Tag: politics

Trumpland: The Old Fierce Pull of the Blood

It happened. I don’t know if I can really explain it. I don’t want to place blame, at this point that won’t do anyone any good, but I do want to understand how someone as vile as Donald Trump could become the President Elect of the United States of America.

What I heard most was that people were sick of the direction the United States was heading…That confuses me. Direction? Like equal rights? Marriage Equality? Legal Pot? Healthcare coverage for everyone? That direction? Is that the direction we are talking about? Or was it really about safety? Are people so worried about terrorism, black lives mattering, brown people taking “our”jobs, big businesses taking manufacturing jobs overseas, and women having a say about their bodies, that they were willing to take a chance on a man who made promises like a sixth grade ASB election? “We’re gonna have a Coke machine and the teachers are going to pay for it.”

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to make a protest vote when you don’t have anything to lose.

For some reason Faulkner’s short story Barn Burning popped into my head yesterday as I was thinking about this election. Faulkner helps those of us who don’t live in the South understand the South. In the story Abner Snopes is a bit of a southern rascal. He moves from farm to farm doing as little work as possible and when someone in power pushes him into a corner he responds by burning a barn and running away or dragging his horse shit covered boot across an expensive white carpet in the main house. “Wood kin burn” is one of my favorite lines in the story, it foreshadows the final scene and it tells you everything you need to know about Abner…he gets his power from destruction. Let it burn! Why not? He’s got nothing to lose. It’s not his barn. That ain’t his carpet.

Abner’s son knows it wrong to burn the barns and tries to stop him, but he can’t. He feels the “old fierce pull of the blood” but he eventually runs into the darkness to escape the destructive actions of his father. That pull of the blood, the idea that the past holds a promise of greatness, the obedience to the blood of family gives people who are powerless the idea that power was something they had at one time, but it has been taken away from them and they are now victims of the great machine.

If there is one thing I know from experience it is power dynamics and how that works with groups of people, I deal with it every day. People need to feel they have power, the ability to determine their path, and when they feel powerless they will reach out to gain power through destruction. Why do bathrooms get vandalized in schools? It’s the perfect place to destroy something without getting caught. Why do students disrupt classes? Because it meets their power needs. It’s better to get sent to the office than have to analyze Barn Burning‘s connection to modern elections.

I guess I understand that aspect of voting for Trump, a protest vote, a Molotov Cocktail tossed into the White House. Let it burn, you’ve got nothing to lose. Look at the election polling and one thing is clear, my fellow white males are angry. The numbers are shocking and telling. Polls were wrong going into the election because white males couldn’t vote for “that woman” and were willing to vote for someone staggeringly unprepared for the job.  We put all our money on a lame horse with long odds because we had very little to lose.

So, it’s done. Now what to we do? I saw people protesting the results in major cities across the US last night. They are angry. They might be willing to burn some barns too, they have nothing to lose now that Trump is President. I don’t know what to say to them. I will make a promise. I will not stand by quietly and let the United States get pushed back to 1950. I will stand by them when things are difficult. I will be more vocal.

With that said, I also want to give the Donald his chance to be a President of ALL of the United States. I was furious when the republicans announced their goal was to make Obama a one term President and then spent eight years blocking anything that would have assisted the rust belt and built infrastructure. I don’t want to double down on stupid.

But…I hear “wood kin burn.”

 

Explaining Trump to Europe

It happened; I knew it would. At some point during my trip I knew I would be asked, “Is Donald Trump going to be President?” I guess I didn’t think it would happen as often as it did.

The first time was after I had been in Europe for about 30 minutes. A young man in Schiphol Airport stopped me to ask if he could survey me and since I had a two-hour layover I needed something to do. He asked a few questions about whether I would use an automated system to get my boarding passes and then he asked, “What nation are you from?”

“I’m from the United States.” He looked at me like he wanted to ask something else and I could feel it. I waited, but he was polite and he probably wasn’t supposed to ask personal questions when he was on the clock so I filled in. “Yeah, I’m sorry.” (This might be the Obama apology tour I read about on Facebook, but since it was just me, and about 7 years later than the tour Obama took to say he was sorry for being an American and how he was going to take everyone’s guns and put freedom loving Americans in re-education camps so that he could destroy America and turn it over to ISIS, I could be mistaken.)

He smiled, “Do you think Trump will be President?”

“I don’t think so. I hope not, but…” I shrugged. “There are a lot of stupid Americans though.” (Yeah, I said it and I’m not sorry. Try me for treason, or whatever you think is appropriate, I have plenty of evidence to support my statement.)

“Well, good luck,” he said.

“We need it.”

 

On a boat tour in Amsterdam our guide eventually got around to asking. The rest of the people in the boat (two Brits, two South Africans) stopped their side conversations and leaned in to hear an explanation. There were four of us, Americans, who shook our heads and tried to explain how it couldn’t happen with the Electoral College and how Trump would implode, but who knows what will happen. I assumed the other couple in the boat were republicans: wealthy, older, retired; but they were as flummoxed as I was to explain our presidential election process and how Trump had survived. Our guide summarized his feelings, “Well, I hope he isn’t elected, that would be bad for everyone,” and he wasn’t talking about the United States, he was speaking for the world, which as captain of our little boat he was allowed to do.

 

In Munich, we were sitting in an Italian restaurant with Maike (an exchange student who lived with us in the US) and her university friend. The sun was going down, our pizza was still in the oven, and all of us were moving on to our second drink when it came up. Maike and her friend had both been exchange students so they understood Americans better than most Europeans and that is what worried them. They knew what makes America great and what makes it weak. The irony that we sat less than a kilometer from where the Beer Hall Putsch took place wasn’t lost on me as we discussed how someone like Trump could become the leader of the free world. (I’m not one of those liberals who believes everyone is Hitler, and I think that Hitler comparisons to politicians are offensive, but when the hairdo fits…–Yes, I know what I just did there, I said comparisons like that are offensive and then I made that very comparison. You got me. You win. Trump isn’t Hitler, he’s more like McCarthy, but McCarthy wasn’t a presidential candidate and eventually flamed out when everyone realized he was full of shit.)

Germans know the reality of how these things happen and they know the lasting scars left on a national identity. I remember Maike talking to me about how a few American students were teasing her about Hitler while she was a student in the US. “I don’t know what to say. We know he was a bad man and he did very bad things,” she said nearly in tears. I tried to explain that most high school kids in the US only knew Germany as the place where Hitler killed Jews. Most Americans would never travel to Germany to see how it is today. In many American minds Germany would be forever stuck in 1944, and yet, every year when we read Night students would ask, “How could this happen?”

 

I was asked about Trump in Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, and Stockholm, but it was Budapest where it was hardest to explain. We were on a bike tour with a couple from Texas, a couple from England, two young Danish university students, and our guide who was born as Hungary was escaping from the Soviet grip that had held it since World War II.

I think it started when I teased the British couple about the BrExit and how their country’s vote had crashed the Euro and saved us lots of money on our trip. “I’m glad it helped you. Our whole country is a mess and you saved some money…” his frustration bubbled out.

“Weren’t the polls saying it wasn’t going to pass going into the vote?” I asked.

“Yes, and now people who voted for it are saying, ‘I only voted for it because I didn’t think it would pass.’” He went on to say that he had seen numerous interviews with people regretting their votes, and then he turned to me and said, “The same thing could happen to you.”

We all knew what he meant, and he was right. It could happen. The Danish girls wanted to know if we thought it could happen. I started to explain the Electoral College, but everyone at the table already understood how it worked which should make every American understand how important our elections are to the rest of the world because they know how our presidents are elected and I doubt a majority of Americans could explain the process. “It will come down to the swing states: Ohio, Florida, Iowa… I live in a blue state so my vote will only count a little for the president.”

“We live in Texas, a red state, but no one we know is a Trump supporter,” the guy from Texas said. “It’s like they won’t say it out loud, but somebody is voting for him. People don’t trust Hilary,” he shook his head, “and I don’t like her, but I can’t vote for Trump.”

Then our tour guide asked the real question, “How could this happen?” This question came from the young lady who had just guided us around her city showing us monuments from 60 years of Soviet oppression and the scars of WW II. People in Hungary didn’t vote for these events. These events happened to people who had no say in the “elections” of strong men in other countries. What she was really asking was, “Have you all lost your minds? Why would you choose this?”

How could it happen? It isn’t supposed to happen, is it? (Please excuse me while I get a little patriotically sappy.) The rest of the world does look to the US as beacon of freedom. Our elections influence the world. Who we choose for the next four years will not just be a choice for us; it is a choice for the rest of the world. Is this who we have become? Frightened, xenophobic, misogynistic?

Six months ago, I laughed off the possibility that we would elect someone like Donald Trump. I’m not laughing any longer, and I can’t really explain it. It makes no sense to me.

 

 

The poet as prophet: An evening with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (There is no crying at a rap concert)

Macklemore returned home last night to begin a 50-city tour of his recently released album The Heist. The album is the number one album on iTunes and last night’s concert at the WAMU Theater was one of those moments in life when things just come together: The album rising to the top, Macklemore kicking off his tour in his hometown, and over 7,500 members of his Shark Face Gang attending the sold out concert.

I am certain that most of the attendees had a great night, but I must say that my evening ended up being more of an opportunity to reflect on the role of the artist in society. This might sound like an odd reaction to a concert that had all of the markings of a full-scale attack on my senses, but when it was over there was a moment in the concert that will stay with me forever, a moment when I was genuinely moved to tears. Every so often things conspire and come together in a way that is more powerful than simple fate, Thomas Hardy writes of this phenomenon is his poem The Convergence of the Twain. The waste and opulence of the Titanic and its meeting with the uncompromising forces of nature. These two opposing forces are brought together in the poem in an epic collision that accentuates our human weaknesses and flaws. The concert provided a moment like this last night.

Scientist, Paul Dirac once said, “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in the case of poetry, it’s the exact opposite!” In other words, poetry reveals a truth that is directly before us, one that all of us see, but just cannot express. For me Macklemore has done this with his song Same Love. The song relates a truth; marriage equality is a human right that can no longer be denied to couples of the same-sex. Bigotry and hatred can be masked in many ways, but a pointy white hood is a pointy white hood. Mask it in religion or mask it in tradition, either way the hood must come off and people must see the face of truth.

The concert had been roaring along for a good 45 minutes before Macklemore stopped, brought out a stool to sit on and then talked about what he called “the most important song I have ever written.” This was not hubris; it was the truth. He has written songs about several important social issues, but this one is situated perfectly in time and place. In Washington we will be voting very soon to see if marriage equality will be recognized in our state.

The song starts off with what can only be described as a church organ playing a sustained note, soon followed up with some plunking on a piano. Macklemore begins the lyrics to the song relating his earliest memories and fears of homosexuality and slowly begins to connect the opposing ideas of religious love and institutional bigotry and how these two forces can no longer control the debate about a human right that should be available to all people. When vocalist Mary Lambert blasted out her chorus and the crowd responded by singing in unison, Lambert was visibly moved. She paused, lowered her head, and tried to gain composure.  When Lambert could not draw the air into her lungs to sing the next note the crowd lifted her, sang her words, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to. My love…my love… my love. She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm.” The words that were probably written in a small notebook somewhere in Seattle had converged at this moment: The words of Macklemore, the voice of Mary Lambert, and the crowd of thousands singing along. It was in that moment when the beauty of the human heart was revealed. The simple truth, the power of language, the elevation of the spirit, all converged at that moment to lift all 7,500 of us. We floated above the casual concerns of the earth for several minutes, all of us joined together in the common bond of love. The bond we all seek and explore in our many different journeys held us together and brought the air into our lungs as we sang together. Heaven must be as lovely as that moment.  The crowd lifted the musician who had lifted them. It was a perfect moment. There is no other way to express it. When the human soul is raised to an expression of love and communion like it did Friday night, what can one say?

The role of the artist in society is to uncover a truth that has been sitting before us but has gone unnoticed before. The poet’s job in his/her artistic pursuit is to breathe life and emotion into this truth so that when the truth is laid bare before us it is undeniable.

The artist reveals himself unapologetically. Bearing his soul, his frailties, and his imperfections to the audience so that we can see those truths in our lives also. His role in society as a truth-teller cannot be overlooked. There is no more important job on the earth. The artist may not be as valued as those so-called “job creators” but holding a looking glass up to society is the artist’s responsibility. Most of us shrink from the thought of baring our souls honestly and completely. Red Smith said that writing was easy; you just sat down at a typewriter open a vein and bleed.  Macklemore’s gift is that he hasn’t just opened a vein; he has taken out a surgical knife and opened a hole from his neck to his bellybutton. His blackened secrets come out as purging, hot blood: His struggles with addiction, his relapse, his fight for artistic freedom, and his personal connection to the issue of marriage equality. He heaps his guts on the stage. He also plays court jester to the crowd, turning that mirror on the obsession of the hip-hop culture with shoes and clothing. His ability to point out our nation’s mania with consumer goods in a song like Thrift Store is brilliant, but in a venue where T-shirts are sold for $25-$45 Macklemore manages to strike the right playful tone.

I won’t be joining the Shark Face Gang anytime soon (the sweatshirts were already sold out), but I can say that this Macklemore fellow has what it takes to be called Artist.

 

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