Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Pepsi Generation

My answer to a commenter in the New York Times who was offended that Black people were offended by this ad and could not for the life of him understand why:
The problem with this ad is that there is total cognitive dissonance between the situation it depicts, some sort of defanged political protest, with the product it shills, which is sugary brown water with bubbles. So even if you cannot possibly conceive how some people may think that this idiotic ad trivializes history, the ad is a disaster because a Pepsi cannot ever do what the ad claims it can. A Pepsi cannot have a starring role in a political protest unless it's a molotov cocktail...
The ad is completely divorced from reality. It's the idiotic trivialization of our moment in time, in which people are compelled to protest about seriously important issues. Its inappropriate borrowing of civil rights imagery also trivializes a very serious fight for justice that still continues.
This tweet from the daughter of Martin Luther King about sums it up:

Yet the marketing geniuses at Pepsi, in their world of consumer research and data points and whatnot, decided to use the moment to tell the wrong story. This is what I think went down:

Marketing person 1: Our research shows millennials are independent and they like to protest.
Marketing person 2: Celebrities have always worked for Pepsi.
Marketing person 3: Kendall Jenner is a millennial and a celebrity.
Marketing team: Bingo!

A Frankenstein is born.

 I define advertising as the translation of marketing into human terms. The problem with marketing is that it thinks it is about people but it isn't. It's about consumers, people who are categorized exclusively by what they buy. Marketing puts consumers into social, economic and educational brackets. There could have been diverse people in the team responsible for this disastrous ad but apparently unlike this SNL spoof, nobody thought to check with a real human. Professional focus group goers don't count. They get $50 bucks and an endless supply of soda, M&Ms and mini-pretzels, and for this reason, everything they say comes out of their ass. That companies don't yet realize this never ceases to amaze me.

As for the execution, the ad is a parade of wrongness. From frame one, everything is wrong. Starting with this anemic Kardashian taking off a blonde wig and smearing her lipstick away before she confronts the police. This is wrong on so many levels, I think I need someone in the order of Slavoj Zizek to explain it to me. Wrong spokesperson, wrong gesture, wrong situation, starring a beverage that was not really designed to either bring about world peace or neutralize the police.
We have stonewashed denim circa 1980, because someone thinks this is cool. If you notice, everyone is wearing blue, Pepsi's brand color. I would not be surprised if the color red was verboten on set, because that is the color of you-know-who.
Then we have the fake Muslim female photographer, the faux-edgy Black guy with the cornrows, the Asian cello player, the inane protest signs that read "join the conversation". Everybody looks like they've come out from an audition for the Mickey Mouse Club (for people of color). They are so scrubbed of personality, they must be representing the working class of Stepford, Connecticut. Don't get me started with the police, who seem to be armed to the gills with walkie talkies.

There are always people who feel superior to the people who like to discuss tone deaf commercials or movies, like that commenter in the New York Times and sundry self-appointed Cassandras on social media. These people always claim that "it is only a movie" or "only a commercial". They like to point out how superficial we are by reminding us that there are worse atrocities in the world that, according to them, no one talks about. Well, they are wrong. We all know that the world is full of suffering, and we are all dismayed. I don't see them joining the White Helmets. But this doesn't make it less important for people to discuss pop culture phenomena, particularly when it generates such a vociferous response. Why shush the debate? Just because it comes from entertainment? Entertainment can be a pretty ruthless mirror to ourselves. The outcry is important because it shows us who we are and what is going on in our society. We don't all have to agree, but it's good to talk about it. People who pooh-pooh these discussions by flaunting their moral superiority actually undermine what the debate is all about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Identity Politics Are Not For Me

The idea of identity politics is to give a voice and a presence to the historically disenfranchised, which is good and necessary. For many people, identifying themselves as part of a group or community is empowering and it gives them a sense of self, belonging and purpose. This helps them become a more visible, cohesive and accepted part of society. However, what often ends up happening in the cacophony of conflicting identity politics currently being broadcast at an alarming volume by social media, is absurd (college cafeterias that serve sushi are accused of cultural appropriation), divisive (pitting men against women, gay against straight, liberals against conservatives, black against white, etc.), and overly simplistic.
I have always had an aversion to clubs, even those I can conceivably belong to. In that respect, I'm with the Marx who would not belong to a club that would have him as a member. And I'm even more averse to identifying myself by some willfully chosen slice of my complex makeup. I am from Mexico, born and raised there in a Jewish family, with an atheist dad and an observant mom. This is complicated enough, if not downright exotic.
The other day I was ranting about white people when someone interrupted to remind me that I am white. This stopped me in my tracks because I don't see myself that way, being Mexican and Jewish and all. Indeed, I am pale, have blondish hair and green/gray eyes, and according to everyone, I am swimming in great vats of privilege (another overused word currently in vogue to make certain people feel guilty for existing).
Having grown up well-fed, clad, educated and traveled in a country where children beg for food on the street, I have been aware of my privilege and my enormous luck since I was a toddler. In Mexico, the color of you skin may very well inform your station in life, with whites mostly on top. Still, I find that making people feel bad because they were born rich, male, white or lucky by accusing them of "privilege" is spurious. Privilege is not a choice. I am an accident of history. I find it a precious privilege that both sides of my family had the presence of mind to escape Eastern Europe long before the nazis came to get them, and that, having had less than zero privilege as Jews in the shtetl, for circumstantial reasons they chose Mexico, where it turned out I could be born free of persecution, into privilege.
I was straight for about 40 years and then fell in love with the woman who is now my partner. However, I like to say that if Michael Fassbender shows up, she'll be toast in a New York minute. I have been accused by gay friends of being in denial about my own sexuality when I have protested that I don't consider myself a lesbian. I had a gay male friend who, upon hearing me confess I had a girlfriend, exclaimed, "I always knew you were a dyke!" Well, isn't that rich? Because I didn't know, and not because of some closet I have yet to come out of. The problem with identity politics is that there is usually someone expecting you to be what they think you are.
I was invited to join Pantsuit Nation, a group of Hillary supporters on Facebook. A man was banned from the page because he had the temerity to put forth his views, which were in agreement with the liberal tenor of the group, albeit in a way which some women considered offensive. In truth, his post had an admonishing tone. But was this a reason to ban him? The responses to his post and subsequent deportation from the page went from puerile put-downs to women sensibly if timidly chiming in that banning him was a bit extreme. In fact, it was appalling. The guy was not disrespectful, just full of himself. He did not say anything offensive. He was contributing something of value. Do we expect all of us to think alike and agree on everything and sound exactly the same? In a democracy?
The current climate of polarization separates all of us into rarefied niches that end up floating away into their own select, put-upon bubbles. Recently, some of these bubbles have burst into attacks by legions of offended people, such as the reprehensible student behavior at Charles Murray's lecture at Middlebury College, or the brouhaha over a painting of Emmett Till created by a white artist at the Whitney Biennial, that devolved into some people demanding that the painting be burned. I was compelled to write on a Facebook post:
You may criticize the aesthetic and conceptual shortcomings of the painting all you want, but saying that a white person cannot make art about a topic that is judged unrelated to their ethnic background is absurd and a noxious kind of censorship. Does this mean that I as a woman writer can only write about women or women like me? If I want to write a story about Japanese internment camps am I not allowed? Till's is a story that shocks, saddens and outrages many Americans who are not Black. Is it possible that the artist feels the same? Attacks like this are a threat not only to freedom of thought and expression but they are against art, since according to this logic no one can create anything that is not directly related to their own personal history. Identity politics is reductive and instead of liberating people, it categorizes them into one-dimensional stereotypes, which is ironically what it is supposed to protect them from.
This tiresome cacophony of grievance, in my view, is related to seeing everything through the prism of one's identity -- it leads to the escalation, exaggeration, and distortion of alleged offenses against whatever labels define you as a person. I'm not saying that we should deny who we are, quite the contrary. The more people are antisemites, the more Jewish I'll be. The more anti-Mexican, the more proudly Mexican. All I'm saying is that we are greater than the sum of our parts.
Our enhanced sensitivity on behalf of ourselves and others is preventing us from fighting real evil. Accusing students of racism because they put a sombrero on a bottle of tequila for a Cinco de Mayo party, or firing a college teacher for defending the right to wear offensive costumes on Halloween doesn't help against the real forces of darkness, it actually abets them. In fact, the forces of darkness are rolling on the floor with glee at the crypto fascist excesses of the politically correct "left".

--> Identity politics affect people on both sides of the divide: the rabid conservatives with their bizarre sore winning and brutal contempt for the whining liberals, and the whining liberals with their p.c. concepts like cultural appropriation, microaggressions and triggering, which increasingly feel like censorship. Social media amplifies the abuse of terms like oppression, privilege, safe space, and has made them into overbearing clichés that weaken the actual meaning of those words and ultimately threaten the free exchange of ideas, which is the cornerstone of progress. If everything is offensive, then nothing is offensive. If everyone is a racist, then no one is a racist. Skirmishes about identity politics leave everyone exhausted and none the wiser. Everybody loses.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Two Circuses

I watched the Academy Awards and Trump's address to Congress in their entirety.
For the first time in years, if ever, something unexpected happened at the Academy Awards last Sunday. As everybody who doesn't live under a rock knows, the wrong Best Picture award was given to La La Land when it was actually destined for Moonlight. It took forever to right the wrong on stage, but in the end, Moonlight won Best Picture. It was all the more bizarre because since Trump became president we seem to be living in a particularly sadistic episode of The Twilight Zone, in which we are all starting to question our mental sanity and if Trump and Bannon have their druthers, reality itself.
Which leads me to the second circus: Trump's first address to the Joint Session of Congress. He has heretofore been so inappropriate and embarrassing, that we could not believe our eyes and ears as he managed to read from the teleprompter for an hour without losing his marbles. Everybody was shocked and relieved that he finally behaved like a president and not like a 5-year old brat. But what is important about his speech yesterday is not that he was able to read from the prompter, which should not be considered a heroic feat, but the content of what he read. If you listen closely to that speech, he is still not behaving like the President of the United States. He thinks he is the Sun King.
I assume linguistic scholars are hard at work on the thoroughly terrifying Trump rhetoric. By terrifying I mean not only the content: but also the way in which the order of his words and his usage mess with people's minds. It's like being tossed about by a raging storm at sea. There are calm passages of reassurance followed by hateful, paranoid exaggerations. Do not expect this guy's speechwriters to inspire anything but arrogance in his followers and dread in his opposition. It's horrible language.
In the case of NATO, for instance, Trump started paying his respects to our partnership with Europe, and the free world, yada yada, so much so that Chuck Schumer stood up and clapped. Once Schumer sat down, however, Trump tore the NATO allies a new one. In the case of immigration reform, not only did he not assuage a single fear for the millions of families who stand to be separated or deported, but he made them all sound like they are to blame for all the troubles in the United States. This strategy of demonizing immigrants, painting them all like criminals, drug dealers, and murderers should chill the blood of every American citizen. It's scapegoating, pure and simple, and already scores of decent people are suffering all kinds of abuses. Not only undocumented brown people; totally innocuous visitors with legal papers are mistreated and abused because the people at ICE are feeling emboldened to treat foreigners like shit. So is the case with a famous 70-year-old Australian children books' author, a French Holocaust scholar, a Nigerian engineer, an American citizen of Puerto Rican descent in Chicago, and countless more we don't even hear about.  It is the systematic dehumanization of an entire group of people for nefarious political purposes. Nazism 101.
 Trump only wants immigrants with money to come here. It is still not clear what will happen to the crops, and all the shitty jobs Americans won't take, but I guess we will find out soon. I think criminals should be deported, but ICE considers criminals the kind of people who got a speeding ticket 15 years ago. They took a Salvadoran woman who was waiting for emergency surgery for a brain tumor out of a hospital and into handcuffs. Will this really make America great?
This ugly side of the United States is not new. It's as old as the Mayflower and has been here since Native Americans were betrayed and killed en masse. It has made itself known through years of slavery and state-sponsored racism, antisemitism, the Japanese internment camps, the Joe McCarthy trials, Abu Ghraib, the abuse of undocumented workers, etc. This xenophobic, racist side of America has always lived side by side with the visionary, democratic, generous, expansive side we all like to believe the US still represents in the world: a land of progress, of justice, of equal opportunity, of personal freedom.
Until now, the hateful side was relatively in the fringes, growing stronger thanks to Fox News and talk radio and shit media like Breitbart. Now it's out with a vengeance, legitimized and enabled not only by Trump, but by most of the Republican party. I have been here for 25 years and this is the first time I can remember a spate of antisemitic vandalism, bomb threats and violence.
Now we have the most reactionary government this country has seen in centuries; an administration that uses propaganda and hateful rhetoric straight from the playbooks of tyrants. And which came through power through extremely sinister means.
The Republican cheering that accompanied Trump's every bombastic, unrealistic promise is repugnant. The fact that they are doing everything in their power to obstruct the investigation of Russia's involvement brands them all traitors. There is no decency left in this Congress, and except for a few glaring Democrats, that goes for both sides of the aisle.
I was looking forward to the Democratic response, only to be baffled and deflated by the ridiculous, pandering, toothless, inauthentic choice of having the ex-governor of Kentucky sit in a charmless diner where no food seems to be served, surrounded by a cast out of the Lawrence Welk show.
What on God's green Earth are the Democrats thinking? How can I unregister from this stupid party?*
I know what they are thinking. That somehow with this ersatz display of down-home heartland bullshit they are going to win votes in 2018. They're not fooling anyone.
Bernie Sanders, who gave his own impassioned and eloquent response, should have been the one to respond to Trump. He is his direct opposite, and an equal rock star to his base, which the party insists on ignoring, and he talks about the issues that affect everybody living in this crazy country.

*Serious question. I want out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Inner Circle of Losers

NOTE: The Trump administration's shitshow is on such a roll that by the time one finishes putting two thoughts together, 80 new clusterfucks have happened. Here are some thoughts of mine about Trump's cabinet of creeps:

When I see Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller, I feel that I know people like them. We've all run across them in high school, or college, or work. They are people with a huge, poisonous chip of resentment lodged deep inside their balls. They are not legion, but once in a while you run into one. A boss who sows chaos by ruling with contempt, people who thrive on division and disorder, backstabbers; in short, toxic human beings. In an unprecedented achievement, Donald Trump has recruited most of them for his Administration.

Take Kellyanne Conway. Her default mode is being on the defensive. Like her boss, she is the epitome of a sore winner. There is really nothing more base and disgraceful than a sore winner who cannot lead with poise and dignity, but who feels so insecure that they need to rub it in, even though they won. Conway deploys deliberate outrageousness so well, that she makes the newscasters who laugh at her ridiculous statements look bad. That's how insidious she is. Why not focus on the times Trump doesn't lie? she asks, treating journalists and the public as if we are morons. She has not shown a single moment of politeness, empathy, grace, or truth, for that matter. That absurd military/patriotic coat she wore to the inauguration tells us all we need to know about her: always be rubbing it in. Conway is dangerous precisely because people may not take her equivocations seriously. She fake smiles and does the girly thing to deflect the fact that she is lying. Woe to anyone who doesn't realize that she is very deliberately making our heads explode with "alternative facts".
So far, if the idea is to exhaust the American people, it may be working. As an effective communications strategy for an administration, however, it's way off the mark. Instead of bringing the media to their side, Conway and Sean Spicer are in a fight to the death with the media and currently suffering from a torrent of leaks and mediatic insurrection, not to mention general mockery. They don't seem to understand that the role of the media is not to fawn and parrot the party line, but to question and ascertain. They may be in power, but they don't know how to wield it, and they act like losers. All we know is that there is a constant shitshow brewing in the White House.
It's gotten so bad lately, it looks like keeping up with K.A.O.S. is taking its toll:

I found myself reminiscing almost fondly about back in the day when Dick Cheney was Satan and Donald Rumsfeld was Mephistopheles. But the difference between Cheney and Rumsfeld and Trump's advisors is that Cheney and Rumsfeld were never losers. They were alpha males who wielded power with supreme ease. They were not mysteriously resentful men with painful hidden complexes who are out for revenge on the world. They were insiders who belonged squarely in the corridors of power and, for better or for worse, spent their lives in public service. What we have now is a bunch of bitterly resentful outsiders running the show with mind-boggling incompetence.
The feeling I get when I read about Steve Bannon's worldview, and his mediocre agitprop movies -- a bunch of defeatist "Judeo-Christian" mumbo jumbo about how the world is coming to an inevitable clash of civilizations -- is that he's a deranged fanboy. Wasn't there a quote from a comic book villain in the "American carnage" inaugural speech, a speech so hideous only a delusional loser could have written it? They say Bannon reads a lot. Well, too much literature is bad for you if what you're reading are obscure Italian fascists and the writings of Charles Lindbergh.
It's like when people say Hitler was very intelligent. Sowing chaos, destruction and the murder of millions of people, including your own citizenry because of an ideological brain fart doesn't strike me as smart. Quite the contrary, it strikes me as the apex of human stupidity. People like Steve Bannon or Hitler are not intelligent: they do nothing of any real usefulness with their depraved thoughts.
Bannon is clearly out of his depth, a third-rate alt-media (all alt-media is third-rate) operative who has no clue of how government and the law are supposed to function. He may have done a good job convincing a bunch of ignorant yahoos and self-serving conservatives to vote for Trump, but that's not the same as running a country. If he's truly smart, he'll learn to use the system to his advantage, not make it explode in his face; if he thinks that he has anything to learn, that is. To judge from his past pronouncements about emulating Lenin and blowing up the world, he doesn't strike me as the sort who resorts to humility when the shit hits the fan. He may borrow from Charles Lindbergh, but Bannon is no Charles Lindbergh. He's a schlub.

People who harbor a passionate conviction for kooky theories, be they antisemitic, racist, or of world domination by others, tend to be a particular kind of loser. They may be right-wing nutjobs, or left-wing dogmatists who feel there is a Zionist Jew behind every conspiracy; in the end, they're all the same. They thirst for a power they feel is eternally out of their grasp and being hogged or abused by someone else (the media, the Jews, liberals, the government, George Soros, Wall Street, immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, feminists, etc). These people suffer from arrested development and do not have the emotional maturity to deal with reality, which requires the recognition of nuance, complexity, and compromise. They also have a misplaced sense of entitlement -- someone is always taking something away from them. They are small-minded, miserable haters.
Most of these people tend to hide among us, nourishing their hatreds in secret. Once in a while, like in the case of Hitler or other totalitarian obsessives, they reach a position of power. But the cancerous chip on their balls remains firmly in place and metastasizes. All those impressive Nazi rallies were designed to hide the fact that Hitler was a non-Aryan-looking ugly little creep with a ridiculous mustache, greasy hair and boundless reserves of self-hatred.  The rest of the nazis just hitched their wagon to his thirst for power; some adoringly, some resentfully, some cynically, some spinelessly, much like most of the members of the Republican party today. It's a good thing our nazis can't even muster half a crowd for their inauguration.

We all harbor prejudices. It is human and inevitable. But people who spend their energy being racist have a sickness. Sane people do not allow these ideas to become obsessions. We hide our racist thoughts in the back of our minds and feel a little queasy when we catch ourselves forming them. If we are self-aware, we may even get to question them, find them untrue and ditch them. The United States is the most racially aware country on Earth. If you are a card-carrying racist in the US, you choose to be purposefully so.
Stephen Miller seems to be a garden variety racist with a penchant for grandiosity. Even in high school, he was hateful enough to object to Cinco de Mayo celebrations and such manifestations of inclusiveness. I can understand people who have no patience for political correctness, because quite frankly neither do I, but someone who chooses to lecture his fellow classmates on Americanism in his high-school yearbook seems like they are under the grip of a disturbing obsession. Fast-forward to the same guy, now advisor to President Trump, speaking on national TV last week:

"Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned."

Miller was blathering on network TV about how the judiciary usurped power from the president! Who does he think he is? Goebbels? Here he is, a 31-year-old, way in over his head, who reminds me of the Charles Atlas ads in the back of comic books. His performance at the news show circuit made him sound as if he was delivering a radio address in nazi Germany. He also is associated with the cruel and incompetent executive order banning travel from seven Muslim countries for refugees and people with valid visas and green cards. Miller really seems like a throwback to the glorious days of assholes like J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, and Roy Cohn. Make America Great Again, indeed!
I don't understand Nazi Jews. I don't understand when fear of persecution turns to hate and aggression and you forget that there but for the grace of God, or a humane and coherent immigration policy, go you.

Which leads us to Jared Kushner. The media pronounced that this handsome cipher might bring a semblance of moderation and professionalism to the White House and somehow save the day. Perhaps Kushner thought so too, in his ambitious naivete. There are reports, however, that he loves what Bannon is doing. So who knows? We're still waiting.
Kushner saw it fit to invoke his family who perished in the Shoah when his campaigning father-in-law was cozying up to antisemites, but Kushner uttered not a peep, let alone raised holy hell, when the Trump administration not only deliberately left Jews out of the Holocaust Remembrance Day presidential statement, but then mockingly gloated about it, appallingly, under the pretext of inclusiveness. "A lot of people were killed in the Holocaust", explained Reince Priebus.
Was Stephen Miller the author of such a revolting statement and its nauseating explanation? Was Bannon? Priebus? Kushner may not have been born a loser, but hitching his wagon to the Trumps has turned him into one.

As for the biggest loser of them all, the truth about Donald Trump is that our current nightmare may be the summit of a lifetime of accumulating slights and grudges from a guy who became president thanks to all kinds of suspect foreign machinations. That is, he is not legitimate and will never be. The approval he craves will always elude him. He will never be as rich as the truly capable billionaires of America, he will never be accepted into any of the elite inner sanctums he lusts after, be they social, political or showbiz, and he's always going to be the crass barbarian, conman, clown, and spoiled brat from Queens (no offense to the hardworking citizens of that fine borough). He may have convinced a segment of the population that feels forgotten and entitled to more by dint of being white by bullying everybody else, but we all know Donald Trump is nothing but a tool. A convenient puppet for Putin, for Bannon, for the Republican Party. We're all waiting to see when this bunch of cowards and traitors have enough of this dangerous farce.

President Steve Bannon and Donald Trump in the Oval Office
Meanwhile, we must do all we can to take our country back from this cabal of deranged losers. Resist, protest, demand accountability and vanquish the Republican party in 2018.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When Do We Cry Uncle?

Until when are we allowing this dangerous charade?
Asking for a friend.
We're six days into the Trump presidency and it is clear to anyone with a shred of common sense that we have a delusional maniac sitting in the White House, abetted by a bunch of irresponsible Republican flunkies and paranoid, resentful extremists like Steve Bannon. Trump rules by division, not unification, which means he is single-handedly waging war against the United States, its democracy, and its constitution. He has antagonized the C.I.A., the intelligence community, Mexico, the media, sanctuary cities, the EPA, The National Parks Service, all of science, immigrants, and even the very democratic process that got him elected.
He won yet he is still picking fights about crowds and popularity.  He is obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote by a considerable margin. Every single executive he signs seems to be the result of a personal vendetta. He signed the abortion gag rule the day after millions of American women marched to assert their rights.
Anybody who watched his TV interview, or any of his public appearances for that matter, can plainly see he is mentally incompetent. This condition will be exacerbated by the power he is already allowed to wield and by the public resistance that chips away at his massive insecurity, a resistance which needs to be relentless.
My question is to the Republicans who are acting as if this is a normal state of affairs. How much damage to the fabric of our system are we expected to endure? How much indignity and disrespect? How long are you prepared to look away while Trump puts this country in grave danger?
The fracas with Mexico is a serious issue. Mexico stands to be destabilized by the absurd insistence that it should pay for the stupid wall. When the Mexican economy suffers, more people cross the border. There are already walls, fences, and systems in place at the border, but Trump can only enact asinine symbolic gestures like the wall. It is not in the best interest of the US to have an unstable, economically weakened and defensive Mexico.
It is not in the best interest of the US to reopen black sites and reinstate torture. It is not in the best interest of the US to deny climate change or affordable healthcare for millions of people. I understand that Trump is only interested in feeding his own sick ego and in gaming the system as he always has. What I cannot understand is the suicidal insistence of Republicans on acting against the interests of the citizenry. Their indifference to the welfare of the American people is chilling.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Today, the United States inaugurates the most unqualified, incompetent and dangerous person ever to be "elected" to the presidency. I say "elected" because he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.
Many people will want to watch his absurd inauguration, like gawkers at a gruesome accident. I do not judge. It is a historic event of tragic proportions. But I refuse to tune in, because all that the emotionally stunted and deeply mentally impaired Donald Trump cares about are ratings and public attention, and I for one, am not going to give it to him today.

Yesterday, I attended an anti-Trump rally. Speaker after speaker invoked love. At some point, I felt I was lost in a giant liberal Hallmark card. Love is nice, but it does not work for me. Love is an overused cliché. Respect, however, is something that I could fathom mustering because I don't need Republicans and people who hate liberals to love me, but I demand they respect me, and I assume it goes both ways.

The Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing was a perfect example of the Republican disrespect for the American citizenry. It was a sideshow in which the Republican senators kissed DeVos's ass with fawning non-questions and prevented the Democrats from probing. But the greatest disrespect was shown by DeVos herself, in her refusal to answer questions, in her idiotic evasions, her use of euphemisms (deferring to the states, parental choice, and opportunity, all which mean privatization) and worse, in showing up without even having bothered to prepare. She is to be confirmed as Secretary of Education and she did not do her homework. Her conduct at the hearing was a slap in the face to the American public. This is what the next four years are going to be like and it is going to take a lot more than love to withstand the onslaught.

Bullying is an equal opportunity activity. Kids get bullied for being smart, for being dumb, for being too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too dark, too pale. That is how Trump operates. He bullies everyone: Obama, the media, women, comedians, veterans, Mexicans, Muslims, the intelligence community, the disabled. Political bullies (nazis, Stalinists, Maoists, etc) know that humiliation makes people afraid. With Trump everyone is fair game, except the bigger bully: his friend and enabler, Vladimir Putin.
And so when I hear my fellow liberals talk about love, I get frustrated. Because love will not trump hate. Love only trumps hate in fantasyland. Love will not guarantee or protect our basic human rights. Love will do nothing to stem the utter contempt, distrust, and disrespect for reason, science, culture, the arts, the press, thought, and agnosticism both religious and ideological; love is a very weak weapon against the virulence of the American anti-intellectual strain. This strain can be swiftly transformed into destructive policies, from laws that oppress women and deny healthcare and education to people, to the plundering of the environment, and counterproductive foreign policy. Stupid people in power are very dangerous, not least because they make the stupid feel powerful and encourage the arrogance of the willfully ignorant. That is why Trump is where he is today.
Love won't do squat against the forces of regression that threaten our planet with extinction and our country with a return to its ugliest racism, xenophobia, ignorance and intolerance.
What we need are brains, and the courage to use them.

After today, we will find out if our democratic institutions can withstand abuse, or if they are just empty shells sustained by rapacious capitalism. We will confirm whether the Democratic party is as ineffectual and hobbled by corruption and inertia as we suspect it is, or if it is ready to grow a pair of truly progressive cojones and fight every second of every day for the next four years. We will find out if indeed we live in a democracy or not. But to find out we need to act and the only way to find out is to resist.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Liberal Kitsch

I've been spending a lot of time on Facebook and reading newspapers online trying to adjust to our new reality. I am petrified about everything: Trump's cabinet, a Republican government, Giuliani (the worst of the worst, and then some), nuclear codes, global warming, the alt-right, racist violence, school bullying, spineless Democrats, etc.
Though I don't have any, I'm very worried about the children. Imagine the powerlessness of children who witness such results and are supposed to continue trusting and obeying the adults who make such terrible decisions.
I am also suffering from echo chamber fatigue. It is amazing to me how social media (Facebook, Twitter) amplifies and distorts our sense that we are among like-minded citizens, all clamoring for the same thing and no one else can hear us. I think I know one person who may be a Trump sympathizer, and he hides it. One person among 800 "friends" on Facebook.
And I am also disturbed and deeply annoyed by some reactions on the liberal side.
As always happens in moments of crisis, the easiest shorthand for expressing ourselves tends to come wrapped in pat, sentimental empty gestures. Instant sainthood is bestowed (to yourself, by yourself) by changing your avatar or wearing some sort of symbol of solidarity with the nightmare du jour. This is (still) a free country and knock yourselves out, but this does not work for me. I don't take well to sentimentality.
I hope I do not offend my well-meaning friends who feel the same way I do about Trump, but choose to express themselves differently. Calls for togetherness, prayer and compassion may be what is needed; they don't do much for me. I find some of the most impassioned exhortations for solidarity easy to preach from the comfort of our devices, but not as easy to follow through. And their capital sin: they're corny.
It's liberal kitsch.
For instance, that safety pin symbol. Nice sentiment; by all means wear it, but I am not going to wear a safety pin in order to demonstrate my self-serving, self-righteous moral superiority. Instead, and I sure hope it doesn't come to pass, I will try to intervene if I see bigoted attacks in action. In fact, I shared a useful primer on how to do that on, where else, Facebook.
I have been on the receiving end of people saying idiotic and hateful things about Jews, and sometimes Mexicans more than once. It always feels like a kick in the gut, sucks the air right out of you, makes your knees go weak. I used to kind of let it go, or deflate it with a joke, or be too rattled to put a stop to it. Sometimes I politely disagreed. But ever since a Mexican student told me after 9/11 that Jews who worked at the Twin Towers had called each other the night before in order to save their own skin, I decided that I will not tolerate politely this kind of bullshit anymore. This applies to all hateful rhetoric.

I am happy to march against Trump. I am happy to do whatever it takes to pressure this new government to respect human dignity and not destroy the world, but when people say #notmypresident, I have to part company with them. Imagine for a second if Hillary had won and Trump supporters came up with #notmypresident. Liberals would collapse in fits of outrage.
I beg you all to grow up. Hillary won the popular vote, NOT BY A LANDSLIDE. Trump won the Electoral College by a wide margin. He won legitimately, and democracy means that we accept the result. We may not accept the man, his policies, or his party and we should protest and do everything in our power to counter and oppose their influence. They don't have consensus and they should be reminded of it every second of their lives. But we were aghast when Trump intimated that he would not concede, and now we are acting like him?
We need to make our voices heard, but let's be tough and smart, like Harry Reid. Let's hope the Democrats will grow a spine and some cojones and make it as hard for these people to govern as they did for Obama these last 8 years.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

I Know What Peña Nieto Was Thinking

In which I will attempt to surmise what Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was "thinking" when he decided to invite Donald Trump to Mexico.

Disconnected from reality by his own infatuation with power and surrounded by fawning yes men, all EPN could think of was how to reverse his precipitous freefall in popularity polls.
How could he make the Mexican people stop arguing about his very recent college plagiarism scandal? How could he make them forget the new $2 million condo in Miami used by his wife, real estate hoarder and ex-telenovela star, Angélica Rivera, a house that is connected AGAIN to a construction company that has been awarded big projects by her husband's government?
How to make them forget their tsuris with the recent devaluation of the peso, or the horrific insecurity and violence all over the country, or the 43 massacred students at the beginning of his mandate that still no one has been found accountable for? How to stop Mexicans from deploring and relentlessly mocking his obvious lack of presidential stature, and his incompetence?

Reflecting that he needs to recover his mojo, a simple idea arises in his little mind (if not in the mind of some sibilant advisor):
"Who do Mexicans hate more than me?"
He didn't have to look very far.
"Bingo! I'm going to read señor Donald Trump the riot act. Hell, I'm gonna lay down the law to the guy I compared to Mussolini and Hitler, right here in our country. That'll show that bunch of ingrates, the Mexican people, who's their daddy. I will go down in history as the guy who stood up to Donald Trump."

Alas, yesterday Peña Nieto went down in history as the guy who went down on Donald Trump.

In one fell swoop, as many Mexican commentators have lamented, he did what no one had been able to do yet: he made Trump look presidential, made his cockamamie idea of a wall a feasible notion, he legitimized his racist rhetoric and treated him like a head of state. If the invitation in itself was not humiliation enough, Peña Nieto got totally played and humiliated by Trump, the superhuman troll, who then came back to Arizona to a triumphant rally where he espoused his "immigration policy", which is nothing but the dangerous racial scapegoating of a demagogue.
Peña Nieto, other than perhaps privately dying of shame at having lost his shriveled manhood to the human Cheeto, will suffer no real consequences. As per the Mexican political system, he is enshrined in power for 6 years, since there is no reelection (two long years to go),  during which he, his vulgar wife and his corrupt cronies will continue trading on their shady deals and their violent contempt for their country. Then he will vanish into the sunset like the rest of all the other bad presidents we've had (most of them from his party, the P.R.I.), yet another forgotten blemish in our history. There will be potholed streets with his name in sleepy towns empty of Mexicans who will be found in the US looking for dignity.

I'm not as flummoxed as some by the logic of Mexican political thinking, because, in essence, it is very simple. It goes something like this:

"The Mexican people are idiot infants that are better off not knowing the truth. We have always lied and talked down to them and pretended that we govern, when in fact, all we do is steal and take long (six-year) baths of intoxicating power. We have always staged this dog and pony show that they innocently call "democracy", and pontificated with meaningless, highfaluting words, communicating nothing true and nothing essential.
In fact, we're a bunch of deeply corrupt cynics who only care about fattening our bank accounts and safeguarding our uncontested, untouched, magical impunity. We steadfastly refuse to work for the improvement of our country, let alone reform its putrid institutions, which we deliberately keep inefficient, bureaucratized, moth-ridden and bloated, so we can continue the status quo.
We conspire with the rich, to whom we give monopolistic powers so they can prop us up, whether they are drug cartels, the richest man in the world, or privately owned media monopolies. We buy the votes of the poor with free sandwiches and sodas. We don't give a flying fuck about the smart, hard-working people who love this country and have truly good ideas to make it better. We just smother everything in bureaucracy and impediments.
We deliberately keep people in poverty and ignorance so that they don't get any ideas. Through our brilliance at entrenching corruption at almost every level of social interaction, we have created a nation ruled by distrust. We must admit, though, that despite the fact that almost everything we do conspires against progress and against greatness, Mexicans somehow still manage to be productive and creative. Imagine what they could do without us."

This visit is no different. Like all their other farces, this is pretend statesmanship that is not fit to belong to a second rate circus, just like the president's guest.

Which brings us to the uncanny parallels between Trump and the current Mexican President:

• Both are playing pretend at being presidential
• Both have been irresponsibly propped up by vastly corrupt and incompetent political parties.
• Both are constitutionally incapable of true leadership, let alone statesmanship.
• Both are crooks.
• Both inherited their power from their families (Trump financially, and Peña Nieto politically).
• Both are uneducated, anti-intellectual and married to uneducated, flashy floozies (one steals speeches, the other traffics in houses).
• Both have had more than one wife, and children by several.
• Both have unsavory friends. (For Trump, see Christie, Chris; Manafort, Paul et al. For Peña see Castillo, Alfredo).
• Both have ridiculous hair, though Trump wins this contest hands down.

So this little nightmare scenario we witnessed yesterday is nothing but two impostors getting together to convince people that they are real.

Finally, this is what I imagine transpired behind closed doors at their meeting:

Nice hair!
Let me cut to the chase: My wife wants an apartment in a Trump Tower. Any Trump Tower will do. We'll pay for the wall if you make it happen.
Deal! Believe me, you're gonna be very happy. It's gonna be yuge.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Trump: A Disqualifying Event

The pathetic spectacle to which we are hostage right now as a country - having to endure a presidential candidate who is mentally unfit for office, is not a coincidence. It is the direct result of eight years of Republican Party policies. They courted the fringe, abandoned every pretense of service to the American people, made President Obama's job hell, did whatever it took to cater to corporate interests even in the face of unspeakable atrocities (NRA) and care about nothing except power. Their cravenness makes Frank and Claire Underwood look like Mother Theresa.
The Republicans made this lice-infested bed, and now we all have to lie on it. We are now the laughing stock (if not the waking nightmare) of the world. But here we are. That Hillary Clinton, whether you like her or not, has to campaign against this carnival barker  in her historic opportunity to become the first female president of the United States, is sad and unfair. This shameful humiliation is the sole responsibility of the Republican Party. The only consolation is to watch them self-destruct and slide deeper into indignity, absurdity, and shamelessness as they try to contain the demons they've unleashed: besides Trump's unbridled lunacy, the worse evils of xenophobia, racism, violence, divisiveness, and hatred.
My only consolation is knowing that anyone who is remotely associated with, and pandering to, Trump has soiled their reputations forever. The nefarious Rudolph Giuliani, Chris Christie; any Republican that has stood by and encouraged this to happen is a coward and will live in infamy for eternity.
But what kind of delusion are they under? It is barely understandable how any sentient being can support such a fake conman, regardless of how desperate they are to vote against their own self-interest, blinded by his simplistic bombast, his fake hair, fake tan and fake money. But career politicians who should know better? What in God's green earth is in it for them? Cabinet posts? Shady business deals? A lifetime supply of Trump steaks? Is their resentment at the legacy of a twice-elected Black president so pernicious as to aim to dismantle the entire nation? A legacy that is all the more admirable considering that they did everything in their power to thwart it.
Make no mistake: a lot of this particular descent into madness is the result of racism. Therefore, it must sting even more deeply to watch the Obamas sail into history with dignity and grace, having achieved some monumental changes like Obamacare and gay marriage. I think history will reciprocate. When Giuliani and Christie are relegated to the forgotten clown corner of the circus tent, the Obama presidency will be remembered as one of the greatest in history, his shortcomings notwithstanding.

On the one hand, Trump is a gift to the Democrats; they can't possibly lose this election as things stand right now (although one fears that they are entirely capable of doing so. Just look at Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her crew).
On the other hand, the presidential election should be between two feasible candidates. It took Trump to encourage Russia to spy on Clinton for pundits to scream that this is a disqualifying event, when everything he has done from day one should have disqualified him from the job long ago. It's like living in an alternate reality where reason, common sense, decency and integrity do not exist. The Republicans attribute everything to spin. "He was joking", "she didn't steal the speech". This deliberate denial of reality by the right is frightening.

I assume someone will write the definitive history of how this happened to us. It seems like we blinked and woke up in the middle of this nightmare. Let this be an eye-opener to politicians on both sides of the aisle. This is what happens by ignoring the reality of the vast majority of people in this country, who struggle and dream of a standard of living that doesn't exist anymore. This is what happens when, by inaction and cynicism they encourage the existence of an uneducated nation who gets their world view from reality shows and talk radio instead of a robust public education.

It's in the hands of the American people to save our own country, even the world, from disaster. This time, it means trouncing Trump so overwhelmingly that he becomes, in his parlance, a yuge loser, the biggest loser of all time.  If you need to hold your nose because you are a conservative, or a Bernie supporter, or you just hate Hillary's guts, then do it. But sitting this one out because you are apolitical, or too ideologically pure, is not an option. And voting for Trump or any third party is suicidal.
Trump must be destroyed, and the only safe way to do it is by voting for Hillary Clinton. So register to vote, whatever your persuasion, and let's make sure Trump gets nowhere near the White House.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Donald Trump, Or Panic in the Streets.

Only events that spark the utmost consternation can make the Grande Enchilada come out of her lair. To wit: the mass hysteria surrounding the ascendancy of human Cheeto and giant dingleberry, Donald Trump, and his possible election to the Presidency of the United States.
The headlines from the (liberal) media run from astounded exclamations that the biggest search on Google is how to move to Canada, to dire comparisons to the Nazis, the rise of fascism in America, the fall of the American Empire, Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns, etc.
People on social media, when not dying of horrific glee over Ted Cruz's flying goobers, are tearing their hair out in astonishment and fear. It's understandable. No one in their right mind can fathom how we got to this place. Oh, wait. Yes, we can!
This is nothing but the end result of decades of deliberate policies by the Republican party to court and feed the most extreme right wing factions and to fight anything resembling common sense, sound governance and social cohesion (gun control, climate change, education, infrastructure, etc). For decades, they have devoted themselves to obstructing any and all paths to progress, have impeded President Obama to do his job in a racist, disrespectful and contemptible way and they have bowed down to the insanity of a lunatic fringe whose ranks they have helped swell, at the expense of their own survival. I am convinced that part of their hysteria stems from their inability to cope with the reality of a Black president. Besides that, they should have known they were sealing their fate when they invited an ignorant malignancy like Sarah Palin to run for Vice-president. This very well may have cost them the election. But instead of learning their lesson, they doubled down on their contempt for the citizenry. An abysmal disconnect exists between their ideology and most of American society, but they act like the fringe are the majority.
The Republicans only have themselves to blame and they deserve everything that has befallen them and that is yet to come. The rise of Donald Trump is a direct consequence of their willful descent into xenophobia, racism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, contempt for society, venality and stupidity. They allowed this clown to run on their platform, probably thinking that it was better than if he ran as an independent, and then they were unable to control him. They stood by, happy about all the buzz they were getting, and now it's too late to stop him. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are now trying to reverse the damage with speeches about human decency and the party of Lincoln. Guess what? It's too fucking late! Where were they when Trump started uttering his idiotic, yet mediagenic, racist statements? Now the Republican party has neo-Nazis and the KKK in their corner.
To be honest, my schadenfreude is preventing me from running for the hills. I am almost hoping he wins: I want to witness with my own eyes the precipitous collapse of the American empire.  It's like being alive at the time of Caligula.
Will Trump win? Only if reasonable, decent people from both ends of the political spectrum fail to do their duty to vote against him. This country must unite against him. Meanwhile, Southern Democrats are not bothering to show up in big numbers at the primaries. Apparently, if they don't get homegrown heroes like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Albert Gore, they won't give the time of day to two candidates from the North. I certainly hope that Trump's results will scare Democrats enough to haul their asses to the rest of the primaries, whoever they decide to vote for. In the case of the Republican party, the options are so frightening that there is nothing to hope for.
Only in America presidential elections resemble a sports' season (in hell). There are arcane rules to consider and nationwide tournaments to win or lose. So everyone is losing sleep over the odds of which one of the Democratic candidates is more likely to win against Trump or Cruz.
I know a lot of people think that Bernie doesn't have a chance in hell of being President. Perhaps.
But I am tired of deploying the useful vote. And so, I'm voting for Bernie in the primaries and you can blame me for the death of America all you want. He represents my political beliefs and what I want for this country better than anyone else. And while I have no doubt that Hillary will be a capable president and will support her if she wins the nomination, I want the Democratic party to start acting like the liberals they are supposed to be, and not like Republicans Lite (Obama included).
Now, to vanquish Trump and the obscurantist candidates of the GOP, and even maybe return their party to something resembling dignity, moderate Republicans should feel comfortable enough voting for Hillary Clinton: she is closer to them than the fascist bozos on the GOP circus. And everybody who has half a brain cell, regardless of political affiliation, should make sure to punish the Republican party at the ballots (provided they are allowed to vote once they get there).
When in an unprecedented election year the two most galvanizing candidates are perceived as outsiders and nonpoliticians, and they attract frenzied crowds, it's because the American people on left and right are tired of politics as usual. Politicians in Washington have been oblivious to the deep fraying of trust, which is now literally non-existent, between the American public and themselves. They allowed Citizens United to happen, they continue to cater to lobbies, they have allowed this nation to become a third world country, yet they didn't see it coming.
The Republicans thought Trump was a joke that would quickly implode, and never in a million years did Hillary imagine that Bernie Sanders, the old socialist hippie Jew from Vermont, would be a serious opponent. Well, guess what? Hell froze over.
I think a lot of this has to do with the internet age and the democratization of the media. News and their attending opinions travel much faster than the tortoises in Washington can keep their fingers on. As evidenced by the volatility of certain public debates, like the political correctness mass hysteria on campuses, and the way people take to social media to campaign for their candidates, it is clear that the people have left the traditional way of acting around elections in the dust. The establishment media tried to ignore and obscure the rise of Bernie Sanders with every weapon in their formidable arsenal. It didn't work. The Sanders campaign worked around it quite successfully. Donald Trump has done the same. So the media is now having a field day feeding panic into the hearts of liberals and into the hearts of beleaguered white people who live in suburbs and think immigrating predator zombies are out to get them.
The establishment doesn't know what hit it. To quote Grumpy Cat: "Good."
The American people are so fed up with the status quo, the entrenched corruption, the political dynasties, a mythically robust economy that only seems to succor the rich, that they are willing to vote either for a millionaire megalomaniac or a crusty old socialist. It's an interesting time to be alive.