"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Life’s A Stage, Hollywood Is Our Real Capital, And Washington Only A B-Movie Backlot Set–The Ascendancy Of Donald Trump

No self-respecting East Coast liberal would ever subscribe to People Magazine; but only look circumspectly before picking up a copy in the dentist’s office; and never get truly into the wicked pleasures of Hollywood bodies, paramours, and Caribbean vacations except in waiting rooms, hair dressers, or airport lounges.

Only there could such a liberal enjoy the tales of marriages, breakups, pregnancies, children, and ex’s, a temporary fugitive from hyper-concerned Washington; and with no guilt follow the escapades of the Kardashians, J-Z, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Scarlett Johansson.  He could, without a thought of climate change, economic inequality, or racial divisions, wish he had Matthew McConaughey’s abs, Jack Nicholson’s cool, or Paul Newman’s absolute, indefinable, but irresistible masculine charm. There he could imagine making love to sweet Scarlett in the rain in Match Point, winning Amy Adams as Justin Timberlake did in Trouble with the Curve, taking on Charlize Theron in Mad Max or Sigourney Weaver in Alien. 

 Image result for sigourney weaver alien

All the women of cinema are the fantasy lovers of such ordinary, hopeful, traditional men.  They woo Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Catherine Deneuve; fight with Sylvester Stallone, travel down the Congo River with Humphrey Bogart, triumph as The Terminator, and win and lose tragically like Paul Newman in The Hustler.

Hollywood, Bollywood, Istanbul, Teheran, Cairo, Mexico City, Madras – these are all more important centers of cultural life than Washington, Paris, or Bonn could ever be.  Political capitals can only manage B-move re-runs of intrigue, war, and international conflict.  For the real thing, only the movies satisfy.

Ben Hur, Gunga Din, The Longest Day, On the Beach, From Here to Eternity tell the real story of heroism, courage, adventure, and glory. Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, and Burt Lancaster are remembered more than the real battles.

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The point is that not only do we admire and long after the heroes and starlets of Hollywood, we want to be them.  Our adolescence has never ended.  We have never made or even wanted to make the distinction between reality and fantasy.  We would rather be Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman, or Jason Bourne than Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, or even Winston Churchill.  These men may have had gravitas and influence on the course of history, but they are far from our fantastic ideals. 

Donald Trump comes close.  He is President of the United States, but he is also a creation of Hollywood and Las Vegas.  He, his yachts, and his estates have nothing to do inside-the-Beltway culture.  His women have nothing to do with Rosalyn Carter, Pat Nixon, or even Nancy Reagan.  He, his family, and his retinue are closer to the American fantasy ideal than any other occupants of the White House. 

He may be no courageous leader like FDR, may have no Camelot, knights-and-ladies romance of the JFK years, nor any of the down-home charisma of LBJ; but he has glitz, showmanship, braggadocio, and sheer chutzpah of a Hollywood star, and that's good enough for most of us.

Few care if he has political or public managerial experience or whether he has issued policy papers or developed a coherent, rational foreign policy  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon, and John Wayne never had a counsel of ministers or parsed foreign communiqu├ęs.  They knew the difference between right and wrong and acted!

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Few care if he is sensitive about women’s issues when he has a gorgeous model wife, has the loyalty of a beautiful daughter, and squired beauty queens.

He has ridden around and given wide berth to issues of climate, social equality; racial, gender, and ethnic justice for decades; and his judgment is based on long-established principle.  He understands that societies will always be divided and subdivided and are never equal.  He sides with the majority and acknowledges the pre-eminence Western civilization.  Where would we be if  it wasn't for ancient Greece and Rome, Persepolis, Great Britain and the efflorescence of Western culture?

For him Ben Hur, The Robe, The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia, and War and Peace are the true realities – Hollywood epics which depict the essence of courage, honor, and heroism regardless of romantic retouches.

In other words President Trump and ordinary Americans are in perfect harmony.  We have to read People Magazine to follow the exploits of the stars; but he can do it in person.  He knows Don King, Madonna, Clint Eastwood, and Helen Mirren personally.  No need for dentist office wannabe love affairs.  He can have the real thing.

We don’t begrudge him this access because we would do the very same thing if we real estate and Hollywood moguls or President of the United States. 

John Kennedy slept with Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood starlets, and international beauties.  We would do the same thing. 

LBJ used the Secret Service as procurers and watchdogs, and thanks to the complicity of the press, did his tomcatting with no public scrutiny. 

Bill Clinton had trailer trash mistresses and Oval Office affairs and every one of us would relax and enjoy the pleasures of White House interns if we were President.

War with Russia or North Korea will never be Star Wars or War of the Worlds, but it is sure that anyone with only a brush with Hollywood can only imagine future warfare as comic book drama. 

We would win, of course.  Victory would be achieved in glory.  We would be generous to the defeated but be lords over evil domination

The liberal Left is appalled by Trump, his Hollywood paraphernalia, his Las Vegas showmanship, and New York comeuppance.  They have no idea what to do with a man so antithetical to reason, good sense, practicality, temperance, and concern.  To them he is a buffoon, grotesque caricature, and vaudevillian clown.

Yet such a perspective ignores the facts.  Americans no longer care about white papers, policy pronouncements, and talking head observations.  We have given up on all that long ago.  We have embraced Hollywood, fantasy, and virtual reality long ago.

Donald Trump is, in the words of Freaks, “ One of us…one of us…one of us…”

Politics–Divisive And Contentious, But The Best Expression Of Human Nature There Is

The Presidential campaign of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson was perhaps the dirtiest and most raucous of any; but few challenge the notion that the 2016 campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most outrageous, vaudevillian, hilarious, and revolutionary.

Clinton ran a predictably safe and uncontroversial campaign – no one thought she could lose, so her well-honed political instincts told her to stay the course, keep well within the channel, and head for port when the breeze picked up.

Donald Trump on the other hand, having no political experience whatsoever, a big mouth, an oversized ego fed by years of success on the mean streets of New York real estate and Hollywood fame, and a clear, populist vision, led the most unconventional campaign ever.  It was more circus act and big tent revivalism than electoral process.  

Trump never positioned himself as a politician, statesman, or legislator – men of compromise, practicality, and narrow purpose.  He was a social messiah come to save the country from the liberal blight which had infected Washington for decades.

His first months in office (as of April 2017) have been little different.  Although he has settled into a more traditional presidency, he is still a caricature – a big, arrogant, billionaire Las Vegas showman with little restraint and no respect for the establishment and the powers that were. 
Despite calls for temperance, he pays no attention.  He plays golf every weekend at his resort in Florida, tweets in the middle of the night, jumps on the phone with world leaders with no judicious counsel, reacts to international events sometimes with raw emotion, others with bullying threats. 


The Left has finally gotten over their apocalyptic defeat but have still not figured out what to do with the radical populism blared on the campaign trail and dismissed as antics and political Pentecostalism.  They never even considered the possibility of it ever reaching Washington.  How could it, so rube and backwoods, so fundamentalist, xenophobic, and socially backward that it was?

Yet there he is, President Trump, bigger than life, only slightly more temperate and Presidential, but never once compromising the basic principles on which he ran.  No longer would the elite, insular, Washington establishment rule.   A nation that not even Ronald Reagan could have envisioned – a truly and profoundly conservative nation returning to its Constitutional, religious, and social roots – was here to stay for many years to come.

Why Donald Trump’s victory, while unexpected, was such a surprise is still a mystery.  The country was clearly fed up with the intrusive, presumptuous arrogance of the Left, its sense of righteousness and entitlement, and its insistence on making over the country in its own narrow, image.

What is more surprising is the emotional toll his election has taken on the progressive Left.  They did not simply lose an election but their very raison d’etre was dismissed by half the country.  Despite eight years of liberal policies and long-hoped for reform in education, social and economic policy, and international affairs; and despite the unison of progressive voices in Washington, academia, and the media, the progressive agenda was given a no-go. 

It is one thing to lose an election, another to feel wounded, hurt, despondent, and despairing.  If there is one thing certain about politics, it is cyclical.  No one party ever stays in office for long.  No one political philosophy is ever enshrined.  No socio-economic vision is ever permanent.  Trump has come and he will go.  The country will be changed, but it will revert.  Every administration will build on every previous one either in rejection or incorporation, and the country will roll on. 

History is nothing but cyclical and predictable.  Regime change, revolutions, uprising, periods of peace and Pax Romana, upheavals, stability, wars, and unexpected catastrophe are all part of politics which, in turn, is an expression of human nature.

Politics, in fact, is nothing more than an expression of human nature.  It is an extension of personal relationships, family dynamics, tribal territorialism, neighborhood solidarity, and community activism.   The compulsion to compete, to demand, and to survive is hardwired.  It is fundamental, unalterable, and unstoppable.  The energy which derives from this natural compulsion is what makes the world go ‘round and which, if Dostoevsky is right, is what keeps us alive.

Ivan Karamazov’s Devil (The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare, Brothers Karamazov) says that if the world were all goodness, sweetness and light, churches and happy families, we would all fall asleep or worse end up in a black dog existential depression.  It is only he – the Devil – a tricky vaudevillian with a sense of humor about the roll of history and man’s unique absurdity – who keeps us interested in life.

The greatest dramatists have understood this.  Albee, Ibsen, Strindberg, O’Neill, and Shakespeare have written about family, power, aggressive territorialism and the jealousy and antipathy they encourage.  D.H.Lawrence used sex and sexuality as a metaphor for politics.  Domination and subjugation are constant themes in The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  True harmony between men and women will never be achieved, so powerful is the urge for sexual dominion; and accommodation is the only hope.

Ibsen was no less unflinching in his plays.  Hedda Gabler, Hilde Wangel, and Rebekka West understood men, their weaknesses, and their limited utility.  Strindberg in The Father was no less unremitting in his assumption of the inescapable political battle between the sexes.

Marx was right about inter-factional rivalries.  Although he saw such rivalries rooted in class, his model is just as applicable to describe today’s sectarian struggles, racial divisions, demands for sexual identity, or national sovereignty.  Rivalry is an essential expression of human nature; human beings understand strength in numbers; and social interest groups quickly form and coalesce to defend themselves from others and to expand their own influence and territory.

Children fight over glasses of milk, parental favors, and sibling equality.  Their battles are also the subject of literature.  The entire history of the English monarchy is nothing but family rivalries, accession to power, and dominance.  Arthur Miller in All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Price wrote of the desperate fights between brothers.  O’Neill and Albee saw family politics as the heart of social relationships.

Nothing, then, should be new about Donald Trump’s ascension to power, nor the frustrated demands of his followers, nor his desire to ‘drain the swamp’ and rid Washington of liberal pestilence as retribution for decades of entitlement and abuse.

Nothing should be new about Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or the Ayatollah of Iran; nor anything surprising about the rise of the nationalist Right in Europe or the continued venality of African dictators.  They are all acting as all human beings act.  They may be smarter, more willful, more savvy, and more determined than the rest of us, but they are our brothers nonetheless.

Which is why following politics is only useful as a way to better understanding who we are.  It is easy to criticize those with power, especially those who abuse it; and it is hard to accept that in much smaller ways we all have fought for dominance and favor, schemed and wangled our way in a competitive environment, organized for more power and access, remained parochial and personal when it comes to defense, and aggressive and expansionist when it comes to offense.

Ivan’s Devil was right.  He liked to stir up trouble because he knew that we all can’t do without it.  Lawn chairs, chaises lounges on the beach, sitting by the fire with a good book get old quickly.  It is contention – politics – which keep us alive, define us, and ultimately determine who we are.

Recipes–Cauliflower Salad With Capers, Basil, And Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Cauliflower can be delicious if prepared with the right sauce – a sauce which complements but does not overpower the vegetable.  This recipe does the trick, and the combination of a light mayo-yoghurt mix highlighted with Dijon-style mustard and Vietnamese fish sauce, and garnished with fresh basil and capers is perfect.

Cauliflower Salad With Capers, Basil, Vietnamese Fish Sauce
* 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed
* 3 lg. Tbsp. (approx.) Hellman’s original mayo
* 1 lg. Tbsp. yoghurt
* 2 lg.  tsp. Dijon mustard
* 2 lg. tsp. fish sauce (approx.)
* 1 lg. Tbsp. small capers
* 5 lg. leaves fresh basil, chopped into thirds
* 1 lg. spring parsley, chopped
* 2 tsp. sugar (approx.)
- Steam the cauliflower until tender (fork easily goes through)

- Cut into large pieces, array on serving platter

- Mix the mayo, mustard, fish sauce, capers in mixing bowl

- Taste, and add sugar if needed; adjust other ingredients

- Pour mixture evenly over cauliflower

- Sprinkle chopped basil, parsley over the cauliflower

- Add ground pepper

- Serve