Friday, January 20, 2017

LA,LA,LA, In La La Land

It might seem disrespectful.  In many ways it was, a silent protest, seeing La La Land instead of our new President’s inauguration, the first one we’ve missed in decades.  It seems like yesterday when we were filled with hope as evidenced by what I wrote exactly eight years ago.  The complete text is at the end of this entry.

After watching the never ending ennui of the Republican primaries and the solipsistic behavior of our new President-elect, how could anyone welcome his presence in the oval office?  And I’m referring to his behavior, not necessarily his policies, which, to be fair, remain to be seen.  We had hoped Obama would have been more effective, but how could he given the illegitimacy narrative so infused by the right and particularly by the new President himself?  All those years contending he was not born here, that he is a secret Muslim, ad infinitum.  It was their objective to block any and everything and for the most part they succeeded.  Still, the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.3% when he took office to below 5% and the Dow has tripled (although I am not naïve enough to singularly credit President Obama for these changes, but his leadership had an impact). Obama was not a “perfect” President, particularly in foreign affairs, but he was a decent, rational person.  Can we say the same, now? 

And now there are accusations of Trump being an “illegitimate” President because of Russia’s interference (not to mention Comey’s).  As there is no evidence that ballot boxes were hacked, he is not illegitimate in the legal sense of the word, but one can reasonably conclude the election was tainted.  One cannot prove an alternative reality but no doubt these events impacted the election results.
I had to laugh (or cry) at Trump’s assertion that “we have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.”  You would therefore think that his pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, would have a better excuse for his failure to reveal $100 million in assets and links to a tax haven company, than saying “as you all can appreciate, filling out these government forms is quite complicated.”  After all, isn’t he a genius like all the rest of the Goldman Sachs ringers appointed to the Cabinet?  Not that I have anything against Goldman Masters of the Universe other than when Trump was running he equated them with the “swamp” of the establishment, paying Hillary Clinton for speeches.

But I’ve now read Trump’s Inaugural address which, when read, sounds like many of his impromptu electioneering stump speeches, but pulled together into one dystopian narrative.  I’m ready to embrace a stronger economy, jobs for all, but we’ve been on that trajectory for years now.  Rather than rebutting some of the speech, point by point, NPR has done a good job with fact checking.  Not that facts matter anymore in this post-factual, reality TV world, but here is their take on it.

So, to us the perfect antidote to the malaise of fear and despair over the election was seeing La La Land while the new President was sworn in and fêted.  The movie is a sweeping reaffirmation of the power of music and the arts, and a declarative statement that the American film musical is back.  It’s wonderful that a new generation is ready to embrace this art.  There’s a lot to be said about living in fantasy when one goes to a movie theatre, but it’s another matter to live one’s real life in the real world with leadership in serious doubt.  I hope President Trump transcends all these concerns.

Nonetheless, what a difference eight years make…

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early in the Morning

It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night.  When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.

Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President.  All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.

Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln.  In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy.  Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage.  Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”

The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one.  The two are inextricably intertwined.

I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”

The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality.  This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years.  Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up.  That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.

Walt Whitman penned these words on the eve of another civil war in 1860:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk.  Another freight train is rumbling in the distance.  I hear America singing.