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)

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A New Year?

It was a simple thought, really. But is anything simple when it comes from 2017’s most admired man in America?

Talk about the Audacity of Hope. Or Despair. How you read this message depends on what you see as the world and how you want to change it.

(Note: And yes, I’m calling it a message. I refuse to say what the above guy writes are tweets).

So – what HAS he written that has provoked so many negative, vitriolic responses? Things like:

— Empty words from a souless man  

— Liberalism: Logic’s Retarded Cousin

Or my personal favorite:

— Isis has run out of money now that Obama’s not in office.

Yes, those were real. And no, I didn’t include the very worst of them. One of my 2018 resolutions is to be more positive and the year has barely even started yet.

So then — let’s break it down.

Get Involved.

Get Engaged.

Stand up.

Don’t we ALL want (our fellow) citizens to do this? Or, maybe only the people who are fighting for what’s right. People on OUR SIDE.

You feel me???

I’ll cop to some of that. It was appalling to me that this was the year I saw tens of thousands of people unfazed that actual NAZIs or NAZI supporters were marching through the streets of Virginia – with weapons and lit Tiki torches they bought at Home Depot – shouting anti-Semitic and racist chants at Blacks, Jews and anyone else who would listen.

No, I didn’t want them to NOT be allowed to march. I was just mortified that so many other people I’ve probably met in traveling across our country don’t really care. Or, in part, agree with them.

I wonder if the drowning of sorrows has been good for the wine industry #illtakeabottle

So yeah, there’s a chunk of me that does NOT want them standing up any more than they already have or getting engaged any more than they probably did for fear that they will win. And continue to do so.

Each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try.

On the other hand, the healthier part of me relishes their engagement.  Because I can’t believe that the more engaged they get the more educated and real their worlds will become and they will meet enough Blacks and Jews, or be exposed to so many more real facts on their issues, that they will realize the error of their ways and spread the word to those who are like-minded.

Pass me the rosie shades

Historically, hate and exclusion always does LOSE in the very long term because human beings have the power of critical thinking and, at the end of the day, will do the right thing…after they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.

Okay, I didn’t make up that last part. It’s an unconscious paraphrase of what Winston Churchill once presumably said about us:

You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.

Or a paraphrase of a key line from Anne Frank’s famous diary:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

Trying to find that optimism

Anne, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and others after her, didn’t live to see the days of peace and tranquility. But we all stand in proof that they did happen. Which does not answer a question that always comes to mind when thinking about such wise, forward-thinking individuals:

What would they think of iPhones? What would they be like on social media? And – who would THEY say their most admired American is of the last few years? Or ten years?

So go keep changing the world in 2018.

I suspect that they might agree with the majority of Americans in every Gallup poll of the last decade and choose Barack Obama.

Mic drop forever

Yes, it was announced a few days ago that he once again topped the poll for the 10th time in a row. But it’s the fact that he did it this time that makes it so record-breaking. 2017 was the first year EVER that an elected American president did not win in his first year in office.

So clearly the world has not changed enough for some people.

Perhaps that is because our current president – nee ELECTORAL COLLEGE POTUS –wasn’t so much elected by the majority (Note: He LOST the popular vote by more than THREE MILLION) but barely chosen by a Constitutional anomaly (i.e. the Electoral College – a system designed to protect the voices of smaller states but, given the radical population shifts away from them in the last century, has caused a more lopsided tilt of power in recent years towards a much smaller but very vocal conservative base).

There’s that optimism again #help

This is not to tar and feather all of that base with raging responses citing Isis, a lack of soul and the 2017 politically incorrect use of the word retard.   Just some of them.

Do I really want them to continue to be engaged?

Oy.

Do we(I) have a lot of work do to.