Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

This Much Is Not Uncertain

So. It’s been a week…

(And what a week it’s been.)

since the White House actually, literally changed hands.

For a lot of people, it’s been a very hard week – partly because of the flurry of executive orders out of the Oval Office that threaten to uproot a lot of lives. And it’s been a hard week partly because, for many of us, we had no idea that it would get this bad, this fast.

But it’s been a hard week also because of the uncertainty.

Right after the election, I immediately identified the source of my stress: the uncertainty was towering. What would the new Current Occupant of the Oval Office be like as an actual President, not merely as a candidate? And in the time between then and Inauguration Day, the uncertainty did not diminish.

And now that we know what it’s like to have a Vulgar Talking Yam in the White House and acting as President, if not in a terribly presidential way (as we have come to define such a term in the last couple of hundred years) … amazingly, the uncertainty has not in any way diminished.

How will Mexico respond to his behavior? How about China? NATO countries? Will our theoretical allies still want to be friends with us when all this is over?

How will he respond to an actual crisis? Say, a natural disaster within the US, or a terrorist attack upon its citizens? Will he make things better or worse?

Still hard to say; although there’s more and more evidence to suggest that whatever the exact details of whatever crisis may befall, the response will be somewhere between semantically inappropriate and literally catastrophic.

And this is the world in which we live, now.

And people are already getting hurt.

 

I don’t, in this case, mean the people who wonder if they’ll soon be deported, or how soon their right to marry will be taken away, for example. I don’t mean, in this case, the people who already do and surely will continue to face discrimination and taunts and threats and actual bodily harm because of present or future policies (or just because of the awful behavior of nitwits who like to hurt people) that have to do with what they look like, or what deity they worship, or which gender their loving instincts gravitate toward.

Although I do think about those people, specifically people I know who fit into those categories, Every. Single. Day.

Here, I mean that people are getting hurt when they just try to keep up with this stuff; when they try to make sense of the nonsensical; when they try to metaphorically swim upstream and make headway in the face of this toxic torrent of awful.  When they try to come to terms with the fact that what has been unthinkable for 240 years has become a feature, not a bug.

I include myself in this particular category of people getting hurt, although I’m a straight white guy, so I’m not right in the crosshairs this very moment. Weirdly enough, I haven’t lost sleep. (I know this because I’m no more of an early-morning person than I was three months ago.)

But I do spend a great deal of time marinating in politics and current affairs – because I did before the election, and before the campaigns, and in fact for the last about thirteen years I’ve been especially politically aware and vocal. So it’s kinda my thing.

Which means, in the last week especially, I’ve been positively seething a lot of the time.

It can’t be healthy. It can’t be good for me; I know this.

But I don’t feel like I can unplug; because I’ll miss something … and there’s hardly a thing out there that is unimportant.

Don’t feel as if you have to keep track of everything,” folks say, “because there are tons of people out there, and not everybody has to watch everything. Division of labor, and all that.”

Easy for you to say. I care – I want to care – about everything that’s going on, and going wrong.

Ignore the Tweets,” folks say, “because they’re just smokescreens for the truly terrible things that are happening. Don’t get distracted.”

Okay,” I reply, “but those Tweets communicate things about our current chief executive, or his views, or about basic truths even, that should not be swept under the rug, that should not be let go, because if you let them go, they’ll just get repeated and repeated and he won’t learn anything and the lies he tells will start to become accepted as truths because that’s how it works…!”

(Remember the flap about the VP-elect’s reception at that performance of “Hamilton”? Cheeto Mussolini’s tweet brought up an important issue, even as it distracted us from … from something … something much more pressing, something to do with … damn it, that’s my point – we can’t even remember what the hell it was, even though at the time it was frickin’ DefCon 1. So much has happened since then that it’s practically lost to antiquity.)

 

This morning, I figured something out, though.

It wasn’t that I should unplug for a day, or two, or a week, for my own state of mind.

If anything, I should focus harder.

Just on different things, from time to time.

The day after the election, I came to the horrifying realization that a lot of people had voted for Orange Muppet Hitler. Certainly enough, by our arcane electoral rules, to elect someone whose behavior I would not have tolerated for more than thirty seconds in my middle-school music classroom.

If you voted for Trump,” said one of my favorite political commentators, “you’re either a racist and a misogynist, or you’re OK with racism and misogyny.” My response (to my iPod, from which her podcast was coming), was, “yeah, and you just had your basest instincts toward treating people badly – either for a purpose or for your own self-satisfaction! – validated.

And there were tons more of those people out there than I had thought, more than I had realized before … than I had wanted to know were really out there.

Now, I didn’t immediately look at the world, the morning of November 9, and suddenly observe that the drivers were more impolite (I live in Massachusetts; it’s hard to tell) … that people in cash register lines were more impatient … that people greeted each other less warmly, now that the President-Elect was someone with all the manners of a bull after the china shop. I didn’t suddenly, immediately feel like the sun was a little dimmer in the sky, or that food tasted not quite as good, now.

But I had conversations with people (who weren’t even in the groups that will soon feel oppressed and frankly mistreated by their own government) who did feel that way. And the world did seem different, somehow off-kilter, even though it looked exactly the same as it had the day before.

It’s one thing to be disappointed that your guy (or in this case, your woman) didn’t win an election, and that the fellow who did win is just not your cup of tea.

This is another thing, though. A whole huge substantive hell of a different thing.

A lot of people took this one especially hard – including me – because it wasn’t just a question of whose policies or politics made more sense, or would help more people, or would get more things done that made sense to get done. For those of us who didn’t vote for the Short-Fingered Vulgarian, it was because … well, it was because we felt strongly enough that he was an awful person and a miserable role model; it was at a much more “core” level than “his personality doesn’t lend itself to sober, considered governance” and “Russia may have a blackmail-oriented hold on the guy”.

I violated my usual rule of “don’t call people names”. I made up unflattering nicknames for him (irony, I know … since all we heard for a year and a half was “Crooked Hillary” and “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco”), but felt like those nicknames were much less playground mockery and much more, uh, journalism.

I endeavored not to be pulled down to his level; and sometimes failed. So I maybe didn’t feel too good about that. And then, I found out that the noble philosophy – “when they go low, we go high” – or, as a certain famous carpenter once suggested, “turn the other cheek” – didn’t work anyway.

It felt like the very concept of civility, of being decent to one another, had taken a hit. And that treating your fellow man like crap was now the de facto, unspoken policy of the United States government.

And in the first week of the new Administration, it has felt increasingly like treating your fellow man like crap has become the actual policy of the government, thanks largely to the pack of leaders and potential leaders whose sole concern in life appears to be profiting off the suffering of others. Whose moral compass always points squarely in their own direction.

 

I’m not sure where we go from here … since in theory there will be 207 more weeks until the next inauguration … but the possibilities are staggering, and not in a good way.

What, exactly, to do?

Plenty!!, as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators showed the very day after the Inauguration. Like a boxer getting up and regrouping after being knocked to the canvas during the first minute of a heavyweight fight … people and organizations are standing back up and shaking the cobwebs out of their heads and deciding on strategies to use, to win this fight – now that it’s clear that this fight is going to go all twelve rounds.

But this is not about that, at least not in this blog post.

This is, instead, about one small thing that I (we) can do, which may help to preserve one fundamental thing that can not, or certainly should not, be legislated out of existence with the mere passing of a bill or the signing of an executive order:

Being decent to each other. Not treating people like crap. Showing support for people before they’ve shown support for us.

So I’m actively, purposefully, paying attention to a few little things, when they happen. And all these have happened in the last week:

I’ve actively paid attention when I’ve had a chance to let a driver merge into my lane, and when I’ve been the beneficiary. And made sure to smile and wave, in either case.

I’ve actively paid attention to the moments when I’ve had a chance to smile at a cashier, to hold a door for somebody, to spare a cheerful “good morning!” for a custodian who’s already been at work long before my day began.

I’ve actively paid attention to – and reveled in – the church choir rehearsal moments that have featured good spirits and belly laughs and oh by the way music preparation. Particularly those moments wherein choir members have cheerfully made jokes back and forth, not at each other, but with each other – with affection and camaraderie and a sense of pulling on the oars in the same direction, and to the same cadence.

Because there are plenty of tough times ahead, thanks to the policies of people (one in particular, but there are many characters in this insidious drama) who think only of themselves and their own personal and political gain, who have no idea about true human decency because they don’t traffick in it nearly enough to be good at it.

So while we’re trying desperately to hold their feet to the fire, to hold them back from doing the things they would dearly love to do to people and not so much for them … and while we’re trying gamely to swim upstream in the toxic tide … we cannot lose sight of opportunities (responsibilities) to make individual lives around us better, even with the smallest gestures, even with the least earth-shaking appreciations.

The good people of this earth have to stay that way – together. If we get sucked into feeling that the “do unto others, then split” adage of 1970s t-shirts is the new normal, then we’re really up the creek.

Resist. Reject.

(But as Abraham Lincoln said to Bill and Ted … be excellent to each other.)

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January 27, 2017 Posted by | current events, government, news | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You’re Good At Something, Never Do It For Free -or- Entitlements

I spotted a story in the Washington Post earlier today that described the effort that Marla Maples (Donald Trump’s second wife) and Tiffany Trump (his 23-year-old daughter) were putting into looking great for Friday’s inauguration festivities.

They were trying to get their hairstyling and makeup done … for nothing.

Tricia Kelly, a freelance stylist, was contacted by a Maples associate about doing their hair and makeup for the day. When presented with Kelly’s fee schedule, Maples (via her people) objected, saying the amount was too much. After further back-and-forth (resulting in a Kelly proposal of $350 total), Maples’ assistant suggested that perhaps Kelly might be willing to provide services for free — in exchange for “exposure”, including some social media shout-outs.

After finding her voice again, Kelly declined.

This is not unfamiliar territory for creative people. Musicians, for example, run up against the argument, “well, could you play for an evening at our tavern? We don’t have any money to pay you, but the exposure would be great! Lots of people come to our place!”, etc etc.

Partly this has to do with the tavern owner (or whomever) not understanding how much actual work, preparation, etc. go into such endeavors. Yes, there’s a certain skill set and a certain amount of talent and work that go into things like this. Creative and artistic services like dinner music, ice sculptures, interior decorating, dance instruction … while they don’t look anything like plumbing, electrical work, car repair, or various other activities … still do constitute compensable skills.

Again, we creative types are not unfamiliar with the need to educate people about this.

This, though? This is something else.

This is yet another example of entitled people who understand no one else but themselves.

There are people who make far less than they do who pay full price,” [Kelly] said. “People on staff – the incoming White House and the outgoing one – pay full price. It seemed like they were trying to see how much they could get for free based on their names.”

Because that’s their idea of fair compensation. These people will never need to worry about where their next meal is coming from … they will never need to decide between taking their kid to the doctor and paying the rent … and their every capricious whim will be catered to instantly, for the rest of their natural lives. Their idea of recompense is exposure on social media. Their idea of currency is their surname.

Well, these apples didn’t fall far from the orange tree.

But further, it’s an example (one which will become very common in the next … well, however long the Human Conflict Of Interest serves as President) of entitled people lording it over the rest of us. Because they don’t know any experience other than seeing themselves as above the rest of us slobs.

But after The Washington Post contacted the PR representative, Kelly received ominous messages from [Maples’ associate], who had first put her in touch with Maples’s camp. “You are messing with the president of the United States,” the Maples contact wrote her, adding that Maples was worried about her financial situation with Tiffany out of college, ending child-support payments from the president-elect. “She is used to a certain lifestyle and you don’t understand that.”

In my little fantasy world, I would have an instant and forceful retort for Ms. Maples’ associate. In the real world, I hope I would have either the guts to actually speak it, or the sense to keep my yap shut until I could get to a friendly newspaper reporter and tell my story, which is what Ms. Kelly wisely did.

Marla Maples is used to a certain lifestyle and I don’t understand that?

Damn right I don’t. And I hope I never do. Not if it makes me look and sound like that.

 

RESIST. REJECT.

And support the people who actually do a little work around here.

 

[Ed. note: Three days until we inaugurate a man … accompanied by the rest of his soon-to-be First Family … who has never in his life known want. Who is supported by craven, corrupt, similarly entitled (Congress)people who (por ejamplo) wish to take away health insurance from people who do know want, every damn day of their lives. Who, nonetheless, is supposed to be seen as the president of all the people of the United States.

[Hell of a role model.]

January 17, 2017 Posted by | celebrity, current events, Famous Persons, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distractions

Trump is a distraction.

Admittedly, a professional circus-grade distraction.  A weapons-grade distraction.  A two-mile-diameter key ring full of the shiniest keys humanity has likely ever produced.

But a distraction nonetheless.

No.  I’m not suggesting that he’s harmless, or that we should not worry our pretty little heads about him.

But yesterday, while we were doing the whirling-dervish thing about allegations of prostitutes allegedly doing, well, drippy things on hotel room beds with the Short-Fingered Vulgarian allegedly in the room … and about a press conference that featured both blatant abuse of journalists and faint hints of future fascistic, authoritarian behavior …

Everything else was happening.

By which we mean: por ejamplo, multiple confirmation hearings of Cabinet-level-position nominees occurring simultaneously (the better to keep the press and the public from being able to keep track of all of them, all at once).

One of those got my attention.  Seriously.  Hard.

In what seemed to be the only moment gobsmacking enough to bring the Senate chamber to almost complete silence, in the late afternoon [Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff] Sessions had this terse exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Whitehouse suggested that lists were already circulating suggesting there might be purges or demotions of certain career appointees in the Justice Department. Whitehouse wondered whether Sessions would have a problem with career lawyers “with secular beliefs,” having in the past criticized department attorneys for being secular. Sessions replied that he has used that language about secular attorneys to differentiate between people who recognize objective “truth” and those who take positions “in which truth is not sufficiently respected.”

Whitehouse replied, with a leading, and perhaps slightly conclusory question: “And a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious, correct?” At which point Sessions responded, “Well, I’m not sure.” For a few seconds the Senate chamber seemed to go completely silent.

Sessions was quick to reiterate that he doesn’t believe in religious tests, … But it was one of the very few moments in which Sessions’ deft denials of prior positions and statements veered completely off script. It spoke to the levels of obfuscation that are now customary in such confirmation hearings, especially about matters of faith, and the degree to which hearings become theater in which little [that is] true about the nominees and their most deeply felt positions are revealed. It also demonstrated that the views that Sessions is hiding are absolutely inimical to the democratic values of many members of the Senate and a large portion of the country.

These are the people who, for the last forty years, have been setting the table for this.  They have been laying the groundwork.

Partly for a fascist leader-type to emerge and assume the Presidency, so as to be able to appoint extremist-conservative Supreme Court justices and thereby affect long-term legislative and judicial control over American laws and lives.

But partly for such a leader to emerge who would properly distract from the work that they really wanted to accomplish, once they had control of both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.  With no opposition-party executive branch to offer veto power to stop their legislative efforts, the sky could be the limit.

And the Vulgar Talking Yam is the perfect distraction/leader, since he’s so over-the-top, and so attention-diverting, and already even before running for President was considered the kind of celebrity whose *anticipated presence* at a podium was reason enough for cable news outlets to broadcast images of that empty podium – because that was news.

Sort of an orange herring.

His words and deeds are so spectacularly over-the-top – and they are, by themselves, entirely deserving of attention and backlash and pushback and righteous indignation and all the other reactions that are entirely appropriate – that it’s almost sensible that all of us who are reacting badly to Orange Muppet Hitler behaving badly that we would miss the other, potentially more horrible things that may be happening.

So now we have a nominee for US Attorney General – a job description which, boiled down, says “the chief law enforcement officer for the United States” – who doesn’t trust people who are not overtly religious to have “just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious”.

And that would doubtless influence how he enforced the existing laws of the United States.

 

For forty years, the groundwork has been laid … for not necessarily a generically authoritarian regime, although that would be considered a bonus by many of the groundwork-layers (see Robert Altemeyer’s magnificent research regarding authoritarian followers), but for a theocratic government.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” is the very first thing that the very first amendment to the US Constitution says.  Clearly, the founders of our country considered – based on bitter experience – that it was a terrible idea for a government to be allowed to determine a state-sanctioned religion.  That way lies Crusades and the like.

Let’s be honest: this country already has a state religion: the worship of money.  But if Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and the legions of extremist conservatives who have been massing their forces, waiting for the perfect moment to launch an offensive on American government, have their way … well, that First Amendment nonsense won’t get in the way of the establishment of right-wing Christians as the preferred religious and governmental authorities of the United States.

And here, again (readers of this blog will note that I’ve opined on this topic in this space before), Christianity is getting a bad name.

The people who have spent the last four decades infiltrating the government and the media and public life … are the people who would impose their will, autocratically and discriminatorily, on people who don’t look like they do, who don’t think like they do, who don’t have money like they do, who don’t worship like they do, who don’t love like they do.

There are many people in this country – and sadly, they are either in positions of authority or are about to be – who profess to be Christians but don’t know the first thing about it.  Who drape themselves with the mantle of Christianity but who violate the teachings of Christ with their every word and action.  Who give Christianity as it was first conceived a bad name.

In case anyone needs a refresher:

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:34-40)

 

Apparently, those tenets are for suckers.

Hell, if someone doesn’t look like me, think like me, get paid like me, worship like me, love like me … they don’t deserve the same rights that I do … is what these people are saying.  Some couch it in flowery distracting language; others really don’t, anymore.

 

To be clear – full disclosure – I am a straight white Christian male.

To be clearer, though, I am a straight (who respects the right of not-straight people to live their lives in the way that they do), white (who tries like hell to understand what kind of everyday life non-white people have to live, thanks to generations of white people who oppressed them and still do), Christian (who actually pays attention to the actual teachings of Christ) male (who has nothing but respect for women because they’re human beings, and human beings deserve respect regardless of who they are).

So, I’m totally comfortable saying: I loathe these people, and what they intend to do to this country, via what they intend to do to many groups of American citizens.

Cheeto Mussolini is a cartoon character.  A dangerous one, to be sure – either via his conscious actions or the consequences that will surely occur in the wake of any of his impulsive lashings-out.

But the Congressional majority that has been elected to office (and the voting-rights rollbacks and gerrymandering that have assisted in this represent a topic for another time), as well as the current cartoonishly corrupt nominees for Cabinet-level positions, represent a far greater danger to this country and all of its citizens.

More specifically, the people within those groups who claim to be followers of Christ but wouldn’t know a parable if it hit ’em in the head … and who wish the government could do their religious recruiting for them … and who wish to take away rights from the people who don’t look, think, earn, worship, or love like they do … in fact, who wish to inflict actual cruelty, to PUNISH fellow Americans who are different from them …

These are the true villains in this.

Yes, engage Pumpkin Spice Pol Pot.

But don’t be distracted.

A far more awful game’s afoot.

 

RESIST.  REJECT.

January 12, 2017 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment