What I Learned About Accepting It

This week was the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, so NPR affiliate KCRW in Los Angeles did a call-in retrospective of the spectrum of reactions people had to the election and to Trump’s Presidency thus far.  Most of the callers recounted their feelings of shock, sadness, disappointment and so on, but I just rolled my eyes, remembering that I feared he could actually win all throughout the campaign season.  How did I know?  For me it wasn’t hard to tell if you knew the state of the country as I see it.  Heck, I was reminded of that when I joined a live tweet for last weekend’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead:

Though The Walking Dead is on its surface a show about killing zombies, I’m a fan because to me it’s really about human nature, and what people do in situations that are bleak.  The best episodes to me are about character, and the show is so popular that doing its broadcast, fans get on Twitter and “tweet” out their reactions to each episode in real time.  This season the show features what I see as a  moral dilemma, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse find themselves at war with another group of extremely savage and violent survivors.  As the main characters fight their battles, they find themselves struggling with whether it’s better to kill those who have or tried to kill them in the past, or to show mercy.  I believe that mercy means realizing that when put into a desperate situation, people will do desperate things to survive but are ultimately still people, and thus possible to rehabilitate.  I feel that our civilization itself argues for this, and I see it in our criminal justice system: I think we as a society believe that it’s better to give people a chance than it is to take revenge, hence “innocent until proven guilty,” hence states in the US without a death penalty, hence even our prison industrial complex, unfortunately.  I thought the Walking Dead’s fans were like me, but through the live tweet I realized that to the vast majority of them, it’s just an eye for an eye, kill or be killed, if you kill my dog I will slay your cat, and I believe that kind of thinking is what gave us Donald Trump too.  That’s why I felt the election would go as it did.

If there is one thing I see and hear consistently in all of Trump’s speeches and his supporters words it’s anger.  I feel that many of his supporters are barely-educated lowbrows whose only answer to everything is to hit somebody, like a child might.  To me they seem to value machismo a lot too, which is what I gathered from the bulk of the tweets of the Walking Dead’s fans also. Growing up all over this country has led me to believe that there are a lot of these people like this, so when they encounter a storyline in which there is a clear “bad guy” on the Walking Dead, they understand only one kind of reaction as valid:  Hit him.  Kill him.  So while I’d always believed that because Walking Dead has earned a decent amount of critical acclaim its audience was more sophisticated, the live tweet forced me to  accept the obvious: The Walking Dead is a popular show about killing zombies, so its audience would naturally reflect popular opinion, the same opinions that got us Trump.

In my life I’ve gotten tons of advice that later turned out not to work as intended: be honest.  Be yourself.  Do well in school.  Dreams do come true.  In every case, I had to adjust what I was taught to fit reality as I knew it.  While this has allowed me to survive and even thrive, at the end of the day, I feel that the world is a certain way, and while you can re-frame it to cope, when the rubber meets the road, it is what it is.  We are the culture of the quarterback and the prom queen.  Cheaters prosper all the time.  Bad things happen to good people on a regular basis, and as my therapist taught me, what is “good” anyway?  Most importantly, our culture, the same culture that loves the Walking Dead but doesn’t understand higher forms of morality, voted for and elected the guy that reflected their sensibilities.  Regardless of whether we like it, that’s reality too, and I believe that the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can deal.

I realize how cynical that sounds, but I honestly believe it’s realism, not cynicism.  In the French philosopher Voltaire’s 18th century satire Candide, he muses that in the final analysis, we as individuals have the greatest amount of control over our immediate sphere – our family, our house, our neighborhood; perhaps our town.  I always took that to mean that we do the best we can with anything above and beyond ourselves, but we ultimately are most directly responsible for our own experience of life.  In Candide, awful things happen to the main characters constantly, but they adjust and keep going because that’s really the most that they can possibly do.  This is how I live my life too.  If I can influence somebody who might vote for Trump I do, but I recognize that I might not be able to.  At the same time, Trump moves people so much more than I possibly could, so I feel that I have to prepare to live in the world that I get, regardless of whether it’s going my way.  I feel that what helps me to do that best is to recognize and accept the fundamental truth that we live in a country full of people that love and support Trump, but that not everybody did. and they won the election.  Though The Walking Dead’s live tweet suggests there are a lot of them, the goal of those of us who aren’t should be to come together, “find our tribe” as others have put it, and work toward making the best life – in our immediate sphere – that we possibly can. I feel that at the end of the day, it won’t matter what those who disagree with us are doing.  They can kill all of the innocent people they want, we will stop them if we have to, and not do the same because we believe that’s what’s best for us.  As long as we acknowledge that they exist but decide and live by what’s right for us, I believe that we truly can all get along.  Denying what’s so however, or abdicating our ability to make things better for ourselves seems to me to be just a recipe for misery and conflict, and I refuse to live that way.  Even in a world full of people who would elect Donald Trump.

Donald.Trump As Negan

 

What I Learned About Politics

Believe it or not, I thought last week started well in the world of politics.

 

Anthony Scaramucci was on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, and he and Colbert had what I thought was a mostly civil discussion.  I was honestly glad to see Scaramucci there, as glad as I was to see Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show, because there’s a part of me that always hopes that if people talk intelligently, all of the things that we fight about may actually get solved.

Unfortunately, what I learned in California is that to me, it seems like politics is not about solving problems.  It’s about “winning.”

Just as our legal system is deliberately designed to be adversarial, I believe that our political system is about scoring points and thus winning elections by making the other guy look bad.  I don’t think it’s about solving the problems politicians say they want to solve when they campaign.  If politicians actually wanted to solve problems, I feel that “compromise” wouldn’t be the dirty word that it seems to have become.  Although Stephen Colbert began the week by talking to Scaramucci, one of President Trump’s former staffers, perhaps even in the spirit of compromise or civil discussion, I felt that President Trump ended the week by trying to save face, or put another way, by trying to keep others from scoring points off him.  And I personally believe that by doing so he actually made things worse, thus confirming my feeling that Trump isn’t fit to be President.

Look, I feel that when the sides get to actually talk to each other publicly, like Colbert and Scaramucci or Lahren and Trevor Noah, it’s a good thing.  To me it allows the American voter gets a chance to hear where these people stand on important issues and ideas, particularly with respect to each other.  Ideally, I think this gives voters a chance to decide who they agree with so they can then vote accordingly.  When it’s personalized however, and just about sides scoring points against each other or the other’s party, I don’t see how anybody learns anything.  I think the focus shifts away from what people are talking about, and instead to how they – and their opponent – look saying it.  I don’t think it gets us closer to solving anything, it just forces the speaker to become defensive.  And to me this is a game that a President can’t – and shouldn’t – play.

I feel that one of the bigger differences between the President and any other politician is that he’s the President of everybody, not just his party or his voters.  He’s the President of people who hate him as well as those who love him.  Years ago Roger Ebert did a special show where he talked to then-President Clinton about his favorite movies, and when they got to Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), Clinton said that he’d seen it, and then when Roger Ebert said someone had emailed him saying that the cynical film was what a modern generation who never went to war needed, Clinton didn’t pander to the popular film’s message to score political points with its Generation X fans.  Instead, he expressed his feeling that young people had an unrealistic view of war, and that they had more constructive outlets for their desire to act on their emotions by changing things for the better.  I never forgot that, because to me, that was a Presidential answer, one that demonstrated a concern for people who were unhappy, and that wanted to teach them to channel that negativity into something more positive.  Though Clinton was endlessly criticized, I always got the sense that he understood that the criticisms were part of the job, and that they didn’t affect him personally.  This is the same vibe I got from all of the Presidents in my lifetime up until now – that Presidents knew and accepted that people were going to take shots at them, but that this was just part of the point-scoring game.  At the end of their day, I felt past Presidents realized that their responsibility was to the American people – all of the American people.  Though they didn’t always agree with some of those people’s views, Presidents nonetheless cared about them more than they cared about scoring political or personal points.

Regardless of what you think Trump’s views on race are, the whole ugly episode after a white supremacist killed young protestor Heather Heyer struck me as the response of a man still trying to save face.  I don’t want to speculate on why he took so long to respond, but to me at best it was just negligence – being “asleep at the wheel.”  Having gotten “caught,” I feel he gave a half-hearted response out of spite for being criticized, and then when asked about it after the fact, he effectively threw a tantrum.  Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” I felt that Trump made up some crap about having to get all of the facts, a statement he thought he could pass off as wise or politically correct.  Then he pathetically tried to add to his “wisdom” by saying he needed to see both sides of the “issue,” not realizing that to most people, there can’t be an “issue” when it comes to the Alt-Right – they’re just bad.  Long story short, I felt that he didn’t respond when he should have because he didn’t know to, responded the way he did out of spite, and then clarified in the worst way possible to preserve his lost dignity.  All mistakes that a true American President wouldn’t, and more importantly couldn’t make in my opinion, and again, proof to me that ideology aside, he just isn’t the guy for the job.

In a politics of point-scoring, I feel that political skill, keeping your cool, and then apologizing for your mistakes (like Bill Clinton did) or making restitution somehow (like Richard Nixon did) is what makes a President a President.  Why?   Because at the end of the day, A President’s primary concern needs to be the good of the country and everybody in it.  I think that our society plays the point-scoring game because that’s the nature of the political beast, but a President has to be above that.  Trump proved to me this week that he’s not, so any discussion like Colbert-Scaramucci or Noah-Lahren is impossible.  If his track record so far is any indication, I think that this inability will ultimately cost him points, making him – as he likes to put it – a loser.