President Trump is flying off to the Middle East — and I'll bet, as far as the Arab Gulf states are concerned, straight into a warm bath of esteem and approval.
This assumption dates from my own, now-ancient stint in the region (2001-2004). But it has been only strengthened by a lunch I recently had with a very smart, very well-connected friend from the United Arab Emirates.
When I asked my friend — who is, as you might expect, Muslim — how Trump was viewed by the powers that be back home, he responded at length and in detail. But basically, his take boiled down to three words:
They love him.
The Gulf states love Secretary of State Rex Tillerson because he really understands the oil business. They love General Jim Mattis and feel hopeful that the likes of him will help resolve what they view as their number one problem: the raging civil war on their doorstep in Yemen. They hate Iran, they double-hate the Obama-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, and are thus delighted with the advent of an American administration that hates and double-hates those, too.
What about the Muslim ban — or, okay, the Trump administration’s proposed temporary moratorium on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries? Surely it is one thing to be vigilant about oil riches and regional realpolitik, another to have one’s religion tarred with what Trump never tires of calling “radical Islamic terrorism?” How can that label, and the executive order clearly born of it, be felt as anything other than a stinging slap to the nations that constitute the cradle of Islam and pride themselves as its chief stewards? “We do that stuff all the time,” my old pal shrugged, at the practice of denying or revoking visas from a given place or group, often including subgroups of Muslims. “We just don’t announce it.” No matter how abruptly taken, the thinking goes, such actions fall into the category of any sovereign government’s absolute right to secure its borders in any way that that sovereign government sees fit. They do it, they see no reason to fault Trump for doing it.
Admittedly moving down a few rungs on the ladder of outrages, I wondered about the other ban, announced in March, on laptops and other electronic devices on flights to the U.S. from ten airports, including those in Riyadh, Qatar and Dubai. Given the tremendous degree to which the business of the Gulf is business, doesn’t that, at least, earn a few demerits for The Donald?
“Nah, the airlines are already offering laptops to passengers to use for the duration of their flights,” my lunch companion said. “Bring your own data stick, you’re fine.”
Readers of this blog know that I am no fan of our current president, nor of his foreign policy — to the extent that he has one. Nor do I consider glowing reviews from the masters of the Gulf to be any great recommendation for the leader of the free world. But even — no, especially — for those of us who are experiencing this presidency as one cataclysm after another, it is important to remember that there is a whole world out there. And Donald Trump is by no means hated by everyone in it.
Recent though it was, this lunch took place before the FBI director was fired, the special counsel was hired, and key Republicans in Congress were starting to shift uncomfortably in their boots and distance themselves from the president in a way that could, in theory, mess with his mojo in heretofore-supportive capitals. So as I was typing this post, I texted my friend: “Scale of one to ten, how much do you think anyone in the UAE cares about the Russia investigation?”
He’s just texted back:
So now the big word is “Nixonian.”
To recap: President Donald Trump recently fired FBI director James Comey, who was subsequently reported to have written a memo alleging that the president had asked him to shutter an investigation into the Russia-related activities of General Michael Flynn in his capacity as a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, but previous to his being hired for, then fired from, the post of national security advisor. In typical knee-jerk, media-frenzy fashion, this has everybody screaming “Watergate!” and equating Trump with Richard Nixon, the only one of his predecessors who resigned from his office rather than face impeachment for abusing its vast powers.
This is ridiculous. There are numerous key ways in which Trump bears absolutely no resemblance to Nixon, and it is a disservice both to historical record and current debate to ignore the distinctions. To name just a few:
Nixon had tremendous intelligence. As a high school senior, he received a full scholarship to Harvard, and later a full scholarship to Duke Law School. Throughout his life, he was routinely described by friend and foe as “brilliant.” Of course, many people criticized many of Nixon’s policies. But no one ever suspected him of an inability to grasp what policies were or how they came to be made.
Nixon was a truly self-made man. Notwithstanding that scholarship, Nixon didn’t actually go to Harvard, but rather to the far less illustrious Whittier College, close to home. His family simply couldn’t pay for his trip from California to Massachusetts, nor his living expenses once he got there. By many accounts, this disappointment seeded a lifelong bitterness and resentment that came to darken his character and perhaps to foster future misdeeds. But it also indicates just how far Nixon came in life, entirely on his own steam.
Before becoming President, Nixon had serious government experience. By the time he entered the White House, Nixon had served as a Congressman, a U.S. Senator, and a two-term vice president, in which capacity he had traveled to Asia, Africa, South America and the Soviet Union; informally debated Nikita Khrushchev, and helped to get the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the Senate.
For much of his presidency, Nixon led a highly effective White House. Until he sunk it in scandal in his second term, Nixon’s White House worked, both in the sense of functioning and in the sense of achieving. The left may never forgive Nixon for giving Henry Kissinger the keys to U.S.. foreign policy. The right still hates him for placing the domestic-policy playbook in the charge of then-nascent Democratic lion Daniel Patrick Moynihan. One may love, hate or otherwise argue about the Environmental Protection Agency, affirmative action, Title IX, a vastly expanded social safety net, the normalization of relations with China, the desegregation of schools, the war on drugs, the war on cancer, or any number of other things that Nixon did as president. But one cannot remotely equate him with a chief executive who, from day one, by dint of his own missteps and misstatements, has prevented himself from doing anything.
Nixon had moments of real personal integrity. Although it would make for a convenient contrast with Trump, I'm not counting the fact that Nixon was married to the same woman for 53 years because a) bad marriages can happen to good people and b) for political reasons he bragged about keeping Pat in crummy cloth coats. But how about this: Having been born a Quaker, Nixon could have opted out of military service in World War II. Instead, he joined the Navy and ended up in the South Pacific. Can you imagine a young Donald Trump doing that?
Needless to say, these and all of Nixon’s admirable traits were compromised by years of red-baiting and dirty tricks, and then totally crushed under the weight of Watergate. All that intelligence, all that experience, all those achievements and potential achievements were washed away in a criminally paranoid sea.
That’s the great tragedy of Nixon: He allowed his negative characteristics so completely to overwhelm the many aspects of his public life that were inarguably positive.
The tragedy of Trump, by contrast, is that he seems to have no positive characteristics, at least as it relates to the presidency. Then again, in the classical sense, that can hardly be called a tragedy, for that would require a great moral height to fall from. Technically speaking, then, it's mere abomination.
Unable to bring myself to salivate at the prospect of the demise of any American president, I still hope against hope that there turn out to be no grounds to impeach this one. I still hope against hope that there will surface some reason, at some point, to applaud him for something. But so far, Trump has demonstrated much in the way of paranoia, little in the way of smarts. He is alive to every personal slight, yet blind to political nuance. His is a grimace without gravitas.
So yes, Donald Trump is very much like Richard Nixon —- without the trip to China.
Wait, wait, wait: Is Comey the good guy now?
It’s so confusing. As a Hillary Clinton supporter, I had gotten so used to viewing the FBI director as the errand boy of doom. It was, after all, he who was so widely said to have thrown sacred apolitical precedent to the dogs by announcing the reopening of an investigation into Clinton’s e-mails just before election day. In so doing, Democrats from Hillary on down have been insisting ever since, Comey had effectively thrown the election — and, by extension, all hope for humanity — to Donald Trump. Moreover, the contention went, he had done so not out of some tone-deaf Boy Scout scrupulousness, but to appease a nefariously anti-Clinton clique in the Bureau.
Now, this lowlife has been fired and in the eyes and cries of many who have fervently maintained all of the above, it’s a threat to the republic.
Don’t get me wrong. In its context, its pretext, and its timing, Comey’s termination is the soul of suspicious. In its manner, it is the definition of demented. In its rank deracination of a relatively independent, if problematic, investigatory figure, it is the apex of ominous. And in its status as merely one of the crisis-level shocks that this country has been obliged to absorb since January, it is a measure of the mess that Trump apparently wills his presidency to be.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that if Hillary Clinton had gotten elected and proceeded to axe Comey out of sheer spite, the reaction from some of the same quarters would have been of a rather different, “you go girl!” variety.
It’s become par for the course. Every development — scandal, Syria, FBI-director-sacking — is evaluated strictly in terms of its immediate effect upon clearly delineated political heroes and villains, and whatever clash they happen to be having.
Of course this tendency has existed forever, but it keeps getting more entrenched in our politics and no one seems to mind.
I mind. Don’t you?
Oh, look, the White House is lit up blue! And the Empire State Building, and Niagara Falls! And the Israeli Parliament Building, the Emirates Spinnaker, the Panama Canal…It’s World Autism Awareness Day, and as the mother of a child with autism, I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to see so many world landmarks take on the color of liquid laundry detergent.
No, really: I’m not kidding. I can’t tell you what difference it makes, because I have never been able to figure it out myself. I’m sure it must make some difference or everybody wouldn’t be so thrilled about it every year. But if World Autism Awareness Day 2017 turns out to be anything like World Autism Awareness Days 2010-2016, my own experience of autism will remain remarkably unchanged before and after the light show.
Of course, there's more to it. World Autism Awareness Day is just the kickoff for National Autism Awareness Month, and for the seven years since my son was diagnosed, this has meant that I slip into the role of Autism Awareness Mom. Just as I pull out the ornaments before Christmas or the flags for the Fourth of July, I dust off my trusty sheet of facts and statistics about my nine-year-old, moderate-to-severe son’s condition. I pick out a few choice items from this year’s collection of personal anecdotes — harrowing, hopeful, hilarious; it’s quite a drawerful. I dutifully reiterate that autism is not caused by vaccination or liable to be cured by any vitamin, tent, or horseback-riding regimen (though many things have turned out to help alleviate some symptoms in some people, which is why so many parents try so many things.) And I blend it all into an article or series of articles designed to do the familiar job: raise autism awareness in people who, unlike me, have not had autism awareness instantly, permanently and pervasively raised for them.
Every other year, this has struck me as a necessary, worthy endeavor, one that ideally blends with countless other efforts to foster general understanding and, better yet, to raise money. No doubt in 2018, I will get right back to it.
This year, though, I want to go another way. Rather than tell the world about autism, I find myself wanting to say what autism has given me to know about the world.
You see, awareness works the other way, too.
Like a thousand other facts of life that anyone could name — chronic physical conditions for sure, but all kinds of other challenges too — autism is a shock-and-awe variety of invader. It can creep up little by little or hit like a burst of bombing. But once it is in your life, it is your life.
At first, the occupation is cruelly totalitarian. Autism dictates whether you sleep and what you dream. It shreds your plans, strains your relationships, exhausts your energy, grabs your money by the fistful and gobbles it right up. At times, it treats you like laundry: douses you, spins you, then hangs you out to dry.
Then it settles, or you do. In some elemental way, you give up — not on your child, but on the idea that this is a bump in the road; that just as your child is “delayed,” you are too, but sometime pretty soon, you’ll snake around this three-car pileup and both be on your way. You don’t simply accept that the pileup may be permanent. You realize that there is no road. You see, more clearly than you could see before, how very many people in the world are walking along without any road; how you can probably walk without one, too. How you’re going have to.
This is terrible, but also somehow fortifying. It’s an autism ambivalence; one of the many of which your life comes largely to consist. The whole thing goes from feeling tragic to feeling tricky. Like the condition itself, living with it gets better — but also worse. Yet better. It forges you full of iron even as it shoots you through with holes. You come to feel that your child’s autism isn’t making or breaking you. It is making and breaking you.
At least, autism has done all that to me. So of course it has changed how I see.
This month, hard as it will be to pull myself away from pondering all things Trump, I am going to devote Knickertwist to a series of reflections on what autism has made me aware of about our society, culture, and politics. These reflections will not, for the most part, be shaped in terms of how our society, culture and politics — in other words, how we — deal with autism per se. After all, that is just a function of how we deal with everything.
For starters, I’ll go back to what bothers me, ungrateful though it must seem, about all this lighting-up of the world in autism-awareness blue.
Over the years I’ve lived in the world of autism, I have become keenly aware of the limits — the dangers, even — of awareness itself. It is not very nice to view millions and millions of wonderfully well-intentioned Americans as a nation of awareness whores, but it has come to feel pretty accurate. Give us a lapel pin and a dream, and we’ll do awareness with just about anyone. We have racial awareness, gender-equality awareness, LGBTQ awareness, environmental awareness, ACLU awareness and of course, myriad disease-and-disorder awarenesses of which autism is just this month’s headliner. We have awareness-triggering Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and celebrity spokesmodels. We have awareness days, weeks, months and years. Of course, it's hard to say a word against this: obviously, apprising people of a problem is an essential first step to solving it.
Sometimes I wonder, though, whether putting quite so much emphasis on this step one actually makes it easier to forget steps two, three and beyond — the steps through which the issue, once duly illumined, must proceed in order to be addressed. Sometimes, it feels as if by “raising awareness” we aren’t so much moving toward a solution as buying ourselves a certain comfort level with the problem; pricking our consciousness, and our consciences, for a designated moment, then dulling ourselves right back into unawareness until next year.
Very few people will say, or even think to themselves, “I don’t care about autism/hunger/cancer/cystic fibrosis.” But an awful lot of us, I think, do essentially say, “Of course I’ll buy a ribbon! But don’t ask me to give up anything I value.” Not real money, not real time, not real political or ideological sticking points, not our own real standing in the pecking order of priorities, not real patches of our communities, not real space in our heads. Not anything of value.
I mean, honestly: at this point, is someone unaware of homelessness? Of poverty? Of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, breast cancer, heart disease? Of course not. The problem with such challenges is almost never that we don’t know they exist. It’s that we don’t care enough to develop anything like a humane, comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing them.
When it comes to autism, I truly thank President Trump for turning the White House blue on Sunday. But I’d be unspeakably delighted to trade that for a single tweet from him recanting the anti-vaccination panic he has helped to revive. I’d also prefer a rethink of a budget that will effectively slash already-pitiful services for people with autism, not to mention various forms of broader assistance to their families, many of whom have been financially decimated by this disorder.
That’s not even counting the matter of research. I am sure that among the Americans who will very kindly be giving donations to autism-related charities this month, there will be some who cheer on the budget hawks whose moral and fiscal principles have brought us such drastic developments as the government shutdown of 2013 and the sequestration that is still biting today. Three cheers for ideological purity. But so far at least, these folks haven’t halted Obamacare. They haven’t de-funded Planned Parenthood. But thanks to the effect of their actions on the National Institutes of Health alone, they sure have scuttled a nice bit of research into why my son is struggling. They sure have tossed some scientists to the curb, and they sure have deprived other scientists of the runway they need for their work to take off. How many autism-puzzle-piece bracelets and tee-shirts are we going to have to sell to make up for that? And how many other families dealing with how many other bio-medically based challenges can ask the exact same question?
Please understand, my point is not that all awareness should lead to stratospheric levels of government spending. My point is that all awareness should lead to something: some meaningful determination of what does and does not deserve to get funded, codified or otherwise acted upon; some way to protect that determination from falling victim to whatever politician feels like throwing a tantrum (lookin’ at you, Ted Cruz!); some honest acknowledgment of what that determination means for the people most affected. As it is, “awareness” too often serves as a decoy that allows all of us, right and left, to sashay around fights we’d rather not have, priorities we’d rather not clarify, choices we’d rather not make. Indifferences, perhaps even cruelties, that we’d rather not admit to.
In the spirit of the awareness game, think of it as a fun run. At the starting line stands a huge crowd of sunnily optimistic participants who are edifyingly aware of autism-cancer-violence-against-women-hunger-you-name it. Then the race begins, and not a quarter-mile into it, runners are asked to peel off if they mind the fact that more resources for this month’s worthy cause will mean fewer resources for next month’s. A little further on, participants are told to stop if what they support today is on course to clash with something they will oppose tomorrow, whether it’s the harvesting of stem cells in connection with the biomedical research they’re running for, or the building of alternative-energy windmills along their summer seascape to slow the global warming they’re running against. Presently comes the point where the politicians in the pack need to drop out if they're prepared to sacrifice the cause in question to whatever comes to constitute their short-term self-interest. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the race is set upon by a whole bunch of random disruptions -- a natural disaster, an uptick in terrorism, a celebrity's misfortune suddenly sexing up some other malady -- that no one even imagined at the start, but that could ruin the whole event. And on and on to the finish line, where almost nobody is left except a handful of zealots fighting over tangents.
Don’t get me wrong. If you are someone who could ignore autism but choose to make yourself aware of it, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Even so, I can't help what's going through my mind: awareness isn’t everything. In fact, once an issue has been around awhile, it’s barely anything.
I’m painfully aware of that.
Here’s the deal that could save The Donald:
Trump should call up Chuck Schumer — or better yet, publicly tweet him. The president should tell the Senate minority leader that he really does not want to get into a nasty, filibuster-y confrontation with a nuclear option and whatnot. To avoid this, he will voluntarily withdraw the nomination of his Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch and re-nominate Barack Obama’s own Merrick Garland — on the condition that Senate Democrats agree to vote for Gorsuch when Trump re-nominates him, which he will pledge to do on the occasion of the next Court vacancy. Conveniently for Trump, this vacancy would likely materialize as soon as Garland failed to be confirmed by a Republican Senate. But even if Garland somehow got through, the deal would still work for Trump.
What, you ask, am I smoking? Do I not realize that Trump owes his presidency in no small part to a Republican right that was palpably energized by the death of Antonin Scalia, and that would have a collective coronary at the very thought of such a move? (Didn’t I in fact emphasize Trump’s debt to the right wing in a profile of Kellyanne Conway that appears in the April issue of Elle magazine, on your newsstands now…?) Am I so blind that I can’t see how such a call would unite movement and moderate conservatives against the president, as surely as the GOP health-care bill failed to unite them for him? And looking at it from the other side, am I so naive as to believe that even if Trump were to make such an offer, Democrats — emboldened as they are by that health-care fiasco — would even entertain it, let alone honor it?
Points all taken, but think about it.
To recap: Garland is a well-known moderate jurist who could conceivably have been nominated by a president of either party. Because he was nominated by a Democrat, Senate Republicans blocked him, citing imaginary grounds that Obama was in his last year of office and therefore somehow stripped of executive authority vis-a-vis the Supreme Court. This infuriated Democrats but should have infuriated everyone. Now, Senate Democrats are poised to do anything and everything they can to block Gorsuch — and thanks to the sinister stylings of Mitch McConnell and his Screw-Democracy Band, they have unassailable, wholly non-ideological reason to do so.
I didn’t vote for Trump but do accept that as president, he is entitled to his own Court picks. I will, however, be damned if Republicans are going to be allowed to deny that same right to Obama simply by having stuck their fingers in their ears and gone “lalalalala” until the clock ran out on his second term. I’ll be double-damned if I’m going to sit still for that while also taking regular right-wing lectures on the sacrosanctity of the constitution.
Granted, I’ll be triple-damned if I’m going to vote for Trump in 2020 no matter what he does short of shucking his whole personality and reversing all his policies. This leads to the question of what's in it for Trump to pull a self-checking stunt like this. Would swapping out Gorsuch for Garland somehow redeem Trump in the eyes of his enemies? Would it cleanse any of his top two hundred sins, from the unreleased tax returns to the budget from hell, with so very many in between?
Absolutely not. But here’s what it would do:
It would instantly, clearly and substantively set Trump apart from the Washington Establishment in whose defiance he was elected — and do so in the course of demonstrating far greater respect for the institutions of democracy than that Establishment itself has done. It would thus force a wide cross-section of critics to admit that on this occasion, if on no other, Trump had gotten one very big thing very right. (Even if Gorsuch did end up being the next Supreme Court justice, the sheer act of the Senate's going through the motions with Garland would destroy the evil precedent of denying any nominee the advise-and-consent process -- a worthy undertaking, with which Schumer and Trump would both do well to be associated.) It would trigger an avalanche of shocked-yet-not-horrified mainstream media coverage, which Trump both needs and craves, no matter what he says. It would reassure Trump Democrats that despite all early indications, their hero is not trapped under a large object labeled “Heritage Action,” but is actually capable of thinking and acting like the free agent they thought he was. This, in turn, could check the free fall of his approval ratings.
At a moment when Democrats have every reason to think that their fortunes lie simply in auto-thwarting all things Trump, they would have to think again. And just by getting a tiny handful of Democrats to consider working with him on a tiny handful of things, Trump would lessen his total dependence on his Republican majority to get anything done — a dependence that hasn’t been working out so well for him lately.
Of course, the stunt would also enrage Congressional Republicans and grass roots activists. But what are the House and Senate folks going to do to their president? Block the tax-reform legislation they’re writing for him? Threaten to quit coming through for him the way they’ve been doing? As for the activists, sure, they could abandon the guy who, in every other instance, is turning out to be the man of their anti-abortion, anti-regulation, anti-social-spending, pro-gun, the-hell-with-diversity dreams. But then what? A primary for the president? A let-him-lose-to-the-left approach to the general election?
I swear: I haven’t been smoking a thing. I know that Trump will never make any such deal. As someone who prays that he is headed for a Democratic Congress in 2018 and defeat in 2020, I hope he doesn’t. But for his own sake, he should.
How about a day without blowhards?
This is probably not the intended takeaway from last Wednesday’s “Day Without A Woman,” but it is the first thought I woke up with on Thursday.
Maybe this was due to the last thing I read the night before. It was an opinion piece in The New York Times headlined “Why Women Are On Strike.” That headline grabbed me, because although it was almost midnight coming out of the day America had (kind of) gone female-free, I still was not sure why it had (sort of) done so.
Not that I didn’t have some good guesses. After all, I had spent my whole adult life happily embracing the “feminist” label and feeling chronically mystified by voting, paycheck-collecting, jury-serving, mortgage-qualifying women who reject it. I had spent this past election cycle and its aftermath horrified by the implications of a Trump presidency for women — as distinct from, as well as in addition to, men — and thus counted myself eager to mitigate those. In the same scattershot, NPR-while-driving-kids way in which many women scrape together their sense of what’s happening, I had spent the weeks leading up to this strike catching bits and pieces of its rationale.
The most frequently cited sentiment seemed to be something about highlighting how valuable women are to the economy by withdrawing their participation in it for a day — which, to be honest, did hit me as a lose-lose proposition: either women would really strike and suck all that money and labor out of the economy, thus hurting no one more than themselves — or women wouldn’t really strike, and would instead do things like wear red to work, or take days off that they were entitled to anyway, or exercise extra purchasing power on the days before and after the day of boycott, in which case…big whoop. But, in fairness, I hadn’t really informed myself about the strike, so I didn’t have a clear view.
Neither, to go by what they told the Times, did the organizers.
Not that one could even be totally sure what the organizers had, in fact, organized. Prior to reading this article, I did not know that the "women's strike" was "in solidarity with" the "Day Without A Woman", but otherwise unaffiliated with it. But the rhetoric of the two sound just like each other, and the stated goals of one are as vast in number and scope as the goals of the other, so I forgive myself for being one of the 99.9 per cent of American women who conflate them.
Anyway, the Times story went that the U.S. strike was, in part, inspired by a strike that Polish women had previously called, in response to anti-abortion legislation: i.e., a specific focal point of outrage, which sparked an action that carried a clear message for those in power who cared to heed it and a measurable threat to those who ignored it. Now, that's a strike.
Also cited was a less specific, but still relatively targeted, action taken in Argentina in response to violence against women.
In the U.S., though, the woman-train added a whole big economics car. As the Times put it: "Ultimately, the goal of the strike is to build a movement of women who agree that the wellbeing of a society stems from affordable child care and health care and an equal living wage."
Great! I'm all for that!
Not that any of these actions are going to make any of those three any more likely to happen. For if the strike(s) were serious about achieving those excellent but vertiginously difficult goals, they would let up a little on the reproductive-rights piece, so as to harness the support of the millions of pro-life women who would eat their laundry for affordable child care, health care and a decent wage. Nope! It's pedal-to-the-metal on the whole liberal feminist agenda -- which happens, in very large part, to be my own agenda. Perhaps that is why I get so frustrated that we keep torching the whole thing in the name of a truly pointless purity. Then again, by now, this tendency is so familiar to me, it's almost comforting. It's like sugary breakfast cereal: I know it's bad, but I've been eating it since 1978, so it's home.
Besides, if any of the bricks in the old women's-rights monolith were to loosen, we might actually have to move out of the dream stage and into the sausage-making of real progress. As Paul "repeal-and-replace" Ryan can tell you, that is no fun at all.
No fear of that, though:
“The language of feminism in recent years has been used to talk about ‘Lean In’ feminism,” strike organizer Tithi Bhattacharya told the Times. “We do not want a world where women become C.E.O.s, we want a world where there are no C.E.O.s, and wealth is redistributed equally.”
OK, then, let's recap: That strike last Wednesday was not about being a woman, or about being a pro-choice woman, or even about being a pro-choice, redress-practical-systemic-economic-injustice-for-all-women woman. It was also about being an anti-Sheryl Sandberg, pro-communist and completely unrealistic woman. I’ve never in my life been so glad not to have had anything red and clean to wear on a day.
“Oh for crying out loud,” I thought, “I’m going to bed.”
Then I awoke with my one brief, shining thought: a day without blowhards.
Immediate inspiration aside, my vision is not merely of a day without kinda-sorta Marxist-y self-defeating feminist blowhards. I mean anti-feminist blowhards too. And rabid right-wing blowhards, I’m-still-with-her blowhards, God-save-the-republic-from-transgender-kids-trying-to-urinate-in-peace blowhards…..this action will be nothing if not inclusive of all blowhards.
Blowhards of all races, ethnicities, genders and ideologies: just for one day, deprive the culture of your increasingly massive contributions to it. Stay home. Stay off social media. Stay silent.
If you think that Hillary Clinton belongs in jail, or that Jeff Sessions is worse than Hitler, or that Barack Obama was the second coming of Christ, or that Barack Obama was the anti-Christ…keep those thoughts to yourself.
Vagina posters, pink pussy hats, RINO hunter mugs, Hillary ball-busting nutcrackers…. From midnight to midnight on this one calendar date, all that crap shall be shoved into the closet on pain of owner being locked in said closet with a hostile Facebook feed.
Fox News, MSNBC, Breitbart, HuffPo…feel free to party like it’s 1989 and you don’t exist.
Meanwhile, nice, normal people who can still hold a civil conversation: come out, come out, wherever you are! This is your day to be heard, seen, embraced — or left the hell alone, as many of you undoubtedly crave.
Candidly, as the founder and sole spirit of Day Without Blowhards, I’ve been having a heated sartorio-philosophical argument with myself. Half of me wants to encourage participating Nice Normal People to wear whatever they damn well please, including a lapel adornment that is totally void of moral significance. The other half of me wants to call upon NNP’s to put on a ratty old cardigan. Ideally, that cardigan would be gray, in celebration of that blessed neutral’s gentle refusal to get in anyone’s face. Also, gray is well known for having many, many shades in every realm of life outside the hissy-fit fiesta that has been passing for our politics. As for the ratty old cardigan, there's nothing more comforting -- and what nice, normal person isn't feeling in need of comfort these days?
Whatever you end up wearing, NNP’s, you won’t need to go into the street. But on this day, you can walk down it without being called a snowflake, a libtard, a racist or an Islamaphobe. If you voted for Hillary Clinton but believe that there are real lessons to be learned from the election of Donald Trump, try to come up with a slogan for that and chant away! If you voted for Trump but have become concerned about one or more aspects of his performance as president, go ahead and say so without fear that you are going to be stoned to death in a hail of four-lettered I-told-you-so’s.
Apologies in advance to those who feel they must paint every issue in terms of heroes and villains. This will be one day when we can all admit that almost nobody is either. Go ahead and give a doughnut of thanks to a police officer and to the most conscientious member of your local Civilian Review Board; as a reality-based movement, Day Without Blowhards recognizes that of course, we need them both.
DWB recognizes, too, that in real life, compromise is a natural, necessary feature of a functional democracy, and that it is a form of practical patriotism, not moral treason, to seek it. If you’re a liberal who’s worried about the lefty groupthink that is highjacking free speech on some college campuses, or a conservative who’s appalled by the bigotry-based violence and intimidation that is roaming so freely in our land, set yourselves down on that patch of common ground and have a picnic. Likewise for Democrats who know that it is stupid to talk as if Wall Street ought to be abolished, and Republicans sick of pretending that capitalism has to be allowed to run wild (except where corporations need a little help from their elected friends) or else it's not capitalism at all. And so on...
On the DWB, ignorance will not be bliss, but dimwit partisan talking points will not be allowed to pass for knowledge. We will endeavor to counter, and not reward, the tendency for the people who know the least about trade, immigration and health-care policy to shout the loudest about them. Granted, complexity should not serve as an excuse for letting a sleeping morass lie. But nor should brute oversimplification keep getting mistaken for “telling it like it is.”
Finally, like all self-respecting Days Without, the DWB will aim to ignite — or rather, gently nudge along — a movement far beyond itself. While marches and protests seek to muster troops for longer-term political fights, the DWB will try to set the stage for longer-term political discourse. Our country is currently riven by so many difficult and defining questions. The DWB is for people who believe that the thorniest parts of those questions should not be shouted down, drowned out, or fantasized away but clearly raised and thoroughly -- and respectfully, even kindly -- debated. It will take a lot more than one day to do that.
Don’t worry, blowhards! Your day of silence will be just that: one day. We all know that as of 12:01 a.m. the morning after, you’ll all be back, louder and more loaded for bear than ever. But for just 24 hours, the rest of the country will get a word in edgewise. Nice, normal people will be able to hear each other in the absence of the newly-normal national caterwauling. And from one midnight to another, we shall have nothing to demonize but demonization itself.
It's been a while. Anything going on in America these days?
I know there are at least one or two things, upon which I shall soon opine in this neglected space.
Meanwhile, I have been working on a profile of the Kellyanne Conway for Elle magazine.
Edited by the brilliant and patient Lisa Chase, the piece will appear in the April issue, but if you would like to have a look at the online version, please do:
Never mind the election returns in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Their being recounted is almost certain to make no difference in the outcome of the presidential race — and if by some 2016-bizarro chance they do make a difference, we’ll all know soon enough.
Meanwhile, the returns on which the entire country needs to focus are Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Remember those? The tax returns he kept saying he couldn’t release because they were under audit but the I.R.S. kept saying that he could? He needs to release them right now.
Everyone needs to pressure the president-elect to do this, and I do mean everyone: Trump’s inner circle, his outer circle; his friends in Congress, his foes in Congress; mainstream media, consciousness-stream media, Field and Stream media; the social network and the anti-social network; the few who comprise the Electoral College and the many who despise the Electoral College; individuals who voted for Trump, individuals who voted against him, and individuals who did not vote at all; those who love him dearly and those who hate him passionately; his ex-wives, his current wife, and all his children, including little Barron.
This is a pathetically modest demand. I am not calling on everyone to call on Trump to liquidate his businesses entirely — even though I do think that if he could not fathom doing so, he should never have run in the first place. I am, however, informed by counsel that timely and total divestiture could be undoable, legally and otherwise. If so, it is hardly worth calling for. And even if liquidation were feasible, insistence upon it would lead to a big, convoluted discussion over what that process should look like — and thus muffle the cry for the one simple action that absolutely can, should and must be taken immediately.
Nor am I (yet) calling on everyone to call on Trump to build the wall that America actually needs to have built: the wall between his private businesses and his public role. That barrier must be constructed, but there is a real risk of slapping up something worse than useless. For example, I was thinking that Trump should be obliged to submit a conflict-removal plan subject to “bipartisan Congressional approval” but just typing that felt like pouring glue down the throat of governance. So it is worth taking some time to get that right.
Trump’s tax returns, by contrast, are done. They have long since been filed. They should have been produced long ago. There is no reason on God’s green earth why the president-elect cannot produce them now.
However belated, this disclosure would serve not only the country, but Trump himself.
Having spent an entire campaign riding the wave of the nation’s mistrust of Hillary Clinton, Trump should be very wary of drowning in its mistrust of him. To a greater degree than any president-elect in history, he is asking Americans to believe that his presidency will not get tangled up in the web of his business activities. That would be a big ask even if there were not millions of non-Trump voters who would not believe the president-elect's statement of his own name.
At this beleaguered point, there are also millions of non-Trump voters who would love to give Trump at least some benefit of the doubt. But if he can’t come clean on something as straightforward as a tax return, why should they do any such thing?
In light of the GOP's relentless attacks on the morals and ethics of both Clintons, this is an especially valid question.
Clinton critics fumed that no matter how consensual, Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky would have gotten him fired if he were president of a college rather than president of the United States — and they were right.
Clinton critics howled that Huma Abedin should not have taken a job with Teneo Holdings while simultaneously serving as a close aide to the Secretary of State — and they were right.
With all the “pay to play” smoke that swirled between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s State Department, no one has ever found any real fire in terms of connections between Foundation donors and State Department favors. But Clinton critics raged that those connections should never have been so much as hinted at, even if the favor in question was just a meeting and the meeting was never held — and they were right.
Now the incoming commander-in-chief is laden with conflicts, actual and potential, that dwarf all of the above. But he doesn’t have to spell out what millions he has exchanged with whom for what?
The more one despises Trump and dreams of his impeachment, the less agitated one needs to be about the whole issue of financial disclosure — because the longer Trump skirts it, the more it stands to blow up in his face.
Conversely, the more one reveres Trump and envisions his signature scowl on Mt. Rushmore, the more one ought to be pressing him on this point.
It is a point much larger than loot.
The presidency should be honor and burden enough for any human being for as long as he or she holds the office. By clinging so tightly to his business life and all its secrets, Trump radiates the sense that our nation’s highest office is not enough for him.
I don’t care if Jill Stein’s recount triples his margin of victory.
If Donald Trump cannot bring himself to release his tax returns, he is unfit to be President of the United States. If Americans right, left and center cannot unite in exhorting him to do so, then we are unfit to be citizens.
First things first: In my view, Breitbart-bête-turned-White-House-chief-strategist-designate Steve Bannon deserves to be vilified by Americans across the ideological spectrum as an opportunistic hatemeister whom it is wrenching to see at the right hand of the President-elect of the United States.
Given, however, that Bannon is already taking so much heat over the bigotry, I think it’s very much worth a cooler look at him solely on the level of strategy.
As Bannon sees it, all the condemnation he’s getting does nothing but serve him. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan,” he recently told Michael Wolff in the Hollywood Reporter. “That’s power.”
As I see it, it also gives him way too much credit. Based on Wolff’s piece, I am not at all sure that Bannon is smart enough to be Satan.
Admittedly, this was not my first reaction to that piece. My first reaction was “Oh my God, Bannon’s the only one who really had the 2016 electorate all figured out! And now that he’s got the national reins, he’s going to hitch his far-right wagon to massive job creation, thus enshrining Trump as a man of the people even as he craters Wall Street reform, decimates civil rights, and institutionalizes brazen corruption at the highest levels of government!”
Then I read it again and felt much better. Not about Bannon, but about the odds that he’s just not the anti-Christ he’s cracked up to be.
First, Bannon seems to be under the impression that everyone in America just voted for Donald Trump, excepting perhaps those he has previously termed “a bunch of dykes who came from the Seven Sisters schools” and a sprinkling of doofus Silicon Valley gazillionaires. Please. As of this writing, Hillary Clinton has gotten more than a million-and-a-half more votes than Donald Trump. She has done this despite being a candidate who had several major flaws unique to herself, and despite being in the traditionally disadvantageous position of running for her party’s third consecutive White House term. If Democrats would be ill-advised to take this election result as anything short of an alarm sounded by the working class -- white and otherwise -- Republicans would be crazy to take it as a national rush order on their whole catalogue, from anti-abortionism to xenophobia. So far, Bannon sounds just that crazy.
Speaking of which: “Conservatives are going to go crazy,” our anti-hero crows, in connection with the “trillion-dollar infrastructure plan” he has in store.
Good thing Trump doesn’t need any fiscal conservatives to back his programs, then! No wait, he does need them. Doesn’t he? Maybe not. It’s all so mixed up.
Total confusion is clearly part and parcel of the new Vaderism, but once the Trump administration gets down to administrating, it might trip up even Darth himself. So what’s the path here? Is the GOP now to become the anti-trade, anti-military-intervention, big-domestic-spending party? If so, will there be designated quarries into which Republicans can dump giant chunks of their bedrock philosophy, or will they need to dig extremely deep holes in their own backyards? Alternatively, is Trump just going to chuck those GOP Establishment losers and govern as a New Deal Democrat with a social agenda to the right of the Pope’s? Are Democrats expected to fall straight in with that? If so, should they wait until dark to sneak out on the clear majority of Americans who voted for Clinton and against the notion that economic frustration is sufficient grounds to trash one’s concerns about anything else? Or can they at least say good-bye? Is the devil planning to skate past those details?
Then there’s Bannon’s gleeful anti-globalism.
“I’m an economic nationalist,” he assures the Hollywood Reporter by way of distinguishing himself from the plain old white nationalists he presumably just feeds and waters. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia…”
Now, unlike the marvelously anti-elitist presidential counselor-to-be, I have never gone to Harvard Business School or worked at Goldman Sachs. But in my own bachelor’s-degree, womanish way, I suspect that the weakening of the American middle class relative to the strengthening of middle classes elsewhere in the world is not quite the straightforward seesaw proposition that he depicts. Sometimes, for example, those foreign middle classes function as markets for American goods and services. Sure, on balance, the U.S. buys more than it sells. But in the process of running up that much-maligned trade deficit, Americans — not least Bannon’s forgotten, flyover-state Americans — pay a lot less for a lot of things than they otherwise would.
This adds a practical detail to the cultural picture of Team Trump in their “Great Again” America: All the men are stuck in their first marriages, Kellyanne Conway is home stirring the sauce — and only the very rich have an I-phone, a second car, or three pairs of shoes.
Insular east-coast feminista though I am, I do know that a change in the price of gasoline can sway an election. The idea that the bad parts of globalism can be stripped out of American life without sacrificing enough of the good parts to bother folks in any politically costly way is not an idea about which Satan ought to be quite so sanguine.
Last but not least, Bannon embodies the fatal smugness he so delights in deploring. Even more than the average major-upset election victor, he clearly enjoys ridiculing his opponents for having been pathetically blind and deaf to basic, common-sense realities. But here’s one true fact he seems to have missed: There is a big difference between complaining about the country and running it. The moment he is sworn in, Donald Trump will go from the voice of popular wrath to its instrument. Once president, he had better turn out to be a swiftly and shockingly deft instrument indeed. Otherwise, he’s just tomorrow’s target.
So give the aspiring devil his due. To hear him tell it, Bannon called the tune, Trump danced to it, they got enough applause from enough of a crowd in enough geographical locations to claim the presidency. But make no mistake. If they keep up with the deluded bravado on display thus far, the presidency is going to claim them.
Steve Bannon may be evil. But genius? Not so much.
If you voted for Donald Trump for any reason, you are a racist misogynist pig.
I don’t actually think that, but a fair number of people I like and respect clearly believe that I should think that, so I am trying it on.
Just didn’t like or trust Hillary? Racist misogynist pig.
Fed up with the status quo you feel she represented? Racist misogynist pig.
Frustrated that your standard of living has fallen and after eight years of Barack “hope-and-change” Obama it is still falling? Racist misogynist pig.
Habitual, single-issue super-conservative on something like abortion? Racist misogynist pig.
Female, Latino, or African-American? Self-hating racist misogynist pig.
All right then. Leaving room for the votes still being counted, this leaves us with somewhere north of 61 million racist misogynist pigs.
That’s quite a sty we’ve got going here.
I don’t mean to be flippant. I am painfully aware of the stubborn knot of bigotries that held Donald Trump’s candidacy together while tearing the country apart. Perhaps wishfully, though, I just can’t bring myself to believe that the American electorate is quite so pervasively porcine. But even — no, especially — if it is, what is the basis for believing that adopting a tone of blanket hostility toward 61 million citizens will make the racial implications of that any less troubling?
Yes, odd though it seems, it is hostility that is being widely touted as the path to healing. In Slate, among other places, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are getting blowback for “screwing up the resistance” by taking a good-faith stab at drawing some distinction between the economic-frustration strands and the racial-animus ones in the pro-Trump morass. And it’s not just Democratic leaders who are being warned off finding any common ground with Trump. The rank-and-file are also being exhorted not to find any with his supporters. All of them, several truly wonderful people on my Facebook feed have been admonishing me to cast out, all of them. As it happens, my last post headlined the exact opposite point of view, urging a widespread, heartfelt effort at some mutual understanding — so I’ve been taking a little flak, too.
Wow. If there is any feeling more bizarre to me than the feeling of waking up on November 9 to the phrase “president elect Trump”, it has got to be that of getting lectured for being insufficiently upset with those who voted for him.
Once more for the record: I loathe our president-elect and dread his inauguration. I feel a disembodied level of horror that a candidate can have made any, let alone all, of the crude and bigoted remarks that Trump has made and still become president. I would like to haul the famed anti-Clinton clique of the FBI in front of a panel of minority assault and harassment victims and make them explain this year’s 67 per cent increase in anti-Muslim attacks alone. I read tales from the transition (Bannon to the West Wing…Muslim Registry Rumored…Giuliani Might Get State) and fear that my insides will eat themselves.
Even apart from all that, I perceive Trump’s economic and foreign-policy plans, to the degree that he has any, to run the gamut from incoherent to terrifying. To me, his stated positions on social issues are just the poison-dipped cherry on top.
Yet more than sixty-one million Americans voted for him. What do we do with that?
To me, that is a hard question. For many others, apparently, it’s easy. Their answer is: realize that all Trump voters are racist misogynist pigs (see above) and leave it at that, unless and until they see the error of their ways. This poses no political problem because in the future, the reasoning goes, Democrats are never going to need any of those voters, anyway. (That seems a little optimistic, given the number of Latinos Trump pulled, so…hmmm…)
Whatever: I don’t even care about the political math yet. What I care about right now is how to be in this country. How to think about our politics going forward. How to write about it. How to explain it to my daughter. How to explain it to myself.
This brings me to a line of criticism that I sometimes used to take back in my journalism days. The criticism was that I should stop bending over backwards to explicate political figures and factions who deserved simply to be branded as plain old reprehensible, whether they were Al Sharpton boosters in Brooklyn or Muqtada al-Sadr acolytes in Baghdad. My response to that always was: How am I supposed to understand what’s happening if I make no effort to understand the people who are making it happen? How can I understand said people without talking to them? And why would they bother talking to me if I have pre-discounted the possibility that any of them might have anything of value to say?
If that was my thinking as a reporter, why shouldn’t it be my thinking as a person?
False equivalence alert: I am in no way suggesting that, for example, Jamelle Bouie’s recent pieces in Slate are just the anti-Trump side of the hate-speech-and-swastikas coin that Trump has undeniably tossed into the American air. One is evil, the other wrong-headed. But at this moment, it’s a pretty big thing on which to be wrong-headed.
Does anyone else see an irony in the fact that Democrats can be so clear-eyed on the reality that eleven million undocumented immigrants are simply too many to prosecute or deport — yet some of us can feel so confident that 61 million Trump voters aren’t too many to write off ? Our side has just been blindsided by the realization that so many people quietly pulled the lever for a candidate they did not feel they could openly support. Does anybody else question the wisdom of just shouting all those people back into the shadows?
Again, I am all for shouting at Trump supporters. Believe me, I’ve been doing plenty of it myself. The difference is, I want them to shout back — not so much loud, but clear, and with maximum detail.
Once that initial, absolutely called-for contretemps has been had, exactly what are Hillaryites of conscience supposed to do to the Trumpsters in our midst? Shun them? Declare that unless and until they disavow their votes, we are going to disavow them? Boycott their businesses? Deport them, if only in our minds?
Truly sickened as I am by the prospect of a Trump presidency, I utterly reject that approach. Some of my absolute-favorite fellow liberals embrace it. That is their right. But I can’t help but ask, in a spirit of great respect and shared heartbreak: Who does that sound like?