Believing Your Own Press

One of the many things that makes New Yorkers tiresome to massholes like myself is their consistent, casual assertion that it’s the Greatest City In The World.  As if there’s no argument, as if it’s the most obvious statement one could conceivably make, income disparities and crumbling subways and Yankee fans apparently somehow not contradicting them.

As much as it pains me to say it, though, they’re a lot closer to the mark than the rest of us, considering that we as a nation are more than a little bit given to the exact same thing.  If you do a search for “greatest country in the world”, for instance,  you get a lot of them, and i mean a lot.  It’s bipartisan, too.  De rigeur for the Republicans in the room, but expected of Democrats, too, it’s a verbal equivalent of a mid-2000’s flag pin.  It doesn’t really matter which end of the spectrum you’re on, you’re expected to act as if this is true.

But it’s not, it’s not even close.  And it’s less about whether or not we are or aren’t, were or weren’t, what depresses me is that we don’t even try.  No, let me restate that, it’s depressing that we don’t even think we have to try.  Never mind that we’re heading in the opposite direction, we just are, y’know?

Why should we feel any obligation to look out for the least fortunate among us and help them up out of poverty for as long as they need?  Our healthcare system is the best, because the richest among us have access to the best product of our smartest doctors, scientists, and engineers–but there’s no need to worry about life expectancy or infant mortality for the rest of us, much less the poor.  We invented public education and the rest of the world sends their kids to college here, so we’re good, right?  It’s okay for us to starve/privatize/sabotage the former and wall off the latter with the risk of crippling debt.  We’re fine with our crumbling roads and bridges, clogged public transit, congested airports, and nonexistent trains.  There’s nothing unjust about racist policing, unequal justice, and mass incarceration.  Why even bother with leading the way to clean energy when what we have works so well?

It’s like you haven’t even been listening.

We’re. The. Greatest. Country. In. The. World.

And that’s what we’ll be muttering to ourselves, huddled ignorantly in flooded, crumbling, unhealthy cities, and deserted and desertified suburbs, wondering why the rest of the world just doesn’t understand, and what could have been if we just tried, even a little.

Let’s Not Listen

We’re all sick of it, the parade of articles about how the forgotten Real Americans of Trumplandia feel about their dear leader a year in.  It’s a well-worn joke that newspapers and broadcasters won’t stop until they talk to each of them.  So yes, let’s be done with them soon.  At least they’re real people who are somewhat honest about their wants, needs, and beliefs.  Ignorant, bigoted people, but you know, they pass for real.

However, i want more.  Next time some Republican or one of their flying monkeys has some message to get out, i want them to be treated with the respect their behavior merits.  Let’s not listen.  The thing is, we know what they’re going to say.  They’re going to lie.  Obamacare is a job killer, Democrats want to flood the country with ‘illegal aliens’, Hillary Clinton personally killed our troops in Benghazi!!!!

They are exceptionally disciplined at picking a message and hammering it and i am sick of our media and by extension us just lining up to receive it.  i no longer feel like i need to hear both sides, the other side is no longer beholden to facts and no longer tries to even sell their ideas on whatever merit remains.  It’s like Jon Stewart’s lamentation in his famous, epic televised murder of Tucker Carlson, of why reporters line up to go to ‘spin alley’ after a debate.  Why do you bring Republicans on TV when you know what they’re going to say ahead of time, and you know it’s not true.  All you’re doing is amplifying that untruth, and we know too well that weaponized, amplified lies become their own sort of fact.

So can we not?  Can we just stop listening to Republicans altogether?

A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

By that i mean we’re living in a country where the middle-class and below can lower their expectations of a hand reached out to help, and get ready to hand their hard-earned money up to the richest among us.*

For the last year or so, i’ve had the feeling of watching a favorite soccer team playing two men down (no comment on the refereeing), and clinging to a 0-0 scoreline.  You’re happy that they’re holding on, but you know it can’t last.  Sooner or later, the Republicans were going to get their wayward members lined up behind something, and that would be that.

As it turned out, those wayward members were almost comically hypocritical and/or cheaply bought, considering that the bill the Senate passed last night basically contained everything they previously objected to, deliberated upon (or not) in an equally objectionable way.

On Election Day last year, there was a palpable feeling of something having been taken from us, a physical thing.  Money.  Forgetting for the moment the ideological aspects, the moral risk, and the geopolitical peril, it was just plain going to cost us.  Stuff that we had and thought of as things our government was paid to care for was simply going to be taken from us.  Things that we’d fought for and achieved as a society were going to be scorned and discarded.

And unless, against the odds we can yet stop this, this is that bill coming due.  And like most bills, this effectively gets paid to people who have more money than we do.  Big companies who hide profits overseas get to pay less in taxes.  Rich people get to pay less in taxes in general, and less on inherited wealth.  And since it’s so, so partially paid for in a fig-leaf of an attempt to say it is deficit-neutral, it means that other stuff’s being cut now.  Health care for poor people.  Tax deductions for teachers.  Graduate student stipend deductions.  And in the most relevant fuck-you to me, tax deductions for local and state taxes.

That’s right, they rigged it so that those of us who paid high state and city taxes and received good service for them now have to pay tax on those taxes to the federal government, which already didn’t do many of those things we were having our local governments do, and doesn’t want to do those things because of selfish assholes in backward states want to do nothing ever and force that choice on the rest of us.  We’re going to be paying them taxes on money we spent on services they wouldn’t provide.   

And that money goes to the rich.  In their tax cuts.  In their private jet deductions.  In their breaks for one particular religious school.  In their reduced taxes on luxury cars.  In their new ability to drill for oil in the last untouched part of Alaska.

And for as long as this law stands, it’s going to do damage.  It’s going to mean that the 2019 version of my erstwhile roommate wouldn’t have been able to afford grad school, no matter how cheap our rent was and how many coupons she clipped.  And dozens of people like her won’t be making the breakthroughs that human civilization doesn’t know it needs yet.  It means that insurance costs will go up, people will lose coverage, people will die. People will just die because of this, people who might have lived a hundred years.

And that’s just the start.  This is where this bill leaves us, but this bill leaves The Deficit in horrendous shape.  The same pious fucks who so grudgingly sold their vote last night are going to come for their real targets.  Education.  Welfare.  Medicaid.  It’s a war on an America for everybody, waged by the somewhat-rich on behalf of the stupid-rich.

Every single day this law stands, every single day these monsters are not voted out, damage will be done.  And for every day of moving backwards, untold days will be needed to even get back to where we were when Obama left office.

So fuck your wallet and fuck my wallet, and fuck paying more so that rich assholes can pay less; i mean, i can afford it for a while, and i hope that in doing so it delays whatever’s coming for someone else.  But this can’t stand, because they won’t stop.  They’re coming for it all.  Anything you think you might have, any sliver of anything that they might find a pretense for not paying for, they’re coming for.

And they will leave us a hollowed-out country, with the children of the Baby Boom dying young and wondering why their parents’ generations saw fit to take everything from them so thoroughly.

* Did i work too hard repurposing that quote?  Maybe.

Call it what it is.

The other day, while proofreading the teenager’s essay on The Crucible, i counseled her to choose another adjective instead of ‘evil’ to describe the ringleader of the witchcraft hysteria. There had to be room for interpretation, i argued, some nuance to the description—she wasn’t wholly evil, surely. She was immature, lovelorn, made bad decisions when confronted with big trouble, and even though she doubled down when real people started paying the price, ‘evil’ remained an oversimplification. Didn’t it?

Then again, this week’s news (and all the ones before it) makes me doubt my certainty about overstrong adjectives.

We’ve got Republican politicians and Alabama voters supporting a pedophile. A guy who was already shown unqualified in multiple objective settings, before being outed as a serial harasser of 14-year-olds and a fugitive from a 1980s shopping mall (and i don’t mean in some cool John Hughes kind of way). But the Red Team is so hopped up on needing to win at everything, on #librultears, on their bloody tax cuts, that they need him. Better a known pedophile than a Democrat.

And about those tax cuts.  The ones that turn grad students, especially ones in the hard sciences into paupers, or, as likely, into an endangered species.  The ones that take away the little bit of their own pocket money school teachers could deduct.  The ones that annihilate people’s healthcare as an oh-by-the-way, a measure that people describe as a ‘sweetener’ or a concession, to the legislators who don’t feel it’s awful enough.  Journalists say that with a straight face now.  Thank goodness they’ve got the votes of Senator Vader, Congressman Skeksis, and the Death Eater Caucus.  Hell, going back to the theming element of my little rant here, the teenager’s also been studying the battle over taxes, the budget, and deficits from Bush I to now; a former religion of the GOP badly in need of a thesis or ninety-six.  There’s no high-minded consideration of the size of government here, this is a 1. a reward for not the rich, but the filthy rich, and 1a. a full-throated ‘fuck you’ to blue states and everything they like, chiefly education and the educated.

Let’s not forget some of the source of my renewed interest in blogging, the imminent demise of net neutrality; corollary: the certainty that neither of my two readers will pay their ISPs an extra $6.99 a month to read this website.  The non-Nazi part of the internet truly despises Republicans and Trump, so it’s ominous that he’s basically going to just end it.  When users have to start paying for Twitter and Facebook, these services are going to wither.  When ‘fake news’ can get shunted to the toll roads by administration-friendly ISPs, it becomes more and more of a prophetic lie/insult.  When poor people are functionally walled off from parts of the story, or from their means of telling their own stories (I would’ve uploaded that video of the cop shooting that innocent man, except it’s not on my plan), the promise of the internet will be dead and buried.

Not to say that old-school news is faring any better.  Monday, the toddler-in-chief called them to a meeting to berate them, not for the first time in person, never mind the hundreds of times in press conferences, rallies, and on Twitter.   The laws are clearing the way for the dreaded Sinclair to own more and more stations and funnel actual propaganda into the homes of people like my mom and dad.   And they’re working to engineer the conditions of the Time Warner/AT&T merger to take revenge on CNN, a network he hates as being mean to him (if only they were, and if only they were, sooner).

These are policies designed to protect the abusive.  To hurt the innocent.  To advantage the powerful and take from the average American.  These are policies to cement power and control information, to wage war on truth.

These are evil policies.  The Republicans are an evil party.  And America has an evil President.

Why even bother?

Walking up the empty ramp into my polling place in an off-year election this morning, i was struck by how different it was from last year, and how it yet acutely reminded me of Election Day in 2016.  Normal life existed before then, normal life where you didn’t (even as a straight white male), feel like you had to be fighting all the time, and when you didn’t check news websites every morning and use their font size as a proxy for how bad the first news of the morning was.

Life before Election Day a year ago was nuts, sure, but the direction it was headed in was more or less the same direction it had been.  Everything basically sucked, and was likely to keep sucking unless you were a rich straight white male, but it was a gradual suck for most of us.  Things were going to cost more, you were going to get sick, your employer probably could give two shits about you, and your governments were never going to be able to do enough for any of us.  But it wasn’t getting worse, and it wasn’t getting worse by-design.

It’s this last part that makes us really feel like we’re in a bad movie, or a prestige cable drama that’s maybe just a little too grim for its own good. The fact of it is, while there remain groups of people that have been unfairly targeted yet again, these assholes have basically come for all of us, too many times in the last year.  On Election Day last year, even before you factor in what it must be like for minorities of one kind or another, we were all doomed to be materially hurt by our government.  Even/especially people who voted for the motherfucker.  A switch was flipped, and each and every one of our futures was dimmed.

We’ve had to struggle to keep the harm to our health insurance merely serious and costly rather than fatal and astronomically expensive.  We’re in a battle to prevent our taxes from going up to pay for nothing that benefits us.  We’re all going to breathe dirtier air and more of us will watch our homes flood sooner.  We’re all in greater danger of being shot by some asshole who shouldn’t have a gun.  And every last one of us is in line to get fucked harder and more often and in ways we can’t defend by increasingly unaccountable corporations.  And that’s before we think about the increased possibility of shooting, even nuclear war.  A switch was flipped and everything sucked.

And beyond the use of our country’s machinery to make everything terrible, they’re going and breaking the machine.  Firing career public servants, leaving countless more offices dark and gathering dust.  Perverting institutions that should be protecting citizens. Hiding information from us at every turn.  And taking every step to ensure each subsequent election will be more engineered for unfairness than the last.

Escapes from this bleak reality remain tempting in substantial ways.  Mueller’s investigation feels real, feels like the work of the sorts of ferociously competent people we used to have in our government.  The burgeoning farm team of young progressives running for stuff everywhere might start bearing fruit in time to displace these monsters.  But what if he fires Mueller?  What if Mueller has the goods and no one cares?  What if he’s voted out and won’t go.  What if the part of the country that’s been told that everybody’s conspiring against them and their guns doesn’t take losing well?  Like nuclear war, this is a thing we have to think about now.

This doesn’t mean i’m giving up.  After all, i’m still sticking up signs and rage-donating and ready to go fight to undo this next year.  But a day like today is a reminder that we’re at the bottom of the hill, looking a long way up.  It’s not fine.

On Cartoon Villainy

Since politics and culture are inextricable from each other, it’s easy pickings for any number of thinkpieces on just why thing X is responsible for the present fall of the republic.  Here’s a half-baked observation, including spoilers for some things.

As our increasing appetite for darker, more complicated stories and more complicated, conflicted, flawed heroes gave way to movies, books, and tv shows about antiheroes and actual villains, we became blase about legitimately bad people in real life.

How are we supposed to decry torture while applauding Jack Bauer?

Even though he was a sociopath and an asshole, were you really glad Walter White didn’t get away, or were you rooting for him and his big pile of money, an everyman’s badass?

Isn’t it great when Frank Underwood subways, er, subverts his enemies to his own corrupt urges?

Weren’t we thrilled when Darth Vader showed up in Rogue One and slaughtered good guys mercilessly?  Didn’t we want more of Heath Ledger’s Joker?

Batman and Superman have to fight each other, hell, even Captain America’s conscience isn’t clean; so many of our good guys are kinda assholes, too.

Are we desensitized to evil?  Enough so to not recognize it on the nightly news?

When prison guards boil someone in the shower?

When frat boys laugh with excitement over sentencing Americans to death-by-bankruptcy?

When CBP tricks visitors into giving up their visas via coercion?

When Congress tells ISPs they can finally sell you out.

When ICE ambushes people trying to become citizens and deports them?

When the guy responsible for awful things done in Iraq sets up a meeting between our government and the awful government of an adversary to talk about helping each other do awful things?

When the Department of Justice takes a look at the detailed investigation of systemic racism on the part of police departments nationwide and hard work to fight it and says ‘never mind‘?

These aren’t just horrible things, these are transparent, cartoonishly evil things being done in broad daylight and being bragged about in a lot of cases.  Swaggering, cackling, excellent evil showing up and doing whatever the hell it wants, for reasons ranging from deep cynicism and greed, to racism, to just straight up petulance.  Forget the problem of a third of the country endorsing and cheering on these things.  Ask so many of the rest of us why there aren’t so many more of us in the streets, why we aren’t seizing a moment in real life to join a battle of good and evil.

Ask why there aren’t more Princess Leias and Harry Potters.  And wonder if it’s because we all secretly wouldn’t rather be Kylo Ren.

Fight All The Time

The girl and i had a big Saturday.  Ikea, Lowe’s, Market Basket.  A lot to do, we didn’t know if we had time.  What with the ongoing collapse of what we know as civilization and all.  Having purchased our own home we feel, understandably i think, attached to it, and accordingly a bit dismayed upon realizing it’s basically stuck in a country that’s fighting for its soul.

So it’s a hell of a thing to put aside, for the moment, the grim specter of fascism, to concentrate on staying married through the relationship test of a trip to Ikea.  The prisoner needs some kind of storage unit for her orange coveralls, but which one is best?  More drawers, or hangers?  Minimalist, or ultra-minimalist clean Scandinavian design?  And can this clothes rod be fashioned into a shiv by an average teenager?  Somehow we ended this trip having purchased a bed.  A serious piece of furniture weighing 200lbs and requiring five hours and three beers worth of assembly.  We now have a lot invested in this bed, and it seems somehow wrong to flee to Canada.  Sure, it’s possible that brownshirts are going to come for our prisoner someday, on account of her religion (which, to our surprise, turned out to be more than simple devotion to popular accessible-luxury brands), but we just built her this goddamned bed so we’re not leaving.

And that’s before the fucking paint, too.  Oh sure, we rounded out our trip by choosing paint colors.  In a fit of hubris, now we’ve decided to paint things, as if that somehow means that i’m less likely to be sent to reeducation camps for taunting that fascist Milwaukee sheriff one too many times.  “But Herr Kapitan, we just got the bathroom vanity the way we wanted it…”  And we’re finally going to mark our door with something other than black Sharpie (one wonders if we could have afforded the place were someone to have scrubbed it off).  It’s going to be borderline respectable, and now we’re supposed to leave?

So the next day, we built the bed, painted the damn bathroom, briefly attended a beer festival we bought tickets for a month ago, and then went to a protest.  But i’m not gonna lie, it feels weird sometimes to do normal things.  To worry about painting something, or visiting grandparents or in-laws, to wonder if the Revs are going to have a competent backline, or to think about how much i want a cheeseburger, or to worry about building the best thingies i can at work.

There’s a pinch of guilt with all these things, a little sting to remind me that this is complacency, complacency to which we’re all entitled–truly, life does indeed need to go on–but needs to be checked.  If i want to keep my freshly painted door to my new condo in the best city in all the world, it demands this vigilance.  If we ever get too comfortable, too distracted, and go back to our big Saturdays, someday there might not be 200,000 people ready to fight.  And then i’ll have to find someone to move that friggin’ bed, because i promise you i’m not doing it.