The unthinkable

So the unthinkable happened. Enough people could think it, and it did.

I’ve passed this day from stunned disbelief to gradually dawning horror. A fascistic strongman with weak impulse control and no moral centre or care for democratic norms is set to become the head of the most terrifyingly destructive military in history and the leader of the putatively free world.

And the checks and balances meant by the Founders to keep us from just this catastrophe are in the care of the gormless obsolescent party that let him hollow it out from the inside on his slither to victory.

Had to hold it together enough to look after my students this morning. I couldn’t tell them it’ll be okay, because I don’t know it will be okay. It might but we’ll have to be lucky.

Fears were many. One student’s Japanese-American and felt haunted by the internment camps and Trump’s talk of deportation. Another’s queer and disabled and said she felt unsafe setting foot outside her apartment – the fear of difference that’s been whipped up. Another spoke of how America seems to have said it’s fine with being a rape culture.

Didn’t go to my own fears but I share all these. That a man could crown himself in hate and be called king for it. I also, because I love especially the nonhuman world, which doesn’t get to speak at our conference tables, fear the consequences for our climate. Which are for us, too.

That world will eventually bounce back, burgeon new species, maybe absent us. Have I believed too much hype, to feel that’s what’s at stake here, our persistence at all?

What I came to this morning – it probably won’t be as bad as we fear it will.

Said, I grew up in the last two decades of the Cold War. We lived knowing someone could take a blip on a radar screen at NORAD for the front edge of a nuclear attack, press a button, and that would be it. We made it through that.

Said, it’s good not to feel powerless. What matters is to act, not the scale of the act. I’m going, I said, to write a blog post, and maybe it’ll have five readers. Maybe you’ll write a poem – that’s a political act.

Do what you need to to feel empowered. Whether that’s waving a placard or holding a friend’s hand. Add to the store of meaning in the world.

Fascism is giving your power over to another, proudly, abjectly, a strongman. The most crude process of identification imaginable and an abdication of meaning. Resisting fascism, whether in Mussolini’s Italy or Trump’s America, means creating meaning, heightening the depth of meaning the world bears.

Got more thoughts about meaning. Trump is a drain of meaning, came to me last sleepless night, and I got up to scribble it down. It’s how he uses words not caring if they’re true or no – and how he uses people with no sense of any thou there. But I’m past midnight and’ve not et yet.

For now, just to say, the meaning of small acts has loomed large for me today. A student in a headscarf who caught my glance and smiled as we passed on campus today – why? did she see how downcast I was and want to bear me up? did my downcastness make us allies in her eyes? Dunno. Small happy mystery of other as other than other.

There were more I wanted to say but if I write any longer, dinner will be breakfast. Love to you, friends. These are hard times coming.

Something wicked this way ->

Elizabeth Kolbert gets close to it in the New Yorker:

One way to understand the up-is-down logic of this election is as an expression of what might be called American sentimentalism. What moves the electorate is not true facts but true feelings.

Donald Trump is the kind of jerk who authentically, genuinely, unabashedly inhabits his own jerkiness…. His narcissism, petulance, and whatever other character flaw you care to choose aren’t under wraps; they’re on view for all to see and hear. In this sense, he truly is the real thing.

Clinton, meanwhile, is constantly role-playing. On the campaign trail, she displays an interest in people that, one can only assume, she doesn’t always feel. In her speeches, she invokes lofty ideals, when doubtless she’s often motivated by expedience.

A libido is trustworthy. It just is what it is. Same’s true of a rock. A person, that’s complex, a person has layers, makes choices, compromises, gets compromised. But for better or worse we need persons for president, not rocks or libidos, let alone libidos who claim the prerogatives of rocks – rolling, falling, being thrown, raining down – because we need choices made on our behalf by folks we’ve judged competent to make them.

Make it new, yes, it’s my poetics. But not in hate. If it’s hate, just stop.


I’m really scared. Don’t even know how scared to be – Nate Silver can’t, it turns out, tell me how certain to be about uncertainty. How little we know about anything, probability, uncertainty, other minds, values we thought we shared, really is coming home to me. But whatever happens next week, some kind of work of reconciliation has to begin.


Please vote? for a person who behaves as one? treats others as such?

And I seem in my assembly to mean something about magical thinking.


Elizabeth Kolbert, who tells us, career-long and with a cool head, of the maybe end of the world. Ice sheets, new inches of ocean. That we can think at all is magical – matter’s astonishment – and no guarantor of persistence.

Rape culture / Peace on earth

When the truth comes it comes to the body. My limbs go tense suddenly, electric. Arms ready to punch or flail but there’s no one to punch or flail so they stay still. Thighs and calves tight, prepped, coiled, but what to run from? I’m leaning back on the couch, cat on my lap as I read the news on my laptop, what threat? Why has my attention gone taut? But it has – everything at the periphery has grown larger, brighter. Word for it is hypervigilance. Tears leak from my eye holes.

The trigger is the opening of an article in the NYT:

“Women: tweet me your first assaults,” [Kelly Oxford] wrote on Twitter at 7:48 p.m. “They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”

Why does this break through me when DT’s own words, I could, with SNL, hold at a distance, laugh off? Because I thought I heard in them his death knell? Because no victim was audible in them? Because here there’s a child?

What’s empathy anyway? Where are its edges?

There’d been signs my empathy was blocked. “Oh, this is good, he’s bound to lose now.” “Yeah but guys just talk like that.” (Do we? really?) “How is this worse that all the other shit he’s said?” (Okay, fair question – incitement to assassination?!) Happens when I don’t want to feel something through, till it breaks through.

Here’s it breaking through:

“I won’t give details, but I was 12, and he went to jail,” Emily Willingham, a writer, posted on Twitter.

and

Sasha Stone, an entertainment journalist, told of being forced to perform oral sex on a man “after he offered me a ride home and then threatened me. I was 14.”

and

Wendy Luxenburg, 45, a hospital administrator in Chicago, recalled being in a Florida department store with her mother: “She was an aisle away. Man walks by me, rubbed by crotch. I was 11.”

and

And the actress Amber Tamblyn wrote on Instagram of being accosted at a nightclub by an ex-boyfriend who grabbed her by the hair and, with his other hand, lifted her by her vagina, bruising her badly, and “carried me, like something he owned, like a piece of trash, out of the club.”

and

“Grabbed from behind on the street. Thought it was my fault because I was wearing a dress,” Lynne Boschee, 50, of Phoenix, wrote on Twitter. “Never told anyone. I was 14.”

I hope this would break my heart and inflame my fury even if nothing such had happened to me. But it did also happen to me, and so I want also to say, it happens to men and boys, too. That’s where the taut limbs and the tears come from. Trauma is an equal-opportunity demon. Gail Sheehy has a good piece in Politico about how Trump is rousing terror and post-traumatic stress in ethnic minorities and vets and LGBTQ folks and their therapists alike.

I’ve been listening tonight, because curative, to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, and reading John Taggart’s “Peace on Earth”:

To lift to lift up to lift without
effort to sing tene
to relax the circling rays to
stand still that the citizens of my city
may be drawn as with visible
chains to this splendor splendor of coronation
that they may see the shape of
the dance that they may see the lily-flower.

Carol heart’s ease ring of flower’s thought.

To lift up bones in the lily-flower dance
in the flower’s leaf ranged around
leaf splendid
bones and leaves as petals curled around each other.

Peace to you, brother, sister.

Hillary Be Hillary

Okay. She’s got me. Was always going to vote for her, I’m not a Bernie die-hard, and the stakes are ginormous. But she’s won me over to semi-fandom.

I’ve always sensed and disliked a falsity in Clinton. Now I think it’s just, she’s not a natural orator, and has to work in the shadows of the last two Dem prezzies, who both are. She often seems to be mouthing the right words with a bit too much feeling, or a bit too little, or a little soon or a little late, or just off somehow.

When I get that sense from someone, I worry they’re putting something over on me. Also I’m a word person who treasures ease in language.

Never thought she was lying, or crooked, never gave a flying eff about the e-mails, but thought she was slippery, with less skill at it than Bill.

Now I think she’s a private person forced, for this part, to be public. Seeing Chelsea Clinton, who seems the same way, was illuminating. (Her laugh – nervous, compensatory, I felt for her.) So were the kitchen-table parts of the bio-pic, where she was so at ease. They humanized her for me just as they were meant to. Colour me, Morgan, manipulable.

And, as her speech went on, and she got into the policy deets and the digs at Trump, she seemed to lose her self-consciousness and get her truth on, which was fierce. I’d be just fine with that person leading me.

If that one’s not always on-line when at a podium, okay. A presidency’s not a podium, and authentic’s not a show.

Kinda hawkish for me, still. But even Obama turned out to be. And you can’t always get, according to the RNC soundtrack, what you want.


This one’s everywhere I’m sure by now –

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Her heart was in that. When she owns her truth, her ferocity, there’s no gainsaying it. When she second-guesses, there’s that falsity. (Why a woman of her time and nation might second-guess her own anger and instincts – a different post.)

And in that falsity she becomes a screen for our projections. Progressives who’ve hewn to Bernie read the falsity as (for example) a dismal capitulation to corporate interests. Republicans with an authoritarian bent (read this) see her as the rotten apple that rots the barrel. Those most keen to see the last glass ceiling smashed may read it as just the cost of entering, as a woman, this patriarchal political world.

Really maybe all it is, is discomfort being public, when you’re more private than that? I don’t know. I’m better being myself in front of a crowd of 75 than she is before a crowd of 30,000. Not much for a comparison. Maybe I should run for president? Not.

But I’m suggesting she’s become a screen for our projections – hopeful or ecstatic, indignant or hateful – just as Trump has.

But this difference. Trump feeds the projection, thrives on it, exists for and by it. Clinton abides it, waits for it to subside, so we can talk. (Obama’s way too.)

He is us

President Obama, may blessings rain down on him, slipped this one in quiet.

Anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.

Quiet like a stiletto.

Don’t remember if it was before or after he got me crying by describing a schoolgirl’s drawing of a purple and green owl hanging in his office. She was shot at Newtown. He made his point there pretty good, too.

But the other point. Trump’s a threat of the same sort as Hitler, Stalin, ISIS – don’t be fooled by my rosy vision of American multiplicity, which I do believe, and it is under threat. But if I shout threat! too straitly, I’m doing what he does.

Luckily, he commands not only nuclear codes, but subtext, i.e. complexity.


He’s a great man. If he has been a good, not a great, president, it may be conditions to blame, not him. So it seems to unhistorical me. He stepped into crises not quite acute enough to make his enemies allies, but enough to consume most or all of his care. And his election excited racial and cultural enmities that are to be worked through on a scale not to be measured in election cycles.

Worked through at all? Sometimes I despair of it. The hate on parade at the RNC had me in tears. It had me thinking, there’s too much hate here. I believe a multiracial multipolar acentric amiable comity is possible; I like to call it Canada. But I sometimes despair of whether it’s possible here.

Tonight though, moved by him – even with all the Hollywoodery I am moved by him – I do believe it.


In the days after the RNC, which I could not help but watch at least bits of, I felt helpless. I said to me, just check your inner Trump, that you can do. The easy thing’s to demonize, make him other, nothing-to-do-with-me, but that itself’s a Trump move, and then you’ve already lost.

So I made it a practice, and it wasn’t hard to, after all that hate I wanted to be peaceable. Whatever in me reminded me of Trump, I tried to say “be at peace” to. Little e.g., I was in a bad mood that morning, because my body hurt, and got irritated that someone in the grocery store cut me off with her cart. Could have darted a mean glance. Instead, checked inside, and found I’d rather let it go, and come to rest.

But it’s important to me to say, there’s plenty in me that reminds me of him. Selfishness. Grandiosity. Impatience. Insatiable need for praise. I keep them in check, he doesn’t, that’s an important difference, of course. But still.

The Republicans have become the party of projection and rejection. And now they’ve nominated someone so extreme, so ludicrous, in both those respects, it’s easy for us to reject him and project upon him in our turn. 

If we don’t acknowledge there’s some of us in him, some of him in us – we doom ourselves to being governed by him, at least inly.

Or am I wrong? Is that only me? I don’t know. I feel like I’m barely escaping a grave error, while living in a nation barely escaping, maybe, a grave error.


The image up top is a bumper sticker on a pickup truck seen in the Home Depot parking lot the morning after Trump’s speech at the RNC.

You can read it, right? Take a second to consider how you can read it – how you can so easily get from four abstract shapes to a word.

It’s because you do complexity.

Thought experiments

One.

Say Donald Drumpf wins the presidency. (He might.)

And say American democracy doesn’t survive the insult. (It might not.)

What comes next?


Two.

End to all climate accords? (Bad.)

End to the pax Americana? (Bad-good-bad.)

Mass deportations, end to free speech, guns on every corner, people of colour herded into, what’ll they call them, “protective enclaves”? (Bad-bad-bad-bad.)

Rise of Canada, under inevitable climate transformations and enlightened global leadership of an incipient Trudeau monarchy? (Good-bad-ish.)

A regional nuclear exchange, accidental or no? (Bad-bad-bad.)


Three.

Don’t like Clinton. Gotta be honest. Huge Obama fan, moderate Sanders fan, would have got on Biden’s wagon. Clinton grates me and I don’t give a flying fuck about the e-mails. (After those years of intrusion? I’d give as little of the truth as I could, for as long as I could, too.) Just don’t like chameleons.

But mostly, maybe 3/4, I like where she stands – now that she stands there – and the choice we got, seems to me, is between a bee-sting and apocalypse.

I watched his nomination speech. Didn’t want to, but I said to me, later this will be history having happened, you watch it. And it was, no exag, fascism.

Expect to find myself, notwithstanding a fat teaching load and renewed job search, pounding the pavement on Clinton’s behalf this fall.

Likeminded friends – please let’s make a Drumpf presidency not happen.

Heather for president

I find this paragraph beautiful:

Whenever Heather entered a patient’s home for the first time, she knew that she was walking into a long, long, complicated story that she understood nothing about, a story that was just then reaching its final crisis. She was extra alert on those first visits, extra careful, trying to figure out what was going on – the conflicts and rivalries between members of the family, tension over who wasn’t doing enough, who was doing too much, unresolved bitterness, and nearly always grief and anxiety and fretting about how to take care of the patient and what to do.

–Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Threshold”

It’s about being a hospice nurse, but dial down the stakes some, and it’s what it feels like to enter a classroom, not knowing what the nexus of needs is, but knowing there is one, feeling the strands of the web of it stretch against you, each step you take. Binding you into it and yielding to you its intelligences.

Broaden the scope of it some, and it’s just the alertness evidently massively lacking at the helm of a certain rightish party, even more than uge.

See these two beautiful women –

New Yorker - MacFarquhar
Heather Meyerend examining Mary, 92, at her home in Brooklyn, Sept. 2015. The article.

I’m afraid of dying alone. Oh yes I am. Has nothing to do with this, except a presidential candidate unable to self-inquire? has no right to ask the time of us.

Maybe I’m a sucker for charisma. But I’d vote for Heather Meyerend over any of the fools who’ve been on parade this dismal season, yes Sanderistas even yours, on the basis of what I’ve read about her so far, and seen in her eyes. Which I can’t see, but her body’s eyes, Avalokitesvara’s.