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Monday
Feb132017

Late Night Time Travel with the Beatles

I’ve had a hard day’s night. Actually, I’ve had almost two weeks of them so far. As I mentioned last week, I’m laid up with a bad back – herniated disc at L5. I’ve been dealing with this for years. Thing is, when my back “goes” I can lose weeks, if not months, lying in bed (isn’t it a weird expression to say your back “goes,” I mean where does it go).

When my L5 is having its way with me, I can’t sleep at night, and given that I share the bed with my wife who turns out the light pretty early, I spend those many hours in the dark with a tablet, Kindle with light, headphones, and a CD player. For reasons unknown to me, when I realized I had weeks and not days ahead of me, I decided to listen to all my Beatles CDs, in chronological order of course. Let’s face it, any time someone my age listens to the Beatles in the present, it is in part for hearing the music and in part for traveling back in time. It’s about both pleasure and memory, and perhaps even the reclaiming of my younger self. At the very least, if I can’t reclaim my young self, I can at least visit with him for the during of an album. And so I do.

As we all know, listening to music is like time traveling into one’s past and the Beatles is an express train to my youth. There is a problem, however. I’m an American and thus  grew up with the Beatles’ US releases. When I moved to Britain in 1987 I left my Beatles albums with a friend in California. Once settled in Britain I began buying Beatles CDs only to discover that some albums released in the US were not available in the UK. CDs available in the UK I had never seen in the US. At first I was excited because the British releases seemed more “authentic.” But the thrill of authenticity didn’t last long. What I was listening to didn’t correspond with my memories. Songs were missing, but eventually appeared in two albums called The Beatles Past Masters Volume one and Volume Two. Other songs, while present, were in a chaotic mix and not where they were supposed to be. There were no instrumentals on A Hard Day’s Night. And where the hell were Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI?

It wasn’t until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that UK and US releases became identical so you can only imagine the level of stress those earlier albums caused me. As one song was ending I could hear the next one beginning in my mind before it actually started to play, only to be frustrated when a totally different song appeared. If you listen to an album long enough an established order reveals itself. When returning to an album after years, one expects that order to once again and for always reveal itself anew. One does not expect or welcome chaos. Talk about a living hell. The loss of order attacked my sense of identity. After all, our identities are dependent on remembering enough of our lives to guarantee a sense of self through time. Who was I if my Beatles memories, deeply imbedding into my very being, were unreliable? 

Ed Byrnes as Kookie on 77 Sunset StripThe Beatles hit the US when I was in the 9th grade. I shunned them at first, never being a person who jumped on to popular bandwagons. I thought myself better than that. But their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 overwhelmed me. After that show, things changed. My hair style had progressed from a crew cut to a rendering of 77 Sunset Strip’s Kookie’s long waves that demanded a lot of product (to hold the waves in place) and constant combing (to appear cool). But after Ed Sullivan I went to my parents, my sister by my side ready to act as my advocate if necessary, requesting that I be allowed to let my hair grow into a Beatles cut. They said yes! And since I was partial to Paul McCartney, I kept looking at his picture and the mirror until my hair grew out. Pretty exciting times, though I got more than little abuse in public from adults who couldn’t accept that times they were a changin’.

As I write this I’m just about to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Fab Four started to move beyond the typical adolescent pop love song on Rubber Soul and by the time we got to Sgt. Pepper the world had changed. We had moved from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Nowhere Man,” “She Loves You” to “Penny Lane,” ”Please Please Me” to “Here Comes the Sun.” They were everything, and then a cloud appeared from nowhere: the song “Revolution” on the White Album. It was 1968 and John Lennon certainly wasn’t signing up for the revolution or even the resistance. It was upsetting to see the Beatles relinquish authority to the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who as we created reality through the cultural and political turmoil of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. “Revolution” made me wonder who was leading us.

Kent State UniversityOn August 28, 1968 10,000 protesters gathered in Grant Park in Chicago during the Democratic Party National Convention. A confrontation between protesters and police lead to violence and rioting. Hubert Humphrey became the party’s nominee for president. Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, with Watergate lying hidden in the future. In November of 1969 we learned of the My Lai Massacre, where US soldiers killed as many as 50o civilians, including children, in a Vietnamese village. December 1969 the first draft lottery since WWII was held and a whole lot of young men in colleges and universities all over the country held their breath, me among them (as it turned out the blue plastic capsule containing my birthdate was chosen on the 352nd draw from the TV game show basket making it virtually impossible that I would be drafted to go to Vietnam and fight alongside my cousin). The Vietnam War was insatiable and had to be fed with the lives of young men and women (the average age of a US soldier in WWII was 26, in Vietnam 19). On May 4, 1970 four unarmed students were shot dead by young National Guardsmen at Kent State University. Eleven days after the Kent State killings, on May 14th at Jackson State College police fired into a group of students killing two and wounding twelve. Between April 29th and July 22nd 1970 Nixon conducted the Cambodian Campaign (or Incursion or Bombing) and campuses everywhere came unstuck. American naiveté was swept from my eyes.

Kent State UniversityDuring that time I listened to The Beatles, commonly known as the White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be. Loved them all – well not Yellow Submarine – but you can see how “Revolution” didn’t sit well with me. It was the time we idealistically, and perhaps naively, thought we could actually change the world through marches, debates, education, intelligence, morality, poetry, and pure force of will. “Revolution,” sung either fast or slow, didn’t help.

You’re not going to believe this, but on a visit to California, my friend and I took all my Beatles albums and gave them to a charity. Gave every damn one away, with the exception of Sgt. Pepper. How stupid could I be? So, now that I’m back in the US lying in the dark, my time travelling experience is jumbled. Now and forever listening to the Beatles is a clash of my US memories and my UK CDs. As a result, I can’t always find the young me. It can be frustrating. But even so, as I listen to song after song I can sing along to each, never missing a word. Amazing. Kid Dale lost, but every word preserved.

Copyright ©2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Feb082017

Late at Night with Rod Sterling and The New Life Corp

I’ve got a herniated disc at L5 which puts me down from time to time. This is one of those times. What being “down” means is spending a lot of time laying in or on the bed. What a “lot of time” means is anywhere from days to months. I’m a week into this round and things aren’t looking all that good.

Being down means I have a lot of time for reading, listening to music, and watching TV. In the past the TV watching was mostly movies, but over the past ten days I’ve been exploring Netflix and Amazon Video “originals.” Kudos to both companies. Of course, I also watch old time favorites, and this time I’ve been binging on the Twilight Zone.

I watched the Twilight Zone when it was on the air. I had forgotten, or never noticed, how sometimes pleasantly and sometimes painfully sentimental many of the episodes were. Also, episodes often pursed moral issues without subtlety. And on occasion things got down right didactic. Now in 2017, all that sentimentality and moralizing are okay because it’s in black and white, the Rod Sterling intros are wonderful, and watching in the now is always remembering the then.

Season 3 Episode 31 was entitled "The Trade-Ins" and was one of those sentimental morality plays. It was about a company called The New Life Corp, a company true to its name. Nothing metaphorical about The New Life Corp. No, the company only dealt in the literal, and the service provided was literally new life. It promised to eliminated pain while providing rebirth into youth, strength, beauty, and health. This is how it worked: One would go to The New Life Corp to have one’s consciousness transferred into a new healthy young body constructed to last 112 years. In Episode 31 an elderly couple talked to a sales representative. The old man, 79 years old, was in constant pain while the old woman 74,  was relatively healthy. They had been married for 50 years. The sales rep took their information and then lead them to a show room to examine the many models available for transfer. They were all beautiful and strong. The sales rep explained with a preacher’s zeal that signing a contract was a beginning and not an end, that their relationship could live forever. As it turned out, our elderly couple, very much in love, only had enough money for one transfer and since the man was in constant pain, they opted for him. After the procedure he came bouncing into the waiting room, young, sexy, healthy, pain free, and hugs his old wife. With uncontrolled enthusiasm he described what they would do now that he was reborn, all of which demanded a young body. Suddenly he stopped and the young man and old woman just look at each other.

It was obvious that the 50 year marriage would never survive the rebirth of only one of them. In the next scene we see the old man returning to his wife in his original old pain ridden body. They quoted some sentimental poem about the best is yet to come as they walked into the metaphorical sunset. And as the show draws to an end, the Rod Stirling voice over quotes The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

Love gives not but itself and takes not from itself, love possesses not nor would it be possessed, for love is sufficient unto love.

Sterling didn’t need to send a telegram for us to know what was going to happen. It was clear from the moment we learned the couple could only afford one transfer. Love would win the day, of course. It had to simply because the moral lesson of that time demanded it. And while the episode toyed with the idea, teased us with the idea, that rebirth, or resurrection, could be a literal physical truth with the right technology, it didn’t have the courage to allow the technology (new body and 112 years) to conquer the spiritual (love). No, no anti-heroes in Episode 31.

It was all very predictable and very sweet. But lying there with my L5 giving me all kinds of hell, anticipating the pain I was going to experience in the morning, and dreading going through my day with a back that was hardly functional,  I thought I’d gladly invest in The New Life Corp if only there was a New Life Corp to invest in. I liked the idea of rebirth progressing from metaphor to literalism. Even more I liked the idea of having a young body. Forget the sappy poem about the best is yet to come. Put aside Kahlil Gibran, the sentimentalist. Give me a new body! I would have happily dealt with the psychological and theological implications if I could wake up strong.

Admittedly, when I looked in the mirror no doubt I would have to go through some kind of psychological adjustment, but I was willing to do the work. According to the actuary tables I only have four of five years left so, hell yes, I’d like a new body that would last me 112 years. Sign me up. And if my wife and I couldn’t afford for her transfer, I’d skip the poetry reading and with my newly constructed body find a job and raise the money for my wife’s transfer.

But alas, there is no New Life Corp and no velvet voiced Sterling voiceover. All that’s left is the hope that the poetry will heal the wasteland that is literalism and help me deal with my L5.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Feb012017

Accepting the Unacceptable or When May Met Trump

Theresa May, the British prime minister, won the honor to be the first head of state to visit Trump and the Gang in Washington D.C. May, wanting to assure herself that the Special Relationship that exists between the US and the UK was safe in the hands of a television reality star, showed none of the caution of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel. It should be noted that the Special Relationship is probably referred to by British officials more frequently than their American counterparts. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say many British people hoped that she would have a Love Actually moment at her first press conference with Trump. Sadly she did not.

As May prepared for her big meet in Washington D.C., during an interview with the BBC she said the following:

I’ve already said that some of the comments that Donald Trump has made in relations to women are unacceptable, some of those he himself has apologized for. When I sit down (with Trump) I think the biggest statement that will be made about the role of women is the fact that I will be there as a female prime minister.

That second thought, that her actually being a female and a prime minister would have an impact on the Great Misogynist, that he would even get the point, was sweet. I’m hoping she didn’t actually believe it, but instead, needing to say something given she was meeting with a man who bragged about grabbing women’s pussies, thought referring to her gender and her position was as good as anything. Goodness knows how she felt when, dressed in her bright read outfit for all to see, Trump actually took her hand. Not good, I’m guessing. But it matters not. The photo will be out there until climate change changes everything. However, it’s the first sentence, the claim that Trump was unacceptable, that interests me here.

What could May have possibly meant when she said Trump was unacceptable? Please understand, I’m not picking on May here. To say that something or someone is unacceptable after the fact, is very common, almost to the point of cliché, particularly among political types. When something horrible happens, any number of people are on TV telling us it was unacceptable. But what does it actually mean to say a past event or utterance, or action is unacceptable? Every time I hear someone say that so and so, or such and such is unacceptable I want to ask, “What do you mean? If you mean it or he/she is really unacceptable, than are you not implying that you are compelled to to do something to maintain your integrity? And if so, what are you actually going to do?”

I looked up the definition of “unacceptable” on the internet and got:

not acceptable (of course); not welcome; not pleasing; not satisfactory; not allowable; intolerable; inadequate; and too bad to be accepted, approved of, or allowed.

So what did May mean when she said that Trump's comments about women, or his advocacy for torture, or his targeting of Muslims, is unacceptable? Something as gentle as unwelcome, or as uncompromising as intolerable? How would she react to the unacceptable? How would she relate to a person who she declared was so bad she could not approved?

If May actually found Trump unacceptable, surely she would not meet with him, which is, of course, an absurdity. Of course she was going to meet with the president of the United States. She had to meet with him. I can’t imagine anything Trump could do, besides nuking London, that would make him actually unacceptable to May. She would and will in reality accept whatever Trump does or says. Paraphrasing Nixon’s comment about the legality of the president’s actions, if the president does it, it is acceptable. Period.

Maybe May didn’t really mean Trump’s comments and behavior towards women, torture, etc., were unacceptable. She might not like them, but she has to accept them. We all know that. The US UK relationship and the must have trade deal are obviously more important than Trump’s mocking of disabled people, discrimination based on religion, or diplomatic ignorance. Perhaps the best we can say is that she was signaling her dissatisfaction with Trump’s remarks and behavior while knowing if relationship is what he demands, or the economic and political circumstances demand given Britain’s Brexit necessities, acceptable he will be.  

But just for a moment, imagine that Trump and the Gang actually do necessitate a Love Actually moment. What if Trump is such a category difference, and there is now some evidence to support that idea, that treating him as if his is a normal presidency is the irresponsible thing to do. Perhaps dangerously irresponsible. What if he actually is unacceptable and needs to be challenged at every turn. Well, if that is what the situation demanded, than obviously May didn’t see the movie. She couldn’t even bring herself to criticize the Trump and Bannon ban on Muslims entering the United States. She rolled out the red carpet and the Queen in a flash (Obama didn’t get his State visit until his second year in office). Maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t find Trump unacceptable at all, but that she actually likes the guy as much as she needs him.

Imagine that. The red carpet for the likes of Trump. Boris Johnson in Parliament defended the invitation by pointing out that leaders like Robert Mugabe and Nicolae Ceauşescu had been graced with State visits (it’s come to that, the American president being compared to despots like Mugabe and Ceauşescu). A UK Government and Parliament Petition seeking to prevent Trump’s State visit, but not a visit as head of state, has, as I write this, over 1,800,000 signatures. There’s a chance it could eventually top two million. May is not moved. Trump’s ego will be stroked. He loves that. And while the visit is acceptable to the prime minister, to millions of British citizens it is not. I say, good for them. Next stop, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It's not easy leaving the European Union.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jan182017

Trumpland Resistance and the Absurdity of Václav Havel

A human action becomes genuinely important when it springs from the soil of clear-sighted awareness of the temporality and the ephemerality of everything human. It is only this awareness that can breathe any greatness into an action. The outlines of genuine meaning can only be perceived from the bottom of absurdity. (Václav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace)

I’ve been to Prague on many occasions, and while I had not visited during communist rule, I did arrive soon after the Velvet Revolution. Václav Havel was speaking on the high steps of the Česká společnost antropologická located at the southeast end of Wenceslas Square. I entered the square at the other end, at the corner of Vodičkava and Václavské nám. I turned right onto the square and was immediately confronted with tens of thousands of people and an overturned Soviet tank. So began my love affair with the Czech Republic and Václav Havel.

Wenceslas Square from the Česká společnost antropologická I read a number of Czech novelist: Josef Skvorecky, Milan Kundera, Ivan Klíma, Ladislav Klíma, and, of course, Bohumil Hrabal. Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude (Czech: Příliš hlučná samota) is still one of my all-time favorite novels. I also read every English translation of Havel’s work: his essays, meditations, and plays. Havel was a man apart: playwright, dissident, president. He did his best to be, in action and character, a moral politician. Some say he succeeded and other that he failed. Either way he was a bright light at the time when the Soviet Union collapsed in what seemed like a breath.

Samizdat was a significant form of resistance among dissidents across the Soviet Union, but it is now, at least in my mind, most closely associated with the Czechoslovakia opposition. Of course, samizdat was an underground movement in which censored or dissident, alternative, often subversive publications were written, copied, and passed around, primarily by hand. In an essays, Havel explained how seemingly insignificant barely noticed acts of resistance brought down the Soviet Union. He gave the example of a man writing an essay, making ten carbon copies and passing it around to ten friends and acquaintances. Let’s assume it stopped there, that only ten people read the essay before it was destroyed. Ten readings against the established might of the Soviet empire. It certainly seems like an utterly futile effort. And yet, Havel says no. That every tiny act, every whispered word, every quickened heart reading a faded copy, eventually had an accumulative affect that brought down communist rule. The insignificant is significant.

Of course, the insignificant becomes significant in the company of other insignificants. There are two things to say about this company of irrelevance. First, the moral integrity of an act is not determined by its efficacy. Second, its efficacy is only realized in community. Our imaginary writer’s integrity was assured through the act of resistance, in this particular case the writing of an essay. That would be so even if only one person read his essay. Second, because he was a part of a community of resistance that took many forms, he brought down the Soviet Union. The accumulation of insignificance is powerful beyond appearances.

Václav Havel When I first read what Havel claimed I was quite moved. I thought it was, well, significant. Recently I pulled Havel’s books off my shelf and looked for that samizdat story told in an essay. I couldn’t find it, though I would bet my fortune the essay is in Disturbing the Peace or Summer Meditations. And though it’s been a long time since I thought of those words, they once again seem important. They seem a necessary encouragement for Trumpland resistance. Why? The reason is simple. I’m insignificant and nothing I do will make that much difference. 

We are now facing rule in the United States by a demagogue who has called the oligarchy and military into his administration. For eight years President Obama made little effort to resist the American oligarchy (either because he didn’t want to or because he decided the effort would be counterproductive or useless). They have the money, which means they have the power. And now that power is aligned to Christian fundamentalism and an extreme right wing ideology. We even have an open and proud white supremacist working in the White House itself. If a president doesn’t want to give it a go, why in heaven’s name would I try? Any effort I could make to change the rising tide of right wing oligarchy would be foolish and futility. Nonetheless, Havel gives me heart.

I have no doubt only a handful of people will read this blog, not unlike the ten carbon copies handed around the Czech samizdat. I will join the women’s protest march this coming Saturday (men are welcome!) here in Seattle and will be lost in a crowd which some estimate will reach 50,000 people. My words and my protests will be insignificant in the face of the man-boy in the golden tower, his one percent friends, and angry old soldiers. My resistance will be ignored by the Republican Party that now controls the House, Senate, White House, federal courts, and Supreme Court. But if Václav Havel is correct, my insignificance is significant. No one thought and few dreamed that the Soviet Union would and could collapse so suddenly. But it did. And according to Havel, that guy and his ten carbon copies is responsible.

I need to do two things. First, act even if it does seem foolish and futile. Second, trust that others are just as foolish and that our accumulative impact will bring change. So, perhaps it is time for me to reread Havel’s writings on resistance, political morality, the art of the impossible, and the politics of hope.

Time to gear up everyone. A hard rain is coming. Reading Václav Havel is not a bad way to prepare.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Jan102017

Notes from Trumpland ~ The Boy Who Cries Wolf and Gets Away With It

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, one of Aesop’s fables, is a widely known morality tale in the Western world (to read various version see Fables of Aesop). It’s a fable about lying in general and patterns of lying in particular. It raises the vexed question: When does someone who lies become a liar? It describes the consequences of lying and being a liar. In one version the shepherd boy’s sheep are eaten by the wolf and in another the boy himself is also eaten. The Greek version of the fable ends with the moral: “this shows how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.”

While we can debate endlessly about whether or not a particular utterance is a lie, we do agree that there is something we recognize as truth and something we recognize as falsehood. In most cultures truth-telling is considered to have prima facie value, which is to say that truth-telling is good in and of itself, needing no further justification. This prima facie assumption, the ability to distinguish between a truth and a falsehood, the willingness to pass judgment on those who lies, the willingness to hold the liar accountable for their words and actions, all depends on an agreed and shared understanding of what is necessary for human beings to live together in social organizations. It depends on our agreed understanding of what human reality actually is. Remove that understanding, and a language to speak of that understanding, and we destroy our moral and ethical foundation.

Of course, it is all much more complicated than this. We all lie (action) from time to time, but most of us are not pathological liars (character). While sometimes we get away with it (not eaten by a wolf, for example), most of the time we know we have done something wrong. A situational ethicist would interpret Aesop’s fable differently than a duty/consequence ethicist who would interpret the fable differently from a virtue/character ethicist. There are a zillion books written about morality and ethics, but here I want to focus on the relationship between politics, truth, falsehood, and our agreed reality. (If you are interested in exploring the world of ethics I think Ethics in Star Trek’s Delta Quadrant is a quick and, hopefully, enjoyable way to do so.)  

Joseph GoebbelsJoseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, famously said:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.

It’s a disturbing, by nonetheless, interesting statement. First, it recognized that the State, or its representative, is indeed telling a lie. Second, the success of the lie is grounded in its audacity and the State’s ability to “shield” people from its consequences. One gets the impression that Goebbels was speaking about things like justifications for conducting a war or denying the reality of the Holocaust. I think also Goebbels is speaking about long term deceptions, not to be revealed in even the distant future. However, he seems not to be denying the reality that there is truth and there is falsehood. The people come to believe in the lie’s truth, but Goebbels, the State, nonetheless knows what is the lie and what is the truth.

It’s not difficult to imagine that Trump, an apparent admirer of some of Hitler’s speeches (a little bedside reading - see Mother Jones) , might also admire Goebbels’s claim, but there are differences between the two men. While Trump can tell huge lies, he does not seem to be interested in the long view. His lies are blatantly opportunistic and for the moment. For example, during the campaign he said over and over again that the election was rigged. However, after he won he said: “now I don’t say it because I won. Now I don’t care.” During the election campaign, fact checking organizations siting real evidence reported that Trump lied every three to five minutes (see Politicususa and Politico). He’s the boy who cries wolf with no fear of consequences. He exposes his own lies with a casual ease, obviously feeling no necessity to “shield” people from the consequences of his lies nor fearing there will be any costs he himself might have to face. So far, he has been right.

Trump’s use of lying is bold and utterly without embarrassment. At the Golden Globes Meryl Streep called out Trump on his mockery of the New York Times Reporter Serge F. Kovalevski who has arthrogryposis (see New York Times). Of course Trump denied ever having done such a thing even though he was seen by millions doing just that (see CNN). His ability to continue lying even as evidence to the contrary is available to the country is ominous. At some level he is attempting, perhaps assuming, he can define reality to his own liking and benefit. In Trumpland there is no objective truth and falsehood. This is not hyperbole.

Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump surrogate and supporter, made a remarkable claim. She said on a the Diane Rehm Show:

Facts aren’t really facts. If we believe something to be true it is true. So when Trump says 3 million people voted illegally for Clinton, if he believes it and his followers believe it (I guess because he said it) than it is true…And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they're not really facts. Everybody has a way—it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts (to listen to her comments go to Diane Rehm Show starting at the time marker 14.40).

She is saying, reminiscent of Goebbels, that if Trump says it and believes it, it is true. If Trump’s supporters believe it, it is true. What Hughes is claiming is that there no longer exists a shared agreed understanding of truth and falsehood, there is no longer such a thing as a shared understanding of reality. Reality, truth, falsehood are what Trump says they are. This is the man who will run the United States government and control the country’s military.

Trump has a pattern of lying that long ago crossed over the invisible line separating a person who occasionally lies and a person who is by their character a liar. Does Trump actually believe this or is it a strategy? Does he actually know that there is no evidence that three million illegal votes for Clinton, or does his own claim that there were shield him from the truth? I don’t know, but either way, we cannot let it stand. We need to continually call him on his lies, and then call him on his denials. We cannot let Trump and his gang define reality.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Monday
Dec192016

A Christmas Carol for Trumbland

{For the past couple of years I've posted an article I wrote on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Now that the US has become Trumpland, where billionaires rule and the president communicates and sets policy in 140 characters, it seems important to be reminded of what Dickens was saying in his carol. A hint. Worship of the wealthy and sugar coated sweetness was not the message.}

 

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

One of the saddest events in popular culture is the continual distortion of a great literary character through the romanticizing of Tiny Tim, transforming him into a sentimental, sweet character, whom we can first pity and then exploit, using him like a sponge to soak up our spilt Christian goodness. In fact, Tiny Tim is one key to "Keeping Christmas well”.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the first of five "Christmas Books" written from 1843 to 1848. In each book a central character suffers from a loss of faith in human dignity, but is eventually brought to realize the value of human spirit. The transformation each character goes through, and we must call it a transformation and not simply a change of mind or even heart, is accomplished through spirit intervention, or in other words, by spiritual means. In the preface to A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote he hoped the story would "Awake some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land." In fact, he wrote the story because, in his opinion, "Keeping Christmas well" was out of season all the time. Dickens' ultimate hope was, of course, that through the power of his narratives the reader would, like the main characters, be transformed as well.

A Christmas Carol is not about a sweet little crippled boy, but instead is about the social conditions of Dickens' Britain. The story had (and still has) a strong social message. In and through the story, Dickens was appealing in general to the people of Britain to lead less selfish lives, and in particular to the rich to take seriously their duty of care for those less fortunate. He had visited Cornish tin mines early in 1843 and saw children laborers at work. He visited the Field Lane Ragged School in London, one of several institutions trying to educate hungry and illiterate children. After these experiences, he wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. During the writing of the "hymn" he said in a letter that he "wept and laughed and wept again...and in thinking walked the black streets of London...when all sober folks had gone to bed". In fact, the magic and mystery of his literary hymn exhibited a "strange mastery" over him, but a mastery of joy and love which he was impatient to return to each working day.

Dickens had a lot to weep and laugh about. For years the poor had not only been neglected by society, but also lived under the burden of a social philosophy and political policies that actually justified that neglect. In 1803 Thomas Malthus wrote the essay entitled Principle of Population. In it Malthus argued that any human being that could not be supported by his or her parents, and could not provide labor that was useful and required by society, had "no claim or right to the smallest portion of food." He went on to say that such people also had "no business" even being in society and that their death would "decrease the surplus population."

When society refuses people food, shelter, and work, there is only one place for them to go, or to be, and Scrooge, the character representing the Malthusian position, had no difficulty in saying precisely where or what that place was -- death. Scrooge, of course, had no time for the celebration of the child of salvation. For him Tiny Tim, whose parents could not support him and whose ill health made it impossible for him to become a good laborer for society, could simply die. When just before Christmas Scrooge was asked to make a contribution to help provide for the "Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present," people in the thousands lacking common necessities and in the hundreds of thousands wanting common comforts, he responded:

"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman laying down his pen again.
”And the Union Workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? said Scrooge.
"Both very busy. sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

The gentlemen, not giving up, explained to Scrooge that such provisions hardly "furnished Christmas cheer of mind or body to the multitudes" and that they were collecting funds to give the poor "meat and drink, and a means of warmth." But again Scrooge refused to give saying he wished to be left along. He then said, in full Malthusian passion:

"I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they coast enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Hope and warning are powerfully told when Scrooge met the Spirit of Christmas Present. As the evening passed the Spirit took Scrooge to homes where they stood beside the bedsides of the sick who, nonetheless, were cheerful. They visited those who struggled and were still living in great hope. They visited those who lived in poverty and were rich in spirit. And they visited the almshouses, hospitals, prisons where people experienced misery but had not "made fast the door and barred the Spirit out" thus allowing him to enter their misery and give the gift of blessing.

As the long night unfolded before him, time and space seemed to lose meaning for Scrooge, except that he noticed the Spirit was growing visibly older. He asked if life was so short for all spirits and the Spirit replied that his life would end that very night at midnight. As the chimes rang three quarters past eleven, with death approaching, hope turned to warning. Scrooge saw something in the folds of the Spirits clothing...

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"

"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here!" exclaimed the Ghost. "They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.”

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit if for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end! “Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.” Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no work-houses?"
The bell struck twelve.

Dickens speaks with passion and power about the Spirit of Salvation. He sings the Spirit's blessings, for where he visits there is health, joy, home, and hope. Where the Spirit smiles, needs are met and comforts are offered. Dickens does not, however, sentimentalize the vision, for wrapped within the very clothing of the Spirit is the misery caused by human thought and deed. We shutter when we realize that the grotesque monsters revealed are the results of human exploits. We reel at the devils before us are in fact human beings and, once again, children. We desperately reach for a self-defense, any self-defense, when we are reminded that such human suffering belongs not to God but to us. We ache when we see how the suffering cling to the Spirit and look upon us with fear.

Perhaps it is time we re-read Dickens. If we were to "keep Christmas well" we would experience the wholeness of salvation's blessings. We would be filled with joy and pierced through the heart. In this world, both must be ours.

A Christmas Carol Scrooge ends with these words:

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every one!

 Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Nov302016

US Democracy Versus Voter Suppression and the Rise of the Oligarchy

It sounds so melodramatic to suggest that Donald Trump may be a threat to American democracy. Because the United States has been a relatively stable democracy for 240 years it’s easy to assume it will continue to be so in the future. That’s not to say the country has not had its crises, but so far the system as always self-corrected. However, to say the nation has self-corrected in the past is not a guarantee that it will do so in the future. Melodramatic or not, the coming together two elements in our society does seem quite threatening to our democracy: Voter suppression and the rise of the oligarchy.

Trump has shown little respect for democracy and democratic institutions, from his attracts on freedom of speech (freedom of the press) to the integrity of the election process. His numerous claims before November 8th that his losing the election would be de facto proof that the election was fraudulent were unprecedented. When asked if he would accept the results of the election he would only say we would have to wait and see – the first candidate to challenge the US tradition of accepting the outcome of an election to assure the smooth and peaceful transition of power. Now that he has won the election by means of the electoral college, he is claiming that he would have also won the popular vote if it were not for millions of people having voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. What is amazing about these proclamations is that we already are taking them in our stride when they are actually a threat.

His unparalleled claim that the election would be rigged if he did not win was not only an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the then expected Clinton victory. The claim also undermines the validity of the democratic process itself. Even before the voting was completed he was campaigning to convince people that American democracy itself was untrustworthy and that he alone good makes things right again. The “he alone” claims were always referring to his personal authority, not necessarily the application of democratic institutions and the rule of law. He continues to do so even now with his tweets asserting massive voter fraud. It doesn't matter that there is no evidence of such fraud and never has been (see The Washington Post).

I have been reluctant to fully embrace the “we live in a post-truth age” stuff, but now I’m thinking I have been slow to catch up with others. The election of Trump, a known and acknowledged liar, makes me wonder if, as some are claiming, we are a post-truth nation, where the distinction between truth and falsehood is lost (remember all the false news reports taken as truth) and the difference between fact and opinion is only a distant memory.

The Republican Party now controls all aspects of government - House, Senate, and soon the Supreme Court. Trump will be appointing federal judges, the attorney general, at least one supreme court judge, and thousands of government positions. He now has nothing to fear from the Republican Party. It will, no doubt, approve his appointments without delay. Checks and balances will be put on hold for at least two years, and probably four (Democrats don’t like to vote in the midterms, though they do like to complain about how the Republicans run the country). The complete control of government by a party made up of pre-enlightenment, religious fundamentalist, right-wing, alt-right, racists, xenophobe, radical capitalist is frightening for many reasons, but here I am focusing on the GOP’s program of denying the vote to certain groups of people joining forces with Trump’s undermining of the electoral process.

Republicans are getting good at voter suppression. Strict voter ID’s, restriction of early voting, limiting the number of voting places, false claims of voter fraud, are all part of a  successful voter suppression program. North Carolina official even bragged that their efforts had caused a significant drop in African American votes and a rise in white votes. Given Republican commitment to voter suppression, Trump’s claims of voter fraud, his agreement with the implementation of voter ID’s,  and the appointments he is making to his administration, we can assume that both the GOP and the Trump administration will more aggressively pursue voter suppression.

So, complete control by one party, post-truth politics, and voter suppression. Now add to the mix the 1% and the 1% of the 1%.

It fascinates me that a billionaire who lives in a golden tower high above New York City (hardly the heartlands) is, so I’m told, the American workers' hero. You would have to say the American oligarchy is damn clever. Most of the American oligarchy keep a low profile. We’ve all heard of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, but most of them fly under the radar (see OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsible Politics – Top Individual Contributions to see just how much these few individuals contribute to influence the democratic process [top giver $67,286,217 to Democrats!]). But not Trump. He bragged about his wealth and convinced workers around the country that he actually cared about them. Amazing! Bottom line, the oligarchy is rarely concerned with the needs of the worker, as an estimated 20 million Trump voters about to lose overtime pay will soon find out.

The Princeton Report, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens from Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page from Northwestern University, on the oligarchy is both informative and not a little frightening. When the report came out, the popular press used headlines saying the authors had declared America to be an oligarchy. The report didn’t quite go that far, though it got so close to the line it is hard not to jump to that conclusion. Among a wealth of information, it also stated that the likelihood of a popular consensus among average Americans on an issue was unlikely to become law, while the desires and demands of the 1% had a strong likelihood of becoming law. This is not surprising. Billions of dollars are spent influencing politicians. Only a fool would think that the billions do not buy political service. Money is political power. The oligarchy is served well by our elected officials. (Also see: Democracy, Oligarchy and a Manifesto for Resistance and The Plutocrats versus the Precariats: Or the 1% versus the 99%)

Some believe these and other forces are an existential threat to American democracy. Comparisons with German of the 1930’s are nowcommon, pointing out how that country rather peacefully and democratically became a fascist state of incredible violence. Here in the US the Nazis, fascist, racist, xenophobe are feeling empowered and are openly attacking those who they judge do not fit into Trump’s America. Resistance is necessary, but we all better buckle up because the darker nature of the United States has been let out of its cage. Silence is irresponsible.

Copyright ©2016 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov222016

Not My President ~ Where I Stand

I confess it was difficult for me to accept George W. Bush as my president, but I did. I didn’t like it, but I did anyway. I didn’t approve of what he did to my country, but I didn’t deny he was my president. He was an embarrassment, but I never advocated his impeachment or his assassination, as did many conservatives concerning President Obama. But now I’m confronted with something new. For the first time in my life I find I cannot say this president-elect will be my president. 

A question: In a democratic society, can a citizen divorce him or herself from a legitimately elected official? 

By “divorce” I mean separate from, detach from, dissociate, disconnect. I mean to politically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, practically, existentially, to declare the relationship between citizen and elected leader to be non-existent, to say: “Though I am a citizen of the United States, President Trump is not my president.” I’m aware that the word “divorce” implies a legal separation and so my use of the word here is qualified. The only way I can legally divorcee myself from President Trump is by legally giving up my citizenship. I’m not willing to do that. 

I am saying this because for the first time in my life I cannot maintain my personal integrity and accept Trump is my president. He so tarnishes the presidency. His lack of character defecates all over the Oval Office. I would have thought his publicly mocking a disabled person alone would have disqualified him for the office. Or describing how he abuses women. Or inciting violence at his rallies. Or his support for nuclear proliferation. Or his claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax to undermine the US economy. Or his several bankruptcies. Or his complete and utter lack of experience. Or his pathological lying. Or his refusal to make public his tax returns. Or his support by the KKK and Nazi organizations. I would have thought any one of these things would have disqualified him. But no. My problem is, however, to claim him as my president stains who I am and I won’t do it. 

This does present me with a problem. During the election I was less than impressed with people who indicated that voting was a purely personal matter, that they would vote based on their principles alone. My response was, yes, vote on your principles, but also remember voting is a civic act and that, therefore, we have to also ground our vote in what we think is best for the common good. This is both a political and practical statement. It is practical in the sense that I have never known a candidate that fully embraced my values and principles. As such, I’ve always voted for the person who I thought most closely approached my values and the one I thought would best serve the common good. It is not that Trump does not share my values and my concept of the common good. It is that he is anathema to them. So here I am declaring that this time, for the first time, I am rejecting the legitimately elected president because I cannot both claim him as my president and maintain my integrity. (I realize that the 60 million people who voted for him and Trump himself could care less about my dilemma  and point of view, but I care and the integrity of my political and ethical position is not determined by or dependent upon its efficacy.) 

Practically and politically what does all this mean? Well, first I do not hope Trump succeeds as the president he says he will be. I cannot hope he succeeds in undermining the First Amendment because he doesn’t like being criticized. I cannot hope he succeeds in deporting millions of people. I cannot hope he succeeds in building a wall on our southern border. I cannot hope he succeeds in registering all Muslims in the country. I cannot hope he bans all Muslims from entering the country. If he were to succeed at these things, we would be close to living in a police state. However, I do hope he succeeds in not running the economy into the ground. I do hope he succeeds in not nuking some country somewhere in the world. 

It makes me feel weary just thinking about the implications of my position. As I write this I think of the Vietnam war, Nixon, Watergate, Reagan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, South African apartheid, George W., Iran. Not to mention trickledown economics, bank deregulation, and the one percent. And here we go again, facing what might be an even greater threat to the constitution and American democracy. Therefore, I will continue to write about political issues, will demonstrate when I can, will resist, will not forget who Trump is. We  should all be clear. Remembering and reminding are both political actions of resistance. 

As for accusations that I am not patriotic, don’t even start (See The Rights of Election Losers). Complaining, organizing, resisting, protesting, and civil disobedience are all legitimate and lawful acts in a democratic society. Democracy is an adversarial system of government. We all have the right to disagree. Calls from conservatives and the Republican Party for unity are at best humorous and at worse hyper-hypocritical. These are the people and the party that raised obstructionism to a political principle. When they thought Trump was going to lose the election, they started announcing their plans to obstruct a Clinton presidency days before the election was completed. Trump himself hinted that there could be a violent uprising if he lost. All I can say to their calls for unity is, “Give me a break.”   

Some might say I should at least give Trump a chance, to wait and see. While that sounds reasonable, the signs are not good. He is selecting white supremacists, racists, gay bigots, politically inexperienced rightwing radicals for his administration. It is beginning to look like our new government is going to be a alt-right gang dressed up in nice clothes. He is an authoritarian, deplorable, brutish man and I would suggest that instead of waiting and seeing, we organize now. 

President Trump is not my president.  

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Nov162016

The Rights of the Election Losers

By its very nature democracy is an adversarial system of government. People compete with each other for the right to exercise power authorized by the electorate. Elections legitimize the use of power. People who vote for the winning candidate feel good and never hesitate to let everyone know. The people who voted for the losing candidate feel lousy and do a fair amount of complaining. It’s the way of democracy.

However, it doesn’t take long for the winners to grow weary of the losers complaining and start demanding they stop their bitching and accept the outcome of the election. It’s not uncommon to declare that the complaining indicates a lack of patriotism and the unwillingness to accept the outcome of a legitimate electoral process. Neither is necessarily true, but the important thing to remember in this tug of war is that we all, including the losers, have particular rights in a democracy.

If you lose the election you have not also lost the right to complain, organize, protest, and even participate in acts of civil disobedience. If you have lost those rights you are no longer living in a democracy and may be living under an authoritarian system of government. In a democracy you can complain all the way to the next election if you want. It’s your right. It will get old and perhaps distract you from doing something more fruitful, but it’s your right.

Losing an election does not mean you have to accept the results and the subsequent policies. In a democracy you have the right to argue for the position you believe better serves the common good. To do so is not claiming the election should be ignored, invalidated, or is in some way illegitimate.

Therefore, losing the election does not give you the right to dismiss the election if, indeed, the process was legitimate. You can accept the legitimacy of the election and at the same time not accept the results. It is the loser’s responsibility to accept the legitimacy of the election, but this does not mean you cannot complain, organize, protest, and practice civil disobedience.

To accept of the outcome of the election and to protest against the newly elected official, administration and/or government is a legitimate position to hold in a democracy. Admittedly, it means living in a state of political tension, but it is legitimate.

So, I accept that the US election completed on November 8th was fair, legal, and thus legitimate, which means I accept that Donald Trump will be the next president and that the Republican Party will control all aspects of the federal government. To say I accept these facts is not to say I approve. I do not. In fact I’m appalled. I feel I must be hallucinating of that I have slipped into a surreal alternative reality. Therefore, while I accept the election was legitimate, I also claim my rights to complain, at least for a while, to organize against elected officials and the government, and to protest. If you are on the winning side of this election and demand I cease, then I suggest you read up on the what democracy is all about (and remember what the GOP has been doing for the last eight years).

I must confess, I do not look forward to the struggle. The process of normalizing Donald Trump, perhaps the worse president elect the nation has ever known, is already underway (see Respect President Trump? Forget it!). As such a significant part of resistance this time around is remembering and reminding. People won’t want to be reminded of who their president actually is, but forgetting is not an option. We have to acknowledge that this is already an up-mountain battle. For example, when you have to make the argument that grabbing a woman or girl’s pussy is a violation of her rights and dignity, you are already way behind the game.

So don’t forget the president elect has argued for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, publicly mocked disabled people, accepted the supports of the KKK (indirectly), stigmatized Muslims and Mexicans, abused women, knows nothing about foreign affairs, has white supremacists in his inner circle, and lies with an ease and frequency that is unsettling. Welcome to the United States of America.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

Thursday
Nov102016

Respect President Trump? Forget it! 

When Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were elected president I was depressed and angry. I moaned and protested, but they were my presidents so I got on with things. It was hard respecting them, especially George W, but I always respected the presidency. Not anymore.

Respect President Trump? Forget it!

This time conservative America has gone too far. No one who voted for Trump can pretend they didn’t know what kind of human being he is. I realize they couldn’t know what he would actually do as president. He lies so easily and frequently that it is impossible to know which of the things he said he will actually act on. But they did know who he was. Did it ever give them pause that the KKK and various Nazi groups enthusiastically supported him? Did they think it was a good idea to hand the world’s largest economy over to a man who has declared bankruptcy several times? Did they want him to grab their daughters’ pussy? Did they even think about his questioning why the US doesn’t use its nukes more often? Not only is what they’ve done stupid and against their best interests, it is dangerous. How dare they let this man into the White House. They have shamed the Oval Office.

Respect the presidency? You can forget that too. The presidency is an idea. Unlike the divine right of kings and queens, the idea’s integrity, legitimacy, and power comes from the people’s integrity, legitimacy, and power. Conservative America has become a deceit, a counterfeit, an abuser of power. When the people fail, the idea fails. The people’s voice is not sacred. Conservative America let itself be bought by lies, hatred, and fear. It has polluted the idea of the presidency with a brutish male bogus of a champion.

Have those who voted for this great pretender ever pondered the very close relationship between democracy and fascism? Do they know what fascism is?

Here’s a very simple definition for them: an nationalistic right-wing and authoritarian system of government and social organization. Is Trump a fascist? Well, it depends who you ask, but have a look at Trump’s ideas, speeches, proclamations: He uses ethnic stereotypes and racist identifiers; he plays on and manipulates people’s fears of foreigners; his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, is reminiscent of past American fascist flirtations; his proclaiming and persuading people that the nation is in decline even when it is in recovery; his aggressive foreign policy to defeat our enemies and arrest the decline of the nation.

Is Trump a fascist? We hesitate to use the word, but all the above are right out of the fascist playbook. Trump is not Hitler. Only Hitler is Hitler. But it’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest Hitler would have approved. Do I think he will usher in a fascist regime in America? While I think he has the potential to do considerable harm, no I don’t think that will happen. It’s the next Donald Trump who comes along who scares me more. As I said in Election Day Hopes or The End of the Dream is Being Televised:

Trump is to politics what porn is to the internet: something that should have been controlled, limited, and generally unacceptable has gone mainstream. Every society has its dark side, or dark underbelly. It will never be expunged, but a good society keeps its less desirables under their rocks. Trump has lifted all the rocks and the racist, xenophobes, misogynists, fascist bastards are out and shouting and packing and just being themselves.

The alt-right has found its voice in Trump. It’s loud and aggressive. During Trump’s victory speech a supporter shouted, “Kill Obama” loudly and at least twice. True to form, Trump did not rebuke the man. Think about it. The president-elect has encouraged violence at his rallies and let the suggestion that the standing president be killed go unchallenged. What we have witnessed is demagogy and violence in our political life become normal and acceptable to many. But what is really frightening is the thought that the next alt-right hero will have a ready built platform on which to call out our darker selves.

This is what conservative America has married to the idea of the presidency: The alt-right, KKK, Nazi, fascist, brutal male playbook.

Do I think all the 59,427,652 Americans who voted for Trump are fascist thugs? Of course, not! But I do think they saw what was going on and voted for him anyway. And to those almost 60 million voters I say: He’s yours now. My friends and I will pay the price along with you, but he belongs to you. With nude photos of your future First Lady flying around the internet, your president elect due in court over alleged fraud and the rape a thirteen year old girl, with the New York State investigation into his charitable foundation beginning and the possible federal investigation into some of his advisers’ links to Russia, it’s time for you to step up and take ownership. Talking about emails won’t wash anymore.

Donald Trump is not my president. I would rather be in the political wilderness, dislocated, homeless.

To the 59, 626,052 people who voted for Hillary Clinton, the 4,054,130 who voted for Gary Johnson, and the 1,206,015 who voted for Jill Stein, come January 1st the majority of elected officials and their staff in the majority of state legislatures, governorships, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House, and soon to follow the Supreme Court, will be people embracing a kind of pre-enlightenment, anti-science, and, for many, religious fundamentalist worldview. If you've not worried about climate change, this will be the time to start. If you thought the fight to secure the rights of the LGBT community was nearing a victorious end, think again. If you thought Obamacare was finally secure, don’t look now. Abortion rights? Marriage equality? The social network that many depend upon? In fact, most everything you thought was good in the last eight years may be up for grabs. Conservative America has given complete power to a party in disarray, controlled by right-wing ideologues and religious fundamentalists. Conservative America has handed the presidency to a man with absolutely no experience in politics, as if it had elected a man to a council seat in a town of 500 people, with a temperament which is frightening. As Bob Dylan said, a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

A good number of my friends and acquaintances have already begun the rallying cry to fight the good fight. I’m glad they are doing so. But for me, it’s a bit too soon. I’m not yet in a mood to make lemonade, to make the best of a bad situation, to keep the faith. This election was a game changer. I’m psychologically weary, morally exhausted, emotionally drained. These will all pass in time. But for now I'm getting my head around the reality that the Uniited States of America just elected a despicable and dangerous man to the precidency.

Copyright @ 2016 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov082016

Election Day Hopes or The End of the Dream is Being Televised

The end is near. It’s election day. Presidentially speaking, a big decision will  be made. As Benjamin M. Friedman said: “The paramount question is whether a person exhibiting no qualification for the office – neither experience, nor preparation, nor personal character – is nonetheless to become president.”[1] The person Friedman is referring to is, of course, Donald Trump, and as I write it’s not looking good for The Donald. Nate Silver has Trump at a 28.6% chance of winning the election. Silver gives Clinton as 55.1% chance of winning Florida. Let’s hope superstar Silver is correct. Still, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that millions of Americans really do want a person, probably a man, with absolutely no experience to take the most dangerous job on the planet. It’s not as if Trump were running for a council seat in a town with a population of 5000 people. It’s the presidency! 

Actually, it is more accurate to say that the decision is in the process of being made and has been for weeks. As of Sunday over 44 million people had already voted, myself included. Here in Washington State we vote by mail. There will be no polling stations and long lines in Washington today, and thus no fear of voter intimidation. But also no thrill of doing one’s democratic duty, or indeed doing one’s democratic pleasure . 37 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of early voting. The Republican Party has done it’s best to end early voting in those states, because it tends to favor the Democratic Party candidates. For a while it looked as though the GOP’s effort to restrict voting for certain groups of people (not white people, obviously) was having some success. However, in the last couple of days there has been a surge of Hispanic and African Americans going to the polls. Can only be good news for Clinton. 

This is my first election day back in the good old U.S. after thirty years away. In Britain watching the results on the BBC was an all-night affair, given the differing time zones. My wife and I would sit up all night eating nachos, drinking red wine, and either celebrating or mourning. I figure by the time the polls close here on the West Coast (also known as the Left Coast – Silver gives Clinton a 97.5% chance of victory in Washington, a 93.4 chance in Oregon, and a 99.9% chance in California) we’ll  know who the next president will be, whether or not the Democrats took the Senate (not looking good right now), and by how much the Republicans maintain control in the House. By nine in the evening the adventure will all but be over. Not much time for nachos and wine. 

Trump is a GOP creation. Trump is to politics what porn is to the internet: something that should have been controlled, limited, and generally unacceptable has gone mainstream. Every society has its dark side, or dark underbelly. It will never be expunged, but a good society keeps its less desirables under their rocks. Trump has lifted all the rocks and the racist, xenophobes, misogynists, fascist bastards are out and shouting and packing and just being themselves. A man at a Trump rally got beat up the other day for holding up a sign. Trump supporters didn’t like the sign. 

The GOP has been a slow motion train wreck for years now and it’s not been good for America. Republicans have promised, even before election day, that they will tie Clinton up in special investigations and prosecutions, will refuse to hold hearings on any and all Clinton Supreme Court nominees, and will impeach her within her first year in office. This is the No Party at its best. The only hope of having a somewhat functional government is for the Democratic Party wins the Senates. But our best hope seems to be a 50 50 split with a Democratic vice president breaking the tie. Welcome to the circus. 

Here's the problem. The GOP used to be a political party committed to governing, fighting for what it believed was best for the country, compromising with political opponents when necessary. Now it is a pseudo religions/ideological organization fighting evil, and as we know one should not, cannot, compromise with evil. One must totally defeat evil even if it means shutting down the government, denying people the right to vote, and exhibiting an impressive lack of respect for democracy itself. The will of the people is only authentic when it matches the will of the GOP. Otherwise, fuck the people. 

Unfortunately, the GOP will not be routed today. I had hoped it would guessing that a route might force the party to recreate itself. In fact, the US needs a legitimate conservative party. It doesn’t have one now. But, if Clinton wins and the Senate splits perhaps we can avoid the worse of the zealots masquerading as politicians. 

Copyright ©2016 Dale Rominger


[1] Friedman, Benjamin M. On the Election-III. The New York Review of Book. November 10, 2016, Volume LXIII, Number 17.

Wednesday
Oct262016

Big Week in Bookland: Books, Betrayal, and Bereavement 

Nell ZinkNell Zink has a new novel out called Nicotine. Zink first came to prominence when the public learned that she and Jonathan Franzen exchanged several emails, about birds. Eventually, Franzen decided she needed to be published and she resisted. She says, “I was, like, either you’re going to support me in practical ways, or you’re going to shut the fuck up about my talent.” (See Outside In, The New Yorker

Apparently Zink had been writing for fifteen years, but only for her pen pal Avner Shats, shunning the publishing industry. Reviewers love her writing – I ‘ve not read a bad review yet. But they also love to point out that she wrote The Wallcreeper and Mislaid each in three weeks. She’s a speed demon. And what’s more, the books are great. If they were lousy we’d hear a lot about how good writing takes time and that Zink’s frivolous attitude demonstrates a disrespect for the art. She must be a nightmare for every creative writing instructor in the land. On the other hand, it fills the hearts with hopes of every aspiring writers who get the job done demon speed. After reading about Zink I stopped feeling guilty about finishing a first draft in three or four months. All hail, Zink!

Arundhati RoyIn the same week it was announced that Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, will be publishing her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in 2017, twenty years after The God of Small Things made such a big splash. The reviewer I read dramatically proclaimed that the book was twenty years in the making, conjuring up images of Roy sitting at her desk writing and revising and editing for twenty years until the masterpiece was perfected. How you reconcile Zink and Roy, I don’t know, but many people believe that for writing to be good, it must take time, and must be difficult. How often have a read authors describing the agony they go through year after year, compelled to write because that is all they can do, but nonetheless suffering mightily? You’d think they worked in a deep coal mine. Ten years, twenty years, thirty years of suffering so we had better like the damn book. Now that’s what real writing is all about. And if you don’t take decades to write your book than obviously it’s a piece of shit.

Actually, I’d love to be Franzen’s friend, though I’m pretty sure anything I wrote in three weeks wouldn’t impress him. Perhaps I should send him a copy of The Woman in White Marble and The Krewe of Boo Murders in the hope that he would send them immediately to his publisher. Actually, I met Franzen once at a book signing in Seattle. He noticed one of the books I handed him was published in the UK and I cleverly brought up his last visit to London when a man stole his glasses off his face and Franzen chased him into a pond. He laughed at my retelling, but unfortunately did not ask for my email address. I should have talked about birds.

Truth is, I doubt I could write a book in three weeks and I don’t have twenty years left on the planet. Bottom line, when successful writers write about how to write, what they are really doing, and only doing, is telling us how they write books. Nothing more, nothing less. Their advice may help you or it may not. I’m sticking to about three or four months for the first draft, and then forever for the revising and editing. FOREVER!

Claudio Gatti Writing fast, writing slow, birds, publishing are all very interesting, but Bookland was rocked in this week when a case of brutal betrayal was revealed. Elena Ferrante was unmasked! Boy, I read nothing good about this treachery. Ferrante is a bestselling novelist writing books located in Naples under a pseudonym. A journalist – a two bit bastard of a journalist, if the few articles I read about this affair are correct – by the name of Claudio Gatti outed Ferrnante and did so as a public service, or so he claimed. If you want to read what this apparently despicable man, nay less that a man, wrote go to The New York Review of Books, which also took a hit for printing this self-righteous intrusion.

According to Gatti, given that Ferrante wrote a book about Ferrante, Ferrante (whoever she really is) opened herself up to public scrutiny. Basically, this fifteen minute seeker of fame thinks authors do not have the right to write themselves out of their writing. As for me, I don’t care if people know I wrote White Marble and Krewe of Boo. In fact, I insist they know. I haven’t managed fifteen seconds of fame yet, and I’m still waiting to go viral. Perhaps, if one day it does happen, the viral thing, I may wish I had written under the pseudonym Drake Ramsey. Truth: I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility. Still, the morality and ethics of punishing the hidden, is worth thinking about.

Gloria NaylorFinally, Zink, Roy, Franzen, Ferrnante, and Gatti all took a back sit towards the end of the week when it was announced that Gloria Naylor had died. She died of a heart attack at 66 years old. This news hurt. Years ago a friend gave me a copy of The Women of Brewster Place. I went on to read Lindon Hills, Mama Day, and Bailey’s Café. Naylor won the National Book Award, the American Book Awards, and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988. She wrote about strong African American female characters dealing with issues of racism, sexism, poverty, gay rights, and spirituality. Her books are alive with sex, birth, love, grief, and death. At times she embraces magical realism and at times the grittiness of life.

She wrote: “Not only is your story worth telling, but it can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.” I doubt I’ve ever written anything that has become a song, though I have painstakingly tried on occasion. Still, trying is one thing and doing is another.

There’s a good chance you have never heard of Gloria Naylor, but she has left her books behind. She is best known for The Women of Brewster Place, so I would suggest you start there. But I must confess, Mama Day and Bailey’s Café are probably my favorites, so much so I bought first editions. They sit on a book shelf in my living room, pride of place. She’s gone, but the books are not.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Oct182016

The Normalization of Demagogy

I’m hoping these are not ordinary time, politically speaking. If they are then the United States is in trouble. For the first time a fascist, racist, xenophobic demagogue is the presidential nominee of a major political parties. Though it sounds melodramatic, these are dangerous times. But let’s start with a little good news.

Nate Silver plots the likelihood of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being elected president on his website FiveThirtyEight. As I write this on the morning of October 18, 2016, Silver calculates Clinton’s chances of winning at 87.7% and Trump at 12.3%. (He predicts that the Democratic Party has a 76.0% chance of gaining control of the Senate.) This wasn’t always so. Even two weeks ago many polls indicated the race was close. But by now we all know what happened. The infamous video of Trump and Billy Bush speaking abusively about how they treat women was released by the Washington Post. Finally, upon hearing Trump say he could freely grab women’s pussies because he is famous, Republican leaders began withdrawing support. But let’s just remind ourselves what was acceptable for the GOP before the video. Trump:

 

  • Encouraged Russia to hack Clinton’s email and impact the US election;
  • Says he admires Putin;
  • Incites actual physical violence at many of his campaign rallies;
  • Suggests his opponent can be stopped by assassination;
  • Calls his opponent a devil;
  • Says he will imprison his opponent when he’s elected president;
  • Calls Mexicans rapists and criminals;
  •  Advocates racial profiling;
  • Advocates killing of terrorists families (a war crime);
  • Advocates using torture;
  • Denies climate change, declaring the idea is a Chinese plot to undermine the US;
  • Denigrates prisoners of war;
  • Criticizes a Gold Star Family;
  • Declares he will build a huge high tech wall on the Mexican US border;
  • Advocates expelling 11 million people from the US;
  • Advocates refusing all Muslims entry to the US (unconstitutional);
  • Declares a judge is not suited to reside over cases he is involved in because the judge is Mexican (the judge, of Mexican descent, was born and raised in the US and is a US citizen);
  • Implied a female moderator at a Republican Party debate was unfair to him because she was menstruating;
  • Uses derogatory and sometimes brutal and violent language towards and about women;
  • Publicly mocked a disabled journalist;
  • Promoted changes to the libel laws that would restrict freedom of speech;
  • Claimed he knows more how to defeat ISIS then US generals even though he has had NO military experience;
  • Threatened to undermine NATO by refusing to automatically support NATO members in times of conflict;
  • Seems relaxed about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and even using them in Europe “because it’s a big place”;
  • Claims, because of his fame, he can grab women by their pussy.

 I know this is not an all-inclusive list of Trump statements and policies, but nonetheless, at this point we should all be alarmed. This is a candidate for the presidency! And remember, most GOP leaders and millions of Republican voters supported Trump through all the above outrage. It seems many candidates for public office are first concerned about their own careers, second their party’s success, and third the common good and the welfare of the country. But given the nature of Trump’s political movement, it’s support by most, if not all, Nazi and white supremacist movements, its undercurrent of violence, we must ask why it took so long for the Republican leadership to unendorsed Trump.

There are several things disturbing about the Trump candidacy. First, of course, is the man himself. He is a dangerous, inept, unqualified, pathological liar. Nonetheless, we have been, and continue to be, inundated by the media coverage of Trump. As Les Moonves, CBS Chairman, said:

"It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS…Donald's place in this election is a good thing. Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now?...The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."

It is naïve to think that the CEO of a major media company would consider the common good and the health of the country over profit. But what happens when a people see and hear a demagogue day after day? Well, at least in part, the person and his (in this case) rhetoric become normalized. It’s like pornography going mainstream. We cannot keep up with his blatant lies and so we make jokes. Shock fatigue begins to set in. And while Trump may still surprise us from time to time, it is possible that when the next Hitler/Putin admirer and hero of the alt-right comes along, we won’t be surprise but will take it in our stride. The media embrace of Trump is normalizing demagogy.

Second, the Republican Party leadership has been, by and large, cowardice. This mess belongs to the Republican Party. The Party over the past few decades, moving ever rightward, embracing Christian fundamentalism and right-wing ideology, created this monster. Unfortunately, what Republicans created is now a problem for all of us. I have come to believe that the best thing for the country is for the GOP to be crushed in the election, thus forcing the party to recreate itself. I actually do think the US needs a good conservative party. Unfortunately, given the way the congressional districts have been established, it is unlikely that the Democrats will retake the House. Will losing the White House and Senate (and thus control over the Supreme Court) be enough to force change upon GOP? We can only hope.

Third, millions of American have voted for Trump and will vote for him on November 8th. When we Americans lose an election we grumble, complain, and often protest. However, Trump is adding a new and dangerous element to the mix. He is openly declaring the election is fixed even before it has taken place. No other presidential candidate has ever done this before. The man who often suggests violence is a legitimate reaction and solution to a problem (let 2nd Amendment people take care of Clinton if she is elected), and at other times actually calls for violence (telling people to hit protesters at his rallies), is now priming his followers to reject the the election results if he loses. It does not matter that there is no evidence of electoral fraud being orchestrated, that state governments control the electoral process in their states, and that there has never been any evidence of large scale electoral fraud in the US. As President Obama said, Trump should stop his whining

Nonetheless, he has told his supporters to monitor polling stations, and he obviously doesn’t mean their own. The racism in his speeches is not subtle. One supporter is reported as saying:

"It’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally…I’m going to make them a little bit nervous."

So, if Trump loses the election, which is looking likely, what percentage of his followers will accept Clinton as their president? Will any become violent? Dan Bowman, a Trump supporter, was quoted in the Boston Globe literally calling for a revolution:

"If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it. We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take… I would do whatever I can for my country."

Trump has given people the permission to hate, to use violent language, and in some cases to use physical violence. He is making no effort to dampen down the anger. Indeed, in continues to encourage it. Civility is out the window. Rejection of the electoral process is now his main thrust. These are not good times for our democracy. But then again, demagogy never is.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep282016

Writing in the Labyrinth of Cultural Appropriation

I have written a new book entitled The Krewe of Boo Murder which should be available in three or four months. That’s exciting, but I could be in for some trouble. Here’s the thing. The main and minor characters are (first names will do here): Drake, Zuri, Gerard, Nia, Adam, Bartholomew, Sekuru, and Joe. Of these, five are black. I’m white. Two are female. I’m male. Two are Zimbabwean. I’m an American, and while I’ve been to Zimbabwe several times, I’ve never lived there. Three visit Ghana. I’ve visited Ghana on numerous occasions, but have never lived there. The book takes place in New Orleans. I’ve visited New Orleans, but have never lived there. Thank God none of them are gay. I’m straight. You see the problem. I’m a straight white American male comfortably secure in the dominant culture. The majority of my characters are not white and certainly not secure.

In writing The Krewe of Boo Murder I’m open to the charge of cultural appropriation. Strictly speaking, cultural appropriation is the “adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.” But, of course, it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, end there. If a members of a majority, or dominant, culture use elements of a minority, or subordinate/weak, culture, then the appropriation is considered by some to be inappropriate, if not exploitive and oppressive.

Reactions to cultural appropriation range widely, as one would expect. From one extremes to the other we have people who say the entire concept is complete nonsense and others who say no member of a dominate culture can ever adopt, use, depict elements from and/or members of the a non-dominant culture and to do so is always exploitative.

These two positions were lived out at the Brisbane writers festival recently when Lionel Shriver was invited to be the keynote speaker. During her talk she referred to an example of cultural appropriation and microagression where, at a “tequila party”, students wore sombreros. The fallout included members of the student government facing impeachment and a ban on the Mexican restaurant that handed out the sombreros. Shriver’s response: “The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet, that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it. Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.” (To read Shriver’s complete speech, click here). The reaction to her comments was immediate. Yassmin Abdel-Magied walked out of the address and later wrote that Shriver’s speech was “a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experience of others, under the guise of fiction.”[1] (To read Abdel-Magied’s full text, click here).

It is, perhaps, unfortunate that Shriver’s first example was about a student party and sombreros. Many might see this as frivolous – just some kids having some fun, and it was, after all, a Mexican restaurant that supplied the sombreros. However, those who level the claim of frivolity are more than likely sitting comfortably within the dominate culture, while the proponents of cultural appropriation and microaggression are responding to history, colonialization, racism, and real-world politics, as well as the constant drip, drip, drip of diminution and personal insult. I have considerable sympathy for their position. And while I have to confess I’m uncomfortable with the force and one-sidedness of the charge of microaggression  (by definition the transgression is identified and defined only by the victim), and its impact on issues like free speech and censorship, as I said above, I’m a straight white male who plays freely within and benefits from the dominant culture. Any slights, diminutions, and attacks I have sustained through the years are a result of my advocating for inclusiveness and justice and not because of my fundamental identity.

One way in which cultural appropriation can play out in literature is the creation of one dimensional black characters whose only purpose is to serve white characters. Often a black character is present to: one, establish the “whiteness” of the main character and, two, to provide the main white character with a learning experience or moral epiphany that allows that character to grow or be transformed.[2] When writing The Krewe of Boo Murder I consciously did my damnedest to avoid these two dangers. I actually have a scene in the book that speaks directly to these issues. I essentially deconstructs my own book. Does it work? I think so. Am I worried? Of course.

Some insist that no writer should write outside his or her own personal and cultural experience. Others say that literature is about stepping outside ourselves and not to do so diminishes both the author and literature. Some argue that white writers writing about black characters is always literary exploitation, meaning that the characters themselves are exploited because they have only been created to serve the plot. Others respond by saying, of course the characters serves the plot, that they are fictional creations in a fictional book and do whatever their creator wants them to do. Some claim that when white authors write about minority, indigenous, oppressed issues and people, they are depriving minority, indigenous, oppressed authors the opportunity to write about their own issues and people and are robbing them of a chance to make a living.

So I want to ask: in both the areas of cultural appropriation and microaggression can there ever be a situation where it could be understood that both the transgressor and the victim occupy, not common ground, but at least the same landscape. I ask, because if my black friend and I stand in the same landscape, then we share at least some of that territory. And if that is so, then presumably I have a right to speak, though obviously from a radically different perspective, and certainly not for my friend. (Thankfully, the days when white people spoke for black people, if not over, is at least recognized to be unethical and plain stupid.)

My culture includes and indeed actualizes racism and renders me a child of prejudice. The genesis of my culture is grounded in slavery. I live in a racist society. Racism is in the DNA of my cultures, and thus is also in my DNA. How can I not claim to be a racist in a racist landscape? I want to assert that I am immersed in a culture that is not just a white get out of jail free card. But my point here is not to establish to what degree I am either a transgressor or a victim (can a member of the dominant culture ever claim victimhood and must a member of the non-dominant culture always be identified as a victim?), but rather that if I live in a shared landscape I have the right to write about that landscape and the people in it. I think, I hope, all this lends some legitimacy to the question of whether or not I can write about people and things that are outside my immediate white experiences, but inside the muddled, tangled, labyrinth that is my greater cultural reality.

One of the main themes in The Krewe of Boo Murder is about the impact that the country’s past embrace of slavery has today on the lives of people of color in the United States. When I was working on the book I asked my wife on three occasions if I should stop writing and abandon the project. She essentially said: keep writing, your culture is defined by the past slave industry and present day racism, that America needs to have the discussion, and even if you get hell for writing the book, at least you will have contributed to that necessary debate. I kept writing. Am I worried? You bet. In the area of cultural appropriation it’s not good to get it wrong.

If I am open to the charge of cultural appropriation, I hope I’m judged on the integrity of the characters and the story. Beyond what I have said above, my only other defense is, that while I fictionalized accounts from actual slaves and freed slaves, everything I wrote comes from research of their historical documents, which is to say what I wrote came from them and not from my imagination. The characters I made up. Much of the story they tell I did not.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger


[1] This immediate example of cultural appropriation is in the area of literature, but the issue is also discussed in the areas of music, art, performance, fashion, etc. Recently Marc Jacobs had white models at a New York fashion show wear dreadlocks. He was accused of cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity. He defended himself by saying those who decry cultural appropriation are silent on the issue of black women straightening their hair. His response may at first glance seem more than reasonable, but others pointed out that black women are oppressed and pressured by the dominant culture to straighten their hair. Thus, their act does not indicate appropriation but oppression.

[2] I recommend a short book by Toni Morrison, entitled Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination, to explore this issue.

Wednesday
Sep212016

Shot Fired! Let’s Talk about Football Players

Terence Crutcher, an African American man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed September 16, 2016 by Tulsa police. The Tulsa Police Department released two videos of the shooting: One from a police helicopter and the other from a patrol car dashboard camera. Mr. Crutcher’s SUV had stalled in the road while returning home from college. The videos show him walking towards his car with his hands raised. When he reached the car he either leaned against the vehicle or reached inside, at which point he was Tasered by Officer Tyler Turnbough and shot by Officer Betty Shelby.

But let’s talk about football players.

When Officer Shelby arrived on the scene her dashboard camera was not recording. She later reported that Mr. Crutcher was away from his vehicle and was acting erratically, placing his hand in his pocket and not obeying her commands. Based on her drug-recognition training, she concluded that Mr. Crutcher was under the influence of PCP. Officer Shelby reported that Mr. Crutcher reached into his SUV, but others viewing the videos claimed the window was closed.

Later the Tulsa Police told KOKI-TV that a vial of PCP was found in Mr. Crutcher’s SUV. As I write this, the toxicology report has not yet been released. But even if Mr. Crutcher had taken PCP, which has not been established, questions must be asked: Was Mr. Crutcher threatening Officer Shelby and/or other officers, and was shooting him, after he had be Tasered, the proportionate response in the situation? And it must be said, in both videos there is no evidence at all that Mr. Crutcher made any threatening moves toward the police.

Screenshot of Terence Crutcher walking towards his SUV followed by Officer Betty ShelbyWhen the patrol car with a working dashboard camera arrived recording the encounter, Mr. Crutcher was walking away from Officer Shelby who was following him with her revolver drawn. Another officer with a Taser ran into the scene. On the helicopter recording we hear one officer saying, “This guy is still walking and following commands.” A second officer say, “Time for a Taser, I think.” And then a few moments later he said, ”That looks like a bad dude, too...might be on something.” As it turned out, one of the helicopter officers was Officer Shelby’s husband (some reports claiming he was the officer who called Mr. Crutcher a “bad dude” and other that he was not).

But let’s talk about football players.

I watched both recordings. Here is my account of the moment Mr. Crutcher is Tasered and shot:

19:44:16 - Mr. Crutcher can be seen following to the ground.
     44:19 - A woman’s voice shouts “Shot fired!”
     45:50 - Three officers back away from Mr. Crutcher lying on the ground never turning their backs to him.
     46:05 - It appears a police officer is checking Mr. Crutcher for a weapon.
     46:45 - It appears police are checking Mr. Crutcher condition.
     47:56 - It appears an ambulance arrives.
     48:40 - It appears Mr. Crutcher receives medical care.

Much about this is more than disturbing. If Mr. Crutcher was "walking and following commands", as one of the helicopter police stated, why did the other one say "Time for a Taser, I think"? Is Tasering people standard proceedure? And given that Mr. Crutcher was Tasered, why was he also shot almost simultaneously? Mr. Crutcher laid on the ground bleeding and motionless, clearly seen on the helicopter video, for approximately two minutes before anyone approached him. He laid there for approximately four and a half minutes before receiving what appeared to be medical care. Is that time frame normal in such situations?

Mr. Crutcher later died in hospital. He was 40 years old and studying music in college. He had four daughters. No weapon was found on his body or in his vehicle.

But let’s talk about football players.

Watching the video from the patrol car is both disturbing and eerie. The car’s radio was on and broadcasting an interview with a member of a heavy metal band. As you watch a black man walk away from the police with his hands up, be Tasered and shot, lie unmoving in the road next to his car, you listen to the mundane ruminations of an aging rocker. The juxtaposition of tragedy and banality, while at the same time inevitably and necessarily placing this particular and personal tragedy in the context of an ongoing national crisis, is distressing, upsetting, disconcerting, ominous.

But let’s talk about football players.

I’m not a cop and never wanted to be one. I doubt I had the courage. I admire what the police do to keep us safe. To denounce the killing of unarmed black men is not also to condemn all police officers. Admitting that we have a national problem of huge proportions, is not to say we don’t support the police. Both these statements should be obvious, though it seems they are not to many people. Still, it must be said. It is not safe to be a black person in America. As Rev. Traci Blackmon said, “It is impossible to be unarmed when my blackness is the weapon you fear.” 

But let’s talk about football players.

If the police began killing people with red hair at the rate they are killing African Americans, we would have no difficulty identifying the problem, condemning the behavior, and acting to prevent more killings in the future. We would have no difficulty understanding why Red Hair People Lives Matter came into existence. We would sympathize with red hair football players kneeling down during the national anthem. But the police aren’t killing in disproportionate numbers people with red hair, or white people, or left handed people, or whatever people. They are killing the descendants of America’s slaves.

But let’s talk about football players, the flag, the military, and the greatness of America, instead of the reasons the players kneel down in the first place.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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