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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Here Comes The Trumpster–How Bombast And Showmanship Will Always Win Over America

There is nothing genteel about politics, nor has there ever been.  Presidential campaigns have been marvelous, wonderful circus acts and side shows.  The righteous, God-sent William Jennings Bryan who ranted and raved about the evils of capitalism, the greediness and devilish cabal of the industrialists who were building America.   Tiny Michael Dukakis, barely able to see over the hatch of a Sheridan tank, dressed in gunner’s helmet, goggles, and battle uniform.  John Kerry confabulating and pimping his Swift Boat Vietnam War record.  Gary Hart lying about his affairs, confronted the press with marvelously concocted lies about back-door exits and ‘friendship’.   Governor Mark Sanford of North Carolina absconding from office to be with his Argentine lover in Buenos Aires, but who told the press and the public he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  George Bush Senior  who told the American public, “Read my lips.  No new taxes”, when of course he, like all politicians, intended to do just the opposite.  Richard Nixon who sat in front of the camera and pounded barefaced lie after lie.  Bill Clinton who displayed his intelligence, legal training and sheer chutzpah when he denied ‘having sex with that woman’ and parsed the English language like no other (“That depends on what ‘is’ is”).

The campaigns of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were notorious.

Adams’ supporters hurled accusations at Jackson’s wife, Rachel, and questioned their marriage. Critics claimed the couple’s marriage some 40 years earlier had occurred while Rachel was still married to her first husband. Opponents labeled Jackson an “adulterer,” and called his wife a “bigamist.” It marked the first time a first lady’s moral character had been scrutinized so publicly. The Jacksons said Rachel’s divorce had already been finalized before they married...
Jackson countered by claiming that Adams, while working as the Russian ambassador, had procured an American girl for the Russian czar — a baseless allegation, but calling the sitting president a “pimp” was certainly a bold move

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Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine went at it in the same vein:
Democrat Grover Cleveland seemed to have the advantage in the months before this presidential election, but in July 1884, allegations arose that Cleveland, a bachelor, had years earlier fathered a child out of wedlock. Republican James G. Blaine’s supporters gleefully took advantage of the scandal, chanting, “Ma, ma, where’s my Pa?” at campaign rallies.

Cleveland admitted he had paid child support to a widow, Maria Halpin, even though he alleged she had been involved with several other men at the time. However, Halpin told newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, that Cleveland had sexually assaulted her, and that after she gave birth to a son, Cleveland had it forcibly removed from her custody and placed in an orphanage. Halpin was then committed to an insane asylum, although she was later released

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The campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson set new lows.

[The Presidential] race was full of mudslinging accusations and character assassination. Adam’s supporters accused Jefferson of sympathizing with the Southern slaves whom he wished to emancipate — going so far as to say he maintained a “Congo Harem” at Monticello. In one over-the-top condemnation, Yale President Timothy Dwight said that if Jefferson were elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced. The air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The accusations continued right up until the election. One Jefferson supporter likened Adams to a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters countered with a leaflet calling Jefferson, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Jefferson’s camp claimed the president reportedly planned to smuggle London prostitutes across the Atlantic to satiate his sinful tastes.

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It is surprising, then, that so many on the Left are so apoplectic about Donald Trump, a man who embodies American political tradition better than any President, campaigner, or political aspirant.  He is bombast, exaggeration, Borscht Belt comedian, Las Vegas headliner, Hollywood star, Barnum & Bailey lion tamer, master of ceremonies and all side shows, vaudevillian, and consummate performer.  Most American politicians have tried to hide their dalliances and misrepresentations; but Donald Trump of the Big Top, glitz and glamour star of Caesar’s Palace, television personality, and fearless down-and-dirty NY real estate mogul wants none of their duplicity.  He says what he wants, when he wants, to whomever he wants without parsing, evasions and stock answers. Go ahead, factcheck me, he says, caring little what they find out; because he knows that ‘truth’ is only a fictitious commodity, desperately sought by his academic, carrel-bound critics, dismissed entirely by his supporters who glean the kernels of real message from the Sturm und Drang and circus high-wire theatrics.

These supporters know exactly what he is up to and what he means.  If one sorts through the hyperbole, it is not hard to see an unvarnished conservative social, economic, financial, and international agenda.  His attacks on the excesses of BLM, the riotous display of incivility and hostility to American institutions, and the criminal attacks on police are no more intemperate than the acts themselves.  A border wall may or may not get constructed – the point is not the wall itself but the symbolism of the wall, a strong defiance of illegal immigration.  It’s not what he says, but what he means.

Yet the hammering from the Left only increases as the election nears.  They have only a Hate Trump, Never Trump message and homilies about inclusivity, diversity, equality, and world peace.  Contrary to Trump whose supporters look behind the words, Biden supporters listen only to his words.  Preaching the gospel of inclusivity will make it happen.  Singing the hymn of Black Lives Matter will obscure the real reasons why their lives are so miserable.  Calls to redistribute the wealth ignore the real calls for dismantling a successful system of enterprise, individualism, and risk. 

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Trump on the stump is at his very best.  It is his calling, his talent, and his brightest star.  No one can work a crowd, enthuse an audience, and appeal to patriotism, courage, honor, and God-given right like Donald Trump.  His staging is masterful, and every speech is a sound and light show.  Americans don’t want tedious policy papers, moralism, and self-serving righteousness.  Trump embodies America like no other politician.  Americans want arm candy, yachts, trophy wives, mansions, and limousines.  They want the fantasy of Hollywood and Las Vegas. They want sequined, glittery finery; not down-home sweaters, sincerity, and seriousness.

The Left has never understood how such a buffoon, a circus carny, carnival huckster, and moral reprobate could possibly have become president, and have therefore focused more of their energy on removing him from office rather than working with him as members of the loyal opposition.


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No one was prepared for the Trump Show, nor could have imagined such peep-show intrigue and unalloyed entertainment.  His adversaries knew he would take no prisoners and run roughshod over those without the gumption to stand up to him; but had no idea of the sheer chutzpah of the man and his super-confidence.  They knew he was a street-fighter, but had no idea of his determination and will.  They knew that he was a man of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the streets of New York, but never imagined how little patience he had for insult, disrespect, and disloyalty.

Democrats claim that he is not ‘acting presidential’ – as temperate, conciliatory, well-spoken, and respectful as Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, or Ronald Reagan – and should be taken to task for his braggadocio, media hype, and outrageous disregard for the truth. Only a president who governs reasonably, without arrogance or personal showmanship, and with the country’s interests in mind, can be a good president.  Anyone else simply cannot be considered.

“Who says?”, say his supporters. Trump is what they bargained for and then some.  Not only are they getting a president who is faithful to his promises – rollback of the progressive social agenda and government interventionism, overbearing regulations and taxes, and pusillanimous dealings with mighty adversaries – but they are loving the choler of the progressive Left who are befuddled, frustrated, and disassembled.

No matter what they do, no matter how many attacks on Trump’s veracity, principles, or interests; no matter how many presidential advisers come and go;  no matter how many Special Prosecutors, investigators are appointed; and no matter how many alleged misdeeds the press can uncover, the juggernaut rolls on.

The Left ridicules the American bourgeoisie for its ignorance and lowbrow tastes; but Middle Americans are having none of it.  They are as intent on another four Trump years as the liberal Left is on denying him.  The Left is trying to reformulate the country into something it never was and never can be.  America has always been heterogeneous and welcoming of all comers; but at a price.  It has never been a chaotic ‘multicultural’ place where race, gender, and ethnicity trump adherence to America’s foundational values.  It is a religiously tolerant place, but not one which applauds secularism.  It is an enterprising, individualistic place, and definitely not one of European socialism.

There has never been a President like Donald Trump and their never will be.  Not only does he espouse the conservative principles of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, William F Buckley, and Milton Friedman; he promotes them in a quintessentially American way.  As much as he may respect his predecessors, he understands America more than they ever did.  They might be right in their political philosophy, but they had no idea how to promote it. 

Whether Trump wins or loses, it has been a remarkable four years, a magnificent combination of vaudeville, grand guignol, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and a three-ring circus.  We have had enough gold lame, spiked heels, and middle-brow glamour and showmanship to last a lifetime.  Let the fun continue!

Friday, September 18, 2020

A Liaison In The Comoros – The Finest Affairs In The Most Unlikely Of Places

The Comoros Islands – a small archipelago off the coast of Tanzania – is classified by the UN as Africa but, like its neighbor Madagascar, more Indonesian and Malaysian.  Its principal islands –Grande Comore, Moheli, and Anjouan - are far enough apart to be reached only by small plane, and the third island, Mayotte, part of the Seychelles, is French colony, now a department of France.  The port of Moroni on Grande Comore is very Arab, built and settled by Arab slavers in the 19th century. The government is African but with membership in the Arab League and conservative Sunni Muslim. The main exports are vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang, an important ingredient in perfume; and the sweet fragrance of these plants is everywhere.

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Since independence from France in 1975, the country has undergone many bloody and bloodless coups.  It has one of the highest poverty rates in the African region and its isolation, distance from the African mainland, and because of its unusual African-Asian-Arab mix, it was no one’s adopted step-child. 

A few years after independence and before the time of prolonged instability, the country looked to Europe, the Arab world, and the United Nations for development assistance.  It realized the value of its natural resources but knew that it had too long lagged behind other countries in the region in adopting modern techniques of exploitation.  It had little idea how to organize itself as a modern state, and although it considered Arab theocracy, East African socialism, and Western democratic capitalism, it couldn’t decide on any of them.  Its mullahs, former African tribal chiefs, and French ex-colonists who had stayed on rarely agreed on the way forward.   At the same time the Comoros during this short period of confused but benign governmental rule and a still-docile and complaisant population was an idyll for those few willing to travel or live there.  It was still a multi-cultural country not yet radicalized by geopolitical or religious militancy.  It was a place where Indonesian reverence for the dead, African totemism, and Arab religious conservatism existed together not yet suspicious of each other and far from hostile.

Transitional places always seem to have this out-of-time, curiously harmonious feel.  Populations of former Soviet bloc countries whose reliance on the State’s cradle-to-grave socialism had disappeared in a matter of months after the USSR collapsed.  Citizens who had known only Communism but who were asked to engage in free market capitalism, fend for themselves and their children, and rely on no one else felt exposed, vulnerable, and lost.  The years following the deposition of Ceausescu were years of tentative self-sufficiency and small-scale enterprise.  They were years of exploration and determination.  What should replace Communism and how?

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The people of Poland shortly after 1989 were also debating their future.  Conservative lawmakers were enamored of the United States free-market liberalism and crafted drafts of a constitution which had a Bill of Rights.  Yet these rights included many of the tenets of Communism, unrealistic, idealistic principles that had long been inculcated.  Who guaranteed the Right To Work, asked American political consultants invited to participate in the deliberations?

Despite the political uncertainty, the economic dislocation of millions, and the social disruption of entire communities, these countries were fascinating.  One could see the old and the new at the same time.  Bucharest was in many ways like cities of Western Europe almost 100 years before.

In Mali in the late 70s and early 80s when the French ex-colonists were still managing small hotels, restaurants, and shops, one could see a bit of la France profonde a very old, traditional, conservative provincial France at the same time as new France-trained African bureaucrats begin the reformation of post-colonial Mali.  Bamako was old and new, still la France profonde, an emerging modern Africa before the ethnic, tribal, religious, and radical forces were to change it forever.

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I spent a month in the Comoros in the late 70s as part of a UN mission to help the government sort out its population policy; and in particular to help them balance traditional religious views on sexuality, reproduction, and family with civil rights.  The mission stayed in a old hotel run by a stateless Italian who had been a cook onboard European Mediterranean and Transatlantic passenger ships before he jumped ship – pursued, he said, by Libyan operatives who accused him of sedition, theft, and murder.  Because he had no papers, no documentation to prove who he was or where he was from, he wandered from port to port, signing on to freighters whose captains were unconcerned about legitimacy and national laws, always travelling, never moored or anchored; until he came to Moroni, convinced the owner of the hotel, a friend of the freighter first mate that he could manage it, cook, and keep it alive. 

The hotel had no electricity, no screens, limited plumbing, and was located in one of Grande Comore’s micro-climates where rain was permanent.  The warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the cool breezes that flowed down the western slopes of the mountains, and the hot air currents from the African land mass somehow met in El-Farouk, the small all-but deserted community to the far east of town.  The rain hammered down on the tin roof of the hotel all day and especially at night.  Water poured off the roof into courtyard swales through the culvert under the road, and on to the sea.  The noise was incessant, coming in crescendos and diminuendos, but always loud and never-ending.  It rained during breakfast on the verandah.  It rained in the open dining room in the evening, and it poured all night, cascading over the open windows of the bedrooms.

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Dinner was by candlelight, every Victorian four-poster had mosquito netting.  The rooms were high-ceilinged, empty except for the ornate sconces, remnants of the Italian builder’s original vision for a European class hotel in the tropics.  They were damp and mildewed with puddles by the open windows and under the door.

Dana Mueller was an Austrian demographer on our mission, a world traveler almost as stateless as the hotel manager except with papers and credentials.  She had helped the Saudi princes prepare the country’s first census, developed disaster algorithms for Bangladeshi authorities who because nothing could be done to stop the frequent typhoons and flooding in the Bay of Bengal, needed to have a population-based predictive tool to estimate probable casualties and relief requirements; and for the World Bank created demographic models for the resettlement of Sahelian economic migrants to urban regional ‘opportunity zones’.  She had a residence in Vienna but was never there.  She was an albatross, an itinerant sailor, a wanderer for whom there was no rhyme or reason to explain her ports of call.  She went where she was needed, never missing turf or territory, never nostalgic, never reminiscent. 

The hotel being what it was – an indeterminate place at an even more indeterminate time with the constant rain, the stateless Italian manager, the old Arab port, and the scent of ylang-ylang and vanilla – it was easy for Dana and me to meet and to sleep together.  Foreign travel is always unlawful.  Far away from home, family, and responsibility, the solitary traveler is transformed from a dutiful provider, respectful son, wife, or daughter into an individual.  There are no preconceived notions, no ambitions, and no hinderances.  Life in this suspended world is like that of the transitional countries I visited - a hiatus, a time of sexual relaxation and emotional freedom.

Not only is one free from the responsibilities left at home, but free from constricting local conventions; but a traveler can pick and choose in a strangely tolerant environment.  Removed from the familiar, one is entirely on one’s own.

Raoul Bennett, an economist at the World Bank and his Canadian lover had been brought together by Haiti. There would have been no lovemaking in their balcony room at the Toulon; no dark night with only the Chinese coil burning to keep away the mosquitoes; no breeze from Kenscoff blowing the wide open windows if it hadn’t been in Haiti.  If it hadn’t been for Haiti itself.

There would have been no sexual intimacy without the voodoo drums, without the scent of jasmine growing in the gardens of the estates above the hotel, or without the rancid smell of the port that drifted up from the city in the early morning when the air pressure and the direction of the breeze changed.  They danced in Carrefour, spent weekends in cabanas on the beaches of Les Cayes and Macaya, and drove up north to Gonaives and Cap Haitien; but never would have had they met across the mountains in the Dominican Republic. Haiti was their go-between, their matrix, their enabler.


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Perhaps more than anything it was because of the unreal time of the Duvaliers – a family which had autocratically ruled Haiti for decades but whose demise was imminent.  It was the uncertainty, the impermanence, and even the imminent danger which was the yeast of the affair.

For anyone who has traveled to these unfamiliar and difficult places, such an affair would not be at all surprising.   It is almost de rigeur to share companionship. misery, and ultimately physical intimacy as an anodyne, an idyll, and above all an easy, uncomplicated, guilt-free remove from responsibilities back home.

There is something about the confines of threat which lubricate sexual interest.  Why not when the tontons macoute could break into the room or when the Salafist insurgents could take you hostage? Or when Ebola or fulminating River Fever could take one off?


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It is not surprising that love in a a hiatus – a tryst between two wandering people in an unsettled place – can never be picked up elsewhere.  It is meant to be transitory, impermanent, and unlikely; and it is because of that, all the more exciting.

So, I never saw or heard from Dana Mueller again or tried to contact her.  It was not exactly a one-off – no emotional involvement can be so easily dismissed – but a once only.  There are many kinds of love in the world, wrote Fitzgerald, but never the same love twice; and it is this knowing uniqueness that makes each affair so much more important.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Woke Disillusion, The Glories Of Classicism, And The Sad Fate Of A White Liberal Who Was Left On The Curb

There are two Americas – one on the way down the bayous of Louisiana where signs for ‘Fresh Crawfish’ outnumber Biden signs by 5:1 and where Trump signs outnumber Biden signs by 10:1; and the other in Northwest Washington, DC where the opposite is true.  Except for the fact that crawfish signs have been replaced by The Progressive Creed, little has changed.  “ Black Lives Matter, Women’s Lives Matter, Gay Lives Matter, All Immigrants Are Welcome, Hate Has No Place, Love Is The Answer” is the rainbow sign on one-out-of-three lawns in Brooker Park.

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Despite the nostrums on the DC signs, they are only symbols of a woke brotherhood, signs that say that those who post them are in solidarity with all progressive causes.    A Biden sign is no more convincing than one for Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s Happy Meals; but a woke sign not only conveys philosophical unity, but hard-line opposition to Donald Trump.  The sign says not only that the owner believes in these principles, but that the occupant of the White House absolutely does not. 

The posters and the many flags, sidewalk messages, and banners expressing support for Black Lives Matter are the way liberal sentiments are expressed today– no longer as bus rides to Selma, lunch counter sit-ins, and marches through Mississippi.  It is an age of words and symbols, not action.  The many marches on the Mall for any of the other causes displayed on the signs are similar, done more for sisterhood, solidarity, and political camaraderie than to effect change.  

The marches on Washington in the days of MLK and the Vietnam War had a specific, actionable purpose – pass a Civil Rights Act and get out of Vietnam.  Today, liberals are content with armchair support and let others do the dirty work.  The protests in Portland, Seattle, New York and other cities against what demonstrators considered racial injustice were destructive riots; and while they were happening, liberals in Congress and high office kept their silence, but their silent support for such incivility and anti-democratic anarchy was deafening. The white professionals of New York’s Upper West Side or Washington’s Georgetown and Spring Valley want everything to do with civil unrest as long as someone else does it; and as long as rioters stay out of their neighborhoods.

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Perhaps more importantly most of these white, privileged liberals have grown up in elite, monied, if not storied families; and have never doubted the rightness of Western culture, Christian values, and Greco-Roman philosophy.  In the privacy of their own parlors, they support Alexander Hamilton who warned against populism and the rise of the uneducated and uninformed mob.  They do not quote Malcolm X but Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Coriolanus,  plays about the incivility and ignorance of the unwashed; yet the rainbow flags fly on every trimmed lawn in DC and from the balcony windows of Riverside Drive.

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The question is how these liberals, schooled in Western history, philosophy, art, and culture could have so quickly and easily given ground to such inchoate anarchy? The groundings of the Enlightenment, Aristotle, Plato, and those who followed now mean nothing? There is nothing to be said for the Athenian state or Augustine’s City of God? It is hard to watch those who have inherited the traditions of the past to give them up so easily – to toss millennia of Christian history into the dust bin; to ignore the abuses of the street-level populism of Robespierre; to refuse to see how Soviet Communism was a penitential hiatus in the course of free, human expression.  Each sentimental sign of progressive idealism is angering to anyone who understands history.

The hypocrisy of liberal solidarity is astounding.  Anyone who lives in an 85 percent white neighborhood, with the other 15 percent hard-working, Confucian Asians and upwardly mobile Latin Americans can afford black solidarity at a distance.White residents of these affluent communities look at their own professional and financial success and especially at the remarkable achievements of Indians, Chinese, and Koreans who in just a few decades have risen from relative poverty to academic and economic success. They look with admiration at former Latino leaf-blowers who have bought a truck and a few mowers and set themselves up in business.  This is America, these privileged white liberals know, attained through hard work, discipline, Confucian and Christian values, and an American system of equal opportunity.  

While they may champion the cause of those black communities across the Anacostia, they silently wonder what is wrong – why after more than fifty years of progressive public largesse, consistent promotion of black identity, worth, and meaning; and a growing national awareness of the importance of civil rights, these communities still lag, far, far behind.  Why is there only one Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or Colin Powell? 

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An academic at a well-known university and longstanding supporter of progressive causes – papers, attendance at women’s conferences, lectures on queer culture and the environment – found to his shock and chagrin that he was descended on his mother’s side from New Bedford slavers who made millions in the Three Corner Trade; and on his father’s side from Virginia grandees who, recently discovered records confirmed, were brutal plantation owners.  When he found all this out he went on a penitential, flagellating tour of black America to seek forgiveness, but he was no historical revisionist.  He knew that history was always an as-is proposition, and although history always repeats itself, there is no 19th century assumption of the sins of the fathers passed on to their sons.  This particular bit of family history had no relevance whatsoever to who he was now, nor to what he believed. 

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Yet he felt the need to go on a penitential mea culpa tour, to express shame and remorse for the sins of his family, to ask forgiveness from the black community, and to ask that they keep him in the fold and respect and welcome his support.  Of course this revelation was just what Bob’s black colleagues expected – all white people had an unforgivable past and irreconcilable differences with black folk.  It was an era of heretical, historical traits, and Bob was not only shown the door by the black progressives he had courted, but by radical feminists who wanted nothing of his tame, married, heterosexual family; and gay men who knew better than to expect this aging, inveterate old American New Englander to understand the transgender revolution. His only redoubt was environmentalism which, thankfully, took all comers.

And so it is with Northwest Washingtonians who post signs of black solidarity and meaningful support for all black lives on their front lawns, who fly rainbow banners from upstairs windows, and who dress their six-year kindergartners in BLM anti-COVID masks.  ‘Safe Solidarity’ is the byword, the password, the key for admission to white liberal solidarity.  No one in Georgetown, Cleveland Park, or Glover Park really cares what goes down across the River; but flying the rainbow or BLM flag should be enough.  Let it be said in The Final Accounting that we did the right thing.

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However, despite the demurrals, most of these liberal advocates are white enthusiasts.  Not white supremacists by any means, but not ignorant either of Ancient History, Greek and Roman philosophy, the Bible, Western European imperial colonialism, or Anglo-Saxon principles of the Enlightenment.  It is simply difficult for them to expect that ex-slaves, themselves formerly chattel in African tribal society, to be included in this storied legacy.  They may join the mainstream, especially if they, after years of protection, entitlement, and preservation, adopt the same Confucian values that underlie North Asian success, the entrepreneurial energy of South Asians, the respect for learning, books, and the Law of the Jews, and the Christian moral tradition of the Founding Fathers.

Lionizing black people ipso facto, for no reason other than their race or color is counter-productive and damaging to everyone.  It demeans individualism and individual black achievement, it erodes the democratic context of American liberalism, and it perpetuates a culture of dependence.  Even the doctrinally pure Bob has had to admit that after 50 years of public investment and good will  in black, dysfunctional communities, things have only gotten worse.  The progressive program needs a radical re-think.

Bob will never reform, despite his recent chastisement by the clients he has served.  He is a liberal’s liberal, a deeply committed progressive who, now in his seventh decade, seems too old to question his career.  To do so would be to give up years of belief and emotional investment. 

So ideological banners still fly from his dormers, signs are still planted on his lawn, and he is at the forefront of the campaign to remove the man in the White House.   He, like many Hollywood stars and television personalities, has said he will move to Canada if Trump wins again, but that will not be enough.  Four more years of razing the society he has for so long worked for deserves more.  But what? And the knowledge that it is too late, that today’s liberalism is not what it was in the days of MLK, and that America is very unlikely to change, is his sad fate.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Political Hypochondria–Going Weird And Twisted In An Age Of Fictional Ills

Benny Livermore went through a period of hypochondria as a boy.  He stayed many feet away from any speaker, used a handkerchief to cover his nose and mouth if distance was not possible, opened all doors with his elbow, and wiped down every surface before touching it.  This manic period – probably an inadvertent result of his physician father’s tales of nosocomial infections and viral and bacterial transmission – came and went quickly.

Benny was a creepy little kid during the period, always lurking in corners, bending left, right, over from his desk to avoid others’ breath.  When class bells rang he always held back, waiting for his classmates to crowd the stairs and halls to get to French or Geography.  He was a straggler who looked like a wooden marionette as he walked up the stairs, avoiding the banister, and struggling to keep his balance on the old, cracked wooden stairs and a hold on his books. 

He blinked his eyes frequently to wash them of the motes and viral bits that might have come his way.  Having heard that saliva was a natural anti-microbial he licked his lips constantly to rid them of germs.  He kept his hands in his pockets to avoid touching anything and walked like a zombie.  No one wanted anything do do with him.

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Luckily his phobia trickled to an end by the time he reached high school.  Just as eerily and mysteriously as his fear of germs – to be clear, it wasn’t so much a fear of getting sick, but getting infected.  It was the insidious invasion of his body that twisted his wires and made his gears run backward.  Getting sick was as much a part of childhood as wetting your bed or getting your feet wet.  Nothing there to be worried about.  It was this unwanted cloud of germs – this invisible aerosol of phlegm and mucus and miniscule beings – that was frightening.

There was a term for such complex hypochondria – ‘Alien Projective Disorder’ – and although few children had ever been categorized as such, there were many notable exceptions.  Benny was one of the lucky ones who made it out of the category and the penitential hell of hypochondria before adolescence where a new, ratcheted up term for bullying would have to be invented for what high school boys would have done to him.

Many years later after a very predictable, normal career in the law, a more-or-less happy family, and a summer home on the Bay, COVID hit America.  Benny could have gone either way.  If his boyhood hypochondria had not been extirpated completely and that odd bits and pieces of unreasonable fear were still embedded somewhere in his psyche, he could have gone completely off the rails when facing COVID for the first time. 

Lord knows there were many colleagues and friends with no history of phobia, mania, or hypochondria who couldn’t function – who hunkered down in basement rooms, ordered everything online and insisted on home delivery; who refused to visit family and friends; who masked up tighter than a drum on the one or two absolutely necessary forays per month.  He could have been one of them.

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Yet the stray bits and pieces of his earlier hypochondria had formed antibodies to any new bodily invasion.  In other words, because he had been so terrified of germs and infection as a boy, nothing could ever be as bad.  In fact, he became the whipping boy for his entire NW Washington progressive neighborhood because of his seemingly cavalier response to the pandemic.  Not only was he risking his own health and the health of others, but he was a moral reprobate.  Not wearing a mask and keeping social distance was tantamount to murder.

Of course Benny never saw things that way.  It was just that if you spent the greater part of three years panicked about nothing, then there was absolutely no reason to get turned around by something else. In other words, his psychosis had gone deeper than he understood.  Not only was the hypochondria still alive and well; and the curious idea of alien invasion of bodily spaces still current; but now irrationality had been added to this sick potpourri.  You could actually get sick from COVID.

For one reason or another, Benny survived and did quite well.  No sickness, no signs, no one he had contacted or touched had dropped dead.  Even more remarkable, his safe and sound emergence from the pandemic had given him a window into a world of  generalized hypochondria.  

Although this new perception was but one more added level of deviated logic to an already badly disordered brain, it ironically made sense.  Everyone, Benny thought, was afraid of something as fictitious as the clouds of fantasy pathogens that had misted his personal air at St. Bartleby’s.

“They’re coming”, said an old friend who had migrated from his own adolescent misery to adult fear and who got a wild, frantic look in his eyes when he began to talk of those who were undermining America from within with viral weapons, insidious, fracturing codes, and legions of underground terrorist warriors who would stop at nothing to see the overthrow of the world’s only moral power.  He would not drink fluoridated water because it had been infected by a neurological agent to dilute will and purpose and make it easier for a bloodless Russian takeover.  High-frequency radio waves were part of a network of brain-infestation network of anarchists who had infiltrated Apple and ATT.  

There were people as paralyzed as Benny had ever been about electronic surveillance, who insulated the walls of their offices with ion-reflective metal, who used only highly-encrypted communication devices; and who wore metallic fiber woven wool.  Everywhere you looked there was someone mortified by the impossible, whacked out of circulation by irrational worry.

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“They’re coming”, said another old, but far more stable friend when he described the progressive juggernaut out to dismantle America’s very democratic, free market system.  “It’s all connected”, he said, getting white around the gills and wild-looking.  “The gender spectrum, taking down historical statues, building firewalls against God, abortion, a give-away, bankrupting economic policy”.  He twitched and looked behind him, fingered his spoon nervously, shakily slurped his coffee, perspired heavily and jiggled his leg.

Of course there were just as many emotionally untethered hysterics who believed that the Devil incarnate was in the White House, and that nothing less than exorcism would rid the country of this consummate, absolute evil.  They too trembled and sweated when they thought of the man and his Satanic doings.  Watching this group of maniac cohorts was like watching a St. Vitus’ dance – a spastic, frenzied, apoplectic spewing of hatred against a fictitious, hypochondriacal vision.

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Hypochondria was like mumps, thought Benny.  Better to get it when you’re a kid and not have to worry about adult complications like elephantine testicles.  He had caught it when he was young enough to get over it quickly but to have the emotional antibodies in his system for later.  He now took conspiracy theories with great aplomb – these poor bastards would never recover but it’s a free country – and regarded the political hysteria with amusement.  A Yale classmate of his had spent the greater part of his adult life worried about everything – the plight of women, civil rights, the environment, the climate, and the planet – and ended up a dry old man.

Benny embraced’ his hypochondria, convinced himself beyond all reason that the world of 21st Century America was truly the Age of Armageddon.  Every hot day, every cop pull-over, every unwelcome advance, every devious, manipulative, exploitative, wickedness of the President was a sign that the end was nigh.  It was too bad that poor Bob had burned all his history books in rejection of their white, male, anti-historical, prejudiced, racist view of the world; because if he had read them, he would have seen that while we don’t live in the best of times, they are not the worst of times; and in fact such categorization itself is silly.  History does not play favorites.

Meanwhile Benny, safe and secure behind his boyhood inoculation and growing in amusement at the circus antics of the politically at-risk, sat back and enjoyed the ride.  What better way to spend his retirement than a front-row seat at the best three-ring circus since Barnum & Bailey’s big top.  America never has been a really serious place – not a bad one, mind you, just one not to be taken too seriously – and such reserve was another added advantage of Benny’s adolescent hypochondria.