Fight Club

I stepped into a hornet’s nest of passion this weekend after re-posting a news article focused on a statement made by MSNBC commentator Joy Reid.

In it, she took Bernie Sanders to task for saying the Republican establishment will not stop him from getting the Democratic nomination for president, nor will the Democratic establishment. 

The tweet that started it all…

By equating the powerbrokers of both parties, Reid claimed Sanders was essentially staging a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party rather than bringing people of that party, and others, together to defeat Donald Trump.

She framed it all by pointing out that in making the above proclamation Sanders, a registered INDEPENDENT and technically NOT a Democrat, had boldly and unapologetically kicked 65 million Hillary Clinton voters, the majority of who WERE registered Democrats, to the curb.

And that he needed those voters to win.

I was in such agreement with those thoughts and so annoyed by Sanders’ cavalier messianic attitude, I instantly put it on Facebook with a single accompanying phrase: THIS.

Very quickly, and perhaps predictably given how many young people and former students are my Facebook friends, here’s what the reaction looked like:

My facebook feed for the last 24 hours

Now I had planned this week to write about how actress-writer Amanda Peet had literally stolen my identity with the title of her just announced Netflix TV series THE CHAIR, starring the sublime Sandra Oh as the head of a college English department.

I mean, all I could think of was:

HOW DARE SHE??????

But when you weigh my outrage against, well, my outrage, it’s clearly the subject of Bernie that wins — at least for right now.

More importantly, I’m thrilled that it did.

Me and conflict

That repost prompted close to 100 back and forth passionate, angry, frustrated funny and heartfelt comments on politics, social issues and the state of our mutual lives.

I don’t know that it singlehandedly changed anyone’s mind, for the moment, but I am positive it allowed many of us to better understand the place from which each of us were coming from and why we felt the way that we did.

I’m also inclined to think that the next time this subject comes up we might all be that much more informed about how people really feel on the issues and allow us to engage that much more effectively.

Me, achieving world peace

It might even enable us to resolve a few things and modify our approach, or opinions.

This is how change happens and this is how you open hearts and minds.  Not by rolling over but by engaging, arguing, listening and then engaging again.  And again.  And then some more.

A big part of my job as a college professor is to provoke, navigate and guide.   There is nothing wrong with criticism if it’s followed by discussion.  It’s essential in the classroom and in life if we’re to ever move forward anymore.

TAKE NOTE SANDRA! (nice chair though)

But too often these days we just can’t seem to do it well or avoid it all together.

Talking out loud about a controversial issue, statement or opinion devolves into I hate this, or him or herOr rage about the blah, blah, blah of the blah, blah, bah.  Even the mere sound or sight of the blah, blah, blah, in print, or worse, in person, is sickening.

This enables the I won’t comment at all for fear of being attacked or the strategy to seethe quietly (or not so quietly) and then strike in such a way that I can’t be harmed  and/or you won’t know who it is.

Or the alternate strategy of I will do nothing and just go on with my life, which isn’t horrible enough to move me away from my everyday routine in order to engage with this issue, or you.

If only

This doesn’t work for any of us on either side in the long run.

My college community is at the moment in the midst of discussions about race and racism as we become a more diverse and inclusive campus.

It is healthy to address those issues and more as long as it’s not done in an absolutist manner from either side.

This is difficult to achieve, as many in the fight will attest to, but clearly is possible.  We stumble, we upset each other but we persevere and eventually come to an understanding of each other’s points of view and then figure out how to best soldier on with the best outcomes for as many of us as possible.

And if that doesn’t work, we can all agree that Jon Hamm’s still got it

It’s easy to see colleges, or social media platforms or real live engagement as a petri dish of microaggressions, oversensitivities, insensitivities, hostilities or simply biased and/or callous disregard, and worse. 

But that’s not the way I look at it.

We MUST get in the ring and spar, perhaps even fight, in order to get anywhere, especially these days.  We are required to LISTEN and then try to understand, regardless of whether we do a 180 and change our points of view.

To turn away and NOT do it, to hide from all this conflict, is a sure fire strategy for our mass mutual demise.

Christina Aguilera – “Fighter”

Cable News Cardio

You know how you slow down when you see an accident on a highway even though you don’t want to?  Well, that’s how it feels watching The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

Still, I have to specifically hand it to my cable network of choice, MSNBC.  They’ve brought it.  The last thing I wanted to do this week was to hear the guy’s name, see the stuff that passes on his head for hair or hear about anything he’s ever done/does in the past, present or foreseeable future.

We bow down to the national treasure that is Rachel Maddow

Still, I couldn’t turn away.  Not for barely a second.  I even found the ONLY treadmill at the gym with on Friday afternoon that had a small screen turned to guess what…MSNBC!…. during THE key climactic moments late Friday afternoon.

It was meant to be.

Or so I reasoned to myself when I got off the machine I was on and hiked three rows down to see more of what I’d been watching since 8am that morning and every morning for the last seemingly 52 days.  Only this time there were merely images with subtitles.   NO. SOUND.

WHYYYYYY

Oh yeah.  I couldn’t figure out how to plug my headphones into the thing.  But even that was okay.  The subtitles were being done on the fly and I got most of the abbreviations.  In fact, it became fun to figure out which commentators were which WITHOUT THEIR words ALWAYS being identified.

Suddenly, I was running at record speeds, in elevations that I hadn’t been in months, trying to play a NEW guessing game.

Oh, yes, that sounds EXACTLY like what Nicolle Wallace would say because she knows the inner workings of the White House!

Sure, that’s former Senator Claire McCaskill’s incisive commentary.  It’s not only smart but a bit snide.

Claire’s for real, guys.

 And wait, she’s actually…texting with members of the Senate in real time??? I was right, I gleefully proclaimed to myself as I bobbled my water bottle and it sprayed all over my gray Lululemon workout shirt from six years ago that somehow is still holding up.

OMG, it’s like having a spy behind enemy lines, ready to dish to your side in a down and dirty way.  Yay Claire!!! 

Then, trying to figure out who’s talking to whom on the crowded Senate floor from far away, I suddenly hear Claire excitedly saying: That’s Lamar’s (Sen. Alexander (R-TN) bald spot

 …as we were waiting to determine whether he was going to cast the third possibly dissenting Republican YAY vote to finally HEAR a few witnesses (or even one) on the issue of impeachment in the Senate trial (Note: He didn’t).

Twitter gets it

Forget that the NY Times had just reported former Trump advisor John Bolton’s upcoming March book has him proclaiming in print that Trump did indeed hold up gazillions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Hunter Biden and his dad Joe Biden, Trump’s chief rival for the presidency at the time.

I was almost equally as riled up that Claire seemed to be on the verge of some sort of hirsute-ish scoop!

Of course, once reality began to kick in I sort of began to crash.

But some moments later, just when the hope for any live witnesses at this quickly becoming kangaroo court was lost, the powers that be at my channel cut to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer live as he gave a short statement proclaiming that the Senate voting not allow new witnesses or documents at this trial was a…PERFITY???????????????? 

HUH WHAT?

What the f-k does that mean????  Suddenly, I felt so let down by my friends on the panel who only moments before were seemingly my only friends in the world because they were the only ones still with me through all this who never seemed to mind me ranting and raving (Note: Forget they couldn’t hear me) cause they were, too.

Oh, and dumb.   Thoroughly let down and now DUMB.  So, so DUMB.

Then, Brian Williams, like the God he is, jumped in and quipped re: Schumer’s perfidy:

Hey, I bet he wishes he could take that word back!

After which Claire and Nicolle laughed.  And laughed.  AND LAUGHED!!!

Thank God.

Sweet relief

I felt even better when, I think, Chris Matthews noted that it was Harry Truman who always recommended you don’t use 10-dollar words but nickel words if you want to really get people to listen to you.

Sure, I’m mangling the quote a little but that was the gist of it since I couldn’t find the actual one.  Though I did find out the definition of perfidy.

per·fi·dy

noun: perfidy; plural noun: perfidies

deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.”it was an example of his perfidy”

Since this whole week was all about perfidies I now very much admired Schumer for bringing it up in the first place.

Every time he uses a fancy word, the glasses get lower

Until Nicolle (or was it Brian or Chris? – I’m not sure who it was at this point) announced another revelation from the Bolton book just unearthed by the NY Times. 

Apparently Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, the guy we’d been watching co-lead his no-witnesses defense all week by proclaiming Trump NEVER demanded we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign, WAS ACTUALLY IN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING WHEN TRUMP DEMANDED we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign.

Well, I thought Nicole was going to lose it along with me.

I think we were all Wile E Coyote in that moment #help

Luckily, I was off the treadmill by then and watching this via a flat screen TV I found in the weight room that happened to also be tuned to her.

Lest you think I go to one of those blue state, elite snowflake gyms, know that’s not quite true.  It’s a 24-Hour Fitness and it costs me $120 per year.

And occasionally some screens are tuned to Fox.  Until I complained about it and never saw that channel on in MY GYM again.

At least not on my watch.

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”

It Begins

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to not get sidetracked by what ifs and to stop worrying about things I can’t control.

Don’t give me that look!

Aside from personal issues of life, health and death, that includes everything from who will win at the Oscars this year to the harrowing prospect that Donald J. Trump could be re-elected president of the United States.

Three weeks into 2020, I’ve already broken my vow.

Don’t judge me!

And not just once but many times over.

Still, hope springs eternal and not only because Quentin Tarantino was given Oscar’s precursor, the Golden Globe, for best screenplay over Noah Baumbach’s overrated Marriage Story.

No, what gave me hope this week was the pomp and circumstance of the Senate hearing that inaugurated the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump.

Let’s say that again.

Actually, let’s allow the actual words of the Sergeant of Arms in the U.S. Senate to say it for us:

Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear ye –

 All persons are COMMANDED – to keep silent on PAIN OF IMPRISONMENT– while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of IMPEACHMENT- AGAINST – DONALD JOHN TRUMP – president of the United States…

Pete Souza’s shade really cannot be matched 🍑

Now, I’m not one for pomp and circumstance.  In high school, I finally found a real excuse not to stand up for the National Anthem due to my opposition against the Vietnam War.

Even in elementary school I remember thinking it was silly to put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to a ….flag?  I mean, what would THAT prove when no one could know what I, or anyone else, was really thinking?

Not to mention that to this day, whenever I see anyone bow before the Queen of England I’m still one-step short of appalled. A crown?  A scepter?  …Really?  (Note:  And yeah, that was the sound of me cheering the no longer Royal Harry and Meghan, for flying away to Canada and choosing to live in our real world of multi-million dollar endorsements.  Well, sort of).

She drives! She’s free! #ohcanada

Still…I could watch the pomp and circumstance, the formality, and the antiquated ceremonial loveliness of the invocation to the formal Senate trial that inaugurated Trump’s impeachment on Thursday every day on a loop until Quentin Tarantino’s OSCAR win for best original screenplay on Feb. 9th.

In fact, here it is now!

Hands up, baby hands up!

I suppose this makes me a bit of a hypocrite along with 63 plus million other American voters.  But after three years of immigrant kids in cages, our leader’s embrace of murderous, authoritarian world leaders over our long held allies (many of whom stood by our side in times of devastating war, most recently after 9/11), and a list of daily lies, corruptions and/or general nastiness to support his frail ego and questionable financial empire, the formality of a public ceremonial Trump guillotine in a court of law is looking pretty damned good.

Excuse me while I enjoy my tea

Our steely, and it turns out quiet prescient Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, recognized this when she finally agreed some months ago to skillfully open charges of impeachment against our Electoral College POTUS, though not for any of the aforementioned insurrections that enraged me (Note: And I would imagine “she”).

Rather, it took a rock solid case of Trump using his office to withhold billions of dollars in much needed foreign aid to a small country (Ukraine) in order to pressure them into helping him win re-election (i.e., dirt that could scandalize the potential Democrat most likely to run against him and beat him at the time, Joe Biden), that finally crossed the line.

It’s happening, it’s really happening

Rather than anger or hubris, her motivation – and lest anyone doubt it look over her many statements opposing impeachment over the last three years – were the guidelines set down by our Founding Fathers over two centuries ago in the U.S. Constitution.

As she explained to Bill Maher on his HBO series Real Time over the weekend:

…He (Trump) used the office of the president to try to influence a foreign country for his personal and political benefit and in doing so he undermined our national security.  He was disloyal to his oath of office to protect the Constitution and he placed in jeopardy the integrity of our election.  So really, he gave us no choice…

Earlier on, some of the charges, violations of the law, I said ‘he’s not worth it.’  But once he crossed that bridge it wasn’t a question of HIS being worth it.  The CONSTITUTION was worth it.  He HAD to be IMPEACHED.

My religious moment of 2020

Yet lest any of us think Speaker Pelosi, is above gloating just a smidge, it is worth noting that when asked what she’d say to Trump if he were watching, she smiled slyly, looked straight into the camera and proclaimed:

You are impeached forever.  No matter what the Senate does, it can NEVER be erased. 

That was Nancy D’Alesandro — a woman raised in a political powerhouse family where her father was mayor of Baltimore and later it’s Congressman, and her brother became city council president and later mayor — who was speaking.

A woman who not only understands the Constitution but is a maestro in the mixed martial arts of politics.

She doesn’t get sidetracked by what ifs or people and things she can’t control.

She simply stays in the moment, studies her options and then takes appropriate actions the way she sees fit, letting the chips fall where they may.

Yes she can

She also claims, and I believe her, not to HATE anyone.

One day, when we all grow up, we might to take a collective resolution to stay in the moment and be more like her.  In the meantime, let’s focus and at least try to do it until Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Lou Reed – “This Magic Moment” 

The Purity Test

Nothing’s clean Howard.  But we do our best, right? 

 – Ava Gardner to Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004)

This is all I could think of during and after the latest Democratic presidential debate this week.

That in speaking this one truth, the fictionalized Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) managed to coax a fictionalized and very seriously obsessive-compulsive Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) out of  the prison of his own room and his own twisted thoughts and virtually back to real life in the superb Hughes/Hollywood biopic The Aviator.

Side note: Has Kate Beckinsale ever looked so glamorous??

Would that we had our own Ava Gardner-like figure – living or dead – to shock us all, the American electorate, back into the filth and messiness of our present reality in time to face the upcoming 2020 election cycle.

Someone who could remind us that because this world is so dirty to some degree we, every last one of us, also are unclean.

But someone who might simultaneously assure us that true cleanliness, i.e. purity, is merely an intellectual construct, one especially ill-advised when our very world is about to be engulfed and devoured by a snarling, larger than life orange Cookie Monster of our own creation.

We may need to seek alternative measures #CAROLANN

Yes, I’m talking about Trump and which mud-stained gladiator on that stage will lead us through the mess of human blood and excrement he’s gonna spew everywhere as we try and pry his cold, wet hands off  the levels of OUR power.

And sure, this is all a tad too purple prose metaphorical.

Yet what are we to make of all that supposedly serious talk on that debate stage.  All that posturing about wine caves, no big money donors, grit to stay the course, I’m safe because you know me, I’m a revolutionary because I’ve always been (Note: Just what year WAS that revolution, other than 1776?) and I’m a billionaire/millionaire who’s an innovator simply because I got rich?

Or the I’m gay, female, a person of color or am/have actively always supported the struggles of ALL of the former (and any of those not mentioned), many of whom are also my friends?

Remember my BEST FRIEND?

Not much when I drive around town and see Orangetheory Fitness Centers spreading like wildfire in my neighborhood, and not merely in a non-metaphorical way. If this doesn’t stop we might all soon be turning orange, and not in a good or fit way.

Again, too many metaphors, I know.  But desperate times call for…well, you know… anything that could possibly convince you.

It is worth noting that all the above bold-faced phrases on that debate stage were uttered by our much-ballyhooed gladiators the day after our Orange One was finally impeached by OUR U.S. House of Representatives.

He is known to be pro-coal

As the always fictional Elliot Ness was advised in the 1987 film, The Untouchables:

You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Yeah, another movie reference can’t hurt.  Unless it’s one where I get to confess I’m so exhausted from listening to our gladiators get so stuck in the fly paper of fine print that I may have to hate watch Cats (2019) simply as a palette cleanser.

The reviews are in!

On second thought no, not even on a screener – which, by the way, has not yet come in the mail.

All of this is to proclaim that even though yes, we need to fix health care, end global warming, get out of endless wars, address racism and the lack of opportunities for minority and poor populations, get money out of politics and………. nothing is more urgent than getting a quite literally unhinged, corrupt, crazy person out of OUR White House.

*except Mike Pence

His mental state is not metaphorical but pretty much accepted fact, even among many of his congressional supporters privately.  What is metaphorical but no less true is that the 2019 color of that House he lives in is no longer White but….well, take a guess.  (Hint:  The first letter rhymes with NO).

Talk about unclean, filthy and unsafe.

So here’s the deal.  You and I have each have our favorites, my fellow gladiator followers.  But let’s try to get beyond the Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Yang, Klobuchar, Yang, Booker, Castro, et. al of it all.

I’ll always love you Kamala

The future of the country and democracy is at stake and we don’t live in a perfect one, and certainly not a perfect world.  So rally behind those you feel the most passionate about but do not, repeat, DO NOT spend 2020 in your own personal dreamland when YOUR House is being engulfed by non-metaphorical orange flames.

Evergreen meme

If Biden is not your first choice but he gets the nom, find a way to get REALLY PASSIONATE about him.  Like you did about the guy or gal you dated when the dysfunctional choice you really wanted didn’t show up or merely screwed you over.

Ditto Bernie

Ditto Elizabeth Warren

Ditto Mayor Pete

And in the so far less-likely second tier:

Ditto Amy Klobuchar

Ditto Andrew Yang

Ditto the billionaires Bloomberg and Steyer

Ditto Julian Castro

Ditto Corey Booker

Except Tulsi. Move to Canada for Tulsi. #present

This also goes for all of the above or unmentioned  as possible vice-presidential candidates.

You and I and anyone else we can find on our dirtiest or, well, very less than unclean street corners, need to do this because if we don’t we will be losing A LOT more than the election.

Which is a lot LESS than has been lost already.

Elvis Presley – “Clean Up Your Own Backyard”

New to the Neighborhood

This past week the democratically led House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald J. Trump right out of the Oval Office.

There were seemingly endless hours and days of sober, nasty, angry and all around contentious testimonies, cross-examinations and speechifying none of us could get away from.

Even if you didn’t tune in, read about it or experience it via a random social media post/tweet, it was in the air.  Try going into any public place and someone, somewhere said somethingOr you I thought they did.

Of course, this is merely act one.

For those dreaming of a white christmas

In the next month we have a trial in the Senate that looks to be eerily similar except for the outcome.  Since that body has a Republican majority it’s likely that all of those legal and ceremonial bickerings will end with Trump exonerated/still in office and both sides of supporters feeling similarly aggrieved.

It’s about the only thing we all agree on as a group.

This weekend I watched the new movie about famed children’s TV star Mister Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  I watched it on a screener at home because I was so similarly aggrieved that I was too lazy to go out to the movies and too wrung out to actually spend time looking at anything that I even vaguely cared about.

Yeah, I never got the TV show Mister Rogers Neighborhood OR the man himself.  In fact, full confession, as a kid he REALLY gave me the creeps.

I’m not kidding.

Enjoy your nightmares

The sweater, the monotone, the dumb songs and the STARE into the camera made my skin crawl.  It seemed like any minute his red wooly arms would reach through the camera, grab me and then touch me in a place he didn’t belong.

Intimacy issues?  Trauma?  Challenge with trust?   Perhaps so or maybe it is all of the above?  But, I mean, who didn’t in those days?  Not to mention, which of us doesn’t have at least one of those in these days?

That’s why I can only point to current events as the reason why I bought A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about a journalist interviewing Mister Rogers in the late nineties, hook line and sinker.

Wait… what?!

Sure, you could argue that the fact the film centered on a jaded, too-smart-for-the room journalist with childhood daddy abandonment issues was what made this cynical, smart-mouthed writer and child of divorce with childhood daddy abandonment issues like it.  And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

But neither would you be even close to being entirely right.

There is nothing less than this writer wants to see than Tom Hanks starring as yet another onscreen heroic character (Note: Particularly in a sweater).  In fact, for the first 20 minutes of the film I literally found myself so majorly annoyed and offended I began shouting fuck you out loud to Mister Rogers, the WGA, the screenwriters and anyone else who would listen (Note:  My poor dog) for subjecting me to this mess.

seemed like a good time to dust off my favorite gif

But then at some point something hit me.  It was a line from the beginning of the film and I had to pause, then eject and then replay the DVD from the beginning to get the exact quote.

Yes, I shudder to repeat this out of context but it’s something…Mister Rogers says to one of his…..ugh……..puppets in the first five minutes.  And that is:

Do you know that means, to forgive?  It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have at them.

Yeah, I know.

.. and then the Chair’s heart grew three times

A purple prose bromide that is just another part of the never-ending Toolkit of New Age Logic.

Not to mention, it’s not even original to me.  I was a faithful Oprah watcher and to this day I still get O Magazine.  Plus, I’ve literally had decades of therapy where this very issue – and very line – has been covered ad infinitum.

But usually it is in reference to me and my personal issues, not those of national neuroticism and consciousness.

OK.. and well this too

As a left leaning Democrat who used to feel like he was a liberal  (Note: Until the last year where I’ve been yelled at for being what is now considered a MODERATE) well, let’s start with I’m angry with everyone and anyone categorizing me as that.

But then there’s also:

1- A president who hate tweets a 16-year-old climate activist because he was jealous she got the cover of Time Magazine as Person of the Year instead of him. (Note: And his wife, the faux anti-bullying activist, among other fauxs).

What it’s actually like to BE BEST

2- His various enablers, from Congress on down, who don’t mind him consistently meeting with powerful Russians, including Putin, on the phone and this week in the White House, and laughing about it even as he’s being prosecuted for actions relating to it.

3- Staunch conservative Republicans who turn a blind eye to his attacks on people who have spent their lives trying to defend the freedoms they claim to hold dear (Note:  This week it was calling the FBI scum, and last month it was referring to the press as traitors and very bad people)

4- His loyal base of EVERY voter (Note: Whoever they are) who are okay with base insults against every non-white, non-straight or ethnically specific group under the sun from the Oval Office, as long as said base get to watch those who oppose their politics squirm while he throws then a bone on some issue near and dear to their hearts.

I didn’t say it — he did!

There are also:

5- The Democrats, liberals, et al, on social media who loathe Trump but rant and rave about how NO ONE but THEIR candidate (Note: Often Bernie Sanders, sorry) will do.  This is usually accompanied by endless posts and stories about some failing among the many, many, many others in the Trump-opposing field.

6- The women who are threatening to sit it out if the Dem nominee isn’t female, the gays who claim they won’t vote until the nominee is queer, the people of color who will willingly stay home unless…..well, you get the picture.

Posted without comment

7 – The woke culture that has gotten my students to the point where they are often afraid to write, or even say, anything controversial in class for fear that they might micro-agress/offend.

8- The vitriol, threats and sheer meanness from the top on down, that has turned young people mostly off to politics and given them little faith that they or anyone else can make a difference until this generation of boomers die out and they are able to take control.

Okay, boomer, indeed.

All of this and more has brought me to the point where, in the search for a solution, I actually find myself, all these decades later, turning to….Mister Rogers for comfort????

I draw the line at the puppets though #STILLCREEPY

Well, if that’s what it takes, fine, I do forgive them.  Trump and his followers, every last one of them.  Seriously, I do.  I only wish they could forgive whatever they think me and my ilk did to them (Note:  This includes all those who now claim the mantle of 2019 liberal).

Mister Rogers, and now I, might be a little naive but at the moment this seems the only solution for any of us in this country to have even a fighting chance.

Mister Rogers – “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Opening Theme)

The Glory of Denial

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.

sighhhhh

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.

Maya Rudolph as Kamala on SNL is your Christmas present 2019

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.

Or both.

We’ve all been Liz Lemon since 2016

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.

See you at the Oscars Antonio!

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.

CHRIS EVANS IN A SWEATER! CHRIS EVANS IN A SWEATER! #swoon

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.

… or a Billy on the Street Netflix Marathon #elenaforever

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.

Wait… isn’t this the plot of Frozen 2???

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 but but.. JAMIE LEE!!!  #knivesout

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.

Randy Rainbow – “He’s Just a GURL Who’ll QUID PRO QUO!”

We’re Secular, Bitch

I watched El Camino, the Netflix film that continues the story of one of the best TV series of all time, Breaking Bad.

It’s a respectable effort to complete the arc of the series from BB’s creator Vince Gilligan even if it doesn’t soar to the same heights.  Still, we get to know what happens to our favorite dim bulb sweetheart of a crystal meth maker, Jesse Pinkman, witness a brief encounter between him and… (Note: Okay, NO SPOILERS HERE!) and realize once again that once you heavily enter into the world of drug dealing and drug taking no good will come of it.

Nothing de-glorified the illicit worlds of drugs and toxic masculinity better than Breaking Bad.  It’s certainly not the only example of that in popular culture but its ability to eschew proselytizing and instead focus on the lives of the people who choose this road made it one of the most respected, watched and memorable TV series of all time.

Quality TV, bitch

Jesse Pinkman grew up in a two parent household with a Christian mom and dad who, by his own admission, did the best they could to raise him with the moral values he needed to sustain himself in the world.  He was fictional yet somehow familiar, like the lovable doofus next door who once showed potential but somehow, and in some way, went on to break bad.

Jesse came of age in the early nineties, right around time our current U.S. attorney general, William Barr, first served in that post (1991-1993).  This was under then Pres. George Bush, Sr. and at the time, as now, it was Mr. Barr’s task to set the standard for the legal, and, in turn, moral tone for the country.  In other words, he is the custodian of what passes as the rule of law.

Preach

A devout Catholic, Mr. Barr’s tone and morality have remained constant and virtually unchanged since the time young Jesse Pinkman was looking for guidance on how to be an adult.

By way of explanation, here are some nuggets from a speech Mr. Barr, our sitting A.G.,  gave this week to an audience of law students at Notre Dame Law School, many of whom never heard it because they were too busy protesting his appearance outside of the auditorium on campus from which he spoke.

…Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct…We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system?… Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress?…

We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism…Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground…Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic.

….New Jersey recently passed a law requiring schools to adopt a LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching,

….Over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. …But I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age. 

Jesse is not a fan

Attorney General Barr is on a familiar frontline of American governmental religious fervor and his perception is that there is a decided lack of it that is causing the moral decay or our world.  Or at the very least, it’s lack is the primary reason for our social problems and the key to why so many people, both young and old, disobey the law, misbehave in general and seem so, well…unhappy.

If you lived through the thirties, the fifties, the eighties/nineties or were paying attention in the latter half of this decade, aka yesterday on Fox News or the Christian Broadcasting Network, you’ve heard this before.  If not, you can go through the speeches of Father Coughlin (1930s), Joseph McCarthy (1950s), both Bush POTUSes and Barr himself (1980s/1990s/2000s) and catch up.  Or better yet, view Mr. Barr’s Notre Dame speech here:

… and prepare to lose your lunch

What it boils down to is a society whose problems have mostly to do with straying from a strict RELIGIOUS doctrine. It is a school of thought that conveniently (and very purposefully) ignores the many secular advances in the world like, say, women having equal rights or laws against them being stoned in town square for cheating on their husbands – to – laws preventing members of the LGBTQ community from being fired from their place of employment, barred from their local marriage license offices or, say…being stoned in town square for simply…being.

Most importantly what it seeks to do is blame the Jesse Pinkmans of the world – either fictional or real – on the fact that they were raised in a country or household where government and home teachings of the Bible were not somehow enshrined in their being and viewed as the gold standard of citizenry, if not the requirement and guiding principle of its government and its leaders. (Note:  This would presumably include our current American “leader”).

pretty much sums up my thoughts

In times like these it is important to remember, repeat, and rinse and repeat again, that this line of thought was precisely the opposite type of doctrinaire thinking on which our country was first founded.

One of the essential pillars of American democracy is and always has been the separation of church and state.  Don’t take my word for it.  It’s the very FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What this means is feel free to NOT BELIEVE in God and religion or BELIEVE in any God or religion you want.  But bottom line – leave RELIGION and whatever you believe it to be out of our government.

It is also important to note that the very definition of secularism (Note: Barr’s dreaded word) is: the principle of the separation of the state from religious institutions.

You know.. unless you live in this universe  #seeyourselfoutRudy

This in no way means that we can’t consult many sources, include our religion, to define what is right and wrong individually for us.  But as a government, a basic tenant of American law is that we leave our religion at the door.

As Americans we are guided by a set of norms and law that evolve over time, not ones enshrined in early A.D or B.C.  We have our problems, particularly these days, but this freedom to think any way we like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is in our DNA.  It has made us the most prosperous nation in modern history and, until recently, the one country the vast majority of immigrants in the world have chosen to migrate to.

Hmmm, perhaps what this attorney general and his cohorts from up above are trying to do by him speechifying about the enshrining of our country with an old/new religion is nothing more than their latest strategy to stem immigration?

Unlikely.

The game Barr and his ilk are playing is far simpler.  In fact, it’s all about the simplicity of thought.  Quiet the masses by evoking a past that never existed and ignore, prosecute, condemn and persecute (legally or by any means necessary) anyone who dare speak against them.  When all that fails, claim the sinners are the ones taking away THEIR freedom of choice, their religion, and stifling their ability to simply be who THEY ARE.

There is an immoral majority in American society right now but it’s not the Jesse Pinkmans of the world.  Rather, it’s the members of our top government elite, such as Barr, who think we’re all too dumb to catch on to their bait and switch game of immoral strategy to retain power and do what they please behind closed doors. (Note: I’m trying NOT to imagine anything I can’t unsee or unthank).

Well, they underestimate all the rest of us sinners at their own peril, don’t they?

Hopefully.

Nick Lutsko – “The Ballad of Jesse Pinkman”