took.  It was a particularly female perspective, and I found that refreshing, if depressing.

But my friend found the story preachy, and pedantic, and a lesson everyone should already have learned.  I was pissed – why do people think everyone else should have already figured out what they are hip to? why do people denigrate others telling the stories they need to tell?  I snapped at her, “Fuck off!” and have felt bad ever since.

In retrospect, I see what she saw: a tale laid out to make a point. But it is more than that, and I still think Atwood’s tale has relevance, maybe too much relevance.  And so I fight with myself, like doing a homework assignment, or some chore that I resist even while I know in the end I will find it rewarding, to get myself to pick the series back up, and see what this new generation, some 30 years after it’s original publication, does with Atwood’s story.

But still, I’m scared. Sitting through a story is sometimes harder than one would think.

 

My reaction, earlier, to KillerMartini’s article on the ever expanding heap of Men Who Done Wrong: 

I want to burn this place downI keep thinking about Mad Men. Yes, fictional, yes over dramatized, yes flashy, yes pretty narrowly focused on a certain stripe of the upper middle class. But I, the daughter of public school teachers, am about the same age as Sally Draper. I recognized the world that story is about, even while the industries and wealth level were dramatically different. Part of the focus of that show is how men treat women, and how women treat each other, and how anyone stepping out of line is dealt with. I had friends who wouldn’t watch it, because it depicted and somehow to them sanctioned the sexist crap, the assault, the alcoholism, the insanity. To me, it painted a picture, a character study of a time when things we think are bullshit now were predictable and almost mandatory. Certainly unquestioned. And I know a lot of men (and women too, I think?) are still living in that mindset.

I can’t sanction the shitty things men have done to me and other women. But I also can’t expect men to know what they have not yet learned. I also know there’s a difference between the patronizing male customer I dealt with tonight, and the dude who makes a crude joke about women, and the guy who grabs my ass or tit, and the men who threatened to or actually assaulted me. It’s a continuum, and the dudes who grew up in whatever era they lived through, learning stupid shitty shallow dude behavior, aren’t all the same, and don’t, in the words of KM, all deserve to be shot to the moon.

We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do, and a lot of reshaping to manage. Some of us – women and men – are well down that path, and some people are still clueless and will never wake up. I’d like us to step through this carefully, and leave as few bodies strewn about as possible.

Back in May, I started to write about the (not) winning combination we were seeing in the emerging administration.  I came across that draft this morning, and the saddest part was that it’s become the standard operating mode for the Trump White House.  In May, I could afford to look at the fumbling, chaotic administration as a young team of novices, getting their feet under them.

Not so much now.

I think a lot about this presidency. I think a lot about the incompetence.  Any hard-right administration would enrage and frustrate me, based on policy alone.  And indeed, a competent administration would have moved legislation through our Republican-controlled Congress, pulling the country sharply to the right.  We see some of this in the seating of Gorsuch on the bench, and scale-backs in the work of agencies like the EPA and various arms of the intelligence community. But most of the Trump’s efforts have floundered, due to his and his administration’s self imposed fuck-ups.

There is malice in their efforts to allow the poisoning of our environment, or cut accessible healthcare, or to yet again open up the financial markets to the dangers that led to the Great Recession.  It’s the ultimate “I’ve got mine, so fuck you” approach to federal government.  But the incompetence of Trump himself, and the people he’s put in place around him, have foiled the worst efforts they’ve put forward.  They are doing plenty of harm, no doubt, but the number of times they have stepped on their own feet, slammed rakes into their noggins, and pissed in the wind is alarming.  How can a group of supposed professionals manage things so very, very badly? It boggles the mind.

Every day offers up a new crisis, a new lie, some more background information on the strange and secretive behavior of the Trump campaign.  Every day provides some new ridiculous, clueless tweet.  Every day brings another story of a cabinet official who doesn’t know their job, an embarrassing interaction with a foreign power, another staffer who leaks panicky descriptions of the chaos and disorganization within the White House. Every morning I wake up and ask myself what new bizarre story will surface.

And almost every day delivers.

And every day I am offended. Sure, the policies this administration wants to push are just awful. But the mismanagement of the Office offends my sense of good government, of the honor due to the position of President.  Supposing we can get a sensible President elected in the future, how long will it take to get the stench of incompetence out of the Oval Office, and all of its associated agencies? How much of President Sensible’s time will be spent on reforging broken and beleaguered relationships inside and outside of our nation?

I hate that the country is moving towards the right, but I hate it even more that the effort is being led by a bunch of greedy, incompetent fools.  And I think in the long run, that is the more damaging feature of the Trump administration.

The farther we get into the Trump administration, the more bizarre the press conferences get.  I was going to try to put together a whole set of examples of Just How Bizarre (including, of course Melissa McCarthy spoofs), the pattern of classic Denial-Non-Denials, the outright lies, the demeaning of the press, the habit of our not-s0-dear leader contradicting his spokesfolk, the strange walling off of the press during certain events and trips, the shut down on video or audio feeds from time to time, and so on.  But I’ll cut to the chase here, as most of us tracking the Trump debacle are familiar with what I listed.

As a result of the Trump style of running a communications office, there are some people calling for a boycott on the White House press events.  If the Communications Office is just going to flat-out lie and mislead, what’s the point? If the press can’t get a straight answer out of the WH press office, why even bother?

I think a different tactic is called for.  Send an intern.

I don’t think the media should ignore the White House press office altogether.  It’s interesting to see what it is the administration wants to convey to the press.  It’s useful to look at the talking points they put out, and how (and when) Trump contradicts so much of it.  It’s important to track the disabling of the media at the hands of the Oval Office.  It’s critical that the lies, and unfulfilled promises, are on the record.

But do experienced journalists need to do this? Particularly when the Trump and his team have allowed media such as conspiracy theory website infowars, or Brietbart, in as official WH correspondents, isn’t it a bit of an insult to put qualified journalists in the same staged, fake-news event as those hacks?  I do have some sympathy for the boycott idea, after all.

But nope, I say send in the newbies, let them cut their teeth on this sham of an administration while real journalists do real work elsewhere.  When (and hopefully it’s not an “if”) things ever get back to normal, they can sort out who belongs in those chairs.  While those chairs represent sitting for a crafted, disingenuous, distracting performance, let the interns track it.

There’s a pretty frequent appeal these days for just ignoring Trump’s tweets. The argument goes: Trumps tweets are a distraction; while we’re defending whoever he’s attacking this time, and doing fact checking, and generally rolling our eyes, his administration is off in the darker corners implementing policies that threaten and dismantle the progress we’ve gained over the last decades. That’s where our attention should be, and focusing on the tweets just pulls the focus off the more important stuff.

Yes, and no.

Sure, the tweets are distracting.  In some sense, I think they are meant to be distracting.  I’m not sure Trump views it that way – I suspect he’s unable to stop responding to whatever burr gets under his saddle, regardless of how unwise it may be to do so. But does his staff allow the twitter wars to go on because it keeps the focus off their attempts to change policy? Keep the attention, the press in particular, on the tweets, and they get less pushback on the policy changes sfavoring the rich and upper class, by dismantling social support for the needy.

However.

The tweets themselves are worth paying attention to.  They tell us where Trump’s vulnerabilities lie. They focus attention on what he hates, what he values. They are wonderful fodder for pushing back and further irritating the delicate man baby.  They allow Trump to dig himself deeper and deeper. Trump is someone who will never take Molly Ivan’s advice* and therefore displays his weaknesses for all to see.  And for all to prey upon.

And the twitter wars seemed strangely timed to cover, intentionally or not, efforts of the Trump administration to dismantle the decades-long efforts of moderates and progressives to foster a more stable and compassionate society.  So, where a twitter war begins, it’s worth looking at what else is happening.

And the third advantage of the twittergasms is that a wealth of witty and smart responses unfolds, both in the 140-or-less world of twitter, and the more loquacious locale of media in general, along with more than a few living rooms and coffee houses.  There is a certain strength that comes from sharing a mutual eyeroll, and that strength can fuel the energy needed for  research in to the policy changes that actually have long term consequences.

Don’t love the twittering from ol’ 45, but it can be used to our advantage.

 

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* “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one stop digging.” That’s Molly’s version, but apparently it’s a twist on an old Will Rogers quote, and probably goes back further.

Whole lotta white guys. Just sayin’

quick take away:

Comey established that the president tried to obstruct justice.

Trump only cares about the impact of the investigation on him; Trump doesn’t care if there was interference by Russia, only how it reflects on him.

A few of the Republicans are not complete dicks.

Comey did a fairly nice job addressing the actual responsibilities of the Director of the FBI, to the public and to the WH. It doesn’t involve “loyalty” oaths to the person of the President.

John McCain is losing it.

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Youtube video – Comey Hearings

Wonkette’s liveblog: HAPPY COMEY DAY! Let’s Liveblog Story Time With Uncle Jim!

 

100 days and counting

I was going to write my own assessment of the first 100 days of this awful new presidency. I struggled and sputtered and wound up posting something short and bitter for friends and family on facebook, noting I’d been totally justified in melting down on November 9th. It’s all I could come up with, without meandering all over the place.

In the weeks before my brief flirtation with a “100 Days” assessment, I was going to try to document all the travesties and lies and obfuscation and cruelty as I saw them unfolding each day. But it unfolded so fast, and my jaw was hitting the floor so often, that I couldn’t keep up.  I didn’t really make it even one day.

Before that I was going to try to articulate my rage about the election, and my joy at seeing the uprising, starting with the Women’s Marches, and going on from there. And I found my rage sparked again and again in an ongoing cycle, and couldn’t keep up. And likewise, constant stories have fed my joy and gratitude for the uprising, the Resistance, the pussy hats and great signs and love of science and reason, but coming so fast I couldn’t respond to everything.  It’s all been happening moment to moment, and I haven’t found time for record keeping.

What I have done each day is absorb it as it unfolds.  And maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s enough just to keep standing, to not crawl in a hole and hope it’s all gone the next time I raise my head. Maybe it’s enough just to live through it.

I work hard to fend off the meltdowns and the ranting; so much material to fuel so much rage.  But I can’t live in a state of rage, so I retreat into humor, or sarcasm, or distractions on Netflix. I’ve been reasonably successful; I have a lot of bitter moments, but life moves on around the bitter obstacles. I’ve channeled some of that energy into answering my granddaughter’s questions about what happening to our country. She’s only seven, and a lot of it is explaining how politics work in the simplest ways I can; like most children she has a strong sense of fairness, and the politics of the time defy that. 

I feel her frustration. I channel the tension of this chaotic time into bitching and theorizing, into listening to my friends and my clients process and vent, into commiserating with them, into consoling them and allaying their fears. I seem to come out with bursts of thought, rather than cohesive assessment.  Thus, my most frequent expressions in writing appear quite regularly in comment sections at my favorite mommy blog, recipe hub, and snarkified political commentary. Wonkette has, indeed, become a sanctuary of sorts for me, a place to release the pent up anger and sorrow in somewhere between 4 words and 3 paragraphs at a shot.

My goals of writing more extensively have been lost in just getting through it all.  Is that terrible? I don’t know.  I don’t want it to be permanent; just musing about my own process here is helpful, and I don’t want to lose that release.  But, I have to stop giving myself the assignments I think I should be pursuing, and roll with the waves in front of me instead.  Plenty of waves, no doubt there.

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