in the modern age we are spoiled with examples of both awe-inspiring, mind-bending and deeply challenging ARCHITECTURE. the rate of INNOVATION with regards to techniques and materials is something we take for granted, much like the parallel track that we see with computing technology. unlike digital technology, prominent architecture is not an ephemeral entity, instead it is a tangible representation of our current culture for future generations to appreciate, inhabit and incorporate into their owned lived experience.
what makes ROSS KING's book BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME: HOW A RENAISSANCE GENIUS REINVENTED ARCHITECTURE (BLOOMSBURY, 2013) so compelling is that it relates how the first modern skyscraper, the dome of the CATTEDRALE DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE (i.e. the FLORENCE CATHEDRAL), was built effectively for the first time since antiquity during the middle ages. in the 15th century when the dome was built over an 18-year span, FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI had to bitterly compete against successful rivals (notably LORENZO GHIBERTI) and repeatedly convince the powerful wool guild (who were funding the operation) of unproven techniques such as a 360-degree oxen-driven pulley system, cross-fitted herringbone patterns of bricks with embedded (and hidden) iron rings and a dual layer dome with lighter materials used the further up it went. according to KING, the success of the raising of the dome of SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE sparked an era of innovation that caught the imagination of later artists, sculptors, architects and technical-minded local standouts like MICHELANGELO, DONATELLO and LEONARDO.
for me the most interesting aspect of this book is how BRUNELLESCHI was alone among his peers in taking the time to study the works of antiquity, especially the ruins of ROMA, for REFERENCE and INSPIRATION. during this period the common view was that their was nothing to be gained INTELLECTUALLY, TECHNICALLY or ARTISTICALLY from their PAGAN antecedents, as the regional powers of what later became ITALY were superior in their CHRISTIAN worldview. in fact, marble from old buildings was often repurposed into churches and headstones among other trivial entities. it is hard to believe that BRUNELLESCHI was alone in his efforts to unlock the secrets of creating not only a dome, but one with a hexagonal pattern. he found such an analogue in spa from one of NERO's palaces, and spent years devising a plan to make such work on a larger scale.
it would seem that convincing a massive paying entity to entrust that you're unproven techniques will be successful decades down the line in the most public of forums is quite the achievement. feels like the modern-day analogue to the lunar landing or the construction of the PANAMA CANAL. i couldnt help when reading about BRUNELLESCHI's curt, caustic temperament and sense of innate superiority the contemporary WILLY WONKA / TONY STARK figure of ELON MUSK. makes you wonder how he will be remembered generations down the line.
BILL BUFORD's seminal examination of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM in AMONG THE THUGS (SECKER & WARBURG, 1990) is interestingly less about sport and more about the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY of CROWDS and how one's personal sense of IDENTITY becomes transformed and reorientated immediately within a new emerging collective construct. BUFORD goes to great detail about the EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL and PSYCHIC ramifications of such a transformation, embedding himself with everyone from psychotically impassioned MANCHESTER UNITED fanatics to xenophobic NATIONAL FRONT meetings. what comes across is that there is a real sense of intense satisfaction and joy in losing yourself in a CROWD, especially a violent one. for me it was very difficult to read about these accounts (from violent sackings by hooligans in ITALY, GERMANY and ENGLAND) and not think of the JANUARY 6TH INSURRECTION and the seeming misguided nationalistic fervor and over-exhilarated testosterone levels that senselessly fueled it. that same jingoistic SMALL DICK ENERGY seems to carry both through to their destructive ends.
part of what i appreciated about this book is its GONZO-like lack of objectivity as BUFORD is, as the title attests, in amongst the thugs. he doesnt participate in the violence, but is embedded during senseless violent uprisings abroad and attempts to gain an appreciation for why these skirmishes happen from an insider's perspective. is the phenomena of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM an expression of a repressed and effectively impotent middle class seeking a vehicle for self-determination? is it a nationalist expression of a post-war subset of the BRITISH population that wishes to express its dominance in a post-colonial context? is it an expression of deep DISSATISFACTION with a changing cultural and economic landscape that leads to an ALIENATION that can only be reconstituted through group affiliation? what is on full display, and BUFORD attests to his own experience of such, is the thrill of watching a crowd arise from nowhere and transition into a violent entity where all sense of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY and PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY are subsumed into this GROUP ETHIC and IDENTITY. chaos and lawlessness doesnt happen all at once, it is pushed along by small transgressions that reestablish the MORAL PARAMETERS of a group. one person takes a step into the street which leads others to do so, thus blocking traffic. one person anonymously breaks a car window, thus making such ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR to the entire organism. its a destructive downward spiral initiated by many MINOR TRANSGRESSIONS that leads to absolute CHAOS.
the process is improvised yet curiously with regards to HOOLIGANS is in some regard well-organized. there are multiple leaders that emerge once the process is underway who effectively direct traffic and initiate battles with like-minded and similarly constructed rival factions from other football teams. there is even an UNSPOKEN CODE OF CONDUCT in which the object of violence is to be directed at other rival factions and not the police. there is oddly a sense of RESPECT for the police. the squads are attempting to evade such and conduct their TOXIC DISPLAY OF MASCULINITY outside the auspices of the law, which means away from the physical presence of the police. that is unless, such takes place overseas. in that case the dehumanized concept of the "other" is attached to all foreigners. their life and property is completely disregarded, in fact, their "otherness" is seen to be the root cause. it is never the HOOLIGANS fault that they were collectively "set off," they were merely defending the honor of their country. again, this is very much in sync with the warped mindset of modern insurrectionists on JANUARY 6TH and the REPUBLICAN media echo-chamber the promotes and profits from its proliferation.
again, AMONG THE THUGS is easily one of the most affecting sociological examinations i have come across and its examination of the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY surrounding VIOLENT MOBS is more relevant now then ever before. sadly. id consider this book required reading for anyone interested in the concept of CROWD BEHAVIOR and what happens when your sense of individual accountability gets folded into a COLLECTIVE IDENTITY.
touring is an activity that often gets romanticized in the public consciousness since it reeks of personal freedom and the seemingly endless enticing possibilities that come with a constant change in scenery. the REALITY is much different, as witnessed in NEW YORK CITY comedian TODD BARRY's tour memoir THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG: ONE COMEDIAN'S TOUR OF NOT-QUITE-THE-BIGGEST CITIES IN THE WORLD (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) which effectively journals his time on the road at small secondary and tertiary stateside markets.
this memoir is less about his craft as a writer and comedian and more about trying to not get ripped off by small-time promotors, enduring multiple connecting flights and combatting BOREDOM on tour by seeking quality COFFEE and FOOD, as well as small museums and eccentric roadside attractions. the nearest comparison i could relate to this memoir is HENRY ROLLINS' similarly constructed GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG (review linked HERE) which follows the personal hardships of a life on the road with no guard rails or safety nets. BLACK FLAG at the time was trailblazing a new path and establishing a network of nontraditional venues and communities and ROLLINS account gets into the MINUTIAE of what said travails meant on a day-to-day basis. it also gets at the PERSONAL TOLL of such an extreme NOMADIC existence, which is similarly relayed in BARRY's less extreme memoir.
you really get the sense in THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG, that the sheer REPETITION of the experience is what leads to all these cycles of experiencing new physical situations, such as commenting on the quality of hotel accommodations, backstage green rooms, bathroom cleanliness, venue layout and REFRESHMENTS available on site. i imagine once you have your jokes down and your routine polished, the routine physical details of your predictable day-to-day existence are what take over, which is the opposite of the romanticization of being on the road for a living.
which is the point.
but i think BARRY is doing a service in promoting and, in essence, glorifying these small venues in out-of-the-way cities and towns in his memoir. it shows that meaningful ART and CULTURE can happen anywhere, even ASBURY PARK or rural MISSISSIPPI. kind of ironic it took a NEW YORKER to make that point. THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG is definitely a quirky yet thoroughly enjoyable look at life on the road and as a solitary entertainer. i dont know how standup comedians do it, i would be absolutely petrified having to walk into new surroundings and attempt to make a room full of strangers laugh. respect.
written in the intervening years after GEORGE W. BUSH's disastrously incompetent and misguided (to put it diplomatically) decision to lead AMERICA into war with IRAQ, ASSASSINATION VACATION (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2006) by SARAH VOWELL is a memoir about her pilgrimage to sites associated with the murders of past presidents ABRAHAM LINCOLN, JAMES A. GARFIELD, WILLIAM MCKINLEY and their assassins.
yes the premise of this book is all a bit morbid, but her humor and enthusiasm for the subject is what makes this book ironically so pleasant and enjoyable. learning about MARYLAND's racist state song or VIRGINIA's often quoted state motto (by JOHN WILKES BOOTH and TIMOTHY MCVEIGH alike) makes you question the sanity of our system of government all over again. or at least have some respect for how the rancid sausage is made. furthermore, learning about the entrenched corruption and incompetence between government and business during the GILDED AGE of the late 19th century, it is difficult if not impossible not to make the connection to the BUSH ERA. furthermore having read this in 2021, from my vantage point GEORGE W. BUSH comes off as child's play next to the malice and fear-mongering that defined the recent DONALD TRUMP era (and still does to present). the real star of the show seems to be how far the party of LINCOLN has fallen. getting acquainted with GARFIELD and MCKINLEY makes you appreciate the machinations and swell of corporate interests that swayed foreign and domestic policy back then. its beyond depressing.
this is also the type of book that i found myself constantly googling photographs, statues, tombs and historical markers related to obscure figures lost to history like EDWIN BOOTH (legendary SHAKESPEAREAN actor and older brother of JOHN WILKES), ROBERT TODD LINCOLN (eldest son of ABRAHAM), ROSCOE CONKLING (REPUBLICAN NEW YORK SENATOR) and MARCUS HANNA (REPUBLICAN campaign manager). what stood out to me was the section about GARFIELD's passing at the JERSEY SHORE. being a resident of the area, i knew about SEVEN PRESIDENTS BEACH but had no idea that presidents vacationed in LONG BRANCH multiple times. to me that fact was a bit of a shock. to learn that a church ive passed numerous times was where a president was aheld before transport back to WASHINGTON D.C. is pretty interesting and something i feel cheated in not knowing earlier. not since reading BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's BORN TO RUN (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016) have i found myself getting out and finding local spots of historic significance. i was also relieved to learn that GARFIELD wasnt shot in NEW JERSEY, that happened in D.C. he just came north to convalesce and take in the warm climate. at least he passed in pretty area.
definitely an idiosyncratic, personal and thoroughly enjoyable book that makes investigating history both humorous and absolutely devastating. highly recommended.
INTO THE WILD (VILLARD, 1996) by JON KRAKAUER is the type of book that follows and gnaws at you long after you finished reading it. this nonfiction account of the forces, both personal and cultural, that led to the demise of CHRISTOPHER MCCANDLESS in the ALASKAN bush makes the reader consider what it means to live a fulfilled life.
MCCANDLESS is a complicated, controversial and deeply confounding figure who seemingly both taps into an ingrained exclusively AMERICAN pioneer spirit that celebrates personal freedom and self-reliance through communion with nature in the tradition of RALPH WALDO EMERSON, HENRY DAVID THOREAU and JOHN MUIR while also serving as a tragic symbol of incompetence that could only be derived from an entrenched sense of WHITE PRIVILEGE and EXCEPTIONALISM.
and that mystery regarding why MCCANDLESS, who for all accounts and purposes harbored a deep curiosity and a supremely astute and literate mind, entered that harsh terrain so unprepared is essentially the beauty of this book. was it ego-driven? was it to escape the pressures of adulthood and family?
moving past the particulars of his death, as a reader you are dealt with the broader implications surrounding the question of why people, especially young people, partake in risky behavior in general. as a social species are we predisposed to engage in risky activities as a means of proving something to ourselves? others?
as for myself i have taken jobs in countries of questionable security such as MYANMAR, VENEZUELA and ALBANIA and traveled to similarly sketchy places like BRASIL. i can honestly say that my main motivation was curiosity about the lives and cultures of others. if these efforts were later validated or questioned by others, i would ignore such just the same with equal vigor. for some reason, and this may be pure projection on my part, i see MCCANDLESS as someone seeking to test himself and push his boundaries. risking his personal health with no security net in itself was the point. he was all in and new the risks. emotionally i get it the romanticism of that ideal, but intellectually it is difficult to justify the suffering he inflicted on his loved ones, even those he was estranged from. it just seems needless, excessive and ultimately selfish.
but the more i think about him the more i am torn, which again is probably the point of the book. he is an ideal RORSCHACH TEST to project your own values and sense of what constitutes a well-lived life. for my part i see service to your community, however wide or narrowly you define such, as the optimal measure of the value of one's existence.
ultimately i feel like he was acting in service of his own ego. its impossible to justify his actions due to the suffering he inflicted, but then again he knew the risks and he paid them with his life. he paid the price of servicing his ego and not his community. but i dont know. its complicated. he lived the life he wanted and made his decisions without fear or influence. this was just an unfortunate outcome.
this is an interesting book that continues to confound me. well worth reading and i recommend it highly. wish i taught this book during my teaching career. i can only imagine the discussions.
BOOK REVIEW | "THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION" BY LINDA GORDON
this book is concerned with the resurgence of the KLU KLUX KLAN in the 1920s, not to be confused with the original iteration which itself was a response to the emancipation of slaves by order of then-president ABRAHAM LINCOLN. that organization petered out in influence during the RECONSTRUCTION period after successfully economically and legally limiting the new rights afforded the newly freed black slaves in the AMERICAN SOUTH.
what i would consider the most shocking insight of NYU history professor LINDA GORDON's book THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (LIVERIGHT, 2018) is how mainstream this second iteration proved to be at the time. during that period a plurality of AMERICANS seemingly shared or sympathized with their extreme nativist, right-wing populist dogma that promoted an anti-intellectual, anti-cosmopolitan and anti-scientific belief system, not to mention the explicit call for the subjugation and ouster of JEWS and CATHOLICS.
its hard to believe but the KLU KLUX KLAN did not stand out in the least. they were very much consider just another male social club like your average local ELKS, LIONS or ROTARY club. they even made a point when entering a new area to seek out FREEMASONS to join their ranks. apparently this even included future president HARRY S TRUMAN who "joined when he though it was 'just' a patriotic group." in terms of its political sway in the 1920s, the KLAN had in its ranks two SUPREME COURT justices (HUGO BLACK and EDWARD DOUGLASS WHITE), "eleven of the thirteen men elected to the US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES" in INDIANA as well as "the majority of TEXAS and COLORADO congressmen." They also helped flex their political muscle by "electing governors in INDIANA, OKLAHOMA, OREGON, COLORADO and TEXAS."
reading this book is very much like witnessing an OBAMA-era TEA PARTY convention or a present-day TRUMP rally. indeed that is probably the point. echos of SARAH PALIN populist assertions of promoting "real AMERICANS" can be seen in the KLAN's promotion of what they deemed to be "100% AMERICANS" (i.e. white PROTESTANTS). the amount of nativist and racist MISINFORMATION, PROPAGANDA spewed at the time initially had a hard time being countered due in part to the sympathies of the public at the time, as well as BRANDOLINI'S LAW which is basically that "the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order or magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it." its a scenario that is even more relevant today than at any point in the past due to the sophistication of modern online communication and networking technologies.
ultimately internal corruption and hypocrisy destroyed the organization, which rose again in another iteration during the civil rights movement a generation later, but that is besides the point. the compelling nature of this book is the fact that our real national legacy is one of exclusion and violence. the culprits are numerous and plentiful make up a wide swath of AMERICAN religious, political and business leadership. for example, collusion by local "ministers struggling to keep their churches in repair, rarely refused to cooperate" with the KLAN as they offered funds and congregates. it is this type of corrosive and transactional dealmaking that insidiously made the KLAN part of the landscape of the period. their later economic boycotting of JEWISH and CATHOLIC stores and the building of political machines pushing for reduced immigration from non "NORDIC" countries (successfully i may add) worked because of how well they implanted themselves into AMERICAN daily life, especially in the MIDWEST, PLAINS and SOUTHWEST.
long story short, the methods and rhetoric used to ingratiate themselves with a sympathizing public in both tone and tenor is remarkably similar to that of the currently outgoing TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. maybe most startling of all is how much such doesnt shock me in the least. TRUMP is a truly horrendous person who like the KLU KLUX KLAN made visible an undercurrent of RACIST and NATIVIST attitudes and opinions that has always colored our political discourse from inception.
this book is pretty depressing but reveals quite a bit i didnt know about how mainstream and explicitly public HATE has been in our politics, even ironically outside of the KLU KLUX KLAN itself. such an environment only made their racist belief structures insidious by degree, which is beyond distressing. makes me pause to consider of what else we have shoved under the carpet, even today in a soon-to-be post-TRUMP AMERICA.
you think you know how bad things are with nature, and then you read THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY (PICADOR, 2014) by ELIZABETH KOLBERT, WILLIAMS COLLEGE fellow and staff writer on environment for THE NEW YORKER. and now you are officially overwhelmed and depressed.
where KOLBERT excels is in her ability to provide context to the geological time scale involved in any discussions surrounding the evolution of life and extinctions. the problem is not that change hasn't happened in the past that has resulted in mass extinction, it has. the problem currently is the rate of change. life in this context does not have the time to evolve or adjust to new parameters and the implications are disastrous. it is as if the rules of nature have been one way for millions of years and then humans post-INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION have shifted the climate and environment to the point that old rules dont apply. this emerging geological age we live in now is called the ANTHROPOCENE and it is marked by GLOBAL WARMING, OCEAN ACIDIFICATION, HABITAT FRAGMENTATION, the flattening of global biodiversity through the creation of a NEW PANGEA where foreign predators are introduced via international trade and commerce among other mechanism. in the end they all result in human initiated incursions that are projected to result in an historic sixth mass extinction that will be visible for millions of years via the geological record.
that is not to say that the world wont continue. it will. new speciation and relations between organisms will emerge and continue to run unabated in a future post-human era. it is just that our presence and the collective choices of mankind have resulted, from our inception, in the death of countless species. it is really quite remarkable and it is a testament to her ability as a writer to paint these problems with such crushing force. these mechanism of extinction are all introduced with her describing a visit to a relevant locale (PERU, ICELAND, WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, BRASIL etc.) and elaborating for us about what is special about the plant and animal residents of this era and the unique parameters that brought on their evolution and specialized rituals and adaptations to the area. and then we learn how humans, usually unintentionally, have affected their ability to live. each time in a uniquely destructive manner.
arguably the most depressing thing about this book is that it isnt empowering. it is not about our individual choices that have gotten us here. this destruction is all seemingly hardwired and inevitable. it is essentially part of our nature as humans. as long as we prosper we will continue to impact the planet and these irreversible mechanism will continue to run unabated, destroying life and leaving our world that much less diverse and rich to leave to future generations. it is our creativity and ability to pass on knowledge via communication systems that have led us to live apart from nature, apart from evolution. it is our ability to innovate that led us here. in 500 million years since complex organisms rose up, this is the first mass extinction of geological scale predicated on the influence of a single species.
and that is our true legacy as humans. not art. not technology. just death.
this is an incredible book that i could not recommend any more passionately. it presents deeply disturbing and affecting ideas that linger and claw at you long after finishing the book.
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.
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.