Pete for America

Dear Mayor Pete:

First and foremost you need to keep going.

If the country is to again believe America is truly a land of opportunity, well, what better way to illustrate that than becoming the youngest president in U.S. history, the first openly gay POTUS and the only person to be elevated from small town mayor to the highest office in the land?

Your story literally sounds like a pitch for a major studio remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington targeting the millennial generation.

Or is he exactly what we need?

Of course, most of us realize the country that up until recently sold itself as a place where anything is possible for anyone was never really quite that way.  We’ve been too racist, too classist, too homophobic and too corrupt at the top levels of government for way too long.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to say that everyone and everything is innately evil.  More than anything, that is what your nascent, seemingly impossible presidential campaign shows us each day.  If a Democratic gay guy can twice get elected mayor of a Republican town (Note: The last time with 80% of the vote) in Mike Pence’s home state, um, what else might happen?

The bad punch line from 2015 would be:  Donald Trump will be president???

The good punch line from 2020 could be:  Guess what, we’re playing The Scissor Sisters at the inauguration and you WILL be watching two men (he and his husband) canoodling.

the cuteness is almost too much (they have TWO dogs) #icant

Which is a signal to open this letter up to everyone.

For those who think Pete Buttigieg (pronounced BOOT-edge-edge) probably has as much chance getting the Democratic nomination for president as I do, perhaps you’re right.  Or perhaps not.

You need to have at least 65,000 money donors from 20 states or to register at 1% in three national polls to participate in the upcoming blue fate special.  After a recent CNN Town Hall and only the very beginnings of his cross-country travels, Mayor Pete has surpassed that level on both scores.

So, who is this guy?

A Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar and a former Navy intelligence officer and Afghanistan war veteran.

Returning home to South Bend after a tour of duty in 2014 #therealdeal

A mayor who took over a city losing residents and money with the promise he’d revitalize downtown and raze or refurbish 1000 houses in 1000 days who accomplished that goal 63 days early and began attracting lots of new residents, new money, new jobs and new industry into the community.

A candidate who supports the Green New Deal as a good start to tackling climate change, backs single payer health insurance only if the insurance companies play a role and sees the immigrant population as a cornerstone to our success.

He’s also pretty good on Twitter (Note: A key skill in the battle to be POTUS in 2020).   When would-be Starbucks chief and fellow aspiring independent presidential hopeful Howard Schultz recently declared he’d spent more time overseas with the military than any other candidate running, Mayor Pete quickly shot back:

Schultz promptly apologized.

These alone are not qualifications for the White House but they certainly bode well for someone seeking a place in the national conversation.  The transcript from his recent Town Hall provides further evidence.

Slaying it on CNN #GoMayorPete

So does the open letter he made sure to send out to the Islamic society that represents South Bend’s Islamic community right after the white supremacist terrorist attack that killed 50 people and injured 50 more in New Zealand mosque last week.  Suffice it to say it starts with:

…This city is deeply committed to your safety and well-being, continues to state this entire City wraps its arms around you in love and peace, and goes on from there.

As for his views on numerous other issues, here’s some research courtesy of various sources, including PBS, NPR, CNN and The Washington Post:

On vice-president Mike Pence’s religious freedom stance in opposition to LGBTQ rights:

His understanding of religious text “has a lot more to do with sexuality and, I don’t know, a certain view of rectitude.” But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?  Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?

Callin’ out that hypocrisy LIKE A BOSS #nailedit

On climate change: 

A national security threat and long-term problem for future generations. 

And along with 407 other mayors he signed a pact to adhere to the Paris climate accords that Electoral College POTUS Trump pulled out of.

On foreign policy:

Consistent criticism towards Trump for conducting foreign policy by tweet, support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and commitment to keep troops in Syria.  He also sees Iran as the single greatest threat to Israel in the Middle East.

On gun control:

A supporter of universal background checks and critic of allowing guns in school and purported Stand Your Ground laws.

👏👏👏

On the Electoral College and the Supreme Court:

An advocate of a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College (including an openness to look at alternatives so smaller states are not left behind) and author of a proposal to expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices from nine.  The latter plan would allow would allow Republicans and Democrats to each appoint five justices, who would unanimously agree on the remaining five appointees.

His website and his numerous more frequent television appearances reveal a lot more.  But perhaps the most revealing and refreshing quote that seems to get inside his decision to run is the mere fact that more than any other candidate he has skin in the game.

My generation is the generation that experienced school shootings beginning when I was in high school, the generation that fought in the post-9/11 wars, the first generation to have to deal with the reality of climate change, and the first generation not to be better off than our parents materially – if nothing changes.

Donating now.. FOR REAL

Is he too much of a long shot?  Hell, yes.  Is it pie-in-the-sky to think the guy has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected?  Maybe.  But we’ve been a lot more surprised and done a hell of a lot worse.  I haven’t made my final decision now that there are 20 plus candidates in the race but this much I know:

The possibilities are limitless.  ON BOTH SIDES.

Mayor Pete PLAYS THE PIANO with Ben Folds (Like I couldn’t swoon more!)

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Let’s Talk About Abuse

Let’s talk about abuse.

Yay!!!!

There’s the kind of horrifying sexual abuse that James Safechuck and Wade Robson testified to receiving from the ages of 7-14 years of age at the hands (and, sadly, other body parts) of then 30 something Michael Jackson.

We heard their stories in plainspoken excruciating detail this past week in the very fine four-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.

hard to watch, for sure

Though we experience the facts second-hand it’s difficult to not feel victimized ourselves by the separate yet eerily similar violations as they are told to us.

Until it dawns on us that if we’re feeling this way what must it be like for the adult versions of these two children recounting it as a…love affair they willingly entered into with a man who was the most famous star in the world at the time?

A man who claimed to be the ONE person who would ALWAYS look out for their best interests against an outside world of sick liars would never understand THEM.

If that sounds far from your story or my story or most of OUR collective stories as Americans, think again.

thinking…

No?

Well, perhaps if we put the details aside and stick to the power dynamics.

It was less than three years ago that our relatively young country was similarly seduced by an older, quite famous man who claimed, and I quote:

… I have seen first hand how the system was rigged against OUR CITIZENS

 I have joined the political arena so that the powerful cannot beat up on PEOPLE WHO CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES.  Nobody knows the system better than me.  Which is why – I ALONE CAN FIX IT.

Oh god, this effing guy. I can’t. I just… ugh

This is not a stretch.  This is seduction of the powerless with promises of rescue and eventually undying devotion from extremely powerful and famous people who, through those seduced, acquire more of what they desperately crave.

In the case of the former it was love and sex.

In the latter case the man got even more than that.  Much to his own surprise he became THE MOST POWERFUL man in the world.  Or, one could argue, the world’s BIGGEST STAR.

Experts say a key strategy to deal with abuse is to recognize it is happening, set limits on the abuser and eventually remove yourself from the situation.

This is easier said than done for underage victims, since their power is severely limited and their cognitive abilities are not yet fully formed.

In the cases of Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson we watch the process of two men, now in their late thirties and early forties, finally able to take those necessary initial steps only decades after those crimes first occurred.

Confronting the past

They realize that the only way to true mental stability and lasting happiness is to finally recognize what happened to them.  By publicly sharing it with the world one could argue they are also taking the crucial next step of setting limits on any residual control the abuser might have on them (Note: Yes, even from the grave).

One hopes by taking these actions they will then be able to move towards the final act of removing themselves from a way of thinking that empowers that situation to remain alive and control their lives and their actions as adults.

It is only in the recognition of just how completely they were seduced and brainwashed into submission while vulnerable that they can break out of a cycle that alters their reality and causes them to act out towards themselves and the world in countless destructive, and self-destructive, ways.

Take for instance, Michael Jackson truthers (yes, they are real)

Misplaced anger is a powerful motivator for all sorts of questionable actions.  But sometimes it is a lot easier than acknowledging the deep pain, and yes, sadness that that anger is masking.

Which brings us back to the summer of 2016 and promises made to those angry enough to take a chance on a very wealthy man who vowed to protect and love them if only they’d give him the keys to their kingdom.  The implicit pact, as it often initially is in these cases, was that they would get access to his extraordinary life.

Then, in turn, particles of the magical fairy dust he possessed would be sprinkled across the country as a salve and solution to many of the problems they and their families had been facing for decades.  With his know-how they could be him, or a version of him.   Or it would, at the very least, be something shiny, new and distracting.

You know.. like a gold toilet.

One can’t help be reminded of the exciting bohemian relative or recently arrived fantabulous best friend who moves into the neighborhood only to turn everything upside down in a seemingly great way and then eventually leave you worse than you were to begin with.   It is only that person who could have ever made you appreciate your hopelessly average, and sometimes woefully inadequate family life.

.. and sometimes it comes with Seventy Six Trombones

But the thing about charlatans and abusers is that they don’t see themselves as villains.  Be it Michael Jackson of the current Electoral College POTUS, they do truly believe that what their nefarious actions do is actually to improve the lives of their victims.  They convince themselves this has to be the case because they so desperately need their victims to satisfy their own insatiable needs.

Rather than consider this as mere political partisanship, it might helpful to read Jane Mayer’s excellent piece this week in The New Yorker entitled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.”

Much like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson she lays out, piece by piece, a narrative of how not a person but an entity, Fox News, evolved into a far right wing propaganda arm for the current White House that undeniably now functions primarily as a 2019 Orwellian version of State TV.  Or, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes more aptly refers to it, Trump TV.

Are we all just living in an ancient Indian burial ground?

To say that this is solely an abusive situation would be an insult to survivors like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson.  The searing personal pain they have had to endure in their lives due to crimes perpetrated against them as children has no sole contemporary political counterpart.

However, to deny that a version of this abuse is not part of our current national equation, and that too many of the rich and powerful from one side of the aisle are complicit in it continuing, is to also deny the obvious.

No, I am not a psychiatrist.  Just a human being who, in the course of his own life, has been in more than a few abusive situations and come out the other side.

Cake – “I Will Survive”

Magical Thinking

Joe Biden told an audience in Omaha last week that Mike Pence is a decent guy.   Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon chose to differ in an editorial in the Washington Post and so do I.

Mr. Pence’s lifetime leadership role advocating against the LGBTQ community, including support for conversion therapy (most heinously during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s as an alternative way to curtail the spread of HIV), opposition to gay marriage, banning trans people from serving in the military, and attempting to legalize discrimination against gays due to religious beliefs (with proposed legislation and/or laws to back all over the above) does not make him decent.

It shows an empirical pattern of behavior that bears additional scrutiny, particularly for someone currently serving as the Vice President of all of the U.S. in 2019.

This is a real product you can buy on Amazon. You’re welcome.

The same could be said of Electoral College POTUS’s rambling two-hour speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) this weekend.  In perhaps his grandest of grandstanding, he threw out his usual invectives that American citizens who oppose him, as well as the media and fellow elected officials who choose to investigate his behavior, are people who don’t love our country.

But perhaps worse yet he continued to defend his self-professed love affair with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un, who he claims had no knowledge of the torture and eventual death of an American teenager under his government’s hands because he told me, despite the universal agreement of our own intelligence agencies that this was not the case.

NOT fake news

It is the same argument he used to defend Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin over the last two years when American intelligence across the board provided him clear evidence that Putin directed manipulation of the 2016 election.

It is a similar kind of illogic that in those two very public hours at the podium caused him to scream, where did that come from?, in reference to Congress’ current plan to look into his finances as a way to reasonably prove his business ties to Russia in light of numerous recent accusations from members inside his own campaign that this is indeed the case.

This same blind rage also caused him to proclaim from the podium that these people are sick for wanting to check his deals.

Nice try

And it is, finally, what caused him to come up with yet a new nickname for the chairman of that House committee – my Congressman, Adam Schiff, a former California U.S. Attorney.  Before this large group of conservatives, in that same two-hour speech, broadcast worldwide, our de facto POTUS referred to that duly elected congressman as LITTLE SHIFTY SCHIFF and his work as bullschiff.

And they’re both orange!

Nice, huh?  Especially for a 72 year-old man some people call the most powerful person on Earth, partly because most conceded long ago he forfeited the usual U.S. POTUS moniker of Leader of the Free World.

Magical thinking can sometimes help get us through the day but it can never, ever make untruths into truths, fantasy into reality or sputtering, fantastical bile-soaked lies into objective evidentiary fact.

This weekend I finally caught up with a film my students had been recommending me to see for several years, Swiss Army Man.  It’s a story about a suicidal guy (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island who finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that he is able to ride to some sort of civilization through the body’s flatulence.

Ummmm…

The guy then lives off the water the body expels from his mouth in sudden gaseous spurts only to find about halfway through the story, the body actually starts talking to him.  It turns out said body’s name is Manny and in order to keep him alive the suicidal guy has to re-educate him about the joys of being human.  This being an American film the guy also, in the process, begins to discover his own humanity again.

The film’s dramatic questions are many but primary among them becomes – is the guy imagining that dead Manny can speak or is Manny some sort of divine miracle that sporadically comes to life?  In other words is Manny ultimately indestructible and does he truly possess the unexplainable ability to enable a mere mortal to appreciate life on its own very messy terms.

The Chair’s recommendation

Would that there was a Manny somewhere who could point out the bumps in the road and make it all better for those of us who too often than not these days live in the belief that it will all NOT be okay.  (Note: The film was released in a pre Trump-Pence 2016)

I consider myself one of those people sporadically and part of my current journey is to work hard enough where I don’t succumb to my inner belief that the countless negative forces in the world have conspired lately in some nefarious master plan to bring us all down – both collectively as a society as well as individually.

This meme is me until Trump is out of office

To be clear, this is not my overriding philosophy but certainly, left to my own devices, it could be.  I have a real talent for assembling events of all kinds in a viable order that could much too convincingly confirm to most of you whatever misguided or guided (at least in my mind) point I am trying to prove.

In popular parlance, it’s what’s called writing talent.

In depressing real life, it’s what enables me to be the most persuasive and darkest of pessimists if I so choose.

But in the loveliest, lightest and most seductive moments of reality, it can also easily move me to the other extreme in seconds.  What that means is it can get me to convince not only myself but others, through the use of philosophy and said rosy perceived reality, that somehow it WILL all magically be okay even though there may be more than a few signs that this is pie in the sky fantasy thinking is  not likely to at all to come true by any reasonable objective standard.

Neither, of course, is the way to go.

I see no problem with these rosy shades, Chairy.

We MUST have hope against the odds and take steps to do our jobs and live our lives and overcome the negative to create the reality we want.  More commonly, that’s called the hard work of getting out of your own way.

On the other hand, we can’t PRETEND that a divine Manny WILL somehow magically appear (or has appeared) and guide us to right the wrongs in our world or society just because we wish him or it to be so.  That is equally misguided and it is what’s more popularly referred to as “magical thinking.”  Or worse.

Joan Didion wrote a book and a play on this theme entitled The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband the day after the couple’s recently married daughter fell into a coma due to pneumonia/septic shock, only to eventually die herself less than a year later.

Chairy, what are you doing to me!!

The idea that one can become so traumatized by traumatizing events that one pretends bad things didn’t happen, aren’t happening or at the very least can be resolved – and that if one dreams with just the right amount of acuity one’s loved ones at any moment could conceivably walk through the door and one’s present reality could instantly become a thing of the past – is tempting.  And that there is meaning in the smallest of events that we can then assemble to divine us through our despair on a magic carpet of made up reality is undeniably hopeful, albeit sometimes intuitively necessary.

YES, whatever gets you through, I can hear some of you saying.  Well, perhaps.  I mean, if it guides one through the grief process and doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one has the right to demand you live in the truth of despair, seeing your glass as perpetually half empty as I too often do.

this also helps me sleep at night

The trouble begins when we wish world events or real people in our lives to be something they are clearly and objectively not.  Especially leaders we don’t know personally.  Because it then gets exacerbated when their associates start to adopt the party lie to get whatever agenda they want past us, twisting themselves into pretzels of illogic in order to do so.

Meaning you can’t explain it any way you like for yourself.  At the end of the day 2 + 2 simply cannot equal 5 — much as any of us would like it to.

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – John Lennon (feat. Elton John)