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”

Is this Happening?

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.15.00 PM

What is our world coming to?

The new de facto leader of the Republican Party brags he wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and limit the rights of other foreigners, such as the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing genocide in their native country, from ever getting inside our borders.

As a Jewish fellow, all I can say is good thing he wasn’t around when my grandparents entered the country. I’d have a whole different life. Or no life at all.

Here’s what it says on The Statue of Liberty, which at last glance still stands in New York Harbor:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Maybe we take the Statue down in light of 9/11? Or just erase the words. After all, it was a gift from France. They probably wouldn’t mind because of what happened in Paris a few months ago, right?

We could replace it with a shiny gold building that looks like a Dunhill cigarette lighter. That’s Gloria Steinem’s analogy about Trump towers, not mine. Because, well, how can you say it better?

Jugs of Justice

Jugs of Justice

Apropos of something, I have another question. When Trump skipped the last debate before the Iowa primary on Thursday, he claimed to have instead spearheaded an event that raised $6 million for our wounded war veterans through his website. But the only donation link on his website was to his Trump Foundation, which the PUBLIC TRUST(s) will go to our vets. But if this is so, can’t he still get some sort of personal TAX DEDUCTION from it? It’s His Foundation, right?

Any accountants out there know how to maneuver cash as a deduction amid all of the full legal slime written on a multi-billionaire’s federal tax return? Cause every little bit counts – that’s how you get and stay rich to begin with – so I’d love to get a full reading on this. That would be my American Dream at the moment. Assuming anyone could out-maneuver him or his money. Hillary? Bill? Bernie? Bueller? Anyone???

Sorkin, can you hear meeeee?

Sorkin, can you hear meeeee?

A friend of mine wrote on Facebook last week that he doesn’t see how discrimination and exclusion can be remedied by discrimination and exclusion. Okay, he was referring to the Oscars and how under the Motion Picture Academy’s new rules to remedy #OscarsSoWhite people like the lesbian female writer of Nine to Five; one of the biggest child star actors of the sixties and seventies; and another woman who was a pioneering animator back in the day, would have their voting rights stripped despite many decades of membership that always guaranteed voting. Where do these new Academy rule makers think they are – Florida? Don’t they remember that almost a decade ago, they gave Al Gore the Oscar?

Um... no no... we're good

Um… no no… we’re good

Of course Donald Trump’s frontrunner status can be compared to Oscar voting. To quote the words Mel Brooks’ character of Hitler sings in his megahit musical The Producers:

The thing you’ve got to know is…

Everything is show biz….

After which point he sings:   Heil myself, Heil to me….

Ring a bell – or lighter – yet?

#HomerKnows

#HomerKnows

Try explaining the current state of our affairs to small classrooms full of 21 year olds as I attempted this week. Sure, these were writing classes, not political ones, but to be a good writer one needs to draw from real life. Which means an understanding of human behavior in the world as it exists is essential in order to convincingly portray anything remotely recognizable in your made up world.

Somewhere along the line I got flummoxed and actually found myself reduced to phrases like:

It wasn’t always like this.

Or –

Yes, it was crazy, but never this crazy.

And then finally –

No, I’m not sure this is a joke. So why are we all laughing? Well, um, good question!

In the end I’m not sure I did any good at all. I was only hoping at that point, not to make it all seem any worse than it already is.

Me, every 10 seconds

Me, every 10 seconds

Fortunately, teachers are not held to the same standards as doctors. First Do No Harm dictates the Hippocratic oath. Yeah, right, that wasn’t happening.

I can’t blame any of this on the Trumpless Republican debate because I wasn’t watching, Instead, that night I was actually teaching one of these mini-groups. But unfortunately in an effort for clarity I recorded the damned thing and perused the highlights several days later.

Insert "Elephant in the Room" pun here

Insert “Elephant in the Room” pun here

Here are some, courtesy of the Washington Post and my viewing brain:

Jeb Bush: Look, I am in the establishment because my dad, the greatest man alive was president of the United States and my brother, who I adore as well as fantastic brother, was president.

Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Carson: I’ve had more two a.m. phone calls than everybody here put together, making life and death decisions, put together very complex teams to accomplish things that have never been done before.

Sen. Ted Cruz: I would note that that the last four questions have been, “Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted…” Let me just say this…

Moderator: … It is a debate, sir.

DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO HIS EYES!!!

DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO HIS EYES!!!

Another Moderator: Can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not do at all?

Gov. Chris Christie: How about one that I’ve done in New Jersey for the last six years. That’s get rid of Planned Parenthood funding from the United States of America.

Moderator: Anything bigger than that?

Christie: Bigger than that? Let me tell you something, when you SEE thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can’t think of anything better than that. 

Sen. Marco Rubio: Well, let me be clear about one thing, there’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins..Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this earth for 80 years, but to live an eternity with my creator. And I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do.

Walk the walk, Rubio

Walk the walk, Rubio

Oy vey iz mir, as my grandmother used to say. How can this be happening? I have no idea. And I am more confused than ever. But luckily, I’ve never been intimidated by Dunhill lighters. I’ve always thought they were tacky. And the people who used them dumbasses.   And I’ve never been afraid to say so.

Neither should you.

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