Category: Politics

All Trump’s Men

Apropos of nothing going on politically, I’ve been reading All The President’s Men again. It’s a book I’ve always liked, largely because it combines two things I love: writing and cracking mysteries. I wish I’d discovered investigative journalism earlier as a career choice, but then, that career would probably already be over by now.

Reading Woodward’s and Bernstein’s book now, I can’t help but wonder if a campaign of dirty political tricks culminating in a failed attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee would even register on our country’s moral radar anymore. As each chapter goes by and the reporters circle closer to Haldeman and Nixon, I’m stricken by how it wouldn’t even surprise us these days that the President knew about a huge fund of cash for spying on and discrediting opponents.

Here’s a horrifying truth I suspect but cannot prove: Nobody who doesn’t already hate Trump gives a shit about whether the Russians helped him win the election. It’s too esoteric an issue, something hard to prove with the finality of a fingerprint or DNA sample.

Worse, it doesn’t excite moral indignation like a blow job in the Oval Office, simple and emotional and easy to be sure about. I suspect that many people outside of the Twittersphere see Trump as the accidental beneficiary of electoral interference, and even if he was involved, they still see the issue as something like speeding — an arbitrary law we’d all break when The Man wasn’t looking.

We suck at parsing ethics in America. We’re awesome with morals — man, we’re drooling on our Puritan smocks about morals — but I worry we’re too much of a “get-it-while-the-gettin’s-good” culture to see collusion with a foreign power or lying as much worse than taking a pen home from the office. We’re terrifying rationalizers, and nothing short of egregious and obvious harm gets our attention anymore (or maybe ever).

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the narrative reaches a critical mass from the core of “it’s against the law” to “it’s an affront to everyone in the country.” I hope regular people start to get angry.

But I doubt they will unless we better connect intellectual indignation with the good old fashioned pitchforks-and-torches kind.

How to Talk to Your Children about Donald Trump

A lot of people are wondering what to tell their children about the Donald Trump victory in the election.


While we’re all grateful that I have none, here’s what I’d tell mine:

Merricat, Roland, come here and sit with your old man a minute before we all go down to the bunker.

You’re too young to read most of my work yet, but I pretty much express its main theme in everything else I say and do, so you may have picked it up by now. That theme is this:

Decent people live outnumbered among legions of willfully oblivious idiots who rationalize their selfishness as “human nature.” Like saboteurs in enemy country, it is our duty to confound their ends with orchestrated humor and weirdness.

There’s a reason your mom and I named you after dangerously obsessive delusional psychopaths, and it’s because we want you to be the kind of terrifying oddballs who never give up their own visions of what’s right for what’s socially acceptable. If caving to social proof is a bug in our evolutionary software, I hope that you remain forever crazy enough to fight it.

Sometimes that means fighting alone or in a tiny group, and sometimes it means adding your voice to a crowd that accidentally happens to be right.

Your revolution may never extend further than the length of your arms, but there’s so much you can do there. Being nice is a revolutionary act. Sticking up for someone is a revolutionary act. Listening and observing for yourself are revolutionary acts.

So is speaking up. So is being quiet when it suits you.

The whole world wants you to be crazy like them, but my hope is that you’ll be crazy like you.

Mr. Trump, Two Minutes for Your Opening Remarks

[After writing the speech for Hillary, it’s only fair to write one for Trump. I think this could turn his whole campaign around. ]

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

(Trump ascends to the stage holding up a small plastic aquarium.)

Can you see that? I’m not sure you can get that on camera. If you look real close, you’ll see there’s a thing swimming around in there about the width of my thumb and maybe, what, a foot long? Something like that.

Anyway, me and the family went on vacation a couple of years ago to Bali — beautiful place, by the way, the best service on the planet — and while I was practicing some dives off a rock cliff, the larvae of this little guy wormed its way into a scrape on my knee from the gilded coffee table in my office.

Turns out that this is the Greater Balinese Brain Fluke, a trematode that laps up cerebrospinal fluid like a deer at a mountain stream. Loves it. Loves it so much that sometimes it makes a comfortable little nest in the brain of a human host. Kind of like that thing from that Star Trek movie. Beautiful movie, by the way. “Khaaannnn!” I love that part.

Anyway, this little fella set up shop near the amygdala on the left hemisphere of my brain and just started pumping away, kind of like a little fist. Like this. Just squeezing away, drinking and growing and secreting like all God’s creatures.

Wait, wait. Don’t get up. I’m getting to the point.

The amygdala, as we all know, is the breaker switch for decision making and emotional reaction, and, well, you might have noticed something a little strange about me lately. Still, it wasn’t until I started getting the migraines and those weird sniffles that my doctor ordered a CT scan that found my little friend curled up in my skull like a puppy.

Long story short, we had a surgery yesterday and this was pulled from my nasal cavity by a very nice Indian doctor. His name’s Doctor Srivastava, and I can’t recommend him enough. He’s great for all kinds of things, not just brain flukes.

And then my staff showed me the tapes of what I’ve been saying and, holy shit, I owe all of you a huge apology. Huuggge. Women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims…Jesus Christ. It’s like this thing just rings the primal bell of tribal thinking over and over.

I’m truly sorry for everything I’ve said. Yeah, that Billy Bush thing happened before the fluke was frolicking in my brain folds, but that was some bullshit, too. I was just trying to look cool.

So anyway, I’m back and ready to talk about the issues. I’ll admit it kinda worries me that nobody really picked up on something being wrong with me, and I wonder what I’d have to have said or done for someone to say, “Holy shit, you think he’s got a Greater Balinese Brain Fluke up there in his noggin?”

That’s what this pale-veined satin ribbon on my lapel signifies: GBBF awareness. I hope the next time that I or one of your loved ones starts showing obvious signs of being crazy as a shithouse rat that you’ll get us the help we need.

There’s a difference between politics-level crazy and brain-fluke-level crazy.

Secretary Clinton, Two Minutes for Your Closing Remarks

[If the enjoyment I get from it is anything to go by, I’d probably be a better speechwriter than the fiction kind. Sometimes I write things that other people could say to better make a point, but I don’t often share them. Here’s one for Hillary’s closing debate remarks.]

Photo by Lorie Shaull

Photo by Lorie Shaull

Like many of you, I’ve spent the last ninety minutes wondering why anybody would vote for this gibbering lunatic.

It can’t be because he’s got the best ideas for moving America forward; all he has are plans to come up with those ideas. It can’t be because of his great business acumen; he makes it a business practice to stiff countless vendors and employees. It can’t be because he’s a patriot; he’s proud of not paying his fair share of the taxes that keep our soldiers equipped and our kids educated. It certainly can’t be for his empathy or his eloquence.

The only reason I can imagine to vote for Donald Trump is because many of you just really, really hate me.

Of course, I wish you didn’t. Or if you have to, I wish you’d hate me for the right reasons.

For decades, some of you have seen me as a Machiavellian figure in some paneled room with her fingers tented, cackling as my plans come together. You see me as a puppet master, pulling the strings of some sinister agenda for power.

I’ve spent my adult life around power, and I can tell you it’s easy to come by and virtually useless by itself. If I really wanted power and only power, if I really wanted to be a demagogue and rule the country by my egotistical whim…well, I’d look a lot more like Donald Trump. And I’d have done it better, too.

Here’s the prosaic truth. I don’t want your guns, though I wish there were fewer of them. I don’t want a one-world government. I don’t want white people to disappear from the Earth. I don’t want to tax all your money to pay for forced abortions.

You know who I am? I’m the vaguely annoying student government geek from your high school who used to stay late in the gym painting the homecoming float by herself.

When I brush my teeth in the morning, I’m not thinking of ways to rule with an iron fist. I’m thinking of what I need to do, who I need to talk to, so we can fix something broken that day.   

All I want is for the roads to be a little better and for college to be a little cheaper. I’d like to keep America secure not so much through force of arms but by diplomacy. I’m hoping we can be welcoming to more of our people, and it’d be great if we weren’t lighting the planet on fire.

Like my opponent, I’ve made mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences. But the ones I’ve made haven’t been about grabbing power or making me look better, that’s for sure. They’ve come from tunnel vision: I sometimes forget that even the greatest ends are made of up small actions, and I’m counting on all of you to remind me that good is done one small step at a time, not all at once whatever the cost. 

Here’s what I’m asking. If you believe in Donald Trump’s character or policies — whatever they are — then vote for him. If you believe in Jill Stein’s or Gary Johnson’s policies, then vote for one of them.

But don’t vote for anyone simply because you hate me. That’s not the way to choose a president. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Vote because of what you believe, not because of what you hate.

Then work for it.

On My Silences

I miss the blissful pre-online ignorance of not knowing what so many people think and believe. It was easier to pretend there were better ones living somewhere else in the world that way.

When I was a kid, you pretty much had to walk into a bar or a Moose Lodge to seek out so many ill-informed opinions at once on everything from car repair to macroeconomics. Now the Internet brings the bar and the Moose Lodge to me.

I used to blog (often angrily) a lot more about politics and culture, but then I had the epiphany that I really had no idea what I was talking about. And even when/if I did, the others who didn’t weren’t listening anyway.

Marketers, pollsters, and social media have convinced us all of the supreme power of opinion, of every person weighing in on every issue, mostly so we know what side they’re on and if it’s our own. Do you properly hate Donald Trump? Are you sufficiently horrified by abortion? Can we trust you to think always about the children?

The answer I see too infrequently is, “How the fuck should I know?”

Sustained and deliberate ignorance is a terrible thing. But temporary ignorance – something we might even call open-mindedness – seems just as terrifying to so many people.

It’s a fire hydrant culture where everyone feels compelled to splash a little of their scent on every issue.

So I talk less about these things, not because I don’t think about them but because I don’t see how opinions should matter much. We’re not the crowd at a football game, and “making more noise” doesn’t help much in the real world.

The disappointing truth is that despite what the websites and polls tell us, what we believe to be true has very little influence on what is actually true.

So you may never know how I’m voting in November or what I think about white supremacists on fiction awards juries or whether I’ll stop using $20 bills because Harriet Tubman is on them —  unless I can write something funny about it.

Should you stop sharing your beliefs? I’d never want to silence you. But I’ll say this:

Talking is how they distract us from doing, and never mistake a Post or Submit button for someone’s genuine interest or actual action in the world.

Interview on Elucidate with Goliath Flores

Before we go any further, let’s all acknowledge that GOLIATH FLORES is an awesome name. Giant flowers!

Goliath, who happens to be my neighbor, hosts a great podcast about the arts here in Jacksonville called Elucidate. I came onto the show the other day to chat about politics, creativity, politics, and mass societal delusion. You know, the usual.


I Was a Teenage Republican

Twenty one years ago while a senior at the University of Florida, I wore a Jeb(!) Bush for Governor t-shirt to my Psychological Approaches to Literature class. The friend who sat in front of me clasped her hands over her mouth and shrieked into her fingers, never to speak to me again.


She was right to do so. I was a monster, no better than anything staggering from the swamps or across the moors with its arms clawing in the air for prey.

I’d applied for an internship at The American Spectator. I’d visited the Alacuha County Republican Headquarters with my girlfriend to pick up lawn signs and watch The Clinton Chronicles, an awesome low-budget film about how Bill Clinton had probably killed a dozen people and would likely kill again. I’d underlined about half of Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. I’d called into Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

If you asked me then why I was a Republican, I would have hopped atop a nearby desk and declared that it was the party of freedom where men of passion and creativity could achieve the fruits of their work without losing them to the leeching government.

The real reasons I was a Republican (which I couldn’t articulate then) were:

  • My girlfriend and her family were fervently conservative, and I loved them all. They seemed to live in their own warm bubble of existence and I wanted to live there, too.
  • My own family had deep Republican roots. My grandfather had tangentially known Nixon and presided as the chaplain at Tricia Nixon’s debutante ball or something. My father had campaigned for Republicans, just like Ted Bundy and for probably the same reasons.
  • I loved the writer P.J. O’Rourke and wanted to be that kind of humorist: applying what I thought was reason to the folly of government.
  • I was surrounded at college by annoying liberals who agreed so easily with each other that it struck me as scary. I definitely believe that whenever one ends up thinking like the majority, it’s time to change one’s mind.

Plus, most of all, I wanted a consistent system of thought that could hold the chaos of my anxiety disorder at bay.

I was a Republican all the way until the 2000 election, when George W. Bush’s staggering yahoo-ism made me realize that all of the things I thought were bugs in the Republican software (anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, evolution denialism, global warming denialism) were what they considered features.

What really happened was that I grew up and looked around.

When I was in college, I had a skewed idea of what led to success in the world: I figured the proportion was 99% hard work and 1% circumstance. Then I met some of the kids in school who’d gotten there through inherited wealth, and that dropped to 90/10. Then I got out of school with no idea what to do with my English degree, and it dropped to 85/15. Then I entered the workforce and saw who became managers and who didn’t, and it dropped to 70/30. Then I started voting and saw who ended up in positions of power, and it dropped to 60/40.

Now, after forty two years of observing the world, I’m pretty sure that proportion of hard work to circumstance is maybe 45% to 55%, which is why the hard work is that much more important: like advertising, you don’t know which part of the 45% is going to help so you have to do it all.

In other words, I’ve seen people work their asses off and still not transcend circumstance in the way the Republicans say they can.

I’m not quite sure what the government should do about it, though I think one of the better reasons to have governments is for a community to hedge against the vicissitudes of fate. Sometimes you’re on top to help other people, and sometimes you’re on the bottom and need the help.

I guess as time has gone on, my ideas of what people do and don’t deserve have changed, and it’s less about working longer hours and more about working at something that matters.

You know, growing up.

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