The Flag of My Enemy

It’s a pretty typical sight on suburban highways, even here in liberal Massachusetts.  Sometimes you even see them intrude on the streets of Boston.  An oversized, shiny, clean pickup, the soft-hands kind of truck, not the sort that’s ever done a day’s work in its life, its spotless bed sporting only two things, side-by-side American flags set to wave in the breeze as they head out to haul a heavy load of nothing.  And something dawned on me the last time i saw one, something that kinda curdled in my brain and bugged me; when i see this type of thing, the first thing i think is, “That man* is my enemy.”

Which is a pretty awful thing to think, for a couple of reasons:

First, let’s consider the fact that it’s gotten to the point where someone that disagrees with me qualifies as an enemy.

Secondly, let’s think about how much it sucks that the flag of my own country has been stolen from me to the point where i’m stirred to anger by people that wave it.

It’s a pretty depressing thing, but this is the place that we are in.  It works kinda like this.  Anyone in 2018 so moved to ostentatiously fly the American flag is overwhelmingly likely to be a Republican.  From 2001 on, the Republican Party and its followers deftly moved to equate their views on everything from counterterrorism to taking healthcare from kids, to taking kids from their parents, to rooting for the Yankees with patriotism, and with the flag.  You show the flag**, you’re on their side, almost by definition. And in 2001, we certainly weren’t going to upgrade disagreement to enmity, but by 2003, you could at least understand how we might someday get there.  In 2018, i’m pretty comfortable saying that Republicans are my enemy, in that to the extent that they are fighting for their side, i believe they are fighting for evil, full stop.

So it surprised me not when one of those trucks roared down a city street after the Womens March and shouted slurs at us.  It’s merely a more overt way of saying what they’ve stolen the flag and made it say.  They took my flag and made it say that it hates gays, that immigrants aren’t Americans, that poor people should go uncared for, and that the wealthy should have dominion over us all.

It’s going to say that until we take it back, and we’re only going to take it back by defeating…  that’s right, our enemies.

 

*of course it’s a man, why would you think otherwise?
**an exception: when you’re at the World Cup, you can get away with wearing your flag as a cape, belting out the Star Spangled Banner and drinking Budweiser unironically, and you get it back for just that one month.  The Olympics are also probably okay.

Is that gas?

Over the course of the last eighteen months, just as you might have good days and bad days at work, there have been good days and bad days reading the newspaper.  On some days, i turn off the twitters at night and feel like any day now our fraudulent, bigoted, corrupt, degenerated, suborned excuse for a President is going to be run to ground and paraded through the streets shorn of all his lies.  On other nights i feel like it’s all going to fizzle, like the Red Sox squandering loaded bases with nobody out, and we’re going to have to sit there and watch while the Republicans get everything they ever wanted and be praised for it.

It’s not just that i’m so often of two minds about whether or not he’s going to get caught; sometimes those nights where it seems like he’s going to triumph make me doubt the whole thing.  Not in the sense of believing the things that he says, because they’re self-evidently ridiculous, but at least wondering if there’s a there, there.  What if the dots don’t connect on Russia?  What if Stormy Daniels’ lawyer is all style and no substance?  Or what if instead of the grand slam, Robert Mueller hits a standup double, but the rest of the government’s already resolved itself to strike out without taking the bat off its shoulder, so to speak?

At that point, i start to think about what the Republican dystopia looks like when it entrenches itself.  Even in the wildest horrors, Trump’s most brazen corruption doesn’t outlive him (unless you believe the stories about him lining up Ivanka in six years and getting the Russians to hand it to her).  But his corruption ranges from insulting and tacky to damaging our foreign policy—its the lasting damage that i worry about.  The selling out of the environment at the last moment that crisis can be mitigated, the war declared on the less fortunate and the less white, the blatant effort to destroy a government we spent two hundred years working on.

And i don’t know if it’s the relentlessly, regrettably evenhanded mainstream media giving his lies equal weight to facts, evidence, hell, even his own words back to haunt him.  Or if it’s the lies themselves, undermining the truth with quantity if not quality.  Maybe its just the sheer longevity of it all, the fact that this has lasted eighteen months without this unbalanced machine spinning itself apart, maybe that makes me wonder if it’ll hold together somehow and refuse all our efforts to tip it over.

But there’s a deep breath to be taken, and time to be taken to consider real things that did happen, that can be analyzed on their merits.

If nothing else, the President’s own words prove he’s a bigot, prove he sympathizes with Nazis and the KKK.

If nothing else, the President has hired people who’ve been proven corrupt well in excess of past standards for front-page scandal.

If nothing else, the President is violating the letter and spirit of existing laws regarding profiting from positions in government.

If nothing else, the President has hired people who’ve been proven to be in league with foreign powers whose interests are not our own.

If nothing else, the President has lied to the citizens of this country literally thousands of times.

If nothing else, the President has supervised an inadequate response to a natural disaster and contributed to the needless deaths of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico.

If nothing else, the President admitted to, boasted of harassing women.

If nothing else, the President’s representative admitted to paying off other women to quash stories of extramarital affairs.

If nothing else, the President personally instructed our country’s border patrol to separate children from their parents.

If nothing else, there are these things and more that are generally undisputed, and it’s important to count them up and remind ourselves that other Presidents and other politicians have been ended for less.

But then there’s the preponderance of coincidences that simply can’t-just-be with Russia, the rancid smell of his finances that we’ve never even seen, the sketchy deals with China, in the Middle East, the parts of the dossier that keep adding up.

The pee tape.

So i wake up and remind myself that this isn’t normal and was never normal, and that decades of Republican willingness to cheat has culminated in rule by a group of people that do only that, while decent people are somewhat understandably unprepared to manage enemies for whom decency has no meaning.  There can be no quit on this, though; we need to believe in Robert Mueller, believe in the Pee Tape as strongly on the day the news comes as we did the day this asshole took power.  Our job is still to be the conscience, the backbone, the steel in the trap when the people doing the work spring it.  And we can’t let our fatigue turn into doubt.

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.