Trump, scha·den·freu·de, and righteous anger

I’m working something out.

Until very recently, my Republican (not Conservative) acquaintances have felt perfectly comfortable mocking my liberal friends for wearing masks during the world-outbreak of “the novel coronavirus.” Their contempt fit. It made sense, given that Republicans have allowed Trump to mock disabled Americans; women; indigenous Americans; Latinos; all minorities; immigrants and the countries immigrants fled; overweight women (truly ironic, given his obesity); people whose “genes” might not hold up to the scrutiny of Minnesotan Trumpers; women in professions like journalism.

Republicans let Trump run wild, and eagerly took up his cause. They refused to wear masks. Not wearing masks became, as I recently read, the equivalent of a MAGA hat, a sign of political opposition to “lib-tards.” Grandchildren in arms, mask-less Republicans patiently explained to me that “people die.” They wanted their stores opened! They wanted to Restaurant! Grandchildren not in arms, they screamed at essential grocery store employees about their rights, about produce workers trying to take away freedom. In the privacy of their Facebook worlds, they posted images of Jews being loaded onto trains in Germany with captions that read, “Now I know how this happened.” Because public health = deep-state final-solution.

They promoted Civil War. “Locked and Loaded” read many Twitter feeds, particularly in the South or anywhere David Nunes and Kevin McCarthy stepped foot in California (they don’t come to LA or San Francisco very frequently).

So. Now. Something’s changed. I wonder what.

President Trump has COVID – 19. He and his wife. Potentially, Sean Hannity. Chris Wallace. His primary political opponent. Anybody whose come to his mask-less events. Other legislators. Reporters. Those he ridiculed for caring about other people’s health.

True to form, there has been an avalanche of “appropriate commentary” from liberals who just recently considered him an Enemy of the State. “I wish him a speedy recovery.” “Let’s not engage in schadenfreude — he’s a man, first, and we shouldn’t wish sickness on anyone.”

How moral…and how correct. We shouldn’t…be happy.

Republicans wouldn’t be so moral, I don’t think. Remember when Ruth Bader Ginsberg died? According to the Washington Post, the President’s aides didn’t tell Trump before a rally performance she had passed because they were afraid he would tell his adoring crowds and they would cheer. On my own Facebook feed, one of my acquaintances suggested RBG’s death was an act of God, and wrote “Thank God she’d dead.” If Biden had COVID, Republicans would be prepping stakes to put him out of his misery. Just imagine Tom Cotton carving a stake, and see how real that image is.

But this doesn’t matter, not really. Judging my actions with a Republican yardstick is…not wise. Even though Trump has now been struck by the very disease he discredited, and pointing out that irony in ways subtle and gross would give me much pleasure, there is something stopping me.

What?

Those very people who support this walking disgrace to the Presidency stop me from being happy. This is what I’m working out. His supporters/enablers/complicitors (which is evidently becoming a word) are probably hurting. And maybe scared. They now have existential proof that not taking nature seriously…is a serious mistake. Their icon and idol will probably get better, as he’ll have much better care than Black America has had with respect to COVID, but that doesn’t compute in Red America right now. It hurts to have your gods de-godded. As Gustave Flaubert said in Madame Bovary, you have to be careful in dealing with golden icons; the gilt surface rubs off very easily.

Consider Trump rubbed clean. That’s got to hurt those who trusted the plating.

Which is why scha·den·freu·de is wrong. The word means, literally, “harm-joy.” Taking joy in some else’s suffering. Let’s be clear here: schadenfreude rarely occurs outside an atmosphere of hypocrisy; getting happy at the suffering of an ethical person doesn’t usually make much sense. But “watching,” say, the President of Liberty University get strung up in a sexual threesome (ooops, audienced twosome) makes sense when you remember that the Falwells have been carving moral judgement into bludgeons for decades.

Honestly, there is hypocrisy here in Trump’s case. There are lies and misinformation, and Trump seems to have been felled by his own world-view (or weltanschauung): he’s a man, men are strong, etc., etc. But I am not happy he has been infected, and not because he matters to me. Consonant with public Republican pronouncements, not every human being matters; remember, they were the ones who want to storm-open the economy because “PEOPLE DIE ANYWAY.”

No. I am not happy Trump is sick because I still have some affection for some of his supporters. I don’t want to see them in pain. I’m working through this. But as it stands, schadenfreude is out. I hope Trump gets better. It does feel wrong to want anyone to suffer, even those people who have caused so much suffering. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m working through it.

But on another point, I’m crystal clear. While I’m not happy he’s sick, I am very very angry that he has caused so much suffering, reflected rather than assuaged our country’s divisions, given shout-outs to ProudBoys even as he mocks a candidate for wearing a big mask. Trump doesn’t deserve my joy that he has a potentially deadly disease. I know what it’s like to have people look on disease and wish it on others (Republicans during the AIDS crisis); I never want to cause that kind of pain, and a small part of me still believes in redemption.

That is where anger comes in. Trump does deserve my anger. He has done horrific things, many of them to people who cannot fight back. He deserves the anger of a nation he lied to. He deserves our anger for becoming an icon of modern civil war. (Make no mistake, Republicans: he is not a mirror, as you claim; he is mirroring America’s divisions, and like a funhouse game blowing us out of proportion.)

My anger is healthy. Anger is necessary. Anger is redemptive. I’m angry this stupid man was allowed to inflict his moronic ego on the nation, which means I’m also angry at Trump’s enablers. I wish him a speedy recovery. But if I’m honest, I wish him that recovery so that I still have the chance to make him — and his supporters — pay for what they have done to the country.

Trump’s illness is a chance to remember our humanity. His recovery is a chance to exact justice. That won’t happen unless my liberal friends remember that it is completely necessary to be both humane toward and angry at a man who got burned by his own wildfire.

This is real: Bern-ers take their marbles and go home

A list — see if it makes sense:

  • 2000 — a muzzled Clinton/Ralph Nader
  • 2008 — Obama
  • 2012 — Obama
  • 2016 — Sanders
  • 2020 — Sanders

Two observations, and a prediction:

  • a Democratic presidential candidate cannot — and rightfully cannot — win a general election without the support of African Americans;
  • millennial Sanders supporters, having constructed purity politics/cancel culture, will invalidate the African American vote by declaring the election rigged;
  • Trump will win re-election.

A question:

Do those pushing Sanders realize that the reason Trump won is because the Democratic vote was essentially split between realists and purists? Just as it was for George Bush Sr. in 1992 (Ross Perot)? As it was for Al Gore (Ralph Nader taking more than enough votes from Gore in Florida to make a recount necessary)? As it was in 2016, when Sanders’ supporters ignored his feeble attempt at pacification and “decided not to participate”?

My answer? Sadly, no. They’ll just keep yelling “Establishment!” because they think it means something more than the MY WAY! purity temper-tantrum it is. They have seen the light — and if they can’t have their light, it’s game over. Who cares if African American voters — the single-most important voting demographic in American politics — are lining up behind Biden. “Establishment!” Who cares if Biden is drawing support from troops-on-the-ground in battleground states. “It’s rigged!”

Bern-ers — Sanders’ most Trump-like supporters — are attracted to him because he resembles them in a very important way: he will not compromise. He’s pure. The RealDeal. He sees, the world be damned. It doesn’t matter that “Medicare for All” is DOA for Senior Citizens who will (rightfully) see in the expansion of benefits a danger to their own. It doesn’t matter that Fidel Castro quarantined HIV/AIDS patients or created conditions so dire that Cubans would rather take their chances on the open ocean than remain in Cuba. Center-left Democrats and Republicans who see in Biden someone they could vote for, someone of measured authority? So what. Sanders and his supporters see the world the way they see the world, and nothing — no argument, no Florida Democrat upheaval, no appeal to the raised voices of Others — can change that perspective.

This sort of ideological purity is usually seen in parents looking at their newborn, cooing that their offspring is the pinnacle of human potential. Their myopia is understandable, and easily forgiven. Nobody expects a parent (at least in the first two years) to admit their child is, say, ugly. Or not-quite-the-brightest. It’s probably why we’ve survived as a species, this sort of blind adoration. Sadly, however, some (many?) millennials believed their parents — and only their parents — and continue to see themselves as flawless arbiters of the good and the right. Their purity, their blessedness, has deep roots in those planned communities of which they are a part, in social and educational arrogance; having little experience with being wrong, Bern-ers — here, mainly white millennials — cannot admit opposing thought because, first, few have had to actually encounter a world beyond their control (play-dates, anyone?), and second, why should they? They are, after all, paragons of virtue and intelligence, far above those low-lifes who would “compromise” their principles for electoral victory.

The consequence of such intellectual elitism/real-world ignorance is, of course, a massive blind spot: a sort of infantile fascism, founded (just like in history) on the twin pillars of innocence and arrogance, that can’t recognize itself as fascism because, well, “we’re for universal health care”…as they declare “the process” political and cancel American democracy-in-action — or anything else they don’t agree with.

Get ready for Four More Years. One way or another, Bern-ers will cancel the African American vote — which, again, is essential to a Democratic win — regardless of what happens in the primaries. The predicted landscape: another conservative Supreme Court Justice; the ending of the ACA (just watch — this is the reason the deficit is being fueled: soon, a call for “fiscal responsibility” will overtake the call for affordable care); and the further erosion of the important line between church and state. Oh, and reproductive choice? Are you kidding?

Not quite the kind of Bern I’d like.

(A caveat: we could always hope for a recession. Then Democrats could run Jill Stein — another Green Party purists — and win.)


Some interesting reading:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/04/these-myths-died-super-tuesday/

Art vs. entertainment. Finally.

First, something from Gertrude Stein:

Then commenced the long period which Max Jacobs has called the Heroic Age of Cubism, and it was an heroic age. All ages are heroic, that is to say there are heroes in all ages who do things because they cannot do otherwise and neither they nor the others understand how and why these things happen. One does not ever understand, before they are completely created, what is happening and one does not at all understand what one has done until the moment when it is all done. Picasso said once that he who created a thing is forced to make it ugly. In the effort to create the intensity and the struggle to create this intensity, the result always produces a certain ugliness, those who follow can make of this thing a beautiful thing because they know what they are doing, the thing having already been invented, but the inventor because he does not know what he is going to invent inevitably the thing he makes must have its ugliness.

Stein, Picasso

I suppose it’s appropriate, and perhaps even artful, that the clearest expositions of artistic process is found in one of the most poorly punctuated essays I’ve read outside a high-school English class. Stein loved commas, but didn’t seem to know where to place them. I love poetry, but don’t know what I’m doing.

We’re both struggling. A perfect relationship.

What Stein is getting at — having had a front-row seat to the cubist drama — is the difference between that which comes first (which is art), and that which follows (which is entertainment). Or, put differently, Stein believes creation is distinct from understanding in the same way that inspiration is distinct from monetization. Her Picasso lived in the space of heroic vision, not in the sense that he believed he had something extraordinary to communicate, but instead something that was indelibly his — something that flowed through him rather than being produced by him.

This Picasso did not want to draw what everybody already saw; he wanted to express what he saw, almost how he saw. That vision, before it became an -ism, looked strange. Dark lines appeared on very warped faces. Nudity was not often ….provocative. While others competed in the realm of representational art, learning their crafts in structures which either applauded or denigrated fidelity to the aesthetics of the time, Picasso created. Not a movement. Something else, something Stein intimates he did not understand.

He put down, as clearly as he could, his focus, and kept moving forward. Later, his vision would be codified. Viewers now, having been trained to see what is suspiciously similar to a two-dimensional representation of (newly emergent) quantum physics, can finally see something more than what had been seen. But only after the artist created a path to a place he couldn’t describe until he got there.

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

That is, I think, the difference between art and entertainment — and by “entertainment,” I also mean much of academic discourse. Music. Stories. Anything that can be sold. Or claims to have a handle on a world that is constantly moving, but is really a progressively more polished (and boring) version of what is already understood. We read, or watch, or listen to the professionals, those who have perfected the technique of storytelling, or moviemaking, or songs. But — and this is important — we are not really reading, etc., in these mimes anything but ourselves. We’re not really seeing anything but what we’ve already seen.

This is entertainment. And it is fine, good, wonderful. I need to be comforted, every once in a while, by something that confirms my worldview. I can’t be challenged all the time. But it is also comforting, for me, to read that perhaps the value of art likes not in its perfection, but in its ugliness; that the first few sentences we strung together as children were not structurally perfect, but still beautiful to those listening; that I get a thrill out of listening to bands that are finding their way much more often than I do when listening to those that have become masters of their trade; and my best poems, like my best stories, are not the ones that I “techniqued” into perfection (like lectures I’d given a hundred times), but those off-the-cuff moments of honesty that seem ugly and imperfect even as they move.

The truth: I really did enjoy being infuriated at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs more than applauding Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. And perhaps like Stein, I find more value in one ugly-but-unsettling sketch than I do in a reproduction that has been purified for public consumption. Which is why I love the fact that Stein is more concerned with content than punctuation. She’s repetitive, somewhat unstructured, a little dictatorial. But then she has to be. She creating a new view and all. Hers.


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Reflections in a window

Converse shoes to light-brown hair over sunned muscular calves to dull grey shorts to adventurous glutes to dull grey tank top to moderately formed shoulders to fleshy upper arms to selfie of useful face.

He stands.  Throws his cup away in the correct Starbucks recycling receptacle (there’s a guide on top of the barrel;  it’s confusing). Moves outside, glances at me through the window as he passes. Stands by dull grey Prius.  Lifts tank top before reflecting window. Deep-cut, not just abdominals but chiseled muscle groups flexing against taught skin.  Gets in car. Drives into the world.

I think:  he has to lift his shirt every time he wants to show his assets.

And then:  most people are trying to monetize their lives, commodify their bodies, sell their wares.  

Whether it’s a skill or a feature doesn’t matter;  like auctioneers we shout ourselves before buyers who are themselves sellers, bartering what we have for what we want, trying to transform what was given or worked for (again, doesn’t matter) into currency that is then used to purchase from others what we need.

Our bodies become goods, paraded and traded by pimp-parasites whose property-claims ignore the ubiquity of dirt. We do to our-selves what we do to our-world, assert dominion over arms and legs, trees on a mountainside, flowers in a field, each captured by a brutal interloper that proclaims ownership over what it did not create, sells it, and moves on.

The pimp did look at me.  

But then, deciding that I had nothing to offer, continued to hawk his meat to a hungry, depleted species. 

Gloria in excelsis Deo.
unsplash-logocharles gaudreault

The Temptation of Fame: Art and Motivation

…or, why writers, like bands, are better before they’re discovered.


So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.” Virginia Woolf

I write because I like the world — as it is — and want to see it, up-close.  I can’t find the world in many people’s books (by and large). The real world seems like a faded copy of a copy in a lot of stories; even the grit is unreal, much too thoughtful to do any damage. I read many stories, everything from University of Iowa grads to porn-pervs, and am largely left with an elevated sense of distance. So much of what “writers” do places their talent front-and-center; what might have otherwise been a quick trip to the park becomes an exposition of (boring) botanical expertise. Why do they have to mention the names of trees —  every tree?  Is that a requirement — authors must wear long, drapy scarves, not know how to say hello in a coffee shop, and know the names of trees? 

What I want is a story I can walk around in, where characters are actually people who have jobs other than “writer,” “teacher,” “bookstore clerk,” or “student”  — and don’t know the difference between beech and magnolia trees. 


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