I Sight

us_constitution-hammer

Over the past few months the dreaded “I” word has been floating across the nation: impeachment.  As in the impeachment of President Donald Trump – which sounds pretty good – because his words and actions have put the U.S. in a precarious global position – because he really wasn’t elected to the office – because he’s an obnoxious bastard.  Okay, that last one is more of a personal opinion.  And, of course, we all have a right to that!

But talk of impeaching the president of the United States is like warning Americans about visiting North Korea: don’t go there.  Forcibly removing the president from office was a rare topic of discussion – even among politicians – until the 1970s.  But, after the Watergate left a bitterly angry taste in the mouths of the American populace, impeachment has been tossed around as often as limes at a Mexican barbecue.

Since Watergate, only one sitting U.S. president has faced a concerted attempt at impeachment: Bill Clinton.  And that was only because he engaged in an eel-hunting adventure with a perky, overweight intern, which culminated in a blue dress wardrobe malfunction before anyone invented the term.

Yet, as much as I despise Trump and as little as I thought of George W. Bush, I would look at anyone who talks of impeachment with concern.  Do you realize how serious that is?  Do you understand exactly what it takes to oust such a person from the White House?  It’s almost like a military coup; the kind that occurs in third-world nations.  Think Cuba or the Philippines.  Yes, that kind.  It’s nowhere near as bloody and violent; we use pens and roll-call votes here, instead of guns and machetes.  But it remains a complex and arduous task.

Keep in mind that, aside from Clinton, only 2 other U.S. presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.  The key term here is faced impeachment.  To date, no sitting president has actually been removed from office by impeachment.  The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching the president, while the U.S. Senate has the sole power of trying impeachments.  This all occurs under rules of law established in the Constitution; therefore, no single branch of government possesses omniscient power to remove a sitting president.

The first step, obviously, is to identify what acts performed by the president qualify as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  The House votes on articles of impeachment.  If there is just one article, it requires a two-thirds majority of House members.  But, if there are two or more articles of impeachment, only one of them needs to garner a majority to induce impeachment.  Nixon came very close to actually being removed from office.  But he resigned after the House voted in August of 1974.

Second, the proceedings move to the Senate where an actual trial is held.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the case, as they would any other legal matter.  Here, a team of lawmakers from the House serves in a prosecutorial role, while the Senate is technically the jury.  The president has his or her own lawyers.  Once all sides have presented their arguments, the matter is handed to the Senate.  If at least two-thirds of Senators vote in favor of the articles, then the president is removed from office, and the vice-president assumes the presidency.

This isn’t punishment for being tardy.  The U.S. likes to present itself as a beacon of democracy for the world; a master of political dignity and fairness.  If we are compelled to remove our own national leader from office, what does that say about our voting system?  What does it say about the concept of democracy altogether?  Is the presidential vetting process so pathetic that we can’t identify someone with a criminal mindset beforehand?

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former U.S. congresswoman from New York.  In 1974, she was on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.  In a 2006 essay entitled “The Impeachment of George W. Bush,” she not only describes the arduous process of removing a sitting president from office, but also the emotional toll it took on everyone in both houses of congress at the time.

“I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach during those proceedings,” she wrote, “when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office.  As a Democrat who opposed many of President Nixon’s policies, I still found voting for his impeachment to be one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake.  None of the members of the committee took pleasure in voting for impeachment; after all, Democrat or Republican, Nixon was still our President.”

Curiously, she goes on to state, “At the time, I hoped that our committee’s work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law.  I was wrong.”

In this regard, she was discussing the possible impeachment of George W. Bush.  I can think of no other Chief Executive in modern times who exhibited such incompetence and corruptness as our 43rd president.  That he got into office under dubious circumstances in the first place is enough to question the integrity of our electoral process.  That he managed to remain there, despite mounting evidence of war crimes, is anathema to the grander concept of democracy.  I’ve always said that, if the Democrats had at least made a concerted attempt to remove Bush from office, they wouldn’t just appear heroic in the eyes of their constituents; they also would have upheld the rule of law governing all institutions.

Remember that congressional Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual dalliances.  It was an incredibly one-sided, vindictive assault on democracy – all because the man didn’t want the world to know he’d screwed around on his wife and because right-wing extremists didn’t like him, no matter what he happened.  You’re going to impeach him for THAT?!  Then-House leader Newt Gingrich – who was married to his third wife with whom he’d cheated on his second wife – had led the cavalcade of self-righteous Republicans.  He and his constituents paid for their hypocrisy when they lost their super-majorities in both Houses of Congress in the 1998 elections.

Watching the Trump presidency collapse around the real estate magnate-turned-reality-TV-star is almost laughable.  But it’s not that funny.  His behavioral quirks and fetish for name-calling are hallmarks of social ineptitude and, perhaps, mental instability.  As with George W. Bush, that Trump actually made it into the White House is an insult to the core of the institution of democracy.  Growing evidence shows that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.  Exactly how they did it has yet to be discovered – or revealed.  But I honestly believe the Trump presidency is a fluke.

In his novel, “Shibumi,” author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) relays the incredible tale of Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin.  After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress.  But he’s coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by a young woman.  Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.”  The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate.  The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists.

I keep thinking we’re already dealing with that type of set-up; that Bush, Jr., was placed into office, so we could go to war in Iraq and gain access to their oil reserves, and that Trump was planted in the White House for whatever machinations the Russian government has underway.

But I still want everyone to be careful with the “I” word.  It really is just a small step from undergoing the lengthy route of impeaching a president to rigging his limousine with explosives – like they do in those unstable third-world societies.  Democracy is a difficult political state to establish.  It’s even more difficult to maintain.  It doesn’t function on its own; it simply can’t.

This mess we’re in may provide great material for standup comics.  But it also presents us with an ethical dilemma.  Again, I ask, do we truly understand how serious this talk of impeachment is?

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Romanov Redux

Russia’s ill-fated Romanov Family, c. 1913.

Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence.  “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children.  Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode.  I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)

At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses.  Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family.  For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents.  From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.

But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken.  Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls.  Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.

While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned.  It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary.  But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent.  Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.

The Trump family in their New York penthouse abode.

World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada.  Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.

This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!”  The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns.  One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public.  That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world.  But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.

To some extent, anarchism actually sprouted roots with the American Revolution, where a mass of English immigrant descendants decided they simply did not want to be slaves to the British Crown.  Shortly afterwards, French commoners took a queue from their American counterparts and launched their own revolution; one where they didn’t just extract their regal hoodlums from gigantic estates, but relished in the sight of royal heads literally rolling across wooden platforms.  Throughout the 19th century, Spain and Portugal stood virtually helpless as their colonial holdings in the Americas wrenched themselves from the clutches of royal decree – only to stumble through the difficulties of independence and struggles with democracy; quagmires that exist to this day.

In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts.  Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer.  But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.”  Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner.  At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists.  But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same?  By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.

World War II fractured Europe.  A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain.  But they were all financially and morally exhausted.  This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947.  Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.

The 20th century’s anarchist fangs reached across the globe, toppling the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s.  One of its high points was the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the dismantling of that country’s brutal apartheid regime within a decade.  South Africa had been the last of Europe’s many colonial assets to gain independence.

Imprisoned by the British in 1953 following the Mau Mau uprising and exiled in 1959, Jomo Kenyatta later emerged as one of the best-known African leaders. He served as Kenya’s first president from 1967 – 1978 and founded various pan-African nationalist movements.

A low point, though, was Argentina’s futile attempt to wrest control of the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in 1982; a brief conflict that resulted in more than 900 military deaths.  Why the U.K. insists on retaining control of this tiny cluster of isolated rocks 7500 miles from the homeland remains less of a mystery than a prime example of colonialist arrogance.  (Some Britons still refer to the U.S. as “the colonies.”)  While Argentina was in no political or financial position to engage in such a daring military feat at the time, they have since matured and solidified their infrastructure.  In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner blocked two British cruise ships that had visited the Falklands from docking on the mainland.  Argentina has vowed to enforce further similar bans in the future, which could damage the Falklands’ vital tourist industry.

In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results.  Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family.  That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979.  However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis.  Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs.  Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard.  Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria.  The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth.  No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.

Average Mexican citizens rose up in 1910 to depose President Porfirio Diaz who ruled over them off and on for nearly four decades.

While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now?  Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs.  Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago.  We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few.  The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.”  Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family.  Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded.  If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.

Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them.  The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off.  If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”

But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East.  The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience.  Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here.  The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries.  As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned.  Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society.  The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.

Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common.  However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps.  As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.

Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.

 

Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896.  It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.

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Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet Is Like…

The 45th President of the United States has achieved a previously unimaginable goal: reduce the size of the federal government.  In this case, it’s the presidency, which has been downgraded to 140 characters.  He has left people disoriented and unsettled; rattled and dismayed; flummoxed and constipated.  Many of his most devout followers have embraced the lemming ideology of life and started following their magical penis-pied piper to the precipice of a faux utopia.  And we thought George W. Bush was mentally-challenged!  Well…he was.  Yet Trump has taken messianic mendacity to supersonic levels.  I keep thinking that someone on his staff should advise him to keep his pre-dawn twittering in the bathroom.  But that would be like telling Abraham Lincoln, ‘Don’t go to the theatre!  You’ll catch a cold.’  It’s virtually impossible to demand this bombastic, bull-headed businessman behave presidential.

It may be hard to imagine, but there are some logical comparisons to such a feat.  But there are plenty.  Therefore, telling Donald Trump NOT to Tweet is like…

  • …telling the Kardashian girls not to take selfies.
  • …telling Bill Clinton to honor his marriage vows.
  • …telling Matthew McConaughey to keep on his shirt.
  • …telling Ann Coulter to stop being such a bitch.
  • …telling Justin Bieber to act like an adult.
  • …telling Michael Moore to lay off the doughnuts and eclairs.
  • …telling Elton John to tone down his wardrobe.
  • …telling Kanye West to stop interrupting people.
  • …telling Paris Hilton to get a job.
  • …telling Rush Limbaugh to take a deep breath.
  • …telling Caitlyn Jenner to grow a pair.
  • …telling Willie Nelson to shave and get a trim.
  • …telling Barbara Walters to retire once and for all.
  • …telling Eminem to act White.
  • …telling Pope Francis to stop wearing those designer gowns.
  • …telling Bill Maher to shut the hell up.
  • …telling Oprah Winfrey no one misses her.
  • …telling Brittney Spears she can’t sing worth a shit.
  • …telling Snoop Dogg to learn proper English.
  • …telling Alec Baldwin to stop making fun of Trump.

Telling Donald Trump Not to Tweet is like… [Readers, please feel free to provide your own response].  The more fun we can have with this, the more likely Trump will get pissed off and Tweet and subsequently provide us all with more joke material.  And the more we can all laugh at and ridicule our mentally-unhinged elected officials will bring us closer to that highly-coveted state of national nirvana.

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Frozen in Dust

8926 C.E., Northeast Texas

They’d found another one.  It was huge.  A drone surveying the area counted 109 figures; its sensors initially identifying them as human.  Rivas and Mugabe had stood in awe upon studying the preliminary data, alongside the rest of the team.  If 109 human bodies did lay in the rubble – remnants of what they believed to be a hotel – it would be the largest collection of human remains the team had discovered in more than a decade of scouring the locale.

The region itself was gigantic; what once had been a placed called Texas.  More specifically, the northeastern stretch; where two of the most heavily-populated metropolises had once thrived.  Until seven millennia ago.  Before the 2019 event simply known now as “The Cataclysm.”

“There have to be thousands, if not millions,” Rivas had told the expeditioners just a day before the drone returned with its stunning data estimate.  “Not just here in this one building.  I mean, across the entire region.  These cities were among the grandest of their time.”

“Right now,” Mugabe interjected, “let’s just concentrate on this one building.  Or what’s left of it.”  He didn’t want the group to get too excited about anything; least of all a site containing so many bodies.

“Yes, of course,” Rivas concurred with a grin.

The crew was already stretched; pushed to the precipice of exhaustion as they continued searching through the unimaginable layers of dirt, rock and dust.  But whenever they did find the remains of someone, they’d also noticed the individual was clutching an object in their hands.  All of them – each and every corpse – held a similar object.  Every single one of them – holding tight to a single item.

The 2019 sunstorm had been massive; the worst on record.  Then and now.  Among the archived records of all the sunstorms hitting Earth before and since, none matched the 2019 event.  That’s why scientists dubbed it “The Cataclysm.”  The word is so bland, so ordinary in a way; yet it said everything.  To the untold numbers of people who studied the event – and the subsequent, wide-scale societal collapses it induced – the term “cataclysm” itself had come to signify that one unimaginable episode.

It was inevitable.  By the start of the 21st century, humanity had come to rely upon technology too much.  People across the globe identified with tangible pieces of metal and plastic more closely, perhaps, than their own families and friends.  In fact, personal interactions seemed routed through the mystical electronic clouds they’d created for their world; a world they claimed was better than any before.  To their descendants of the 90th century C.E., such flippant beliefs were almost laughable.

It remains a miracle – no minor one – that anyone should survive to the present day.  Any human, that is.  When the multitude of satellites cluttering the ionosphere fell silent in the days immediately following “The Cataclysm,” it appeared – from what records remain – a brutal chain-reaction of minor cataclysms exploded across the planet.  Power plants – able to remain operational for a while – eventually died; as did water treatment plants, telecommunication lines.  Everything attached to an actual or virtual wire just…died.

And thus, so did people.  Countless numbers of people; millions of them.  A mass exodus of souls floating from the decaying flesh of their hosts; rising past those same darkened satellites and up into the brighter stars.

Perusing photos of other recently-discovered sites made Rivas and Mugabe think of an even more ancient but equally horrific episode: the destruction of Pompeii.  Pictures from 20th century archaeologists captured the disaster in a manner never seen before.  The city-state’s residents – trapped in the environs of what they surely thought was a safe place – caught off-guard in the worst possible way.  Their bodies and terrified expressions frozen in swarms of scorching lava for future humans to see and study.  There was nothing like it.

Until now.

But this – this was on a much larger scale.  Pompeii was a single prosperous city with the unfortunate coincidence of being situated beneath a ubiquitous volcano.  What the explorers saw in the remains of some nondescript building in the midst of a place once teeming with life was a tiny fraction, a sliver of the human wasteland that stretched across the globe.  The societal collapses had driven many of their ancestors underground into vast caverns constructed for just such an event.  Or something like it.  But surely even those initial survivors couldn’t have foreseen the rolling swathes of brutality that followed the darkening of those wicked satellites; surely even they couldn’t have imagined the blessed sun betraying them in such a vile manner.

Yet, they lived; they survived.  They survived to repopulate and prosper with a greater understanding of their own humanity, their vulnerability, their fragile nature.  They survived to love that sun unlike their immediate ancestors who lived within the confines of those mystical clouds.

Rivas and Mugabe stared at those antiquitous photos of Pompeii’s victims; frozen in lava; terrified and helpless.  And then they looked at the drone photos of the bodies in this building; the 109 discovered so far.  And they realized the vast difference between the two events; a difference apparent in the faces and hands of the dead.  The people of Pompeii had died clutching their loved ones.  The victims of the 2019 event died clutching their cell phones and laptops; waiting for the Internet to come back up.

Rivas smirked.  “Bunch of dumbasses.”

© 2017

Bottom image courtesy: Freaking News.

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Good News With Trump

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In my 40-plus years of watching, studying and laughing at American politics, I have NEVER seen the country as divided as it is now.  I thought things were bad in the 1990s, when conservatives tried everything they could to bounce Bill Clinton out of office – and only succeeded in proving he has a female fetish (like most straight men do), while making themselves look like incompetent assholes.

Then came these last two decades, and the country became even more divided; first under George W. Bush (the poster child for closet alcoholics) and then under Barack Obama (the poster child for grace under extreme pressure and stupidity; the latter two courtesy of the even more assholish conservatives, if that’s actually possible).

But now, with Donald J. Trump in the White House (and his third wife several miles away in her gilded penthouse loft), I’ve been surprised.  Again!  The U.S. even more divided than Neapolitan ice cream.  If it gets any more divided, opposing sides will fall off into the oceans; thus making global warming look like a bad day at the beach.  Then again, if the extremists do fall off into the ocean, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Still, amidst the dim-bulb antics of the current presidential administration, I’ve actually found some bright moments.  Yes, even with a psychologically unstable, orange-tinted, womanizing twit-master like Trump occupying the highest office in the land, there are a few positives.  It’s proof that, indeed, you can make wine from prunes!

  • People realize the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is just as important as the Second.
  • They’ve learned the names of their local congressional representatives.
  • Voting (or not) really does matter.
  • Two centuries of civil and human rights progress aren’t 100% safe and untouchable.
  • Not everything on Facebook or Wikipedia is true.
  • Hispanics aren’t “recent immigrants.”  We’ve been here longer than the Trump family.
  • Neanderthals didn’t die off; they became Republicans.
  • The term “alternative facts” makes less sense than “compassionate conservative.”
  • The nation’s infrastructure, like dams and highways, is under greater threat than gun rights.
  • The inexpensive (meaning, cheap) food we buy at Wal-Mart doesn’t grow or pick itself.
  • Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court actually do impact our lives.
  • Women’s bodies aren’t “hosts.”
  • Not all White males are evil.
  • The British really can get pissed off.
  • The Cold War didn’t end with the collapse of the Soviet Union; it moved into cyberspace.
  • Reality TV is dangerous.
  • Neo-Nazis remain a threat.
  • Politicians who have nothing more important to do than regulate public bathrooms need to be voted out of office.
  • People without English surnames often speak better English than people with English surnames.
  • Building a wall along the U.S.-México border will put a lot of Mexican immigrants to work.
  • Republican politicians have no qualms about eliminating healthcare for poor, sick people; while enjoying their own taxpayer-funded health insurance.
  • Coal mining is as obsolete as it is dangerous and dirty.
  • We need more female politicians.
  • Native Americans have put up with enough shit from the U.S. government.
  • The Kardashians aren’t (and never have been) relevant to anything.
  • President Obama was too nice to his critics, but I still feel he should have been able to run for a third term.  You know…just to piss off the Republicans.
  • American was great long before Trump ran for office.
  • How soon before we can fly to Mars?

 

Image: Gary Larson

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Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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Dead Demos

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In some paranormal circles, “dead time” refers to the period when otherworldly spirits are most likely to be active.  Even though it’s not official – and really, nothing in the paranormal realm is considered official – it’s generally believed to occur between midnight and 5 a.m., with the two to four o’clock hours considered the key time.  Nothing in the political arena – especially here in the U.S. – is considered normal either.  But, for those who didn’t vote for Donald Trump in last fall’s presidential elections, dead time started materializing just as Tuesday, November 8 was turning into Wednesday, the 9th, and it appeared the bombastic real estate magnate was going to be our nation’s 45th Chief Executive.  Trump’s entry into the race nearly two years ago surprised few; his name had arisen more than once since the late 1980s as a potential candidate.  But, as he marched forward – taking out one competitor after another – the mainstream Republican Party stood dumbfounded; recoiling as each individual dropped from the race quicker than a Texan would drop a bottle of warm beer.

And, for the second time in sixteen years, Americans found themselves with a president-elect who didn’t win the majority of the popular, but still managed to garner most of the electoral votes.  The vast majority of liberals and moderates were shocked – and appalled – that such an event could happen again within so short a period of time.  As the Democratic National Party scratched its head, people began to question the validity of the Electoral College system that original framers of the U.S. Constitution had created as a means of spreading the generosity of power.

U.S. intelligence had surmised last summer that Russian hackers were trying to infiltrate our voting system.  Now comes proof they actually did manage to sneak their way into it.  Exactly how they were able to do that remains uncertain.  Were votes eliminated, or were votes added?  Was someone in the Electoral College bribed?  Even if no one hacked into the system, would Trump have won anyway?

It’s bad enough that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump garnered their respective party’s nominations last summer.  But they plowed through the campaigns with the lowest favorability ratings of any presidential candidates in U.S. history.  In other words, no one really liked either of those fuckers, but felt compelled to vote nonetheless.  Voting is more of a right and a civic duty than it is a privilege or an inconvenience.  I have to admit that – for the first time since I began voting in 1992 – I went rogue and selected Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  I knew Stein had as much of a chance of getting into the White House as I do of going a month without a mixed drink or a glass of wine.  But it’s always the thought that counts, right?

I’ve always liked Bill Clinton, but Hillary never had much appeal to me.  Most of my friends and relatives voted for her.  A few criticized me for choosing Stein over Clinton; emphasizing that I was inadvertently voting for Trump instead.  I don’t care.  Opting for the lesser of two evils isn’t much of a choice.  I did that in 2004, when I voted for John Kerry.  Regardless, I wasn’t going to be swayed by party loyalists this time.  While Trump is atrocious, Clinton is as hollow as the empty bottles of hair dye she leaves on the bathroom floor.

Yet, as the world looks at the United States – that self-proclaimed beacon of democracy and freedom – with a mix of horror and amusement, the Democrats are still patching up their emotional scars and sorting through the morass.  But let’s pretend for a moment that no one had hacked into our voting system, or that any such attempts were successfully uncovered and squelched months before election day and that Trump still managed to win.  The Democratic National Party would still have to undergo some serious soul-searching and understand what they did wrong.  I can help and have narrowed the fiasco down to three primary issues.

 

Affordable Care Act (ACA) – While millions of average Americans were losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings because of the 2008 economic meltdown, the Democrats curiously focused their efforts on one issue: health care.  Yes, it’s great if people don’t have to choose between a flu shot and the light bill.  But ensuring that citizens will have adequate health care is not nearly as significant as ensuring they have gainful employment.  I don’t know why the Democrats went off into an ideological black hole with this issue.  That Democrats seemed more concerned with the ACA than boosting the economy was matched only by the Republicans’ determination to destroy the program.  Both parties operated within a vacuum.  Nothing else – mainly that economic thing – seemed to matter.

Inequality – The “Great Recession” almost completely destroyed the U.S. economy.  So many factors contributed to the calamity, but the USD 8 trillion housing bubble burst was the primary culprit.  More people than ever before were buying homes, which would normally be a good thing.  But, in this case, people were getting into homes with little or sometimes zero money down.  How reasonable does it sound for someone earning roughly USD 30,000 a year to buy a USD 500,000 house without making a down payment of even 5% of the structure’s value?  Such a practice was inconceivable two decades ago.  But that’s exactly what people were doing.  And both financial institutions and homebuilders were part of the fiasco.

When I got laid off in the fall of 2010 (in the midst of a fragile recovery), my top concern was the job market; not whether I could afford to get my teeth cleaned.  By the end of that year, the “Great Recession” was, from a purely technical standpoint, over.  But to those of us trapped in its putrid residue, it was alive and well and sucking up our savings and maxing out our credit cards.

Between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1% of all payroll employment.  It was the worst job loss since the Great Depression.  When people mention inequality, they’re not referring to racial or gender disparities.  They’re talking about the wealth gap; that ever-widening abyss that separates the middle class from the upper class.  After-tax income has been shrinking for the past three decades, while the cost of living has been increasing.  Sen. Bernie Sanders made this a key point of his own bid for the presidency last year, and it certainly gained a great deal of attention.  But the Democrats seemed more intent on denigrating Donald Trump’s character and highlighting his personal foibles.  People working two or three jobs just to stay afloat financially don’t really care if the real estate mogul fondled a young woman at a beauty contest.  They want to know if they’ll ever be able to stop working so hard for so little.

Illegal immigration – For decades politicians have said, if they want to appeal to Hispanics, they have to devise a comprehensive immigration plan; meaning that illegal immigrants from anywhere in Latin America must be treated better than others.  This ideology assumes two things: that most Hispanic-Americans are immigrants and that we only care about providing sanctuary for people who emigrate to the U.S. illegally from Latin America.  Immigration – legal or illegal – is NOT the top priority for most Hispanic-Americans.  As a group we’re concerned about the same things most other Americans are concerned about: jobs and the economy.

Obama’s demeanor – Barack Obama is one of the smartest and most verbally gifted men ever to ascend to the nation’s highest elected office.  He had the right message with the right tone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  His demeanor is as remarkable as it is unimposing.  It’s one of his greatest attributes.  But, once in the White House, it became one of his greatest faults.  You’d think someone who came of age in the rugged world of Chicago politics would be a little more forceful.  But I felt Obama was too conciliatory, too nice, and too willing to compromise.  The Republicans made it clear from the moment he won the 2008 contest they were determined to ensure he wouldn’t garner a second term.  Their efforts didn’t pay off: Obama won again four years later.  And, as Obama himself stated in his 2016 ‘State of the Union’ address, there was never any doubt he actually won.  But the level of disrespect and recalcitrance the GOP displayed towards Obama has been unprecedented.  From Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer jutting her finger into Obama’s face (later claiming he intimidated her), I can say without a doubt Obama endured more shit than any of his predecessors.

I’m certain race played a major factor in their behavior.  A gaggle of (mostly) old, White men just couldn’t fathom that a half-blooded Negro actually won the presidency.  So, instead of working on behalf of their constituents (that is, doing their jobs), they opted for the asshole category and tried to stifle Obama at every turn.  If he tried to compromise, he’d be viewed as weak; if he talked back, they’d consider him uppity.  He just couldn’t win no matter what he did.  And I know he could see this.  Therefore, he should have responded accordingly.

Politics in any nation is a blood sport, and the United States leads in the sanguinary nature of this.  Obama needed to get ugly with those clowns.  And not just ugly, but fuck ugly; telling them, ‘Look, I’m president and I run this joint.  You either work with me, or I’ll use my executive powers to slaughter your ass.’  That wouldn’t have earned him any fans among the right-wing crowd.  But he might have earned their respect.  I’ve learned that the hard way; sometimes you just have to stand up and scream at people to get their attention and make them bestow upon you the dignity and deference you deserve.  It’ll definitely piss off some people.  But in politics, like in business, you have to draw the line somewhere and tell people to shut the hell up and listen.  It’s just the nature of both realms.  You may not win any friends like that, but you’ll generally get the job done.

 

Overall, though, I’m satisfied with the Obama years.  One person – even the President of the United States – can only do so much.  History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries.  It’s already treating George W. Bush with more compassion than he deserves.  If the Democratic Party intends to remain relevant in the future, they need to be tougher with their opponents.  But they also need to be more forward-looking and emphasize that we can’t go back in time when things seemed simpler and calmer.  Otherwise, they’ll be digging an early grave for themselves, and only their most devout followers will be in attendance.

Demos.

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