Tag Archives: Donald Trump

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

When Linda Fry, Laurel Ann Bogen, and I went to see “The Last Word” a week ago, the previews included the upcoming release of a remake, “Going in Style.” I was disappointed instantly. The original starred a trio of men, and the remake has recast it with three males. As much as I enjoyed the original film back in 1979. I equally remember my main problem with it. The story-line involves three old men who decide that the possible benefits of robbing banks would probably outweigh the penalties, given that none of them had much likelihood of serving even a small portion of any lengthy prison sentence. As a comic premise, it served its purpose, but let us consider that the majority of individuals who might entertain that option as a solution to their predicaments would most likely be women. Impoverished old women confined to bleak circumstances far outnumber men, and if the comic requires the unexpected, a trio of aging women would easily provide a multitude of punch-lines and gags using the same premise.

The gender shift I proposed in my critique of the first “Going in Style” did in fact show up in a middle-aged variant a year later. The success of “9 to 5,” which starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton, demonstrated that a comedy in which women took the law into their own hands was certainly a viable project. If one were to propose a remake, I would be more inclined to see this one in a theater rather than the upcoming release featuring Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine.

However, given the patriarchal backlash in this country right now, it is not surprising that this remake of “Going in Style” blithely presents the crisis of masculinity as the bedrock for its antics. The context for this remake has been building for years. At the end of the last century, Susan Faludi’s Stiffed, for instance, examined the challenges that working men faced within the economics of gender. Nevertheless, to have three men react to the loss of their pensions by launching careers as senescent criminals only serves to distract us from the machinations of an aging baby boomer in the recent presidential election. Trump and his inner circle are giving us a new definition of “style” and they don’t intend the aftermath to be comic.

Darkness at the Center of Wisconsin

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Darkness at the Center of Wisconsin

https://www.yahoo.com/sports/news/fan-wears-barack-obama-mask-with-a-noose-at-nebraska-wisconsin-040333264.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3887230/Football-fan-Wisconsin-Nebraska-game-asked-remove-offensive-costume-showing-President-Obama-noose-neck.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490

The story is that the fan was asked to remove the “offensive components” costume.

That’s all?

Why was the fan not immediately investigated for making a death threat against the President?

This is not a “costume,” but a death threat, and the specificity of advocating the execution of the President is made all the more clear by the fact that it is not the person wearing the costume whose hand is holding up the noose, but the arm of a person standing alongside the depiction of President Obama. In the photograph, an arm wearing a red sleeve juts into the air at an angle that can only mean that the white fist jerking the noose upwards belongs to another person. It is a blunt portrayal of a racist execution.

This is not an issue of free speech, which would include the right to wear a prison outfit with a mask of Obama, just as free speech includes the right to chant “Lock her up,” as Trump’s partisans do whenever Hillary Clinton’s name in mentioned. One may not like a message, but free speech allows messengers safe passage. Provocative and outrageous speech is protected by our Constitution. However, in depicting the execution of President Obama, the individuals at a football stadium in Wisconsin flagrantly transgressed the boundary of free speech.

Death threats are not free speech, especially in an image meant invoke the heyday of the KKK. Within the context of a newspaper associated with the KKK all but giving its straightforward endorsement to Donald Trump, this so-called costume represents crude propaganda at its most harrowing level.

If there is not at least a brief detention and interrogation of the fan and his “prop assistant” for making a death threat against President Obama, then it is fair to say that this costume represents the values of a cadre within the Secret Service; in this instance, the person in charge of the Secret Service has the obligation to act in a manner that proves otherwise.

I would note that a report that Secret Service conducted an investigation in an instance that involved a far less public venue.

Playing with Fire and an Obama Effigy

Why should this incident in Wisconsin be treated with any less seriousness?

The failure of University of Wisconsin officials to understand the gravity of the image is quite remarkable. Simply asking a person to remove the “offensive parts” of the costume represents a lack of courage in standing up to a bully. In making a statement that was nothing short of a death threat against the President, the person wearing the costume and his assistant forfeited their right to remain at the game and should have been removed from the stadium.

The University was probably afraid of being accused of censorship. There is an easy answer. The people were removed from the stadium in order to have their identities firmly established by police officials so that the Secret Service could begin their investigation.

Finally, we should all take note: the desire expressed by these two people in the football stands in Wisconsin is not limited to President Obama. First him, then his supporters. If anyone is so naïve to think that the two people who concocted this outfit will be satisfied with President Obama’s death, then they need to review 20th century history. As the poet Don Gordon said, “We are only on leave from Auschwitz.”

As a postscript that occurred to me a couple hours after posting this, I think it is fair to say that those who doubted the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate would most likely be the ones inclined to defend this person’s advocacy of a Presidential death certificate as free speech. “If attacking one end of a life spectrum doesn’t work, then try the other extreme,” would seem to be their preference.

I do look forward to the conclusion of the current general election, and the chance to concentrate on books of poetry again. To neglect the havoc generated by a fascist with international ambitions would be an unforgivable omission on my part, however.

CORRECTION: The original post for this commentary mistakenly stated that the football game took place in Nebraska, whereas the University of Nebraska was playing a road game in Wisconsin.

The “Stamina” Gap between Hillary Clinton and the American Worker

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The “Stamina” Gap between Hillary Clinton and the American Worker

Donald Trump has raised the question of the “presidential look” of Hillary Clinton. What he means by this is unadulterated sexist bullshit. Hillary is not a male; therefore, she is not “presidential.” Of course, even Mr. Trump knows the counterproductive limits of that crude dismissal, so of course he turns his attention to a claim that Hillary Clinton lacks stamina.

Her response in the first debate was defined within her personal capacity to serve as a public official with a very demanding schedule. Since she is the candidate under scrutiny, one could understand her inclination to keep the parameters individual; but in stopping there, and in only talking about her personal stamina, she missed an opportunity to diffuse the critique that Hillary Clinton’s campaign to be President is “all about me,” as if it were a referendum on her self-worth and how much she has endured in order to be a famous feminist.

If she is faced with the question of stamina again, she would be well advised to turn the discussion to the stamina of American working people, for it is we who deserve praise for our resilience. Privileged people such as Donald Trump, who had wealth handed to them as start-up entrepreneurs, have no idea of how much stamina is needed to endure a tax system in which real estate manipulation provides people such as Trump a domestic tax haven that is nothing short of scandalous. Trump is clueless as to what is entailed in trying to survive on unemployment benefits, or the psychological toll exacted on marriages in which one of the spouses becomes long-term unemployed?

If Trump is popular amongst some portions of the American electorate, it is in no part due to the exhaustion of American workers. Even those with immense stamina are not indefatigable, and I fear that the numbness of economic exhaustion has brought about a “thousand yard stare” – the look that soldiers get when they cannot take another step or even hear another order. Too many workers have been asked to do too much for too little reward for too long. The result is that any fast-talking con artist who comes along with jingoist promises has a good chance of securing their vote.

Clinton needs to address the needs of these workers with more than promises of job training. What are her plans, for instance, for the millions of truck drivers who will be unemployed after self-driving trucks merge onto the freeways of commerce? And what about the thousands upon thousands of people (especially in the Baby Boomer generation) who have never found any employment in the aftermath of the Great Recession?

It is not Hillary Clinton’s stamina that needs to be discussed, but the extraordinary capacity of American workers to do more than should be expected of them and to wake up the next morning and do it again. A temperament of self-discipline and willingness to consider the needs of others is at the heart of one’s capacity to endure and renew a community’s sense of shared prosperity. Without that sense of social stamina, the non-stop onslaught of social presentations by politicians is just a circus side-show. It is our stamina as working people that deserves to be touted, and then made the center of attention in every policy decision.

Danny DeVito’s “THE RATINGS GAME” and the October Surprise Debate

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“THE RATINGS GAME” – Danny DeVito’s Minor Masterpiece and the Donald Trump Surprise Debate of October 25

One of my colleagues at CSULB, Charles Webb, has written a score of poems that seem likely to become pedagogical models of “Stand Up Poetry,” a mode he has promoted in several influential anthologies. Webb, however, is not the person who coined the term. Inspired by the title of Edward Field’s collection of poem, “Stand Up, Friend, With Me,” Gerald Locklin and Charles Stetler applied the term to a post-Beat, “reader-friendly” kind of poem that emphasized humor and popular culture. Among Webb’s best known poems is a paean to “low culture” art in which Webb bemoans (in a straight man fashion) his inability to recall the important signifiers of canonical literature and culture, and instead cackles with self-satisfied pleasure as he recalls the art that truly matters to him, which features nothing other than low, gross humor. On the surface, Webb’s rhetoric is beguiling; upon re-reading, one discovers its flaw in leaning too heavily on inductive logic. Nevertheless, it is a charming example of Webb at his best.

The narrator of Webb’s poem is a fringe-niche consumer of mass industrial culture. His protestations of a preference for low culture are dourly undermined by his acknowledgement of the social expectations of his imagined persona as a cultivated individual. While analysis of Webb’s poem calls for taking this ambiguous tension into consideration, the allegiance to low culture that the poem accentuates is at the heart of any media-based target audience. As ripe as that subject might be for comic display within popular culture, few efforts have been truly successful. One exception is Danny DeVito’s “The Ratings Game,” which came out in 1984. It is a minor masterpiece in its satire of corporate culture’s manipulation of the status quo.

The protagonist of “The Ratings Game” is an amateur auteur in the fullest sense of the term. Vic DeSalvo, played by Danny DeVito in his first directorial effort, is a successful businessman who yearns for cultural status, but is rebuffed by the Hollywood crowd. Undeterred by his initial failures, DeSalvo manages to get his cartoon show a slot on a nationally syndicated broadcast schedule. I haven’t seen this movie, which was a cable television project, for over 30 years, and yet I recall with a smile on my face — as wide as that of Webb’s narrator — the moment in which Established Power smirks at Underlings: “Congratulations,” the network executive says to DeSalvo, “your show will premiere on October 10, (pause) the first night of the World Series.”

To put it mildly, DeSalvo knows he is doomed. With bottomed-out ratings, his show will not likely make it to the second month, let alone a second season. DeSalvo won’t give up without a fight, however, especially after his fiancé, Francine (played by Rhea Pearlman), reveals how “ratings” are actually determined. As the victim of sexist politics in the office, she has no qualms about getting revenge, and they set about plotting to humble a system stacked against them.

I mention “The Ratings Game” (which has finally been released on DVD) because the current schedule of debates between presidential candidates includes an evening featuring the alternative choices of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. The Free and Equal Commission has organized a debate to which all prominent candidates have been invited. The likelihood of Trump and Clinton both showing up for this debate and thereby according minor party candidates an appearance of being on an equal footing is about the same odds as the Chicago Cubs asking me to pitch the first game of the upcoming playoffs.

However, as I wrote this post, Trump’s habitually asymmetrical strategy gave me pause: might not Trump show up? It would be a couple of hours of free publicity in which he could harangue Jill Stein as the “real” Hillary Clinton, the “alternative” who represents the socialist agenda that lurks behind Clinton’s policy-driven campaign. Next to Johnson, of course, Trump would seem like a foreign policy maven, a wonk ne plus ultra. What’s to lose? Well, I suppose that Fox Sports would resent any distraction from one of its crown jewels, but the White House is at stake, and that requires sacrifices from all interested parties, doesn’t it?

By now, of course, you’ve guessed what Trump’s misfortune would be in choosing this “alternative” debate as a surprise outlet for his fulminations. Yes, this debate is scheduled for the first night of the 2016 World Series (October 25). Good luck, Ms. Stein. I can’t wait to see the Cubs finally begin to break the longest drought in American sports.

Maureen Dowd’s version of my “Berlin Bunker” post

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Two days ago, I posted an entry entitled “Trump Towers as the Berlin Bunker of 2016.” My piece on Donald Trump’s notable levels of mental distress ends with the following assessment:

In the end, anyone so deluded as to rank himself above Dwight D. Eisenhower is in such serious psychological trouble that it can only be categorized as a death spiral of psychotic fantasy. When — not if, but when — Trump loses, he should be immediately put under a suicide watch. One must have compassion even for those who exploit the prejudice of others to whip up fear and loathing. Let us hope that he seeks professional psychological help in 2017, instead of turning Trump Towers into a parody of Hitler in his Berlin bunker. (posted August 5, 2016, 3:23 p.m.)

It would appear that I am not the only commentator on the presidential election who is concerned about the psychological stability of Donald Trump. The final two paragraphs of Maureen Dowd’s latest column (dated August 6) would suggest that she seconds my conclusion. See her article, “Crazy About the Presidency,” which can be found on-line, as well as in the print edition (Sunday, August 7) of the New York Times on page SR1.

For a complementary satire on Trump’s lack of global perspicacity, see Nicholas Kristof’s recent piece on an imagined dialogue between a C.I.A officer and Mr. Trump, published on August 4th. For the real thing, in terms of what such a C.I.A. employee might be thinking, I recommend Michael Morell’s op-ed, “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton,” which appeared the day after Kristof’s piece. I doubt the sequence of Kristof followed by Morell is a coincidence.

As with Meg Whitman’s endorsement of Clinton, Morell’s affirmation only serves to underline how truly atrocious a candidate Mr. Trump is. Would Morell (or Meg Whitman) come out this way if someone as qualified as Mitt Romney were running again? I would never vote for Romney, but no one would say that he is utterly unqualified to run for President. Morell would not be publicly endorsing Clinton, had Romney launched yet another run for the White House and secured the GOP nomination.

Republicans who scorned Romney as a potential candidate in 2016 must now rue their haughty judgment. Romney would have made cheesecake out of Trump in the primaries if he had run this year instead of in 2012, and my guess is that he would be running ahead of Clinton in the polls right now. Clinton is very fortunate that Romney underestimated the determination of Obama’s supporters, however, and didn’t realize that even those of us who were dismayed by his tepid performance in reacting to the unemployment crisis of 2009-20011 were going to vote for him again. He would have been her most formidable opponent, and his decision to run in 2012 may well have cost the GOP the White House for the rest of this decade.

Toxic Moxie Follow-Up: The New Berlin Wall (Southwestern Style)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The possibility of Donald Trump becoming the nominee of the Republican party for President of the United States might well cause Americans born in the 1940s and very early 1950s to echo the comment of a character in Sam Shepard’s THE GOD OF HELL. Frank, a dairy farmer, cries out towards the end of Shepard’s scathing play, “I miss the Cold War so much.” I invoke this line as a way of noting the disparity between a presidential candidate in 2016 proposing to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, and his apparent obliviousness that one of the most honored presidents of the Republican Party is particularly famous for saying, “Tear this wall down.” Even if Trump’s wall were to be built, how long would it be before Vladimir Putin would give a speech on the U.S. Mexican border and make the same precise demand?

Trump’s candidacy, however, goes far beyond skirmishes with irony. The land that constitutes much of the western United States was once the domain of Mexico, and an enormous number of people who trace their familial origins to Mexico live in those states. The idea of building a “Great Wall” from El Paso to San Diego is an implicit insult to millions of citizens and residents of the United States; to add vitriol to that insult by insisting that Mexico will pay for the construction of that wall becomes too ludicrous for satire. Simple fact-checking on Trump’s financial accounting for his dismal intermingling of domestic and foreign policy will suffice. To cut to the chase, I refer you to the following article:

http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2016/jan/26/donald-trump/donald-trump-says-course-mexico-can-pay-wall-becau/

Toxic Moxie: The Fascist Phenomenon of Donald Trump and the Elections of 1968 and 2004

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Toxic Moxie: The Fascist Phenomenon of Donald Trump and the Elections of 1968 and 2004

I’ve been trying to think, this morning, of the last time I heard the word “moxie” out loud. It’s been a while. A long, long while. It’s possible that the generation listening to Kendrick Lamar’s music has never heard the word, and would not be able to make any reasonable conjectures about its meaning. For that matter, I myself did not know until recently that the word’s first usage applies to a soft drink that is still made in the Northeastern United States. For most of my life, though, I knew of the word in only one context: a patriarchal attribution, often intoned with a slight sense of awe: “He’s got a lot of moxie.”

If the word does in fact have primarily positive associations (“daring, courage, spirit”), Donald Trump exemplifies a toxic moxie. I won’t belabor the obvious list that anyone can put together of “Trump Thumps,” his take-down, on-the-rubber-mat moments of mind-boggling asininity. I would rather get right to the heart of what seems to confound so many observers: how exactly is Trump pulling this off?

“It’s déjà vu, all over again.” As in 1968. And 2004. Except this time the politician is from New York, instead of the South. The parallel with the 1968 presidential election has only kicked in during the last ten days, as the primary season moved to the Deep South. Unfortunately, the surge of support for Trump has an ineradicable kinship with Governor George Wallace’s presidential run in 1968. One must never forget that the voters who sided with Wallace not only had many children, but grandchildren, too, and their family values included heavy doses of lingering segregationist attitudes. In case one has any doubts about the continuity of American reactionary politics, please take note that the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER reported three days ago that NASCAR CEO Brian France has endorsed Donald Trump. According to the Observer, France’s grandfather endorsed George Wallace. That, in 2016, a politician could be feasibly juxtaposed with a segregationist such as George Wallace should give one enormous pause.

It is not the parallels with Wallace’s campaign, however, that can best account for Trump’s staying power in the political arena, but rather a key moment in a debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush in the 2004 election. “They invaded us,” President Bush said, referring to his decision to invade Iraq. Kerry pounced immediately on Bush’s utterly ludicrous statement and forced him to backtrack rather awkwardly. Iraq had not invaded the United States, nor had it taken any part in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One would think that Bush’s distortion of reality would demonstrate, once and for all, his unfitness to be the President of the United States.

To my naive dismay, Bush’s reiteration of a lie that will live in infamy did not make any difference in the polls taken in the days after that debate. Support for Bush did not waver in the least. Those who were for Bush did not care if the commander-in-chief had publicly revealed his mendacity in leading this country into a war that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. At that point, I knew the election of 2004 was a hopeless attempt to remove a criminal blight on American history. If Trump is still popular despite his outrageous commentary on a variety of topics, it is only because the same factor of ideological docility is percolating through various strands of the electorate.

Although Trump is an overachieving opportunist, he still has a decent chance — heading into the Mid-West primaries — of being nominated by the GOP as its presidential candidate, and if he is denied that accolade, it would not surprise me if he ran an independent campaign. As for the outcome of the latter effort, my guess is that he would probably receive a smaller percentage of votes than Wallace did in 1968, but that would not be a permanent rout of Trump’s factions. All that such a result would gauge is the chronic weaknesses of this nation’s ability to come to terms with its dubious history and the likelihood of another such attempt at a moment of yet greater crisis.