Denial just ain’t a river in Egypt. — Mark Twain
What a week!
A gaggle of witnesses in the impeachment hearings of Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump sat before the House Intelligence Committee all testifying to essentially the same thing.
That thing is that Trump explicitly or implicitly threatened to withhold many millions of dollars of previously approved military aid to the Ukraine unless its new president agreed to investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s chief Democratic rival for re-election in 2020, for corruption.
Then, an even bigger gaggle of other candidates competing for the Democratic nomination against Biden, who, you might remember from the previous paragraph, is STILL the leading candidate vying to compete against Trump to become the next Electoral College (and maybe even Popular Vote) POTUS, stood on an Atlanta debate stage on one of those evenings trading verbal barbs, sincere looks and well-thought out albeit pre-scripted arguments, in support of themselves.
Though most of them were ostensibly aimed at each other what they all were really targeting was a growing national and international audience waiting with bated breath to see which of them will become THE lucky gladiator chosen to face Trump in a virtual death match at the Hillary Clinton Coliseum of Public Ridicule to become not only leader of the US but King, or Queen, of the Free World.
Can you even stand it?
That was a rhetorical question.
It’s difficult to be an American citizen right now and go for even a single day where the subject of Trump, impeachment, Democratic candidates and the ubiquitous expression of quid pro quo doesn’t come up somewhere or at some time.
Even if you choose not to discuss it, you will doubtless be in some coffee shop, office building or household where it’s the prime subject or find yourself dragged into a discussion or gibe simply because you’re in the vicinity of something or someone determined to make their own remark, get your goat or simply express an opinion that makes you want to set your hair on fire or eat a package of Ding Dongs.
If you participate in any of this too often it begins to feel like abuse, often self-abuse. But ignore it for too long, e.g. more than a day, and you feel like a partying extra at the Kit Kat Club in the movie version of Cabaret.
Speaking of movies, there is a brilliant one out now from famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar called Pain and Glory. It is a semi-autobiographical tale about a film director in chronic pain who turns to smoking heroin as a means of denying both the medical and psychological challenges in his life, only one of which is getting older.
It is a deep, riveting metaphor for the lives we are all living now, despite how much critics, audiences and award givers will prefer Joker, Marriage Story, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and even Knives Out. Heck, after the week we’ve just had a spoof of an Agatha Christie film like Knives Out with James Bond-ian Daniel Craig as the 2019 bumbling version of Hercule Poirot enduring the bitchy bon mots of a stylish rich boy played by Chris (Captain America) Evans, sounds preferable to this American citizen.
Still, despite the glorious denial escapist entertainment offers and fulfills, it is that very critique the Almodovar film cautions us about glorifying in for too long.
To deny the reality we are living by whatever means available to us is okay for a while. Most people don’t die from a brief encounter with their drug of choice, be it heroin, big screen entertainment, a chocolate cake cleanse or even a small string of indiscreet online sexual encounters instantly regrettable the following morning.
But a wise filmmaker like Almodovar warns us with Pain and Glory that escape and denial will only get us so far. Go down that road for too long and you will lose not only your focus but your health and your moral center. Yet he also assures us that to simply continue as we are and not try something else, some new means of escape, is to remain stagnant in our miseries.
It is only through our journeys to throw enough stuff up in the air and explore an alternate road that we get insight and, hopefully, wisdom into who we are and what we’ve lost, or actually gained, in the process.
Each event in its entire story is a metaphor for the risks and benefits of trying something new, and the costs of denial when we refuse to admit that merely going down a new road where we pick up a few pieces of gold, or golden wisdom, is no excuse for throwing the rest and best of US, nee our lives, away.
If ever there were a movie for this week and our Trumpian times it is this one, not a biopic offering life lessons from Mister Rogers or a whodunit about the kind of cartoonish, unsavory characters that are all too recognizable when we turn on our TV news shows of choice and gawk at our favorite partisan heroes and villains in Washington, DC. Certainly there are pleasures to be had in the above two films as well as many other diversions of choice.
But now is not the time for any of us to revel too long in the glory, and the glory of denial, that they offer.
Especially not after the week we’ve just had and the ones that are inevitably coming ‘round the bend.