Unimaginable

No.

As insurrectionists acted on an incitement from the President of The United States to storm the United States Capitol, terrorize Congress, and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote that would finally confirm Joe Biden’s election, the nation looked on in horror. White nationalists, waving Confederate flags, Trump campaign flags, with phones held aloft to document their crimes, easily and almost without incident overwhelmed and humiliated the Capitol police force, sending lawmakers scrambling for safety. The insurrectionists ransacked the Capitol, entered Congressional offices, and delayed the electoral process. With the Capitol still under occupation, the President of the United States wrote:

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever.”

I, like everyone, have been glued to this entire disgusting debacle from the moment it began, and I’ve been watching and listening carefully to the coverage of this historic, literal failure of the security of our institutions. The same words keep coming up; astonishing, unbelievable, unimaginable.

No. 

It is not just completely foreseeable, but it was inevitable, from this traitor’s first rally, physically threatening the press, to his desperate, escalating calls for violence against his political opponents to the weeks of publicly calling for today’s events to take place. 

The failure of America’s collective imagination has been profound, and this day has been incubated by each mollifying word from every single American who has downplayed the fascist, authoritarian movement that is Trumpism. Every bright red line that was crossed without consequence, every norm shattered that was met with a shrug, has brought us here. Every time someone decided it was important to tell us not to worry, that our institutions will hold, that we are overreacting, that it’s not that bad; each dismissal of legitimate concern has brought us here.  

But it has not been an incremental path to this moment; it has all been the same bleak, relentless road. Trumpism is an alliance; as we watched one of the grand symbols of our democracy ransacked by a group of seditionists, just days after one of the men with whom they made common cause exploded a car bomb in downtown Nashville, a straight line can be drawn backward in time, to Charlottesville, and beyond. It’s been said, but it never hurts to say it again, plainly: The Trump White House is an institution of white nationalist terror.

The dozens of Republican cowards who co-signed the President’s insane electoral conspiracy theories– who gave those ideas the amplification required to grow and spread, who decided to use today to object to American democracy and a free and fair election– not only represent the conjointment between Republicans and Trumpism, but are fully complicit in the violence and terror that took place today. 

The psychopath in the White House was been a psychopath long before a minority of American voters gave him an Electoral College victory in 2016 and handed him the keys to our democracy. He will continue to be a psychopath after he is driven from office, which is hopefully immediately. We have endured him, his collaborators, and the insurrectionist white nationalists who defaced our democracy for far too long. We’ve quieted one another, downplayed concern, laughed and shaken our heads, accepted the unacceptable, and moved along as transgression after transgression, crime after crime, has gone unpunished. We have made crime a form of acceptable political action. 

White nationalist domestic terror has long found a harbor in the psychopathy of Trumpism; it is one of its essential aspects. Today, the President of the United States deployed it against Congress, and then told us they had it coming. He must be brought to justice. Immediately. 

After The End

I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, about what life in a post-Trump administration world should look like for Donald Trump, and the words that keep springing to mind are justice, catharsis, and accountability. The president’s administration and their blatant violation of the law– from Hatch Act violations to emolument violations, including using the White House for the Republican National Convention and the flood of money from foreign governments pouring into Trump properties to curry favor with the president, from their unprecedented refusal to hold Russian intelligence operations in the United States to account to using foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to demand election interference, from obviously colluding with the United States Postmaster General to dismantle postal delivery of valid ballots in key urban areas to directly seeking to overturn a comprehensive defeat in the 2020 election by pressuring elected officials in key states to manufacture votes in the president’s favor and, perhaps most grievously of all, refusing to implement a national strategy to contain and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic (and in fact worsening it by politicizing the response)– must be exposed in full, it must be laid out before the American people plainly, in the sunlight, and those responsible must be held accountable, in court, for their crimes.

This is the question facing the country, right now: Is the dismantling of America’s system of governance at the hands of a narcissistic, criminal enterprise going to be passed off as a form of “politics,” or will it be properly understood as crime?  Is there a difference between the conservative politics of small government and the pillaging of America’s public institutions for personal profit? Is the office of the president an elected position accountable to the rule of law or is it an all-powerful office, a unilateral cudgel and shield that is immune from the consequences of its actions? Is the only check on Presidential power an election, held every four years, allowing shameless political leaders to grift and lie until “the people decide?” And once the people vote, do we find justice in narrow majorities in divided states, which are allowed to overturn huge popular vote margins because, hey, that’s “the system”, and so voter suppression tactics are deployed strategically at the state level by party apparatchiks to shave popular vote margins and override the will of the majority of Americans?

Elections are not a remedy for injustice. Losing an elected office is not a form of accountability for crimes committed in office. Being a politician doesn’t mean breaking the law is a “political” act. Someone in the Justice Department writing a memo on Department “policy” is not “the law.” Yet, too often, this is how justice functions and is understood for political elites.  And of course, we know how this works; instead of equal justice under the law, we depend on prosecutorial will to seek justice.

So, who is willing to challenge the crimes of powerful people? We saw Congressional Democrats try, as the House of Representatives used the impeachment process to expose the criminal behavior of the president before Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority once again defaulted to his “elections should decide” hypocrisy. We should expect it from and it is crucial to the mission of the Justice Department, but we watched the president remove multiple Attorneys General until he could bend the Department to his personal service, with Bill Barr turning the Department into a shield for the president, debasing the office in thrall to executive power. We should expect challenges to power from state and local officials, but they have been blocked by the Justice Department’s “guidance” against prosecuting a sitting president. And so, we waited and looked on as our system of justice was dismantled to protect the president’s criminality.

Simultaneously, perhaps amplified by frustration that the president’s overt criminality was not being constrained, the systemic asymmetry of accountability, one that continues to willfully and overtly criminalize poverty and communities of color while shielding elite criminality, found its fun house mirror image in the streets, where police violence and the murder of George Floyd (then the latest in a string of unaccountable police killings of black Americans) escalated longstanding demands for accountability in local communities around the country. Then, of course, these cries for justice were held up as criminal in and of themselves, mocked by the right as “riots”, before these very same communities of color were targeted for voter disenfranchisement tactics. When that disenfranchisement didn’t work and cities across America voted overwhelmingly to end the disgrace of the Trump administration, the president and his team of lawyers launched an Orwellian crusade to deny the very existence of those votes and, in parallel, tried to convince state election officials about how justice should really work; that is, it should be criminally bent to the will of the president.

This is not about a single (albeit sociopathic) individual and it is not about “politics.” Accountability for Donald Trump’s crimes is about proving to 350 million Americans and to the world that our country- a community of citizens, of people, individuals, who live under common governance- can demonstrate that our conception of the law is not just the continued lip service to an “ideal”, but is dependent upon a functional set of agreed upon rules applied equally to all citizens, and that we have the will to deliver justice.

In my last post, I thought about how Republicanism and Trumpism have become a unified, authoritarian force in American life and so it begs the question; can the party that has collaborated with unilateral malfeasance, refusing to hold the president to account and emboldening an ever-worsening series of anti-democratic actions be allowed to suddenly, as if from thin air, scold the nation into a demand for “bi-partisanship” that further drags us down the collective drain? Will the media continue to equate “both sides” of a political dynamic where one side slides further and further into authoritarianism and dismantling our government? Can they wag their fingers and cry “politics” when accountability is required, allowing the authoritarian trial balloons they continue to release to foment into a deepening crisis of democracy? Will the lies of a wounded sociopath, unable to fathom his own humiliating defeat after four years of abject failure of leadership and the degradation of of our nation’s institutions and reputation, be used as a pretext for enacting further restrictions on voting rights, to deepen inequity at the voting booth?

No. Justice is required, and justice requires will. We must demonstrate that will immediately.

 

 

Debaser

The debasement of the Republican Party at the feet of Donald Trump’s attempts to establish a dictatorship in America– a new, unique idea of governing that seeks to mirror the unaccountable mechanics of Trump’s operation of his own private business– has, surprisingly, been met with effective resistance by some conservatives outside of the government itself. This uncomfortable truth is best reflected in the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which saw a record number of voters turn out to repudiate Trumpism, many of them Republicans crossing party lines to vote against Trump while voting down ballot for Republicans who, one can assume they believed, in many cases represented more traditional “conservative” values without the unpalatable aspects of Trumpism itself. But post-election analysis is always risky; cynics can find a mandate in a one vote victory. What is unexpected is the ability of Republicans to warp the national conversation to find a mandate in a 7,000,000 vote loss.

Confronting a political party that features hundreds of elected officials that refuse to honor the will of people, one that sees governance by the Democratic Party as de facto illegitimate, we have arrived at a moment that forces us to ask hard questions about the nature of our elections, representation, and the structure of our government itself. While collective fealty to the “founding” structures of the Constitution have shielded unjust, unaccountable laws over the centuries (slavery, the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, etc), change has always been a part of our relationship to governance; our society has evolved over time to right historic wrongs, often far too late, often inadequately. Now, as our system of elections continues to produce minority rule, the emboldened minority that has been highly effective in bending the shape of the government in its own image is no longer satisfied; it is remaking itself in order to legitimize the manufactured delusion that Trump won the election.

This is the double threat we face as a country now; not only are Republicans emboldened by our system’s asymmetrical allocation of power to their minority to take more and more of it for themselves (and to delegitimize the right of Democrats to govern), they are effective in convincing the nation that this is how it should be. And no one will stop them. The party has convinced itself of the truth of this reality, and so they work harder to make it reality. They face no repercussions; the polite mandates of the press and the national conversation maintain their platform, their propaganda networks repeat their lies with tremendous discipline, and Democrats respond by cleaving to antiquated norms and the idea of actual governance, neither of which suffice as a challenge in this unprecedented moment.

Trumpism has taken this situation and, seeing no value in governance, no effective resistance, no structural constraints, no disciplined counter narrative, no systemic barriers, no consequences, has done what every dictatorship has sought to do once unfettered; it has created a separate universe of truth that is bent exclusively to the will and needs of its leader. Republicanism, which sees only itself as legitimate, is the perfect vehicle for Trumpism, which has now embedded itself within the party like a brain-eating parasite, taking control of its host and turning it into a zombie that serves only the needs of the leader. And now that the leader seeks to recreate reality itself, huge swaths of the party simply fall in line, including dozens of elected officials who would rather appease the fictions of their leader (fictions created by the devastation of narcissistic injury) than confront their own complicity in continuing to debase the system from which, against all reason, somehow, they continue to benefit. And of course, it just wouldn’t be Trumpist Republicanism without a healthy dose of doublespeak hypocrisy where, on the one hand, the Electoral College results should be thrown out because they have been “corrupted” by overwhelming urban and suburban majorities, but also, the Electoral College itself must be maintained to continue to facilitate minority rule.

There has been some confusion about Trump’s admiration for totalitarian leaders abroad, but it has always been crystal clear how much he envies them. In thinking about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I am always chastened by Hannah Arendt’s enduring ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, which properly frames the differences between a dictatorship (which, I would argue, is Trump’s ideal framework) and totalitarianism, which Arendt defines as relying on comprehensive state terror against its own populations to maintain control (see Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, North Korea, Belarus, etc.) For all of his bluster and his singularly pathetic gesture of turning Federal forces against peaceful protesters so that he could hold a Bible*, Trump has not effectively unleashed state violence against his political opponents or the masses. This is one constraint on his power that has somehow held despite his calls for the arrest of opposition leaders, and while the white nationalist militias and conspiracy-minded activists have been emboldened by Trump’s overt support (and have unconscionably been accommodated in the public sphere despite their escalating levels of violence), they have not been granted impunity by the state to wreak terror on our society. Instead, they have enacted criminal terror as “lone wolves” separated from the violent pack (see Charlottesville, Portland, Wisconsin, and likely, Nashville). Similarly, because of the localization of police forces in America, radically conservative police unions have been somewhat constrained by local control which, given the overwhelming militarization of the police and the aggressive tactics they have used, is a systemic constraint that has held.

Despite all of the verbal posturing, Trumpism has failed to construct a systemic apparatus to govern the nation through terror and organized state violence. Instead, it has sought to realign the nation and its governance as a form of dictatorship that reflects Trump’s business experience, relying on personal loyalty, non-disclosure agreements, unilateral financial and managerial control, lying, criminality, secrecy, and the tacky, gold-plated façade of an exclusive brand that only serves those who buy into the con. Still, the totalitarian idea is there, floated every now and then, hovering just beyond the reach of those who would gladly deploy it to maintain their control. Republican politicians understand Trumpism as the vehicle for that control, and they are right; it is a great mobilizing machine filled with true believers who will not only adopt the Trumpist line of thinking, but will become radicalized to act in its service.

You cannot put these impulses back in the box through a moderate agenda of legislation that makes modest, incremental change in the lives of everyday people. It is past time for the system, which remains under grave threat, to be utilized in the service of its own preservation. That can only happen through a dedication to accountability and structural change that realigns the national interest with the collective interests of its citizens, not a single political party intent on maintaining its own power by making common cause with a would-be tyrant.



*Gassing and beating protesters to hold a Bible for the media is a gesture that, like dry humping the American flag with a shit eating grin on your face, can only be truthfully seen as ironic, but as patriotism and religion cannot accommodate irony, these pathetic, inauthentic attempts at aping the tropes of “belief” by a narcissist incapable of belief were somehow not derided by the faithful.

The Path Ahead From 2020


2021 has arrived, and America is on the verge of rounding the corner of both the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged us this past year, and the Trump administration, which has ravaged us for the past four. Trump and COVID will be eternally twinned now; the respective failure of Trump and the success of the virus in killing over 300,000 people in the country form an almost perfect collaboration of incompetent narcissism and virulence, forever entwined in a collective dance of madness, propelled by absolute fealty to a delusional idea of individualism. To have lived through this time, to have personally made massive sacrifices of time, social interaction, artistic connection, concentration, and yet, to know that these sacrifices are small, that over 300,000 people have lost their lives without a single gesture of condolence or acknowledgement– it remains unconscionable. To stare into the heart of my country as each of those sacrifices– personal, collective– is undermined, day by day, month after interminable month, by an unwavering, delusional minority, has been absolutely enraging.

There is no point in denying it; my belief in other people, in the value of empathy (which has completely framed my adult life and been the guiding motivation of my work), has been forever altered by the experience of watching self-interested, cynical, criminal buffoons hammer a wedge between us, and by the willingness of so many to not only welcome it, but to help drive it as deep as possible. This has illuminated new, unforeseen limits in my own capacity for concern for and the understanding of others. I have never felt at home in a culture that celebrates patriotic kitsch, performative religious practice, and anti-intellectualism, but as these longstanding strains of American identity have found common cause in the cynicism of Trumpism, turning the obvious hypocrisy of their supposed purpose into their full reason for being, I see that my attempts at understanding are simply unilateral exercises in self-preservation. There is no return of these gestures, only the construction of unbearably ridiculous straw-man versions of my values, spit back into my face with a sneer. I want to understand because I want to preserve the version of myself that seeks a compassionate understanding of others, but that version of me has no place here now.

So, how best to get through these times? I have been reading more, which is good, but the pandemic has taken away my ability to focus for too long without succumbing to an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I spent most of 2020 reading Volker Ullrich’s HITLER: ASCENT 1889-1939 and HITLER: DOWNFALL 1939-42, and they have been very useful to me in understanding the power of propaganda in forging a false “unifying” national purpose in service of a lying, cynical abuse of political power for criminal ends. These books are also a stern warning about the way in which the lack of accountability only escalates and emboldens criminality, allowing unfathomable crimes to be committed in secrecy. It’s not that the crimes are comparable between our time and 1930’s-40’s Nazi Germany, but the playbook being deployed is shockingly similar; lies, misinformation, loyalty purges, institutions bent to the service of corrupt interests, the deformation of language to disguise purpose, and with every incremental step enabling a deeper descent into the madness of antidemocratic power, the burning need for accountability grows more and more urgent.

Yesterday, home from my morning walk on the beach with our dog, with Ullrich’s DOWNFALL on my mind (I am still in the middle of reading it), I took a detour to revisit Alain Resnais’ NIGHT AND FOG. I wanted to be reminded of the incomprehensible horror, of Resnais’ visual evidence of the Nazi’s crimes, but much like the book I am reading, it was the text of NIGHT AND FOG that struck me on this viewing. I can’t draw contemporary parallels to the Holocaust in America; as an example, the criminal negligence and cruelty of our immigration prisons are unconscionable, but they are not nearly the same in scope or brutality or outcome. Unforgivable, but nowhere near. Still, I was taken by the film’s concluding narration, spoken over the shattered concrete and twisted iron of what then remained of Auschwitz. The point was not just the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust, but how we live with the collective responsibility that lingers in its wake, and how civilization itself can come to terms with the aftermath, when we know that the society that produced it was never properly held to account.

Who among us keeps watch from this strange watchtower to warn of the arrival of new executioners? Are their faces really so different from ours? Somewhere among us, there are still lucky Kapos, reinstated officers, and anonymous informers. There are those who refused to believe, or only now and then. We survey these ruins with a heartfelt gaze, certain the old monster lies crushed beneath the rubble. We pretend to regain hope as the image recedes, as though we’ve been cured of that plague. We tell ourselves it was all confined to one country, one point in time. We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us and a deaf ear to the never-ending cries.” –  Jean Cayrol, NIGHT AND FOG

 

 

 

My Favorite Fiction Films, 2010-19

ARRIVAL directed by Denis Villeneuve (2016)
HOLY MOTORS directed by Leos Carax (2012)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen (2013)
LEVIATHAN directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (2014)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD directed by George Miller (2015)
MARGARET directed by Kenneth Lonergan (2011)
THE MASTER directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (2012)
MOONLIGHT directed by Barry Jenkins (2016)
OSLO, AUGUST 31 directed by Joachim Trier (2011)
PHOENIX directed by Christian Petzold (2014)
POST MORTEM directed by Pablo Larrain (2010)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK directed by David Fincher (2010)
THE TURIN HORSE directed by Béla Tarr (2011)
UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013)
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE directed by Lynne Ramsay (2017)
ZAMA directed by Lucrecia Martel (2017)

My Favorite Albums of 2018

Music did so much to get me through 2018… here are my favorite new albums and my favorite vinyl re-issues of the year.

NEW:


RE-ISSUES:





NEW ALBUMS:

THE FUTURE AND THE PAST by By Natalie Prass

AURORA by Slow Crush

TWIN FANTASY (MIRROR TO MIRROR) by Car Seat Headrest (a re-issue of sorts, a re-imagining of sorts)

LUSH by Snail Mail

FUTURE ME HATES ME by The Beths

MAKE MY BED by King Princess

INDIGO by Wild Nothing

AMERICAN UTOPIA by David Byrne

A POEM UNLIMITED by U.S. Girls

BAD WITCH by Nine Inch Nails (also, best concert of the year, hands down)

DANCE ON THE BLACKTOP by Nothing


RE-ISSUES:

AMBIENT 1: MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS by Brian Eno (Half-speed mastering- incredible)

154 by Wire

ISN’T ANYTHING by My Bloody Valentine (analogue)

LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine (analogue)

MANOS by The Spinanes


My MVP of 2018, the album I listened to more than any other (and it wasn’t even close)…

THE DEMONSTRATION by Drab Majesty (2017)



My Favorite Albums of 2017


  1. NOTHING FEELS NATURAL by Priests
  2. MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent
  3. ANTISOCIALITES by Alvvays
  4. MOLTEN YOUNG LOVERS by Airiel
  5. KEN by Destroyer
  6. SAVAGE YOUNG DU by Hüsker Dü
  7. LOSING by Bully
  8. MELODRAMA by Lorde
  9. IN THE DARKNESS OF MY NIGHT by Sunshine & The Rain
  10. NOT EVEN HAPPINESS by Julie Byrne
  11. AMERICAN DREAM by LCD Soundsystem
  12. SATURN OVER SUNSET by Midnight Sister
  13. UTOPIA by Björk

 

Special MVP award to STARBOY by The Weeknd, which came out in November 2016, but DOMINATED my 2017!

 

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