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.

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.

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.

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.