I have been up and I have been down. I have run major TV shows & made feature films and thought for sure I would never work again. I have stared into the abyss and walked away better for it.
If there's one thing I have learned from the experience, it's this: Bullshit is killing us all.
Having physically produced a few movies and plenty of TV shows — having been intricately involved in the safety protocols whenever you bring danger to a set (fire gags are even scarier than gunplay) — what happened last week on the set of “Rust” hits me where I live. Storytelling is incredibly important to the world (that’s why it’s worth so much money to so many people) but how we make storytelling should never be harmful to the people making it. Creating make-believe for others’ enjoyment should never hurt people (let along kill them). There are protocols! If you follow them — to the letter — nothing bad will happen. No one on your crew will get hurt or die. It’s that simple. But guns make people stupid. Those who handle them often get cavalier. They think of themselves as “responsible gun owners”. In their hearts, I do believe, “responsible gun owners” really do aspire to never hurt anyone with their firearm. But, the very real truth is (and that truth keeps getting proven!) there’s no such thing as “responsible gun ownership”. It’s one of those things that one is until suddenly, one isn’t.
Nancy Lanza — mother of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter — believed herself a “responsible gun owner” right up to the moment her son shot her to death with one of her own legally purchased, fully licensed guns. So much for HER being a “responsible gun owner”. But that is the problem when human beings assume powers they don’t have and justify behaviors they’ll never live up to. Consider the misery, unhappiness and utter destruction Nancy Lanza caused all those families who didn’t even know she existed. Just because she wasn’t quite the “responsible gun owner” she assured herself and everyone else she was.
Guns are death machines. That’s a fact. They are designed from the ground up to send a piece of metal flying at speed into a living target so as to kill it. They’re not designed to sit in gun lockers. Though it’s a safer place for a gun to be than out in the open, the gun’s designers never looked at their creation from that perspective. Why would they? It’s like trying to assess a baseball bat’s usefulness as a broom. The only way to truly measure one’s “responsible-ness” as a gun owner is to take it out of its gun locker and into the world where it CAN be used per its design specs to kill living things.
Now, a responsible gun owner has something real to measure their responsibility against instead of that unarmed straw man living inside their gun locker.
From the very first narrative film ever made (Edwin Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” made in 1903), guns have been part of the storytelling.
In the film’s coda, Porter put the above sequence where the movie’s villain fired his gun directly at camera. While a modern audience is used to seeing things like that (having seen it a kajillion times), when Porter first did it, it shocked his audiences. Many ducked out of harm’s way or screamed in genuine fear.
Didn’t take long though for movie audiences to adore gun violence on film because watching it put them in the middle of something they had never experienced before (and might never in their real lives) in a way that was dramatic, visceral and emotionally compelling. Moviemaking made gun violence essential to its storytelling. And dangerous to it, too.
This suggests why there could have been a live round in the prop gun First AD Dave Halls personally handed to actor (and one of the film’s titular producers) Alec Baldwin for a camera rehearsal.
When Baldwin — just going through the scene — pointed the gun at camera and pulled the trigger, he expected nothing to happen (except an empty click because the gun’s chambers were supposedly “cold” or empty. The gun, prior to that moment should always have been under the control of the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Though Reed has something of an armorer’s “pedigree” (her dad is veteran armorer Thell Reed), and despite the shock some co-workers expressed, Reed was guilty of earlier failures to adequately do her job.
People getting badly hurt or killed on movie sets is a rare, rare exception as it should be. That it happens at all is unacceptable. Still, when you consider the staggering amount of gun play and gun violence that moviemakers have produced over time, it’s just a fact that the overwhelming majority of that gun violence was done (relatively) safely. We’d have heard otherwise. How we normally depict guns is absolutely safe.
And maybe that’s the problem. If there were way more gun-related deaths on America’s movie and TV sets, we (probably) would have done something about it. The fact that we’ve tamed most make-believe representations has delivered a false sense of security — that most guns are actually “make believe” and therefore harmless. Heroes regularly take multiple hits without dying or even being as incapacitated as real gunshot wounds would make them. Somehow extreme blood loss and almost no blood pressure doesn’t effect movie characters.
America’s love affair with guns didn’t start at the movies but movies sure knew how to kick that love into outright adoration.
Across America, police departments are facing the same problem: a quarter to a third of their employees refuse to get vaccinated (against this particular coronavirus exclusively; none of those employees seems to have balked at any vaccination before this one) and are willing to walk off their jobs if that means staying unvaccinated. Let’s please, please agree: these cops aren’t worried about any science. This bizarre stance doesn’t flow from any positive human impulse, rational thought process or real world situation. It is entirely manufactured within the heads of its adherents. It is defiant ignorance for defiant ignorance’s sake. Hmmmmmmm… now, why does that feel so familiar to us? Probably because it flows from the same toxic, tribal belief cesspit as racism. And bigotry and misogyny and every other ignorance-born way of thinking. From a Human Resources POV, this reflects two distinct hiring pools: cops who accept new information and cops who don’t. From a sociological POV, this reflects two distinct types of human: hard core conservatives and everyone else.
Politics shouldn’t play any role here. It’s obscene that they do. But both sides didn’t put politics into this conversation; only one side did that and we ain’t just talking about their anti-vaccine attitudes. One side of the American political spectrum relentlessly puts politics at the center of everything. They have to if they’re going to accomplish their goal of permanent minority rule. When Republicans gerrymander a Congressional district, their goal isn’t to see that district’s population represented regardless of their politics, it’s to do the exact opposite. Because politics. When Republicans suppress Democratic voters by writing bullshit, anti-democratic, unconstitutional legislation, their goal is political — even as they behave criminally to achieve that goal.
Every time a Republican infringes in whatever way on another American’s right to vote? THEY’RE BREAKING THE LAW. They are. That we’ve been slow to see it that way — and prosecute it accordingly — that’s not the law’s fault, it’s ours. The rule of law can’t enforce itself — and it can only reflect our best efforts at creating a country where everyone really does get equal treatment before the law. Equal enforcement of the rule of law would create an environment more conducive to a truly level playing field where every American truly has the same opportunities to achieve “the American Dream”. And to hold onto and build the wealth their hard work has earned them. And to hold onto and build upon the political power that wealth invariably brings.
Of course, when most everyone has a similar level of comfort (via “wealth)) and no one is struggling to get by or just eat, our society as a whole will benefit. It’s not hard, either. President Biden;s Expanded Child Tax Credit reduced poverty in America and spurred the economy at the same time — exactly as universal basic income always does whenever it’s battle tested. But, what if our problem is that some Americans WANT other Americans to remain in poverty — with zero political power? The impulse to pay people as little as possible for their work stems from the same impulse to enslave people. Slavery’s bottom line is stolen labor. It’s the entire point of the exercise: you get their work product for nothing (except the costs of housing, clothing and feeding a slave). The American south was always agrarian. The three big cash crops that established and then became the entire basis for the Confederacy’s economy were cotton, sugar cane and tobacco. All three demand a lot of field labor to plant, tend and harvest. If the plantation owners who grew those plants had paid a fair market rate for their labor, that would have directly impacted their profits.
But stolen labor is stolen money. The money that should have gone into fieldworkers’ pockets went into everyone else’s pockets instead. At no other stage of the sugar cane process as it went from seed to consumer did anyone NOT get paid — except the people who physically touched the plant itself. The reason slavery’s descendants are entitled to reparations is because something very real was stolen from their ancestors: their pay.
Though slavery ended in practical terms, the economic impulse to steal labor never did. Here in America, white money has always tried as hard as it could to steal the labor it needed for its businesses (non-white labor especially). The reason we have a minimum wage is because without it plenty of bosses would economically abuse their workers. What’s happening today though — where businesses are struggling to find workers willing to work for them is because pandemics historically change the economics of the eras they ravage. The Black Death destroyed feudalism. Here, today in America, the same thing is happening. Slavery is feudalism and feudalism is a perverse form of slavery. Just as bubonic plague decimated the work force as it ravaged 14th century Europe — throwing economic power to the workers (being in such short supply) — COVID is throwing economic power from those who need work done to those needed to do that work.
Here’s the takeaway: if pandemics can change whole economic systems (as they have), it’s probably possible for them to change how people treat and value other people non-monetarily too. We don’t have to be racist (or bigoted or misogynist or hateful in any way). We choose to. Just like we choose to hire cops who we know are racists even as we hire them.
George Floyd’s murder changed our national conversation because the proof of what Derek Chauvin did to him was, well, so clearly evident. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds during which Derek Chauvin knowingly and willfully executed George Floyd while a crowd watched and begged him to stop while they videoed him. “I don’t care” shines like a beacon from Chauvin’s eyes. “No one — NO ONE — is the boss of me”. That’s what Chauvin’s whole demeanor shouts.
Take this to the bank: Derek Chauvin didn’t show up for work that day having never behaved that way at work. This was how Derek Chauvin practiced policing because he still believes that that is what policing is. Policing in America began with slave patrols. It’s never stopped thinking of itself that way.
Here’s the problem: racists are good at not questioning things they should question. They walk in the door totally convinced that white people really are superior to all others. That’s not based on anything substantive. It’s all feelings and zero facts. Racists, once triggered, become zombie-like, driven by whatever those feelings tell them to do — attack peaceful, prosperous, productive Black communities, for instance, as a white mob did in Tulsa on May 31, 1921 when they destroyed the Greenwood section of town.
In jobs where we need people to “follow orders”, we still need them to follow orders sensibly. Soldiers or cops who’d follow a leader literally off a cliff won’t be around long. We’ve built a moral obligation into our military laws just so soldiers and cops don’t have to do that. We’ve made following morally repugnant orders a choice not an obligation. But, we never turned away from hiring — as cops or soldiers — people who would follow morally repugnant orders. That’s not on them — they are who they are and who they’ve always been. It’s on us. We don’t have to hire people we know (yes, we DO know!) are either racist or feel sympathetic toward racists. Being “racist adjacent” is the same as being racist.
The anti-vax cops nationwide are doing us a favor and we’d be stupid not to let them.
We need police officers to keep the peace. We need them to help mitigate emergencies and to be part of any dangerous situation’s first response on our collective behalf. We need them to do this work in order to have order. But, we’ve heaped a lot of other jobs onto “policing” that don’t belong to them. How we solve that is a whole other series of conversations. For starters though, we need to stop setting ourselves up for failure by constantly returning to the same hiring pool for police officers when that hiring pool consistently produces problems for us.
In hindsight, my bet is, we’ll connect those dots. The same cops who think violence is policing also think not getting vaccinated against a demonstrably deadly virus proves their loyalty to… what? What are these people being loyal to? What’s causing them to choose stupid and selfish over doing the right thing for the right reasons?
Maybe our problem isn’t just the hiring pool itself but those who keep returning to it. What do they expect to find there (aside from a hire they need to make)? Maybe, perversely, the coronavirus is doing something we haven’t the courage to do for ourselves: remove racist assholes from every PD hiring pool in America.
Oh, the irony… Joe Biden absolutely did not steal an election from Donald Trump but Donald Trump absolutely did steal an election from Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump not only lost election 2020, without Russia’s direct involvement, he would never have “won” election in 2016 to begin with.
Trump may have wet-dreamed about being POTUS before he ever met Vladimir Putin, but had laundered Russian mob money not propped up his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos and bought countless condos as money laundering vehicles, Trump would have completely crashed daddy’s real estate business eons ago and no one (not even his most ardent followers) would even know his name today. For one thing, Mark Barnett would never have thought to invent a reality show based on him. Tony Schwartz would never have ghosted “The Art Of The Deal” because no one would have equated Trump with success. Take Russia completely out of the Donald Trump equation and Trump is nothing and (maybe even literally) a nobody.
These two things are mutually exclusive propositions: winning a presidential election & having the direct assistance of ANY foreign government least of all a hostile one actively engaged in a cyber war against us in winning that election. Take your pick. There’s no middle ground. Benjamin Franklin famously said of our government’s prospects that we could keep our Republic going but only so long as we were willing to keep it going ourselves. Keeping that republic — keeping it safe from enemies foreign and domestic — demands real and constant vigilance. There are no gradations to corruption or treason. No “acceptable” amount of bad faith or bad intent. One can’t just be “a little bit corrupt” or “a little bit treasonous”. One is or one isn’t. And, once one is — corrupt or treasonous (or corrupt AND treasonous as with Trump and the entire Republican Party) — that’s it. There’s no coming back.
Regular readers of this blog know that I harp on this moment relentlessly. That’s because it’s a very clear line in the sand between any possible reasonable doubt about the GOP’s complicity in treason and the GOP having really and truly committed treason. This is one of the clearest examples I can think of of our news media reporting important stories with important details that they then fail to aggregate into the larger story — to our detriment. How many Trumpian lies did it take for our news media to finally decide Donald Trump might be “a liar”? How many euphemisms did NEWS media use to avoid using the only correct word: LIAR? Why would a news operation hesitate to tell its news audience the truth they’re tuning in to see? Because what’s making news might hurt some of their feelings? What kind of bullshit arrogance is that — by people with commercial interests?
This is exactly how corruption gets normalized.
When politicians or news media or average citizens accept corruption as “just how it is”, they speed corruption’s spread. Corruption doesn’t need any more advantages over integrity and the rule of law. The corrupt can cut every corner there is. Integrity can’t. The rule of law takes time because it has to play by the rules whereas corruption can take a huge, steaming dump on the rule of law. When that happens, the rule of law can’t defend itself. That part’s up to us. And, if we stood up for the rule of law as it applies to Donald Trump and how he became POTUS, the rule of law would DEMAND that we prosecute Trump to the fullest extent the law allows because of how Trump broke it and why.
For starters, if we don’t punish people when they cheat in order to win elections, we’re telling them “cheat more”. We’re telling them that cheating is just another (accepted) election strategy. Similarly, if you don’t punish the crap out of people for trying to overthrow the government, you’re telling them, get your insurrection right next time! Bet the ranch: they will.
And, if Donald Trump and the Republicans thought Trump’s cavorting with Russia was in any way defensible (meaning not completely illegal), they’d have run that argument down our throats long ago. It was the only shot at legitimacy they had (bullshit as it was). Instead, from the get-go, Trump and his Republican co-conspirators have done everything possible to obfuscate, lie and obstruct justice on Trump’s behalf. Like the co-conspirators to commit election fraud, obstruction of justice and treason that they all absolutely are.
Here in our little experiment in human self-government, The authority to govern flows FROM the people. Win election fairly and squarely and you have our permission — the authority — to govern us. Cheat to win and the authority doesn’t flow to you the same way. It shouldn’t flow to you at all because you cheated. Without the authority to govern America you don’t have the power or permission to nominate SCOTUS judges; you’re just pretending that you do. And, if you cheated (as the Republicans did) in order to secure the power (versus the authority) to nominate judges (so as to shape the judiciary more to your liking than the Peoples’ preferences), then when you nominate those judges, you’re committing a crime.
To deny the majority their will — what they voted for — IS A CRIME. It’s not a political opinion, it’s a crime. And just like with a guy who stole your car, if we catch him, you get your car back. We caught Trump and the GOP stealing from us. Are we really going to let them keep what they stole?
They stole lifetime judiciary appointments that Obama had the authority to fill — which means they stole from US. They denied Merrick Garland so much as a hearing so they could hand that SCOTUS seat to Neal Gorsuch. They stole what should have been Joe Biden’s first SCOTUS selection by handing that seat to handmaid Amy Barrett. Even Trump’s one “legitimate” choice — Kennedy’s replacement Brett Kavanaugh — stinks of corruption. Judge Kennedy’s son worked Trump’s account at Deutsche Bank (where he works). Brett Kavanaugh’s entire nomination process was a study in even more corruption from the bogus FBI investigations into Kavanaugh’s rapey past to Brett’s own perjured hearing testimony. The reason Republicans always seem to be acting like criminals is because they are.
We’re soooooo close to having the first real threads pulled on the Trumpublican Corruption Ugly Christmas Sweater. The first ones publicly pulled will be “January 6 Insurrection” threads. Once we pierce the veil of Congressional Republican involvement in planning the insurrection, this story will undergo a massive shift in its focus. Suddenly, sitting members of Congress will be in very real legal peril that will cost them very real money.
That’s going to be what destroys Republican corruption: what it costs them personally. None of them seem to grasp what defending themselves against federal charges like these is going to cost them in real cash money. Billable hours for this kind of lawyering is staggeringly expensive. That’s one reason so many of the foot soldiers are throwing in the towel and copping pleas. They don’t want to bankrupt their families for a generation. They don’t want to lose their family homes while also becoming unemployed and unemployable. Also in the mix: we will find Russian involvement. Count on it. If you consider how much money and effort Russia expended to make Trump POTUS and then to keep his corrupt, treasonous admin alive and unprosecuted, it’s impossible that they’d have nothing to do with a coup attempt to keep Trump in power.
Russia paid for part of it. They helped arrange it. If that’s the case then this physically violent act against the US is itself an act of flat out treason.
And voila — Trump will be tied directly to Russia. That will pop the lid on Trump and the GOP’s treasonous behavior.
America’s original sin was and remains slavery. We’re still dealing with it today. If we allow Trump to get away with betraying us, if we allow the GOP to go unpunished for its treachery, then we will have brought the end of our democratic republic ourselves. A country that won’t stand up for its sovereignty (and letting Russia make Trump POTUS was us letting Russia choose our president) won’t be a sovereign country for much longer. It’s told all its enemies that it’s no longer serious about its own government, it’s own people, its own future.
Every last bit of the legitimate press agrees: Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was “stolen from him” is monstrously untrue and he knows it. That makes Trump’s claim — by actual definition — a lie. We’ve gussied it up by calling it “big”. Donald Trump lost the election fairly and squarely and now he’s lying about it. Okay. WHY? Can we all please agree that this is not something “normal” presidents do after losing an election “by a landslide”? Even if Trump was merely deranged, this should make him “exceptional” in our thinking (just not in a good way). A president refusing to accept defeat — and claiming fraud — is not normal. Whatever is causing Trump to behave this way — nothing can be normal about that either. Same token: nothing can be normal about an entire political party staking their future (and their freedom) on a man they all agreed was owned by Russia even before they nominated him to be their presidential candidate. The news media seem content with the idea that Trump thinks the election was stolen from him “just because that’s how he is”. Trump has an unusual “opinion” about what happened and the rest of the GOP support his opinion. That, our news media thinks, explains why our democracy’s facing a moment of imminent demise.
Kevin McCarthy wasn’t kidding. He believed Donald Trump was not only corrupt but treasonously corrupt. He said so out loud and no one in the room contradicted what Kevin said In fact, Kevin’s “Swear to God!” was a reaction to the nervous laughter he’d caused. Nervous laughter? How come no one said something like “Whaaaaaat? Kevin, are you sure about that, dude? Man, where’d you hear that?” It’s a fact: no one in that room doubted what Kevin McCarthy said — that Donald Trump, the man they were going to nominate to be their presidential candidate a month later, was compromised by a hostile foreign government. Think about that! A month before nominating Trump, the entire GOP leadership KNEW that their candidate posed a very real national security threat.
Did anyone call the FBI? You kidding? No one even thought such a thing. Instead, they all quickly nodded along to then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan’s version of “leadership”. No one, the man third in line to the presidency said, was going to talk about Trump’s compromised situation outside that room. Their silence on the subject, Speaker Ryan said, was “How we know we’re family”.
How touching. “Family”. So are the Sopranos.
From the get-go, Donald Trump has both been bonded to Russia and determined to keep that bond hidden and secret. Here goes: “WHY?”
Because TREASON, that’s why. And because the GOP’s leadership knew they were committing treason both by supporting Trump and by helping him obstruct any and all investigations into Trump’s (and the GOP”s) treasonous relationship with Vladimir Putin. Our news media has scratched its collective head about this relationship as if it was inexplicable. They’ve entertained the possibility that it’s all completely “innocent”. They’ve dared not entertain anything else — regardless of how much the only other possibility stares at them. Either Trump is 100% innocent of conspiring with Russia to “win” election in 2016 (an illegal and treasonous act!) or he’s guilty. Even one percent of “not innocent” of this kind of behavior makes you 100% guilty. There are zero gradations of “treasonous”.
Trump’s hold on the Republican base counts for part of the hold — but only on a level that could exist in a world where the Republicans aren’t prosecuted and punished for being traitors. Trump’s base may go to war with the majority when Trump gets arrested, prosecuted and punished for being a traitor, they won’t lift a finger for a single one of Trump’s wannabe’s. Criminals have no loyalty except to themselves. And even then, it’s to whatever their need is in the moment.
If our democracy survives this threat to its survival, we will owe ourselves a complete post mortem of our news media and its behavior. “Both sides do it” brand journalism destroyed the news media’s ability to see perspective since, in their mind, one side is equally guilty of whatever the other side is guilty of. If Republicans are corrupt, Democrats are equally corrupt. If Republicans do things for entirely cynical, political reasons then so do the Democrats. This simply is not true. And, once you frame our story that way? You’re telling some other country’s story, not ours. Is it failure of imagination? Is it corruption? Is it some unholy marriage of the two? Do journalists really think Republicans they describe as “anti-democratic” one moment, can suddenly become “honest actors” the next?
The truth about Donald Trump has always been (publicly) available to every last member of our news media. As Glenn Simpson testified on August 22, 2017 before the Senate Judiciary Committee (then Republican-run so they were trying to undermine Simpson’s integrity), before his company Fusion GPS began their oppo research work on Donald Trump for the owners of the Marco Rubio backing Washington Free Beacon, they did their “due diligence”. They got their hands on every last piece of publicly available material concerning Trump that they could. Every newspaper article or magazine piece. Every book by him or about him. Every radio interview, every TV appearance. They scoured the internet, dove deeply into Amazon, even went to the public library. What they found there — in material ANYONE could find — convinced them that Donald Trump was likely guilty of laundering Russian mob money through his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos (which, wouldn’t ya know it, had, in fact, been CITED on numerous occasions for seeming to launder Russian mob money).
The rule of law is a human invention. So’s the Constitution and the Magna Carta. So’s the entire Old and New Testament, the Koran, and the Hindu Vedas. That’s not a knock on them. They’re all magnificent creations. But they are creations. It is an invention that Donald Trump will get away with everything. The fact is, it remains to be seen.
If Trump and the GOP get away with what they’re doing then soon enough, America will come apart. I don’t believe a diverse majority will tolerate a racist, bigoted minority forcing authoritarianism down its throat. What worked in homogenous cultures like Nazi Germany won’t work in a diverse, multi-cultural, heterogeneous place like America.
It shouldn’t come to that. We can’t let it. Our news media can be persuaded as people without imaginations can be. If they won’t ask “why?” the Republicans are pushing the big lie, we need to make them ask. At the end of the day, every last journalist dreams of Woodward and Bernstein glory (even if getting it themselves is a virtual impossibility). The biggest, bestest book deal ever awaits the journalist who — like the kid who calls out the emperor’s nakedness — musters the moxie to pipe up with “WHY?”
If you’re a regular consumer of cable TV news, you’re also a consumer of all the ads the news channels run in a constant, mind-numbing cycle. Big Pharma and Big Insurance own the bulk of the real estate; at least, that’s how it feels inside my head. Big Pharma’s “slice-of-life” ads beg to be satirized, especially the part of each ad where — as we watch our characters living their best lives (now that they’re cured!) — a Voice O’ God narrator speed reads a list of the “cure’s worse than the disease” side effects. See how happy these formerly afflicted people are now? They wouldn’t be so happy if any of this drug’s side effects ever kicked in. While Big Pharma stokes our fear of getting sick, Big Insurance stokes our fear of every other bad thing that could ever happen to us: car accidents, natural disasters, death (especially death). Living life each day, it turns out, carries the risk that something bad or expensive could ruin all our hopes and dreams. What’s that old joke about how to make God laugh by telling “him” your plans?
Big Insurance wants to inflame every latent fear cowering in the shadows of your mind — and, like an arsonist who’s also a fire fighter, their whole deal is to step forward as the loving savior who’s got your back!
For a price, of course.
Insurance is an essential concept to our capitalistic way of life. But, talking about insurance — geez, could anything be more “middle aged” and dull? The insurance industry is run by bean counters to whom the green eyeshade look is “a look”. And their product, essential as it is, is boring. For a long time, insurance companies took an entirely “adults in the room” approach to marketing their product to the unwashed and uninsured masses. Nationwide was “on your side”, You were “In Good Hands” with Allstate. If something bad happens, “Like A Good Neighbor State Form is there”. According to the New York Times, that all changed in 1999 when the Martin Agency created the Geico Gecko “to both reinforce Geico’s name and help the public figure out how to pronounce it”. The Gecko clicked however. He was funny and strangely human. An audience that didn’t care about insurance stopped to watch the ads not because fifteen minutes would change our lives but because we wanted to know more about the guy pitching it at us (lizard though he may be).
What all these insurance companies did was create IP (intellectual property) — characters who, they hoped, would encompass essential elements of their “franchise” within it. When you see the character, you’ll think of that insurance company. If the character made you laugh — in a good way — you’ll not only remember the insurance company, you’ll remember them fondly. If that’s all that happens, the insurance company is already ahead. Branding is a massive undertaking. But, if you end up buying insurance too? Back up the Brinks truck.
Now, I can claim a little bit of real world expertise when it comes to marketing and creating a franchise character. I’ve written and produced TV and feature films within certain franchises. My first produced TV show script was for “Freddy’s Nightmares: The Nightmare On Elm Street TV Series”. I’ve put words into Freddy Krueger’s mouth. I’ve also written and executive produced “The Outer Limits” for Showtime. OL’s franchise is more thoughtful than Nightmare On Elm Street’s. The “Control Voice” was always the weakest franchise character among all the anthology series that ever succeeded. I mean, who is he? What is he? I wrote and executive produced that show for two whole seasons and I still don’t get that character.
I also reinvented “Tales From The Crypt’s” Crypt Keeper when I took over running Tales going into its third season on HBO. Here’s a muuuuuuuuch younger version of me in the middle of a writing session with the dude. Love-hate. Yup. That was us.
When I took over writing the Crypt Keeper, Kevin Yeagher (Kevin created the CK) had gone as far as he could with his amazing puppet (run by six puppeteers) as the Crypt Keeper sat in the same chair wearing the same burlap sack outfit cracking the same painful puns for 25 episodes. In fact, when my partner Gil Adler and I took over at TFTC, it was supposed to be the show’s final season. We were caretakers wheeling the body to the TV show graveyard. Except that’s not what happened. Gil and I reinvigorated the show, I reinvigorated the Crypt Keeper and HBO went on to order four more seasons, Universal ordered three Tales feature films, the Crypt Keeper got merchandised and co-branded with Budweiser beer (among other products) and the Crypt Keeper even got a kids’ show. Not bad for a literal “dying concern”.
The question I asked — it’s what got me hired — was “What does the Crypt Keeper do when he’s not being the Crypt Keeper?”
What does he do when he punches the clock and goes home? What are his hobbies? What does he like to eat and drink? Who are his friends? What does he think about? Giving the Crypt Keeper an interior life gave him a life. Having a life made him more viscerally real to the audience who embraced him as they hadn’t before.
That’s my operating principle. It’s the bar characters have to clear (in my mind) to be “successful”. If we measure success by durability, that some characters endure while others don’t — that’s a good enough yardstick for me. Once you create a good character however, the real hard work begins: casting. Get it right, you’ll create a magical feedback loop that continually builds upon itself and its own invention. Get it wrong and begin to plan on getting fired.
In the current TV ad environment, these characters are succeeding because of superb casting: Geico’s Gecko succeeded beyond every expectation in large part because actor Jake Wood imparts so much humanity to his character. The CGI people gave the Gecko great eyes. Jake Wood makes every emotion the CGI guys invoke play for real inside our heads. That’s way harder than it looks. Bravo, everyone involved, bravo!
Not every great character can be “filled in” with great detail. Allstate’s Mayhem — like Farmers’ Professor Burke — is a good running joke but not really a character. Dean Winters, the actor who plays Mayhem is always fun to watch and the spots are usually clever. But, does Mayhem have a family? What must a family of Mayhems be like? Uh oh… am I about to make somebody rich?
Similarly, J.K. Simmons’ Professor Burke is a great comic conceit more than a character. I’m not sure this character’s inner life is crying out for further exploration; I’m not sure this character has a meaningful interior life. In order for his home life to be interesting, Professor Burke would have to be something completely different in his off hours. Like a sex addict or a serial killer.
That brings us to Flo v Doug.
It’s not a fair fight; Flo and her crew win hands down. I’m not sure if Flo’s creators — copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer, at the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide — anticipated how successful their creation would be. In 2008, in that very first ad, It’s just Flo, incredibly upbeat and super helpful.
The team at Arnold got it spot on when they hired Groundling alum Stephanie Courtney. Courtney has an improv player’s ability to make every environment believable simply by how she’s “being”. How she’s “being” creates the environment for the audience. Courtney sells Flo’s hyper-realness by believing in it so utterly herself that we do too. That’s how improv works: the actor literally wills the world in their head into ours. Being a good improv player, Courtney also fills her character with inner life (to justify how the outer life should look and sound).
Here’s the Flo character’s first appearance —
You get the feeling she really, really lives to work.
It took a while for the Flo character to move from the retail floor to the corporate offices, for her crew to arrive and become distinctive characters unto themselves (the character Jamie especially). To its credit, the creative team at Arnold didn’t quit at Flo. Each and every member of Flo’s team is a distinct character with a distinct inner life; each time we get a glimpse, it makes sense — even when it’s completely surprising as it is with the Jamie character. Improv can only flourish in a “Yes, and!” environment. If I begin a scene by asking my scene partner “Do you like my hat?” She better say something like “Why, yes — I do! And I love the tropical birds! What are their names?” That will keep the improv going whereas if she says “What? You’re not wearing a hat”, the whole thing will die right there, on the spot. Progressive has “yes, and-ed” Flo into a whole believably organic world.
Over time, Progressive would sell itself by extending Flo’s world — including Flo’s family (Courtney usually plays the whole clan herself). There’s a Thanksgiving spot that gives the concept plenty of room to run around in.
A believable inner life. That’s the key to a great franchise character.
Before we shift to Liberty Mutual’s Doug, I want to give a shout out to another great Progressive character with a deep (I’d even say “profound”) inner life — the “Motaur” — half man, half motorcycle —
Throw in the Dr. Rick character (the guy trying to teach people not to turn into their parents) and you have a whole network’s worth of great characters.
Okay — a simple enough concept but… oy, if you have to work that hard to sell or explain “funny”, it means the thing you’re selling probably isn’t. It’s not that the idea of a solid blue collar guy being partnered with an emu isn’t side-splittingly hilarious… oh, wait — maybe that’s the problem. Doug and his Emu partner are amusing. They’re a single funny thought. A sketch with a solid if unremarkable guffaw in it — and that’s all. The idea simply can’t support much more than that. This isn’t a casting issue. Not at all. David Hoffman does everything he can with the character. He works wonders with very little meat on his character’s undernourished bones.
Giving Doug and Emu girlfriends was cute. Clever even. They’re awkward and awkward is funny. But even awkward needs somewhere to go. What makes an awkward scene funny is that we, the audience, wouldn’t want to be in such a scene because even just watching it is cringey-funny. In the commercial below, the series achieves something remarkable.: a moment of genuine humor that works within the concept but also points to the concept’s limitations. It occurs at the end, when Doug offers Emu some food…
The awkwardness of Doug offering Emu chicken is terrific because it’s real. It points to how inorganic all the other awkwardness is. It’s a testament to Hoffman’s acting chops that he gets a great underplayed moment from an overplayed character.
By contrast, the Progressive ads are a master class in squeezing every last drop of painful humor from awkwardness. Jim Cashman’s Jamie is a fabulous creation with a completely unexpected off-stage life. It’s the contrast between an awkward character and a secure, confident inner life that makes Jamie compelling and infinitely watchable.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can turn back to MSNBC. Hey, look! A Big Pharma ad’s on! And I am grateful as can be that I don’t (think I) have any of the diseases those characters have. And, damn if the side effects don’t sound horrifying enough to make even the Crypt Keeper fear for the worst.
Here’s a question for every single American journalist — or journalist who’s working the American beat: how much corruption does it take for you to witness personally before you will call that thing “corrupt” professionally? Maybe I’m asking the wrong question… Do American journalists even recognize corruption as corruption anymore? That’s a terrifying thought — that America has already sunk to such a state of banana republicanism that we don’t even see corruption because corruption is everywhere we look because we made corruption “just how it is”. That is kinda how it is right now. The Republican Party no longer even pretends not to be corrupt. I refuse to scratch my head in bewilderment as Republicans push through voter restrictions in the face of an election that passed every corruption smell test. The Republicans aren’t reacting to how Trump lost, they’re reacting to the fact THAT Trump lost. Reporters remark on this fact every day and yet, they never seem to build that fact into the narrative they’re reporting.
The problem: the news media — the one group that can “J’accuse!” the GOP of every bit of its corruption (it’s the press’s Constitutionally mandated job FFS!) — sees GOP corruption as “political” rather than what it is, criminal. “Both sides do it” brand journalism insists that everyone does the exact same things for the exact same reasons. Everyone wants power for power’s sake. Everyone lies. Everyone is either corrupt or equally corrupt. No one is thinking about the commonweal or the very real people with very real problems that democracy and self-government is supposed to service. This assessment of American politics simply is not true. But, once a journalist goes to this cynical place and takes up cynicism’s cause, journalism itself becomes useless.
Despite what Donald Trump said on the very day he launched his bid to be president in 2015, Mexicans are not rapists and it’s not okay to grab women by the pussy just because you’re rich. Despite what Trump says now, the 2020 election was not stolen from him. Despite what Trump insisted, “But her emails” was bullshit. That our news media followed Trump to this corrupt place was our news media first giving credence to Trumpian corruption and then normalizing it. “But her emails” changed how some voters voted. “But her emails” — by design — caused some voters to throw up their hands and not vote. Cheating Americans out of their true electoral choice in order to seize power illegitimately — what could possibly be more corrupt?
Every single voter or voting restriction legislation just passed by every Republican-run state government is an act of anti-democratic criminality. If you attempt to deprive any American voter of their right to vote or of having their vote counted, you are violating their rights and that is a federal crime! There are no built in “gradations”, no “you get to violate someone’s rights “x” number of times before we tell you to stop”. That’s because no American’s right to vote is any less valid or important than any other American’s right to vote. Violate just ONE American’s right to vote and you’ve crossed a line in the sand that demands the rule of law prosecute you.
When the news media bleeps Trump’s language, they’re insulting their NEWS audience. They’re deciding that certain truths — language, for instance — are too much for their delicate audience’s sensitivities. The fact that what the Republicans are doing is monstrously obscene, far more obscene than any one word could be, doesn’t matter. When our news media calls a traitor and a criminal an honest actor or “the former guy”, they’re mis-labling the truth. They’re giving credence to bullshit. Worse, they’re giving credence to criminality and normalizing it as part of our political process.
Nothing good can come of this.
We need our news media to put on its big boy and girl pants. We need them to report every politician’s words for what they are, not the bullshit kabuki they’re trying to sell it as. A news media that can’t do that is hopelessly corrupt.
America is what happens when you let sleeping dogs lie and one of those dogs is racism. America has always had a jones for mythologizing itself. That’s because we have no common, longstanding history to stand on as people from every other country did when they came here. Aside from the Native Americans (wiped out by European pathogens, not European culture, wisdom or superiority), there is no roots “American Culture” other than the one that’s slowly been forming over the last 240 years — proof positive that America really is the place where E Pluribus Unum. E Pluribus Unum is America’s genius. Out of many, one is American Exceptionalism. But, white people prefer “All men are created equal” because they know that the white, Christian, land-owning men who wrote or stood by those words didn’t mean them literally (except for the word “men” which they meant very literally). That’s the foundational bullshit upon which originalism sits its bloated, intellectually dishonest ass: America can only ever be the country a bunch of white racists imagined it to be.
That’s the choice facing us — as it always has been. Nothing has changed since the nation’s founding. We are a great idea as yet unrealized. That doesn’t mean we can’t fully realize every last bit of E Pluribus Unum’s genius — which would, all by itself, fix “All men are created equal” into “All people stand equal before the rule of law”. Our kneejerk response to America splitting up is “That would be the end of America!” And, yes, it would be. It would be the end of America as the world has known it for 240 years. But it wouldn’t be the end of America.
The problem is, we’ve gotten into our heads (thanks, news media!) that there ARE two sets of facts — one Democrats believe and one Republicans believe. Those “alternative facts” Kellyanne Conway so cleverly pulled from her bony white ass aren’t facts, they’re pure bullshit. That’s the point! They’re the ALTERNATIVE to facts, not an alternative version of facts.. See the difference?
On cannot compromise with evil. Evil will not compromise with you so, if you compromise with evil, evil stays as it is while YOU end up becoming more evil. Same goes for racism, bigotry, misogyny, ignorance and greed. In America, one of our two political parties has in fact fully compromised with all those things.
Take away the stolen labor (slavery) that built the southern and then Confederate economy and you there never is a southern or Confederate economy. Had the money that built the sugar cane, cotton and tobacco businesses been forced to pay its labor fairly (versus zero — it’s entirely possible that a very different country and culture would have emerged, one where workers and work were respected. One where race was irrelevant to how one stood before the rule of law. But, once you get it in your head that white people are superior in all they do, you’ve set yourself up for failure.
America must prosecute Donald Trump if it’s to remain a viable country. We can’t let hostile foreign countries at cyber war with us choose your presidents (and we can’t let the presidents they choose go unpunished for being literal traitors and their presidencies re-evaluated in the light of their treason). To let such presidents & presidencies stand is to invite such foreign involvement in the future since there’s literally no punishment for doing it. Why WOULDN’T a hostile foreign government buy as many candidates as possible? Hey, if democracy’s for sale and there’s money to be made?
Did I mention that nothing good happens when you compromise with greed?
Even as the rats begin turning on each other — realizing the depth of their legal peril — the damage done will remain. Alas, we do have two sets of “facts” in play (a contradiction of terms if ever there was one). Having seized control of the local political machinery (credit where credit is due — unlike Democrats, Republicans ran for local offices because they saw how important local control was), Republicans will have the means to push their states and localities past the breaking point where the rule of law can survive all the corruption around it. The rule of law can’t enforce itself — and every time we enforce it unfairly or unequally, we hurt its integrity. White nationalism drove the Confederacy’s rise. It drives the Confederacy’s lingering, zombie-like presence. It will drive the formation of a Second Confederacy if only to have an entity to negotiate Trump’s release from a prison sentence of Life — for having committed treason.
America at war with itself is unhealthy both for us and for our standing in the world. The world needs us to regain our stature. We really do represent something special to the world — the ideal that hard work and determination can overcome social status in a world that wishes it could quit social status as a “thing”. The world needs our genius for reinvention. It needs our democratic spirit to shine brightly — as the beacon the world always saw in us. If the red states chose to take their ball and go home, I say we should let them!
First, we’d put it on a ballot. One simple question: “Do you want (fill in state’s name here) to be a “red state” from this day forth or a “blue state”?” Count the votes and color the state accordingly.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that red voters have their way in most of the south. They won’t get Virginia. Georgia’s also a question mark as is North Carolina. And I bet even states like Kentucky (where there are more registered Democrats than Republicans) poll differently than we expect. Oh — all those polls? We’re going the hand-marked paper route. There’s too much at stake here to let a bunch of Republican-run companies pretend that they’re anything but corrupt. So, let’s say that all the southern states from Texas to Florida, from the Gulf Coast up through the Midwest to Oklahoma, Kansas, parts of Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, parts of Utah and Western Washington and Oregon — these places all insist on ending their relationship with the United States of America.
This will be awful for all the blue state Americans living in what are now very real “red” states. They’ll be stuck with a Sophie’s choice re their lives. I’d expect a progressive, forward-thinking Blue America to anticipate Red America’s brain drain. Being government-minded, Blue America will naturally plan for various contingencies while Red America thinks “planning” is what “elites” do. Blue America — recognizing how important immigration has always been to the American ideal will simply re-establish, re-state and re-emphasize this fact. Without racism and greed interrupting the conversation, America might finally be ale to have a meaningful dialogue about immigration.
Blue America, we hope, will be a consummate respecter of the rule of law. Break it, no matter who you are, and you must take responsibility for breaking it. Red America, on the other hand, won’t have the rule of law. It will have a grab bag of “make it up as you go along” rules that only apply when they apply and only apply to who they apply to. Being belligerent by nature, Red America will endlessly sabre rattle. They’ll threaten us relentlessly. But only for a while. One thing the rule of law does is organize a society. Since the Second Confederacy will have tossed out the US Constitution, they’ll plow along without one.
Even if Red America tried to fashion a new “improved” US Constitution, we can all imagine the anti-democratic screed a bunch of racist, woman-hating, corrupt scumbags would cobble together. Only hard core Trumpists will be given any decision-making power. There won’t be any “system” beyond corrupt patronage. For reference, see “The Trump White House”. That will be how the Second Confederacy “governs”. Because greed and corruption run everything, nothing will run.
I give Red America’s power grid six months before it begins to shut down. Infrastructure will never happen. Roads and bridges will fall apart, isolating more and more pockets of Red America from Red America. Food will grow scarce, forcing some of those pockets to reconsider their “Red v Blue” votes.
While Blue Americans will be well educated (getting either free state run college or tech training whichever suits them), have health CARE free of charge (well, they pay for it through their tax dollars), paid family leave for pregnancy and illness and a universal basic income that allows Blue Americans to pay their bills while waiting for the best possible job opportunities (the ones that pay bigger salaries and taxes back into the system), Red Americans will sit in the dark, starving. While Blue America thrives, Red America will sink further into misery, making third world countries look like first world countries.
That’s when Blue America will hear a knock at its back door. It’ll be Red America still wanting back in, filled with contrition. Or what they hope is contrition having long since lost the ability to be contrite.
Having raised two children, I’ve learned that the very best teacher our children can have is failure. Success teaches us only that our shit doesn’t smell. Well, that’s nonsense — our shit continues smelling even when we succeed. The second we start buying our own press, we’ve set ourselves up for failure. Better to allow one’s children to taste failure from time to time — and then make sure they see the opportunities failure presents that success never would have.
Yeah, a Second American Civil War would suck. It would be terribly destructive and generationally expensive. But, it might be our only way back to becoming the America the world needs us to be.
Lying, by definition, is deliberate. That’s why liars choose their words carefully. They KNOW what they’ve done or aspire to do. They KNOW that, on some level, whatever it is, it’s absolutely wrong, immoral, unnecessary or illegal. If their aspiration was good for the commonweal, they’d crow it from the rooftops. Obviously, it’s not. Therefore the secret. Liars haven’t invented a “new language” to hide their deceit — that’d be too obvious. Instead, liars hang out their lies in plain sight, daring anyone to call it out.
Stone cold liars and sociopaths spew out and out lies as readily as they breathe. Take Donald Trump for instance. Trump’s inclination to lie is so deep-seated inside him — his connection to the truth so tenuous (because it’s so dangerous to him) — that it is possible that Trump “believes” his lies I’m not willing to give him a pass because of it — it’s just a curiosity worth noting is all. And it’s hard to give Trump a pass on anything when he’s so central to everything that’s happening to us. It beggars belief that he’s just an innocent authoritarian shithead caught up in events beyond his control. Trump’s lies are deliberate and big and deliberately big.
If at that very first moment where Trump — as an official candidate for the office of POTUS — rode down that gold escalator and insisted “Mexicans are rapists”, the news media had put down its foot and refused to move past this blatant, racist lie (most Mexicans are not, in fact, rapists — unlike Trump himself), Trump’s presidential campaign would probably have died right there. “Pussy grabbing” would have been the last nail in the coffin of Trump’s presidential aspirations. “But, her emails” would never have happened since the Kremlin wouldn’t have been involved anymore. without Russia’s active engagement to MAKE him POTUS, Trump would NEVER have gotten anywhere near the presidency.
The easiest lie — the one Republicans and Trump used and use constantly as a kind of bullshitty “Get Out Of Jail Free” card is “I was joking!” Donald Trump tries to wave off all kinds of awfulness with “It was a joke, can’t ya tell?” The problem is Trump has zero sense of humor. Not everyone has a sense of humor. The baseline requirement to have one is the ability to laugh at oneself. If you can’t laugh at your own foibles and flaws but can easily laugh at others’? That’s not “having a sense of humor”, it’s being a bully. Similarly, when current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about a recorded conversation of a meeting of GOP leaders on June 25, 2016 (a month before the GOP made Trump their presidential nominee) where Kevin, upon entering the meeting said out loud “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!”, Kevin insisted HE was “joking”. In retrospect — and with THIS picture taken during Trump’s presidency in your head — tell us again, Kevin, that you were “joking”.
Oh, the hairs we have split to avoid calling Donald Trump and the GOP traitors — even in the face of bold-faced treachery. Our news media to this day scratches its head so hard they’ve made divots in all their scalps trying to come up with a good explanation for why the Republican Party remains sooooooo loyal to Trump. They put it all down to Trump’s base. No one wants to get primaried is how that story goes. These public servants worry mostly about their job security not providing any “constituent services”. No argument — that IS part of the matrix. But there’s way more matrix than that.
There’s proof — stone cold proof that our news media has reported on and published itself — that Trump has behaved criminally. There’s proof he behaved treasonously. And, while, in America, everyone (supposedly) gets their due process, there is such a thing as “preponderance of the evidence” and journalists are allowed to extrapolate in their questions (such as “Mr. Trump, do you see running for POTUS again as a chance to govern or as a chance to avoid being prosecuted for election fraud, obstruction of justice and treason?”
Our news media won’t do that however. During the Trump years, the White House Press Corps regularly put on a craptacular of “both sides do it” brand journalism that equated Republican criminality with Democratic reaction to it. Though the Republicans were behaving criminally for a political purpose, our news media insisted that every time a Democrat reacted to a Republican’s criminality, the Democrat was just “being political”.
We expect liars to lie. We don’t expect our news media to hold their beer while they do it. We can’t blame liars for lying. Lying is what liars are good at. We can and should blame the news media for enabling not just lying but The Big Lie. We would never have achieved a Big Lie’s criminal mass without a swarm of little lies fusing together beneath it. And those little lies would never have gained traction if our news media hadn’t normalized them.
The right wing and our punditry are beside themselves that Americans are refusing to go back to work. Um, no — they’re not refusing “to go back to work”, they’re refusing to return to work 1) that doesn’t suit them or their skill sets, 2) doesn’t pay what the work should be paid and 3) doesn’t fit into their lives. This is how workers are supposed to think — not as the slave-like drones conservatives want American workers to be. Leave America and you discover that the rest of the world works in order to live. Americans, by contrast, live to work. It’s not because we love our work; it’s because, in essence, we’re meant to be chained to it. Something in conservatism loves the idea of a workhouse where the indigent work for virtually nothing until they drop dead. Their hands or legs are easily replaced by another. The worker herself is irrelevant; all that matters is that “the work” gets done so the bosses atop the food chain can get paid.
The Black Death that blew through Europe in the fourteenth century (Historian Barbara Tuchman called it “the calamitous 14th century in the subtitle of her brilliant book “A Distant Mirror” — her deep dive into the century that, in Europe — produced not only the Black Death but also, during the same time frame, the hundred years war (between England and France) and the papal schism that put one pope in Rome and a second pope in Avignon, France. For a short time, a third pope also entered the picture but he soon disappeared.
The feudal system that dominated Europe worked vertically. Atop it was the king. Below him were all the families that supported his being king. Below them were the far flung landowners of the realm and wealthy merchants and below all of them were the vassals — the dirt poor peasants working the dirt for everyone above. This was economic slavery. No vassal was ever going to get rich and set himself up in business somewhere. Such things didn’t happen. The system wasn’t designed for anything to happen. Money pre-capitalism was undynamic in nature. A country was worth what it could physically produce. Or pilfer in war.
The bubonic plague killed more than half the population in many places — even more in some, less in others. It devastated the work force. Even as the world succumbed to plague all around them, the healthy tried to keep life going. People still had to eat. Crops had to be farmed and, somehow, gotten to market — if there was still a market. The plague pandemic cut down the number of available hands to do that farming to a bare minimum. Now, the peasant who lived on “Sir John’s” land might normally have been obligated to pick Sir John’s crops so that he could generate income for his estate and family by getting that produce to market. But Sir John’s neighbor — Sir Neville — was offering actual cash to Sir John’s vassals if Sir John’s vassals would pick Sir Neville’s crops first. It’s not like Sir John was a prince who treated them like princes.
So, off to Sir Neville’s Sir John’s vassals went. And, just like that, feudalism in Europe died.
In time, the guilds arose — representing the crafts and then labor in general. With the rise of capitalism, labor became a commodity. Industrialization meant mass production which meant the likelihood of abuse on the factory floor. Industrialization became another form of feudalism to the laborers until the unions — based on the old guilds — rose up and demanded fairness in wages and working conditions.
The Black Death gave life to labor.
Though the death wasn’t anywhere near as catastrophic as during the plague, the coronavirus pandemic still reached everywhere with the potential for mass death. If your loved one’s body is in the pile, you’re not going to measure one pandemic’s body count versus another. You’re mourning a loss that changed your world.
The way this pandemic has already changed ours.
We’ve experienced the “for worse part”. There is a “for better” out there. It’s coming and, if the workers of the world unite? We may see the pandemic with mixed emotions. For some people, this new world will be their salvation.
Donald Trump is a virus in human form. That shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.
Viruses are simple creatures — strands of RNA trying to make more of themselves. To do that, they need to invade a healthy cell — and use the cell as a kind of cheap sex hotel. The virus reproduces by turning our cells into it — and then using our cells to spew more of its Frankenstein RNA far and wide making us both sex hotel and pimp. No wonder we feel so tired when we get sick — we’re working our asses off at the cellular level. America feels similarly exhausted, doesn’t it? Like we’re fighting an actual disease in our body politic. I’m not sure where the metaphor ends or where the reality begins. Most of us thought (we hoped certainly) that Joe Biden winning the election (by seven million more popular votes no less!) would put this nightmare to bed. A strong showing by actual democracy, we assumed, would make the point strongly enough that most of the Republican Party would back snap to its senses and realize the terrible mistake they’d made climbing into bed with Trump.
That didn’t happen. It’s not going to because Donald Trump literally turned the GOP into him.
Trumpism hasn’t just replaced what we used to call “republicanism”, it’s superseded it. However… the GOP didn’t turn from gentlemen into bullies when they hitched their wagon to Trump’s. Gallant didn’t suddenly become Goofus. The Republican Party had been Goofus-ites long before they became Trumpites. Something about Trump made sense to them. They had always aspired to Trump’s level of sociopathic brashness but retail politics had always prevented them from actually trying it: what if they failed? Trumpism was a herd of elephants in a china shop. He approached retail politics the way a truck hijacker approaches a parked semi filled with high end goods.
Some quick history: in the Reagan Revolution’s dimming twilight — as Bill Clinton succeeded by demonstrating how Democrats could win elections by acting like Republicans — the Clinton-despising right wing money (they think of themselves as “Captains of Industry”!) took a good, hard look at its prospects for the future. Having turned the formerly progressive “Party of Lincoln” and Teddy Roosevelt into the Dixiecrats, the RW Money (always the “heart of darkness”) saw two things: 1) a rapidly diversifying America taking political power that had always been theirs, and 2) electoral extinction hurtling at them. The choice they faced was either share power with the rest of America (which, to them, meant having less money in their pockets cos paying more taxes), lose power entirely (a very real possibility if they ever began to share power), or seize power entirely — under false pretense — in order to hold onto power forever by shoving a state of permanent minority rule down America’s throat.
The Republican money chose option three.
By the time Donald Trump landed in their midst, the Republican Party was already deep into hijacking the judiciary — recognizing that lifetime judicial appointments were the key to stopping progress and progressive ideas dead. The RW Money wrote off controlling the House of Representatives (where they’re always running for re-election), assumed they’d always hold onto the heavily-tilted-toward-them Senate and understood that only extraordinary means (like Bush v Gore) could ever win a presidency; the popular vote being a lost cause, they focused on the Electoral College, America’s grand bargain with slavery. The federal bench — and its lifetime appointments — that was the RW Money’s chosen path forward to the fever dream of permanent minority rule.
From his first moments as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has been the Right Wing Money’s golden boy, walking point on hijacking the judiciary. He denied Obama not only a hearing for Merrick Garland but the chance to fill more than a hundred open federal bench slots. When the majority of Americans voted for Barack Obama, we voted for the people he’d choose to fill these slots. Apparently even winning elections doesn’t have the same consequences for Democrats as they do for Republicans. Mitch McConnell has been a beacon of white corruption his entire political career.
Ah, but even Mitch’s deep corruption wasn’t absolute corruption. To get there, the GOP needed Donald Trump.
This is a story about a desperate, white mans’ political party making one last gasp Hail Mary chuck toward the distant end zone (where, they hope, permanent minority rule will catch the ball and score the winning TD). The Republicans — already corrupt — hitched their wagon to Bigger Corruption. Ah, but not just “bigger corruption”, the Biggest Corruption: TREASON.
Destroying the country is bad. Doing it in concert with countries we know want to destroy us? Badder times a kajillion.
Our dimwitted press seems utterly incapable of aggregating the very story THEY have reported. Were they capable of adding information to a story and then building new parts of the story upon new information as they report it, we would be way further down the road to resolving Trumpism than we are. This emperor’s nakedness is his corruption. It’s there. It’s a fact of life. And every single bit of it is illegal. I wonder… does our “journalist class” think that a car stolen right in front of them in broad daylight is any less stolen than a car stolen somewhere else in the dead of night? We The People didn’t normalize “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing”, the news media did when they equated those two very real assaults on our senses and culture with the utter bullshit of “But her emails!” “That,” our press insisted, was “both sides doing it”.
Already, Donald Trump, like a virus, was turning us into him. America’s politics have always been ugly. But, one side, by habit, has always accepted violence as a political weapon. And, going back to Watergate, one side has consistently seen skirting the law if not outright breaking it as an acceptable campaign strategy. The reason Democrats never ever feel compelled to cheat in order to win an election is because Democrats really and truly believe in governing and want to govern. They believe in the rule of law and in upholding their oath to defend the Constitution against ALL enemies foreign (and especially) domestic. One doesn’t suppress the opposition’s voters or gerrymander because one believes one’s ideas are better. Those are things one does when one has NO ideas and only power for its own sake matters.
The majority of Americans are very good people. We want our children to grow up with the brightest futures imaginable. That is, we want all of our children to grow up that way. What makes a Republican a Republican is their knee jerk disgust at the thought of using government to help ordinary Americans. Republicans see government as a giant cash machine for them and their friends.
Perversely, it will probably be the coronavirus pandemic that saved American democracy from Donald Trump. Trump’s relentless corruption dulled news media senses already dulled by “both sides do it” thinking. But even our feeble-minded press couldn’t figure out how to normalize all that death. Having to work remotely from their houses fixed a fair amount of that flippancy. Being cast out of their safe media bubble — forced to struggle with the very technology itself (rather than having “tech people” to do it) — for a little while there, it really humanized the news media. Getting their mojo (and their sets back) has had the opposite effect. They’ve stopped seeing crime committed in front of them as crime.
Plenty of Americans have been miles ahead of the news media in seeing how the dots connect in this story. We never put on a pair of reality blinders as they did. We saw Trump for the con man and criminal he is and wondered why journalists couldn’t see the same thing. That’s the call coming from inside the house again. Trump has already, to a large degree, turned the news media into him, too.
Every time the news media asks (having scratched their head over it for years) “Is Trump racist?”, that’s the press being Trumpified. Of COURSE he’s racist! Why the hell are you asking him? How the hell would Trump know if he’s racist? He has zero perspective. How about asking some of the victims of his racism (there are plenty!) if Trump’s racist; they know! Every time the news media asks “What’s the hold Trump has over the Republican Party?” they demonstrate their inability to tell this story. They’ve lost the thread completely.
Yeah, sure, Trump’s base scares them — as do the ups and downs of retail politics. They only like it when it’s fun! But the thing that scares them most about Trump and their ongoing involvement with him is how un-fun it can be when Trump’s madness is upon him and he’s looking for someone to blame. Then, all bets are off. Then it all comes down to the Trump gang’s willingness to keep that secret they all agreed to keep in June 2016 when Kevin McCarthy confirmed their wort suspicions. Trump had already set the hooks in deep.
They were Trumpified.
America won’t give Trump that choice. Even if he just outright takes it and forces America’s hand even further, Americans won’t give in to fascism the way Germans did. American diversity will stand in fascism’s way. There won’t be nearly enough manpower to contain all the woke opposition the Trumpublicans will encounter. And that is where it will end. The Republican Party — now entirely Trumpist — will crash and burn when treason finally gets slapped onto the table and we begin to prosecute it.
The rest of us will have to worry about whether there’s enough popcorn for the show.