The Intractable Boneheads

Contrary to what you may have heard, the best way to deal with the boneheads that ever more dominate our lives is to ignore them. You can’t talk to them; they speak an alien language unrelated to human thought or history. Reasoning with them only makes them angry and reinforces their fantasies. The only thing that will change Governor Abbott’s behavior is political pressure. Ditto for the Republican toadies.

At the Capitol on January 6 you saw the ultimate bonehead fantasies of religion, conspiracy and nationalism all merged and confounded. Trump’s evangelical followers are usually high on some form of political deception, as Michael Luo recently documented:

nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Republicans believe widespread voter fraud took place in the 2020 election, compared with fifty-four per cent of non-evangelical Republicans; sixty per cent of white evangelical Republicans believe that Antifa, the antifascist group, was mostly responsible for the violence in the Capitol riot, compared with forty-two per cent of non-evangelical Republicans [my emphasis].

There’s a long tradition here, a vibrant history of religious nuttiness in American life. Luo talks about some of this, and the full treatment can be found in Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1966), still valid and strong after all these years. I talked a little about these tendencies in another post, “A Culture of Ignorance.” Since then the culture has gotten worse and become the succubus of the Republican party.

Many boneheads refuse to take the Covid vaccine. Some still fixate on QAnon and its “cabal of left-wing, satanic pedophiles,” per Sarah Posner. Others are seized by the fervent mix of evangelism and Trump lies, as we saw on January 6. Nicholas Kristof humanely tells us “How to Reach People Who Are Wrong.” I say leave ‘em alone; asking reasonable questions will only make them more entrenched.

President Biden’s approach has been to avoid morally challenging these idiots and to focus on political actions that clearly benefit the majority. He did make a slip the other day in accusing the governors of Texas and Mississippi of “Neanderthal thinking” for abruptly lifting all Covid restrictions. Well, you can’t blame the man for speaking the truth.

Yet I am quite certain that Biden’s efforts to deal amicably with the Republicans will fail. Fooling around with arcane Senate rules and reconciliation maneuvers won’t get the transformative measures through that most of us are hoping for. You can’t deal forthrightly with people who have no moral or humanitarian center. You can’t overcome the filibuster. You can’t build trust with people who have no soul.

More from Houston: Bullshit Runs Deep in Texas

Abbott and Trump: look at their hands.

Heidi Schneider, our Houston correspondent, unwraps some indecent political behavior in Texas. Quick to blame others, these folks have no competence and no shame. On a related note, I highly recommend to you Ezra Klein’s recent podcast, “The Texas Crisis Could Become Everyone’s Crisis.” Three smart people talk not only about the Texas debacle but how climate change will change all of us.

We tried-and-true Texans are taught to “Remember the Alamo” and the flag slogan “Come and Take It” from our earliest fight for independence. But since the 1990s the Texas GOP has fractured our exemplary and fabled image with sanctimonious messaging and agendas. Fast forward to the present day and it’s clear that Texas’s image as a sovereign utopia needs a dramatic facelift.

Just last week the Texas Attorney General, Republican Ken Paxton—who has been under a federal indictment since 2015—took a page from Senator Ted Cruz’s playbook and snuck off to Utah with his Texas state senator wife Angela, paying no regard to the non-legislative Texans left behind during a statewide weather catastrophe. Just two days after the historic freeze arrived, he left town, claiming his absence was due to important official meetings.

More important than millions of frozen constituents? Do you remember that in late 2020 Paxton’s department joined the Stop the Steal con by drafting a lawsuit against four other states? Dispatched to the Supreme Court, the case was quickly dismissed, as the justices instructed Texas conservatives to play in their own sandbox. Upstanding folkloric judicial leader, or total self-serving schmuck? You decide.

Just days ago, the Lone Star state’s conservative Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went on record insisting on a thorough investigation into the state’s energy failure. He claimed this would not be a finger-pointing expedition, then immediately placed blame for the magnitude of frozen failure on ERCOT, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid. Should we tell him a similar investigation was done in 2011 after an extreme cold snap? Moreover, the recommended updates were never pursued by the legislature. Crawl back under your rock, Dan. Your expertise is in gender-neutral bathroom policing, not power grids.

In the past several years, changing weather systems have brought horrific flooding and damaging winds to my home state. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the second-costliest tropical storm on record, costing 127 billion dollars in damage. I remember newscasts where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with Governor Abbott to release his Ebenezer Scrooge grip on the state’s rainy-day fund to help flood victims. That fund, currently around 10 billion dollars, was originally created after the oil and gas bust way back in the 1980s. Instead, Abbott used his executive power, as he has done for last week’s storm, and declared a state disaster, so Texas could qualify for federal assistance. So much for national overreach and state sovereignty.

The legislature just began another biennial session in January. After a dysfunctional year of pandemic quarantines, disturbances from 2020 election deniers, and a frozen national disaster, voters should expect them to address our most pressing statewide issues. There is nothing exceptional about literally polarizing segments of our state and victimizing the most vulnerable. Meaningful infrastructure and inclusive policies are what will move our state forward, not gaslighting from our majority surrogates in Austin.

As my no-nonsense husband George puts it, “If you are a partisan asshole, own it, and stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.” For me, I sum it up simply as: bullshit runs deep in Texas.

Frozen in Texas: A Report from Houston

With all the horror stories coming out of Texas, I asked my friend Heidi Schneider for her thoughts on what has happened and is still happening there. She and her husband George are lifelong Houston residents and seasoned observers of the political scene. Here is her account.

Over the last several years, many Republican legislators in Texas have become chameleons of a sort. They change the colors of their opinions to support the national administration’s mantra of “fake news” and everything is a “hoax” sound bites as their only tangible agenda.

Well, saddle up, chameleon cowboys, because there has been no partisan politics in play when it comes to the millions of Texans devastated by the recent polar blast. This left the entire state without the basic infrastructure to keep multitudes of citizens from freezing to death.

In desperation to keep warm, some households across the state have resorted to burning their belongings or exposing themselves to carbon monoxide poisoning. People were left without water and electricity at random, and traffic blocking lines started to form at some fast-food establishments, as folks sat in their cars just to absorb the warmth and obtain a hot meal.

Gas pumps have been bombarded by motorists who navigated the dangerous, icy streets just to secure fuel before it disappeared. Grocery stores, with limited supplies, have hundreds of shoppers standing in the freezing elements, only to select from already depleted shelves. In Houston, a handful of warming shelters opened, with Texas’s largest city housing over 800 homeless and vulnerable Houstonians, and their pets, at the city’s convention center. Who would have thought the pandemic could be upstaged in my state?

During the height of our utility outages, I watched Governor Greg Abbott focus more on planting the seed of ultimate blame than addressing the palpable desperation happening in his state. During cable news appearances his conversation strayed by stretching the blame to Texas’s frozen wind turbines. We heard his views that oil and gas remain king, that progressive ideas of alternative sources are the root of energy evil, all the while overlooking the fact that winterizing the state’s energy resources has been neglected for decades.

Former Republican Governor Rick Perry felt he was speaking for all citizens by verbalizing that Texans are happy to do without creature comforts in order to maintain our state’s energy independence and freedom from federal oversight. He spoke while warm and comfy during an internet-style interview.

To add insult to injury, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has offices in Houston—you know him, he aided in the insurrection of our nation’s capital a few weeks back—decided to sneak off to Cancun for some sun and fun, since his children were out of school due to inclement weather. You cannot make this stuff up.

As a native Texan, I am tired of my intelligence being insulted by my state’s Republican leaders telling me not to believe what I see and hear for myself. From my view today, I see Texans helping Texans, just as we always do during crises, and I hear that federal assistance is on the way.

Chick’s Music Is Very Much Alive

Music is a crucial way in which we give voice to our emotions. For some of us, it’s the essential voice. Those who play music well empower our mental health.

So when Chick Corea, the peerless pianist of jazz, died last week at age 79 it felt like a breaking point for a music that has lost so many creators—and, as some think, lost its way. Then there was the pandemic and that unbelievable impeachment trial with its implications for a dreadful future. It seemed to me that the bottom was falling out of our culture.

Well, one alternative to the gloom was to sit down and listen to Chick’s music. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of it and continually marveled at the variety and depth of what he wrote and played.

The journey started for me in 1968 with one of his first trio albums, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes—all of it here plus outtakes).

I was writing a music column then and had never heard anything quite like it. Here’s part of what I wrote for The New Leader in March 1969:

Recently I have been listening to Chick Corea, a young jazz pianist of already wide experience who is now playing with the Miles Davis band. His earlier recordings never prepared me for what I heard on his latest, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State SS18039), which is easily one of the most beautiful and technically accomplished discs in the world of post-Bill Evans piano. Corea prefers a free-floating modal jazz, usually in bright tempos, with long and complex improvisatory lines.

That album made Chick’s reputation and changed the concept of trio jazz forever. He continued to explore all kinds of musical forms, making sense out of the nascent jazz-rock movement with his group Return to Forever (1975) and his many subsequent groups (the Chick Corea Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band and more). His progress into classical, Latin and Spanish music is traced in the Rolling Stone obit here.

In 2012 Bobby McFerrin and Chick gave a bright new twist to the latter’s most famous composition, “Spain”:

Chick never stopped exploring music. But, as the Guardian’s John Fordham notes, he always seemed to come back to a more traditional trio jazz, and that’s how I best remember him. One of his later albums, Trilogy (2013, with Christian McBride and Brian Blade) is a favorite of mine.

Here’s a 2007 trio with John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez which shows the depth and expansiveness of Chick’s love of jazz. He had an absolutely unquenchable spirit.

One Queasy Spectacle after Another

The Stupor Bowl

Witnesses Could Prevent a Foregone Conclusion in Second Impeachment Trial

Guy Debord, Donald Trump, and the Politics of the Spectacle

Americans are infatuated with spectacle, most obviously with the Super Bowl, the yearly nod to institutionalized violence and kitsch. I do like football, notwithstanding. I watched the game this year, appalled by how badly the Chiefs performed and how effective the android Tom Brady was. The laying on of schmaltz that is the halftime show was the topper, as usual.

How is it possible to enjoy football in the face of all the evidence of its “blatant brutality” and ubiquitous presence in the culture? Bill Harrison writes a strong indictment in Medium, calling it the Stupor Bowl, a term I’ve also used for years. The reality is that we’re all sucked into the business of football and become eager customers.

We are also eager customers for political spectacle, one reason for Trump’s popularity. The proper audience for the impeachment trial beginning today is not Republicans in the Senate chamber but the American public. One hopes the Democrats managing the trial recognize this. Let them call a few witnesses and make it a show trial; it’s clear they aren’t going to get a conviction anyway. The jury has already declared its intentions.

It will be interesting to see what the impeachment managers decide about calling witnesses—and how far they are prepared to indict not just Trump but the GOP for its anti-democratic tactics. The Post’s Greg Sargent put it this way:

If anything, Democrats need to make it as politically uncomfortable for Republicans as possible to acquit—and to extract a political price for it among the suburban moderates whom the GOP continues to alienate with its ongoing QAnon-ification.

It’s clear that all kinds of arresting spectacles inform much of the breaking news of our time—from floods and coups to terrorist attacks. Presidents from Reagan to Obama have made political spectacle both respected and expected. Yet Trump has turned a political party into a cult of such displays. Douglas Kellner documents his mastery of political and media spectacle.

The events of Jan. 6 are rendered still more horrifying by the Republicans who have chucked out any notion of Trump’s responsibility. One may hope that his (and the GOP’s) impeachment will offer the public a chance to wake to the reality behind this debased spectacle. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.

A Sharp Dressed Man

Imposter that he is, Trump dressed like a Mafia Don. Biden is playing the long game and dresses like a president should. You can’t beat a navy blue pinstripe suit. I am reminded of the great ZZ Top tune from 1983, “Sharp Dressed Man,” and, not least, how power dressing used to count for something in public life. Mitch McConnell in his off-white suits doesn’t really get that.

Most of us are entirely worn out with the pandemic, the stimulus negotiations, the Greene affair, and the daily GOP turmoils. Republicans are thrashing around trying to patch up their broken party and keep in the game while Joe Biden is quietly upstaging them at every turn. Yesterday the House Dems voted to kick M.T. Greene off her committees, even while Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s top turkey, gave her a pass.

Before this, Joe coolly met for two hours with ten Republican senators and overshadowed them all, likely winning the stimulus battle. Maybe the pinstripe didn’t matter. But maybe subliminally it did.

The Lemmings

The GOP’s answer to its post-Trump blues: More Trump

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s vile new antics highlight a 50-year GOP story

In the most recent Republican playbook, the lemmings continue to follow the Great Psychopath over the cliff until, as in the last moment of a Looney Tunes cartoon, he steps aside and they don’t. Reminds you a little of the Jonestown massacre, though Trump, unlike Jim Jones, is in no way going down with his ship. And we don’t finally know whether the gutless Republicans will continue drinking the Kool-Aid.

How could this mad devotion come to pass? No one can really explain it. Hard to believe so many would make this Faustian bargain for political power. The mass extinction of the GOP looms, one hopes. The only person who could begin to get inside the phenomenon is Hunter Thompson, and he is dead.

“The party risks tying its future to a one-term president whose deeply polarizing style cost the party both the House and the Senate during his four years in office.” So says David Siders in Politico. It’s worse than that, David. Some 80 percent of Republicans now approve of his record; and 56 percent of Republican voters believe that Trump should either probably or definitely run for president again in 2024. A new poll from YouGov and The Economist found that 72 percent of Republican voters—almost three in four—believed Biden’s win was illegitimate.

All but five of fifty GOP Senators now support Trump and his reelection fantasy. So the second impeachment is quickly moving toward irrelevancy. And “the Trumpster Visigoth wing of the Republican party” (thanks, Thomas Mallon) is in full ascendance. Someone should write a novel about all this. Characters like Giuliani, Bannon, Cruz and others in Trump’s Mafia are hard to come by in fiction. Then if you threw QAnon fancier Marjorie Taylor Greene into the story, it would test all credibility:

CNN reports that Greene “liked” a social media post that suggested “a bullet to the head” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and seemed to approve of a suggestion that other prominent Democrats should be hanged.

She mocks the Parkland school shooting in which 17 died. Very few Republicans have chosen to comment on her crackpot assertions. In fact, there’s no fiction that could do justice to this woman’s sordid reality. For some of us, the Republican party has lost all reason for existence. The state-level actors in places like Pennsylvania are also losing all reason for existence.

GOP state legislative leaders called on Republican congressional members to object to the Electoral College results or “delay” their certification. Every House Republican in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, save one, obliged, voting to invalidate their state’s Electoral College votes.

As in other things, Hunter Thompson may have said it best: “I believe the Republicans have never thought that democracy was anything but a tribal myth.”

Oh Yes, the Climate

After Alarmism: The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news

Biden Signs Sweeping Orders to Tackle Climate Change and Rollback Trump’s Anti-Environment Legacy

Some have noticed that I have not recently been attentive to climate issues. Well, “Goodman Speaks on Climate” was probably designed to fail in one respect, since everyone who speaks publicly on that subject takes on something contentious and to a degree unfathomable. Climate writers become soothsayers, reading the entrails of sacrificial animals.

I can’t and won’t critique the findings of climate scientists. So I’m left to report on what they think and propose. How I evaluate their judgments is strictly a matter of my judgment and experience, and that’s a thin reed to rely on. And with climate change it’s not enough to merely report; one has to take sides and persuade.

Those who do write such reports also turn out to be evaluators or critics of scientific arguments. That’s an uncomfortable position, at least for me, and so I’ve recently been avoiding climate, punking out on the most significant issue of our time. Well, sometimes you have to be uncomfortable, so I’ll try getting back to climate and overcoming my scruples.

David Wallace-Wells is a journalist who has written extensively about climate change. He recently dumped almost 7,000 words into New York Magazine on how the war on climate denial has been (mostly) won. Part of the reason he feels that way is the advent of Joe Biden’s presidency.

But if the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House feels like something of a fresh start, well, to a degree it is. The world’s most conspicuous climate villain has been deposed, and though Biden was hardly the first choice of environmentalists, his victory signals an effective end to the age of denial and the probable beginning of a new era of climate realism, with fights for progress shaped as much by choices as by first principles.

His argument proceeds with examples and judgments on: what needs to be done (emissions targets), what is being done (decarbonization), political and economic commitments, global action and, finally, adaptation and responses to the new reality. Wallace-Wells is judgmental, yes, and very much worth your reading. He’s smart, sometimes overly geeky, and wide-ranging. Articles like his will get you thinking or perhaps angry (see reader comments on the piece).

Biden’s climate proposals are, to use the old cliché, a breath of fresh air. A good summary by Inside Climate News of what they contain is here, as “the new president moved immediately to review more than 100 Trump administration actions and restore the protection of federal lands and the regulation of greenhouse gases.”

You’ve heard that one of his first actions was to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The president also

moved to rejoin the Paris agreement and signaled a review of vehicle emissions standards. His order also directed federal agencies to review more than 100 rules that the Trump administration made on the environment, with an eye to potentially overturning many of them.

The ICN article outlines the comprehensive scope of the Biden proposals and the ways they will affect several government agencies as well as private industry. It’s a good primer on what’s ahead—though some of its proposals could take years to achieve.

Writing the Insurrectionist Story

What TV Can Tell Us About How the Trump Show Ends

 Trump Is on the Verge of Losing Everything

 Among the Insurrectionists

Stories teach us and transform us. They have the power to make us connect and understand the disordered fragments of our experience.

To get through the next few weeks and months, the U.S. is in desperate need of an authentically real story—a Maileresque chronicle that would account for the events of January 6, explain the power that Trump still holds over the masses, and set us right for what may come.

You can’t exorcise the past, but you can explain it. Masha Gessen writes that for politics to function, we need stories to give us a “common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events.”

Which is just what we don’t have. A coherent story might be the only way to convince the outliers and secessionists that the truth is not what they think it is. Joanna Weiss proposes that the Trump era is like something out of Mad Men or The Sopranos. Perhaps it’s the story of a television antihero, sucked into a life of atrocity and paying (or avoiding paying) the price for it:

once Trump leaves office for good, the prizes that have fed his appetite and driven his presidency—adulation, importance, obsessive attention—will be gone. History will cement him as a one-term president who entered the political world in a dramatic escalator ride, and exited clinging to the tablecloth as the chinaware went crashing to the floor.

Or maybe the story goes like this, as Jonathan Chait tells it: Trump “is impeached again, but his trial is delayed until after his departure date. It feels as if we have spent four years watching the wheels come off, yet the vehicle somehow still keeps rolling forward.” But now the beast may be fatally wounded, “undergoing a cascading sequence of political, financial, and legal setbacks that cumulatively spell utter ruin. Trump is not only losing his job but quite possibly everything else.”

It’s a common trope—the villain gets his just desserts—but very likely the just desserts in this case never arrive. The fish is never landed, the thug escapes capture. There are many uncertainties as to how this story will end.

None of these circumstances should keep writers from using the powers of narrative to tell us what really happened. The unity that Biden looks for will depend on it. Writing that story may not convince the deniers, but it can unify the rest of us and breathe some life into our desperate history.

I think that trying to understand America is like reading Finnegans Wake.

Who Cares?

The old Gershwin song goes this way:

Let it rain and thunder,
Let a million firms go under.
I am not concerned with
Stocks and bonds that I’ve been burned with!

I love you and you love me
And that’s how it will always be
And nothing else can ever mean a thing

Who cares what the public chatters
Love’s the only thing that matters

Who cares if the sky cares to fall in the sea
Who cares what banks fail in Yonkers
Long as you’ve got a kiss that conquers?

Why should I care?
Life is one long jubilee,
So long as I care for you
And you care for me!

A couple of things to note. “Who Cares?” was written in 1931 at the height of the Depression for a show, Of Thee I Sing. George and Ira Gershwin wrote the music and lyrics. The book was written by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. It was inspired by “the timeless battle of political idealism with corruption and incompetency, creating the first American musical with a consistently satiric tone. . . . Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Presidency, and the democratic process itself were all targets of this satire.”

For some goofy reason I woke up this morning humming the song.