Tucker Carlson, Prophet of Doom

6_AE73_Zdzislaw Beksinski

Zdzislaw Belsinski AE73 (or Tucker Carlson’s Vision of the Third Year of the Biden Presidency)

The day before yesterday, 29 June 2020, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that severely limited access to legal abortions. In addition, US intelligence officials confirmed that in February Donald Trump received a briefing that warned Russia may be contracting members of the Taliban to murder US soldiers serving in Afghanistan. However, despite the newsworthiness of these events,  neither was the lead story of the day. That honor went to King Coronavirus, who continues his conquest of the Deep South in a podunk revival of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”[1]

After supper, to catch up on the news of the day, my wife Caroline and I watched CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He presented an acerbic take on the Trump Administration’s attempts to spin a shitshow of Stygian proportions into a triumph of leadership. Trump’s spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany[2] described the 40,000 new US cases (an 80% increase over the last fourteen days) as a “few embers” in the Administration’s successful campaign to contain the disease. I didn’t hear her opine on the SCOTUS decision, but she did claim that Trump hadn’t been briefed on the Russian sponsored bounty hunters, an obvious lie that now has been refuted by multiple sources.

I wonder how Fox News is spinning this,” I asked Caroline.

“I wonder,” she said. “Let’s check it out.”

So, I reached for the remote, scrolled downward on the guide, landed on Fox News, and hit the button. There before me, looking nervously out of sorts, appeared Tucker Carlson.

Let’s see if I can conjure my inner Henry James:

Mr. Tucker Carson, once a boyish presence on cable television, is now beginning to show the wear and tear of nights spent in the garish glare of klieg lighting, his visage crowned by an abundance of hair, brown in color and wavy in texture, his face dominated by two rather small eyes staring straight ahead above a mouth that is thin-lipped and turned ever so slightly downward in what appears to be the onset of a frown.

Carlson

(Sorry about that. I’m rereading James now, and the fits and starts of his formal prose are messing with my thought patterns, bric-a-brac-ing my syntax, de-bebopping the funkification of my everyday speech).

Anyway, Tucker’s lead story dealt with a married couple from St. Louis who rushed out of their palatial home like a Talbots-clad Bonnie and Clyde, the husband, sporting a pink tucked-in polo shirt and brandishing what looked like an assault weapon, his wife wearing white-and-blue horizonal stripes and waving a handgun with her finger actually on the trigger, a gun safety no-no.

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Why? It seems that a contingent of protesters had breached the borders of their private neighborhood. In the never-ending loop of video accompanying the story, the protesters seemed scant and, as the President might say, “low energy.” However, to the Talbots, they were a mob set to burn down their house. “How could you burn something like that down?” Caroline wondered aloud, noting it looked more like a bank than a house. It seems the protesters were searching for the Mayor’s house and may have mistaken the Talbots as his.

Like I said, this was Tucker’s lead story – not King Coronavirus, not the SCOTUS ruling, not the possibility that Putin is putting  a bounty on the heads of American soldiers and the Commander in Chief  is ignoring it. No, the lead story was a peek into the future of a Biden presidency, the police defunded as hordes of Far-Left Radical Marxists[3] wreak havoc on the sanctity of our gated communities, a prequel to Blade Runner.

This message of impending doom meshed well with the commercials. Because corporate sponsors have abandoned Tucker’s show, the commercials punctuating the segments are what you’d expect to see on Basic cable reruns of My Mother the Car, i.e., advertisements targeting an aged demographic: senior citizens in the market for ointments to relieve their aching joints or some elixir to take the edge off their anxiety. In fact, two different ads were pushing sedatives for anxious dogs. The only upbeat commercial was a 90-second spot hawking a memoir written by Mr. Pillow Man himself, a tale of redemption charting his upward arc from addiction to wealth thanks to the intervention of God Almighty. The rest of the ads promoted miracle chemicals going for $19.99 that can remove decades of accumulated exterior mold in a couple of squirts or patch a leaking roof with a mere swipe of a brush.

What struck me more than anything was how unhappy Tucker looked. Whenever a guest was pontificating, Tucker’s face was frozen in the expression captured above in the photo, his mug unanimated, stamped with consternation, not so much looking like a deer in the headlights, but more like a losing member of a World Series team staring out of the dugout as an unsurmountable deficit ticks away in the final outs.


[1] The setting has been changed from the locked-up castle of Poe’s story to the crowded pews/choirs of mega churches and the close confines of basement bars.

[2] Speaking of podunk, “Kayleigh” sounds like the name of countrified vixen from a soap opera set in an RV campground.

[3] Pardon the tautology.

Philip Marlowe Gives Donald Trump a Metaphysical Talking To

When I think of tough guys, I think of fictional private eyes, like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe,[1] hard-drinking stoics whose view of the world is as unmisted as the Kalahari Desert. 

Donald Trump would like to think of himself as a tough guy, and he certainly talks the talk, blusters and threatens, but when it comes to walking the walk, for him it takes something more than a village – it takes a phalanx of police peppering unarmed protesters – including clergy – with rubber bullets and spraying them with some species of airborne irritant we dare not call tear gas. These citizens needed to be cleared away so the President and his coterie could swagger up in front of a church for a photo op. 

Here he is, holding a Bible upside down, Charles Bronson in a platinum wig playing Cotton Mather.

What may have prompted this “show of strength” is Trump’s ire over the news that he had been ushered into the White House’s underground bunker during protests the previous Friday.[2] The Twitter hashtags #BunkerBitch and #BunkerBoy started making the rounds as did the low-hanging analogies of Ava and Adolph’s last days in bombed out Berlin. 

Alas, it would seem, at least from the lamestream news sources I rely on, the PR stunt was an Ishtar grade failure, the brutalizing of the protesters prompting Generals Mattis and Mullen to speak out against the president, which provided cover for Republic Senator Lisa Murkowski to chime in with her own tsk-tsk. 

Oh, if there were only some good news, some ray of sunshine striking a shiny object to distract us from our dystopia! 

And then, like an answered prayer, the blessed news: Friday’s release of economic data indicating the unemployment rate had dropped to 13.3%, a “surprising turnaround” that “suggested the economy was stabilizing.”[3]  

To cash in, Trump summoned the media for what he called a news conference[4] and then doused that tiny spark of sunshine with this obscene and absurd observation:

“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”

Oh, how would love to have Trump cornered in some black-and-white L.A. motel room alone with Philip Marlowe, that shamus extraordinaire, who hearing such self-serving bullshit would backhand him and snarl, “[When you are] dead, you [are] sleeping the big sleep, you [are] not bothered by things like that, oil and water [are] the same as wind and air to you. You just [sleep] the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.”

In other words, George Floyd has nothing on his mind, Michael Brown has nothing on his mind, Atatiana Jefferson as nothing on her mind. 

As Flannery O’Connor said, “You can’t be any poorer than dead.”

Perhaps Trump should take a page out of Joe Biden’s playbook and STFU, and perhaps Biden should return to that strategy. Biden’s estimation the other day that ten to fifteen percent of Americans are not “good people” adds up to a lot of votes, smacks of Hillary’s “deplorables” snark. 

We need to a stop to the carnage and rebuild our Smoldering City on the Hill before there’s nothing left to rebuild.


[1] Humphrey Bogart played both in film adaptations of Dashielle Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels.  

[2] Note, budding writers, my conscious employment of passive voice.

[3] Alas, this morning’s Washington Post reports there “had been a ‘major’ error indicating” that “the overall unemployment rate would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported.”

[4] He took no questions from reporters.

Presidential Spouses

pat dick nixon

I hesitate in this family blog[1] to broach the provocative subject of political spouses, those other halves who often elicit irrational and vehement emotional responses from the brave and the free. For example, some members of my extended family despise Hillary Clinton with such an amped-up animus you might think that she had deliberately poisoned one of their beloved pets. I mean, I can see how someone might find Hillary off-putting somehow, but good lord, what could she possibly have done to generate such animosity? Is marrying and constantly forgiving a philanderer, not initially taking his name, working outside the home, and murdering your ex-law partn– choosing garish brightly colored monochromatic pantsuits so wrong?

hillary

These irrational responses to candidates’ spouses, however, can also be positive (in a manner of speaking).  For example, I know a delightful, compassionate, witty woman who idolizes Laura Bush as if she were St. Teresa of Avila.  After enduring an earnest catalog of Laura Bush’s many virtues – poise, spunk, and good taste – I asked my interlocutor (I’m waxing Buckleyean this morning) if she knew that Laura was a smoker.  Oh-no-she’s not.  Oh-yes-she-is.  I mentioned the smoking not because I consider it a character flaw but because I merely wanted to suggest to my friend that Mrs. Bush wasn’t absolutely a paragon of virtue. However, Laura is all right. My son Harrison briefly spoke with her at a Congressional picnic, and he said she was chatty, asking him for whom he worked, mentioning that she and George (as she referred to W) had flown once with Harrison’s Congressman (Bud Cramer) in some kind of official capacity. He said she came off as a genuine and humble person.

2880px-Big_Bird_and_Michelle_Obama_(8555066920)Michelle Obama seemed to be a fairly popular First Lady within the realm of the non-poisonedly partisan and non-racist segment of our population. I somehow never picked up that her father’s side came from the Gullah population of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Anyway, she embodied upward mobility, following her brother to Princeton and becoming the first family members to receive a college degree.  Then off to Harvard Law and later to land a job at a prestigious firm where she met her future husband, ol’ whathisname. Anyway, she was poised and delivered some killer convention speeches . . .

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Good Golly, Miss Molly

Which brings us to Melania Trump, who is the first First Lady you can check out nude if the inclination strikes you. (I myself have no desire to see any first lady nude except perhaps Dolly Madison.)  Anyway, early in Trump’s term, I sympathized with Melania, wrote this piece about her, but then after her wearing a ”I Really Don’t Care, Do You?” raincoat while visiting detention center for migrant children, my sympathy dissipated.

At first after the brouhaha, she said there was no message intended by wearing the coat, but later claimed that she was sending a message to the leftwing media, not to the detained children, which begs the question, if she didn’t really care what the media thought, why bother to wear the coat?  Anyway, as some wag has pointed out, Melania can come off pretty creepy, looking as if she’s trying to bend spoons with her mind.

Melania_Trump_2-640x958

Okay, who’s next?  Jill Biden or will we get another dose of Melania or – I shudder to imagine it — will an Adderall overdose or massive heart attack usher in First Lady Karen Pence, aka “Mother?”  Or then Biden could win and keel over post inauguration, and  we’d get our First Gentleman.

karen pence

Who knows?  I certainly don’t.


  1. [1] Many of you have told me how sometimes the entire family, youngsters and oldsters alike, enjoy gathering around the old monitor and reading these posts aloud).

wesley blog

Now that’s what I call wholesome

 

Unmaternal Republicans

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Rush Limbaugh’s reemergence in the news as cancer victim/Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient reminded me of an incident about a decade ago when some of his usually supportive listeners turned on him for a minute or two. Rush had chided then First Lady Michelle Obama for being overweight. His typically trollish Yahoo commentators (sprawled on beanbag chairs in their darkened rooms), chided Rush, not because of the Rabelaisian hypocrisy of the equivalent of Fatty Arbuckle wagging his sausage-like forefinger at, say, Mae West. No, because the vast majority of Rush’s female listening audience considered themselves to be overweight and body-shaming uncalled for.

Meanwhile, the Far Right’s own Michelle Bachmann was inveighing against First Lady Michelle’s push to raise awareness of the benefits of breast feeding. “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump … You want to talk about nanny state, I think we just got a new definition,” she screeched.

Not, your breast pump, Miss Narcissist, an impoverished mother’s breast pump (perhaps one of those weak-willed abstinence-trained adolescents).

Leave it to the Radical Right to turn nanny into a dirty word. Next thing you know maternal will be a vile insult, like liberal. A maternal state that would like to see all its babies well-cared for is a pernicious place where the pocket of the patriarchal super rich is picked to redistribute their largesse among the issue of the lazy, the unwed, the unfit.

The fellow below has earned – well, actually, inherited –  his money; still, no matter how he got it, it’s unfair to skim a portion of that pile to fund the filling of  the cavities of impoverished children. Even the lightest redistribution of wealth, 5% say, would bring the economy crashing down around us like walls of Jericho. Wealth is a Calvinistic litmus test that determines who is blessed and who is not. Let the marketplace decide. We’re a patriarchy for Christ’s sake!

Capitalist Oligarchy

Suffer the children indeed.

This Orwellian manipulation of language is incredibly effective: if you repeatedly make good things sound bad, they become bad in the minds of the listeners. For example, when I taught high school, each year I’d ask my students if anyone in the class identified as a feminist.  The girls would cast their eyes floorward and mutter “no” or “not really.”  “What?” I’d ask, feigning incredulity, “so you believe that you should earn less money than men working at the same job?  You believe your husbands should be able to tell you how to dress? You’re against maternity leave?” To them, a feminist is not someone who believes in gender equality but, rather, Rush Limbaugh’s Jungian shadow: the late Andrea Dworkin: unattractive, militant, butch. Repeat the word feminist and flash Dworkin’s image often enough, and she becomes the incarnation of feminism.

Dworkin184

Andrea Dworkin

Alas, a deep acidic strain of misogyny, perhaps Bible-based, infects the worldview of the Radical Right. Otherwise, explain the visceral hatred that Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi evoke. What gives?  What is it about these women that can generate enough animus to spawn millions of dollars in bumper sticker sales? Name a male Democratic politician who has stoked as much animus as Hillary and Nancy. Certainly, would think self-proclaimed Socialist Bernie Sanders would be an unrelenting target of their scorn, but thus far he hasn’t.

pelosi

All that I can come up with is that for some strange, perverse psychological reason (I have my unscientific but intuitively rich guesses), members of the Radical Right resent their mothers and have projected their archetypal negative farrow-eating images on womankind in general.  Paradoxically, they’ll allow masculine models like Margaret Thatcher and Ayn Rand into their political and intellectual men’s clubs but banish more maternal women to domestic or secretarial duties. The females who carry the banner of the Radical Right – Ann Coulter, Laura Ingle, Katherine Harris – project hardness; sport inorganic, breakable hair; force their feet into corset-like stilettos; stomp toward the dais; spew sarcasm. They’re about as maternal as a backhand to the mouth.

Lindsey Graham and Me

 

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Lindsey and Me in the late 70s

Although I enjoyed my teaching career at Porter-Gaud, the happiest job I ever had was tending bar at the Golden Spur, an alcohol dispensary located in the student union building at the University of South Carolina in those glorious days when 18-year-olds could legally imbibe beer and wine. It was there that I met the mother of my children, the late Judy Birdsong, and there where I became known as “the Reverend” after an impromptu Dionysian sermon delivered in Afro-jazz riffs a la Dr. John to my pals Furman Langley and Steve Rhea.[1]

I always looked forward to going to work and never, as they say, took work home with me.

What brings this to mind is that I’ve been contemplating the psychological underpinnings of my fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham, wondering about his formative years, contemplating what mental dynamics allow him to flip flop so shamelessly, sometimes in the matter of days, from one position to its opposite. In this respect, his switch from revering McCain to pimping for Trump is instructive.

Anyway, as it turns out, the story of Lindsey Graham’s youth is somewhat sad, especially his late youth. He was born a Baptist in the small Pickens County hamlet of Central, South Carolina. Despite that religious affiliation, Lindsey’s parents ran what Wikipedia describes as “a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the ‘Sanitary Café’.”  So at an early age, Lindsey must have grown accustomed to dealing with paradoxes, alcohol considered by strict adherents as evil manifest, the antithesis of what they considered sanitary.

Prohibition 1

He was the first person in his family to attend college and joined ROTC, but here’s where his life takes a dolorous turn.  His mother died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 52, and, bam, 15 months later, a heart attack dispatched his father, leaving orphaned Lindsey with the responsibility of being the legal guardian of his 13-year-old sister.

He studied – get this — psychology at the University of South Carolina, pledged Phi Kappa Phi, and graduated in 1977, the same year I dropped out of graduate school.  Therefore, Lindsey and I were both at USC from 1973-1977, which means, in all likelihood, I served him beer either at the Spur or at Bell Camp where I also bartended for fraternity parties.  Although extremely unlikely, he literally could have been in the Spur the very night I delivered my Dionysian sermon. Back then,  I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have given him the time of day – or in this case night.

Obviously, I’m not a fan of Senator Graham’s.  I would love to see him defeated, Trump driven from office, etc.  However, I have to admit that delving into his past has resulted in a bit of sympathy on my part.  He faced adversity at a young age and succeeded mightily as resumes go.  On the other hand, it must be horrible to be so conflicted, to have your better angels drowned out by the braying of a sociopathic vulgarian.

That said, the harm that he has imposed is real, extremely perilous as far as the American Experiment goes, and for that he can’t be forgiven.


[1] I commenced in Dr John’s voice to sermonificating on the glorification of the party impulse present in all of us – Baptist and Bohemian alike – and why that party bud must be allowed to bloom into boogie, cause if it ain’t, your existiment bound to be as flat and tasteless as BiLo brand Tonic Water what ain’t had the cap screwed on tight.

Or worser, that block-up party impulse knocked back down, squeezed back down in the reptilian recesses of your brain gonna mutate into some awful sexual dysfunctification like dwarfophilia or bovineophlia or hollywoodstar-obessification or some such other mental donemessedupness.

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

andrew-johnson-impeachment-summons-340x191

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

 

The stench of wet coal, politicians . . .

Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

 

Johnson’s impeachment occurred so far back.

No one can remember the Tenure of Office Act.

 

Once upon a more recent time,

J Gordon Liddy committed a crime,

 

a burglary some have called third rate,

which led, of course, to Watergate.

 

Dick Nixon was forced to take the fall

(in those days Republicans sported balls),

 

which sadly isn’t the case today.

They had Goldwater; we have Graham.

 

Weak-willed Bill Clinton in the Oval Office

ran afoul of a couple of orifices,

 

creating quite a sordid mess,

alleged perjury, a stained blue dress.

 

Yet the Senate voted not to convict,

(though most agreed he was a prick).

 

So here we are again, forsooth,

dealing with presidential abuse:

 

The number of allegations should give us pause:

obstructing justice, violating the Emolument Clause,

 

withholding aid for dirt in a quid pro quo.

The days go past, the catalogue grows.

 

I say let’s subpoena those stories killed by the Enquirer

so we can extinguish this orange dumpster fire.

 

It’s time we got back to something like normal

With a Commander-in-Chief less hormonal.

Before the Fall

ozyman

 

 

Before the Fall

            wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command

I met a man at Mar-a-Lago

Who said, “Two cloud- scraping  towers

Stand in Istanbul, I want you to know,

Built by me, a man of tremendous power

With hair the color of gilded gold.

No man can match my menacing glower

When you don’t do what you’ve been told,

Like Lindsey over there, watch him cower.

 

“I am the fucking president,”  he bellowed.

“Lindsey, go fetch me a Diet Coke.”

To me: “I am the most stablest genius e-vah,

And ne-vah, ev-ah have been known to choke.

Here’s my mighty and matchless prediction.

I’ll carry all 50 states in the next election – ha!

Republicans Grasping at Straws: Defending the Indefensible

Dum_and_Dee

And those who had lied for hire;
the perverts, the perverters of language . . . 
     Ezra Pound "Canto XIV"

Hey, Lindsey and Tom, I’ve read Emmanuel Kant, and you’re no Emmanuel Kant (Though You Might Qualify as Lindsey and Tom Cant)

Dig these arguments.

Argument 1

Lindsey Graham:  There’s no quid pro quo because Trump didn’t explicitly say, “Hey, man, unless you dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden, we’re not going to sell you any more weapons.”[1]

No, Trump said after President Zelensky mentioned purchasing more Javelin missiles from the US, “Hey, man, we’ve done a lot for you, you not so much for us.  I need a favor.  Dig up some dirt on Hunter Biden.”

See, it can’t be a quid pro quo unless it’s spelled out explicitly.  He needed to say “no dirt on Biden, no weapons.”

We’ll just ignore that soliciting a foreign national to aid in an election is against the law.  Gotta have an explicit quid pro quo.  No explicit quid pro quo, impeachment a no go.

Argument 2

Tom Cornyn: The Whistleblower wasn’t present during the call.  It’s second and third hand information, which automatically renders his claims invalid.

Of course, Linda Tripp want present when Monica Lewinski performed fellatio on President Clinton, but as the poet says, “But that was in another [century], and besides the wench is dead.”

Shall I lower myself to make an argument by analogy?  The hearsay argument is like the rumors about this year’s Folly Gras celebration on beautiful Folly Beach, SC.  People there described a drunken shitshow.  I mentioned it some off-island friends, but they dismissed my account as secondhand and therefore not credible, even though scores of eye-witnesses agreed on what transpired.

Folly Gras 2019 1.0

An artist’s rendition

But wait, back to DC.   Hey, Tom, it seems to me like the transcript memo was pretty damned accurate.  Also, there might be a witness or two who might corroborate?

You’re gaslighting, my man.  You’re from Texas, right?  Remember the Alamo.

Non-Readers

Here’s a partial list of Republican Senators who haven’t bothered to read the nine-page eloquently clear whistleblower complaint:

Mitt Romney

Martha McSally

Lisa Murkowski

Rob Portman

Tim Scott (who had started reading but hadn’t finished it yet)[2]

Todd Young

Mike Baun

Makes you wonder if they’ve ever read the Constitution.  Most Pocket Constitutions consist of 34 pages, and the prose isn’t nearly as accessible.

Anyway, this scandal pales compared to the fact that Hillary stored her emails on a secret server.

Oh Wait, But There Is a Super Duper Private Server Where the Administration Hides Trump’s Conversations with Foreign Leaders

 From Carol E Lee of NBC News:

The whistleblower, whose complaint is at the heart of calls for an impeachment inquiry into Trump, also asserted that White House officials have misused the classified system multiple times to bury “politically sensitive” information detailed in records of the president’s interactions with world leaders. Former and current intelligence officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that, if true, such misuse should spark an investigation into the potential mishandling of a classified system.

Oh, by the way, Tom, the validity of this story about the secret server has been corroborated, which brings to mind that old saw that “it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

We shouldn’t Tax Obliterated Attention Spans with These Damning Extra Added Complications

Although named in Trump’s call as a potential intermediary in digging up dirt on Biden’s son, Attorney General William Barr hasn’t recused himself, and he gets to decide who gets prosecuted.

World Leader Zalensky bragged in the call that he stays at Trump Hotels in New York, which brings to mind that constitutional bagatelle, the Emoluments Clause.

Oh, yeah, and Trump’s suggestion that it would be smart like in the good ol’ days to execute whoever leaked to the whistleblower, which sounds somewhat like witnesses tampering.

Anyway, I’m about to hit 500 words, so I better quit in the off chance my junior senator Tim Scott stumbles across this little piece of debased liberal propaganda.


[1] “Any more weapons in your war against my BFF Vladimir.”

[2] Boooor-ing

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Trump Ain’t Right in the Head

I spent this year’s hurricane evacuation in the mountains with my father-in-law and an older couple who happen to be Trump supporters, which meant occasionally I was exposed to Fox News.  My hosts, who are in fact sophisticated, interesting, and kind,[1]are not consumed with politics, and they seem to dislike Democrats more than they admire Trump.  As I was walking past the television, I overheard one of the Fox anchors say, “The Democrats are already trying to exploit this hurricane.” 

 “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so far and balanced, ” I mused.

It’s as if indeed “the center cannot hold,” that left is left and right is right, and never the twain shall meet.  The exception to this tribalism can be found with the Never Trump Republicans, people like Jennifer Rubin, George Well, David Frum, Bill Kristol, and Joe Walsh, pundits I once mocked but now admire for their devotion to rationality and the rule of law.

I do, however, have some Facebook friends who idolize Trump in an emotional Jim Jones cultish sort of way.  Recently, one addressed me personally in a post in which she asked in reference to the Steele dossier how I would like it if someone had made up a bunch of lies about me. Showing remarkable Dalai Lama like restraint, I didn’t respond with “Well, if I had paid off a porn star because I had sex with her three months after the birth of my son, I might not be that surprised to find myself the source of gossip.”  There’s no talking reason to these folks, who regurgitate Fox’s talking points and refer to Democrats as if they are not their neighbors but enemies to be feared. Several piled on my brother, who wasn’t as restrained as his older sibling, with smugly inane predictions about the fall of the Democratic Party.

How they’re unable to recognize Trump’s dishonesty and vulgarity amazes me.  I get why some Koch-like mega billionaire might be willing to abide Trump’s assault on democratic norms for the sake of gargantuan tax cuts, but I don’t understand why middle class citizens who try to instill honesty in their children support such an inveterate liar whose temperament makes the Amazing Hulk seem as mild-mannered as Fred Rogers in comparison.

In fact, Peter Wehner of the Atlantic makes a compelling argument that Trump suffers from mental illness:

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

And it’s maddening! Each news cycle brings another outrage, whether it be receiving love notes from Kim Jong-un, diverting money from the military to build a medieval wall on the southern border, or encouraging foreign leaders and his own cronies to stay at his properties in blatant violation of the Emolument Clause of the Constitution.  

It’s overwhelming, and what so many of my friends have done is to just stop tuning in, which I can well understand. 


[1]When I suggested I might drive down Friday early to check on my house, the husband of the couple offered to fly me to Johns Island in his private plane.

Neither in His Own, Nor in His Neighbor’s Eyes

Let me also wear

Such deliberate disguises

Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves

In a field

Behaving as the wind behaves . . .

                                            TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

It’s been my fate for the last twenty years or so to explore Heart of Darkness each spring with sixteen-year-olds.  The novella provides a rich cache – not of ivory – but of literary artistry, historical relevance, and profound prophecy.  I also find Marlow’s rebellious disdain for the soullessness of the people he encounters during his journey good role-modeling. By the end of his odyssey, Marlow has, as he puts it, “some difficulty in restraining [himself] from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.”  He resents the sight of his fellow citizens “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.”  Marlow’s experience in the jungle has shredded the veil of illusion, or to move a bit westwardly metaphorically, he has stumbled out of Plato’s cave and can now see beyond the flickering shadows projected on the walls of his former existence.

Jeffrey Bren
Self-portrait watching television

The pressure of conformity weighs down adolescents like sodden woolen coats, whether it be the pressure to join a gang, the Fellowship of Christian athletes, or the circle around the bong.  Our narrator Marlow is a loner, the father of Nick Adams and Sam Spade (not to mention Philip Marlowe), an individual who remains true to his non-conformist core convictions.  As Marlow is telling his story to his colleagues on the deck of the Nellie, he’s also speaking directly to those adolescents – mocking hollowness and extolling independence and courage.  Given the barrage of images that assault young people each day through their various media –  images of air-brushed celebrities as insubstantial as Plato’s shadows, images of smiling actors succeeding at DeVry University, images of Vaseline-enhanced Big Macs beaming down from billboards – Marlow’s example of delving beneath the surface is more relevant than ever.

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(To leaven the proceedings for a moment.  What do you think Marlow would think of this cover?)

Romance, Terror, and Exotic Adventure (rendered in 3.5-page sentences!)

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TS Eliot in “The Hollow Men” quotes Heart of Darkness in the epigraph and employs Conrad’s symbol of the scarecrow to embody people without true convictions, people who go with the flow, behaving as the wind behaves, people who will say whatever it takes to get what they want – and then again, unsay it, with a mere shake of the Etch-a-Sketch.  The hollow men, the stuffed men.

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion . . .

In contemporary American politics, I can’t think of a better embodiment of those hollow men Marlow describes than Lindsay Graham.  If we’re going to draw analogies from “real life'” to Conrad’s novel, Trump comes off like Kurtz (albeit without his learning, Kurtz’s appreciation of and facility in creating art).  Kurtz sees himself as the center of the universe, as a god, a god worshipped by the natives as Trump is by his ardent xenophobic MAGAs.

Graham, on the other hand, obviously “behaves as the wind behaves.”

That was then, this is now.

“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” a beaming Graham said on “Fox & Friends.” “We have got a president and a national security team that I’ve been dreaming of for eight years.” (19 April 2019).

Here’s Marlow on lying:

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies–which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.

But, like I said, Trump is more like Kurtz or Guy Fawkes from Eliot’s epigraph, “lost/ Violent souls.” Graham lies for the sake of power; I doubt if megalomaniacal Trump even realizes he’s lying.

I guess it’s possible that Trump will be caught one of these days doing something that upsets the populace and that Graham will do some reverse flip flops, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I guess it makes more sense to take Yeats’ advice:

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.