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.

Anarchy or the 25th?

The 25th Amendment: The quickest way Trump could be stripped of power, explained

Aides weigh resignations, removal options as Trump rages against perceived betrayals

Every Trump Loyalist Is Complicit in the President’s Incitement of Sedition

Thirteen days are left after the Capitol onslaught to determine how we get rid of the Frankenstein monster the Republicans have created. Impeachment is too complicated and will take too long. We tried that once. The 25th Amendment would permit Mike Pence to become acting president for the rest of Trump’s term. It requires a majority (8 of 15 people, the Cabinet secretaries) to sign off on his malfeasance and strip him of all presidential powers. And it requires Pence to initiate it.

There has now been a lot of talk about invoking this power. How feasible it might be to get Cabinet secretaries, all Trump appointees, to sign off on this drastic measure is an open question. My thinking is that if they don’t sign off, we’ll have 13 more days of anarchy with continual threats and prevarications thereafter.

A lead story in the Post reports:

A deep, simmering unease coursed through the administration over the president’s refusal to accept his election loss and his role in inciting a mob to storm the Capitol, disrupting the peaceful transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. One administration official described Trump’s behavior Wednesday as that of “a total monster,” while another said the situation was “insane” and “beyond the pale.”

Fearful that Trump could take actions resulting in further violence and death if he remains in office even for a few days, senior administration officials were discussing Wednesday night whether the Cabinet might invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to force him out, said a person involved in the conversations.

Preliminary talks seem to be underway, and let us hope they bear fruit. Chuck Schumer, many Democrats and a few Republicans seem to be behind these efforts. If they fail, it will be up to senior Republicans to be responsible for restraining Trump and restoring what we used to call democracy. Putting any faith in these people, however, has never brought less than an impasse or more than a rejection.

The Vile Eight—those loyalist toadies in the Senate who have endorsed Trump’s lies even after the attack on the Capitol—and the 147 Defectors from Democracy in the House all deserve to be voted out of office. But we are not holding our collective breaths, are we?

The results have been predictable.

By declining to brand Trump a liar, Republicans ensured that their voters would give credence to his claims. This morning [Jan. 6], Ted Cruz anchored his demand to delay the election’s certification by citing a poll that 39 percent of the country believed the election had been rigged. First they spread his lies, then argued that the lies must be respected because they had spread.

Will Mike Pence now have the balls to upend this situation, which verges on anarchy? Can he find it in himself to exercise the authority the Constitution grants him? After four years of desperate fawning his reward is to become Trump’s mortal enemy. The test is at hand.

How the Senile Celebrate New Year’s Eve

6 Fun Ways for Seniors to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

11 Totally Fun Ways To Celebrate New Year’s Eve At Home This Year

10 Senior Activity Ideas for New Year’s Eve

The party’s over, and you found it particularly hard contending with a pandemic. Your age likely limited you to: staying home, watching crappy Netflix movies, eating/drinking too much, basking in depression, entertaining with a few “safe” friends, going to bed early. You had limited options because of your infirmities or, perhaps, your testy state of mind. I was in bed by 9:30.

And yet, there are some awesome suggestions on the internet for entertaining yourself on your next New Year’s Eve. These will appeal, however, only to old people and the very young. Try them next year if you’re still breathing.

Here are a few “fun activities” for senile seniors who get together on New Year’s Eve: You can Create New Year’s Necklaces.All seniors need to make this craft is yarn and items that complement the holiday, such as paper clocks, hats, flutes, and noisemakers. Your loved one can cut out the paper decorations and attach them to the yarn. Making necklaces can boost brain health, increase dexterity, and provide the opportunity to interact with others.”

If that sounds sort of dumb you can play Guess the Resolution by having “each person write down one New Year’s resolution, and all the resolutions go into a box or jar. Someone needs to read each resolution out loud and give players a chance to guess who wrote the resolution. This activity can stimulate seniors’ brains, allow them to socialize with others, and ultimately boost overall wellbeing.”

Alexis Morillo has some different ideas. These include: dressing up fancy, watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (even though he’s dead), drinking by ordering alcohol to be delivered, and watching movies all night long.

If you’re living in a senior residence, you have lots of choices. Get your facility to host a champagne brunch, with hats and horns for your comrades and play Auld Lang Syne in the background while they eat. Add in noisemakers and watch the fun begin! Or have a “Time’s Running Out” discussion by going around the room asking residents to list the things they wished they had done during 2020. That should provide some breezy reminiscences.

You can also have a dance contest, asking “several residents who are unable to dance to be the judges who get to politely ask the ‘bad dancers’ to leave the floor.” And finally, you could “play upbeat music and set up a bubble machine for your lower-functioning residents to enjoy on New Year’s Eve.”

It’s a holiday with something for everybody. Forget the nostalgia and disappointment, the many things you’ve lost over time. The new year beckons, even for elders.

Disbelief and Ignorance, Blindness and Monomania

The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter

After this I am really going to stop with the Trump posts. But the Washington Post did us all a great service by running the above piece documenting Trump’s most stunning breakdown. It’s long, so I summarize and comment here on the salient points. Also, I’m going to take a few days off from this blog, back after the New Year. We’ll hope for a much happier one this time, of course.

Trump’s incredible mishandling of the Covid pandemic in all likelihood cost him the election. The recent Post article documents not only his failure but his administration’s. However history comes to record the pandemic, it will be seen as a gigantic breakdown in presidential responsibility.

The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

Contradicting his task force
As he refused to accept the reality of the pandemic, it became clear to Trump’s advisers that, despite frequent attempts, they could not penetrate the president’s delusions. They would contradict him at their peril. The Fauci-Birx taskforce made no real impact and was frustrated from the beginning.

Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.

Communications failures
From the beginning, the team had no strategy and no consistent messaging. They were attempting to put out fires with untrained people and ill-advised tactics. Jared Kushner got some ventilators dispatched but his volunteers played whack-a-mole with other problems. They faked models for disease propagation, punted on the involved question of testing, and ultimately turned their backs on properly dealing with the states.

They did not communicate in any effective way with the public or with the private sector that tried to help. The Post tells us about a failed plan to enlist the country’s underwear makers, like Hanes, to make and distribute masks nationwide. This was at the beginning of what could be called the mask debacle, which Trump and his blind administration continued to foster.

Paul Offit, a member of the FDA vaccine advisor council called Trump “a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable. . . . What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk.”

When Trump stepped in to replace Pence at the task force briefings, it was a signal of defeat, as the president proposed bleach and other nonsensical remedies. He looked at Covid as some kind of bothersome issue you could defuse with a TV advertising approach. He was like the Ron Popeil of Covid. “What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” Offit said of Trump.

The Accomplices
Mark Meadows lied to the press, confused every issue he discussed, and still couldn’t please Trump. Birx and Fauci hung in there on the periphery but basically gave up, though Fauci continued to broadcast his sentiments. Scott Atlas, the phony doctor, preached a line that pleased Trump because it let him off the hook. That is, promote herd immunity, forget testing, keep up the anti-mask façade, advance the economy over basic CDC safety, etc. Then there were the rallies and the continuing White House super-spreader parties, all basically mocking the potency of the disease.

Yet it is impossible to mock the 324,000 deaths that have occurred to date. Theatrics are basic to Trump’s reality and, unfortunately for us all, there’s no business like show business—until the curtain comes down.

Four Dreadful Years, and a Merry Christmas

What Trump Showed Us About America

For many, the past four years were like purgatory as they revealed some appalling realities in American life. A lot of long-term assumptions went out the window. A lot of happy presumptions held by the elites had to be flushed down the toilet. And naturally, we’re still in the grip of some of these illusions.

Politico ran a good piece last month with quotes from 35 “political and cultural observers” [read “elites”] on what they learned about America over the past four years. I found their responses both predictable and surprising.

Many were alarmed to discover that our political institutions and norms are more fragile than they thought. Others pointed out the blind spots that members of the political and cultural elite have for the deep sense of dislocation and injustice that their fellow citizens feel. . . .

Others questioned whether the disruptions of the past four years have really shaken us out of old patterns, and whether the political establishment has really been diminished. “The house always wins,” one wrote. And then there was this conclusion from another contributor: “At the end of Trump’s term, what I’ve learned is that I really don’t understand America well at all.”

Yeah, well, who does? When the four-year curtain rings down, the actors take their bows for an empty performance.

In the Politico piece, Nicholas Carr, who writes on technology, economics and culture, targeted the most obvious fruit of these years—that lies now trump truths. In the digital world, “False news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth,” and “social media has allowed propaganda to be crowdsourced; it has democratized George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.”

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor emeritus, shouted out the legacy of the elites.

Ordinary Americans looked at the elite zones of academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington itself, and saw a bunch of self-serving, not very competent individuals sitting pretty, who had enriched themselves and let the rest of America slide. . . . It wasn’t Trump’s politics that disgusted the college presidents, celebrity actors, Google VPs, D.C. operatives and the rest. It was because he pinpointed them as the problem—the reason factories and small stores had closed, unemployment was bad, and PC culture had cast them as human debris. And millions cheered. This was unforgivable to the elites.

John Austin, an economist, told us that

unless we address the root economic causes of many American voters’ anger and social alienation, we will remain a divided nation, with many remaining susceptible to the message of demagogues like Donald Trump. In much of left-behind rural America, and still struggling communities that dot the industrial Midwest around my home, anxieties about the economic future interact with a perceived loss of identity, status and control in a changing society. These dynamics generate a toxic brew of resentments of “others,” whether coastal elites or immigrants, and cravings for a return to a simpler and ordered time.

For me, the starkest element the four years have exposed is the blatant ignorance of so much of the populace. We would like to think that this stems from Trump, a man of limited intelligence and unlimited bile. In fact, it’s the susceptibility of 70 million people, sneering at truth, sneering at the virus. The Flat Earth Society persists despite all evidence that it should not.

The New Appeasement

The crown prince of appeasement has always been Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who ushered the world into war in 1938. But the real heir apparent is Trump, whose exercises in appeasement have known no bounds.

You remember, for instance, his gift to Turkey and what he did to the Kurds? His constant sucking up to Russia? His “America First” is simply a recrudescence of the isolationism of the same name that was so strong in the United States in the 1930s. This came not only to bolster the appeasement of the British and French; it paralyzed them in the face of a total threat.

Appeasement usually means “pacifying an aggrieved country through negotiation in order to prevent war.” Now the president’s GOP colleagues have given it a new twist. They condone and foster his lies and fantasies about the election, giving him and his demented base virtually full support for a wealth of conspiracy theories and nutcase behavior.

Their present appeasement is not a new thing, however. It has been a part of Republican identity for many years. Currently it extends to the very beginning of Trump’s term with the GOP’s tacit support of his personal scams and their public damning of the facts contained in the Mueller report. You know the history.

Trump’s Republican enablers have now sold out their rights to govern. You know who they are; Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham lead the parade. One writer put it this way: “Trump’s GOP enablers act like those terrible parents you see in the grocery store trying to cajole their bratty kid throwing a tantrum in the checkout line with ever more absurd promises.” Except they don’t just cajole the behavior, they tolerate it.

Some 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was valid, and only 10 percent of Republicans in Congress accept it as valid. And so the Congressional enablers continue to ratify their fantasies in the pursuit of electoral power. That’s all it’s about. Most of them know it’s a farce and that it can lead to the prospects of violence and lynching we have seen in Georgia and elsewhere. And still they persist.

In Arizona, the Gonzo Party “asked its followers if they are willing to die for the cause of overturning the presidential election results,  . . . and a handful of users replied they were indeed willing to give their lives to the cause.”

The only remedy I see for the madness is to strongly call out Trump and his goons for what they are. To be silent is to be complicit. Chamberlain at least taught us that.

Climate Amnesia: How We Misperceive Chaos and Change

The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19)

 Proving the ‘shifting baselines’ theory: how humans consistently misperceive nature

David Roberts opens his impressive Vox piece this way: We lost 2,800 souls to Covid just last Thursday, more than died on 9/11. Instead of jumping to respond to “an unbearable collective national tragedy,” we adjust mentally to it and give it a kind of tacit acceptance. There’s no real national mobilization; half the population goes maskless; millions travel for Thanksgiving. Almost 3,000 deaths? Business as usual.

We’ve adjusted to the virus like we adjust to the inscrutable nature of climate change. Our acquiescence puts the lie to the commonly accepted notion that some horrible sequence of climatic events will shake us out of our torpor. It may be a new normal that the world could not adequately recognize the terrifying apocalyptic fires in Australia last year.

We are victims of what researchers call shifting baselines. Meaning that “our ‘baseline’ shifts with every generation, and sometimes even in an individual. In essence, what we see as pristine nature would be seen by our ancestors as hopelessly degraded, and what we see as degraded our children will view as ‘natural.’”

Roberts explains the behavior this way:

Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.

And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward.

When the fish finally goes extinct, “No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.”

Look at the opening sequence of this video for another way of putting it. I remember fishing in Florida in the late 1950s, and the fish were indeed very much larger and more prevalent than they became.

This is about climate amnesia, which operates on both an individual and generational level. We lose our cognizance of the past without being aware of the loss. Roberts asks how in the world can

Americans simply accommodate themselves to thousands of coronavirus deaths a day? As writer Charlie Warzel noted in a recent column, it’s not that different from the numbness they now feel in the face of gun violence. “Unsure how—or perhaps unable—to process tragedy at scale,” he writes, “we get used to it.”

This climate and cultural amnesia is such a common human failing that it’s hard to imagine a way to surmount it. Roberts thinks that finally “there is no substitute for leadership and responsive governance. . . . The most reliable way to stop baselines from shifting is to encode the public’s values and aspirations into law and practice, through politics.”

Well now, since Trump has totally disabled our political system, many have lost hope as well as any coherent sense of the past. I watched Biden on CNN Thursday night, and he did demonstrate a sense of competence and a willingness to look toward the past for solutions. We will need that from him and more.

Ducking the Climate Question

The Climate Won’t Let Us Forget

 Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change

 ‘There Is a Real Opportunity Here That I Think Biden Is Capturing’

Climate change is the most overpowering issue of our times—and the least discussed. I searched several leading publications and found it displaced (as you might suspect) by these subjects: Covid, the election outcomes, the new Biden administration, Trump’s ongoing lunacy, sports, celebrities, and politics.

I wrote something that touched on this avoidance about a week ago. The focus was on the distractions that keep us from dealing with climate. Let’s look at it a little differently today. My premise is that the Covid pandemic has skewed how most of us not only live American life but evaluate it.

For instance, consider a recent Politico newsletter headline: “Wall Street rocks as food lines grow.” And further,

Those of us lucky enough to work in jobs we can do remotely have done mostly fine during the pandemic, though perhaps not psychologically. Underneath, Americans are suffering in terrible ways with food lines growing and unemployment claims still at record levels (which they will likely hit again today).

In the face of all our competing interests, who thinks about those dreadful food lines, much less about climate change? We psychologically rank our interests in importance, proximity and potency. And climate is still something remote for many of us. It’s an abstraction to most people and most people don’t deal well with abstract subjects.

Biden appoints a new climate czar in John Kerry, and the news coverage focuses on his background in diplomacy and long-time efforts for climate action. Instead, a friend and I talk about his wife Teresa Heinz, the ketchup heiress. No, we didn’t discuss his policies or Biden’s on climate. People gravitate to what they are exposed to in the media—and their susceptible interests.

Joe Biden very much seems to be making climate a top priority. He has drafted an elaborate $2 trillion over ten years proposal that could be remarkable—if it ever gets through Congress. Climate seems often to be put in a totally political frame. Instead, we would do better to consider it, as many have said, an existential threat.

The Covid pandemic could frame the climate threat for a majority of people, I think. If nothing else, it has made us all disease conscious. Texas Professor Art Markman linked disease to climate in a Harvard Business Review piece two years ago. When I confront climate skeptics, he said,

I ask whether they would be willing to forgo something today to invest in a disease that has a one in five chance of affecting a grandchild. And if so, then I ask how taking climate change seriously is different. You don’t have to be a skeptic to try this logic on yourself. Consider what you’d be willing to forgo today knowing that in one generation there will be serious, catastrophic consequences because of inaction.

The perspective of incipient disease is immediate and powerful. Comparing climate to a catastrophic disease and its long-term effects on a loved one might be one way to cut through the fog of denial.

We Need a Vaccine Against Trump

A Third COVID Vaccine Is Shown to Be Effective—and It’s Cheap

Why Won’t Emily Murphy Just Do Her Job?

Why is the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement growing during a pandemic?

The vaccine sweepstakes continue as AstraZeneca just announced its entry, which promises to be cheaper and easier to store than those of its competitors. Good—because refrigerated 90-below-zero trucks costing millions will be breaking down everywhere. Logistics for distribution will be unthinkable. People won’t show for their second shots. And we’re going to be deluged with costly vaccines that a majority of the populace, the anti-vaxxers, won’t even take.

And none of this will happen until thousands more have died. After announcing to the press once again that he had won the election, Trump said, “You wouldn’t have had a vaccine for another four years if it wasn’t for me.” Nor would we have had the horrific escalating death tolls from Covid if it wasn’t for him. We know too that more people will be dying because Trump’s emissary won’t just do her job and acknowledge the transition.

As head of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy has endorsed the president’s delusions and crimes against humanity by failing to follow the law and let the transition begin. Her slavish obstruction enables Trump’s Disease, not to mention Covid, to continue running rampant.

We have no effective treatment or vaccine against Trump’s Disease. You know the symptoms: constant delusions of narcissism, blatant denial of the facts, lying, the propensity to promote snake oil and fraud. Seventy million supporters have proved that we have no cure for the madness; there is no restorative therapy at hand. The Trump herd has achieved its gross immunity.

We also know that one manifestation of the disease is all about revenge. A pundit who consistently tracks Trump’s revenge is Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York Magazine. Chait notes that

crippling Biden’s pandemic response seems to be not a side effect of [Trump’s] strategy but the intended one. Trump not only doesn’t care about managing the pandemic; he is very publicly enraged at the idea that Biden will receive any credit for vaccine distribution. . . . For the sake of both his pride and a possible election rematch, Trump wants Biden to fail and will take whatever steps are at his disposal—including the loss of many more American lives—to bring about that outcome.

It would be folly to channel our hopes on some kind of mythical vaccine that will inoculate us against the worst political disease of our time. The best we can hope for, I guess, is something from AstraZeneca.

P.S. Oops, I wrote this last night before the news came in that Emily and the GSA have caved and at last informed the Biden group that the transition can now officially begin. I still stand by what I wrote here.