President-elect Donald J. Trump. Christmas 2016. Deal with it. Deck the halls.
Nah, I'm not that harsh. Far from it. Though I do feel rather distant from the, well, pity party that so many of my old friends seem to be going through in the wake of the "unthinkable" election of Trump.
That's because it stopped being "unthinkable" to me a long time ago; specifically, when Trump quickly disproved my assessment that he had definitively screwed himself when the Vietnam War draft, ah, evader derided the status of our most famous Vietnam War hero, Senator John McCain. When he got away with that, going on to draw even bigger crowds, in a party which supposedly reveres military service, I knew Trump was on to some very big mojo. So I've had well over a year to worry and warn and get used to the prospect of the Trump presidency.
Which means more than a year to go through various permutations of distress, dismay and grief about a President Trump.
And as we head into Christmas weekend there is yet another worrisome item as the president-elect suddenly tweeted in favor of greatly expanding our already vast, rubble-bouncing nuclear arsenal.
Of course, as with some other things, he may not really mean it. His twittering was certainly incoherent enough.
Crosby, Stills & Nash perform the traditional German Christmas carol 'Silent Night' at the 2015 National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. This may have been their last performance.
Not at all incidentally before getting back to Trump, we do have an all too real bill on nuclear weapons policy which has already passed and must be vetoed by President Barack Obama, who has yet to make his intentions clear. As Governor Jerry Brown, who works with visionary former Secretary of Defense William Perry, warns, this bill cleverly and stealthily removes the word "limited" from our current missile defense posture. Which makes an absolutely disastrous nuclear arms race in space with Russia and China far more likely. I will have much more on this if Obama does not signal a veto very soon.
As for Trump and his strange string of seemingly endless campaign screw-ups -- a week arguing with an ex-beauty queen, two weeks arguing with the grieving parents of an Iraq War hero, etc., etc. -- it seemed that his role as his own saboteur-in-chief might just be enough to allow even so fundamentally flawed a candidate as Hillary Clinton to win.
Especially when the mainstream media -- after playing perfect stooges for months while Trump gained ever greater altitude even as they insisted he had finally, finally, finally reached his limit(s) -- decided to mimic Fox News as American journalism melted down into an endlessly reactive hyper-partisanship. (By which I mean mimic Fox News not in increasing factual inaccuracy but in the sense of relentless partisan spin on the news regardless of actual circumstance.)
It was the greatest failure of journalism since the invasion of Iraq. Actually, it was worse than that, since the Iraq invasion at least involved events taking place on the other side of the planet. The rise of Trump took place right here, right in front of everyone who could see straight. And it came to its White House-winning conclusion in truly bizarre fashion amidst endless journalistic insistence that Trump could not ever ever ever possibly win, the numbers "proved" it, blah blah blah.
But the Clinton campaign proved just as clueless about what was going on as the media, right up to the time it finally cancelled the grand election night fireworks show over New York's Hudson River.
So here we are, at the first Christmas of the Trump Era. And things seem quite bleak for those who have not embraced the odd yet compelling witches' brew that is Trumpism. Or for those who are not simply opportunists. Which, unfortunately, essentially leaves out most everyone in the Republican Party, which, as I predicted early on, was not slow to find ever so much to admire in Trump's alarmingly authoritarian posture as soon as it looked successful.
Having already gone through all the stages of that pop psychology thing that always gets cited, let me say there is no reason to let Grinch be the Trump who stole your Christmas. Hang on, that's a little off.
For things pass. This country has been through some very bad times and come through them. We have certainly had more than our share of bad presidents.
So long as the planet remains habitable and our founding ethic of the Enlightenment remains alive, there can be a better future.
Frankly, in this obviously down period in our political and media cultures, it was going to be a serious chore to accomplish those core tasks even if Hillary Clinton had become president. She certainly never bothered to talk up climate change, for example, helpful though that would have been for her failing effort to turn out young voters on her behalf.
The Eagles provide this live rendition of their big Christmas hit, 'Please Come Home For Christmas,' at their Millennium Concert in Los Angeles, New Year's Eve 1999. The band put this song way up high on the charts in 1978, and again in 1995.
Not that Trump is much more reassuring on such matters now than he was during the campaign. He lost the national popular vote by nearly 3 million, a margin of more than two percentage points. Trump suffered the largest popular vote defeat of any of the five popular vote losers of American history who won the presidency solely through the archaic Electoral College. Yet he has appointed so many fossil fuel troglodytes and high finance fat cats -- the latter in clear contradiction of his endlessly repeated campaign message decrying the "rigging" of American life -- that he acts like he did not squeak through but has won some sort of tremendous mandate for things which are actually quite unpopular in American life.
I started warning about Trump the aggressive know-nothing as the coming thing in American politics 16 months ago. Early this year I identified the dynamics of his campaign as fitting the classic parameters of neo-fascism.
Yet he may not live down to these stereotypes. Not long ago, he was a Democrat, and not a particularly conservative one at that. And he did, after all, once support my old friend and boss Gary Hart for president. So he can't be all bad.
In fact, Trump is actually right even more often than the, ah, slightly more functional stopped clock I suggested he was during the campaign.
A foolish and dangerous cold war with Russia (think a renewed nuclear arms race and direct conventional military confrontations) should be averted with the recklessly bear-baiting Clintons sidelined at last. Though perhaps not for the right reasons.
Trump has surrounded himself with people who were right about the rise of Isis when the Obama National Security Council was so fatefully wrong. I even think now that Trump probably was against the invasion of Iraq. He certainly was not a real backer of it. Unlike, er, certain other folks not named Obama.
He is also correct in his view that international trade deals got out of control and ended up hurting many Americans to this day. Though he seems unaware that the deeper challenge, and opportunity, lies in automation and AI.
He is right that no nation can maintain its security and character with open borders. Not that we have had that with Obama, who deported more illegal immigrants than any other president in history. And not that Trump's ballyhooed "Wall" concept and much of his rhetoric on the matter is not needlessly offensive, not to mention racist.
Let's hope we are not soon feeling like the Eagles on the B-side of 'Please Come Home for Christmas.' It could well be a 'Funky New Year' ahead.
And he turns out to be a critic of the troubled F-35 fighter project, the most expensive non-nuclear weapons system in history. In contrast, the Democratic candidates were gung ho for it.
Of course, none of that may add up to anything good enough for America. Trump may well prove a truly disastrous president, as I've feared for a long time now.
Unless he turns out to be the last president of the United States, which, sadly, can't be ruled out, though I'm feeling a little better about that prospect, this too shall pass. And there is more to life than politics.
"I'll tell you where the four winds dwell
In Franklin's tower there hangs a bell
It can ring, turn night to day
It can ring like fire when you lose your way"
Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter
For some time now I've been researching a project on what I'll vaguely describe as a variant of presidential politics. In addition to US national security policy from 1940 on -- that being the point at which Franklin D. Roosevelt began forcefully moving the US away from isolationism (and the "America First" notion Trump has incongruously latched on to) -- there is a large cultural component to the project.
Much of that centers on the music of the 1960s and 1970s.
As Trumpism continued its ascent, and as the conventional political and media communities continued in their failure to get it, I found increasing solace in that music, writing pieces this year such as "Fallen Eagle," "The Dead Rise Again," "Why Bob Dylan's Controversial Nobel Prize Makes Perfect Sense," "Neil Young: A Timely, and Timeless, Appeal," and "The Eagles' 'Hotel California' at 40, 'Buffalo Springfield' at 50."
The Grateful Dead perform 'Franklin's Tower' on their legendary spring 1977 tour. The video is an apt reflection of these founders of cosmic Americana, not to mention the immortal spirit of Ben Franklin.
One of the most striking things about the music is that it was produced during some of the most trying times in American history.
They were times of massive war, shattering assassination, fierce racial discord, metastasizing ecological stress, tremendous corruption, a president determined to spy on Americans and use the tools of government to wreck any who opposed him. Yet we persevered and came through.
And the music of the period not only provided solace and inspiration for those times, it lasted to provide solace and inspiration for today and times yet to come.
It certainly provided me with solace and inspiration this past year as I contemplated the Trump ascendancy and all that could go wrong as a result.
For the inside baseball chatter of 'Morning Joe' I substituted 'Morning Jerry.' That would be Jerry Garcia, who I used to see all the time when he played his favorite small club less than a mile from where I lived in my UC Berkeley days. (And, okay, the BBC is in my early morning mix as well.)
It really is true that the machinations of the Machiavellians, for all it may profit them in the short term, ultimately pale. They are dwarfed by larger considerations of the universe and our humanity which fills such a tiny corner of the vast complexity created by Nature's God, as celebrated in the Declaration of Independence.
Merry Christmas, and may the ecumenical blessings of the season be upon you. We are halfway through the dark, as marked by this very ancient holiday updated in the present celebration. Spring lies ahead, as always.
"If you get confused, just listen to the music play."
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