Month: July 2016

Fox Destroyed the Republican Party

July 2016

I stopped into a McDonalds in central Texas yesterday and Fox News was on. They were lamenting the fact that the Democrats only mentioned ISIS 25 or 26 times in their convention…while Donald and the Trumpians raised the ISIS specter over 500 times in their scare mongering campaign, which of course is an object of praise and promotion. A little too cheerily, one commentator noted that “that the first to be crucified, or I mean beheaded, (this self-correction so as to, apparently, not allow for a sort of Christian jihadi martyrdom) will be the liberals and homosexuals.” The conversation went on with a series of polemical ideologues pretending to be guest commentators, including, unhelpfully, a black sheriff from Milwaukee who denounced the protesters outside the Democratic convention ostensibly representing the Black Lives Matter movement chanted, among other things “Fuck the Police” (as could implausibly be heard in the fuzzy 2-second audio clip they played). This was matched with a shout out from the audience within the convention during a moment of silence for fallen police officers of “Black Lives Matter.” The Milwaukee sheriff then extemporated for some minutes on the “slime” (and other such foul adjectives) of the Black Lives Matter movement.

FoxNews, in the context of a society with robust free speech, has set itself up as the most creative model of a propaganda machine of fake news, all for the sake of mere profits. They did this because it worked for them, but despite all their cheerleading for Republican causes, I don’t know that they ever really cared about that party. They just knew that the partisans of a party entranced by their own fantasies (and most of whom happen to be good middle class consumers), would be sure viewers of their incestuous ideological dream. They fed fantasy after fantasy of spite and scorn to the delight of viewers who apparently loved the idea of internal enemies, who loved the idea that nothing was their fault, that they were the true Americans and the diverse democrats were, in actual fox-fact (faux-fact?), a dangerous disease upon the nation’s sick body. That all these other black and brown bodies were signs of that disease. Day after day and night after night. And it was not just the racism, but the war-mongering over non-existent WMD and the dangers of science, and everything else that Jon Stewart so energetically and tirelessly pointed out about the lies of “bullshit mountain.”

A generation came of age on this police state poison. I’ve watched Chinese and Iranian news on Tanzanian TV. The Chinese are definitely more fair and balanced than Fox, while the Iranians could only aspire to Fox sophistication and self-assuredness in their total mastery of the “big lie.” A generation came of age amidst these spite-filled fantasies, and it is no surprise at all that Donald Trump was nominated, and I have no doubt that Roger Ailes’s resignation at this particular point in time, after a lifetime of harassing women who worked for him, had little to do with sexual harassment and everything to do with a realization among the major Republican ideologues that they had poisoned their own well. That they had created a minority electorate who believed the lies so thoroughly that they could not see that this was all only a political ploy, a mere rhetorical strategy. Their viewers, and the majority of the Republican primary voters, believe it is real…. much to the horror of the hypocritical Republican establishment who are only now (after all the disasters of the Bush era and fake candidacy of Mitt Romney) becoming aware that unlike the boy who cried wolf so many times that no one believed him, in the case of the Fox, the cry became a permanent paranoia.

The academic in me knows full well that they failed to appreciate the power of discourse, the power of language to form a cocoon of perception that appears to the viewer as reality. We all live in such cocoons, but some are woven with more diverse strands that allow a texture much closer to the reality beyond the cocoon. Faux-news reality is a homogenous silk, iron-strong, and impermeable, like the chains of a despondent slave.

Donald Trump emodies the faux-reality they promoted. And in his almost-certain defeat (or in his unlikely but certainly disastrous victory) he will bring down the Republican party with him, so weighted down by belligerent lies, spite, and prejudice, never to rise again. There is no doubt that Trump’s barely veiled (veiled as in the dance of the seven translucent veils that reveal more than they hide) racism is very real, as in he is really a racist. He believes that non-whites are bad for the American genetic pool. His love for Putin is like the love of the European extreme right. He sees Putin as the white-knight strongman of a powerful white nation, ready to go to war with the world. The American racist right realized this a long time ago, and they have been some of Trump’s strongest supporters, even as he half-heartedly sloughs off their endorsements.

This racist fantasy is at the core of Trump and the core of Fox and the core of the new Republican party. Its greatest danger to them is not the racism (they can work with that) it is that racism is part of a bigger fantasy world that makes them ill-equiped to actually deal with the world as it is. And they are on the verge of a complete melt-down because of it.

For those who would like to be Republicans of the old ideal (never really existing) type of small-but-reasonable government, national-interest driven foreign policy etc, the only choice is the creation of a new party. It will take some years for this fact to sink in. But that is the reality. New parties arise only rarely in American history, so this will be a historic moment. Hard to say whether any of the old ideal-type Republican ideology can be revived from this. That ideology will be inherited mostly by the Clintonite Democrats. The Libertarians will inherit a large chunk of disaffected Republicans a not a few Democrats.

The Democrats downfall is yet to come. At some point the heady sense of victory will revive the dream of socialism and that fantasy ideology will weave its own cocoon of fantasy.

Raindogs

Listening to Tom Waits’ "Time" in the midst of a midlife crisis is to understand all too intimately what ol’ Tom intuited in his magical way about the destruction of life by time and the sad petty pleading for just a little more by those of us who have failed to use ours.

http://americansongwriter.com/2012/12/tom-waits-time/

I discovered Tom Waits by reading about him I think in a Rolling Stone magazine book at the local public library rating every rock album ever. I recall they gave John Denver’s Back Home Again a bullet which meant terrible…but hey they are snobs. In any case they gave Tom Waits lots of good grades so I looked him up. I found "Blue Valentines" first. Full of great songs like "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis", it was a window into a world best known from American art, noir gangster movies and Edward Hopper. As I delved further into Frank’s Wild Years and things like that I began to think of Blue Valentines as a little unformed compared to those three great works of the 1980s. But some years later I put Valentines back up there right along those three.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxVo5mjK4eg

According to Ol’ Tom: "I was in Minneapolis – it was 200 degrees below zero – I know, you think I’m bullshitting, no, I swear to God, I was wearing just a bra and a slip and a kind of dead squirrel around my neck – he was colder than I was. The police cars would go by and they’d wave… merry Xmas, merry Xmas, merry Xmas… anyway, I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between two kids in Chinchilla coats, they couldn’t have been more than 13 years old. They’re throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street – it was deep – so I grabbed a ladle, and Dinah Washington was singing "Our Day Will Come" and I knew that was it."[2]

But I like Swordfishtrombones the best, to be honest with the wailing of a heartsick sailor whose toughness has run out…all sorts of magnificent cliches done to perfection. And then "A Soldier’s Things" … nothing but a list of stuff one might find in the attic of a man who had once spent a few months in the army during World War II, in structure it parallels "My Favorite Things"… which was probably that soldier’s favorite song.

Discovering Tom Waits’ America existing in some twisted disneyland far beyond all politics, filled with Filipino girls and Cuban Chinese car dealers and one-legged Puerto Rican beauties and slaughterhouses owned by Mr. Weitz, was to step into a storybook where every detail was just around the wrong corner of Minneapolis. It made so many possibilities seem real…and I knew full well that they weren’t. So I never went to look for them, or at least I didn’t look very hard for fear of disrupting my education (I could blame that fear on my parents, but that would be a lie). The irony is that because I did not pursue those trashy visions, I have now become a Tom Waits song. At his best he makes tragedies from the banal. The redeeming virtue of all his anti-heroes is their sociability. They always throw themselves into life. And that is what I have to find a way to do. Right now I am lost, and just floating, listing to records and watching Bill Clinton give one of his magnificent banalities of a speech.

Tom Waits creates a song about "raindogs", a term he must have found in some bar full of old school drunks like the ones that used live in the flophouses of Hennepin Avenue and pulled each other’s noses all the time. Raindogs, according to Ol’ Tom are dogs that wandered away from home, marking their scent as they went, and then it rained hard, so hard that they could no longer find their scents and so they were lost, never to find home again. A nice metaphor for a midlife crisis.

http://video.tpt.org/video/2256237121/

So then there is "Time" so beautiful and fantastical and frightening, because at some point in life, time no longer heals, it hurts.

And they all pretend they’re orphans
And their memory’s like a train
You can see them getting
Smaller as they pull away
Oh and the things you can’t remember
Tell the things you can’t forget
That history puts a saint
In every dream

And it’s time time time
And it is time time time
And it’s time time time that you love
And it’s time time time

Oh and things are pretty lousy
For the calendar girls
The boys just dive right off the cars
And splash into the street
Oh and when she’s on a roll
She pulls a razor from her boot
And a thousand pigeons
Fall around her feet

So put a candle in the window
And a kiss upon his lips
As the dish outside the window
Fills with rain
Oh and just like a stranger
With the weeds in your heart
Pay the fiddler off
Till I come back again

And it’s time time time
And it is time time time
And it’s time time time that you love
And it’s time time time

How Kind You Are to Those Who Fall

This was a line from a hymn this morning. Relevant to me of course. I suppose a critical mass of people know that Angie and I are separated (can’t quite bring myself to say the word divorced). This is a sin, of that I have no doubt. We have no reason to separate from each other. We have lived a good life together. It is my initiative to separate, not hers, and I have no reason to do so. I have not been quite happy in the marriage. But I cannot blame her for that. She has always been a supportive, sexy, joyful (most of the time) partner, a good cook, and a good person all around. I love her family, and if we do split up for good, I’ll miss them all, and I’ll miss her. This is not the time or place to try to go into the unfathomable reasons why I would even want to leave such a good and real relationship, and to be honest I don’t even understand myself. I’m looking for every possibility in my head that would allow me to avoid this terrible passage, and avoid hurting her. She is a good person. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but she does not deserve this. At a basic level, I’m happy when others are happy. And that maybe should be enough to save the marriage. But I suppose because of my own selfishness, somehow I want something different, and I know full well that I won’t “do better” than Angie. I am going down to see her this weekend, maybe we’ll try to deal with logistical and financial issues. But probably not. We’ll probably just try to deal with each other, and gently search for a way out of this fate.

How kind you are to those who fall. … The first reading was the passage from Genesis where Abraham (after last week’s reading where he and Sarah hustled up some humble hospitality for some divine strangers) seeks to work out a deal with God on how to save Sodom and Gomorrah. He starts with asking God whether he would refrain from destroying the city if there are fifty good people in it, and then shyly asks the same for forty, for thirty, twenty, and ten. The conversation between him and God starts to sound like that of a toddler asking the endless sorts of questions that children ask, testing not so much the information at stake as the nature of concept itself. Is there a difference, in God’s eyes, between the possibility of saving thousands and saving a few. Is there a price of innocent life beyond which such destruction becomes itself the greater evil? An interesting question that seems to have much to bear upon our current era of drone-fired missiles and terrorist bombings (not to say that the drones don’t cause, and are not intended to cause, terror). Abraham seeking to fathom the ethical choices of God. … The gist here seems to be that God’s wrath at the many is stayed by his mercy for the few. At Abraham’s request, God cools his anger and promises not to take innocent life for the sake of punishing the guilty. This is obviously a very fundamental moral lesson, one that seems to reject the idea of collective punishment and places the burden of discretion upon all authorities to differentiate the guilty from the innocent in all actions. This is an important lesson for our age, one that certainly Sir Trump needs to hear, but even our honored president Obama who, I think, has considered this question very carefully, and who is pained by the knowledge that has had neither the discretion nor the mercy of God.

This story begs the question of why the need to destroy Sodom. I don’t even feel like going into that. It seems that some angels visited Lot, a resident of Sodom, who lived there with his wife and children. Lot provided hospitality for them, as proper. He was then faced with an awful situation when, it seems, the men of Sodom came and wanted to rape Lot’s guests, as they were foreigners. This story is generally taken to be the basis for the idea that God hates homosexuality. In reading the story, I don’t know that we need to jump to that particular conclusion. Both Abraham and Lot are highlighted as good people who were kind to strangers, who gave them food and shelter when they asked, who welcomed strangers into their own house. Lot tries to cool the anger of the lynch mob (for that is essentially what it is) by offering them his daughters (an awful choice that seems to pop into Lot’s panicked head during this frightening event). They don’t want that. They want to rape and thereby humiliate the strangers because they are strangers.

Fortunately the strangers are angels and they are able to blind the attackers and then gather up Lot and his family and lead them out of Sodom just as (it would seem) a volcano erupts near the town and rains down lava and sulpheric ash which destroys the town like Pompeii perhaps near Rome.

The whole event, in retrospect, seems to be God’s response to Abraham’s bargaining the day before. He found a way to test Lot and find him to be a righteous person, and thereby saved him through this awful event where a mob wants to rape his guests and he can think of no other way to protect his guests other than to offer up his daughters as a sacrifice in their stead. Fortunately it never comes to that, and all that horrible lynch mob is apparently destroyed with the city. Lot’s wife looks back upon all of this and the poor woman is turned into a pillar of salt. That is clearly an injunction not to look back upon tough decisions, Hard to say what else it may mean in this messy situation.

By way of broader context, Ezekiel later comments on why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and he doesn’t mention homosexuality or rape at all. Ezekiel, channeling the word of God in prophecy it would seem, goes into an extended metaphorical commentary on how Jerusalem and the nation as a whole have drifted away from God in some way or another (it would take a lot to unpack the nested metaphors and misogyny at work here, so we won’t go into that now). Jerusalem is portrayed as an abandoned baby, thrown out into the field moments after birth, still covered in blood, and left to die. God saves the baby and raises her into a fine young woman, who then goes off and becomes, in way or the other, a prostitute, and then, in one way or another, sacrificed her own children to foreign gods. Now, we must understand that this is all metaphorical (the topic at hand is the people, society, government of Jerusalem), so we are not sorting out all of this language at this point. As a means of threatening Jerusalem, God, in this passage, then extends the metaphor and says that the towns/regions of Samaria and Sodom are Jerusalem’s sisters. In the midst of this, Ezekiel, channeling this voice of God, then explains: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy.”

Hmmm. Sounds like the Republican party….and American society more generally. God praises those who take in the strangers, invite them into their own house, feed and clothe and protect them. God destroys the mob who seek to rape and humiliate the strangers. I don’t think the gender of the strangers is all that important here. The lesson here seems to be that if humiliate the strangers (the foreigners) in our midst, if we refuse them our hospitality. If we “do not help the poor and the needy,” then God will rain down upon us fire and brimstone. Sometimes God uses natural disaster, sometimes God uses ones enemies. When it comes down to it is seems like it is just bad karma on a catastrophic scale.

The other passages are about how if you ask you shall receive (as did the strangers at Lot’s door), and that God erased all the captive laws and arrogant authorities by creating of the possibility of forgiveness on a permanent and ongoing basis through Jesus.

In my small little life, I have a lot of bad karma on a petty scale. So I’m afraid of it, but trust that somehow I’ll get through it, and somehow, despite all my unrighteousness, God will forgive me and I’ll avoid the fire and the brimstone…but my punishment at this point may be much more banal. I may grow old and die with love or children…. and I’ll deserve it, unlike many other innocents who have been handed this fate (leave alone those who preferred it that way) for no reason. God’s ways are mysterious and cruel. Should he save me we can only be bitter towards him for his unfairness. But save he might, forgive he will. It is up to us to seek to comprehend the mystery.

Return to Blogging: Mary, Martha, and the Rage of Unfinished Business

Okay, I am going to make an effort to write something every Sunday afternoon. I’ve been meaning to start this habit for years. But Sunday afternoon always gets in the way. Maybe some sports, maybe a long church meeting, maybe some class prep, maybe some sleep, maybe some drink, maybe some ruminating thoughts about the world or (mostly) my personal life.

This afternoon some of all those got in the way and its now 4:30….but here I go. Been listening to Steve Earle since last night…and was prodded to get back on Facebook to post his song “The Devil’s Right Hand” which seems particularly relevant to America in this particular day and age….full of rage and a gun in every hand (without the requisite chicken in every pot). There was a shooting at a beauty salon around the corner here just before I got back. The exterminator mentioned it to me yesterday. I looked it up, something like a son or nephew wanted to take something from the house, was told not to and took the admonition the wrong way. He turned around and shot the uncle or father who then took the gun from him and shot him back…or something to that effect. Both survived it seems. The devil’s right hand. … The same goes for the society as a whole. From JFK on out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je8xzQd6YEo

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that if I’m going to write a “blog” it’s going to be disjointed and unfinished. I usually struggle over trying to write a sensible (if not tight) essay, and it is such a commitment of time to really write what I would want to write for public audience. But I’m going to take the form of the internet blog to be informal and semi-private (albeit totally and absolutely and irredeemably public). So I’m just going to write what I like (as the great and courageous Steve Biko put it). It won’t make any sense and it will never have an ending….

Somehow I feel that all of this apologetic preface is necessary…as if anyone will read this, and even if they do, no one’s forcing them. (I should give more apologetic preface to my students 😉 )

And maybe all the apologizing is the problem….No one apologizes in America anymore!…and when they do they get hammered. But then, everyone is always demanding apologies for everything. It gets tiresome both ways.

Avoiding the latest all-American atrocity, which everyone will be commenting on until the next one, let me move straight to some thoughts on the readings for today.

Abraham hosts three strangers and scrambles with his wife to get some bread fixed and a calf slaughtered (served with milk and curds interestingly enough…pre-Leviticus practice). For their hospitality they are promised a child…for, it seems, they had hosted God without knowing it. The Gospel reading was of Jesus’ first encounter with Mary and Martha. Here, two seemingly single women scramble to host Jesus, actually only one does, Mary just sits around staring at him and hanging on his every word. As it happens, we have all sorts of theories and rumors about how and why they could be single, all of which highlights deep-seated and ongoing concerns about sexuality, women, and their place in this world. Jesus doesn’t seem to be to concerned with all of that one way or the other. The elder, Martha, complains that Mary isn’t helping to make preparations for Jesus and his friends. Jesus says that she’s too uptight and should just relax and (presumably) if no one eats its no big deal. Martha knows full well that if her guests don’t eat she’ll catch hell for it from the neighbors, and probably from Jesus himself. And in any case she is too well-brought up and too responsible to not prepare something. She’ll get it done. And not just because she suspects that God might be in her midst and that he might have a husband and baby in store for her. She fixes some food because that’s what you do. And then Jesus likes Mary and tells Martha to chill out. Life just ain’t fair….It ain’t fair godammit.

We can take this as a story about how to focus on what’s important…the friendships and beloved of our lives. And that is a good lesson from good ol’ Jesus. But that totally contradicts the Genesis story of Abraham and Sarah, and totally (as usual) ignores the thankless task of women (except the pretty young things like Mary) who have maintained the domestic sphere since time immemorial (Happy Mother’s Day mom!). Sarah and Martha make it possible for Jesus to sit around and preach and luxuriate in the admiration of young Mary. (Jesus totally had a thing for Mary, and she for him…nothing wrong with that, if he didn’t have a little crush on someone he would not be human). Be that as it may, at least both Sarah and Martha get mentioned. They worked, on behalf of God, by doing nothing else than feeding people. And they didn’t have the advantage of Jesus who says just share out the bread and fish…should be plenty, donworryaboutit! Sarah and Martha actually have to cook, which is a fun hobby, but a thankless daily task. So that’s that. Jesus comes along and says let’s chill out, spend some time with me (easy for you to say Jesus). But, there is something pleasant in this encounter. Maybe Martha could chill out a little bit. Just sit down and listen for a change. (there is a sense that she keep herself busy to distract her from her loneliness, all the more reason to be annoyed when Mary gets all of Jesus’ attentions). We do need to stop from time to time, and listen to each other. We do need to realize that we can leave for tomorrow what is tomorrow’s sometimes. We do need to realize that the compulsion to provide for everyone in our lives is often a way to keep all of those same people at bay, rather than inviting them into our lives, (again anyone who has raised teenage boys must know that there is no rest for the weary). But the bigger picture is that Jesus is breaking the rules, questioning our habits, calling us to pay attention to what is important around us. If God comes to your door, maybe he doesn’t necessarily need a cake right away. See what he has to say first.

This is a typical Jesus story, breaking the rules, humanizing the divine, blessing our lives, just as they are: whether busy, besotted, or beside ourselves with rage….as we find ourselves today.