Category Archives: Writing

The Paradigm Shift

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The murder of 22 (at the time of this post) in El Paso, Texas, by a white supremacist supporter of Donald Trump signified the shift for me. Since Trump announced his run for the Presidency, through the date of the shooting, I’ve avoided directly confronting supporters of Trump. I’ve decided I can no longer sit on the sidelines and, through my inaction and silence, not actively ostracize those who maintain a cult-like fondness for the racist that was elected in 2016.

It was entirely predictable that Trump’s rhetoric would cause bloodshed, and El Paso is perhaps the most unambiguous example of this. One need only watch one of his rallies when Trump laughs at the suggestion that hispanics be shot for seeking asylum, then further asserts that “you can only do that in the panhandle,” to understand the naked racism that has been slowly revealed in the office of the President.

I’d be remiss, however, if I was to lay this at his feet entirely. He is, in fact, more of an opportunist than demagogue, who has been coddled by the more sinister, calculating forces of the Republican party. The election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of Fox News precipitated recent events and a cursory examination of these events reveal their causative effects.

That said, in my opinion, the United States has reached a tipping point. A point at which those of us who recognize the symptoms of fascism, indeed the frightening parallels between Mussolini’s rise (another not-too-bright opportunistic grifter) and that of Trump, have a deep responsibility to sound the alarm…at any personal cost.

I’ve been hesitant to lose friends over this, but that ended with El Paso. I will call out, and challenge any of my friends that support this man and this destructive administration. The time for silence is over, and frankly, I’m ashamed I’ve waited this long. I will mourn friendships lost, but as I learned this summer in Dr. Alexis Herr’s class, “The History of Fascism,” the most common denominator in the rise of the fascists regimes was consent. The quiet acquiescence of the populace who found the actions of their leaders offensive, but were unwilling to take the personal risks to challenge them.

I lost a friend this weekend when she took exception to a relatively benign post condemning Trump on one of my social media pages. Her objection included a personal attack (as so many of his supporters seem to favor), so it was a relatively easy decision to block and ostracize her. But I knew at that moment, that it wasn’t enough. I need to challenge these people. Not in an ad hominem manner, but in a direct, and fact-based condemnation of their support.

Frankly, based on past experience, I know how this generally ends, and I suspect I’ll be employing the block button more frequently. And that’s not something I’ve been willing to do. The lives lost last weekend changed that for me.

Consent is no longer an option.

(image courtesy of my friend Joe Rose)

 

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Pissing in the Wind

It’s how I feel every time I tweet at Donald Trump. I know damn well he’ll never read my sparkling words of wisdom, but I find it cathartic nonetheless. This poor excuse for a man (much less leader of the free world) is ripe pickings for any of us to unload our sheer disbelief at the things he says and does. That the movie Idiocracy would morph so soon caught most of us off guard. Tweet rage is a thing. And I’m knee deep.

Here’s the thing though–I’m tweeting not just because I’m angry, but because I want to be part of the solution. I want to do my civic duty and engage my elected representatives. I’ve sent letters to my House and Senate members and received the standard BS form letters in response. I understand and appreciate that my carefully worded sentiments are simply transformed into a database checkbox, but, at the end of the day, I know that I did my part.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m misdirecting my anger. Those specific House and Senate representatives are on my team. Similarly, Trump is an anomaly. A treasonous grifter that doesn’t give the first fuck about the welfare of our country. He won’t blink an eye while he destroys our Republic to further his own financial self interests.

It’s the damn general Congress we should be directing our wrath at. It’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the uber-slick, ultimate Washington insider who could have Trump served on a golden platter at the drop of a political box hat. This guy runs the show in Washington as long as our dysfunctionally gerrymandered Senate maintains their engineered Republican majority. And while I’ve rage tweeted him lately (again, not expecting anything other than selfish catharsis), it’s pretty clear that he’s not willing to grab the wheel of the bus Trump is driving off the cliff in the service of his own psychotic vision of conservative supremacy. Paul Ryan. I’ve already wasted two words on that impotent moron and won’t bother discussing his pathetic impotency.

But at least I know exactly who to be angry with. Trump is a symptom–an opportunistic grifter, controlled by his handler in Moscow. Incapable of anything remotely ethical or patriotic, any attempt to reach him is useless. But the co-equal branch of government, the US Congress, still has some folks that may have retained a scintilla of morality and are not yet beyond the reach of impassioned discourse.

So folks, while I will likely retain my rage at Trump as a guilty pleasure, my real attention will be turned to the US Congress. In the absence of a shock and awe Mueller indictment orgy (a boy can dream), they are our best hope of plugging the holes in this desperately sinking ship.

Don’t @ me bro.


Thanksgiving 18

I’m unemployed. I’m in debt. I’m at least 20 pounds overweight. My arms and face are covered in small wounds. My future is uncertain…at best.

I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’m in my senior year at UC Berkeley and I’m unemployed because I’ve been able to finance school and living expenses primarily through scholarships. I’m in debt because I’ve been fortunate enough to only have to take advantage of a small amount of federal loans to help with school so far. I’m 20 pounds overweight because my life, during each semester, consists of riding my bike 7 miles round-trip to school and then spending the next 4-8 hours snacking on crap foods while I study or write essays. As I write this, I watch the blood flow from the back of my right hand from yet another bite from the rescue kitten we took in a little over two months ago. My future is uncertain because I’ve been blessed with the potential opportunity to stay at Cal an extra year and prep for grad schools. I’m planning on pursuing an MFA in creative writing at any number of schools across the country.

I share this journey with a woman of unparalleled patience and tenacity. My partner has supported my transformation to reentry college student with gusto; she herself has recently entered a Masters degree program.

I want to write. This semester, I’ve taken several courses that have actually given me the tools to do so. I am incredibly blessed to be in a class taught by a world-renowned author who is endlessly generous and encouraging. I was able to “write-in” to a class taught by Joyce Carol Oates next spring, and although I won’t be taking her class because of logistical issues, the fact that she awarded me one of only 15 spots in her class,  based solely upon my work of fiction fills me endlessly with hope.

I am a fifty-seven-year-old work in progress. I’m petulant, I rant, I get scared, I get angry. But eventually life corrects my course through a series of incidents that reminds me how damn lucky I am.

On the morning of November 8th of this year, I awoke to a series of news alerts describing a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. My hometown. The location of the shooting was a bar that I knew very well, on a night on which I also knew my 22-year-old son frequented. After frantically confirming the well being of both of my children who still live in T.O., I began to unexpectedly sob as I woke my girlfriend to tell her of the news.

And two weeks later, my eyes are still filled with tears as I count my lucky stars that my son wasn’t killed.

A lot of tough stuff has happened to me in my life…things that other people have remarked that they weren’t sure they could have survived.

On this Thanksgiving day, a day that has come to take on a depressingly sad meaning for me in light of my studies of American history, I want to celebrate my life. My extreme gratitude for the things I haven’t lost:

My children

My girlfriend

My mouthy kitten

My health

My family

My friends

Most of all, I’m grateful to be writing this. I’m grateful for another day on Earth where I get to “be.”

Thank you to whatever force/spirit/entity/wavelength that protected my children that night. That has protected me through some rough waters.

Thank you for my life.


40 Years Ago…

…I was finishing up my junior year at Agoura High School. Last Thursday, I spent nearly 3 hours in a classroom composing (frantically scribbling would be a more accurate description) 18 and 1/2 pages in a Green Book for my Shakespeare final at the University of California, Berkeley. Thus ends my junior year at Cal…

In the immortal words of David Byrne: “How did I get here?”

40 years ago I was a Fire Department Explorer with the LA County Fire Department. I was planning on taking an EMT Course at LA Pierce College the following year that I might increase my chances of finding employment as a firefighter. I did. For 16 years I was a Firefighter and eventually Fire Captain after previously serving 5 years as a first-responder Paramedic in Ventura County. I found my niche. Dream fulfilled. I had set a goal and attained it. Game over.

40 years ago I thought this was how it’s done. Plan meticulously, account for all variables, work hard: goal attained/life made. In the ensuing 40 years I found out, sometimes quite painfully, that isn’t how life works. At least not my life.

40 years ago, if someone had time traveled and told me what the reality of my life would be 40 years later, in all honesty I probably would have ended my own life. If that entity would have informed me that my life will be traveling down the path it eventually took, I can guarantee that I would not have had the courage to take another step.

40 years ago, I could not, in a million lifetimes, expected my life to turn out the way it did.

40 years ago, I would never have expected to be writing this. 40 years later.

40 years ago, armed with supernatural foresight, I would never have chosen to take another step. That would have been a tragic mistake.

40 years ago I was about to embark on a life beyond my wildest nightmares and expectations. I sit here today and as sure as my pulse bounds, I can say without reservation that EVERY SINGLE tragedy and trial in my life was crucial to making me the man I am today. If that same time traveler offered me the opportunity to change my destiny–knowing what I know now–I wouldn’t change a thing.

40 years ago I embarked on a journey called my life. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t fathom what it would entail (despite my meticulous planning). I consider myself to be blessed beyond measure by whatever entity/spirit that guides our universe. I am wonderfully imperfect and struggle on a daily basis, but I can stop and be eternally grateful for what I have.

And 40 years later, that’s what I am: grateful.

 

 


#Berkelly

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So the “Berkelly” thing happened on the day I announced on social media that I had been accepted to UC Berkeley. My friend Greg tagged me as “Berkelly” in my Instagram post. I’m honestly not one to toot my own horn or draw attention to myself–yes I know this is a personal blog, thank you very much–but somehow the tag felt…right.

Much like the decision to finally commit to Cal. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s take a leap back–

Agoura High School, 1979. I’m graduating from High School and all my friends are going to UCLA. I felt a nagging urge to join them, but dreams of becoming a firefighter pushed aside the ache–for a while.

My first college class was my senior year at Agoura HS. I took an EMT class at Los Angeles Pierce College.

Fast forward, Spring 2013. After a career in the fire service, I’m looking for another direction. As documented elsewhere in this blog, I thought a career in drug and alcohol treatment would be rewarding. I enroll in the Addiction Studies program back at Pierce. Shortly thereafter I start working in the field, and while your mileage may vary, I find the industry to be long on financial outcome and short on actual treatment. I’m disillusioned.

What I’m surprisingly inspired by however is my US History class at Pierce. After decades away from academia I need to write a research paper. Throat tightens, sweat glands on overload…I get this:

IMG_0036 This was it. This was all it took. Validation. The fire was lit. These words from my instructor changed the course of my life and resulted in the picture you see at the head of this blog post.

I immediately sought the advice of a school counselor and began my transfer program. Since the ache to attend UCLA had never quite subsided, I set my sights on transferring. The next two semesters found me enrolling in english and history classes. My transcripts were reflecting all A’s. I eventually started the university enrollment process and my counselor advised me to make some other choices beyond UCLA.  I decided to add UC Irvine and UC Berkeley in as whims. Irvine has a world-class english department, but Cal is recognized as having the BEST english program in the country. So naturally there was no chance of me being accepted. In fact I embraced that thought so firmly, I took absolutely no prep courses at Pierce for the major, clearly still under the impression that it was a wasted enrollment fee (an academic price I am paying my first semester at Cal).

I also applied to USC (my girlfriend’s alma mater) and Stanford (and was told by my counselor that this was truly a long-shot as their acceptance rate for transfers is only one percent).

Along this path, my counselor introduced me to a recruiter from Columbia University. He encouraged me to apply. I did.

My last year a Pierce was characterized by the loss of nearly $800 in application fees, documents, tests, and materials. Yes, Stanford made me take the SAT again–that experience could easily be a subject of another blog post in and of itself.

Lots of work on my UC personal statement ensued. I had to take the english-only portion of the 2013 SAT for Columbia.

Decisions were due in April of this year. But Columbia was notifying in February. On the day of their notification, I opened the web page…I read the words from the dean saying that he would like to congratulate me on my acceptance to Columbia University. I was reading this to my girlfriend over the phone. This was as far as I could get into the first paragraph before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. I had been accepted into an Ivy League. My life had been a series of struggles and opportunities to overcome adversity. These words put me down. I was so proud. The inspiring words of my US History teacher paved the way for my acceptance. I had been mentored. I had been inspired. Education matters. Teaching matters. I am a living and breathing example of the power of education and mentor-ship.

Now thoughts of moving to Manhattan danced in my head. The music ended on that dance when the reality of the cost of attendance intervened.

April came. I was accepted to UC Irvine. Awesome! If UCLA doesn’t come through, I’ve got an option.

April 26. 5 p.m. UCLA is set to release their announcement…I got in!!! I immediately donned the UCLA cap that I purchased a year prior and put it squarely on my head. I had vowed that it wouldn’t touch me until I got in…that day had arrived. I was over-the-top! My nagging ache since 1979 had been satisfied…I was finally a Bruin.

Almost as an afterthought, 48 hours later I opened Cal’s admission page to see that I had been accepted. I was incredulous. This wasn’t part of the plan! And their offer of financial aid was highly competitive.

Less that a week later my mom died. She was in the Bay Area so I decided to at least make a campus visit to Berkeley so I could justify my decision to attend UCLA…

I set foot on campus on a Friday morning. I sat in Sproul Plaza by myself. It was overcast. It was quiet. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know right then and there that I was home. I took a guided tour later that day and attended the Chancellor’s welcome the next day, but honestly, it was a formality. I was home. I felt it in the core of my being. UCLA had always been my dream, but I was walking on the campus of my reality…my future…my home.

Berkelly was home…

I was awaiting 2 more acceptance notifications. USC had requested my spring grades from Pierce prior to making their decision, which I found odd since I had carried a 4.0 GPA throughout my tenure at Pierce, but nonetheless I provided them (4.0 cumulative) and found out three days ago that USC had indeed accepted me.

But Stanford was the only significant roadblock…I received a letter from them stating that although I was highly competitive, and they wished they had more space, I did not receive an offer of admission.

Within two minutes I committed to Berkeley.

I’m a Golden Bear. My girlfriend and I move to Albany in July. I’m about to enter a buzz-saw of grade-deflation and challenges that I’ve never experienced. But I’m beyond excited. I plan on earning by BA in English, possibly double majoring or minoring, and then finding a doctoral program upon completion.

I’d love to steer the focus of this blog towards my experience as a non-traditional/returning student at Cal. But we shall see…I will do my utmost to report from the front lines AFTER I get all my assignments completed.

To those of you who have patiently followed my adventures, I thank you. You are all part of the community of inspiration that has made me a Bear.

#gobears

#berkelly


Here’s to you Mom…

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Transitions are tough. Change seems to be the primary cause of fear and unrest in our world. But change and transitions are a fundamental fabric of our being.

My mother died this morning at 10 a.m.

Josephine was born in 1922. She married my father and had three children. I was the youngest…the mistake.

My father died in 1989. My father was my mom’s world. My ex-wife and I invited my mom to live with us after my dad’s death and she became part of my new family…she was Grandma to my step kids and to my two new little ones. It gave her life. It rejuvenated her spirit and passion. It also was a blessing beyond measure to have her around my kids at a particularly challenging phase of my life.

I divorced my wife and my mom went to live with my older brother. He and his wife earned their saints wings for the years they took mom in. She could be difficult. She feared change.

My mom and I had a complex relationship, as all parents/children do. It created a lot of guilt for me as she grew older that I resented her worldview and bitterness. I wanted her to be different. I wanted her to be happy. And I was angry at her because she wasn’t.

I loved my mom.

I found out she died this morning while riding my bike. I had just passed a convalescent home that had been the source of guilt for me every time I rode by (i felt guilt that I didn’t have the financial means or stable enough lifestyle that I could prevent her also from being in a convalescent home). As I passed I had the unwavering feeling that she had died.

The phone rang 5 minutes later. It was my brother…

I spent the rest of the ride cycling through tears. I prayed SO hard that mom and dad are reunited. She deserved that. She deserved peace.

Transitions are hard. I’m okay with my mom’s passing. It’s what happens. I just hope she can feel the warmth of my dad’s hand in hers after so many years apart…

 

 


I Can’t Even…

As I enter the twilight of my junior college career–getting ready to embark on my final push towards my bachelor’s degree at an as yet undetermined university–I find myself paralyzed. Dumbstruck not by the variety of academic choices that lie in front of me, not by the awesome responsibility of choosing just HOW much debt I intent to incur over the next seven years (2 years BA, 5 yrs PhD program), and not by the use of the Oxford comma (see what I did there?).

No, indeed since November 8th of 2016 I’ve been awed…metaphorically frozen by the, and I use this word judiciously–“reality”–of just who has been sworn in as President of the United States. I guess, like any victim of trauma, I’ve used self-delusion as a defense mechanism. But tonight, while doing laundry during a break from studying The Iliad, I heard an NPR announcer say the phrase: “President Trump.” Obviously, I’ve heard this before, but for some reason, tonight, it hurt. It was surreal. A moment of panic set in and I literally wondered if I had either died, or was suffering from some form of parallel universe awareness. This simply can’t be…

Today, the director of the FBI stated, in no uncertain terms (Don, this means NOT fake news), that the administration of the sitting President of the United States is under criminal investigation for his alleged campaign ties to a foreign government. The Russians. As a child of the cold war, this chills me to the bone. But perhaps the most chilling “reality” is the seeming lethargy with which this news has been greeted by my fellow countrymen.

Let’s review: the republican nominee, and eventual electoral college victor, our now sitting President, is the subject of a criminal (read: treason) investigation for alleged collusion with the Russians to, among other things, affect the outcome of the presidential election.

I’m not going to parse this with anyone, nor do I intend to build a case against him. I believe the investigation alone speaks volumes.

What I do demand is an immediate, and serious examination of the evidence to begin articles of impeachment of this man, and, pending the outcome of the FBI’s (and hopefully a special prosecutor’s) investigation, a constitutional evaluation of the propriety of the last election by our Supreme Court. The buck has never stopped “here” with Trump and it’s pretty clear that the dysfunction has metastasized within his government. I’m calling for the Court, again pending satisfactory evidence of duplicity and criminal wrongdoing, to call for another election.

There is simply too much at stake to allow this narcissistic, impending indicted criminal to continue to govern. Consider the ACA and the wide-ranging effect Trump’s Federal Judge appointee’s can have on our country for decades to come. We can all see the writing on the wall here…let’s quit pussy-footing around the issue and stop calling this man our lawfully elected “President.” Bill Gates visited Trump today to discuss “the internet” today. I was outraged. It’s time for people of conscience to let the emperor know his fat ass is naked for all the world to see.  Government leaders and those in power need to stop entitling this man and his corrupt machine. Call a spade a damn spade.

“President Trump”…I can’t even.

 


A “Coarse” Correction…

Well it’s certainly not the outcome I’d hoped for. Nor expected. In fact, in my wildest dreams I didn’t think this clown would be elected president. I thought we were better than that…actually I still do (see below). Before I get to the heart of the matter though, I have to say, I’m not ENTIRELY surprised. Since the advent of “hate” style politics championed by Ronald Reagan, through the advent of Faux News and the unbridled partisan vitriol of Karl Rove and the like, we have seen a burgeoning class of disaffected, generally poorly educated, voters that feel as if the system needs to change. I agree. It does. But electing a misogynistic, racist, sexual predator with absolutely no qualifications did not seem to be the way to do it…or was it?

I am very angry at those that voted for this change. By voting for the candidate of the KKK you have effectively endorsed the antithesis of every principle that our nation was founded on. I am most sad today for those young men and woman who so bravely sacrificed their lives…that today a reality show clown will be their commander-in-chief.

But despite all this there are silver linings. The majority voted against this hatred. And although the electoral college will elect Trump, perhaps the next four years is our wake up call. If it is not…if it does inspire you to take action and correct this mess we find ourselves in…well then, we deserve this.

I for one plan to take action. I will NOT let this country go down in flames unchallenged. I have often disagreed with Michael Moore, but his insight on this election, and specifically the pathos that carried Trump to victory is startling.

And Moore provides his own call to action. One that I personally plan on implementing. Now:

Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.
4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).

Let’s try to get this all done by noon today.
— Michael Moore

Thank you Mr. Moore…let’s get on this folks…before this “coarse” correction becomes a way of life.


The Threat of Idiocracy

Exactly ten years ago—in 2006—filmmaker Mike Judge released a movie called Idiocracy. The movie, a satirical comedy, tells the tale of an America of the future, a nation of anti-intellectuals—idiots—governed by former professional wrestler President Camacho. The outlandish plot and dystopian vision of America was heralded by some as a nascent vision of our future … our distant future. However, the presidential aspirations of Donald Trump and the response to it,  may have fast-forwarded this notion: “Trump’s blatantly anti-intellectual, boorish persona is so over the top, it has drawn multiple comparisons to that of pro-wrestler-turned-president Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Mike Judge’s eerily prescient satire, 2006’s Idiocracy” (Perry). In fact, no less than the author of the screenplay weighed in last February with this tweet: “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary” (Cohen).

When businessman and reality television personality Donald Trump announced he was entering the 2016 presidential contest, a majority of political pundits gave Mr. Trump very little chance of winning the nomination of the Republican Party—much less winning the presidency. Today, as the nation stands at the precipice of Mr. Trump as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, it is instructive to look back into history and compare the tactics of other destructive demagogues who shared the same vitriol being spewed by Mr. Trump during his march on Pennsylvania Avenue. Has our republic devolved to the point where we as a nation are ready to elect a man who can, arguably, be described as non-presidential? And ultimately, what has been (and will be) the effect of a Trump presidency on our republic? The answers are clear: A Donald Trump presidency would be a dangerous step back in our nation’s history and must not be allowed to come to fruition.

The ascendancy of the Trump phenomenon has surprised some politicos and pundits. The brash nature of the man and his lack of political experience, on the surface, make him a weak candidate for responsible political office, much less as leader of the free world. The rhetoric of Mr. Trump and been vitriolic and at times dangerous. Examples include his call for a ban on Muslims entering the country and his promise to pay the legal fees of any supporter who attacks protestors at his campaign rallies.  However, this type of invective speech doesn’t occur in a vacuum—there is a receptive audience for it, as his growing base of support shows: “There is a lot of anger in the electorate, which Trump’s victory reflects” (Davidson).

It is precisely this anger and perceived disenfranchisement that Mr. Trump skillfully exploits. There is a large segment of the population that is, generally, uneducated—and frankly afraid—afraid that the government will come for their guns, their churches, and their livelihoods. These are fears that have no foundation in rational discourse, fears that are flamed by demagogues like Mr. Trump who are motivated less by conviction and more by sheer ego. In his book The Art of the Deal, Mr. Trump unabashedly rants about his deal-making prowess, often at the expense of the means necessary to attain the ends: “I wasn’t satisfied just to earn a good living. I was looking to make a statement. I was out to build something monumental—something worth a big effort” (Blair).  This brash, devil-may-care attitude has struck a chord. President Obama’s former campaign manager David Axelrod said “Donald Trump has a phenomenal sense of his audience” (Chotiner).

In the 1950s there was a similar audience, an audience that feared the encroachment of communism and the rise of the Soviet Union. And there was a man then too—a Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy—who also had a clear sense of his audience. Sen. McCarthy skillfully exploited the fears of the era to fuel his rise to prominence within the US Senate, and his place on the national stage. His tactics led to the creation of the word McCarthyism; “Today, McCarthyism is used to describe any public accusation of disloyalty without real proof” (Fitzgerald 84). Ironically (or predictably to some), Mr. Trump has called for a wall to be constructed to keep out what he describes as Mexican drug runners and rapists’. Furthermore, he has advocated denying Muslims entry into the US based on their religious faith alone. At no time has Mr. Trump provided any real evidence to back up his claims; and the media has been generally unwilling to effectively challenge him on this inflammatory rhetoric—just as the media was unwilling to do so in the incipient stages of McCarthyism.

The similarities between Mr. Trump and Sen. McCarthy are obvious and frightening. In my lifetime, I never imagined I would see the rise of a personality so deeply entwined with the hatred and vitriol of McCarthy. As the son of parents who witnessed this destruction first-hand, I feel an obligation to sound the klaxon and remind my fellow citizens of the parallels being played out in our current political arena. I was merely a child during the successive presidential campaigns of Governor George Wallace of Alabama, but I have distinct memories of my parents expressing their feelings of anger and disappointment that such a racist individual—an unapologetic segregationist—could advance as far as he did each time. I am clearly not alone in my concern:

Trump is increasingly more George Wallace than Ronald Reagan; his outbursts against establishment politics and undocumented immigrants have few limits. Trump’s raw message particularly resonates with those Americans who have stomached a decade of economic loss and social displacement. It is an American paradox that billionaire Trump so effectively channels George Wallace’s blue-collar, everyman appeal and message. (Williams)

In fact, the line between Mr. Trump and Governor Wallace is short indeed:

“I love that he’s talking in everybody else’s language. He’s not trying to be politically correct”…THAT response is simply an update from one of Mr. Wallace’s 1968 followers…”He tells it like it is and if it offends some government bureaucrats and loudmouth civil rights agitators, so what? He’s standing up and fighting for real Americans.” (Carter)

 These soundbites are irresistible to the ratings-hungry news media and further advance the ill-informed and racist’s views of the speaker. But to the blue-collar workers, struggling to make ends meet and seeing their jobs in danger of being shipped overseas, this rhetoric feeds into their paranoia and gives them an icon to rally around… just as Gov. George Wallace did in the 60s and early 70s. This is their president. This is the individual telling them what they want to hear—rationality and facts be damned. That Trump has no political experience is a bonus to them—he’s an outsider. That he is not presidential at all is even better—he’s one of us.

It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump occupying the Oval Office and subsequently being Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military force. This is the man who has participated in Wrestlemania events (an activity hardly considered to be statesman-like behavior). This is the man that has encouraged physical violence at his campaign rallies. This is the man who consistently spews racist views. Yes, this could be our next president. While character is not specifically mentioned as a qualification for being president in our Constitution, common sense, a sense of decorum, and downright decency should be qualities the voter considers when electing a president. Consider the following statements from candidate Trump: “Listen, you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent! … This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop…Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it!” (Bailey). Presidential language and sentiment indeed—FDR, Eisenhower, and even Republican stalwart Ronald Reagan would surely blanch at the possibility of this man sharing their throne in the Oval Office.

In addition to the national disgrace that would be a Trump presidency as the result of his actions and rhetoric, it’s wise to consider the psychology of the man hoping to have his finger on the nuclear button. Is the man so recklessly and childishly calling on his followers to assault those peaceful demonstrators who disagree with him, able to maturely control our armed forces—indeed have to power to annihilate our planet? “When he lost, he would say he won; when he won, he would say he won more. A psychologist might call such behavior narcissistic, egotistical, and, no doubt, a sign of hidden insecurity” (Blair). However, a proper clinical diagnosis can certainly not be made based purely upon the rhetoric of a political candidate. As many Trump supporters will eagerly claim, Mr. Trump is not, in fact, a racist, a misogynist, or any of the other titles that seem to fit him so well. They claim that Mr. Trump is a brilliant political strategist with his finger on the pulse of the population. And they may be right: “For all his theatrics, Trump has caused a stampede in the Republican Party and he’s done this using a classic, class-based divide-and-rule strategy” (Trubowitz).

In the context of today’s media free-for-all climate, it is certain that many voters are influenced by broadcast media outlets such as Fox and MSNBC. Neither of these networks can be, arguably, described as unbiased sources of information. In 1987, when the FCC Fairness Doctrine (a requirement that broadcast news be honest and balanced) was gutted, the landscape of the so-called news media took on an entirely different meaning. News producers were now free to openly cultivate what they had surreptitiously sought for years—ratings—and the resultant advertising revenue that followed. “If it bleeds it leads” was the cry of the media now, and sensationalism was the order of the day. Candidate Trump is the logical extension of this denigration of the fourth estate. A man with reality-show credentials and a personality larger than life, Trump exploits the media in an unaffected manner like no other candidate. The louder, more boorish his behavior, the bigger the rating and the more electoral support he gains. Trump is well known for his sophomoric Twitter rants; and now, scholarly research has shown it to be quite effective: “We…evaluated the effects of Trump’s tweeting activity on the growth of his followers…the more he tweeted the faster his follower camp grew. Lastly, we measured the effects of two Trump-initiated controversies. Based on our data, neither one is hurting his campaign” (Wang et al. 4).

Similarly: “Trump’s supporters have continuously ranked among the most intolerant and least educated of voters—a point punctuated by Trump’s triumphant assertion, after winning this week’s Nevada caucus, that he loves ‘the poorly educated” (Perry). So the question arises: is it the man or is the man simply tapping into a nascent and dangerous ideology? Is America ready for a leader who expounds the virtues of intolerance? Regardless of the source, this homogenization of hatred must not be allowed to continue. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, renowned 20th century psychologist Karl Popper agrees: “We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal…” (qtd. in Hedges 1). Analyzed from this perspective, the blatant hate-speech and racist vitriol transcend the musings of a petulant man-child and indeed contributes to a damaging dialogue that slowly, but consistently, tears away at the fabric of rational public discourse.

This kind of negative discourse, the factions described by Hamilton et al in The Federalist Papers, are immune from the remedies described by our founding fathers. The safety net, the opposition mounted from rational members of society, is gradually being thwarted by the fear-mongering likes of Mr. Trump and some evangelical Christians:

…the myth peddled by the Christian Right about the American heartland: that here alone are family values and piety cherished, nurtured and protected. The so-called red states, which vote Republican and have large evangelical populations, have higher rates of murder, illegitimacy and teenage births than the so-called blue states… (Hedges 46)

These are the folks that our forefathers envisioned rising up against factions. Instead, they are being led down a path of fear and redemption by a presidential candidate that is far from presidential.

While the conventional political wisdom holds that Mr. Trump is unlikely to win the presidential election, the broader concern should be the effect his rise and his candidacy is having on our electorate. Movements like this don’t happen in a vacuum and there may well be long term effects from its success. While touted by conservatives as a great president, Ronald Reagan’s social and economic polices arguably set into motion destructive patterns within our society that remain today. It is also likely that the success of the Trump campaign and the resultant nearly complete lack of critical coverage by the major broadcast news organizations will be setting the plate for the next Trump … or McCarthy … or Wallace:

But there are striking similarities between Mr. Trump and George C. Wallace…The connections between the two — their rhetoric and their ability to fire up crowds — give us a better sense of what Trumpism will mean once he is gone from the campaign stage. After all, political losers as well as winners can shape the future. (Carter)

The damage done to the Republican Party will be the most immediate concern. Their lack of cohesiveness, not only in Congress, but in fielding effective countermeasures against one of their own is astonishing. This is a party in crisis; Mr. Trump has hijacked the party and the so-called Trump Train is racing full speed ahead into a chasm that will be very difficult for them escape: “The consequences for America and the world—if he wins, of course, but maybe even if he loses—are unknowable and perhaps unimaginable. The degree to which…he will also permanently deform American politics can only be speculated upon, but his primary victory will, decades from now, likely be seen as one of the defining events of 21st-century America” (Chotiner).

Perhaps another troubling sidebar to Mr. Trump’s candidacy has been the nearly widespread lack of critical coverage among the major broadcast new organizations. With the exception of partisan stalwarts Fox and MSNBC, the big three (ABC, NBC, CBS) as well as CNN have been generally easy on the candidate. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Mr. Trump’s rise in the era of Murrow and Cronkite. It simply wouldn’t happen. So that begs the question of whether we have entered, in the days after the repeal of the FCC Fairness Doctrine, an era of free-for-all politics. Will our political process be reduced to shouting matches and ad hominem attacks? Will our fourth estate complete their death knell and encourage this behavior to boost their stock prices? We may already be there: “And yet when people look back…a generation from now, our larger cultural response—at least as seen through our television media—will seem incomprehensible…there was hardly a whimper…the media have spent so long domesticating Trump that his victory no longer appeared momentous. He is the new normal” (Chotiner).

But is this paradigm shift unhealthy? Some would argue that this form of rhetorical democracy is vital: “Civility is often the camouflage for hiding challenges to the big-government faction… the First Amendment does not protect merely decorous or genteel speech, but as the political rhetoric of American history shows, all manner of speech no matter how rude or uncivil” (Thornton). There is no question that the principles of rhetorical democracy must be protected and unlike Popper, I’m not advocating imprisonment of those merely expressing intolerance through speech. However, it is clear that the American political landscape has been changed by the Trump candidacy—our discourse has become not only uncivil, but it has pandered to our collective base instincts—our lowest common denominator is now enjoying an ascendancy heretofore rationally unimagined. It remains to be seen what the lasting effects of Mr. Trump’s candidacy will be; but it is incumbent upon all those who share a stake in the political system to think critically about what is happening and exercise lasting vigilance.

History has shown that our nation has survived the destructive likes of Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace. The parallels between those divisive figures and Mr. Trump have been well documented. Likewise, the crude and boorish behavior of candidate Trump has been on display throughout the current election cycle, and yet his appeal has grown exponentially. This begs the question of the effect the “Trump Factor” will have on our country and the electorate in general. A resounding, crushing defeat of Mr. Trump in the general presidential election will go a long way towards reclaiming not only the gravitas of the presidency, but will help send a message that appealing to the lowest common denominator is not the road to the White House. Maybe we can suspend the advent of Idiocracy for at least another generation.

Works Cited

Bailey, Jason. “Who Said It: Presidential Hopeful Donald Trump or ‘Idiocracy’ President       Camacho?” Flavorwire. Flavorpill Media, 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 06 May 2016.

Blair, Gwenda. Donald Trump: The Candidate. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005. Google Books. Alphabet, Inc. Web. 06 May 2016.

Carter, Dan T. “What Donald Trump Owes George Wallace.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Jan. 2016. Web. 06 May 2016.

Chotiner, Isaac. “Donald Trump Is TV’s New Normal. That’s Insane.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 03 May 2016. Web. 06 May 2016.

Cohen, Etan (etanjc). “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary.” 24 Feb. 2016, 9:27 a.m. Tweet.

Davidson, Amy. “Why Cruz, and the G.O.P., Lost to Trump.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast,  04 May 2016. Web. 06 May 2016.

Fitzgerald, Brian. McCarthyism: The Red Scare. Minneapolis: White-Thomson Publishing Ltd., 2007. Print.

Hedges, Chris. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Print.

Idiocracy.  Dir. Mike Judge. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2006. Film.

Perry, Tod. “Idiocracy Writer Admits He May Have Predicted the Future.” GOOD Magazine. GOOD Worldwide Inc., 26 Feb. 2016. Web. 06 May 2016.

Thornton, Bruce S. “Here’s Mud in Your Eye: Politics in Democracies Have Always Been Rough and Tumble, and We’re Better off Because of It.” Hoover Digest 1 (2016): 29+. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 May 2016.

Trubowitz, Peter. “How the “Trump Factor” Came to Dominate the 2016 Election.” LSE Research Online. LSE Research Online, 1 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 May 2016

Trump, Donald and Schwartz, Tony. The Art of the Deal. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. Print.

Wang, Yu, Jiebo Luo, Richard Niemi, and Yuncheng Lee. “To Follow or Not to Follow: Analyzing the Growth Patterns of the Trumpists on Twitter. “To Follow or Not to Follow: Analyzing the Growth Patterns of the Trumpists on Twitter  (2016): 1-4. Google Scholar. Web. 6 May 2016.

Williams, Victor. “Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and a Disrupted Electoral College: High Unfavorable Ratings, Multi-Candidate General Election Ballots, and Pursuing the ‘Art of the Deal’ with Free-Agent Electors in December 2016”. Social Science Research Network. Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc., 4 Dec. 2015. Web. 6 May 2016.

 

 


A Brief Detour to the Other Side of my Brain…

 

So the dearth of posts here recently can be explained by something other than my general lethargy or reticence to engage.

For the last year-and-a-half, my academic career (community college) has taken me from one side of my brain to the other.

I originally re-enrolled at the community college that I took my first class in 1979. Yes kids, you heard that right…1979. It was an Emergency Medical Technician class I took as a senior in high school. That class led to a 26 year career as a first responder (EMT, Paramedic, Fire Captain).

When life intervened in 1999 and my world turned upside down as the result of my step-son’s car accident…all the best laid plans I had flew out the door before I realized they were missing. Without rehashing the last two decades (artfully hidden elsewhere in this blog), in the spring of 2013 I decided that a degree in Addiction Studies would afford me a stable career in a field I believed deeply in.

Well, two things happened: when I began my coursework, I also found a job in the field and was quickly disillusioned at the profit-making nature of the business; but more importantly, while taking my basic coursework for the AS, I found a passion for learning again. Not to say that as I younger student that I craved knowledge (far from it), but I found that as an adult with some life experience under my belt, that what I was learning about politics, world history, literature, and mathematics simply enthralled me.

Yet again, I steered a course change and decided to obtain a BA in English at UCLA (other fantasy universities include Berkeley and Georgetown).

Based upon by GPA, I was accepted into my colleges Honors Transfer Program for UCLA, and for the past three semesters I’ve been slogging through Math and Spanish courses. I dreaded Math and looked forward to Spanish. Both expectations were misguided.

It turns out that in order to attain fluency in a language, immersion and more than three semesters of the language is required. So after 3 semesters I can read and conjugate verbs like a boss but am panic stricken if I actually have to form real sentences in my head. Still, I managed to get A’s all three semesters.

Math was the surprise. I have always suffered from profound math anxiety, and frankly was dreading these classes. What I found was a real “duh” moment. If you put in the work, study, ask questions, seek outside help, that math is actually pretty stimulating. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments in Logarithms where I was sure the nuclear anxiety would take me out, but I persisted on and moved onto Honors Statistics last semester; another class that 4 years ago I would never have even had the courage to attempt.  I’ve received A’s in all 3 math classes the last 3 semesters. No one is more shocked than me…

So here I am…finished with the core work to get into university and back to my true love…general knowledge. This semester is going to be very challenging as I have three Honors classes: Physical Anthropology, Cinema, and English (persuasive writing). It also means a boat-load of research papers and familiarity with MLA/APA that I haven’t used in the last year-and-a-half.

So, of course the panic has set in…but it’s a panic that has enabled me to maintain (fingers desperately crossed) a 4.0 GPA during my time here. I didn’t set out to do this by any means; it has simply been a by-product of my thirst for knowledge and has now become self-perpetuating.

Three more semesters to go and I’m hoping to report my entrance into UCLA (or CAL or Georgetown or, as my life seems to arc, somewhere else I haven’t planned) as a junior.

Until then, my brain has shifted back to the other side, the non-math/language side and I’m hoping to crank out some more Conversations with the Moon…

 


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