BOOK REVIEW | "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE: DONALD TRUMP'S WASHINGTON AND THE PRICE OF SUBMISSION" BY MARK LEIBOVICH
INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION is an interesting literary technique. it allows you to provide useful information about a subject not through describing it outright, but instead showcasing how said subject affects its environment and all that inhabits it. this technique provides more useful and comprehensive knowledge in understanding the complete arc of narrative.
such is the conceit of current THE ATLANTIC staff writer and former NEW YORK TIMES chief national correspondent MARK LEIBOVICH's recent offering THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE: DONALD TRUMP'S WASHINGTON AND THE PRICE OF SUBMISSION (PENGUIN PRESS, 2022) which details that story of the 45TH PRESIDENT's not through the man himself, but through the perspective of the devolving GOP ESTABLISHMENT and the HUBRIS, OPPORTUNISM, GREED and FEAR that marked their continued (to this day) undying fealty to this false emperor. it really is quite remarkable how a CULT OF PERSONALITY transformed a political party in such a short amount of time.
growing up a child of the oil industry, my family moved around a bit to countries like NIGERIA and KUWAIT who had longstanding tenuous grasps on DEMOCRATIC VALUES like EQUALITY, JUSTICE and LIBERTY. if you spoke ill publicly of SANI ABACHA or the EMIR then bad stuff happened. this sort of thing i saw again later in life when i work as an secondary english teacher at AMERICAN international schools in both VENEZUELA and MYANMAR. a coworker's uncle in CARACAS literally disappeared after he said something untoward about MADURO on TWITTER and in MANDALAY it was just understood that you didnt go there with taboo subjects like the ROHINGYA genocide, AUNG SAN SUU KYI or other ongoing ethnic conflicts in the north. i say this to just emphasize the fact that i am intimately aware of what it is like to grow up, go to school and even work in these types of AUTHORITARIAN situations where fear of reprisal works its COERCIVE magic on what you say and to whom. as a former PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA, i even saw a country struggling to get a handle on infighting factions corrupting genuine attempts at implementing a more just state of affairs. i know what it feels like to be in a situation where your values are not remotely represented, in practical or even idealized terms, in that of a government. in fact i know what it feels like to survive in an anti-democratic country.
and the UNITED STATES feels like it is getting closer to the latter.
so its quite upsetting that in the UNITED STATES, the literal beacon of democracy that the world looks toward (fairly or unfairly) could have a major party meltdown to outright AUTHORITARIANISM in such quick succession. and what LIEBOVICH presents to the reader over and over again is that the AMBITION for POWER and INFLUENCE or the fear of reprisal and humiliation has led most REPUBLICANS to justify decisions that go against their better judgement. like a meek kid that acquiesces his lunch money to a school bully at recess or a repeatedly abused spouse, these "LEADERS" instead of standing up offer limp CONCESSIONS, JUSTIFICATIONS and ASSURANCES to the public that maintaining the new status quo will work out in the end. that line of thinking has brought our country to the brink of civil war and the end of democracy. it sounds hyperbolic but that risk still stands.
its easy to call these REPUBLICANS COWARDS, CHARLATANS and even ACCOMPLICES to our current state of affairs. i think what LIEBOVICH provides on a steady case by case basis as he makes his way through the narrative of TRUMP's DOOMED presidency is an understanding of the pressures, both internal and external, that led to such SPINELESS, SERVILE behavior. stating these senators, representatives, anchors, governors, white house aids, cabinet members and such by name just riles me up and i dont want to give them anymore exposure. that recognition is what they crave. my hope is that when history is written they will all be lumped together and forgotten about as individuals, instead given a derivative tag that evokes their SUBSERVIENT nature (the new KNOW-NOTHING PARTY).
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE provided me with an unfortunate new appreciation for the nature of POWER and its predictably coercive affect on humans, even those tasked with upholding our way of life. the most chilling moment is LEIBOVICH's image of TRUMP watching and rewinding his live television feed during the JANUARY 6th INSURRECTION, taking in his warped credo of MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN play out on THE NATIONAL MALL and in the halls of the CAPITOL BUILDING. its still chilling to consider and even more so now that the inevitable next campaign is all but assumed to be announced in short order at the time of writing this.
we are still seemingly very much in peril. TRUMP and his TOADIES are currently advocating for something called SCHEDULE F, that if given power again he would effectively rid the government of civil service workers protections and pave the way for him to replace career civil servants with his own acolytes at will. it is still a scary time. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE is an informative and helpful book that utilizes a familiar narrative to structure the past and present openly stated motivations for CAPITULATIONS by a whole slew of SYCOPHANTIC REPUBLICANS over the past half decade. its difficult to stomach but most definitely worth reading, especially given the potential AUTHORITARIAN trajectory our country is seemingly headed down.
i have to say, one of my key coping mechanisms throughout the who TRUMP ADMINISTRATION was listening to the POD SAVE AMERICA podcast. if you are not familiar with it, the podcast is basically several former OBAMA ADMINISTRATION staffers who share their insights into the mechanisms and insider baseball of AMERICAN politics. sounds wonky, and at times it can be, but it is these conversational podcasts are done with humor, honesty and a sense of duty in informing the electorate.
they also are not trying to hide the fact that they are all DEMOCRAT operatives who functioned at the highest echelons of power, so take that as you will. they acknowledge their bias and dont make attempts to shield their perspective. specifically, the panel is made up of former OBAMA ADMINISTRATION speechwriters JON FAVREAU and JON LOVETT, spokesperson TOMMY VIETOR and strategist DANIEL PFEIFFER. regular guests on the program include former DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR BEN RHODES and former DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF ALYSSA MASTROMONACO. behind the scenes there are also several prominent staffers as well so it very much feels like a family affair.
its funny, whenever i dip my toes into listening to sports commentary on radio or cable television i am keenly aware of what actual athletes (current and former) say. i always take that experience as being a deeper insight into the processes of preparation and execution that make up being a high-level athlete. same with politics to an extent. my experience of the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION consuming media was one where i felt constantly unrelentingly barraged with half-truths, misinformation and disinformation to such an extent that the ground seemed to shifting beneath me. i could feel myself being gaslighted since, much to my own chagrin, i am not sophisticated or have the intestinal fortitude to wade through all the shit. what i like about POD SAVE AMERICA is that you get a feel for how a functioning administration works. not a perfect one. not an idealized one. just the hard lessons made from making mistakes in the field. to me that is the value of listening to their podcast. you get a sense that there is a series of protocols and procedures and hierarchies and command structures and internal information gathering services created by well-intentioned, competent people attempting to make a positive difference.
i'm telling you, if there was a REPUBLICAN version of this, id listen to it immediately. no question. i find it even more intriguing to learn about processes that inform decisions i dont agree with. but this is all i have as most of the current conservative conversation online is beyond toxic and engulfed in a mindless cult of personality at the moment.
we will see what happens. there has to be some former BUSH or REAGAN officials that can pull this off. just saying. my only real criticism is how prominent the male presence is with the panel, but they are well aware of such and have numerous CROOKED MEDIA-branded affiliated podcasts by comedians and operatives that showcase the diversity and concerns of a wide and complex national electorate, including that of HYSTERIA and POD SAVE THE PEOPLE. i look forward to seeing where they take the program during the upcoming BIDEN ADMINISTRATION.
i think for a lot of AMERICANS, myself included, there has been a desire to understand what happened on election day in 2016 and what led our country to such a precipice that a troglodyte like DONALD TRUMP could even come within striking distance of the reigns of power.
WHY WE'RE POLARIZED (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) is an attempt by former WASHINGTON POST columnist and VOX founder/editor-at-large EZRA KLEIN, utilizing copious published studies, opinion pieces, political science treatises and statistical and behavioral analysis to answer the basic conceit of what forces have led to our current state as a society and a democracy that appears to be in a state of rapidly unraveling. it is a multi-pronged analysis but essentially there are two basic ideas that buttress his whole argument.
the first is the concept that we all have multiple identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, geography, education, occupation, sports team preference, etc) that can be activated in order for us to respond in defense. a benign example is the abuse i get from RED SOX fans who are friends of mine every time the YANKEES lose a consequential game (and oh they know how that irks me). what is interesting is that many of these identities are stacked with regards to a particular political party. this wasn't always the case.
pre-CIVIL RIGHTS ACT the AMERICAN electorate was not "sorted" as it is now with regards to these stacked identities. it used to be that people voted split tickets, meaning that they would vote a REPUBLICAN for senator and a DEMOCRAT for president, or mayor/education board/dogcatcher. it used to be that some DEMOCRATS were more conservative than some REPUBLICANS and vice versa, the political affiliation not being specific to a set of policy preferences. in a sense, local concerns ruled their priorities.
while we were not divided as now, this was due largely to the fact that the DEMOCRATIC party allowed the DIXIECRATS to rule unabated with their draconian and racist methods of suppressing the BLACK vote through intimidation and state-sanctioned violence. the modern era of polarization happened as a result of this agreement ending with the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 and the basic handing of the south to the REPUBLICANS.
ok, enough history. so what?
basically with the advent of television, then cable news and later the internet and all its omnipresent mobile apps and social media and associated flood of voter information, we are now living an age were the business models of technology promote and actively seek out to activate these stacked identities and manipulate us collectively at scale. its quite remarkable.
we are essentially polarized by interests that seek to manipulate us for financial and political advantage and the mechanism are these deeply rooted identities that create an atmosphere where you are no longer voting policy, you are voting identity.
he makes other points about structural issues surrounding our democracy that relate to various outmoded parliamentary processes that diminish our ability to compromise and promote instability, but i will save that for interested readers.
needless to say this is a wonky book that i did not do just but recommend fiercely to anyone interested in the mechanisms of government and how they affect how we self-identify as AMERICANS. this should be required reading in high schools.
BOOK REVIEW | "TOO SOON AND NEVER ENOUGH: HOW MY FAMILY CREATED THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS MAN" BY MARY L. TRUMP, PH.D.
my first teaching job was at my old high school in KUWAIT. while there i taught expatriate kids associated with foreign political, military and petrolemum industries, as well as well-connected and extravagantly wealthy KUWAITIS. how rich? like FORBES 100 rich. but it was interesting because depending on the birth order of the KUWAITIS, you either had kids that were model students or absolute disasters. it was a total either/or situation. i remember introducing myself to the kids, telling them that i had previously lived and taught in NYC and one freshman student took me aside later after class and confided in me that she had been to NYC twice, for rehab. at 14 she was battling a heroin addiction.
what i realized about many of the KUWAIT children was that they were often severely neglected, being raised by nannies, having to live up to the name of absentee parents. they were in essence traumatized victims.
it was those former KUWAITI students that came to mind repeatedly when reading TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) by clinical psychologist MARY L. TRUMP about the developmental psychology associated with her uncle and the current UNITED STATES PRESIDENT, DONALD TRUMP. it is an incredible perspective she brings as both member of the TRUMP clan (who obviously is knowledgeable of his personal and family history) and that of a trained expert in identifying psychological disorders and psychoses, for which she has taught and collaborated in the writing of textbooks on.
as you may expect, TRUMP's diminished empathy and cognitive deficiencies trace back to his childhood, where like his four siblings he was neglected by his parents. the TRUMP household in QUEENS was one were FRED was the undisputed patriarch and his hostility towards his family and own children knew no bounds. his needs and his ego was what need to be satiated and he had no use for his family. MARY is the daughter of FREDDY, the eldest son of FRED, and he serves as the example of what happens when you don't live up to the expectations of the father. essentially you are wiped out and forgotten. his untimely death in his early 40s from the effects of acute alcoholism brought shame on himself and eventually his children being written out of the family will.
it's a merciless, zero-sum, dog-eat-dog world within that household where empathy, love and basic decency are devalued and wealth and greed are conflating with having value.
younger brother DONALD was profoundly affected by these family dynamics and learned never to capitulate or admit you were wrong in anything, as being vulnerable had no use to FRED. he only respected "killers." as MARY argues, FRED in essence "short-circuited Donald's ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion" leaving him in a state "today [that] is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his emotions, or take in and synthesize information." quite literally his need for affirmation is insatiable and such a personality trait leaves us all vulnerable to bad actors manipulating him with false praise and flattery. for him it doesn't even matter where it comes from, it is "so great that he doesn't seem to notice that the largest group of his supporters are people he wouldn't condescend to be[ing] seen with outside a rally" as MARY astutely points out.
and that is the problem we all face now as the whole national apparatus has enabled him, essentially "the government as it is currently constituted, including the executive branch, half of Congress, and the majority in the Supreme Court, is entirely in the service of protecting Donald's ego." this is our collective reality now. we are all in essence the pawns in his attempts to demonstrate value to his long dead father. to show that he is worthy of his admiration and love.
yes, DONALD is a victim of his father, FRED. along with his siblings he was the victim of child abuse, especially neglect. he was raised in a household that traded in sadistic humiliation and soul-crushing isolation. MARY is not advocating for sympathy on his behalf from the reader, far from it. she is placing his behavior and histrionics within a psychological and family context as only she can to help inform voters for the upcoming 2020 election. god bless her for that.
with 200,000 AMERICANS having perished from this EARTH as a result of his daddy issues, it is incumbent on all of us to heed that warning.
go out and vote.
note: for the record i bought this book at a used bookstore, so no funds went to the TRUMP klan, even though MARY L TRUMP seems to be a more reputable and savory member of that extended family. still i think it is important for people to know that i acquired this in a way that provided funds only to the reseller.
much like its predecessor FEAR (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018), legendary WASHINGTON POST journalist BOB WOODWARD's second book on the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION entitled RAGE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) provides a third-person perspective of events within the WHITE HOUSE based on deep background interviews. what separates this book from its predecessor, aside from its timeline (as this book covers time up until SUMMER 2020), is the actual participation of PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP himself. not liking how he was depicted in the first book and confident of his persuasive abilities, TRUMP spoke with WOODWARD seventeen times from DECEMBER 2019 through JULY 2020, many off the cuff with the president initiating the call himself. it was unprecedented opportunity for both.
that is not to say i learned anything per se reading his words. as WOODWARD states of his experience, "at times, talking to him meant being talked at." that comes across in spades throughout the conversations. WOODWARD asks carefully constructed questions crafted intently for the sake of posterity and TRUMP repeatedly offers a world salad of ramblings and half truths. it isn't shocking, you just get the sense that he doesn't care about facts or information. makes perfect sense when you learn that ANTHONY FAUCI, the director of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES once stated that "his attention span is like a minus number." it seems that WOODWARD has infinite patience and endurance throughout the proceedings as he often rephrases his questions multiple times in order to draw out some semblance of a coherent thought from TRUMP, most often to no avail. in the end he felt that they were essentially "speaking past each other, almost from other universes."
this tic seems to be a rhetorical device aimed at wearing down his perceived adversaries with brute repetition. it is essentially GASLIGHTING. and it works. in FEAR there is a constant theme of TRUMP impulsively and maybe even obsessively bringing up the same topics over and over again with his secretaries. the repetition of having the same discussion multiple times most definitely word down former cabinet secretaries like GARY COHN, JAMES MATTIS, DAN COATS and REX TILLERSON as well as former CHIEFS OF STAFF REINCE PRIEBUS and JOHN KELLY. this book showcases how that same tactic plagued his administration into further mismanagement with the rise of CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC and the NATIONAL PROTESTS that erupted in the aftermath of the senseless killing by MINNEAPOLIS police of an innocent unarmed black man, GEORGE FLOYD. it would be an interesting aside if its consequences were not so dire.
as i write this our national death toll in the UNITTED STATES from COVID-19 is at 204,000 and continuing unabated. as WOODWARD soberly states near the end of his interviews in a first-person aside to the reader, "Trump never did seem willing to mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."
it is hard for me to read this book with the proper distance and perspective as its events are still fresh in my mind. i appreciate the fact that WOODWARD is able to present the administration's perspective effectively, while choosing to interject only when facts run counter to the narrative being presented by such. in this manner both books are great tools for gaining insight into their process or lack thereof when creating policy and making important decisions. i only wish the credo that TRUMP's senior aide and son-in-law JARED KUSHNER presents that "controversy elevates message" wasnt true. fact-checking means nothing in this post-truth digital hell-scape where social media platforms essentially incentivize disseminating disinformation.
the moral failures of this administration will stain us long after he departs the WHITE HOUSE, whenever that may be. as SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM is reported to have said to TRUMP in the aftermath of his photo op at the nearby ST. JOHN's CHURCH, the president had the opportunity in the wake of the wave of protests to react in the mold of either "George Wallace, Robert Kennedy or Richard Nixon."
it is to what will be our eternal dismay that he chose GEORGE WALLACE.
RAGE is an incredible book that is quite harrowing to read but well worth the effort. this book will prove to be important for people to read down the road for insight into the mind of our current fearless leader and how we collectively lost our way as a nation.
where to begin.
i guess i should start off by stating that the timeline of events in FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018) take place from the beginnings of his first ideations of running for president in the 1980s to SPRING 2018 of his first term.
reading any book by legendary journalist BOB WOODWARD is the nonfiction equivalent of watching a movie. his books are written in third-person for the most part in direct, unadorned prose that allows the reader to achieve a sense of clarity and understanding about the multiple discussions and plot points at hand and ultimately their real-world consequences. it should be said that rarely chooses to break into first person, and when he does it is usually to present anecdotal evidence or reasons why he omitted specific details for national security reasons.
what is interesting about reading FEAR is that the confusion experienced is not based in his writing style or handle on the relevant facts, but rather the convoluted subject that is the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and how chaotic and unorganized it is. many things are happening concurrently and largely secretly in what can only be described as an administration whose organizing principle is that of a free-for-all.
internally domestic and foreign policy decisions are discussed and litigated (and often relegated ad nauseam) by an ever-changing cast of officials and secretaries with no protocols or scheduling adhered to by anyone. this seems to be by design from TRUMP himself who sees such a pugilistic bloodbath as a way of discerning which agendas are worth pursuing by how much advocates for such are willing to carpet-bomb their rivals in order to promote. and even then he doesnt take ownership. TRUMP even states to his aides that the only real power is fear. which makes sense both in what he wishes to project and what his antiquated worldview entails regarding modernity.
former REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE chairman and first TRUMP chief of staff REINCE PRIEBUS has a colorful quote describing this melee as "when you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody." it comes as no suprise that this bloodsport has resulted in policies that are often extremist and morally reprehensible. a related insight was the fact that the most powerful set of advisors in his orbit where those slightly outside of the ring. in economic terms the people who served as the opportunity cost: those he could have chosen to be officials and secretaries but didnt. in TRUMP's mind it was never his fault that he fostered a chaotic, unproductive, hellish work environment. it was always everyone else that was under scrutiny. it was them that failed him. its a shockingly naive and juvenile psychology at play. again in his mind there was always someone out there with better insights, that was better prepared and more cutthroat, ruthless and unencumbered by morality or common decency that could possibly utilize and discard to his own end.
if you are looking for an author here that ascribes an explicit sense of moral indignation at the subject, this is not that book (for the most part). largely it is written from the macro perspective of those who collectively participated in the WHITE HOUSE discussions and events related in the book. the value of such is that you get a useful sense of how TRUMP and his supplicants and web of cronies viewed world events. anyone paying attention to such over the past few years will know all these events, such as the 2016 ELECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, and THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION. noticeably at the end when his lawyer JOHN DOWD departs his legal team after TRUMP doesnt heed his advice regarding ROBERT MUELLER's investigation, WOODWARD does concede the book's overall thesis that much of the chaos and ensuing acrimony caused by this administration is based on a series of people who couldn't call him out for being he is: a liar.
and we all pay for it.
i recommend this book for all concerned citizenry of the UNITED STATES and the world.
the word fascist is an oddly mercurial term. it can mean anything in modern-day parlance from a demanding authority figure (boss, parent, teacher) to just someone you vehemently disagree with.
in her book FASCISM: A WARNING (HARPER, 2018), former CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT sets the task of defining and articulating what the term means and how it used to describe the philosophies, behaviors and techniques of regressive regimes from the early 20th century to present day. this is not some high-minded academic thought experiment for her as her family were refugees twice having fled CZECHOSLAVAKIA during WWII and during its post-war COMMUNINIST takeover. she intimately understands scope and dangers of the rising tide of fascism worldwide. she knows the plight of those under its thumb.
but she is also careful to explain that the term does not denote a particular ideology but rather "someone that who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." in essence this cancer can happen anywhere. and does.
leaders she profiles in this book include that of textbook examples like BENITO MUSSOLINI (ITALY), ADOLF HITLER (GERMANY), JOSEPH STALIN (USSR) and the KIM JONG-UN/KIM JONG-IL/KIM IL-SUNG lineage (NORTH KOREA) as well as recent examples that exhibit fascist tendencies such as NICOLAS MADURO/HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), SLOBODON MILOSEVIC (SERBIA), RECEP ERDOGAN (TURKEY), ROBERT MUGABE (ZIMBABWE), GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOW (TURKMENISTAN), VICTOR ORBAN (HUNGARY), ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI (EGYPT), HUN SEN (CAMBODIA), JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (POLAND), VLADIMIR PUTIN (RUSSIA), YOWERI MUSEVENI (UGANDA), ILHAM ALIYEV (AZERBAIJAN), DANIEL ORTEGA (NICARAGUA), RODRIGO DUTERTE (PHILIPPINES), ROBERT KAGAME (RWANDA) and, yes, DONALD TRUMP (UNITED STATES), the first "anti-democratic President in modern U.S. history."
what comes across forcefully is that term fascism covers a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, religious and political philosophies, yet its effect of limiting individual expression is the same.
part of the book addresses the set of circumstances that led to societies being susceptible to the message of despots and totalitarians. ultimately week economies where major short-term challenges and long-term structural issues went unaddressed by an inept system flooded with incompetent politicians led to an opportunity for the public to seek alternatives. also, often issues regarding immigration and national identity, as most countries are based initially on the bonds ethnic groups, come to further heighten an already explosive political environment. NATIONALISM here is not the cause but rather a tool used to manipulate.
essentially the mass psychology involved in supporting fascism is pretty straightforward: this leader will do what needs to be done. in a democracy there is a deliberate effort to guard and protect the interests of the political minority, which often is forgotten by most. it is this key constituency that is lost in the shuffle when the masses make the turn towards a dictatorship. the process is often gradual and similar to that of plucking a duck as MUSSOLINI once explained. unfortunately i have seen such a process in progress during my stints in NIGERIA under SANI ABACHA, VENEZUELA under NICOLAS MADURO, ALBANIA under SANI BERISHA and now the UNITED STATES under DONALD TRUMP.
for me it is easy to pass judgements on pat and current supporters of these movements, especially the ones i have encountered during my lifetime, whether they be CHAVISTAS or TRUMPISTAS. what is more difficult is to look inside and consider how i am adding to the situation. for me this is the most damning anecdote in the whole book: ALBRIGHT makes the argument that our modern digital on-demand culture has created a situation where we expect more from our government than at any point in the past. we expect results without paying the cost. locally-sourced food produced cheaply and ethically. security without loss of privacy. government services without taxation. essentially we are spoiled. we expect simple answers to complicated questions. and that tendency leads us to become cynical and ultimately disengage. this disengagement is an opportunity for change. and change can go both ways.
the path to fighting fascism, especially here in AMERICA is being mindful of others and becoming active in CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: VOTING, VOLUNTEERING, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and INVESTING in our communities. complacency and adopting a myopic mindset focused on your self-interest is what will collectively do us in as a nation. we need to reestablish our sense of mutual connection and responsibility to each other as AMERICANS.
if you don't know how to get engaged look here for ways:
FASCISM: A WARNING is definitely a worthwhile read and an excellent introduction to the topic that is straightforward with unadorned language that is easily understood and deftly constructed for maximum impact.
for some reason out of all the falls from grace that have occurred over the years during the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, the recent late-JULY photo opportunity with legendary NEW YORK YANKEES pitcher MARIANO RIVERA really hit me hard. yes i am a YANKEES fan, but this goes so far beyond that.
when i was living in VENEZUELA, i brought with me a pinstriped, nameless (as is the tradition), home YANKEES jersey emblazoned with the number 42. baseball is a religion in VENEZUELA and they are fanatical about it like the rest of the continent is about futbol. even though RIVERA was from PANAMA, VENEZUELANS took pride that a LATIN AMERICAN pitcher was so dominant on such a big stage. to say the guy was respected is putting it lightly, he was more folk hero.
i remember when RIVERA was set to retire. unlike his equally legendary teammate DEREK JETER, who made his announcement before his last season and thereby was showered with praise and gifts at every game (yes, even BOSTON), RIVERA opted to avoid such an award tour and if my memory serves me correctly made that decision before the all-star game of his final season (roughly the midway point). rather than meeting with owners and media members at each stop, it was reported at the time that RIVERA sought out the people that worked at the stadiums like the janitors and food prep workers.
he met with these people and thanked them individually by name for their years of service making the game possible. he did this away from the cameras and the media. reports were that he made lots of people cry. just the thought of having an unskilled, under-appreciated worker being thanked for doing a thankless job for many, many years by arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time on his final visit to their stadium... i mean how could you not love the guy.
MARIANO RIVERA was my favorite YANKEE and arguably one of my favorite athletes ever partly because of such undisclosed efforts and charitable work. and now to learn that he supports TRUMP, someone who has done such damage to the rich fabric of AMERICAN SOCIETY, including LATIN AMERICANS. it just sucks. it really does.
maybe PEDRO MARTINEZ really wasn't that bad after all.
THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: RUSSIA, EUROPE, AMERICA (TIM DUGGAN BOOKS, 2018) by YALE HISTORY PROFESSOR and celebrated writer of ON TYRANNY (review linked HERE), TIMOTHY SNYDER is without doubt one of the most consequential and depressing books I have ever read. at its core it deals with the philosophical underpinnings that have guided the development and exportation of the concept of UNREALITY as a weapon by the RUSSIAN government on their geopolitical foes the EUROPEAN UNION and the UNITED STATES.
the two main concepts SNYDER utilizes to explain this scenario are the politics of both INEVITABILITY and ETERNITY.
essentially the post-WWII period has seen the UNITED STATES believe implicitly that market capitalism leads to institutions that secure democracy. this belief was beyond reproach and essentially gospel to which resulted in the assumption that such was inevitable. provide new markets and the corresponding political infrastructure will organically appear given time, it was inevitable. the politics of inevitability basically follow a narrative that a nation tells itself about how it got to where it is, that "the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done" according to SNYDER.
VLADIMIR PUTIN and basically all totalitarian dictators deal with the politics of eternity, where "eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past." in this situation there is no history. icons and events of the past are merely collapsed into the present at the behest of the leader. the body politic is infallible and pure, all problems are the result of foreign influence.
this is book is basically the history of how PUTIN took his particular brand of RUSSIAN politics of eternity based on the writings of IVAN ILYIN and imposed them first on his people before testing it on the UKRAINE and later WESTERN EUROPE and the UNITED STATES.
for me the most captivating takeaway of this book is just the brazen disregard for factuality in the lies RUSSIAN propagated worldwide during their invasion of UKRAINE. its dizzying to keep up with them which is essentially the point. the success of the RUSSIAN media echo chamber to define the situation to such an extent that foreign journalists from both the left (THE NATION, THE GUARDIAN) and the extreme right (FRENCH NATIONAL FRONT) bought in is truly devastating. the truth is that the UKRAINE was a democratically-elected sovereign nation that was seeking entry into the EUROPEAN UNION as a way of modernizing its infrastructure and ridding its body politic of corruption, but RUSSIA was able to convince governments and though-leaders worldwide that this was a regional civil war.
domestically there was the lie that broadcast on state media that they were fighting fascism, when in fact they were fighting on behalf of a fascist. that UKRAINE wasn't a nation but part of a mythological NOVOROSSIYA, a "NEW RUSSIA. that foreigners were behind the deaths of RUSSIAN children and sought to promote their decadent values on the RUSSIAN populace.
the weaponization of a fictional UNREALITY was later used in AUSTRIA, HUNGARY, FRANCE and ITALY to varying degrees but found its next prime target in the BREXIT referendum. it is still ironic that regions in the UNITED KINGDOM that garnered the most financial assistance from EUROPEAN UNION were the ones that voted to leave it, but that is the power of cyber-warfare and the creation of narratives to people that don't know their own history. its tragic. the weakening of the EUROPEAN UNION is a continuing geopolitical goal of RUSSIA and the UNITED KINGDOM played right into it.
which bring us to TRUMP and the 2016 election. the story from here on out is familiar to anyone that paid attention to the MUELLER REPORT, but again what interested me was how this idea of promoting UNREALITY worked so well. that sense of purity and eternal victimhood played seamlessly into the conservative GOP worldview in the wake of a GLOBALIZED ECONOMY. it almost worked too well relative to other countries. our "exceptionalism" being defined by our own hubris at believing our own hype. and our collective gullibility in a weakened, corporate, un-diversified media culture that has been overturned by FACEBOOK and its lack of editorial principles. essentially in both form and function, our collective experience as AMERICANS has devolved more and more to the level of RUSSIA each of the past three years since TRUMP came to office. white rural TRUMP voters are okay with shorter, worse lives given that a minority somewhere in he country has it worse. its a shame what he has achieved by stoking AMERICA's unchecked legacies regarding inequality and racism.
and speaking of which, this book puts the anti-historical and anti-science histrionics and narrative manipulations of TRUMP into a useful, comprehendible context. i recommend his book whole-heartedly as a must-read for any concerned citizen of western civilization. my hope is that it isn't too late and that we vote the bastard out.
i've spoken at length in this forum about the moral vacuity of supporting the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE (linked HERE) given their abhorred record of not promoting of social justice of its personnel and clientele as well as the actual inhumane nature of the bloodsport itself, which has shortened the quality of life of many of its participants, professional and collegiate alike. i've criticized them for not only the product that they sell, but also the phony patriotism they wrap it in.
given the apologies this week by current commissioner ROGER GOODELL and a confirmation that yes, the NFL does support efforts to confront racial injustice, i thought i'd revisit the topic. this is why GOODELL and the owners he represents are completely full of shit.
the truth is, for all its macho posturing, the league when confronted by a tyrannical president bent on bifurcating its fanbase along racial lines, basically revealed itself to be impotent, choosing to follow jingoistic patriotism and abandon not only its black athletes, but its fanbase of color as well. just think about that. how. pathetic. the NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION when confronted with a NORTH CAROLINA state legislature that ostracized their transgender community and decided where they should use a public restroom, the NBA gave them the middle finger and relocated their upcoming ALL STAR GAME. bold. unwavering. righteous. never mind the fact that they have a longstanding policy of supporting their players on matters of social justice.
the NFL made no such attempt at sending any indication of their being daylight between the shield and the flag. now that 70% of AMERICANS side with the protestors who are demanding long overdue reform and the TRUMP administration is witnessing their support and polling data quickly depreciating before their eyes, oh now the NFL has found a conscious. FUCK THEM.
for all the talk of DREW BREES and TOM BRADY being paragons of virtue, their past actions of complicity and tacit approval of this criminal president will stain them for posterity.
unlike COLIN KAEPERNICK who bravely forfeited his own career for silent, respectful protest in honor of his fellow AMERICANS. he is an actual patriot.
his protest of kneeling during the national anthem has become the de facto sign of respect and solidarity with the movement for social justice for BLACK AMERICANS in the UNITED STATES. again, how pathetic is the NFL?
NATE BOYER, a former GREEN BERET and former SEATTLE SEAHAWK, suggested kneeling as a way of peacefully protesting police brutality during the national anthem while showing it unflinching respect and honor. it was TRUMP that made this an issue and the NFL showed itself for what it is: a lapdog.
a little lapdog with no teeth or sense of moral agency. again, how pathetic is the NFL? i won't forget any of this. SHAME ON YOU.
in the proud tradition of THOMAS PAINE's influential late 18th-century think-piece "COMMON SENSE," TIMOTHY SNYDER, a HISTORY professor at YALE and member of the COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, offers offers twenty insights with historical context from last century into staying vigilant now in the age of TRUMP in his thoughtful call to action ON TYRANNY (TIM DUGGAN BOOKS, 2017).
now being a period where our political and civic guardrails are continually debased, diminished and dismissed by a homegrown FASCIST leader, these lessons provide hope and a game plan of sorts for how to go about as MARIO SAVIO once term it, "put[ting] your body upon the gears" of the machine.
these lessons include (from the book):
my sense of this publication is that yes, as individuals we can be manipulated. yes we can be gaslit and primed through language, symbols and other mass media techniques at the disposal of the state.
but what we can do as individuals is TAKE RESPONSIBILITY and EMPOWER OURSELVES AS INDIVIDUALS by not rely on others (talking heads on TV, far right-wing politicians) to determine what we feel and think when confronted with fascism.
make no mistake, that is what we are living through right now. as SNYDER put it "post-truth is proto-fascism." read books, inform yourself, be critical of your news diet and where it comes from, engage in your community, talk to people, make connections with your neighbors, support print journalism, learn new words and challenge yourself. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. the time of disaffected hipsterism is dead or we all will bear its wrath when others step in and think and make decisions on your behalf.
and for fuck's sake, register to vote. if you don't know how click HERE to a website (vote.gov) that will guide your through the process in your state. let's vote this bastard out.
no, this book has nothing to do with that criminal ALEX JONES and INFO WARS. sorry BILLY CORGAN.
INFORMATION WARS (ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS, 2019) is a recent offering by RICHARD STENGEL, former UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS under BARACK OBAMA from 2013-2016, that addresses the weaponized DISINFORMATION methods used by our adversaries in recent years. specifically the RUSSIAN FEDERATION and ISIS. STENGEL also outlines the US STATE DEPARTMENT's efforts to combat this new hybrid threat and how ultimately TRUMP and his allies mirrored these tactics to gain power.
you know, some light weekend reading.
i guess first it is useful to define what DISINFORMATION actually means, which is the deliberate use of false information in order to manipulate a subject. this is different then MISINFORMATION, which is wrong information provided by mistake with no ill will involved and PROPAGANDA, which is the use of information in general to manipulate a subject.
as you can see, DISINFORMATION is another thing entirely from PROPAGANDA, which STENGEL argues is a more neutral entity on par with RHETORIC that can be used for good or evil. DISINFORMATION is meant entirely to obfuscate objective truth and question the nature of information itself, leading someone ultimately to determine that everything is relative and not worth fighting for. essentially that is the end goal of a DISINFORMATION campaign. it is essentially an attack on INFORMATION.
and that is the world we live in currently, where REPUBLICANS mirror DISINFORMATION tactics to the point that most AMERICANS have shut out the pursuit of truth entirely.
when this book is at its strongest is when it illustrates succinctly why DISINFORMATION is so effective using numerous case studies. you really get the sense that AMERICA is just entering into a new reality that much of EUROPE has already dealt with through these RUSSIAN HYBRID ATTACKS in places like GERMANY, UKRAINE, UNITED KINGDOM and THE BALTIC STATES.
how do we combat this threat? stay vigilant and question the veracity of your information diet. do some research. don't be a passive consumer and don't trust what you see on FACEBOOK.
it all seems hopeless. as a former ENGLISH teacher i feel hopeless given how bad our collective MEDIA LITERACY skills are given the state of public education today. who knows? maybe next generation.
great book. depressing as all hell, but eye-opening and impressive in its scope and focus. definitely worth reading if you get the opportunity.
HAL ASHBY's adaptation of the JERZY KOSIŃSKI novel BEING THERE (UNITED ARTISTS, 1979) starring PETER SELLERS in arguably his greatest role in a career of stellar high points (DR. STRANGELOVE, LOLITA) is truly transcendent film. it follows the career trajectory of a lowly manor servant named CHAUNCEY GARDINER whose whole world literally is a garden he tends on premise to that of the american presidency.
the genius of the novel and the film adaptation is the delight to which it manipulates and delights in the inherent malleability of language to evoke separate meanings to different audiences. throughout the novel, GARDINER answers questions in relation to the one thing he knows about, his master's garden, yet everyone around him identifies in his words parables and coded sage wisdom about foreign policy and international monetary policy.
every time i watch a public event and then see how such gets filtered through our media landscape, whether such be sports, politics or film/tv, it only reinforces this view of mine that meaning is contextual to the audience receiving it.
i feel that KOSIŃSKI knew this loophole implicitly and created a scenario to play out this fantasy to great effect. its numbing that such actually came to pass with the TRUMP era. the idea that this clown can say literally anything and sycophantic echo chambers will deliberate a rationale post hoc is the great sociopolitical challenge of this anonymous, multi-interpretative, post-meaning internet age. to me this narrative gets to the heart of that dilemma and is always painful to watch.
BEING THERE is a great film that should be shown in schools everywhere. please seek it out.
V FOR VENDETTA (WARNER BROS, 2005) is so prescient to RIGHT NOW it is scary.
originally conceived as graphic novel by ALAN MOORE and DAVID LLOYD during the height of THATCHERISM in early 80s britain, this narrative was meant as an extrapolation of how democracies are corrupted by right-wing governments who use fear over security and economic concerns to limit freedom and ultimately police and persecute their own citizens.
THE WATCHOWSKIS screenplay adaptation is stellar and the superb directing by JAMES MCTEIGUE is really an accomplishment given that main character is wearing a GUY FAWKES mask throughout the film.
whats interesting for me about this film is that it serves as a touchstone example for the motivation of why people give up their rights and how they sell each other out. i saw this time and time again abroad having lived under or visited various nations run by military dictatorships, communist totalitarian regimes or compromised struggling "democracies" in various continents. i've seen things. known people that were targeted by regimes as undesirables and others that disappeared after publishing unwanted social media posts. i've seen these tactics in person and felt that fear for my personal safety abroad, so at this point i feel like an expert at identifying the moves leaders in these situations make in order to divide and weaken the power of their own population.
it all boils down to two things in my mind: 1) create an "other" in your midst to blame for a domestic problem and 2) convince your followers that this "other" is to blame and needs to have their rights limited.
the fact that the UNITED STATES has had its political and social safeguards tested by a racist, fear-mongering bigot and sexual predator as its leader is beyond depressing, almost as depressing as the morons that continue to support him. having seen the long-term damage having such a despot inflicts on the psyche of a nation confirms my belief that my fellow americans have no idea what future suffering they have brought upon themselves.
children in cages. where is our moral center?
and for what did these supporters seek to gain, really? what were they trying to defend? racism? sexism? transphobia? just like in V FOR VENDETTA, our motivations for electing this clown were out of fear.
and fear is doing us in right now.
art by nacrwoe
a little less than two years ago LJ and I directed a green-screen video for our friends, the feminist acoustic duo DOLLTITS (THERINA BELLA & MAGIE SERPICA) for their stridently political song "Locker Room Talk." looking back on it now it is still one of my favorite videos that i edited, even though my skills have vastly improved since then. i say that disregarding the fact that it got a WRITE-UP in the NEW YORK TIMES by music critic JON CARAMANICA.
i'm proud that in this day and age where it is easy to feel not empowered and totally helpless to world events, that i was involved in a creative work that said FUCK YOU TO DONALD TRUMP. still makes me smile.
the lyrics for this song are ingenious, as songwriter BELLA used TRUMP's own words against him, cleverly re-framing his unaltered tweets and public statements. i have to say now that we are in the back-half of his (hopefully) first term that this song has aged just fine. his misogyny, racism and pigheadedness is just as prominent and corrosive to the fabric of american life as it was when he got elected, no doubt even more so in the wake of PUERTO RICO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, THE MUSLIM BAN, STACKING OF FEDERAL JUDGES, GUTTING OF THE US INTELLIGENCE APPARATUS, COZYING UP TO FOREIGN DICTATORS and countless other corrupt infractions that have permanently stained the reputation of our troubled nation.
so yeah, i'm still proud of this video. especially that toilet paper basketball shot sequence at the end. i came up with it, oh well, but i still think its brilliant.
art by nacrowe
man back in the day i worshiped this dude.
or at least i projected my insecurities as a young adult on him. as a lanky white dude of average appearance i loved the self-made gusto in which he created a whole interior world unto the lyrics and soundscapes of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. his music was lush and inventive, often exploring textures and feels throughout his songs that almost served as little operatic suites. i can definitely see the SHOEGAZE, 70s PROG ROCK and METAL influences years later, but he definitely made them his own.
what i didn't foresee was how poorly the actual person dated past his prime. now i just see a sad old narcissist that's more of a cultural vampire than any breed of visionary as he once was back in the 90s. to tell you the truth, his support of DONALD TRUMP and conspiracy theories surrounding OBAMA has made me reevaluate everything about this dude.
in old interviews BILLY CORGAN would often opine about the then-current state of rock music and his place within it, often posturing his latest release as not being properly appreciated by an elite music press that didn't share his mid-western sensibilities. except this was all complete bullshit. CORGAN to this day positions himself as an outsider because it relieves him of taking responsibility for his actions, like bad career choices (cough, cough, ZWAN) and treating his fellow musicians horribly.
i love the fact that the fawning press that once celebrated his accomplishments (ROLLING STONE, SPIN, NME, etc.) are now all largely legacy publications or essentially rendered irrelevant in a new media environment ripe with blogs and websites (PITCHFORK, CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND, STEREOGUM, etc.) that question his place in the pantheon of 90s alt rock luminaries. these new gatekeepers are more in line aesthetically with bands like PAVEMENT than the THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. and CORGAN is pissed painting himself predictably as the victim.
its crazy because i still love listening to GISH and SIAMESE DREAM from time to time, but the dude is just such a disappointment. its a real bummer because he was one of the most gifted songwriters of his era, capable of creating lilting delicate ballads and blazing neo-SABBATH riffage on the same album side.
too bad he is a shitty, self-involved narcissistic bully that preys on his bandmates and paints himself a victim of circumstance, opportunity, geography, timing, waah waaah waaaaah waaaaaaaaaaah.
i think it just goes to show that you really have to separate the art from the artist at times and for me, CORGAN is the poster boy of that. i have accepted that the same person that wrote "1979", "Stand Inside Your Love", "By Starlight", "Mayonaise" "Perfect" and "Rhinoceros" is the same fellow that repeatedly goes on INFOWARS.