Within the realm of politics, anything is possible. Swirling and stirring within its cauldron are eddies and forces that give vent to aspirations and anger, truth and machinations. The process, like a pendulum swinging to and fro, often casually and on occasion violently, has a way of balancing out. One of the great mediators to this equilibrium is irony. Just as the law of averages ultimately brings the gambling fool back to earth, irony has a way undressing all the charlatans dancing on the political stage. I do not know one iota of how irony works, but recognize it as a valuable force. In this blog I seek to evince it as the sobering adjudicator of the absurd it often is.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the naval aviator who is selected to train pilots for a dangerous top secret mission. As an actor, Cruise plays his part flawlessly in demonstrating uncommon courage.
At the same time, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has reprised his role as feckless hypocrite (I’d be even more caustic if the English language allowed) as he cautioned U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, that “radical” abortion advocates will be “threatening mob violence” after the Supreme Court of the United States officially overturned Roe Vs. Wade, which guaranteed the right to a legal abortion, on Friday.
“I think there’s a real risk of violence,” he said during his appearance on his favorite soap box, Fox News. “Chuck Schumer stood on the steps of the Capitol and mentioned Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch by name [and] said, ‘You have unleashed the whirlwind. You won’t know what hit you.” Cruz added, “It’s really cynical to see Democrats effectively condoning violence.”
To make this statement in the shadow of the January 6 hearings, which has exposed the complicity of Trump and Republicans allies for inciting that day’s violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, is mind numbing. (It does demonstrate how big his cahunas have grown since being emasculated by Trump during the 2016 campaign).
Acting is the art of make-believe and no one does it better than Cruz. His latest is worthy of Shakespearian drama as he plays to an audience that has been conditioned to his red-meat pedantics more than Pavlov’s dog. No one is more aware of the sucker quotient of their audience than Fox and Cruz as they witnessed it proven over and over by the Duper-In-Chief, Donald Trump.
Peggy Noonan, conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, acknowledged the gullibility of Cruz’s audience in a recent column. She wrote that despite the president’s people telling him that he hadn’t won, Trump looked to a drunk Rudy Giuliani to tell him what he wanted to hear but that wasn’t enough. “So Mr. Trump looked around for kooks, crooks and freaks. He didn’t have to look far because America has lots of them, and Trumpworld more than most.” She continued: “Mr. Trump’s efforts were knocked down in the courts by his own-appointed judges and rebuffed in the states by Republican officials. Mr. Trump tried to get his vice president to go along, but he refused. So he threw his most passionate supporters on the ground into it, and told them to march on the Capitol. ‘Be there, will be wild!”
Noonan says, “those poor stupid people did…more than 800 people were arrested. Some have served painful time; there was at least one suicide.” She adds: “There is no record of Mr. Trump visiting them in prison. There is no record of his paying their bills. No record of his taking responsibility for their actions and requesting mercy. No record they were shown a cent of the $250 million Mr. Trump’s small-donor fundraising operation took in after the election.”
So Cruz will continue playing his role to his dolted followers, knowing full well the Oscar goes to most convincing of dramatic thespians. However, if an award is created for satire, Cruz is a lock.
St. Francis of Assisi wrote this memorable prayer in the 15th century and it has served as a cornerstone to Christian charity ever since:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Mr. Trump practices his own version whose principles must make any of his conscientious Christian followers suddenly understand cognitive dissonance.
MAGA, I know no instruments of peace
where there is calm let me further disrupt
where their is injury, let me add to it
where there is doubt let me widen the chasm
where there is despair, let me add to the hopelessness
where their is darkness, let me deepen the abyss
where there is sadness, I will offer no succor
Oh, power granted to me by MAGA, grant me unconditional adoration
so that I may be never questioned,
and never buy into the power of love
And may I always be the receiver of boundless grift
and that I be the sole arbiter of pardons.
And it is because I do not believe in eternal life
that I grab everything now.
The suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, is a deeper red than Marylin Monroe’s lipstick. Bordering the 17th Street canal which divides the parishes of Orleans (New Orleans) and Jefferson, it is predominately white-upper middle class populated by scions of New Orleanians that were part of the “White Flight” from that urban center in 1960s. Mostly Catholic with mix of Jewish, Metairie is the home to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Republican Congressman, Steve Scalise.
It is also where I grew up and went to school, first at St. Catherine of Siena, (same as Ms. Barrett) and then to a private school, Ridgewood Prep.
It is an idyllic setting, with “old” Metairie Road winding its way through its upscale residences and commercial districts until it connects with U.S Hwy 61.
More importantly, its denizens have no identity crisis and relish a bacchanalian culture that enjoys eating, drinking, enjoying friends, and any reason to party or parade. The Catholic faith is woven tightly with the fabric of New Orleans culture and dances in near-perfect step with the carnal.
It’s a good life — parochial and provincial — and it’s practitioners want to preserve it.
And who wouldn’t?
Discussions on abortion, immigration, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT, are non-starters as they have no room in the cultural space of Metairie. If someone is gay, its a personal issue and not a legislative one; Blacks and Hispanics are in a mix of friends, but they must assimilate to the native culture.
Here, Democrats are perceived as the party of change. Unfortunately for them, not everyone embraces change especially that which is mandated from the “outside” and the federal government.
If Democrats see themselves as the future, Metairie is quite satisfied with the present.
Metairie’s argument is similar to those of France’s Marine Le Pen. French traditions and culture must be preserved; immigrants must assimilate and not the reverse: France needs not accommodate to any cultural intrusion.
Democrats believe social evolution has proven no one class can benefit at the expense of another, and if it does it cannot last long before it is toppled by another. People must rise together.
But that cant be mandated through legislative fiat, nor patronizing ideology. Roger Cohen of the NYT, wrote: “In no other nation is tomorrow so vivid, yesterday so pale. Where you came from yields to American rebirth. There is no real America to take back because America’s many-hued reality is a ceaseless becoming.” As inspirational and, perhaps, inevitable his words may be at capturing the struggles of American democracy, it is also too abstract and impractical for most to adhere.
Every noble and well-meant democratic idea is turned into political poison by Republicans who have convinced their constituency that change and progress benefit no one. They use malignant racism in all its vestiges, including “replacement theory,” as a scare tactic to convince America it is fine right where it is. No amount of science and facts on the perils of environmental or racial degradation can move the Republican constituency off its mark of believing any progressive democratic ideas is nothing more than a threat to American values.
Democrats have been successfully portrayed as “Big Brother” who want to tell Americans what is best for them. Metairie and many conservative Americans will have none of it.
David Brooks’ recent NYT opinion piece articulated the foundations of conservatism as founded by David Hume. One of its basic principles is the belief that institutions and traditions are the best teachers, and that will lift society. So it is in the best interest of Democrats not to entirely discount the right’s resistance to its liberal ideas. Democrats have to create political space between the right’s defense of its status quo and vilification of any any progressive ideas that serve the greater good of society. If Democrats can find policies that serve as a surgical retractor to separate the right’s malignant reactionary thinking from its cherished values of maintaining cultural identity enough to let seep in the healing light of ideas that are universally beneficial, they might have a chance to be heard in Metairie.
Democrats may first try to do this by speaking to the shared common values among Americans which are inherently not exclusionary. The party’s leaders need to be deft enough to separate the bogus, white herring arguments of the right that seek to make minority inclusion and equality mutually exclusive. Democrats need to make the distinction that they are not seeking to dilute culture to adopt to the sum of its disparate parts, but rather seek to strengthen American values by making it a common denominator for everyone.
Sticks and stones may break my bones
but from words I shall recover
unless they’re lies
that hate and demonize
then I should duck for cover
Within the constant flak of the media and culture wars, it is hard to imagine that random acts of kindness still exists. Yet, it does. I experience it every day from strangers: the person who lets me go before them in the supermarket line because I have fewer items. People who are quick to wish me a good day while holding the door for me. And even people who allow me space to merge into their traffic lane.
The experience of kindness pierces the veil of our projections that often dichotomizes our thinking into “us vs them:” it has the authenticity of being one-to-one, calling upon our basic human instincts to bond and to trust.
Our antagonistic projections are created when we retreat to our TV or internet screens where our emotional reactions become malignant. We perceive our world -— in fact, our own society — as threatening and we seek to retreat into a tribalistic mindset.
The communications theorist Marshall McCluhan said in 1964 “the medium is the message.” He had no idea how prescient he was. In movies and in the news of that era, information and stories were conveyed in a linear experience. We digested the news or storyline within the context of our daily routines. Contrast that to the vortex of today’s 24/7 media onslaught. On a website, information is rarely passed to the user as a linear experience, real-time responses and links are added to keep us hooked into the endless flow of information usually biased to our point-of-view. Everything we read is algorithmically programmed to appeal to our proclivities and prejudices. Media is designed for our personal consumption, like designer jeans or personalized vodka. And like vodka we get drunk on it and act irrationally.
Within this rabbit hole of information, our fears are often stirred up internally by our own heuristics and externally by media marketers and pundits, who, not for any other reason, make gobs of money separating us into our tribal camps while raging at the other.
Most humans are reactionary. In the absence of Stoicism or the practice of authentic Christianity, most take offense easily. The formula is this : Render us fearful and separate us into our tribes, then have an “expert” reinforce and justify our feelings to create a self satisfying loop. Fear and anger produces stress and in that state, we look for people to side with us. There is safety in numbers. Most controversy is contrived and a way to get keep us pissed off at the other. The media in all its forms — Facebook, Twitter, Radio and TV — stoke our fears and emotions while they capitalize prodigiously.
Within this “take no prisoner” prism, the art of the compromise has become anathema. They would have you think there is no common ground between the left and the right, which means common sense and truth are the first casualties of this political war. If King Solomon were alive today, his sword would be dull from dividing so many babies.
Sure there are legitimate issues on we are dealing with — immigration, what should our children be learning, abortion. But on either side of these issues is not the enemy: they are you and me. Politicians and pundits would like you to believe the culture wars are worth fighting, because it empowers and enriches them. But we are the foot soldiers in these battles.
We are divided as a nation, but not as a people. People want to connect and not alienate. We do it every day in the streets, stores and sidewalks. That’s where real life is. Not on the screens.
We have the capacity for love and kindness. Politics has become an artificial and arbitrary wall between you and me to keep us angry and fearful and looking for cover. Don’t buy into it any longer.
Turn off Hannity, Acosta, Carlson, Maddow and others of their ilk. Tune in to the people around you. Your friends and and your apolitical community. You’ll be surprised just how decent many people are.
For years, conservative American politicians pushed for harsh drug laws that made it too convenient to incarcerate minorities, despite the fact that corporate America was getting high on the two-martini lunch.
All the while, another anesthetizing force took shape emanating from America’s radio and TVs. Originally called propaganda, media moguls determined misinformation and could also print lots of money. Play to people’s biases instead of challenging their corrosive beliefs proved powerfully profitable. Rush Limbaugh made nearly $80 million a year “duping” his viewers with a steady diet of false parallels, heuristic thinking, and outright prevarications. The integrity of news reporting proved less important than the imperative of profit as delivered by pundits such as Limbaugh, who has been followed by a host of others, including Sean Hanniity ($45 million), Tucker Carlson ($35 million), and Laura Ingraham ($20 million). Each of these polarized pundits realize there is big bucks in duping America. Like a drug, their followers get hooked on the high of the empowerment and anger gained by being told they are in a battle for America’s soul with the liberals, the greatest scapegoat since Hitler’s jews.
Most viewers of these Fox personalities are 60 and over and believe in an anachronistic America that once boasted nationalist and cultural hegemony. Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson won’t let that belief die. And, of course, with Donald Trump carrying the right-wing banner, it is not going away soon. Sadly, theses political puppets, who have become fantastically wealthy selling their souls supporting Trump, veer precarious close to running America aground on the perilous shores of authoritarianism.
But remember this my trifling triumvirate: For the first time in six years, the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) was held with the president of the United States in attendance on April 30 in Washington, D.C. The WHCD has been a tradition in Washington for more than a century and for the past several decades it has taken the form of a comedic roast of both the president, government, and the press. Thin-skinned Trump discontinued the tradition during his time in office.
Hosted this year by Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,“ he reminded the journalists in attendance the importance of their profession. “If you ever begin to doubt your responsibilities, if you ever begin to doubt how meaningful it is, look no further than what’s happening in Ukraine,” Noah said. “Look at what’s happening there. Journalists are risking and even losing their lives to show the world what is happening. You realize how amazing that is?”
He continued: “In America, you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes people in power uncomfortable. Even if it makes your viewers or readers uncomfortable. You understand how amazing that is?”
Noah pointed out that he had just stood there and made fun of the president of the United States and he was going to be fine. Then he contrasted that with the reality Russian journalists are living under Putin.
Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson, have the same right to criticize government and the president, and even serve as an apologist for Putin as Tucker has recently, all the while putting millions in their pockets. But the same hand you slap is the same hand the feeds you, and in this case, your largesse of millions.
Democracy is a noble idea. But in the epoch of Trump, it is but an obstacle to an authoritarian world view.
Republicans have become captive to their populist standard-bearer, Donald Trump, who promotes a homogeneous United States, where “patriots” must stand brave against the onslaught liberal policies that seek to create diversity and political “wokeness” to insure equality for its members. Tapping into racial and economic fears as well as effeteness of his mostly white followers, Trump’s populism goads them to believe that instead of being victims, they are stronger, smarter, and have a deeper love of America in their hearts — and who must defeat the corrupt elite.
A master stroke of rhetorical manipulation from a man who sees himself as victim, a role that has rendered him immoral if not manic in his attempt to seek absolute power. The American populism he promotes is a projection of his wounds and sense of victimization that began with the humiliation he suffered at the hands of his father.
The disenfranchised of this country are the perfect target for the pied piper’s call to identify with his persecution complex at the hands of lawmakers and media.
Trump’s greed is unparalleled, and his need for power nothing more than a means to that end.
He used his 2020 presidential camping to bilk millions from unsuspected donors through deceptive campaign money-raising tactics, of which he was forced to refund.
Current email solicitations for donations to his PAC promise 10x matches, resembling ads from casinos promoting their craps tables.
To outsiders, it is a staggering but sad joke he plays upon his followers. True Christian believers stay clear of the man fearing that if the wrath of God were to be unleashed on the unrighteous and moneychangers, Trump would be the first to be smited.
He fabricates crisis at every turn, a necessary tactic in his playbook to keep the public on guard against the “enemies of this country,” who, of course, are the media and its Democratic protectorates who seek to keep public servants accountable.
And once again playing to fears of the collective consciousness of his followers — drawn from the shadows of his own childhood — Trump presents a binary view of strength vs. weakness, one that plays to a conservative and traditional gendered narrative that appeals to evangelicals, and every boy called “sissy” by his father. He contrasts his hypermasculinity to the Democrat’s enlightened masculinity, which he portrays as weak ands feminine. Is it any wonder the neo-fascist Proud Boys rank among his supporters?
A democratic vision for the U.S. may be messy but it is not endorsed by Methuselah and is the best protection against madman subverting the will of its people.
Occasionally, an irony too good to be true is dropped in my lap. Such irony, I believe, cannot happen by chance but can only be caused by an under-functioning cerebral cortex.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, the U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, who does everything she possibly can to prove that lack of intelligence and serving in Congress are not mutually exclusive, objected to Katanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination by accusing her of going easy in her sentencing of pedophiles when she served as a federal judge. Although fact checkers and conservative legal experts showed that Jackson’s sentencing practices for child abuse image offenders were in the mainstream for federal judges, Taylor continued to rant her objections, because she lives in an echo chamber whose walls are impenetrable to facts.
What makes this an even more likely script for the theater of the absurd, is that Ms Greene has been appearing at rallies (think give-me-something-to-bitch-about HOA meetings) around the country with her congressional colleague, blues brother look-a-like, Matt Gaetz. Appearing in such thriving Florida I-10 rest-stop communities as Crestview and Milton where every TV in local Waffle Houses and barbershops are tuned to Fox News, the barnstorming pair (sans top hat and cane) propose to expose all the RINOs in the Republican Party who oppose the “America First” movement. Appearing in such small towns under the imprimatur of “America First,” they represent a mini-me version of former president Trump’s on-going populist rallies where he has reportedly raised a war chest of $100 million since leaving office. Green and Gaetz can hardly hope to dent such largess as they grift the salaries of Wal-Mart employees and low-income retirees.
If they were comedians they would be playing on the penurious Holiday Inn comedy circuit, and, maybe, they are playing for laughs. Last month, Ms Greene referred to the Gestapo as the Gazpacho police, so who knows.
But back to the irony that has been dropped in our lap. In light of Ms. Greene’s tirade over Ms. Jackson’s nomination due to her “protecting pedophiles,” has she forgotten that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating her sidekick for alledgedly having sex with a minor and sex trafficking? Or as a bona-fide supporter of Q-Anon, whose major conspiracy theory is that liberals are running a vast pedophile ring, has she given her partner-in-grift, a pass?
Is the irony lost on her? Or can it be she has no grasp of such intellectual concepts as her brain is locked in a binary world of black and white from where irony, paradox, and nuance are exiled.
Nonetheless, I hope the Gaetz/Greene act appears soon in my town. I can use a good laugh, and when they pass the hat to help “Make America Great,” I will put in a lump of coal and say, “There, I have.”
Former president Donald Trump took his “Pity Me” Tour to Sarasota, Florida this weekend to rant about his “stolen” election, a theme as stale as week-old French bread, but as vital as red meat to his pack of bellyaching wolves. Attending such appearances and supporting the former president may infuse his supporters with a shot of pissed-off bravura but it may also prove bad for their health.
A recent study by Seth Masket of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver show that the correlation between how states voted in the last election and the percentage of their citizens who are vaccinated is nearly exact. So strong is the correlation that Masket says, “Vaccinations are a better predictor of state voting patterns in 2020 than education, racial composition, or almost any other demographic factor.” With the highly contagious and deadly Delta variant spreading across the country, an unvaxed red-state America may be protesting at their own peril. This disconnect is no longer an example of America’s increasingly fractured politics, but its deadly malignancy as well. If you have an “R” next to your name, there is a good chance your insurance premiums will be as high as an admitted smoker.
Decades earlier, American states saw unilateral improvements in life expectancy. MSNBC reported that residents of northeastern and western states (which generally vote Democratic) are living longer and healthier lives while in the GOP-voting South and Appalachia life expectancies have stagnated. In 2017, the gap between Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy and Mississippi (which has the lowest) was a whopping seven years. White men in large metropolitan areas have seen some of the biggest gains in life expectancy, while white men in non-metro areas have had far smaller gains. These disparate results are directly correlated to the attention and resources that red and blue states devote to the health of their citizens. Blue state Americans have far greater access to health care. Their political leaders invest more in education, day care, and other safety net programs. They strictly regulate handguns, which means fewer of their residents die from gun violence. Medicaid benefits are generous and are not tied to punitive regulations like work requirements.
Dragging out these facts don’t seem to have much of an impact on voters on the “right” who have already proven their willingness to sacrifice their health to make a political stand. No ones gonna tell me to wear a mask! This political protest should be classified in the same category as the mantra gun advocates often proclaim, I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” One would think there is a better option than one’s defiance leading to death.
An example of this collective effort in self sabotage is found in Missouri, where in 2020 voters tried pass a ballot initiative requiring the state to expand Medicaid. But the Republican-dominated state legislature balked at allocating any money for the plan, in effect killing it, in essence, flipping the middle finger to the “left” and aggrandizing over “owning the libs.” Will any one see the cruelty of contributing to the early deaths of your state’s citizens? But in Missouri and 11 other states, it’s a reality — and one that Republican voters continue to endorse at the ballot box, election after election as they march towards collective suicide.
Perhaps we are seeing the ardent right give new meaning to the term “Cancel Culture,” but do they know it is their own they are cancelling.
“Throw out what you know is right and give in to your paranoia.” That is the tortured defense/PR strategy third-term congressman, Matt Gaetz, (R-Fl) is employing in response to allegations of sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. The fact that his buddy, former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, is facing 33 federal indictments for the same charges and others has agreed to a plea deal, has Gaetz wiggling on the hook. Gaetz knows that the Justice Department playbook is to squeeze lesser players to give up the goods on bigger fish. Leaked reports say Greenberg’s testimony is “explosive.”
“They are coming to get you and I just am in the way,” Gaetz said recently during a rally at Trump’s Doral Hotel in Miami. Blaming the “lying media” and the “deep state” is his “Trump” card as he and other politicians, mainly Republicans, have learned from the “disrupter-in-chief” when confronted with criticism or a criminal investigation. “They” is growing more inclusive as the the House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation as well. Gaetz, like Trump, is allergic to responsibility as my toddler is to picking up his clothes.
Of course, reviewing the political career of Gaetz, who has an uncanny resemblance to Beavis of “Beavis and Butthead, indicates that his alleged sexual escapades involving prostitutes and minors reveal a narcissistic personality similar to his political hero. (Exhibit 1: A self-styled lady’s man, he caused a stir at a 2018 Republican Party of Florida Lincoln Day dinner in Orlando, by appearing with two dates). Such personality disorders are usually a result of stunted character development in which blaming others is paramount. Anyone who doubts his narcissistic bent has not been watching “The Gaetz Show” unfolding in Congress for the past four years, where the 37-year old has redefined “grandstanding” in a town that gave birth to it. Gaetz chose to shortcut the long and arduous road to political power earned through seniority by blowing enough smoke up Trump’s ass to set off all the fire alarms in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. In line with Political Grifting 101, he has been fundraising off the controversy, in a similar style to Trump and the other purveyor of paranoia, Marjorie Taylor Greene have done when besieged with criticism. People like Trump, Greene, and Gaetz are turning politics into the theater of the absurd.
As an instiitution, Congress has always had its outliers — racists, sexual predators, and larcenist, but always when these perpetrators were exposed they apologized and often resigned. But Gaetz and Trump are a new breed of unrepentants, trading in conspiracy and paranoia to turn reality upside down in order to project liberals as incarnate evil and profit from it politically and financially. The dystopian politics will continue to spread unless the character of more respectable politicians like Senator Mitt Romney and his values are able to triumph. After the January 6 insurrection, Romney denounced on the Senate floor false claims of election fraud and said it was time to tell voters the truth, instead of echoing their innuendo and misinformation, being fed to them by Trump, Gaetz, and the conspiracy contingent. That takes courage and character, qualities Congress needs more than ever.
During the Cold War, Russia was the boogeyman, and in the 1950’s paranoia raced through the U.S. body politic leading to the persecution of anyone even thought to be communist — lives were ruined and careers lost. The same ginned up fear and paranoia manifested itself in the Salem Witch Trials, which led to the burning at the stake of women.
What we fear the most, we project onto others. There will always be those who fear looking underneath their beds and those who are happy to tell them what is there.