Send in the Clowns

The circus was actually under a tent when I was a kid. It featured wild animals jumping through fiery hoops, high-wire acrobats a hundred feet or more in the air, and of course the clown car. I loved watching a dozen or so people emerge from a small red coupe, and the crowd roared in delight.

You know where this is going, right? In the Select Committee hearings the Trump lackeys are bailing out, repudiating for the world the Big Lie they all formerly endorsed, emerging en masse from Trump’s red coupe. How they all could manage to fit in that car, with such doubts about their boss’s sanity, is the mystery. Yet finally it is no mystery that they are trying to save their skins.

Like so much of what passes for politics now, I find this full of comic overtones—like something Kafka could have written. Our late-night comedians have big problems getting laughs from Trumpian politics. So many clowns have jumped out of the car that the gag just isn’t funny anymore. “But there is also a sense, as the president talks openly about defying the results of the election, that satire has not accomplished what its champions believed it could. Even the professionals seem disillusioned.”

Satire works best as a dark form of irony that makes its object look ridiculous. The audience must be in on the joke, or the attempt falls flat. One can cite Jonathan Swift, as I did regarding guns, and most people either don’t know who Swift was or they find the comparison bogus. Such are the perils of irony. If you mock Trump with humor you’re up against some sixty percent of Republicans who continue to believe the Big Lie.

But I still like the metaphor of the circus. For those who pay any attention to it, politics has become entertainment for the masses. The media could not survive without it. The poet Juvenal said this in Roman times: “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.” Are the Select Committee hearings merely a distraction or a diversion for most people? They aren’t “blood sport” for most people, as in ancient Rome, though they might lead to that.

Folks like Rudy Giuliani can also be expected to provide comic relief, as when the old drunk urged Trump to contest the results on election night. Or the wonderful press conference he hosted at the Four Seasons Landscaping Service. John Eastman, chief clown to the president, kept pushing for a plan to kick the election back to the states, even while he acknowledged its illegality.

For many, the very gravity of the hearings indicates that real dangers are lurking. So do the words of the witnesses. Yet a strong sense of artificiality often pervades. We hope the acrobats don’t slip and fall, even as we expect that they might. That tension is part of the circus appeal. Here we hope the clowns will go to jail though we know they may not.

Beyond Words

Fox News Offices this morning

I’ve just reviewed a ton of reactions to the January 6 Committee’s first hearing last night. If the hearings could change one person’s mind, that would be a positive. Other than repeating what the many opinionists have been saying, I don’t know what to add that would shed any great light or express how utterly awful the state of the United States union is.

Nor can I bring myself to write something that would be clever or penetrating. Taking that kind of approach now seems flippant and self-serving. We need fewer of these pronouncements, of which Jonathan Chait provides a good example. Writers seem to be captivated by others’ opinions, whether it be about guns, race, Trump or January 6. Yet one who tries for original thoughts on such subjects is not heeded, he’s just ignored.

The problems confronting the U.S. seem intractable. So, despite all the noise they make, the voters en masse basically ignore their solutions. I’m at the stage where I still keep devouring products of the multi-headed media, only finally to disregard much of what is said. The media is too much with us.

So I’m going to beg off blog writing for a while—until and unless I get my voice back. Let’s all take a break and go to the beach.

Watergate Fifty Years On

Many of us might wish we had Dick Nixon back instead of Trump. Until, that is, they remember Watergate which set the pattern for corruption and deceit in government. If you need an update on that, here’s a good one by Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters who broke the story.

 My friend Jack and I, in our mid-thirties and drinking a lot, were writing a book about our authoritarian fathers. The subject led naturally into the manifestations of authoritarian government and the recent scandals of Watergate. Here’s some of the conversation I recorded. How little has changed in fifty years.

JOHN: So this justice for the Supreme Court is asking [Alexander] Bickel, the attorney for the New York Times, “You know there has to be a clear and immediate danger to the security of the United States.”

The Justice: “Well, suppose it’s gonna kill 100 soldiers in Vietnam. Would you say 100 is a clear and present danger? Is it 90?”

The whole prosecution had such a specious argument. And John Mitchell, you know, he is just so ripe, the ripest fucking old Dad. What is he now, Nixon’s campaign manager? So he gets up and says—he and Nixon both said it—that the Washington police did such a great job with the Mayday arrests: 15,000 people were detained and arrested, for not doing a goddamn thing!

JACK: Wait a minute, they did a good job! I don’t know any other police department that could get so many arrested that fast. That’s law and order, get ‘em out of there. Like the army, dig ‘em up, move ‘em out. It’s like police call, arrest ‘em all [laughter]. I think they did a great job.

JOHN: Did you read the story that the White House was hosting a Finch College reunion since Tricia had gone there? And Grace Slick, another Finchie, was coming with Abbie Hoffman. The thing that wasn’t in the Times but was in Rolling Stone from an interview with Grace, was that they had all kinds of acid that they were going to dump in the tea, turn on the whole fucking crew, dump it in the samovar or whatever. Their great hope was that Dad might come down and share a cup with them. Greatest idea I ever heard of. But they wouldn’t let them in: husbands and boyfriends were not invited, it was Finch graduates only, so they got turned away.

JACK: Best line of the whole testimony before the Supreme Court: The government made the case that one thing of grave and immediate danger to the security of the U.S. was that Daniel Ellsberg had stolen some of the contingency plans for carrying out the war in Vietnam. And apparently Bickel, the defense lawyer, had seen the Pentagon Papers, and he said, “Mr. Justice, everybody knows what these plans are. Any reasonably intelligent high-school boy could probably draft them in about fifteen minutes. Either we’re gonna bomb the shit out of North Vietnam, A-bomb them into oblivion, or get out. What’s the big secret?”

JOHN: As it turns out of course it’s not saving the face of the U.S., but saving the face of all those assholes who made the policy.

In [Nixon’s] eyes, the publication of the Pentagon Papers confirmed the existence of a radical, left-wing conspiracy throughout the government and media, whose purpose was to delegitimize him and topple his administration. Nixon resolved to fight back with every tool at his disposal, making the fateful decision to break the law to achieve his ends.”

A Modest Proposal for the Gun Predicament

Some of you may remember Jonathan Swift’s grand satire on how to deal with the Irish potato famine. He proposed selling babies of the starving poor as food for the greedy rich. Present-day Republicans have gone Swift one better, allowing children to be killed so they can have their guns. And they do this with none of Swift’s irony.

As one of a few who realize how far gone we are, Michelle Goldberg writes:

Guns are now the leading cause of death for American children. Many conservatives consider this a price worth paying for their version of freedom. Our institutions give these conservatives disproportionate power whether or not they win elections. The filibuster renders the Senate largely impotent.

Others express “an overwhelming sentiment” too that nothing is going to change. McConnell’s proposal to look for compromise with the Democrats is just smoke that will dissipate in testy negotiations. Far-right Republicans have proven they prefer violence over compromise. Goldberg  again:

the more America is besieged by senseless violence, the more the paramilitary wing of the American right is strengthened. Gun sales tend to rise after mass shootings. Republicans responded to the massacre in Uvalde by doubling down on calls to arm teachers and “harden” schools.

The history of gun control attempts in this country is a pathetic tale of one failed attempt after another. When I worked in Washington, I recall meeting with the people who worked so hard to get the Brady Bill passed. It did pass in 1994 and the NRA mobilized to kill it four years later. Despite the carnage in Uvalde and Buffalo, I can’t imagine any serious gun control legislation making it through Congress.

Efforts by Republicans in Congress have a long history of universally shooting down every legislative attempt to attack the problem. Every sensible person knows this, yet even now they talk about fig-leaf proposals that cannot properly address the problem. Background checks and red flags will never begin to eliminate the deep culture of gun violence in the U.S. The sorry history of all this is well documented here, and the Supreme Court has long thrown up major impediments and will continue to do so.

And yet, as many of you know, most Americans want very much to “do something” about gun violence—now more than ever. But Republicans are overwhelmingly captive to their conservative, mostly rural, constituents who could conceivably vote them out of office for waffling on guns. Toadies like John Barrasso of Wyoming say things like, “We don’t want to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

So the many people like him, who have been obstructionists to gun reform for as long as I can remember, are the problem. And they will never vote to reform the filibuster, which keeps their minority in power.

So my modest proposal is: just throw the Republicans out. Vote them all out. What else is there to do? They will not change their goal of holding up any and all attempts at gun control, and they have proven that you’ll get no realistic gun reforms while they hold the legislature at bay.

To accomplish this and win back at least the Senate, Democrats will have to make gun reform the absolute centerpiece of their campaigns in the midterms and beyond. Joe Biden and others with any clout will have to speak out in every kind of forum and at every opportunity. For once, they will have to get nasty and loud, and stop playing games of reconciliation with the enemy.

Who knows if this long-shot strategy would work? There is no more real collegiality left anyway. Maybe the voters would finally appreciate some straight talk about how one corrupt party would sacrifice their kids for more guns.

Have the Dems Finally Found a Voice?

Years ago I coached political people in how to give effective speeches. Only a few had the kind of controlled passion that Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow demonstrated last month. She understood that a speech has to be very personal if it’s going to move you. It has to reflect who you really are.

With the furor aroused by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade debacle, you can be sure that women will dominate the discourse to come. Most men sound foolish and presumptive discussing abortion. Women will inevitably put the issues on a personal level. They will be the best political weapon the Democrats have.

What the Left Has Done to Women

 

A well-known conservative, Denis Prager, just drafted this gem for RealClearPolitics, a site that used to pretend to impartiality. Ladies (I use the term advisedly), I’d be pleased to have your comments.

As I have documented on a number of occasions, the Left ruins everything it touches. There is no exception. From universities to high schools and now including even elementary schools, to late-night TV, to sports, to the arts and, increasingly, science, the Left is a destruction machine.

And nowhere is this damage more evident or tragic than with regard to women.

In fact, nothing demonstrates the power of left-wing ideology as much as what this ideology has done to women. So powerful is leftist ideology, it is more powerful than women’s nature.

Here are five examples:

No. 1: The Desire to Bond with a Man

For all of recorded history, virtually all women sought a man with whom to bond. Of course, a progressive would argue that this was true only because all societies implanted this desire in women or because societal pressure gave women little choice about the matter. It is not, progressives would argue, innate to female nature to yearn for a man.

But whatever the reason — innate nature or societal expectation — it is a fact that women desiring a man was virtually universal.

Then along came modern left-wing feminism, which communicated to generations of young women through almost every influence in their lives — most especially teachers and the media — that a woman doesn’t need a man. In the witty words of one feminist aphorism, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Unfortunately, however, the reality is most women need a man just as most men need a woman. Most men don’t fully grow up without a woman, and most women don’t fully grow up without a man (I am, of course, referring to heterosexual women and men). If you need proof, ask almost any married person, man or woman, if marriage matured them.

No. 2: The Desire to Marry

Along with wanting a man, the vast majority of women wanted to marry. It was assumed that wanting that public commitment to and from a man was part of female nature. Yet, the Left has successfully undone that part of women’s nature, too.

As a result of feminist and other left-wing indoctrination, the belief that a woman doesn’t need a man led to the inevitable upshot: marriage isn’t necessary. And it might even be a tool of oppression. And as a result of that, a smaller percentage of American women are marrying than ever before.

This has serious social consequences. We have long known that single men perpetrate most of the violent crime in society. Single men are a societal problem. What we have not acknowledged — and perhaps not even known — are the deleterious effects of women not marrying.

While single women don’t commit nearly as much violent crime as single men do (though they may be starting to catch up), single women are increasingly a societal problem. The most obvious problem is that women who have children without ever marrying their children’s father — or another man — produce a highly disproportionate percentage of social misfits. But many women who never give birth nor marry also constitute a societal problem. They are more likely to be angry and to express that anger in support of radical causes that undermine society. As Barron’s reported, while overall a mere 14.2% of the population contributed to “racial justice causes” such as Black Lives Matter in 2020, “nearly half of single women in the U.S. — a larger percentage than single men or married couples — supported or were actively involved in racial justice protests.”

As reported by one women’s activist organization, Women’s Voices Women Vote, already in the 2012 election, “the marriage gap dwarfed the gender gap…”

No. 3: The Desire to Have Children

At least as much as wanting to bond with a man and wanting to get married were deemed a part of women’s nature, the desire to have children was regarded as even more embedded in female nature. Yet, incredibly, leftist ideology is even succeeding in eliminating that part of women’s makeup. More women than ever before — abroad as well as in America — are choosing not to have children. See, for example, the article, “More women like me are choosing to be childfree. Is this the age of opting out?” published, appropriately, in The Guardian. The author ends her piece this way: “I’ll say it plain: I don’t want children, I never have, and it doesn’t feel like any kind of lack. To me, it just feels like being alive.” She speaks for an increasing number of women.

No. 4: The Desire to Have Sex with Commitment

Another part of women’s nature that the Left has undermined is the desire of women to have sexual relations with a man who might commit to her. Or, at the very least, to have sex only with a man to whom she has some emotional attachment. Left-wing feminist ideology has even been able to undermine that. Three generations of American women have been indoctrinated into believing that their sexual nature is the same as that of a man. Therefore, she can have “hookups,” i.e., non-emotional, non-committal sex, just like men can with no emotional fallout. And so, many young women do. But a far greater percentage of them experience regret or even depression than do young men who engage in “hookup” sex, a form of sex that is indeed part of male nature.

No. 5: The Desire to Protect Children’s Innocence

Perhaps the most amazing thing progressive ideology has done to women is to subvert the innate female desire to protect children, specifically children’s sexual innocence. The movement to teach very young children about sex, about “gender fluidity,” expose them to “Drag Queen Story Hours,” etc., is overwhelmingly led by and composed of women.

Leftism would appear to demonstrate that ideology can trump human nature. Such is the power of social indoctrination. One inevitable result is a generation of more depressed young women and more regretful middle-aged women than ever before in American history.

The Left ruins everything it touches. You can add women to the list.

“You sound so Putinesque,” she said.

Two hip ladies having lunch were talking—not about the horrors unfolding in Ukraine but about Vladimir Putin, whose personality they found fascinating.

“His big thing is Russia’s return to greatness. There are two problems with that: one, he forgot the costs—in body bags and world opinion; and two, he’s going to lose his Kremlin buddies, who may in fact ultimately do him in.”

“Julia, you sound like a CNN analyst. I want to know how he came to be this way. So I consult my horoscope every week. You know, Putin is a Libra, and here’s what my astrologer said about them: ‘It takes a surprising amount of courage to confess, even just to yourself, that you aren’t where you’d like to be.’ Pass the salad, please.”

“You honestly think he’s going to do that? The grandiose overreacher? His strategic blunders in Ukraine and his basic character flaws will be his undoing. The interesting question is how world leaders were taken in by him for so long. Their blindness to this budding Hitler got us into the mess we now confront.”

“Does Putin have a wife? I don’t even know. Does anybody have any influence on him? The dude was smart enough to protect himself all these years from palace revolts or how much the Russian people are willing to put up with. Looks to me like Putin has worked hard to be a kind of Don Quixote, misled by his romance with the past. People still believe in that kind of fantasy.”

“I’ll have another cocktail, thank you, Gracie. I hope you’re not endorsing this war criminal. He has tried to create a colony of slaves. But he’d rather kill the slaves than free them.”

Ukraine Was Predicted

Sometimes Tom Friedman blathers and sometimes he speaks the truth. But he often has a sense of history and geopolitics that others lack. He came on strong in The New York Times yesterday about how the U.S. and its NATO allies aren’t just “innocent bystanders” to Putin’s despicable offensive in Ukraine.

In my view, there are two huge logs fueling this fire. The first log was the ill-considered decision by the U.S. in the 1990s to expand NATO after—indeed, despite—the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And the second and far bigger log is how Putin cynically exploited NATO’s expansion closer to Russia’s borders to rally Russians to his side to cover for his huge failure of leadership.

In what now seems like the dreamlike ‘90s Friedman says that the U.S. chose recklessly “to quickly push NATO into Russia’s face when it was weak.” Bill Perry, Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, later recalled that moment in 2016: “Our first action that really set us off in a bad direction was when NATO started to expand, bringing in Eastern European nations, some of them bordering Russia.”

Our present disaster, however, has been years in the making. After NATO expanded in 1998, Friedman talked with George Kennan, then and still one of America’s wisest foreign policy professionals. Here’s what Kennan said to him in full, though you should read the whole piece.

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a lighthearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was. I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe.

Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong.

Friedman comments: “It’s EXACTLY what has happened.” We also should note that Putin is living out a distorted view of history, a revanchist effort to restore Russia to its former Soviet glory. How we get into conflicts like this can be as important as how to resolve them.

Greene’s Gazpacho and Trump’s Toilets

The New Yorker

Yesterday the media reported endlessly on Greene’s continuing and insufferable stupidity and the ex-president’s propensity to flush documents down White House toilets. Hard to wake up to this stuff.

I still read the latest in politics each morning on the internet. This practice had begun to ruin my day so I’ve endeavored to change it. I try to make phone calls and email friends, walk to the bakery, get on my exercise machine. I’m still caught up with our political follies, but no longer to the point of writing about them or hashing them out with friends. It ain’t worth the angst.

Since most people can’t face the enormity of what’s happening in the U.S., the media’s fallback is to divert us with the folly of our political happenings. Politics and the reporting thereof have become a burlesque.

Yet I’ve spent too many years in politics not to take it seriously. It’s very hard to do that now. I mark all the many appeals for funds I get from Democrats as spam. I no longer follow Democrats Abroad. Most of the received opinions about the current crisis—the likely onset of a new civil war, gerrymandering, court packing, and so on—I find repetitious and half-baked. Or they keep telling us about the persistent Congressional standoffs.

So maybe we shouldn’t blame the media for telling us ad nauseum about the crocodile who finally got the tire removed from its neck. Yesterday I was looking for some freaky “good news stories” to write about, like the one about preventing Alzheimer’s with toothpaste. The idea was to lighten up the pervasive gloom about current events. I eventually tossed out that approach after realizing that such stuff was just clickbait. The media thrives on clickbait.

Since I spent quite a few years studying and teaching literature I tried to get back to reading more. That worked for a while but I always gravitated to the current affairs stuff on Kindle and got too absorbed in that. Interesting but invariably gloomy.

So I looked at the shelves of books that I had just unpacked after my recent move. Music, history, fiction, poetry, and culture were there in abundance. Could they be a passage to my recovery from boredom and disgust? The books looked back at me as if through a scrim of non-recognition, even though I had read them all and absorbed much pleasure from many. But I felt little urge to pick them up and explore them again.

Even so, I will do that with a few because they represent old pleasures and insights that were and are valuable to me. Literature is life rendered, after all, and mostly from a simpler and better time. It has always been a refuge for me, and perhaps it will be so again. In times like this, we need our sanctuaries.

How White Is Your Christmas?

I’ve told some of you the story of how my wonderful Jewish mother one year decorated our annual Christmas tree with gold spray-painted bagels. Family friends thought that was a hoot, but as a judgmental college kid I thought it was inappropriate if not ludicrous. Looking back now, I think of it as a lighthearted but determined attempt to assimilate to the white Christian culture that ruled in the 1950s.

My mother loved Christmas and all its trappings. We always had a big tree, sang the carols, and hosted parties of comfort and joy. This was part of the liberal mystique of the time to proclaim brotherhood with Christians, treating the holiday as an occasion for broad secular respect—much as we cherish Santa Claus.

I never went much for the religious side of Judaism, and the white Christian ideals of that time also seemed just foreign to me. We heard pious mouthings from the believers on the one hand, and then the rage of zealots like those who celebrated the grisly murder of Emmett Till. Fierce anger and hostility came from people who at the same time professed to be godly Christians.

The hypocrisy of that time has stuck with me. And it’s part of present-day politics. The religious right has grown mightily in influence, and their behavior is more anti-Christian than ever. Now it is amplified by white fears of a nonwhite takeover. These fears are driving a dominant portion of the far-right to plot the next insurrection and plan the subversion of the 2024 election. We are facing a white Christmas that looks to be a prelude to more political madness.

In his typical mode, NY Times contributor Thomas Edsall interviewed academics on the question of whether the present GOP is a threat to democracy—and whether the Democratic party is able to defend it. Through voting restrictions, gerrymandering and the inequities of state representation in the Senate, the Republicans gained power even while the white evangelicals declined in numbers. But their influence has gained strength as they see their sense of ownership of America slipping away. They react with “rage, resentment and paranoia.”

Edsall’s respondents fear that, for the Democrats, winning elections won’t be enough. Their support from working-class voters continues to erode. And too many structural elements keep “fortifying the Republican minority, its by-any-means-necessary politics and its commitment to white hegemony.”

One of Edsall’s interviewees (Julie Wronski) notes the GOP’s dilemma: they can’t grow the party with a more inclusive strategy because White Christians, a diminishing base of the party, must be defended at all costs to prevent the threat of minority status. Now the religious right is on the verge of another victory in the Supreme Court, blurring the separation of church and state.

How voters perceive these issues is critical, of course. And the Democrats are not doing enough to get the critical message out that the country’s democracy is at stake. They are temporizing over tactics regarding the BBB in Congress when they should be fighting the growth of religious intolerance and racism. They are hanging bagels on the Christmas tree.