Exit the Mad King

We have two more months of this nightmare farce to play out. Expect more surprises and insanity—and more endless news coverage. But will he run again in 2024? His niece Mary Trump says, “He will never put himself in a position where he can lose like this again.”

The mad king’s reign is nearly over. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, another narcissist raging on the heath, he’ll eventually be betrayed by the toadies who supported him. But not quite yet. As in the play, a potential civil war lurks in the background. Social insecurity is rampant. The king rages on.

But if we take Mary Trump’s words seriously, it’s only right to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory. Biden’s win was notable for its very cool minimizing of any threats from the opposition. Ignoring the constant noise was a good move. One hopes that attitude carries forward in his administration. The best defense against Trump is to ignore him.

And soon we may remember our mad king as a purveyor of farce as well as evil. A few things in this regard jumped out at me. One is last week’s Four Seasons press conference in which Rudy Giuliani’s feverish fantasies were on full display.

Apparently the event was to be held at one of the posh Four Seasons hotels but got ironically shifted to a Four Seasons Landscaping Service in Northeast Philadelphia (an area I once used to work in). It is located between a crematorium and a porn shop. As one commentator wrote, “No satirist has ever written anything this hilarious.” It was very much like something out of a Borat movie.

The mad king continues his ranting but fewer are listening. “’It’s like dealing with a lunatic on the subway. Everyone just kind of sits and stares ahead, pretends they can’t hear him, and waits for him to eventually get off,’ a GOP source close to the administration told The Daily Beast.” That tags it for me.

We would do well to remember George Carlin’s observation: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Vegetable Soup

It takes a lot to get me off the news. Constant stewing about Trump and the upcoming election, however, gets all the wrong juices flowing. Following the latest Senate follies can bring on dyspepsia or worse. Case in point: the recent Amy Coney Barrett hearings in which the Democrats, with a few exceptions, rolled over and played dead.

As the proceedings concluded, senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Judiciary Committee Democrat, gave Chairman Lindsey Graham a big hug and complimented him for leading “one of the best sets of hearings that I’ve participated in.”

After a dose of antacid to calm things down, it was time to change the channel. Cut to the Michigan Trump rally where El Cheeto was leading a chorus of “Lock ‘em up!” for Gretchen Whitmer and Hillary Clinton. Hmm, inciting violence against a sitting governor and a presidential opponent? When is too much enough?

It was time to eat some lunch and cool down. I made vegetable soup out of some old but still good stuff in the hydrator of my fridge. It was comforting to the stomach and tasted great. Here are five reasons why soup is good and good for you. No. 5 is the boost to your immune system that soup provides, helping to stave off colds and flu.

So in the age of coronavirus (another of the gifts Trump has brought you), soup can be a protector. It also relieves stress and increases bone and muscle strength. Take off your mask to eat it.

Major Trump Fatigue

4 Funny Feelings About 2020

 The Tedium of Trump

 is it immoral if you feel schadenfreude about trump’s covid-19?

Many are thoroughly exhausted with the Trump show. That is one factor that could cause him to lose the election. Yet I don’t hear people in the commentariat talking much about this. One who does is Tim Alberta of Politico:

It’s impossible to quantify how tired Americans are of this presidency. But it’s a constant theme in the conversations I have with voters, including die-hard Trump supporters. They feel trapped inside a reality TV show and are powerless to change the channel.

With all the high drama of the past few days, many of us are totally sick of the presidential spectacle. Voters, says Alberta, “weary of their social media feeds and kitchen table conversations being dominated by Trump, may resent that he turned a sympathetic situation into yet another showcase of administrative incompetence and self-celebrating bravado.”

More than “may resent,” some of us emphatically resent it. This pig of a man sucks all the air out of the room and displaces it with viral particles. He joyrides in front of Walter Reed, fraudulently downplays the virus, insults the dead (“Don’t be afraid of Covid.”), and preens maskless on the White House balcony. How much more of this show can one take?

At the same time he is like a flat character in a bad novel. So suggests Quinta Jurecic in The Atlantic: “Trump isn’t boring in the way a dull, empty afternoon is boring. Trump is boring in the way that the seventh season of a reality-television show is boring: A lot is happening, but there’s nothing [new] to say about it.” We are tired of him playing the role of tinpot dictator.

So when Trump caught the virus, instead of invoking thoughts and prayers, many wished him ill. I did too, not that he should die (which would make him a martyr to his people) but that he should get good and sick. Some wished he would die. Some celebrated with abandon. It was a perfect, understandable instance of what the Germans called schadenfreude, taking pleasure in another person’s bad luck or misfortune.

Schadenfreude has a long history and diverse interpretations. My reaction to Trump’s affliction was simply that he got his just deserts. Justice was served. Yet my satisfaction was thwarted as he then tried to turn things to his own twisted purposes by exploiting and politicizing the virus. “I wake up some mornings feeling we are in the grips of a madman,” said David Gergen.

I finally came to realize that there was no way ever to bring him to justice. Contending with Trump is a zero sum game. The game will not even end with his election defeat, which he promises to protest. Trump will continue to intrude on our lives until he makes his final exit.

Fixing the “Shitshow”

NOTE: This post was ready for publication when the news came in this morning about Trump’s viral infection. When the cheering stopped, I realized the election was potentially upended and there would likely be no more presidential debates. Still, I hope you’ll find this worth reading.

Response to the first presidential debate was, you may have noticed, almost universally negative. The debate was so unnerving to so many people that the Commission of Presidential Debates (which controls how these performances are set up) has offered to fix things for the next two scheduled debates. This is a little like Ford trying to resuscitate the Edsel.

The debates have become a corrupted game show. The Commission could make them more entertaining by acknowledging this: signaling interruptions with a loud buzzer, for instance, and opening a trap door beneath his feet if the offender continues talking.

Really, the debates ought to be canceled. The Commission can have no sensible way to fix them. And people are not going to tune into another shitshow. Muting the mic of the offending interrupter, which has been widely suggested, would never be accepted by the Trump campaign.

One presidential debate historian said: “Muting a speaker on live TV is awkward, and could go wrong. Do they start shouting? Does Trump walk over to Biden’s lectern and talk into his mic? All bets are off with this particular debater.”

Trump is never going to change his tactics, which are something like the following:

Any American who has caught a glimpse of the 2016 presidential debates, a White House press conference, or even a recent Trump interview with [moderator Chris] Wallace himself knows that the president’s sole tactic when engaging with anyone calling him to task is to deflect, interrupt, and lean on ad hoc jabs.

That’s a nice way of putting it.

If the Commission and the campaigns don’t agree to cancel the debates, then Biden is in a trap. Really, he should simply withdraw if he has any self-respect. He will get heavy criticism from the Trumpers for chickening out but could always buy (or be given) a half hour’s TV time to explain why he’s canceling the debates, show clips of Trump’s behavior and explain his programs. There is no way you can look presidential while Trump is dumping shit on your head.

When asked on CNN about a possible Biden withdrawal, Kamala Harris said he must keep going because he needs every chance to address the American people. He is crazy to do that unless the debate form is radically changed. Even then, he will necessarily be put on the defensive.

The debates have finally outlived their usefulness, and Trump will never change his tune. There is no common ground with this man.

Trump Is Inescapable

Trump is like a compulsion, something you can’t get away from. Dealing with him is like eating too much: you’re uncomfortable afterwards and feel somewhat guilty. At a really good dinner with friends last night (I did not eat too much), the conversation naturally turned to Trump and the U.S. political chaos.

Passing over less controversial topics like climate change and Amy Coney Barrett, we kept coming back to Trump and his perpetual coups d’état on America, his presence everywhere in the media and in our minds, like some kind of unholy ghost stalking us. We can’t get away from him, even as we try.

About a year ago, one writer put it this way:

The man is inescapable. It is hard not to think about him. Every new day brings a flood of belligerent tweets, grandiose lies, incompetent or destructive choices in governance and a general undermining of American institutions. Cable news, from Fox to MSNBC, is devoted to all things Trump nearly every minute of every day.

A consensus in our dinner group seemed to be building that this was the fault of the news media. That the desire to sell newspapers (or internet presence) overcame any sense of editorial balance. That important world news stories were being neglected. That journalists were blind in their pursuit of the most outrageous or titillating stories. And so on. The discussion threatened to ruin our dessert.

My heart wasn’t in it, but I defended journalism, saying that, like it or not, Trump was always the Big Story that the media were obliged to cover. I glossed over the fact that this coverage has made everyone depressed and distracted.

Trump’s chaotic behavior, like his attention span, is “genuinely scattershot” and “has proved a great de facto political strategy, precisely because we are neurologically incapable of handling it.” The real problems are “our split-screen consciousness,” the internet overload, and the insistent demands of too much information.

Brian Baird, an ex-congressman and clinical psychologist, has compared Trump to an abusive father. “Baird said we are like the kids who have to live in the same house with him and cope with his rants, his erratic behavior, his cruelty and his bullying day after day.”

The abusive Donald Trump is indeed like The Dead Father in Donald Barthelme’s 1975 novel of that name. His children can’t escape him, and he is ”a gargantuan half-dead, half-alive, part mechanical, wise, vain, powerful being who still has hopes for himself—even while he is being dragged by means of a cable toward a mysterious goal.” This fantastic and funny book is really a parable for our times.

If only Donald Trump were a fictional character.

Intimations of Instability

Justice Ginsburg’s passing seems to have made everyone a little crazy. Wild speculation about the Supreme Court succession is all over the internet. Along with advice for Biden and the Democrats. And much vituperation of the Republicans and their tactics. God bless her, we didn’t need for her to die at this juncture.

Her death has permeated how people think and feel. It has diffused itself into the American Crisis that has been looming and is now exacerbating everything. Her passing also seems to have penetrated into our dreams, at least mine.

Last night I slept the sleep of the dead, though punctuated with dreams, the last one this morning a real doozy. Something I ate? I don’t know. I was lost in the wilds of Upper Manhattan, trying to get home to Greenwich Village, asking people the way to the subway in a snowstorm, through an obscure park, in dank restaurants, in caverns and offices underground. Ginsburg was helpful, giving directions which led nowhere. I kept up my spirits by singing songs from old Broadway shows, like “The Lullaby of Broadway.”

Finally a limousine stopped and the driver offered me a ride. I sat way in the back as we set off but suddenly the rear of the car detached, with me in it, and proceeded on its own down a steep road to a rocky beach, looking out to the ocean. Workers on a house far above peered down and cheered. That was enough to wake me up.

So now we will play Dr. Freud and hazard an interpretation. Lost in New York is a rather familiar theme in my dreams. They are usually more intimidating, but this one was shocking in its vividness. New York here is America, of course, and we are all pretty lost right now. The limousine ride starts out to be a rescue but turns into a weird fiasco, ending up in what could be another country (e.g., Mexico).

Ginsburg tried to be helpful, but ended up impotent. She, we know in real life, was a New York woman par excellence, surprisingly good friends with Antonin Scalia, another New Yorker. Her grand achievements in this life may have come to naught in this dream—and in the disorder the dream portends—but they are historically real nonetheless.

Since her death, the paeans of praise have been pouring in. As always happens, the tributes have come after fate has cheated us of her presence. Eventually they too will evaporate like a dream.

The Forgotten Zucchini

Going to the supermarket is still an adventure though not always a welcome one. Hunting for the foods you want to make a certain recipe takes a kind of focus, distracting you from the nauseating news of the day and the perils of COVID. It can give your unsettled life a temporary sense of purpose.

So you have an idea that you want to make zucchini with onions and tomatoes to go with the fish you bought. The recipe was a simple holdover from your childhood that never failed to bring back good memories. Maybe you’ll add in a poblano and some spices.

Your first stop was to pick up a can of good Italian tomatoes and then maneuver on to collect other, unrelated things. That was a mistake because it got you distracted from finding the remaining ingredients. Your first mistake was not making a list. At the store one needs to keep a sharp focus because there are so many other distracting items. In fact, a supermarket purposely distracts you so you’ll make impulse purchases.

By the time you get to the produce aisle, you pick up other items but fail to recognize those nice bulbous green zucchinis waiting in their bin. You are by then thinking about the latest Trump revelations to Woodward, the fires in the West, the disastrous election looming. You are totally distracted and pass by the zukes.

Of course you don’t realize the omission until you get home, cursing and flailing your poor memory. Thus a welcome distraction (going to the store) becomes a little tarnished because you were too distracted to buy what you came for.

Why I’m Not Watching

”Only a masochistic brain-dead racist could bear to watch the Republican Convention.”

“But John, you need to watch in order to know thine enemy and understand how they think and what they are planning. Only then can you win the argument that constitutes the election.”

“The election is not an argument. It’s a contest as to whether the country will survive or not. Biden still thinks he can somehow accommodate to these people. I do not. The Republicans and I are singing from completely different musical scores. And it’s the 100th anniversary of Charlie Parker’s birth. I want the same kind of revolution in politics he brought about in music.”

“Well, it’s true there is a lot of flak and noise that keeps you hitting the mute button. Jennifer Rubin seems to endorse your idea: She says the convention has no agenda, no arguments worth hearing, just ‘screaming, dog whistles and bullhorn appeals to White supremacy and abjectly ridiculous accusations’ about Biden.”

“The perfect example of that is Kimberly Guilfoyle’s unhinged rant on the first night, building in decibels and discord as she proceeds. Born from a Puerto Rican mother, she calls herself an immigrant.”

“You still ought to watch the convention, John, to see how permeated their thinking is with appeals to race. It’s the dominant focus of Trump’s agenda.”

“The NY Times agrees with you. Politico magazine agrees with you. I agree with you. But I’d rather hear their reporting than the outsized race-baiting the convention seems fascinated with. Better some media outrage than hearing another speech from Patricia and Mark McCloskey.”

“Patricia said, ‘Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.’”

“Let ‘em go back to their fortified St. Louis mansion. If I want to be depressed I’d rather read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, a book about how deeply immersed our country is in maintaining racial separation. She mixes stories about how caste is embedded in our everyday life with comparisons to India and Hitler’s Germany. We are throttled still and now by caste and its consequences. Do we really need to hear more praise of Trump and his fealty to the cause of caste, hate and fear?”

Boredom, Tedium and Ennui

What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?

Why Boredom Is Anything but Boring

From what I hear, you’re all pandemically bored, right? I have no suggestions of what to do about that but Google uncovers 7,860,000 answers. My thoughts about boredom may or may not make you feel better. After all, it’s our common fate. We’re all in this together, as the Democrats continue to remind us.

Isolation makes some people angry. Some take up knitting or art. Some are just bored to tears. I have experienced plenty of boredom in my life, starting with early formal dinners with my parents. Most classes in high school produced long stretches of stifling tedium. In graduate school my friends and I used to entertain each other by getting drunk and reading aloud from the Oxford English Dictionary. Kids today resort to their phones during lectures.

With the pandemic I find myself sleeping a lot more. I often avoid getting up in the morning, lying in bed and letting the mind wander into frivolous paths. Avoidance of boredom often produces more boredom: watching baseball on TV, trying to get into a boring book, avoiding the exercise machine.

It’s hard to agree on what constitutes boredom. Is the capitalist system at fault? Is boredom a social construct? A built-in human response? Margaret Talbot recently wrote a wonderful anatomy of boredom, which you ought to read. She touches on the many definitions and descriptions of the complaint. Here’s one I like: “a cognitive state that has something in common with tip-of-the-tongue syndrome—a sensation that something is missing, though we can’t quite say what.”

Some think it’s inherent in the human condition. Others, like Margaret, see it as a function of how we work and live, part of the capitalist nightmare:

David Graeber, in his influential “bullshit jobs” thesis, argues that the vast expansion of administrative jobs—he cites, for example, “whole new industries,” such as financial services and telemarketing—means that “huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.” The result can be soul-choking misery.

The French call boredom ennui, which adds the suggestion of lassitude or languor. Baudelaire’s great poem “Au Lecteur” (To My Reader) identifies it with decadence and death, calling all of us brothers, tainted with the apathy of evil. The best book I ever read on boredom is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

There’s an old saying that most people couldn’t stand to sit alone in a room for fifteen minutes.

A while back some researchers put together what’s been called the most boring video ever.

Other researchers have had study participants watch an instructional film about fish-farm management or copy down citations from a reference article about concrete.” Thanks, I’ll go on hanging up my laundry.

The Maskless Ones

A Detailed Map of Who Is Wearing Masks in the U.S.

Texas ‘wide open for business’ despite surge in Covid-19 cases

Rep. Louie Gohmert, and the rest of the anti-maskers, are beyond irrational

The band struck up “Louie Louie.”

We pretty well know why Trump goes maskless. One reason is his vanity; the other is political: if he masked up, his persistent denial of the virus would be in jeopardy. Lordy, if he would only test positive, it could change the course of the disease. His toadies might just rethink their maskless lunacy.

Masking only works if a great majority wears them. The way things are going now in the U.S. we are in for a long onslaught of plague. Obviously, the virus numbers grow as the fools unmask and gather in bars, etc. Texas is the prime example. Despite a mandatory mask order, people continue flocking to “bars, restaurants, movie theaters and shopping malls” because Republican Governor Greg Abbott called them “wide-open for business” back in May. Interesting, isn’t it, that Republican governors have been responsible for most of this confusion nationwide.

This past week that wise old dog, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, tested positive and cheers went up from Democrats everywhere. Gohmert has consistently gone unmasked in the halls of Congress, spraying droplets everywhere and pissing off everyone from Pelosi on down. Meanwhile the band struck up “Louie Louie.” Remember that one?

And Republicans, not just Trump followers, form the overwhelming majority of the maskless. It’s their protest, not against science, but against reason—of which they have a bare minimum. Some of them chant, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: “there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.” He noted he’d rather die than see the economy destroyed. Well, Dan, you are in line for the first Louie Gohmert Viral Dysfunction Award.

The maskless are making their statements not just in Texas and the U.S. but around the world. Russia, the U.K., Germany, the Scandinavian countries—they’re all opening up. The reasons for this behavior vary, of course, “But some might be to show defiance, to make a political statement, to somehow express or feel like they are free and can do whatever they want.” Add to that a general distrust of government.

Such behavior is basically childish, and one of the prime examples is the Mexican president, López Obrador. He takes pride in going maskless, like Bolsonaro and Trump. He recently said, “I am going to put on a mask, you know when? When there is no corruption anymore, then I will put on my mask.” Mexico now has the third highest death toll in the world and corruption is more than ever a fact of life.

Asking people to grow up is certainly a fool’s errand. But how many will have to die before they wake up? Said Virginia Heffernan, LA Times writer, “Refusing to wear a mask is like supporting the fire against the fire department. It’s like openly sneezing into a packed elevator. It’s stupid. It’s also kind of disgusting.”