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”

Channeling the Rage

Here’s what I will remember about the day that all pretense of the US Supreme Court being an impartial arbiter of justice died:

Female voices screaming SHAME! while Mike Pence methodically tapped his tiny white mini-cup/gavel from a raised podia/desk, stoically demanding::

The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery.

Of course, there is no order of any kind that will be restored as long as Pence is Vice President and Donald J Trump continues as the Electoral College POTUS.

everyday is a nightmare

Everyone knows it and yet there is a pretense that somehow this can all be worked out because Americans all are part of one big great family.

Let’s be plain, if you are a member of a family with an extremely abusive, rage-a-holic FATHER and a second-in-command mother who goes along with all that he says and does, it NEVER works out.

Though, it could probably make a good script.

One or two sessions with a good therapist will make it clear that the only way to survive is to take the power away from the abuser and recognize YOU have the power.

YOU can choose whether to continue the status quo and remain a victim of abuse or to fight back in any way you see fit.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many ways to fight back in families.  These are the top 2:

  1. Cease contact and remove the abuser from your life
  2. Join forces with allies and remove the abuser from power

In the case of the American family the first option is admittedly a limited one.

Considering this shack in the woods? #nottheunibomber

Sure, you can choose NOT to watch Electoral College POTUS preen and insult his enemies-of-the-day list at Third Reich-style nativist rallies held solely in red states.

But you cannot fully remove yourself from the wrath of his power i.e. the laws he enacts, unless you renounce your citizenship and move elsewhere.

Once a person turns 18 or 21 in a small, abusive nuclear family moving out and asserting independence is a more than practical and advisable option.  However, it is NOT an option for anyone under age.

I mean… unless you are a boy wizard.

So at this time in the extended American family we can all consider ourselves minors – or at least a general population with all the rights of minors. Therefore, we are left with option #2.

What this means is to stop wasting time engaging in debate about our abuser and instead conspire to go around him and his minions.

In plainer talk it means removing HIM and THEM from power.

The young people will win.

There is no point trying to reason with a rage-a-holic liar.   Even when you win, you lose because as long as they sit at the top they can weaponize the system any way they like.

You might succeed in making your case but they withhold funds.

You can reach an agreed compromise but they might back out at any moment and pull the rug out from under you.

You could get everyone who matters to agree that this is the law of your land but because they control the government and all means of production, they might instead choose NOT to ENFORCE the rules you previously both agreed to and fought for.

OK Chairy, this is starting to feel more real. #holdme #underhiseye

Brett Kavanaugh proved to be exactly this type of rage-a-holic liar at his confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court, under oath and before a judicial committee of senators, as well as the world.

Fearing his ascendance to his lifelong aspiration of being a Supreme Court judge was over after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in great detail of his teenage attempt to rape her while drunk, he sputtered to the Senate and the world:

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

Yeah, calm down Bart. #ilovebeer

He then added fuel to his raging fire against liberals by following it with:

…And as we all know in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.

Luckily my husband and I got married when Obama was president.  Still, I’d gladly burn the license in front of the Capital building in exchange for Kavanaugh’s removal from the Court in light of those statements.

.. and then we we get remarried I will be registered at West Elm.

The reason is not merely the above.  It is also the continual and convincing rolling proof that he is indeed a first class liar of epic proportions.

Even if one does not believe Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations (Note:  Though I have yet to find anyone outright say SHE is lying), there is PHONE TEXT proof that he lied to the committee as to his knowledge of those and other accusations.

Numerous Yale classmates came forward to state that Kavanaugh and his team texted back and forth with fellow Yalies at least FIVE DAYS prior to the New Yorker piece exposing the drinking and sexual abuse/attempted rape charges against him that he claimed to know NOTHING about.  In those texts and talked about phone calls, both he and his team asked his old friends and classmates for their support in discrediting the charges/accusations/allegations, et. al.  In effect, they were seeking to marshal support behind him before anything he swore under oath to know nothing about came to light.

I can literally only imagine this…

Whether he faces charges or not, and for however long he remains a Supreme Court Justice, what we do now know FOR SURE is that Brett Kavanaugh is both a liar AND a rage-a-holic.

We should consider him exactly like the president who nominated him and deal with him in exactly the same way.  Then, and only then, will the American family truly be restored.

#DEMONSTRATE  #DONATE  #RESIST  #VOTE

Madonna – “American Pie”