Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The American Stain, or, Come on, White People, Stop Lying

Cartoon by Rogers Pittsburgh Post Gazette Please Don't Sue Me I'm Already Broke.
I cannot remember a more demoralizing four months in governance.

In November of 2016, about 40% of U.S. voters (give or take a couple of percentage points depending on who is counting) elected a man so vile in personality and so low in moral character that Richard Nixon looks statesmanlike in comparison, and George Bush looks like an aspiring saint.

The 60% of us who did not want this man in office immediately went into serious shock, and have since that time been descending through the various stages of grief:

    •     #1 Denial: This can’t be happening. We will take to the streets and work every second and make lots of noise and it will go back to the way it was!
    •    #2 Bargaining: Okay, maybe we can’t be in the streets every minute and maybe it won’t go away right away but we will fix it, just not as fast. Everyone will do what the can and the bad man will stop being bad, someday, maybe.
    •    #3 Depression: Shit. We have a dictator and he’s dangerous and Congress is craven and stupid and they don’t care about us one whit. It's all over. Why even live? Life sucks.

This week the country seemed to enter the depression state en masse as 45, the ugly American at the top of the pile, threw a week-long tantrum that started firing the FBI director—something that has been done only one other time in history. The tantrum continued.

Baldly admitting during a television interview that he fired Comey to obstruct an ongoing investigation into his ties with Russia, 45 humiliated his staff, threatened the intelligence community AND Comey on Twitter, and threatened to pull the funding for the ACA anytime he felt like it.Then he had the Russians into the Oval Office with no US press allowed but Russian press welcomed (because Putin asked him to, and how could he say no?)

Then he admitted he told the Russians a sensitive highly classified secret and also called Comey a 'nut job' and admitted the pressure over 'this Russ-er thing' was off now that Comey was gone.

Then his family said, hey Dad, let's all go to the Middle East! Like, um... now! Right away!

Chop, chop,  time's a wastin'.

The 45 Show never ends. I mean, seriously. This perpetual dumpster fire literally never ends.

But the real problem is us.

We all know it is, too.

The Worm Hath Turned

When I was a kid, every time a change came that hinted at somebody getting his or her just comeuppance, my Irish-American grandmother would declare smugly,

“Pammy, the worm hath turned!”

White America’s refusal to confront the legacy of slavery and an intractable acceptance of white supremacy post-Civil War is what brought 45 to power. Not jobs. Not the economy. Not his 'refreshing direct language.' Please. Russia could not have gotten so much as a dirty look from voters if we weren’t already so bitterly divided.

During the obsessive election postmortem, pundits were fond of explaining that politicians in both parties had ignored working class white America for way too long—so long, in fact, that the desperate working poor were willing to vote for a huckster and a liar.

Oh bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. 

Listen, I’m a white working class American, so is my husband, so are my kids, and so are my in-laws, and all sorts of other folks who live and vote here in the decaying rust belt, and we were, to a person, horrified by His Royal Orangeness, his filthy mouth, his racist ideas, his bold stupidity, his untreated mental illness, his horrible clothes, his fatty diet, and his piggish and criminal abuse of women.

What’s more, while some of the white working class poor wailed and moaned about brown people taking 'their' jobs and 'their' country, black Americans were struggling harder than almost any other group, and the ‘illegals’ they so despised were picking tomatoes and corn and fruit for wages no white person would ever accept—that is, if a white person could even work like that, which few will.

Some were receiving no wages at all. 

A few years ago, Michigan, the fruit belt of the Midwest, tried forcing farmers to hire white citizens over transient brown workers through state legislation. The legislature had to repeal that attempt shortly after it became law. White people were walking off these jobs after half an hour; eventually workers stopped showing up at all, and crops began to spoil in the fields.

Of course, there are all those great slaughterhouse jobs a bit farther west--jobs where South American refugee teens lose limbs and bleed to death on the cutting floor, and there is also the slavery of the tomato and strawberry pickers in Florida—a place that routinely and openly coerces ‘illegals’ fleeing brutal conditions in South American dictatorships to work for free or be turned over to ICE.

There are also all those great dish-washing jobs and domestic positions white people are missing out on. Oh yeah, and stripping and making up motel beds and cleaning up pubes and puke.

In short, all of us are suffering since the crash of 2008 (and before!), but black and brown people are suffering way more, as usual, than poor whites.

The big difference is not the suffering, it's the sense of entitlement.

When some poor whites start suffering the same harsh conditions blacks have suffered since the horror of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, some of us white folks experienced that loss of special privilege as an unfair attack. Are these people not due certain considerations just for being white?

They feel they are. Or they should be. They say as much. Openly.

White Supremacy is the gasoline that fueled the fire that energized 45’s campaign--not job loss, not aborted babies, not the tragedy of the opioid epidemics--which by the way no one gave two hoots about so long as illegal drugs only killed urban blacks--and not the terror of gays and transsexuals doing anything at all,  just daring to, you know, exist.

No, it was race. White entitlement. White whining and pissing and moaning.

And we, as a culture, as a nation, still don’t want to talk about it.

Why not? It’s been 154 years by the shortest count, much longer if you count the slaves brought here in the 17th century, before America was even a thing. Slaves that literally built the country. For free.

Too soon? Seriously? After 154 years? After over 300 years?

As my grandmother used to cluck, the worm has turned all right.

And now we have a nation ruled by worms.

This Means W.A.R.: Whites Against Racism? Why Not?

Here’s something you don’t see very often: White people talking to other white people about how not to act like racist assholes (and how not to be racist assholes, and why this is worth working on).

You just don’t see much of that.

And there’s a good reason you don’t see it.

It’s because, as a white person, if you pipe up in that voice in public, you put your own safety in peril. At the very least, you’re likely to get shouted down, or drown in a chorus of, “My great-grandfather wasn’t even HERE during slavery,” or some other whiny sniveling evasive rant. The 2017 justification for this is "I don't believe in political correctness," which, nine times out of ten is a coded way of saying, "I'm not going to be ashamed of my racism."

During the Watts riots, I was standing in line at a Mini-Mart behind five or six assorted white people, some well-dressed, some in work clothes, some just waiting to buy a lottery ticket. The conversation in front of me turned to the riots, with everyone going on about “these people who go and burn down their own neighborhoods,” while looking nervously over their shoulders to be sure no black people were around.

Being way more mouthy that intelligent, I said, “Would you be happier if they hopped on buses and burned down YOUR neighborhood?”

The silence after that quip was so heavy, I decided to leave. Right away.

Because I’m cowardly that way. I am.

I've been through worse, but I'll get to that by and by. My history is what inspire my cowardice.

I have stories to tell about race, lots of them.

Recently some online writer friends were talking about what we could do about this mess the US finds itself in, what would help, and one person suggested a blogging circle. “The only bad thing is,” she warned,”you will get trolled. If you write about politics you will get trolled.”

I used to write about politics back before 2008 but I gave it up because I got sick of trolls. That was years ago. But I thought her blogging circle idea wasn’t bad. I need a place to dump my anti-45 thoughts, and it seemed to me that it also might be the right time for me to tell my stories and talk to other white people about race and my own experiences confronting racism.

Basically I'm taking up Michael Eric Dyson's challenge to white people to challenge each other. Already I am getting shit about it, which is encouraging.

So that’s my declaration of W.A.R.

I mean to speak for no one except myself. These are personal stories and will be presented as such. They are not prescriptive or preachy, just an account of shit that has actually happened in my actual life, shit I have never had a place to share.

Take from it what you will, or leave it.

And stay tuned.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dear Stephen: A Letter to an English Friend About Life Under Trump

Dear Stephen,

Courtesy of Inkygirl, creative commons license.
It’s pretty clear to me that there was collusion between not just the Russians and Trump's team but Trump himself. He brags that he doesn't play by the rules, and that he games the system. I'm sure some voters saw that as an asset, as if knowing how to beat the system meant that he understood it and could win the Washington game for them, but that's the same lie we were told when Bush and 
Obama tried to persuade us that the guys who caused the financial meltdown were just the guys to fix it, since no one understood it better than them. The biggest lie was in the last phrase- they didn't understand it. Then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." That quote is from the New Yorker. From NBC: “A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down,” Greenspan said. “I still do not fully understand why it happened.”

I don't think  Trump thought he would lose without help from Putin. I think it's simply the way he operates. What  evidence beyond his behavior for the last seventy years is needed to observe that the fat fuck has no moral compass? The goddamned media has bought into the current "post truth" fetish. The only reason they cover him now is the same reason they gave him a trillion dollars worth of free advertising during the campaign. The media loves conflict and Trump is loaded for bear with potential conflict. He's certain clickbait, and the media doesn't give a shit if it's negative or positive- “Just look at our fucking ads, stupid". They're corporate whores, and covering his reality show antics is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for good investigative journalism.

There are a few things going on with Trump that although  they aren't news ought to be repeated here. One, he lies so egregiously and so often that it's difficult to sort it all out and winnow out whatever germ of truth might have accidentally wandered into his remarks.. Second, although he claims not to care what others think of him, he's in fact so thin skinned that he can't let any criticism slide, no matter how trivial. He tries to cover his dumb ass with bluster in cases like this. Hence, when he blurted out that he fired James Comey to end the investigation into his ties with Russia, it was not only true- disconcerting enough coming from a congenital liar-  but bluster. It was Trump's great "Fuck you!" to the system. He doesn't have a feel for politics at all, and cut the legs out from under his entire staff, who were trying to pass off their own outrageous and completely different lie that Comey was fired for being mean to Hillary. But of course we're reeling from the audacity of it all and stand by gobsmacked. He hasn't been able to decide which he's going to react with, one of the lies or more bluster, so he's used both and we're left wondering if he's arrogant or stupid, when in fact both things are true. In any case it was an unbelievably stupid admission, bluster or not.

It couldn't be more obvious, or more simple, that Comey was fired for exactly the reason Trump gave- he didn't like the Trump/Russia investigation and wanted to end it. The simplest explanation is very often the most likely, and whether Trump had chosen to lie or tell the truth, ending the investigation is the one thing he might think he had to gain from dismissing Comey. But of course he only succeeded in making himself guilty of obstruction of justice, coincidentally the exact offense that brought Richard Nixon face to face with impeachment and resulted in his resignation to avoid that fate.

What Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Nixon over forty years ago is also true of Trump: The son-of-a-bitch ought to have his nuts ripped off with a plastic fork. When Trump thumbs his nose at the system he gets big cheers from his hard core of supporters, but what he's thumbing his nose at is our system of checks and balances and our rule of law. He thinks he's above the law and his staunchest backers are looking for revenge against a government that they think has sold them down the river, so every nail he drives in the coffin of the republic sends them into an ecstasy of perceived retaliation. They don't recognize white privilege and are so blind to it that equality looks like oppression to them. And they have no loyalty to that system anymore for all their protestations of patriotism and love for America. They claim to love a vanished America, and indeed many of them do pine for the vanished and traitorius Confederate States of America, paragon of Christian virtue that it was.

There is a recent article in The Nation magazine  by Susan McWilliams:  "This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson.”.


McWilliams points out that Thompson described the culture and motivation of our present class of Trump deplorables fifty years ago in his book " Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs". Thompson chronicled the philosophy of violent and total retribution that was followed by the Angels  against anyone who crossed them, which meant pretty much any outsider, and almost all of us are outsiders to them. I remember the book well, and Thompson in his turn had credited Nelson Algren from his book, "A Walk on the Wild Side". 

"Algren’s book opens with one of the best historical descriptions of American white
trash ever written.
 He traces the Linkhorn ancestry back to the first wave of bonded
servants to arrive on these shores. These were the dregs of society from all over the British
Isles – misfits, criminals, debtors, social bankrupts of every type and description – all of
them willing to sign oppressive work contracts with future employers in exchange for
ocean passage to the New World. Once here, they endured a form of slavery for a year or
two – during which they were fed and sheltered by the boss – and when their time of
bondage ended, they were turned loose to make their own way."

Later: 

Drifting became a habit; with dead roots in the Old World and none in the New, the
Linkhorns were not of a mind to dig in and cultivate things. Bondage too became a habit,
but it was only the temporary kind. They were not pioneers, but sleazy rearguard camp followers of the original westward movement. By the time the Linkhorns arrived anywhere
the land was already taken – so they worked for a while and moved on. Their world was a
violent, boozing limbo between the pits of despair and the Big Rock Candy Mountain. They
kept drifting west, chasing jobs, rumors, homestead grabs or the luck of some front-running
kin. They lived off the surface of the land, like armyworms, stripping it of whatever they
could before moving on. It was a day-to-day existence, and there was always more land to
the west.
 Some stayed behind and their lineal descendants are still there – in the Carolinas,
Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee. There were dropouts all along the way: hillbillies,
Okies, Arkies – they’re all the same people. Texas is a living monument to the breed. So is southern California."

I know these people, Stephen. I grew up with them, went to school with them  and worked with them. Lived next door to them. I don't shrink at all from identifying them as deplorables and racists. Not many of them ever  did believe that Trump would fix their problems or bring back their jobs, dumb as they are. What they liked were the things that repelled the rest of us, Trump's open misogyny and bigotry. They liked his fascism. He blamed the same people they blame- anyone seen as not "one of us", and they're out to burn down the system, burn it all down, since being white and Christian is no longer enough to buy them special treatment. In the past was a time when no matter how low they were in the pecking order, at least they weren't black or brown skinned or Jews, and by God that meant something. If the system won't give them back what they once had they mean to see to it that nobody has it.

In an earlier time we'd have been able to count on a congress that still had some vestiges of decency to thwart Trump's ambition and restrain his excesses, but this is no longer that time. The "Freedom Caucus" wing of the House, put there in the rebellion once known as the Tea Party, was elected by the folks Thompson and Algren described, Bible thumping, hellfire and brimstone preaching, hard drinking and bitter, and the right wing ideologues that make up the rest of the Republican congress are more interested in their own agenda of stripping away the last threads of an already shredded New Deal. Theirs is a bankrupt political philosophy demonstrated to be false time and again, but these are Ayn Rand devote├ęs and they believe with the fervor and fanaticism of true believers. They are beholden to huge muti-national corporations which are now the sugar tit they suckle. Democrats will put up some resistance but many of them are nursing from the same tit. The Democrats will bring a hacky sack to a street fight.

Plainly the incidents of Russian hacking and Comey's ill-advised tepid dismissal of the email charges against Hillary had an effect on the election. Only a fool would find nothing suspicious about the timing of that move. But concentrating on that distracts attention from an unrelenting assault by the Republican party in legislatures across the country on the voting rights of minorities, most of whom would vote Democratic. Voter suppression is not there yet, but it’s approaching the old Jim Crow years and includes the conservative Supreme Court’s repudiation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. When you add in the apathy many of those same voters feel, and the defeat of the most acceptable alternative to either Hillary or Trump- Bernie Sanders- the voting rolls were trimmed and diverted enough for Trump to just squeeze in. 
And squeeze he did! He won the popular vote in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a tiny amount, giving him the bare edge in electoral votes. Inquiries into the legality and accuracy of the vote were slammed shut by Republican legislatures in each case and we may never know whether there was hacking at the state level by the Russians or ballot manipulation by the Republicans. Journalist Greg Palast has reported on shenanigins in several states, but of course it’s buried in an avalanche of clown show performances by the Trump administration. And given the constant barrage of misdeeds by that administration, it seems likely that any election irregularities will take a permanent back seat to more pressing issues, leaving us vulnerable to a repeat performance in 2020. 

We’ve been there and done that. In the election of 2000 it was made clear that reform of our federal elections was badly needed and that some kind of standardization of procedures by the states was in order. We have had one Democratic House since then and they did not address it. You can bet your last quid that no Republican congress is going to devote itself to the mantra of one man, one vote. As far as they’re concerned money talks and everything else walks. It’s interesting to me that the Old South and the Dixiecrats who waved its flag considered blacks to be property and thus ineligible to vote, while now they’re married to the party whose idea is that property should indeed have a vote. 
William Hutson 
The letter above was penned by my husband, William Hutson. Bill writes political commentary and humor at another blogging site and regularly corresponds with friends overseas. 




Monday, February 20, 2017

The Madness of King Donald

Did you know that the 25th Amendment to the Constitution outlines a procedure for removing a President from office due to mental or physical incompetence?

Did you know it before November 8th, 2016?

Yeah, me neither.

What I did know, and what I've known as far back as I can remember, is a thing or two about the consequences of crazy.

Mental health professionals of various stripes have lately been debating whether it is 1) ethical, and 2) possible to diagnose a public figure simply by observing his public words and behaviors.

I suppose this debate grew out of a hopeful reinterpretation of the 25th Amendment. Our President appears to be batshit. Can we use this obscure procedure to get him out of office? How would we begin? What diagnosis would be most compelling?

Forget all that speculation. Just put that debate right out of your head, while you still have a head, and listen up. That debate is not for you, it's for people with time and money and years of expertise on their hands, so leave them to it.

No, what you need to know, what we all need to know right now How Can Ordinary People Deal With a Disordered Personality? If a popular book on this topic existed (I'm sure there are many), we could all just buy one, but I'm going to save you some money.

Because I've had to do this for most of my life, and I have some tips and tricks.

How To Deal With a Disordered Personality

First of all, whenever possible, don't.

I'm not being snarky or flippant, I'm speaking from years of experience trying to sort things out with mad relatives, spouses, and friends. If you can just stay away from that, do it. Just because someone has a blood kinship with you doesn't give that person the right to verbally and emotionally abuse to you for the rest of your life.

You don't get to chose your family, but you can chose how much time you waste on them for no apparent good reason.

However, if you are in a close relationship with a person with Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, or any other disorder with 'personality' as a distinguishing diagnostic feature, and you want to maintain the relationship, the first thing you have to do is save yourself.

Saving yourself means learning how to disengage and focus on your own needs as often as necessary.

Once you learn the art of disengagement and self-care  (and this isn't easy by any means), you may choose to engage with such a person for any number of reasons. Maybe your person is in a crisis. (Are they ever not?)  Maybe you care about this person and he or she has asked for your help. Maybe you feel forced to deal with this person for business or other reasons and you just can't get out of it.

If you know you must sometimes engage with a disordered personality:

    1)    Maintain a relaxed level of detachment.
    2)    Set limits on time and intimacy.
    3)    Communicate what you need to communicate in a calm voice using brief, repetitive sentences.
    4)    Recognize you may not be heard and will have to do it all over again at some future date.

Above all, don't take this person's personality personally. What he says and does isn't about you. The ongoing drama is always ALL about the disordered personality's entrenched methods of coping and the use of these methods to control other peoples' attention.

Disordered personalities are comfortable with chaos and drama. If there isn't any occurring naturally, they are absolute artists at creating some.

Controlling Through Chaos
Personality disorders are rarely diagnosed as a single problem. They usually occur in conjunction with other psychiatric diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or any of the anxiety disorders. Typically people seek treatment for the depression or anxiety, and the personality disorder is tacked on by a clinician so the next clinician will have a shorthand description of entrenched behaviors and emotional responses.

In other words, Narcissists don't seek treatment for their narcissism, and Borderline Personalities rarely seek treatment for being Borderline unless they end up hospitalized or are in repeated trouble with the law or some other social intervention interrupts their routine.

The reason why not is straightforward: These people have learned to control situations by creating chaos and the last thing they want to give up is that sense of control. Calm and sanity, the very conditions that reassure most of us, terrify them.

It's easy enough to see this in the behavior of our current president. His antics are nonstop, confusing, and exhausting. He lies so easily and so often that he sometimes spouts contradictory falsehoods in the same sentence. He clearly revels in this dysfunction and if he doesn't get enough of it he arranges rallies so he can conjure up some more.

Put any name you want on his disordered personality, I want you to recognize his effect on YOU.  HE'S a psychic vampire: a man who by his very presence sucks other people emotionally and mentally dry, spitting out the withered husks that used to be their souls when there is no 'juice' left and moving on to the next victim.

When you know a person is into baffling you with bullshit, you either dump that person entirely or learn to keep your distance and look for slip ups and behavioral clues about what is really going on. You know you can't listen to their nonsense. So you learn to read the situation.

Pay Attention to the Men Behind the Curtain
I don't mean to minimize the personal suffering of people coping with mental illnesses. People with personality disorders suffer, and I am not hardened to that suffering. I just know what I can fix and what I can't.

For instance if, like I did, you have a mom with a disordered personality you know that anything, no matter how small or petty, can turn into an occasion for drama and histrionics. Your attention is demanded on all these occasions--your total attention-- but it will never, ever be rewarded.

In fact, just as you are about to collapse from fatigue and confusion and throw up your hands, your attempts to 'help' end the mess and drama will be met with vitriol, blame, and spite. This makes sense once you understand that maintaining the chaos is the goal, not ending it. The entire crisis is just a ruse, a gimmick to suck you in and suck you dry.

After awhile, you learn to leave mom to it and let her describe your coldness to an endless parade of other marks who don't know her as well as you do.

My mother died nearly 30 years ago. From this distance I have a lot of compassion for her--her difficult upbringing, her fears and sorrows, her many humiliations. But up close and personal, while I was living with it, not so much.

Relatives are hard to deal with anyway, and we all have some madman or madwoman chained up in the attic (sometimes in our family it's me). But starting in January of 2017, a disordered personality became the leader of the free world.

Yikes.

That's not a new thing, but it's a new thing for the United States.

As a political strategy it was darkly brilliant.

Think of it: The richest people on earth freaked out when this dumpster-fire-clown-show was installed as King, but immediately afterward, while we are all having our souls sucked out reading his tweets and watching his antics and deciphering his populist word salads, these very same Uber-rich folks moved in and got busy robbing what few pennies we have left and plundering the planet, unmolested.

So we have to stop doing that. Stop watching the clown show, turn away from the dumpster fire, ignore the president's words and pay attention to the actions of those around him. Watch those around him very, very closely. 

You'll be amazed at what you see. Already some of his closest associates from his 'business' days are privately brokering a deal with the Ukraine that would install a Putin puppet as leader, giving these men a favored position from which to broker a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon and current Secretary of State, was all set, before US sanctions set were applied, to join with Putin on an oil deal worth billions of dollars to the both of them. Coincidentally, one of the first executive orders signed by the new president gave corporations the right to clandestinely pay off dictators of underdeveloped nations in order to secure access to oil, minerals, etc., within their boundaries.

And there's more. Much more.

Resistance in the Age of Crazy
None of this means resistance is futile. But it does mean that resistance, following the guidelines stated above, must be focused and simply stated, with easy to remember demands and clear consequences for when those demands aren't met.

In other words, when the government goes crazy, we have to go sane.

And here's the important part:

We can't expect that, even with our best, most disciplined efforts that these people will suddenly become pliable and responsive.

No, fuck no! These people are very rich and very crazy. They will stay that way. It works for them. And as for our efforts, they will of course hate us for trying.

The same is true of the president's followers. Stop trying to engage them, it can't be done, you will lose every time. Some people love constant drama and emergency. It releases them from any need to reflect or think or take responsibility for their own suffering in any way.

It's also enormously entertaining--at first. And even when it gets to be too much, it's too much in a pharmaceutical, self-medicating way--like too much ice cream, too much bacon, too much heroin.

What we can expect from focused resistance is that some of our needs may be met if we make big enough pests of ourselves.

Failing that, we will have to shoot these crazy rich people and poop on their lawns. (Anyway that's what usually happens historically speaking.)

Happily we do have some indication the focused pest strategy can yield results.

When the first act of Congress was to get rid of the Congressional Ethics Department, the phones in DC jammed up so bad they decided, "Oh never mind." When people started showing up at Congresspersons' offices, they started scheduling town hall meetings. When so many people turned out to protest the Muslim ban, three state attorneys sued to block it and won.

It's a lot of work, a lot of thinking things through, a lot of phone calls, a lot of protests, but what is the alternative? Yeah, that. So take care of yourself when you get tired.

It's going to be a long four years.