Tag: Election 2016

I Understand You

lizza-trump-theories-1200Hey, you. White dude with the red cap. You with the gun rack in your pickup’s rear window. You who live in a white rural town where people are real and eat real food and have real values and go to real churches.

I understand you.

You think I don’t, but I do.

What? Did you think I was born in a city? Well, actually you’re right. I was. I was born in Santa Monica, CA. But I didn’t stay there long. I’ve lived in Ohio. I’ve lived in Texas. I spent six years of my life in rural Utah, and there’s a good chance my town was smaller and whiter than yours.

I understand you.

It’s not hard. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not that deep.

I know that people of color in your towns have to be careful how they act, lest they eat your shit. The only reason I got a pass was that I was passing. My skin is light enough that people didn’t know, right away, that I was “a n—–.” (They’d have felt no embarrassment at spelling out the slur.) I know that gays and lesbians have to hide who they are to avoid your violence. I know how religion binds your communities, because I saw, from the outside looking in, how it bound mine.

I know the stories you use to explain your lives to yourselves. I know you see yourselves as standing in a line. It’s a long line. At the front are the rich people, and you think that if you stay in the line, don’t ask for too much, and behave yourselves, the rich people at the front will one day shower you with riches and all will be happy. You don’t question why there has to be a line, or why you’re the one standing in it. As long as the rich people at the front pass down an occasional treat, it’s a sign of their goodwill. And as long as the darker people are behind you, which they deserve because they’re more unruly and impatient than you, and don’t talk English as good as you talk it, all is right and just.

This is the story your ancestors used to explain slavery to themselves. Most of the more southerly of them didn’t own slaves, but they hoped if they stood in line, one day they could. Later, under our nation’s 100 post-civil-war years of legal apartheid, your grandparents could still tell themselves that no matter how bad off they were, they were better than the “n——“. They could vote, get the front seat on the bus, and ogle a white girl’s ass without dying for it. And if any “n—–” tried to get in line in front of them, there were hoods to wear, crosses to burn, and branches suitable for nooses.

When this system of apartheid was dismantled, suddenly people wouldn’t let your parents, or you, use the word “n—–” anymore. You got yelled at for it, and that hurt, partly because feeling guilty hurts, but partly because that meant that the darker people had moved up in line a little. Soon, black people were on TV and in movies and ads. They played sports. They were cops and lawyers and business executives. Black bodies were closing in on your position in line. Some were ahead. And what’s more, it looked like some of your fellow pale people, ones who lived in cities and always made fun of you, were helping them cut in front!

Yeah, I think I understand you.

Then along came a black President, with a foreign, black name. He never could have been in line. Now he’s at the front of it! How can that be fair? The treats were supposed to come to you first! And when he sends something down the line to you, bails out your auto industry, stabilizes the banks, gets you health care, you’re bewildered. Where does that–you won’t say the word because you’re not racist–get off trying to help you? And why isn’t he doing more? And why is he also helping those other people you don’t like: the gays and lesbians and Mexicans and Asians who don’t live in your town because…well…any one of them who tries gets the message? Now you’re pissed off. And now those fancy types are telling you you’re racist and sexist because you’re angry about all the non-white, non-male people ahead of you. You’re not mad because you hate them. You don’t hate. You’re mad because people of color and women don’t deserve those spots. The rich people promised your grandpappy.

I understand you.

You never got mad at the rich guys or their promises, even though they’re made of lies. You’ll never get that they told your grandpappy to stand in line because they feared he might revolt and then died laughing when the poor sap fell for it. You’ll never ask why your grandpappy, or your pappy, or you, never made common cause with the people of color to take what the rich man was denying all of you. Instead, you’ll let the rich guys pollute your land, air, and water if it means a job. And you’ll elect the smiling toady the rich man asks you to vote for so he can go to Washington and make sure that no uppity people ever try to give you health care, education programs, housing assistance, or the right to form a union. Why would you want those things? The rich guys at the front of the line will be passing down a treat for you anytime now. Anytime.

I understand you.

At last, one day, the rich guys stopped passing their treats down to you. They took your factories away and left you. And that confused you. Where’d the line go? Where’s your shower of riches? They couldn’t have been fibbing all along, could they? No. It must be the fault of those liberals in Washington. They regulated them too much. They drove them away. They’ll pay for that, them and the city slickers in Hollywood who make jokes at your expense and sip lattes and drive nice cars and know Jews. (Not that you’re antisemitic. Why would we think that?)

Idiots. You think voting for Trump upset the elites in Washington? They’ll adapt. They have money, influence, and time. They’ll be here long after Trump’s gone to Orange, Rapist, Con-Man Heaven. You may think by electing Trump you threw a brick at Washington Elites, but you hit poor people, the elderly, the vulnerable, and yourselves. After four years of Trump, your pockets will be emptier, and his fuller. Your towns will still be sucky and poor, and you’ll still be sad, paranoid, and angry. But maybe, if you’re good, Trump’ll send you some of those Trump Steaks. That should tide you over, because now that he’s at the front of the line,  the wait for the shower of goodies can’t be much longer. You’re so close. Right?

Yeah, I understand you.

 

Requiem

“There are times when I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion.” –Colonel Dax Paths of Glory

I am in a state of utter desolation. My country has done something I didn’t believe it had it in itself to do. Something broke tonight, and broken things are hard to mend, if we’ll even still have the will to mend them. I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.

I can’t excuse it by saying the country was desperate. It had no cause to feel desperate. Its pathologies, now embodied in its likely President-Elect, are ancient, yes, but they have no relationship to understandable, common, rational reality. They’ve just festered here, an ugly undergrowth of what we’ve hoped was a worthwhile civilization, and we’ve allowed them to become very dangerous.

I don’t know where we go from here. Many will suffer real and great harm, and it saddens me to think that the winners of this election will take joy in its infliction, all to sate a rage that comes from…what? A President who tried to get them health care?

I don’t know who or what we are anymore, or if enough of us care enough to even bother to try to make sense again. I fear the damage we’ll do to ourselves and to the world in this state. Countries that give themselves over this this kind of raging, paranoid, sexist, racist nationalism seldom come to happy ends. I know. I wrote a book about one.

Comfort? I have none to offer. I’d like some if anyone has some. The best I can offer are a couple of poems to take you into the dark night.

Watching The Shining In the Time of Trump

Watching The Shining In the Time of Trump

This evening, thanks to TCM and Lincoln Square Cinemas, I caught The Shining on the big screen for the first time. Though I’ve seen the picture dozens of times over the years, seeing it in a theater gave me a new appreciation for the impact of the steadicam, and just how frightening Jack Nicholson can be when his face is twenty feet tall.

I also thought about how I see this movie in the age of Trump. I won’t do a lengthy close reading. I’ll just lay out the film’s story as it seemed to me tonight, my head full of the themes and tropes of Election 2016.

A middle aged white guy with a wife and kid goes for a job interview at a hotel that caters to the 1%. He hopes very much to fit in and be a part of the hierarchy of the place, even though the job they offer him, winter caretaker, is pretty low. His alcoholism has led him to abuse his family in the past. He’s given up the bottle, but he resents the guilt that his wife and son make him feel for his past violence.

A month into this man’s job at the hotel, his wife ends up doing all his work to support him while he wrestles with his writer’s block. His son is seeing visions of terrible things in the hotel, but his supernatural guide assures him these things aren’t real. The man is also seeing visions, but lacking a guide to explain the situation to him, he takes them to be genuine, and he likes them because they appear to put him in positions of power. He loves the hotel, he tells his son, and wishes they could stay there “forever, and ever, and ever”.

Eventually, the man’s son succumbs to his curiosity about the forbidden room 237, and one of the visions attacks him. He escapes but is traumatized. The man’s wife accuses him of abusing their son again–a logical deduction. The man, enraged not only at being accused of something he didn’t do but at being reminded of his guilt for things he did do, heads to the hotel bar, where a phantom waiter invites him to drink. The man doesn’t question the phantom because he’s giving him what he wants, and under the influence of imaginary alcohol, he pours out his hatred of the mother of his child and lays claim to having to bear the “white man’s burden”. This vision is interrupted by the man’s wife, who comes to tell him that there’s a “crazy woman in one of the bedrooms”.

In the meantime, the son sends a black man the visions of his father entering Room 237. At first, the man’s vision is one of a Penthouse Letters-style male fantasy: he walks in on an attractive woman in a tub. She gets out of the tub, gives him a come-hither look, and they kiss. Only when the man looks in the mirror does the man see he’s kissing a rotting corpse.

The man flees the vision, but lies to his wife about it. When the wife suggests that they need to get their traumatized son away from the hotel, the man, sensing that his connection to the hotel and its power structure is threatened, berates her, storms from the room, and winds up in the ballroom at a lavish white-tie-and-tails party, a party where he appears to be a welcome guest.

A butler spills drinks on him, and in the bathroom, while cleaning him up, tells him that his son has been in touch with “a nigger” who threatens to disrupt the unfolding situation. The butler also explains that he’s “always” been the hotel’s caretakers, and that the butler has also “always” been here. This suggests the prize the hotel offers to the man, a paradise in which the past is permanent, white male supremacy is forever assured, and guilt over abuses to family members is erased under the euphemism of “correcting” them. The price of admission to this nostalgic paradise: the violent deaths of the man’s wife and son.

And so, the man decides to cut the hotel off from outside aid. When his wife comes to question him, he tries to kill her, but she hits him in the head and locks him up. The specters of the hotel taunt the man with the idea that his wife might be cleverer and more resourceful than he, which is sufficient to drive him to his final, murderous rampage. He finds an axe, uses it to chop through the locked doors to his family’s quarters, and pauses only because the African American cook’s snow cat pulls up to the front of the hotel. The man stalks the cook through the hotel, ambushes him, and kills him. The man’s son screams, starting a chase that leads out into the hotel’s hedge maze. The son outwits his father, escapes the maze, and joins his mother. The son and the mother escape as the man freezes in the maze, screaming “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE”. The man freezes to death, only to reappear, possibly in evidence of his rebirth, in a photograph of the hotel’s 1921 July 4th party, where he stands forever, in a jacket and tie, among “all the best people”.

I see the man of our story, Jack Torrance, as a Trump supporter. The spirit of the Overlook Hotel is Trump, a gilded fraud dangling booze, naked chicks, and phony promises of restoring a white male supremacist past to someone whose life circumstances make him a sucker for nostalgia. Jack hates the idea that anyone, much less a woman or a child, should make him feel guilty for his past abuses and longs to be in an environment free of that. The past, when men supposedly dominated and even “corrected” their families without need of explanation or apology, offers that environment. He’s a powerless man who wants to be connected to the power structure, to feel like he has a chance to move up in it by dint of his “work” and “moral or ethical principles”. This is the promise the rich have been dangling to the middle class and poor forever, without delivering. And Jack rages when the needs or actions of others (particularly women or people of color) threaten his shot at advancement. For Jack, the hotel is salvation. He believes in it fanatically, and if a blood sacrifice must be made to it to grant him his salvation, there’s nothing he looks forward to with greater pleasure.

Wendy, Danny, Dick Halloran are just struggling to either bring Jack to his senses or contain the damage he does to himself, mainly because they want to keep breathing, but also because the past the Overlook shows them, however attractive to Jack, holds no charms for them. Certainly none worth taking an axe in the chest for. Dick Halloran is unlucky, but Wendy and Danny survive and get what Jack will never have, and probably never wanted: a future.