Forward Backward Thinking

The many fans of writer extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin’s TV fantasy of the presidency, The West Wing, were able to luxuriate in nostalgia this week.

Simpler times

In support of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, a non-partisan (Note: Ahem) organization that seeks to encourage voting in groups that too often sit out elections (e.g. young people, communities of color), HBO Max presented a staged reading, with the original cast, of Sorkin’s favorite WW episode — season 3’s Hartfield’s Landing.

This is where senior White House staff obsess about what the first reported presidential primary vote will be in a fictional 48-person New Hampshire town.  After all, the results will dominate the news all day and, if it goes well for the POTUS, it will set a positive tone for all the hoped for favorable press their boss will receive.

LOL remember when there was no news?

And, as we all now know, there is nothing more urgent than setting an upbeat tone in order to win the White House.  Right?

Well, history turns on a dime and what seemed urgent in 2002 and then became just plain silly in light of 2016 could easily, once again, become necessary in 2020.  Right?

Right Jon, right???

Sure!  As I explained to my students this week online via Zoom, because there’s been a deadly pandemic going on for the last eight months and we couldn’t possibly all be in the same room or breathe the same air, history swings like a pendulum – from left to right and back again.

To which one of them blurted out:

So,  when IS it going to swing back?

Yikes, good question #teachablemoment?

I, of course, immediately blurted back that they had to go out to the streets and, while safely socially distanced, swing it back the way they wanted.  Until I realized this was not only likely impossible but sounded like a Grade C imitation of the response Sorkin himself would give. 

Nor do I even believe it in the darker days of 2020.  Which, I confess, is most all of them.

Still, when you live in a purported democracy that’s about all you have, isn’t it?   It’s really just in how inspiring a way you can express it. 

Like a bad haircut, maybe it just needs time.

Well, Mr. Sorkin’s once again done an excellent job on that score as both writer and director in his latest film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. (Note…. the segue).

Dropping on Netflix just one day after the gauzy West Wing redux, his new Netflix offering (Note:  Because, well, our pandemic politics has shuttered most movie theatres and shoved this planned major theatrical release from Paramount right into your home stream) is anything but delicate.

Instead, it’s a theatrically cynical look back into history when the U.S. government was intent on using politics and every piece of the legal system, whether illegally or not, to punish and jail those who dare to take their protests onto the streets.

Look back? Who’s gonna tell him?

Side Note:  It seems particularly fitting it dropped after a week of Senate hearings aimed at putting arch Conservative (and self-possessed handmaid) Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the US Supreme Court.  When asked this week by a Republican senator to name the five freedoms the Bill or Rights guarantees for all Americans, Ms. Barrett could only think of four – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

The one freedom that stumped her?

The right to petition the government for redress of grievances, OR, freedom to protest.

And there was laundry talk!

Fittingly enough, the clairvoyant Mr. Sorkin’s new legal drama takes us back in time to the late sixties, when this very issue was very, very VERY publicly spotlighted.  This was a time when the federal government, newly controlled by the uber conservative and freedom of protest loathing Richard Nixon, decided to charge a group of young and somewhat renowned and popular anti- Vietnam War protestors for conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intent to incite riots at the site of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Your next Netflix watch

Take the antics of this cross-section of long and short-haired, hippie and preppy, respectful and comically stoned and disrespectful young people – and mix it with a real-life first amendment-hating and often blatantly racist judge tasked with carrying out those charges by newly installed and diabolically fascist federally empowered Nixon flunkies and, well, you can see where hilarity and mass national conflicts could ensue.

And where the comparable present-day hyperbole might begin.

It’s not a particularly pretty story to look back on, even with the much hoped for and very pithily delivered Sorkin bon mots.  But even if you don’t love Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat movies or his borderline irredeemable prankster antics, you couldn’t experience anyone better portraying the late Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, who famously feasted on yanking the chain of the establishment and even of his co-defendant Tom Hayden, the more straight-laced founder of Students for a Democratic Society so well evoked by Eddie Redmayne.

Also big hair moment

Ditto for so many others, including Frank Langella’s racist persecutor/Judge Hoffman, whose shared last name with Abbie is an ongoing joke, as well as a brief but memorable appearance by Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clarke, the much more liberal former attorney general from the previous Johnson administration.

It is the shifting of the pendulum of justice between left and right, liberal and conservative, and everything in between that gives the story of this Trial of the Chicago 7 its present day resonance.  At least for those of us hoping that this Election Day is about to once again cause a major shift back to what we used to think of as American sanity.

This. This. This. This. #VOTE

Yet at the same time it’s also this very issue that makes this movie inescapably scary.  As one watches the absolute conviction a single judge, backed by a new presidential administration, has towards enforcing racist and regressive views, and notes how willing both are to twist or even ignore the very laws it’s charged with enforcing in order to permanently silence those who oppose them, one can’t help but wonder — how many times CAN the pendulum shift back and forth before it all together cracks apart?

Sorkin’s courtroom antics and filmmaking dexterity do a great job of zeroing in on the core issues at stake and give us a happy ending from five decades ago that ensures American democracy will continue.

But this week’s US Supreme Court hearing, the one that will very likely (and somewhat dubiously) enshrine perhaps the most conservative judge in American history onto OUR Supreme Court, combined with the challenge for the umpteenth time of once again shifting the American presidency away from, well, fascism (Note: Fascism being the kind word), is a very steep, real life, hill to climb. 

Holding on tight to that last shred of hope

Especially in the middle of a global pandemic.

Where our ability, and even right to vote as we can, is being challenged at every turn.

Sorkin has written and imagined the way forward for us by going back in time.  But we now have to figure how to carry it out.

Another pat answer from me that borders on the cliché. 

Still, life’s never been quite as efficient, or satisfying, as any one Sorkin movie or TV series, much as we all (Note:  Well, the majority of us), would like to continue to pretend it to be.

Bob Marley – “Get Up Stand Up”

A Very Chairy Nightmare

This is what it’s been like for me:

Last night I dreamt that a guy named Hampton, or Harrington, with a portfolio in his hand and a hat cocked to the side of his head as if he was an old time reporter – think conservative writer Matt Drudge – came to my door trying to sell me something.

You know the type

I instantly backed away because he wasn’t wearing a mask.

But he kept talking and, when he saw I wasn’t responding to some right wing or religious claptrap he was peddling, he reached his arm out to jam the door and blurted out incredulously,

Wait, you haven’t heard of me????

I then gave him one of my famous eye rolls (Note: Okay, two) and slammed the door in his face.

My heart was beating fast and I was pissed!

This demented, unknown asshole —  how dare he infiltrate my safe space!

NOW!

Never mind this was my old apartment, located on the ground floor of a duplex from the sixties, that I haven’t lived in for 10 years.

Anyway, I turned from the door and went through the living room and then around the corner, past my bedroom, and through the hall to my home office, where I see Hampton, or Harrington, or whoever the f-k he claimed to be, actually crawling through my floor-to-ceiling door/window.

How he got it open, I have no idea, since as I recall there were bars on all those windows.  But these type of people, well, as we all know too well after the last four years, they have their ways, right?

If only Clooney was in this dream…

In any event, there I go running into the room where somehow this little sh-t has now somehow gotten his foot through the glass, ready to push him out and break the glass and sever his presumptuous soon to be dangling limb, if need be.

But before I can do anything I notice right next to him this cute little young woman, sitting at a large table she’s set up on the landing next to my doorway.  It’s got a large colorful tablecloth with a gorgeous set up of orange juice, muffins, teacakes, coffee, lemonade and the like, and she’s commandeered my entire area, ready to sell or perhaps even give it all away to a line of very clean-looking smiley people from, I’m guessing Indiana or some such Midwest state, certainly not West Hollywood, which is where my apartment was located.

A real Anna Camp type

I look at this woman, also mask-less and unsurprisingly sunny blonde, and think what the f-ck, but she just stares at me with this Up With People sort of smile and gestures to the o.j. and muffins.

Despite how good they look (Note:  Yeah, I have to admit that) I say to her almost tongue-tied:

What???  You can’t be here.  What are you doing here????

Hello? Hello?

Meanwhile, Hampton’s long leg has now almost touched the floor in my office, as I’m pressing the glass door closed against him and start yelling:

Get out!  Get out!   GET.   THE F-CK.   OUT!!!!!!!!

And then….

Well, I can’t tell you if I won or lost because then…

I WOKE.   THE F-CK.    UP.

But is it really?

Of course, missing from this dream was my husband of almost 32 years, who was living with me in that apartment.  God knows where those people stashed him.

Also gone was any semblance of anyone else to help me.  All that I saw was the phony sunshine being offered by these charlatans from a demented world that people were lining up to buy into in droves.

Does any of this sound, well, familiar?

Drink that Kool Aid

As I watched  Donald Trump this weekend immorally and probably illegally nominate someone who will arguably be the most conservative person ever to occupy a seat on the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, I couldn’t help but reconsider, in light of this dream, what I secretly thought about myself at several points in my childhood when I had feelings about things that, in a matter of time, would turn out to actually happen:

I have ESP!

Open 24 hours

Then I realized the ugly truth.  I’m not special and I’d bet all 65 million of us have at times in the last four years been having various versions of this very same…well, let’s just call it as it is…nightmare.

Amy Coney Barrett, as well as the young girl at the breakfast table, and even Hampton or Harrington, might seem perfectly sunny to hang out with.  In fact, this would be especially so as long as they bring those muffins and orange juice and we have all taken a cup of Instant Smile in order to avoid talking about anything meaningful aside from their glistening and hypnotizing, well, cleanliness.

Follow the light Carol Anne!

But if we dare to blink our eyes a few times or, god/gosh forbid, think, it quickly becomes clear that what we’re really feasting on is, in reality, the beginning of our own demise.  The homogenization of difference.  The demonization and illegalization of the essence of who most of the 65 million of us are, or certainly believe in.

Ms. Barrett and Mr. Trump smiled a great game from the Rose Garden Saturday afternoon.  Heck, so did even  Kellyanne Conway and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham from the audience, and when was the last time you could say that about the latter?

She looks better than I thought #shade

But make no mistake.  If you are female, if you are LGBTQ, if you are not guided by religion, if you are non-white, OR if you are at all an ally in any sort of way of any of the aforementioned above, you should be more than alarmed.

Not to mention, you can also now count yourself, as allies, among that infamous 65 million of 2016 whose beliefs and lives will truly be in peril. (Note: aka The Majority).

I won’t go through all the many ways we should be panicked at the nomination and likely immoral confirmation of this woman.  Read these links and simply let the facts do it for you:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Blessed be the fruit

But what I will do is encourage you all to remember that though dreams and nightmares are personal works of fiction, they spring from the reality of your mind.

Now more than ever in the next five weeks heading up to this election it’s important that each and every one of us trust in our minds, in our own ways of thinking, and especially in our own instincts on impending danger, and take any actions available to save ourselves, our compatriots and, most of all, even our fellow citizens/enemies from the worst of themselves.

Or shall I say, all of ourselves???

Alice Cooper – “Welcome to My Nightmare”