Wednesday, February 21, 2018

HELP WANTED: Country (some assembly required), seeks meteor expert

It’s getting tough to avoid the conclusion that America is teetering on the End Times of one thing and tipping over into the Beginning of something else. We’re in a new age of dinosaurs and our meteor has already entered the upper atmosphere.

But don’t be alarmed; we’ve been in close scrapes like this before and we’re still here. When America has had to adapt or die in the past, we’ve always chosen to adapt. (Maybe next week I’ll write a column on seat belts.)

When I was a kid, for example, everybody smoked cigarettes. Everybody. My Mom smoked lady-marketed cigarettes (Winston) and my Dad smoked Tareyton—a man’s cigarette! You knew it was a man’s cigarette because every ad featured a smiling model, male or female, with black-eye make-up, and the proud slogan “I’d rather fight than switch!”

Wherever I went when I was a kid, everybody smoked and smoked and smoked. In airplanes, public buses, restaurant kitchens, doctors’ offices… in period movies now it’s played for laughs because of the absurdity of some of the images. Like the overweight, slouching doctor taking a long drag off his cigarette, exhaling thoughtfully, then turning to face his patient and tell him, “I’m sorry, Mr. Caruthers, it’s cancer.”

Funny thing about smokers in real life though, they were dying off. In droves; in exponentially higher numbers than non-smokers, especially non-smokers who didn’t live in a household with a smoker. These numbers got out to the public and became impossible for any reasonable person to ignore. Society took steps.

Enabled by a supportive public, Big Government stepped in and erected such stiff tariffs and impediments to the marketing of cigarettes that over the course of my lifetime, cigarette smoking has gone from being as common as people updating their social media status, to a lifestyle choice made by die-hard enthusiasts and a few hopelessly-addicted fiends who’ve been trying to quit at least once a year since they were teenagers and Joe Kool was a cartoon camel.

And why not? Smoking is still their right. It always has been.

But it’s also everybody else’s right to not be exposed to the harmful byproduct of their lifestyle, second-hand smoke. Society agreed on that, too, and Things Changed. Smoking-related deaths now compared to when I was a kid? Almost negligible. Nobody I know thinks fewer preventable deaths is a bad thing. Cigarettes are still legal, but the number of cigarette-related deaths per year has plummeted as cigarettes have become more of a niche industry.

In 50 years. Starting with incremental government regulation.

Oh, you see through me! This isn’t about smoking at all, is it?

I sent my kid off to school last Thursday with an uncomfortably long hug. I’ll bet I’m not the only one, either.

Every time one of these mass shootings is perpetrated (don’t tell me they ‘occur’), the official response from the Right-Wing is trotted out: Thoughts and prayers & This isn’t the time for politics, people are grieving. It’s as predictable as the fact that there will be a next mass shooting.

I live in Conservative Country. The folks out here love their kids, throw charity auctions, they’ll give you the shirt off their back. But they’ve been raised on a diet of Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network and talk radio punditry their whole lives. Their whole lives they’ve had one specific, market-driven, deliberate falsehood drilled into their heads: The Liberals are coming to take your guns. All their friends were raised exposed to the same influences, so they mostly agree on politics, or at least gun politics. And this is still the Wild West, it’s literally always been gun country.

The point is, the subject isn’t up for civil conversation out here. Most non-gun owners I know are ‘in the closet.’ And our state is representative of wide swaths of the country. Gun-enthusiasm today has become as workaday as the pall of cigarette exhaust was 50 years ago. It’s a lifestyle choice, enshrined by the Constitution, a document otherwise filled with more-precisely worded propositions.

So we are left with ‘thoughts and prayers’ and ‘this isn’t the time’ as the number of mass shootings skyrockets. Every other piece you read on the subject will provide you with the appalling numbers with which you are probably already familiar.

So I come to you today with a proposal.

“Thoughts and prayers?” By all means, keep them coming. I believe The Force responds accordingly to outpourings of good or evil intent.

“This isn’t the time?” Let’s say ‘okay.’ It probably isn’t, just out of respect for the families grieving. For goodness’ sake, we can wait for them to bury their dead before we turn the tragedy into the political donneybrook everyone knows it will be.

So since we all agree this isn’t the time for a ‘conversation,’ legislatively, about guns in America, how about here in the immediate aftermath, we set a time- and date-certain for that conversation instead?

Get it on the legislative calendar with a bullet, if you’ll pardon the expression. Make the legislative date escape-proof. That way, the political brawl necessary to follow will finally be able to begin. And by then, the families of the victims will be trying, somehow, to rebuild shattered lives, presumably not tuning in to Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

An excellent time for a ‘conversation,’ long-overdue, about some incremental legislation on guns. Prompted by the latest American tragedy, but examined in the aftermath of the aftermath, when—in theory—cooler heads may prevail.

Only 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote. That sounds crazy to us today. They sound like dinosaurs to us, and only 100 years ago.

I want my grandkids to look back in a century and say, “…and oh my God, everybody owned guns!” No way, will say another, incredulous. “It’s true!” the first will assert, eyes wide. “And it was totally legal! I’ll show you a holo-projection!

And they’ll laugh at our generation and call us dinosaurs. And hopefully, they will be correct.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

And God said, “Whatever you say, dear”

My Mom, Joan Marie Brooks, was born in the Midwest in 1926.

Google reports: In September of that year—on the 11th as it happens—a hurricane formed outside Miami which hit land one week later, eventually killing 372 people, injuring more than 5,000 and leaving some 43,000 Floridians homeless. In Japan, a promising young first-born son named Hirohito was crowned Emperor. Back stateside, Miles Davis was busy being born and the Hula Hoop was still some 25 years away from sweeping the nation. Mom would have been 3 years old on ‘Black Thursday,’ when the world financial markets crashed in 1929, ushering in the Great Depression—and her childhood.

Later, in the 1940s, she and my Dad (and occasionally other boys, from what she tells me) necked in the rumble seats of touring sedans under the streetlights of a sepia-tinted Chicago, back when everything was in Mono and black & white.

Music. Politics. Race… [pause for awkward silence—cough]

But Mom survived the Great Depression. And WWII, and polio, Elvis on Ed Sullivan (so many times, too!), the Cold War—even Pat Robertson’s wicked mendacity. Until the last year or so, she lived independently, proudly, on her own; grateful for the daily love, assistance and drama her daughter Peggy and granddaughter Janice and their families brought into her life.

As a kid, I asked her once why she and my Dad adopted kids instead of having some of their own. Mr. Sensitive, right? And she told me that although Daddy and her had prayed really, really hard for a long time, in the end, God had said ‘no.’ Which led to the tale of the Chosen Child, which was beautiful. “Your aunts and uncles had to take the babies they were given—we chose you.” Bam, case closed, we win! My whole childhood, I had this mental image of my aunts being wheeled into maternity wards and having random newborns thrust into their arms then wheeled out.

The years passed like a metaphor. Or perhaps they were a simile; I never could tell them apart.

While chatting with Mom shortly after she first fell seriously ill, I mentioned my recent 15th anniversary. She goes, “How long have you been married?” in a skeptical voice, dragging out the ‘how long’. 15 years, I repeat. “Wow,” she says. I go, what do you mean, ‘wow’? Her tone oozing sympathy for Leslie, she lamented, “Oh honey, you’re impossible to live with.”

Never even grasped the concept of ‘filter.’

Mom remained interested in life and held onto her deeply-unyielding opinions, and personal dignity, to the end. Well, almost right up to the end. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, Mom suffered way longer than any of us would have wished. And the absolute last thing to go was her noodle. After that, the end came quickly.

Over the course of a lifetime, if my Mom and I had had a Facebook status, it would definitely have been “Complicated.”

Like all of our generation of Brookses, my siblings [note to self: add names here if time permits] were adoptees too. At different times from different families. The last one, Peggy, after my Dad was about my age. How bonkers is that?! They kept on going even after my older brother Terry [is alleged to have] brought polio home from the orphanage, and then I’m told I brought something pernicious and infectious too. If I adopted a kid and they accidentally brought the plague into my house, I would still love and raise that kid as my own (should I survive)… but I would definitely not be rolling the dice a second time! Certainly not three or four more times.

Connie didn't bring anything home with her but sass and class.

Out of their need for family, our parents gave my brothers and sisters and me everything. A last name. Family; siblings, relatives. Social integration. A loving home, a softer place to land. And in some cases, a more interesting backstory than others.

The thing growing up was, my Mom was the proverbial immovable object, and so was I. We went at it hammer and tong, without relent. She had me on size and rank, but I had her on tactics and guile. We were too evenly matched, and we both reacted to each other’s violent provocations in kind. I regret now that I used my sister Peggy as a proxy for my Mom, but as she was usually allowed to watch the punishment that followed be meted out, it became what Lucas would call an ‘infinity loop’ of cross-generational domestic drama that only began to improve after I bought my first car for $350 and had a viable exfil strategy from heavy situations.

The second I moved out—two weeks after my 18th birthday so as not to insult my folks by leaving home before the age of majority—things immediately started getting better. I went to work with and for my Dad in the local lifting and toting racket, and Mom would come by my studio shotgun-shack and take me out grocery shopping, apparently determined to stuff my tiny, ancient fridge as full as her more capacious unit at home. I’d drop by the house, they’d be happy to see me instead of laying in wait; when things started to get tense, I had somewhere else I could be! Really took the stress off of all three of us.

Anyhow, Dad got old before Mom did. Dad was born in 1913, which is not a typo. And he got all kinds of sick eventually, like Olde Folks do. And Mom transitioned into Caretaker mode. It was somewhere around then that Mom and I made peace with my childhood. We talked it all out, we each mea-ed our culpas and we both begged the others’ forgiveness. It took years to convince her I was sincere and that I had really truly written the whole childhood thing off to ‘youthful indiscretions.’ (Lord, how she loved her George W Bush.)

Since then, we’ve become great friends. For the next 20-some years, one day a week was faithfully set aside to call Mom and catch each other up on what was going on in our lives. How was work at Skaggs-then-Osco? What was new with Peg and the kids? (It was always something!) How do you like the job W is doing now—really? Still??! and: How do I tweak the actual events of my life to make them Mom-friendly enough to discuss at least somewhat candidly?

It was mostly on Mondays we talked. Just last week—and I’m sure this was because my Mom was on my mind—I was bouncing down the stairs and asked myself, “Hey man, what day of the week is it again?” Monday. —Oh, Monday,  gotta call M** screech

Old habits die almost as hard as Mom did.

So there you have it: a thumbnail sketch of a complicated life from a son’s perspective. A life whose final act included legitimate spiritual redemption as well as increasingly impressive examples of putting her born-again Christian values to work. She would concede she was not the best Christian in the world when she was a Catholic, but when she let Jesus march into her heart, she walked the walk right alongside Him.

Which brings me to my little brother, Shane. He was a late-in-life addition to the family.

Picture this. I’m living in California in my late 20s, maybe early 30s, and Mom calls up. She’s taking in a roomer, she tells me. Some teenage boy who cuts her grass on weekends. Who had just been brought to her door by the police. “DO go on,” I say, trying to stifle the rising terror in my voice. I’m thinking: She fell for Pat Robertson’s line of bunk for decades, got sucked into all kinds of secular pyramid schemes along the way, trusted the wrong people with the family’s fortunes—if past was prologue, this kid would only be more of the same. “Candy on a stick,” my Dad used to call people like us. Still, Mom had already moved the young man in before she called me; Clara Barker didn’t raise any dummies. Mom had made two conditions with the cop and the kid. I forget the first one (Keep a clean house? Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain? Something like that.), but number two was she extracted a promise from the boy to go to church with her every week.

God had dropped this prime evangelical opportunity in her lap in her golden years and she was not about to waste it! And wouldn’t you know, with this son she finally succeeded. Shane grew up to be an upstanding, church-going man with a lovely family, all of whom consider Mom Grandma and Jesus Lord. A few weeks ago, Shane and his daughter Lainey made it to Tucson in time to meet Mom on a good [lucid] day. I understand it was a great day.

Sometimes, it turns out, God says “yes,” too.

My Mom was truly the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and she set the template for all the strong women I would admire (and eventually marry one of) the rest of my life.

And now she’s gone, and it’s like that taut ropeline that’s always—even from afar—tethered my life has been snipped and centrifugal force has sent me cartwheeling out of orbit, fidget-spinning my way into the unknown.

I feel adrift; an orphan again, among a family of orphans.

But we’re not orphans anymore, of course, which is the whole point. We’re a family. A family of Brookses, and Madsen-Brookses and Slenzaks and Tomalkas and Littlefields and Smiths and sisters and brothers and cousins and grandkids, aunts and uncles…

All because God said no, and my Mom replied, “We’ll see about that.”

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fast-forwarding through the Golden Globes, 2017 edition

Little Jimmy O’Fallon hits the stage, his teleprompter isn’t loaded and he begins to panic. The actual comics in the room try to avoid eye contact with the roving cameras as O’Fallon drowns in flop sweat onstage; he hasn’t been this embarrassing on TV since he was tousling Donald Trump’s hair on “The Tonight Show.”

OJ Simpson is having a very big night, in spite of the fact I imagine he was rooting for his ongoing biography, “Orange Is The New Black” this year.

Like Vladimir Putin, Hugh Laurie is having some fun at the expense of our electoral system… and is being cut off by the orchestra. Where were they in November? “I’m sorry, sir, I think you’ve had too much to vote…”

I wish O’Fallon would stop doing impressions. Like sidewalk mimes and walking in on your parents masturbating, it just makes me uncomfortable.

“Lala Land” is picking up lots of gold. Any chance it’s a movie about the film industry? Hollywood loves handing out laurels to movies about itself.

Iggy Pop is up for a Golden Globe? Need to rewind!

I think I like the Globes because most of the people in the room have been drinking for hours by the time the show starts.

I also like Kirsten Thomas’s plunging, rectangular neckline. In-side boob!

Goldie Hawn is unrecognizable, and still playing the ditsy blonde. Draw your own conclusions.

Ryan Gosling came dressed to win. Holy Humphrey Bogart! Man, and he crushed his acceptance speech, too! Who is this guy??

Kirsten Wig and Steve Carrell killed their comedy bit, which could have died a horrible death in less adroit hands.

Ooh, Thor and Wonder Woman, side by side. What a movie that would be!! And then I’m pretty sure Loki won the next award. Hmmmm… patterns, threads connecting…

I wish the winners would stop thanking people and get straight away to their political opinions. Loki’s acceptance speech was pure gold.

How is Jake Gyllenhall still a Thing?

Still waiting for the first nominated show or movie I’ve actually seen to win an award. Am I still a Thing?

Fucking a, even the best TV Drama category, where I’ve seen about half the shows, biffs it. So far it’s a great night for OJ, Anglophiles and facial hair.

Man, the writing on this show is lame to the point where one sentence opens with extolling someone’s artistry and ends with it ending with something about being an artist. It’s laughably lazy writing. Actually, if this one speech was a drinking game, ‘artist’ would not be the safe-word.

This year’s Lifetime Award goes to a very hale and hearty-looking Meryl Streep. Wow, her voice is all fucked up. I hope it’s a movie thing and that I haven’t misjudged her apparent health. She just celebrated the awards show’s debt to hollow, vainglorious narcissism by devoting a good portion of her acceptance speech to president-elect Trump. And now she’s calling out the press! That’s two for two, Ms Streep. And she closes with a Carrie Fisher quote. She never disappoints.

Okay, there are officially too many beards this year. Captain Kirk looks silly. As does Batman. Oh please, stop.

Mel Gibson sighting! In a category with about ten other people, and I’ve never heard of the winner or his movie before tonight. Thanks, Hollywood Press!

Ooh! Nick Nolte! Looking wonderfully haggard and unkempt, just the way I like my Nick Nolte.

I guess I should see “Lala Land,” huh? I do like well-done musicals.

Bradley Pitt is in boring-ass mode, wasting his charm.

Surprise! “Lala Land” won one of the Best Picture Awards. My recording is gonna cut off before this thing is over. Shit.

Leo is boring too. Boo! Announcing another winner I’ve never heard of.

And that’s it! 5 more minutes of commercials then the end of the recording.

Except for Meryl going all I’m-With-Her, a pretty boring affair by Globes standards. Lose O’Fallon next year and let’s see some winners Joe and Jane Sixpacks like me have actually heard of.

Or at least, more side-boob.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leonard Cohen—A remembrance

The first time I heard the name Leonard Cohen—known these days mainly as the composer of “Hallelujah,” one of most-covered songs of the modern era—was back in the early 1990s. A fellow who worked alongside me told me about going to a coffeehouse with his girlfriend the day before, and all she and her friends did was discuss the merits and meaning of various snippets of ‘Leonard Cohen’ lyrics. We had a good laugh at people who went to coffeehouses to discuss minutiae relating to artists nobody had ever heard of; plus this guy was supposed to have been a poet, too. Please.

For a while we mocked him on general principle; we were young, we mocked everything on principle. Somewhere along the way, however, cooler heads prevailed, and we decided to give this new guy a listen… and my friend immediately fell in love with his old stuff while I fell in love with his newer work, which was admittedly over-produced and synthesizer-heavy, but his melodies had grown more agile and memorable, drawing greater attention to the compassion, complexity and humor of the lyrics.

Not too long thereafter we heard this old guy was going to release a new album. We had already totally drunk the Leonard Cohen Kool-Aid by then—although we had the dignity not to let ourselves be overheard discussing the lyrics of an artist nobody had ever heard of—and couldn’t wait. An accompanying tour was announced with a stop in our town and we eagerly grabbed up some tickets as soon as they went on sale.

A couple weeks before the concert, he was on David Letterman’s show to debut the title track of his upcoming CD. He didn’t look at all comfortable and his low growl of a voice got lost in the synthesizer-heavy mix and I started to think about all the money we had spent on concert tickets. He just didn’t have the live performance thing down at all, but hey, he was still a legend, right? People still go see Dylan, who hasn’t delivered an intelligible live show since the ‘70s, so it would still be worth it to be able to say you saw this duffer with the old-fashioned hat. Then a couple minutes into the performance, poor Mr. Cohen began to sing a different part of the song than the backup singers and band were performing. I felt for the guy, but at the same time, I saw my concert money growing wings and flying out the window, like in a Tex Avery cartoon.

A couple weeks went by and we went to the concert, girding ourselves against a worst-case scenario. We noted where all the concession kiosks that sold alcohol were, as well as the bathrooms in case it became necessary to punish our livers to get through the evening.

Happily, it turned out that what Mr. Cohen didn’t do well was live TV. In concert, in a relatively intimate venue, he was a revelation. My specific recollection of the evening’s highlights is somewhat muddied by let’s say time, but I remember he was touring with the same girl-group backup singers and band from his disastrous TV appearance, and that night they were sublime.

His manner was that of a courtly older gentleman; his vocal range a bottomless bass, deeper than the voice of the angry God of the Old Testament. He didn’t drop a word that night, and the more hushed his singing became, the quieter the crowd grew as if we were instruments in an orchestra he was conducting. At every opportunity he introduced his band members by name, by show’s end he had name-checked the entire band at least a half a dozen times each. The girl-group backup singers’ parts were beautifully arranged and they did indeed sound like the angels he referred to them as. He ran through a generous set of hits from a long career that had seen very little mainstream success except in the hands of other people. Neil Diamond, among many others, had a big hit with “Suzanne.” Tori Amos scored with “Famous Blue Raincoat.” And Jeff Buckley was the first major artist to realize the commercial potential of “Hallelujah.”

It didn’t feel so much like a concert as a communal spiritual experience led by an angel choir. Mr. Cohen’s occasion encouragement of his backup choir, “Ah, sing it, angels,” seemed more apt than archaic. He made us feel like having been in attendance had somehow made us both wiser and humbler human beings. To this day, I’ve never felt its like again.

Career-wise, after Mr. Cohen invested the profits from that album and tour, he retreated for the next couple years to a Zen Buddhist temple in the LA area. In an excellent interview (searchable online) by the LA Times’ Robert Hilburn, Mr. Cohen recalls his time there being spent in meditation, writing poetry and making soup for the head yogi. He says they accommodated his celebrity to the extent that the monks took two of the closet-sized rooms they inhabited and knocked out the wall separating them, creating for Mr. Cohen a double-wide closet-sized room.

A few years later, Tom Waits was on tour and a bunch of my friends and I had made the pilgrimage to see the show. We had lousy seats way in back, but someone in our group spotted Mr. Cohen in the theater, about half-way back sitting with a couple of women. I was coaxed into going over to get his autograph. Now I had lived in Los Angeles for years by then and had never sought out anyone’s autograph. But I marched over to where The Great Man sat, and in order to not have to yell at him or lean menacingly over him, I took a knee when I approached the young woman seated next to him, who was seated on the aisle. After first ascertaining that he was indeed Leonard Cohen, I got her permission to speak to him.

I mean, really. It was like I was meeting the Pope or something. But the calm peacefulness of his demeanor made the fact that I was kneeling before this old man like I was proposing to him seem completely appropriate in the moment. I introduced myself and babbled the usual nonsense a fan would say; he put his hand out and shook mine and spoke words in his basso profondo rumble that for the life of me I cannot remember. I didn’t so much ask him for an autograph as I apologized him for an autograph. Which he gave me which I’m glad I scanned before misplacing it among my papers of the era. I got out of there as quick as I could so as not to draw attention to the celebrity in the audience’s midst. Yes, it was a jaded LA crowd, but it was also Leonard Cohen; his presence would be enough to reduce most attendees at a Tom Waits audience to breathless rubes.

Earlier this year as beloved pop icons were dropping dead left and right, I spoke to a friend who was concerned that we might lose Mr. Cohen this year, too. After all, he was in his 80s and had been working at what for him was a furious pace; 3 albums in the last 5 years, not to mention accompanying back-to-back world tours of 3-hour concerts. And I’ll tell you now what I told her then. I’m not worried about Leonard Cohen. He’s had one foot in Grace for at least the latter half of his life, and this mortal transition would no doubt be embraced by the man himself when his time came. Spiritually speaking, his passing would be a lateral transition at best.

And now the voice has been silenced and the Rubicon crossed. But you’ll never be able to convince me, the next time I’m shaken by an especially bone-rattling crash of thunder, that it isn’t Leonard Cohen and God, sharing a private joke together at the absurdity and beauty of the human condition.

“As I understand it, into the heart of every Christian, Christ comes, and Christ goes. When, by his Grace, the landscape of the heart becomes vast and deep and limitless, then Christ makes His abode in that graceful heart, and His Will prevails. The experience is recognized as Peace. In the absence of this experience much activity arises, divisions of every sort. Outside of the organizational enterprise, which some applaud and some mistrust, stands the figure of Jesus, nailed to a human predicament, summoning the heart to comprehend its own suffering by dissolving itself in a radical confession of hospitality.”
—Leonard Cohen, responding to a question on the ‘state of Christianity’ in an online Q&A

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


This is what it buys you.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Another long-winded political treatise, election 2016 edition

Greetings, history students of the future.

It’s the Sunday before election 2016 and I wanted to put a few thoughts down for posterity. Disclaimer: I was encouraged in this endeavor by my wife, which scenario has not always worked to our advantage in the past. Be that as it may…

As a clearly frustrated man once painstakingly explained to a roomful of confused members of the press, “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.”

Conventional wisdom at the time was that this fellow was speaking gibberish, but we didn’t know yet what we don’t know now.

For instance, we actually don’t know as of this writing who is going to succeed Barack Obama as president. We don’t know for a fact yet that if Donald Trump is elected, America as a free and open Democracy will come to an end. Perhaps he could turn out to be just like any other lying politician and betray his supporters by governing in a fair, wise and impartial manner. We don’t know if Hillary Clinton is elected, the number—even rounded off to the thousands—of investigations upon which Congress will immediately embark, only that the Republican party leadership has already promised to do so should she be elected.

All we know we know is what the candidates have done and said up until this point.

Or do we?

Both candidates have been public figures since at least the 1980s. Both of their lives have been documented in real time and exhaustive detail. 

As regards Mr. Trump, he has never made any secret of the fact that he is a perennial leering frat-boy. It has always been essential to his carefully-cultivated public persona prior to his run for office. Far from being a liability, that kind of reputation was desirable to young movers-and-shakers of the era. Watch “Wall Street” (1987) again and imagine any of those young Trump contemporaries, grown to age 70 and running for president. Oliver Stone should do a sequel set in a dystopian future about Charlie Sheen’s character’s presidency. I have little doubt Mr. Sheen would be able to find a hole in his schedule to accommodate the film’s production.

Be that as it may…

The problem with Mr. Trump’s candidacy—as one who has a problem with it but doesn’t claim to speak for any larger constituency—is that his personal character has not grown and matured over the years into something more seemly, more in touch culturally with what is actually going on in the world right now. 

Unlike most well-adjusted adults who adapt to changing ideas, social mores and global realities as they are legitimized, Mr. Trump has always exercised a firm, consistent refusal to do so. That’s why he appears to think it’s still funny to comport himself like a freshman at a frat party, tipsy from his first beer. He demonstrates an unwavering inflexibility that makes it all but inevitable that he would fail to move America forward by finding common ground either domestically or internationally. He doesn't compromise with opponents, he crushes them. His brand is built on winning, not finding common ground.

Everything else flows from that fundamental character flaw. The casual misogyny, the dog-whistle racism, the amusement at the violence at his rallies, the comically broad reverence alternating with outright dismissal of poll numbers depending on how well they reflect on his candidacy, even the curiously effective tactic of turning around every well-founded allegation about the deviance of his personality and activities and applying them to his opponent… He’s all about being the golden boy who can’t fail, a phase most people fortunate enough to pass through grow out of by their eighth decade.

His unfitness for office comes down to his unflinching mental and emotional inflexibility. That’s this reporter’s problem with Mr. Trump.

What does 30 years in the public eye tell us about Secretary Clinton? We know she didn’t follow protocol with her email server and due to sophisticated hacking that even secure servers are falling prey to these days, state secrets might have been compromised. We surely know that four Americans died during an embassy attack in Libya while she was Secretary of State. Like most high-profile political figures, we know she gave speeches for big money—in some cases to widely-disliked audiences—after she left office. She chose not to leave her husband when his philandering humiliated her on the world stage. And we know that before she became First Lady, Secretary Clinton spent her civilian career advocating in the courts for the rights of children.

Like Mr. Trump’s past, we know all this because it is part of the public record. The facts I’ve cited regarding Secretary Clinton are universally known and accepted, as are the facts cited about Mr. Trump. Both candidates have acknowledged them.

So a reasonable historian might ask, “However did a trust-fund billionaire with anger issues get anywhere close to beating an almost comically overqualified public servant in the presidential race of 2016?”

This is not an unknown. The Clinton campaign's critical miscalculation, its Achilles' Heel, was a known known going in, yet the powers-that-be went in anyhow.

Specifically, anyone who follows politics at all knows the Clintons are radioactive to conservatives. Hard-right, squishy-right, even RINOs, one thing they find common accord on is absolute loathing of the Clintons and everything with which they are associated. This is a first-hand report; I’ve seen it with my own eyes since moving to the hinterlands. And after living among the ‘Hillary Haters’ for the past few years, I understand what Hillary must, too:

Something (the topic for a whole ‘nother column) about the Clintons just plain pushes the right-wing’s buttons. Bill Clinton’s was the first presidency in my lifetime that was portrayed by his opponents as illegitimate from the get-go. And in the years since, opposing all things Clinton has become a cottage industry within the right-wing; people go to work every day, punch a clock, and sit down and write crazy stuff about the Clintons and their enterprises. Example: There are a surprising number of Americans who have actually been convinced that Secretary Clinton has had dozens of people killed on her ‘path to power.’ I just read this morning about something called ‘Pedophile Island’ that Secretary Clinton is reported (“…some say…”) to frequent. Wild stories that are right up there with Sasquatch and dead Elvis eco-humping a baby seal on a polar icecap, but they are widely regarded as credible revelations. To support this belief system, it is further held that the whore-like, ratings-driven mainstream media has neglected to cover these heinous crimes because, what, the cable news shows don’t care for ratings now that they have become profit hubs for their networks? This breathless ‘fan fiction’ doesn’t even appear on Fox News, but most of the rank-and-file accept it as an article of faith. 

This brings me to my real issue with Hillary Clinton—not as president, where I think she’ll be excellent, given the chance—but as a candidate. President Obama says, nowhere will we find a more qualified candidate than Secretary Clinton, but he leaves out the fact that nowhere will we also find a more divisive candidate. The Democrats have chosen to field their most qualified but least viable candidate ever, at the exact point in history that has witnessed the wholly unanticipated rise of Mr. Trump and the coalescing of the alt-right behind a major-party candidate.

“Perfect storm” is such an overused phrase, I won’t even dignify it by including it in this column.

And after considering all of that, this was the year we as Progressives thought it would be a good idea to rip the scab off decades of metastasizing fear and loathing of the Clintons? This year, when historically, two-term presidents are rarely followed by a president of their own party? When there’s an open seat on a Supreme Court already packed with doddering octogenarians? When social media has lent wings to hatred, misinformation and intolerance? When we had a kick-ass candidate in Martin O’Malley who nobody knew from Adam, for whom the GOP would have had to start from scratch with oppo research, instead of the decades’-worth of trash talk about the Clintons, instantly capable of resurrection and meme-worthy? I cannot emphasize this enough: the entire right-wing thinks Secretary Clinton is literally the devil, or at least actively in league with him. 

I like Secretary Clinton. I like her positions, generally speaking. But I was very angry when she announced she was going to run—both times. If I could foresee the political vulnerability her candidacy would represent, why couldn’t she? She had to have known. So just like I’ve taken the license to analyze Mr. Trump’s motivations, I’ll favor Secretary Clinton with equal time. Underneath what may be loads of good intentions, I see hubris with a capital HRC; she’s been patient, done her due diligence and dammit, it’s her time now. She’s too smart not to have seen the Congressional impasse (and likely Constitutional crisis when the House passes articles of impeachment) that's guaranteed to dog any potential Clinton administration. But she went for the golden ring just the same.

I suppose hubris is something every presidential aspirant must necessarily possess to think they alone are best qualified to solve the problems of the world. But to think the position is owed to them, like Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton seem to, is beyond hubris. They have both taken the concept and practice of entitlement to a Wagnerian extreme.

But only one is ready to tee America up to fiddle as the world burns. And light the match. And pour gasoline on the flames. 

And that’s why I’m with her. Because my insane narcissist has the portfolio that suggests she can fulfill the requirements of the job, and will not be tempted to burn the country down just because it will generate the biggest ratings.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

This was me a few days ago

You know, for the record.