We Alone Can’t Fix This

I spent the last several weeks reading all 500 plus pages of the #1 NY Times bestseller, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by the extremely thorough Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker.

The book is alternately fascinating, disturbing, infuriating, disorienting, dull, sick, perplexing, darkly humorous, scary and long. 

At times I wished it were a little less even-handed and journalistically proper.  But when you write something so exhaustive on a subject and subject matter such as this I suppose the true gangsta move is keeping your reportorial cool.

This is the energy I bring to writing about Trump

It brought back how I felt watching David Lynch’s very straightforward 1999 film, the very aptly titled A Straight Story. 

Why would the creator of cutting edge classics such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and the director of such oddly entertaining works as Lost Highway and Wild at Heart, make a G-rated movie about the true story of an old man who drives his lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother?

Well, as Lynch himself explained to us (Note:  Okay, me) at the time, it was for that very reason.  By just sticking to a straight narrative of facts, it actually was his most daring, his most experimental film.

Believe it!

In that same way, there was no other course for Leonnig and Rucker to take in chronicling Trump’s last 12 months in office and have it land in any more of a meaningful fashion.

After all, how do you even begin to get any more twisted and salacious than Trump himself? 

And what would be the point in trying? 

This brings to mind the response I received, in various forms, from EVERY ONE OF THE SEVERAL DOZEN PEOPLE I told I was reading this book over this period time.

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?

This is an approximation of what they looked like

Of course, not everyone said it exactly that way.  Some just gave me a look, or silently nodded their heads, or explained they couldn’t because they lived it, or apologized they wouldn’t because it was too upsetting and their mental health was already precarious, or responded in person or on the phone with the kind of thick stony silence that tells you the person you’re speaking with has ZERO interest in pursuing this discussion or subject any further (you can hear editor Holly’s reaction on our newest podcast).

In other words, Chairy, BACK OFF!

And then this happened…

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from sometimes throwing a few tidbits in.

As Stefon might say, this book and that year had everything –

a. A pandemic the Leader of the Free World ignored, downplayed and lied about.

b. A litany of dictatorial edicts spewed by the POTUS himself to send the military out into the streets to take over cities and ARREST (Note: Or worse) protestors that his own military leaders ignored and refused to carry out.

c. A ton of cursing, blame gaming of others and dangerous lies and/or conspiracy theories launched from the bully pulpit and via social media from the resolute desk in the Oval Office all in service of one single cause – his 2020 re-election.

AND

THERE’S MORE??

d. An actual planned mob of many THOUSANDS that #45 personally spurred on in a prepared, fiery speech on Jan. 6 that caused said group to violently attack and rampage though the U.S. Capitol Building, kill and maim a bunch of policemen, as well as hunt and threaten to hang the sitting vice-president before he could actually ratify the Electoral College results that would declare Joe Biden the new POTUS and thus brand Trump now and forever the official LOSER of the 2020 race.

Oh right

No amount of arm twisting, phone yelling, or even frantic yet calm talks from first daughter Ivanka (Note: Referred to by one advisor as a stable pony, as in when the racehorse gets too agitated, you bring in the stable pony to calm him down) would ever get Trump to tell his supporters they were doing ANYTHING wrong. Even as they threatened lives and destroyed objects that had stood the test of time over SEVERAL CENTURIES in the Capitol and through dozens of other presidencies.

In fact, the most he would ever do was tell them to go home while simultaneously reminding them we love you.

Oh, and the other thing he NEVER DID, as the book details, was to call a single Senator, Congressperson, Aide or even Vice President to inquire if they were okay.  Not on that day and, as far as we know, not to this day.

Is this insulting to Thelma and Louise? #sorryCallieKhouri

Of course, none of this is shocking at this point, even as it remains scary and disheartening.  Worse is that, according to the book, Trump not only knew about the virulency of COVID-19 back in Jan. 2020 but totally bungled a phone call at the time to China President Xi Jinping when he attempted to get representatives of the US medical community into China in order to examine, study or in some way help or contain or accrue information to contain and/or treat Covid-19.

Afraid to jeopardize a trade agreement between the two countries that he thought would win him economic points from his supporters, Trump soft-balled his ask to the point where the head of Communist China simply avoided and/or refused to allow anyone from the US medical establishment into his country.  Then he very calmly ended the call.

Missing a comma, but still true

And when the virus raged on for months and months in the first half of 2020, infecting and killing tens of thousands, the book chronicles how not only Trump but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as well as Larry Kudlow, his National Economic Council advisor, refused to the very bitter end to take the obvious steps to close the economy that everyone else in the Trump administration was demanding.

Still, none of this is even quite as surprising as who Loennig and Rucker position as one of the unlikeliest of heroes of the administration – Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Previously we all knew Milley as that military guy in fatigues who followed POTUS through the street to that Church where Trump held the Bible upside down in some sort of victory over citizen protestors.

Cue world’s longest eyeroll

That was because right before, under Trump’s orders, the National Guard had marched onto the DC streets and used tear gas and pepper spray to clear a path for him and wipe away any traces of the Black Lives Matter protestors that had peacefully demonstrated for several days so he could have a photo op. 

Old history, right?  Except what we didn’t know is that Milley, who felt “used” and publicly apologized some days later in a video for that appearance, then began a full out, shadow campaign to make sure #45 would never again use the military to further his personal political agenda… or worse.

According to the book, from that day forward Milley regularly shot down Trump’s requests for firepower in the streets; at one point told Trump’s ultra right wing chief speechwriter Stephen Miller to shut the f—k up; and enlisted as many present and former cabinet officers and military men as he could to keep the country from imploding.  Or exploding.

Everything was fine

When the events of Jan. 6 happened, it was Milley who had to strong arm the slow-moving acting Defense Secretary and finally order troops to save the Capitol building.  And when his orders weren’t immediately carried out, it took Vice President Pence’s demands for reinforcements to finally cause the powers-that-be to act.

But the one person who never requested any troops, military or otherwise, to defend the Capitol building was Trump.  In a blistering recounting of Insurrection Day, the book chronicles POTUS’ primary post-speech activity to be watching it all unspool live on TV in sheer awe.

What particularly irked a military guy like Milley, who has advanced degrees from both Columbia and Princeton, was seeing right wing fascist groups like The Proud Boys, as well as other Trump MAGA supporters, many of whom shouted racial epithets and were armed with military style weapons, so swiftly and threateningly move into the sacred halls of government without seemingly missing a beat.

Never Forget… really

Several weeks later, after it was all through and it was his responsibility to plan and maintain an ironclad safe and secure inauguration site for Joe Biden, he thus didn’t hesitate to make the same analogy myself and many of my more mouthy, Trump-loathing friends dared to speak back in 2016 the moment it became apparent that Trump et al would actually rule the presidency, the White House and the rest of us along with it for an entire four years.

HITLER.

Yeah, I said it.  It’s been our POV from the beginning and it still is.  It doesn’t have to be yours or those close to you.  But just know that leading up to Inauguration Day 2021, it also began to be the POV of the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. 

And it still is.

Speaking to dozens of military and law enforcement leaders at a large gymnasium as they planned for the ceremony to swear in #46, Milley noted that thousands of Trump supporters were already organizing via social media a return to D.C. for a week of siege that would culminate in the disruption of Biden’s inauguration.  And, he wanted them to be ready.

Here’s the deal, guys.  These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys.  These are the same people we fought in World War II.  Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop or whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power.  We’re going to put a ring of steal around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.

Yikes

And they didn’t.

And Milley still chairs the Joint Chiefs.

And Trump’s out of office.

For now.

The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Changing Landscapes

Screen shot 2014-04-20 at 12.20.05 PM

It’s interesting how things come to your attention.

I know what I’m going to write about here 50% of the time – it becomes clear mid-week.  Something moves me or demands to be spoken about.  I see patterns to experiences that make sense and they get grouped together in my mind – like the items in a grocery cart that when looked at as a whole are uniquely you whether you like it or not. (Note: Yes YOU – do NOT put back that box of Skittles or step away from the Oreos).

Another 25% of the time there’s a breaking news story, entertainment scandal, or offensive thing that begs for attention.  Whitney dies; the Oscars happen; Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has a brain freeze mid-debate during his misguided quest for the presidency; or Transformers 32: Robot Drone Wars makes $732 million in its opening weekend at the box-office when I’m 97 years-old and the world’s final ironic middle finger in my direction demands I hold off on all the meaningful words I had planned to say in my last blog in order to actually write about the universe of crap I’m sadly leaving behind.

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

Luckily then, there’s the other 25% of the time.  Who knows what hits you.  It could be anything at all or perhaps even nothing.  The latter is when Holly Van Buren, my dear friend and inveterate notes editor/image chooser, will point out that thing to me that nudges it all in the direction of a certain subject I might speak of.

That’s what happened this week.   But not in the way either of us thought.

A middle-aged man owning his widowhood.  (Note:  Middle-aged?  Was she trying to tell me something?)  Actually, it’s a great article in a blog called Modern Loss and was written by an editor at St. Martin’s Press.  Very heartfelt.   A little sad.  Like most writers this man is working out his feelings through honest words – in this case losing his longtime, uh…partner… friend… …lover(?) of 25 years.  Okay, but does that mean that Michael Flamini can’t call himself a widower, even though both he and his fella, Gary Lussier, each rather hilariously turned down the others’ marriage proposal (even when it finally became legal) during the space of that quarter of a century?  That is the question that is asked, and then answered there.

It does not denigrate Michael’s essay in any way to say that what is most significant about his essay at this point in time for me is not his story in particular – and his story could certainly be mine with a few revisions, we’re within the ballpark of the same age.  Rather, it’ s about the person who casually gave it to me.  And the fact that it was casually given at all.

Holly is in her late 20s and a dear friend (editor’s note: this is generous, she is mere months from 30).  She knows I adore her and she also knows I respect her talents for many things, the least of which are putting together the captions and photos for NFAC and for helping to edit it when I’m not quite making the sense I thought I was.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Holly was also my student briefly in the previous decade, and then worked with me at school and co-taught several writing classes with me where – together – we worked with any number of students even younger than she is. I’ve also remained in touch with many of these students long after graduation and more than one or two have also become personal friends while the rest remain in my life in various other ways.

What makes that all meaningful to anyone but me is that any one of these young people – all in their twenties – would be just as likely to forward this article referencing a gay man’s widowhood to me.  Not to mention the likelihood that others of their peers I haven’t heard from in a while but might be just as likely to drop by – might also decide to send it.

There would be no hesitation at all about subject matter.  No judgment on lifestyle.  No consideration of crossing a line of any kind.  No thought at all, in fact, that this couple were really any different than their parents or peers or any other two people who had decided for whatever good, bad or indifferent reasons, to love each other and cohabitate for more than a night or two or three or more.

How the millenials see it

How the millennials see it

We in the gay community, or any minority of your choosing, tend to believe that true change comes in the form of the right to be married or to receive equal pay to others who do the same job we do.  We might also think it arrives in the form of membership to a former exclusive neighborhood or country club or perhaps being the first of our kind to achieve something else in some other arena.

All of the above is certainly true.  These are much needed evolutions of laws and opportunities in society – not to be negated by any means.

But if you want to know what real change and acceptance looks like – it is the change I see around me everyday in the faces of Holly and those younger than Holly and the casualness of her, or them, passing on that article to me.

It is the faces of young kids enjoying their 2 Moms, or their 2 Uncles from West Hollywood or even, and most especially, from Peoria.  It is that moment when you hear that over 60% of evangelical conservatives under the age of 35 are pro-gay marriage and are fighting to rid the Republican Party platform of anti-gay language.  It is the strange look on the faces of older White men who were once virulently anti-queer when they find out one of their children or relatives are gay, lesbian or transgender and, rather than shun them, do a total about face publicly of beliefs they had always assumed were intractable.

homosexual-lesbian-edgy-cool-gay-pride-month-ecards-someecards

It is the mere fact that Holly and most other straight people in their twenties can identify with the pain a gay person twice their age might feel at the loss of their significant other.  It is that disconnect they have when they see this gay couple treated differently than any other couple they know.  And it is the anger and sadness they express when they realize this couple does not have the same rights that other couples, or even other single people, have in more than half the states in this country. They truly don’t understand it.

This is what change looks like.   In small gestures that often go unnoticed, as well as larger statements in public life that draw the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  But is it the former that begets the latter or the other way around?  Hmm, I wonder.

As great as all of this is – and it is great, have no doubt – it should not give activists or any one of us any reason to rest.

???????

I’m fortunate enough to be a double minority (at the very least!) – gay and Jewish.  Granted, I’m a bit of a lapsed Jew considering last week I ate Chinese food on the first night of Passover (no matzo rolls, included) and made pizza on the second night for my partner and me.  Still, I am and forever will be Jewish.  It’s the way I was raised – the feeling I have about justice, education, polyester knit pants suits and yes…food.   More specifically, it is my love of all things chicken – soup or otherwise – in addition to a constant craving for lox, bagels, black and white cookies, and yes, Chinese take out food, especially on Sunday nights. (Note: Okay – maybe the latter is for the very specific subset of NY Jew).  Not to mention my lifelong affection for Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, despite whatever missteps they might make (Note #2:  Fine, the latter also has something to do with my other minority – though perhaps it may not).

All this said, imagine my surprise this past week when I also happened to read the story about the town in east Ukraine where newly installed pro-Russian forces were ordering Jews on the street via official government pamphlet that they are ALL required to pay a $50 fee to register as Jews at an official government building and to submit a detailed list of all the property they own. And that failure to do so would cause immediate deportation and a surrendering of all of their possessions.

(Note:  Several people in the local Ukrainian government did question the authenticity of the story for several days but it was then later confirmed by many other international news sources).

Does any of this sound familiar?  Well, it should – for many reasons.

We know that the last place this happened to Jewish residents of a country so publicly was in Nazi Germany – or, more rightly, in the plethora of movies and TV shows depicting Nazi Germany that have been seen by those of us who didn’t live through that particular hell in the many decades since.  Yes, there are numerous individual anti-Semitic outbursts worldwide, even in this country (Note:  Like last week’s incompetent former KKK member who went on a Heil Hitler shooting spree near a local Jewish facility in Kansas and managed to kill only three non-Jews).  But nothing so insidiously Nazi has so publicly happened in the context of an in-progress, power-shifting government takeover (Ukraine) by one of the three leading military powers in the world (Russia).

One’s initial thought, particularly as a member of said minority, is merely another version of what was said by the Ukrainian naysayers.  And that is 

– Pshhh, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the civilized world anymore.  It’s been so condemned worldwide that no one would dare do it again or be dumb enough to think they might even be able to do get away with doing it again.  Certainly not by a superpower like Russia that just so publicly (and victoriously?) hosted the Winter Olympics on the worldwide stage, right? 

– Though wait…didn’t…um…Hitler’s Germany also host the Summer Olympics to much fanfare on the worldwide stage in…uh…19….36???

– Wait, if they did it then – who is to say that in just a few years there won’t also be….uh…..what????  Nah….  Wait, what?????

Are we carrying the torch?

Are we carrying the torch?

This is what it’s like to be part of a historically persecuted minority.  There is always some tiny part of you, if you’re alert or even half-conscious, that is looking over your shoulder to make sure all is okay.  You want to let down your guard, and sometimes, perhaps not often enough, you do.  Yet there are always events like the happenings in that little eastern town to bring you back to reality again and cause you to question just how much change is really possible.  I myself will admit to thinking the Ukrainian news story was actually a piece written for The Onion when I first saw it – that’s how willing I’ve been to chill out and be California mellow these days.

Often times people tell me I shouldn’t answer back a right wing crazy at a dinner party, or even more publicly.  Or post the latest incendiary homophobic statement made by a fringe member of Congress like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) on Facebook.  That it calls more attention to a crazy position that might otherwise go ignored.  But this is exactly why I do it.  To nip this sort of thing in the bud.  To stop it before it can fester any further.

This is why I’m so touched by Holly, her peers and those coming up right behind her. They make me confident through even their most casual behavior and/or actions that the world has changed for the better, at least temporarily, and that it won’t be as easy for the baddies to get a footing because the belief system is just…well, different on the part of many people than it has been.  Though not nearly enough or in nearly enough places.  Like anything else, we’re all a work in progress.

Like all things in this country, it takes time

Like all things in this country, it takes time

As Chris Matthews once said in a popular MSNBC commercial (yes, I’m gonna go there)  —

American history is about…a battle between those who want to extend freedom, opportunity and rights and those who want to restrict them. In the end, those who fight to enlarge our liberty tend to win.

Let’s hope that he’s correct and that this also applies to world history. And that the next generation keeps leading us in a progressive, rather than regressive, way.

On the whole, from the chair I’m fortunate enough to sit in at the moment, it looks pretty good.  But I’m still gonna watch my back.