The Obsession with Sinema

Well, to put it simply, she violates a lot of norms.

She will not negotiate on Biden’s most important legislation. She jets off to Paris while her party experiences a legislative crisis. She fundraises and runs marathons when she should be working. She upholds the filibuster. She won’t talk with her supporters. She dresses like a tart, offending effete Washington standards. She wears a ring that says “Fuck off.”

One could go on, but the media have covered all of this. Let me offer some cheap analysis.

Sinema seems drunk with the power of her position. She has the pride of a person with no fixed values, like a character out of Dostoevsky. This can only end badly. Republicans like McConnell profess to love her, while progressives are organizing against her. Politically she has burned her bridges.

She and Joe Manchin, another egotist, may well torpedo the Biden agenda approved by a majority of the public. That might just end their political careers. Party loyalty has now been transformed into partisanship, and partisans brook no apostasy. A Yale study “found that just 3.5% of respondents would vote against their partisan interests to protect democratic principles.” Biden’s unforced errors won’t torpedo his program, but partisanship surely could.

If she continues to offend Democratic (and indeed democratic) values, Sinema will either have to become an Independent or find a new career as a lobbyist. She seems to be positioning for the latter. In 2003 she ran a campaign against the hawkish and waspish Joe Lieberman. Now she’s become a Lieberman and he defends her.

Sinema appears to have become a product of her own periodic whims, which is maybe why she refuses to explain herself. She’s in danger of becoming a rebel without a cause.

A Warning to the Sheep

If you were thinking Trumpism was a passing phenomenon, the work of a nitwit showman, then you thought wrong. The strongest indictment came Thursday in a Washington Post opinion piece, “Our constitutional crisis is already here.” I urge you to read the full piece. For those without a subscription I’ll give some excerpts below.

Author Robert Kagan is one of those pundits who has walked both sides of the street. He’s been both a prominent neoconservative and a vigorous opponent of Trump. He was a longtime advocate for global intervention, yet in 2016 he endorsed Hillary Clinton and loudly called Trump a fascist. Here he has outlined a fearsome yet possible scenario, beginning this way:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.

Trump will no doubt be the candidate in 2024, says Kagan, and the majority of Republicans will try to “ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.” They will do this by controlling state and local officials who certify elections. The stage is “being set for chaos” and partisan warfare.

The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way—if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

The framers of the constitution never imagined such a breakdown of the three branches of government or the rise of such power in a national political party.

Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world, especially Europe, and its insidious influence in subverting American freedom—such views and attitudes have been part of the fabric of U.S. politics since the anti-Federalists, the Whiskey Rebellion and Thomas Jefferson.

What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements. . . . His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. . . .

For Trump supporters, the “error” is that Trump was cheated out of reelection by what he has told them is an oppressive, communist, Democrat regime. While the defeat of a sitting president normally leads to a struggle to claim the party’s mantle, so far no Republican has been able to challenge Trump’s grip on Republican voters: not Sen. Josh Hawley, not Sen. Tom Cotton, not Tucker Carlson, not Gov. Ron DeSantis. It is still all about Trump.

 . . . Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.

 . . . To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche.

 . . . This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party—out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear—falling into line behind him.

More on this issue:  “What If 2020 Was Just a Rehearsal?”

Tolerance Is Out, Drinking Is In

I recently took the position with a friend that what we call tolerance has pretty much gone out the window. The political scene is simply rank with intolerance (i.e., partisanship), and most Democrats still act as if the milk of human kindness will win out. How far has tolerance gotten them with Joe Manchin? Or Mitch McConnell for that matter. In Mexico we tolerate López Obrador, who campaigned as a liberal, while some make excuses for his authoritarian behavior.

Practicing tolerance requires coming to terms with a lot of conflict: setting aside your strong moralistic opinions (or beliefs) to respect and permit other viewpoints. Morally, we are motivated by the values we’ve learned and grown up with. That’s one reason why racial bias and hatred is so hard to overcome. Turning the other cheek has continually gotten the tolerators kicked in the ass. You don’t fight wildfires with fire extinguishers.

So it seems that people are drinking a lot more since Covid. My theory is that it’s not just about the dysfunction and disorder that the disease occasioned. For years now the U.S. has been forcibly pulled apart politically—and to a large degree socially. I had dinner the other night with three of my best high-tolerant friends. We had two martinis each before the food came. Conversation was lubricated; we even got through a few disagreements. No wonder booze consumption is increasing dramatically: “In 2020, beverage alcohol consumption in the US saw the largest volume gain in nearly 20 years.”

America was supposedly built on tolerance. We should buy Joe Manchin a drink and ask him what happened to that notion.

Obama as Cool?

This was the title of a piece I published in jazzinsideandout.com in December 2013. There was some confusion about what “cool” means, both in Ishmael Reed’s article and my own comments on it. One problem is that as a personality descriptor cool means unruffled, detached; while in jazz it refers to a style of playing.

In looser, more recent terms, cool means something like fashionable, hip. That’s how Maureen Dowd used it in a recent putdown of Obama’s 60th birthday bash. She observes how this Marie Antoinette-style event included numerous celebrities but disinvited those who were responsible for his success.

Obama was a cool cat as a candidate in 2008, but after he won, he grew increasingly lofty. Now he’s so far above the ground, he doesn’t know what’s cool. You can’t be cool if you diss the people who took risks for you when you were a junior senator. . . .  Many of those who helped Obama achieve the moonshot, becoming the first African American president and then becoming uber-rich, were disinvited.

Well, here’s my 2013 attempt to disentangle at least some of the musical confusion.

If you are foolish enough, as I am, to look at The New York Times every morning, today you probably saw Ishmael Reed’s op-ed, “The President of the Cool.” With Mr. Obama getting whacked in the polls and Democrats disaffecting in droves, it’s not surprising that the president’s defenders are coming on strong.

I’ve been a strong critic of Obama but I enjoyed the piece. There are two problems, one of definition and one of rhetoric. Reed says:

Democrats have more of an affinity for jazz than Republicans. Even Jimmy Carter, not everybody’s idea of a hipster, invited Dizzy Gillespie to the White House. But among the Democrats, President Obama is the one who comes closest to the style of bebop called “the Cool.”

The Cool School, as embodied in players he cites like Miles Davis and Hampton Hawes (Hawes overrated by Reed, I think) was not really a style of bebop but a reaction to it. The fiery music of Dizzy, Bird and Bud drove many people out the door. Taking after Miles, West-Coasters like Hawes and Shorty Rogers concocted a blander kind of modern jazz that stressed very different chordal and harmonic structures, slower tempos, simpler rhythms—a quieter, much more detached music. It got more popular than bebop for a while.

As a defense of Mr. Obama, Reed’s piece identifies him with the intensity and spirit of jazz. I just don’t get that. I find the president all too aloof and detached in his actions, though his words can often be inspiring. He’s just too cool—but not in the complimentary hip sense that Reed means it. One may define his style as cool, but many find his leadership lacking and without substance. He is anything but a bebop player.

As to the jazz greats, one of the commenters on the piece (Joel Parkes) put it this way: ” To compare Obama in any way to Lester Young is, in my opinion, incorrect. He’s much more like Chris Botti. Jazz in Name Only.”

Coming to Grips

After 98 people died in the Champlain Towers collapse, you’d think that many condo boards in Florida would be on edge—about their long-deferred repairs, faulty inspections, costs, accountability for insurance, and their failures to act. A board finally gets estimates from qualified people, and its members scream bloody murder about the costs. So essential maintenance is put off and nothing gets done.

For far too long, condominium owners have, in essence, eaten at the table and then left the restaurant, moving on and leaving subsequent owners to pay the bill for maintenance that should have been carried out long ago. That’s why crucial decisions about structural, fire and electrical problems must always be made by professionals, not members of condo boards. . . . [Their] general attitude has often been, “Why pay today for what you can put off until tomorrow?”

At Champlain Towers, its condo association “took two and a half years, after much internal strife, to pass a special $15 million assessment. For years, the association had not set aside enough money to deal with the problems, forcing the large special assessment to pay for them.” Those members who wanted to face the issues instead faced resignations of frustrated or intransigent board members.

One could compare this to the same impulse that keeps people from getting vaccinated. It’s another kind of denial and, like the condo boards, the unvaccinated claim ultimately bogus reasons for not acting. Some 93 million people “are eligible for shots but have chosen not to get them.” A thorough NY Times article breaks down the refusers into two groups: those who adamantly trash the vaccines (will never get it) and those who are persuadable.

That is, they either deny the reality and threat of the disease, or they offer a multitude of excuses for their hesitation. Among the latter: presumed side effects, waiting to see if it’s safe, not trusting the vaccines, not trusting the government, assuming they can repel the disease, and so on.

I think many can’t face the idea of possible death. It’s hubris, finally, this thinking that the virus will somehow pass them by, that the condo maintenance can be postponed, that you can beat the devil.

Nor can some Americans come to grips with the notion that Trump over and again demonstrates: that he is a mentally incompetent swindler, a threat to democracy. As to climate change, they are acting like the condo boards—grudgingly acknowledging the reality but failing to act. Racism is recognized if not tolerated. Denial is the agenda of the Republican party.

Ibram X. Kendi in The Atlantic writes that “Denial Is the Heartbeat of America.” He cites a number of political leaders who all claimed that January 6th “is just not who we are,” that it was un-American. But their kind of blind denial has always been central to American history and American politics, as Kendi shows. Our time is no different.

Expats Exposed


“The Best Places to Live in Mexico as a U.S. Expat”: Good, keep them out of Oaxaca.

Who are these itinerant people, and what are their stories? For twelve years now I’ve been living with a bunch of expats from the U.S. and Canada who have come to Mexico for many different reasons. I’ll be talking to some of them in future posts. The point will be to reveal something about what moves people to leave a familiar culture for one largely unknown. For now, I’ll try to explain what this move has meant to me politically and culturally.

So let me give you a few excerpts from things I’ve written about moving on in my life. From the conclusion to Moot Testimonies, a fictionalized memoir published about a year ago:

I expatriated myself ten years ago in part because I was broke, in part to get away from American politics and culture, in part to start a new life. One takes a modest pride in being an expat because it is a conscious opting out. (An exile usually signifies someone who is excommunicated, banished, cast out.) As an expat, I’m in no way a Mexican immigrant: I don’t want Mexican citizenship and I like the indeterminate nature of living here. Expats will never be part of the Mexican polity or culture, and most of us accept that. Being an expat is a way to try getting beyond your former experience.

Earlier, in another attempt at a memoir, Jive-Colored Glasses, I tried to explain the political and cultural motives behind my move:

After a number of visits there, Mexico seemed my best option. For one thing, I found cultural and political life in the U.S. increasingly impossible. By 2009 when I moved out, real commonality had all but ceased for most people, and class warfare was a term being bandied about. The liberal elites were living lives as circumscribed as those of the working class (though they didn’t realize it), and both groups were still captivated by the myth of human progress. For culture, the elites watched PBS; the working class (many of whom were not working) watched American Idol. I felt little connection to either group.

 . . . My last three years in the U.S. after [working for] the Navy and before Mexico were spent in the state of Maine, living with my sister on an idyllic farm with Angus cattle, beautiful short summers and long ice-bound winters. . . . The solitude of Gardiner, Maine, was hermetic and hard to break out of. Instead of inspiring my creativity, the natural beauty of the place brought me an emptiness of spirit. Maine was forever economically depressed. And I was far too preoccupied with finding work and keeping the woodstove going, never getting the relief that a good walk in the woods should bring. It was what a lot of folks in Maine experienced: the bucolic blues.

But living in Maine does something to you. I had that in common with my friend Conrad who passed on about six years ago. We both had careers in academia and had developed similar misanthropic views about politics even though we counted ourselves as part of the liberal majority that so predominated in Oaxaca.

After his death I put some words in his mouth, again from that fictionalized Moot Testimonies attempt. Conrad had become one of the more important and loved people in my life. He understood the finer points of what it meant to be an expat.

I’ve seen and done all Oaxaca has to offer. So part of me is just tired of being the house liberal, and I think Goods has felt the same way. Every progressive cause has its downside. Living in a liberal bubble like Oaxaca can get tiresome.

After all, we are the privileged caste, aren’t we?—the white folks who call ourselves expats, so unlike those Nicaraguan and Mexican “migrant workers.” I recently read a piece in The Guardian about this. Arabs, Latinos and Asians are immigrants; we and the Europeans are favored and called expats. Well, I can’t get too exercised about this linguistic snobbery, though many of my Oaxaca friends are always preaching from that liberal state of mind where every last kind of injustice must be called out as unfair, insupportable or immoral. I come from good French-Canadian stock, working class folks who had no money or time for such bullshit. Mainers by and large don’t put up with such bullshit. They can’t afford the indulgence. Goodman gave up on the American Way, maybe for similar reasons.

In our ways we both were trying to express the dissatisfaction that comes from looking at life as identity politics. It becomes more discernible when you’re living abroad. I don’t know what to call myself these days, but I guess liberal will suffice.

The Toxic Arrogance of Rumsfeld

“Toxic” and “arrogant” are two words that writers have continually cited in reviewing Donald Rumsfeld’s career in government. How fitting and revealing they are. The man was also wily and supremely confident in his views, as if confessing there were “unknown unknowns” could explain how deeply wrong he was.

Rumsfeld, who passed on Tuesday, was two years older than I, grew up in the same North Shore Chicago milieu, went to New Trier High School and was a wrestler, then on to Princeton and, later, flew for the Navy. In the ‘50s he got to Washington, worked for four presidents, and “did everything well.” Another ‘50s golden boy, another Robert  McNamara.

When I was working for the Navy in 2003-2006, Rumsfeld was W’s Secretary of Defense and the war in Iraq was raging. Our PR shop naturally tuned into the many press conferences, which the Secretary often treated as his own personal extravaganzas. The ever-worsening war effort was blithely written off with phrases like “stuff happens.”

My boss liked to give a half-day seminar on media training so the Navy folks would know how to deal with the press. He had rather different ideas about this than I had, yet my opinion was not solicited although media training had been my business for some years. Finally, at the end of a long-winded seminar, he showed a video of CNN’s Greta Van Susteren interviewing Secretary Rumsfeld and tossing him puffball questions. Rumsfeld’s tortuous replies were offered as examples of finely crafted answers.

The insane war with Iraq and its consequences have been with us to this day. What happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib has never been forgotten. What developed in Syria and made Iraq a shell country has made Iran powerful and created persistent enemies of the U.S. Biden’s recent withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan has been a tacit confession of defeat, and the country will now belong to the Taliban.

Rumsfeld, with the connivance of Cheney and Bush, set all this in motion. The process was well documented in 2013-2014 by Mark Danner’s pieces in the New York Review of Books; now available here, here, and here. You, or some of you, will remember such odious names as Paul Bremer and Douglas Feith, Ahmed Chalabi, Paul Wolfowitz. These were Rumsfeld’s boys.

Finally, the hostility to Islam took on a new and powerful form, which Trump and his cohorts pursue to this day. Danner writes:

Rumsfeld is first and foremost a patriotic midwesterner, a politician who nourishes in his soul a primordial and undying belief in the manifest need for, and rightness of, American power. To him this truth is self-evident, imbibed at an Illinois breakfast table. Who do we want to lead in the world? Somebody else? The idea is plainly inconceivable. And it is because of that plain necessity for American leadership that after September 11 American power and credibility must at all costs be restored.

Sound familiar? As Rumsfeld later told the press, “I don’t do quagmires.” Well,

It did not turn out that way. Having watched from the Oval Office in 1975 the last torturous hours of the United States extracting itself from Vietnam—the helicopters fleeing the roof of the US embassy in Saigon—Rumsfeld would be condemned to thrash about in his self-made quagmire for almost four years, sinking ever deeper in the muck as nearly five thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. He was smart, brash, ambitious, experienced, skeptical of received wisdom, jealous of civilian control, self-searching, analytical, domineering, and he aimed at nothing less than to transform the American military. The parallels with McNamara are stunning.

And, just as surely, he defined the world that Trump inherited.

N.B. How Rumsfeld charmed the press, and how his doctrine of warfighting has continued to cost us.

Biden Assessed

If you look at how the Republicans are responding, the Biden presidency has been a major success. If you look at its prospects for passing more expansive legislation, you find little hope. All our broken mechanisms of government are responsible for that.

Joe Biden, the liberal standard bearer, could end up like Don Quixote or Walter Mitty, a failed visionary. We hope that doesn’t happen because the stakes are way too high.

How has Mr. Folksy become our Last Best Hope? Even as he confronts an impossible political situation, Joe Biden’s mastery of politics so far has been decisive. A big test came in his meeting with Vladimir Putin last week. As Susan B. Glasser wrote, “The triumph of Geneva is that it was not Helsinki.” Biden carried it off, mostly with aplomb.

The contradictions in how Republicans viewed this event are telling. They called it “appeasement” and worse. Which, after Trump’s blatant gaslighting at Helsinki, is just laughable. They call Biden “a dangerous radical” while most Americans consider him a moderate and an establishment figure.

Biden’s moderate image will give him the space to advocate more liberal ideas and still prevail, while Republicans struggle to convince voters that his proposals are extreme and dangerous. As one Republican lawmaker conceded, “it’s hard to hit someone who reminds you of your grandpa.”

But they keep trying by advocating harsh voting restrictions and gerrymandering, which Biden has few tools to deal with. He has been dealt a razor-thin majority in both houses and must work with deadheads like Joe Manchin. He has not pushed hard enough on climate change and taxing the wealthy, issues on which he has public backing.

For example: the administration has proposed a significant clean electricity standard, which is key to countering climate change. But getting that through Congress will be a major hurdle, “a moon shot kind of thing.” One advisor said that “Biden’s team will fall short of their goals unless they can put a policy in place that gives renewable energy the advantage over natural gas, which, because of fracking, is likely to be abundant and cheap for the foreseeable future.”

Issues like this will require a major effort by the administration to make its case in strong but uncomplicated ways to the public. So far it hasn’t done this. The impacts of climate change are still an abstraction for most people; they acknowledge its importance but not its urgency. Biden would rather address something like Juneteenth (thoughtfully appraised here) by making it a federal holiday. That has immediate payoff.

The prospect of getting major legislation passed depends on Biden’s willingness to play political hardball, something that has become more obvious with each passing day. He seems temperamentally disposed not to play that kind of game. But he surely knows that the game can’t be won any other way.

Winning it will require all of Biden’s considerable skill as a politician, plus continued Republican stumbles, plus a lot of public pressure. If you think it’s just politics as usual, I urge you to read this analysis: “Are Democrats Sleepwalking toward Democratic Collapse?”

As Mort Sahl once said, “The future lies ahead.”

Interminable Hate

The situation in Gaza shocks everybody and offers no ready solution. It’s another instance of how ineffectual present-day world politics has become. And most people don’t have time or inclination to understand the depths of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s like the Hundred Years War, and who knows what that was about?

Going back to the 1920s, Jews and Arabs were at odds even before the founding of Israel so it’s nigh on a hundred years. In the 1950s I was growing up in a Jewish environment generally opposed to Zionism as a solution to the refugee problem. I still feel that traditional Zionism and the long-favored “two-state solution” is no answer. The two sides have to learn to live together, and there’s no sign of that happening.

The apartheid and the bombs being launched by the far-right Israel government have made Gaza into a ghetto, says one correspondent, with a constant sense of peril and uncertainty.

“Even when things are quiet or seem quiet, they aren’t quiet. There is a shortage of electricity, of clean water. Gaza is coastal, but people can’t swim safely in the sea because there is so much sewage,” he said. “Nothing is stable. No one can make a business. All of a sudden, there is a war or an escalation or the crossings are closed and there is collapse of supplies. Plus, there are the restrictions from Hamas. It restricts personal freedom for women and girls.”

Well, maybe this moment will be different, as one Arab scholar hopes. Maybe the Palestinians have learned how to organize and displace Hamas influence. Maybe the UN and world political powers will move Biden to exert some serious force on Israel. Can Democratic pressure in Congress do anything? The U.S. has little credibility after its years of promoting and financing Israel’s assault on its neighbors and its own Arab people. “At the very least, Mr. Biden needs to make clear that support for Israel and support for Mr. Netanyahu are not the same thing.”

A good summary of the events leading to the current conflict and some hopeful if dubious resolutions is here. American diplomacy has forever failed to mitigate, much less resolve, the crisis. Two Middle East pros offer some suggestions for how Biden can take a more robust approach to diplomacy to counter years of America’s toadying to Israel’s aggressive moves. Indeed,

the administration’s seemingly unqualified support for Israel’s right of self-defense sounds strange when 20 times more Palestinians have been killed and tremendous damage has been done to Gaza’s already inadequate infrastructure. One might hope that as Israel’s closest ally, the U.S. would understand urgently that no matter how many airstrikes and artillery shells fall on Gaza, Israel will not deal Hamas a strategic blow, let alone a defeat. More likely, Israel will declare “victory” but again settle for a period of quiet until the next round.

One can hope that sentiment is too pessimistic. But if the only alternative is interminable hate, that must be unacceptable. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs concluded its report this way:

Many around the globe, and especially in the U.S. and Europe, have been surprised by the images of Jewish mob violence, but the sentiments they embody did not spring up overnight. They have long been cultivated and endorsed at the highest levels of the state. Tamping down ethnic incitement is a matter of self-preservation for the Jewish majority, because the alternative, a steady escalation of civil strife, is already on the horizon.

Riding Out the New Normal

Music helps, and so does a good dinner with friends, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the human adventure these days. One’s faith in politics turns out to be a chimera. Religion offers nothing but the phantasm of hope. Reason is displaced by zeal, Aristotle by Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one tough customer but his views on the nature of man and society are coming back. He argued that “if society broke down and you had to live in what he called ‘a state of nature’, without laws or anyone with the power to back them up, you, like everyone else, would steal and murder when necessary.” Life without strong leadership would become in his words “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Well, our strong leaders have become brutish in their quest for power, totally failing their followers—Trump (the prime example), Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro—all truth deniers and narcissists, all failed leaders. One who clamors to join the group is Netanyahu, now pushing for open war with the Palestinians.

In the U.S. and elsewhere the political urge has taken on a Wagnerian quest for mythical power and the fantasies that enable it. Yet there is no Valhalla in sight. I keep hearing echoes of Germany in the early 1930s. For rank chauvinism, Trump’s apostles in the GOP lead the parade.

Stooges like McCarthy and howlers like M.T. Greene (whom AOC guardedly called “deeply unwell”) have created a new theater of the absurd. The only reason now to watch the nightly news is to see what kind of new delusion they have come up with. At the same time old neoliberal gods are being dethroned as, for instance, revelations appear about Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein. Melinda, at least, knew she had had it.

Finally, the human adventure itself could ultimately come off the rails through climate change inaction and denial. Everyone knows this and yet the paralysis continues. In the struggle to acknowledge the primacy of the ecosphere, our great leaders have inevitably come down on the side of the techno-industrial society, if you can call it that, though for years it’s been known that continued material growth will lead to disaster.

Hobbes could not have foreseen this exactly, but he knew that the

right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods such as the most desirable lands, spouses, etc. People will quite naturally fear that others may (citing the right of nature) invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Moreover, that minority of prideful or “vain-glorious” persons who take pleasure in exercising power over others will naturally elicit preemptive defensive responses from others. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one actually needs, and what respect one properly merits.

Eleven years ago William E. Rees (University of British Columbia) wrote these still pregnant words: “The modern world remains mired in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial seemingly dedicated to maintaining the status quo. We appear, in philosopher Martin Heidegger’s words, to be ‘in flight from thinking.’”

The philosophers, for all their ranting, won’t get us to return to reality. I don’t know what will.