Happy Valentine’s Day: Eleven Months in Isolation and Reading Your Way into Depression

You would think that eleven months in coronavirus isolation would give you time to read some of the fun things you have been putting off. Maybe some good humor, or even some poetry, although most of it seems to have been written by people in depressed states.

But, speaking of poetry, a friend gave me Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas. She celebrated the beauty of the natural world. That would be uplifting if we weren’t rushing toward the total destruction of nature.

Well, that stretches it a little. We are only destroying the elements of nature that support the kind of life we humans are accustomed to. It is only a bit comforting that no matter how much we abuse it, the rock we call home will continue spinning its annual trips around our supporting star.

If we snuff out human life, evolution will kick in again and we can pick up where we left off in a few million years – if we can somehow remember where we left off.

No, it is just as well we begin anew. We will need a new Bible, of course, with revealed word that can be dug up from the past. I would suggest Mary Oliver’s book for a book in the new bible on our revived planet Earth. Devotions could well be called the Book of Psalms in the New Good Book if her poetry somehow survives. Ms. Oliver was, herself, too modest to name her collection Psalms.

Some of my other choices seem to reveal a masochistic need to deepen the suffering of living in lockdown for what has been almost a full year. One of my first choices was The Plague by Albert Camus. It gave me a pretty nice introduction to the psychology of living in the lockdown world of pestilence and death. It’s not a pretty picture. But it has a happy ending when the rats return to the streets. Normalcy.

Then, Donald Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, emptied Donald’s family laundry basket so we could all pick through all his dirty cotton boxers and sweaty undershirts. (Mary L. Trump, Ph.D, Too Much and Never Enough) In it, Ms. Trump reveals that DJT is a narcissistic sociopath. I’m not certain that I am correctly citing her professional diagnosis but it will do as confirmation of what most of us have been able to conclude by watching the evening news. If anyone thought Ms. Trump exaggerated his sorry condition, the events of January 6, 2021 confirmed that, if anything, she underreported the depth of his dysfunction and the danger he poses to those around him.

Of course it has been the daily newspapers that absorbed most of my reading time. When DJT was elected I added online subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times to my daily encounter with the news. No one can read all of either one of those papers every day. But it gave me a good way to ease into the day’s new developments by reading yesterday’s with horror and a cup of coffee. Although I am never able to read everything in these two papers, I manage to read a lot and I also get to feel good about supporting serious national journalism. Oh, and Jeff Bezos.

Then I made the mistake of beginning to plow through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I really thought it would have a calming effect by reinforcing the idea that as bad as Trump is, it could always be worse. I am still reading, just beginning actually. I have read 22 per cent of the book. (Thanks to Kindle, I can give you a precise report of my progress.)

But, already, I have been repeatedly chilled by the similarity of the track Trump is on to that of Adolf Hitler’s steady ascent to despotic power in the Thirties. Trump’s impeachment and pending legal actions by state and federal prosecuting authorities provide no exception. After all, Hitler spent nine months in jail after his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, He used the time to write Mein Kampf, ghosted by his prison companion and lifetime follower-to-be, Rudolf Hess. If Trump should be jailed on tax evasion, he would no doubt compose his own manifesto with the help of some more literate inmate with ten-finger typing skills.

They say that as a discussion grows longer on the internet, the more likely that someone will throw out a Hitler analogy or some other Nazi comparison. (See “Godwin’s Law“.) And, there, the discussion generally ends. There is nowhere else to go as the discussion has degenerated into absurdity.

But don’t be too quick too quick to dismiss this one. Reading about the rise of Hitler after WWI, the similarities are downright uncanny. One begins to wonder if Trump has read the Shirer book. That’s not likely since he is a notorious aliterate. Nor has he likely read Mein Kampf, although his ex-wife Ivana claimed he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches on his night shelf. Godwin’s Law would say that’s enough already. Out of bounds. End of discussion.

But, take a look, friends. The Big Lie. Check. The doubling down on claims shown clearly to be false. Check. The cultivated cravenness of partisans. Check. The promotion of violence among supporters. Check.

But to be fair Trump is missing a few important characteristics.

  • He seems not to like the sight of blood. He is happy for others to bathe in it but he doesn’t seem likely to be putting contracts out on people’s lives. As mob bosses go, he seems like a pretty lily-livered one. But he would undoubtedly develop the skills with time, need, and toothless legal and legislative oversight.
  • He is cagey smart and plenty manipulative but he lacks strategic thinking skills. He has people for that but neither are they exactly world class. (Think Stephen Miller, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon.)
  • He espouses no particular ideology of relevance for American voters beyond a nihilistic attitude toward science, government, American culture and rule of law. There is, of course, a unifying principle of opposition to anything vaguely inclusive of people of color, any color but pink-orangey-white. His son-in-law and daughter are Jewish so he differs with Hitler there, but only because they are snow-white and Jared is from a proper criminal family and had, from Donald’s perspective, the good sense to marry gentile.
  • Nor does he have Hitler’s oratory skills. He does standup comedy for the amoral semi-literate, racist groups but he doesn’t have the ability to excite millions of Americans with exciting crescendos of inspirational illiberalism. He can barely read aloud from a TelePrompter. Although sometimes I suspect he reads as he does to communicate to his followers that he doesn’t really mean what he is saying; he is required to say some things to stay barely inside the bounds of decency so that they may all survive another day as a movement.

So, where does that leave us? All I would say is that comparing Trump and Hitler does not extend to my good Lake Jackson Republican friends. They have simply had no choice (so they thought) but to follow along with the nominee of the party they have belonged to for years.

I would suggest to them that they take a look at our party system and the ease with which an extremist or demagogue can take over a party through our system of primaries, gerrymandering and campaign financing. So long as things move along as usual with ho-hum races between ho-hum candidates, there will continue to be folks sent off to legislative bodies to do their bidding and vote against taxes and regulation, except for being “pro-life” when it comes to regulating women and pro-death when it comes to reading the Second and Eighth Amendments. I think most of my long time Republican friends in Lake Jackson are repelled by Trump. The ones who continue to worship him after the Capitol riot are either folks who never participated much in politics or they were conservative Democrats of the early Strom Thurmond, Huey Long, Lester Maddox variety.

But keep and eye on DJT. I think he will keep holding rallies and egging on his followers. If he climbs back into office in 2024, America is in grave danger. You may say that his age is on our side but there are more youthful pretenders out there: Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz to name a few. Graham and Cruz are prime examples of the power of power to turn old opponents into remorseless lackeys.

So ignore my reading list if you are looking for uplifting ways to pass your days in coronavirus solitude. Get a copy of Love Story from an old paperback bookstore in the neighborhood and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Day 319 in Coronavirus House Arrest – Watching the Big Kids Play Fortnite

There has been much to see during our 319 days of self-imposed coronavirus confinement. Many were things we thought we would never see:

  • a president attempting to sustain himself in office in spite of a clear electoral loss (there is even a word for it most of us had never heard – autogolpe),
  • his feckless efforts to use the judicial branch first by packing it and then by flooding it with sterile lawsuits hoping he would find appointees willing to advance his case,
  • a significant portion of the population consumed with bizarre conspiracy thinking,
  • and finally, a mob assaulting and desecrating the seat of our national government.

Sitting around in lockdown with not much to do but watch news and drink coffee gives me plenty of time to lie in bed awake at night trying to figure out what has gone wrong in the country of my birth and what we can do to repair it.

The violent invasion of the Capitol by our own citizens just over a fortnight ago was the most jarring emotional upset I have experienced since September 11, 2001. You may say “but it did not result in as many lost lives.” But I would say that the aims of the invaders, if accomplished would have resulted in many more. Extending Donald Trump’s stay in the White House would have extended his mismanagement of a public health emergency that has already, since January a year ago, resulted in over 400,000 deaths. And, even worse, it would have caused the death of a government and way of life many have fought and died to defend and protect.

I used the fusty old word “fortnight” in the previous paragraph purposely because in my late-night musings about the Capitol mob, it occurred to me that the attitudes they betrayed were like those of teenagers who were magically taken inside their simplistic Fortnite gamer world. No longer were they limited by their controllers and broadband speed. They got real world response to their guns and clubs. They roamed the halls and shouted threats seemingly with little understanding of what they were doing.

Of course, some of them knew very well what they were doing. They were the violent thugs from the more organized racist e-gangs who had mobilized followers to do things that were outside the bounds of their usual behavior. It is a well-known phenomenon of adolescents in groups.

My thought was not to condemn videogames. But maybe we should look at the ease with which grown men and women moved from victimless on-line killing of an undefined “other” into one of the most sacred temples of our democracy looking for the very real Vice President and Speaker.

In the games they play night after night, they routinely take out humanoid characters with guns, bombs, and clubs. I have watched groups of teenagers play Fortnite and it was an unsettling experience for me. These were good kids, and they were having no problem moving into this violent world. On January 6, we saw the grownups showing similar ease in moving the opposite direction, from their online dystopia into the real world. Was it every gamer’s dream? The game becomes reality and you get a taste of the power that can come with violence.

Yours Truly Shows Off His Renewed Patriotism and Pride in Having Served

I found it appropriate that our last president (No. 45) was found to be unqualified to serve by a condition that affects heels. I have never made much of my stateside years in the U.S. Army because I actually got more from it than I gave: GI Bill, some great administration experience, and, best of all, a year to live in Colorado. Others gave their lives – whether they believed in the cause or not. Thus I am not inclined to stand and take applause and TYFYSs on Veterans Day. But Donald Trump made me very proud to be a veteran and proud to fly the flag of the United States of America.

One & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 1):

That I was privileged to live in America’s Golden Age.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging, no, a horrible year. The Trump presidency wound down toward an election loss to a demonstrably decent patriot who loves America as much as I do. So there will be some better days ahead. But, with so much to be turned around and salvaged, what will our new President Biden be able to accomplish and sustain?

My fear is that you and I, dear reader, have seen the best of America’s days. We are the country that, in my lifetime, liberated Europe, emptied the concentration camps, welcomed millions of immigrants, advanced space technology, outlasted the Soviets in a Cold War and did all these things and still managed to turn out creditable literature, music, and visual art. Government programs provided assistance so that people could eat, become educated and receive a level of health care that, even at its lowest level, was better than people receive in much of the rest of the world.

Our appraisal of history is limited by our place on the time line and by our position in society. When I say we have lived during the Golden Age, I understand that most of the people who were alive at various times in the past probably believed that they were living in their country’s best years. And, of course, that assessment would vary by each person’s place in society. What may look like a golden age to one person, will look like a lifelong descent into hell by someone born without the privilege of color or inheritance. I am sure that my view turns to a large degree on having been born white and in a family where one or the other of my parents was able to work and secure some income most of the time.

But looking ahead to the future, there are so many problems of truly major proportions that it is hard to be optimistic. The climate is changing rapidly. We know why it is changing. We know how to retard and even stop the process. But we would rather gorge ourselves on material wealth, travel and entertainment. In the process, we have attacked the science capable of providing deliverance. Why? For revealing truths that would demand a level of discipline from us that no government was willing to enforce. The inconvenient truths Vice President Gore warned us about years ago.

We have undermined and exploited public education by privatization and “reforms” designed to reward teachers for teaching their students how to test. We have purposely denied health care to millions of Americans by failing to expand Medicaid to take full advantage of available federal funding. And political leaders have purposely led the public to distrust science, the key to so much of the nation’s progress since our founding.

After decades of progress in expanding the franchise, we are watching Republican majorities shrink the electorate through shameful voter suppression techniques. Technology assisted gerrymandering has made it possible for legislators and parties to perpetuate their majorities in the Congress irrespective of the general will of the voters. As a result, the legislative process is usually in a state of gridlock and unable to legislate for the needs of the citizens.

We have catered to the National Rifle Association as they campaigned to put guns and ammunition into the hands of every right wing voter the industry could reach in order to shake them down for the price of long guns and ammunition. The court has provided them an interpretation of the Second Amendment that arms manufacturers have taken to the bank while consumers take to the streets, armed and dangerous, to make the country safe for the nonsense and lies they have seen and read online.

All of these things taken together make it likely that we have not seen the last of DJT and his “base.” He was not the most competent candidate to lead an authoritarian movement. He may trail off into the sunset but the followers he has stirred will find someone else and, sooner or later, they will find someone with more of the skills and planning abilities to move beyond the entertainer stage of development Trump seemed be stuck in. It’s a job my junior United States senator seems to be auditioning for with great relish.

I look to the future of our country with foreboding. There may be another “Greatest Generation” out there. It seems odd to say it, but it may be us they have to liberate this time.

For the last fifty or so years, I have suppressed my pessimism. But my visions of the bad things that could happen have come true more often than not. I wish I had something more than thoughts and prayers to offer the young ones who have to try and deal with the mess we are leaving them. But I am afraid it has come to that.

Thoughts and prayers – and Joe and Kamala. May God bless them in their work.

Five & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 5):

Reality television must be even worse than I thought.

DJT comes from reality television. I never touch the stuff. I confess that I did tune in “Dancing with the Stars” once to watch Tom DeLay embarrass himself. That was enough for me in this lifetime.

I will tune it in again if Trump goes on. He should cut a swashbuckling figure in his orange jump suit putting his old salsa moves to work.