The Bigger Picture

Like many people, I’ve been pretty upset about this 2016 election.

Then a very odd post showed up in my Facebook feed this morning, and I was upset enough to watch it. I’m glad I did.

Here’s the link. It’s only nine minutes out of your life, and she speaks well. Go watch it, then come back here to laugh at me for listening to a psychic.

The thing is, I think she’s right. Let me cast her message in a slightly different light.

Who is Donald Trump? By himself, he’s just everyone’s asshole uncle. We’ve all met this kind of guy: we’ve put up with his rants, endured Thanksgiving dinners with him, rolled our eyes and talked about him when he wasn’t around. He’s a thick-headed ignoramus, he’s a bigot and a fool and annoying as Hell, but he isn’t much of a threat to anyone. He’s just an everyday asshole.

What makes Donald Trump different from everyone’s asshole uncle is not anything about the man. It is the mob that has flocked to him.

That mob is not a person, nor even a movement. It’s as much about the Latin Massacre in Constantinople in 1182 as it is about NAFTA in 1994. It’s about slavery in the seventeenth century, and the South losing the Civil War. It’s about Gandhi, and Hitler, and the Sack of Beziers, and Genghis Khan. It’s a collection of expectations and resentments with deep, deep roots. It is a force of history and nature playing out in particulars on the 2016 political canvas.

If Donald Trump were to drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow, this force would remain, and sooner or later, someone else’s asshole uncle would rise up and become the next Donald Trump. The same mob will form.

This is bigger than all of us put together, and it is going to play itself out.

Is it really 100,000 years old, as this psychic claims?

Very possibly. That’s roughly when “modern humans” made their debut, according to anthropologists, mixing with, breeding with, and eventually pushing aside the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, and perhaps many other early human species. Certain wheels were set in motion 100,000 years ago that are still rolling along: in particular, our explosive, exponential population growth as a species.

Does this force represent a perennial dilemma that we’re doomed to play and replay forever?

No, and the difference is rising population. It’s like rising temperature in a pot. It causes things to cook; it causes new chemical reactions to take place.

It causes transformation.

The human race has been through numerous transformations. There was a time before cities, when all people hunted and gathered and lived a very easy life: ask any anthropologist. Once cities formed, there was still a time before kingdoms and empires arose. Once the idea of empire was well-established, the nation-state came into existence.

People didn’t invent these things because they were a good idea. They invented them because rising populations forced them to find new ways to live.

We’ve now reached a population level where — as I’ve put it before — if everyone inhales at the same time, birds fall out of the sky. Human population is beginning to show long-term, global consequences on every aspect of life on Earth. We’re once again being forced to find a new way to live.

And we will.

In the process, however, the old way of living has to end. It has to die. Cain (the agriculturalist) must again slay Abel (the hunter-gatherer).

Donald Trump represents the dying scream of the old way of living as it is forced out of existence.

Unlike this psychic, I can’t claim to be very good at reading energy, particularly the energy of the entire United States, much less the energy of the whole world. So I can’t personally be quite as confident that the dying scream of Donald Trump won’t drown out the voices of the living for a while.

I am confident that the Trump energy is dying. Just as I am confident that capitalism is dying, and with it, all of the social perversions that have come with it, including our reckless endangerment of the natural environment we need in order to live.

So, let us acknowledge and even honor the Trump phenomenon for what it is: a desperate, dying scream of something that can no longer continue to exist in the world.

Then, let us — together — bury it.

Mendocino Music Festival

IMG_0304We sang the Bach!

I’m referring to the Bach b-minor Mass, an enormous work in 27 movements that runs for two hours of continuous performance.

This year was the 30th anniversary of the Mendocino Music Festival, and the festival organizers overrode the complaints of all the volunteer local choirs — “We can’t sing this!” “It’s impossible!” “We’ll all DIE if we try to sing this!” — and declared that we were going to sing it anyway.

Last night we nailed it in front of a packed house: a fabulous performance!

I’m still riding a performance high this afternoon.

I made a decision about music forty years ago. I was a junior in college — the Fall of my junior year. It was pretty typical for students in those days to enter college as “undeclared” majors, spend a year or two kicking around and partying, then settle on a major. I’d been moving in a physics/math direction from the start, but I’d kept a strong presence in the music department, playing in the symphony, taking private violin lessons, performing solo occasionally. I was actually pretty good — maybe even good enough to make a living performing.

The Dean of the music department called me into his office that Fall, and asked point-blank why I wasn’t declaring a music major.

I think my decision forty years ago was sound, and my reason mostly accurate, though I’d phrase it a little differently now. What I told him was that I never wanted something I loved so much to become a job. What I would say now is that I’m not strong enough to turn music into a job and continue to love it.

The latter is not the way a twenty-year-old thinks of himself, and if he did say such a thing, he’d be told it was nonsense and that he needs to work on his self-image — so what I told the Dean was probably as close as I could come to the truth at the time.

I remember the following Christmas concert was my last as a full member of the orchestra. We performed the Dvorak Second Symphony (now called his Seventh), a new musical discovery for me — at that time, I’d only played the Fourth (now called his Eighth), and heard the famous Fifth (now called his Ninth). I’ve always loved Dvorak, and I fell completely for this new-to-me work. I recall the long walk home across campus from the concert that icy, star-studded night in my performance tux, hot from the stage lights but deliriously high on the beauty of the music and the elation of a good performance. I had decided that I did need to get serious, and that I needed to quit the orchestra to focus on my major.

College died for me that spring. I started to move consciously into the world of work, and jobs, and careers, and making a living: the very world I believed would have killed the music, had I permitted it. It certainly killed physics: it was no longer play, it was my declared major, and something to take seriously as an adult. A year later, I was starting to burn out in physics, and flamed out completely two years later, in graduate school.

As I turn that over in my head, I wonder if I have ever been successful at anything that I have taken seriously as an adult?

I’ll have to think about that.

At any rate, going back into the world of performance, singing a major choral work like the Bach b-minor Mass, makes me profoundly grateful for all those musicians who are strong enough to turn music into a job and still keep loving what they are doing. Without them, there would be no opportunity for old, rusty amateurs like myself to slip onto the stage, contribute something to a successful performance, and share a bow.

It is a long-overdue homecoming.

There was at least one other homecoming that happened last night. Standing behind the risers, lined up to go on stage, I fell into one of those distracted, bantering conversations with the nearby singers; someone asked me a question, and I mentioned that I’d been in America’s Youth In Concert in 1976.

One of the singers did a double-take and asked, “Were you in the R group or the L group?”

I hadn’t thought about that in years. I struggled a bit, and then said, “R group, I think.”

“Mozart’s Coronation Mass,” he said. “Dr. Ramsey directed it.”

We’d both been on the same tour. In 1976, the Bicentennial Tour. I didn’t know him from the tour, because he’d been in the choir and I’d been in the orchestra, and the groups didn’t mix that much off-stage.

Somehow, we’d ended up in Mendocino, side-by-side, singing Bach.

It’s yet another of those strange coincidences that make me feel I’ve come home.

Nobody Hates Bernie

The 2016 election is starting to shape up: the Republican convention is over, with a Trump/Pence ticket, and the Democratic convention is coming up soon.

I’m feeling a little foolish for not thinking through an essential part of the Trump candidacy.

I’ve been puzzled from the start how a narcissistic blowhard like Donald Trump would ever withstand the job of being President of the United States. It requires skills that he not only doesn’t have, they are skills that he apparently can’t even grasp. I can’t imagine him staying awake through an entire national security briefing without shouting at some five-star general, “You’re Fired!”

How could Trump be President?

The answer is both simple, and obvious. He won’t.

He’s going to delegate the entire job to his Vice President. Every bit of it. From persuading Congress, to appointing Supreme Court justices, to managing the nuclear codes. Donald Trump will be an absentee president.

I guess I did kind of see it coming: I mentioned in an earlier post that Trump would surround himself with sycophants who would stroke his bottomless need for inflating his own ego, a machine that would make him a puppet inside the machine, a machine that would turn to purest evil. What I missed is that Trump won’t even be inside the machine. He’ll be out on his yacht, when he’s not preening in front of a camera. He’ll get “regular reports” from his Vice President on how that worthy is doing his job, which he won’t have time to read, because he’ll be too busy Tweeting grade-school insults to foreign heads-of-state who slighted him in some way.

“Mike, just give me the bottom line,” he’ll say to his Vice President, adjusting his cummerbund for some state dinner, turning sideways to the full-length mirror to check his waistline. “Is the country moving in the right direction?”

“Oh, yes, Sir!” the Vice President will say. “You don’t have a thing to worry about.”

“Great! Keep up the good work. Let’s make America Great Again!”

Trump is already a catastrophe for the Republican Party, and if he wins the election, a catastrophe for the nation.

In the meantime, we have the Sanders/Clinton situation. I still have no idea how the super-delegates are going to vote, nor does anyone else. At this point, given the polling numbers, it’s irresponsible for them to nominate Hillary. On the other hand, I have no idea whether responsibility is anywhere near the top of their list of priorities. So we’ll have to wait and see.

But here’s the thing: nobody hates Bernie.

A lot of people hate Trump. Pence is — if anything — worse. I’ve never seen such a broad outpouring of open contempt, hatred, and fear of a US Presidential candidate. I’m not sure it has ever happened in US history.

A lot of people hate Hillary just as much. The level of insanely violent hatred she inspires in extreme right-wing quarters is actually frightening. Since I have relatives in that quarter, I’ve seen this hatred first-hand.

Both of these extremes are matched by a broad tail of people who should be supporters, according to the pundits and their conventional political theory, who actually are not. Trump is driving lifelong Republicans completely out of the party, and those who remain to support him appear to occasionally choke on their own vomit. Hillary has a lot of lifelong Democrats wringing their hands and making excuses for her declining poll numbers; the Independents are not coming together under her banner, even when faced with a monstrous buffoon like Trump.

Nobody hates Bernie. Not everyone likes him, or his politics. People certainly get upset about his young, loud, disruptive supporters.

But nobody hates him.

It’s actually not clear who earned the majority vote in the Democratic primary, but it seems safe to say that that both Bernie and Hillary were close enough to tied that, even if we reversed all the suspected fraud in the election process, the nomination would still be up to the superdelegates.

What’s growing clearer is that a Hillary nomination offers a much better chance of handing us President Trump. Or rather, President Mike Pence, a franchised subsidiary of President Trump, Inc.™

The latest poll numbers I’ve seen have Bernie beating Trump by ten points. Hillary actually loses to Trump. Polls change, but there are disturbing trends. Hillary’s numbers keep going down, and neither she, nor her campaign, seems to have any idea how to improve them. Bernie’s numbers keep going up, and he’s not even campaigning.

Bernie has the potential to unite the Democratic Party, draw in much of the Independent vote, and even draw Republican votes away from Trump.

Hillary simply doesn’t. She might unite the Democratic Party, if she tries really, really hard, but Independents are and will remain indifferent, and she will not draw any of the Republicans who can’t stomach Trump. The only way she can bolster her position is to convince more people to vote against Trump.

We’ll see what happens next week.

Bernie or Bust

I need to discuss the Bernie or Bust movement now, I think, because in a few more weeks, the Donkey Party nomination will be over and either a) Bernie will be the Donkey Candidate in a “surprise” turn-around1, in which case Bernie or Bust will become a moot point, or b) Hillary will be the Donkey Candidate, in which case Bernie or Bust will throw a loud temper tantrum and then fade away — and though it probably won’t actually have much effect on the election, if Hillary subsequently loses the election, the media will pull it out and polish it up to a fine sheen as the reason for Hillary’s loss.

I recently watched Susan Sarandon’s interview with Chris Matthews; she’s a Bernie supporter, and though the interview is now two months old, she was at that time on the fence about whether she would vote for Hillary.

Much as I despise Donald Trump and everything he represents, I’m also on the fence about Hillary. I’d like to talk this through.

There are a lot of people out there who think Hillary would be a horrible President. They see the three major contenders in the race at this point as a choice among FDR, Hitler, and Stalin. If FDR is thrown out of the race, they are compelled — if they vote at all — to choose either Hitler or Stalin, and they don’t want to participate in that process.

Should Hillary be nominated, people who feel this way about Hillary probably should conscientiously abstain from voting for President. They aren’t so much Bernie or Bust, as they are Never Hillary, and probably Never Donald as well, so there’s little point in them casting a vote for President. They can write in Bernie as a protest, but no write-in candidate is going to do well. I’d still encourage them to vote for the local and Congressional races — it will make a bigger difference, anyway.

I agree with Robert Reich: Hillary is the best choice for the government we have, while Bernie is the best choice for the government we need. Because I think our government is broken, with massive corruption from legalized bribery that is driving us toward collapse as a nation, I want to see changes that Hillary will not even try to bring about.

But in simple choice between Hillary and Donald, there isn’t much contest. Donald is a pathological liar and a narcissist, and has risen to his current position on the coattails of a movement that is brutish, ugly, ignorant, and nihilistic. Because he is a narcissist, he attracts sociopaths and flatterers to his circle of power. As a narcissist, he’s easily managed by sociopaths who have power. In four years’ time, he’ll be the prisoner and puppet of the machinery he surrounds himself with; being a narcissist, he won’t even know it has happened, and won’t believe it if he’s told. That machinery will be pure evil.

But it isn’t just a simple choice between two candidates. There’s the deeper issue of how we find ourselves in this situation, and that inevitably leads us back to core defects in our election process.

These have come garishly to light in this election cycle.

The Elephant Party was taken over by a brutish mob, following a demagogue. The Party barely resisted. The candidates they put up against the demagogue were — I don’t like using the word, but it fits — pathetic: pale shadows of cartoon cutouts of real candidates, rigid ideologues preaching a failed and increasingly unpopular ideology.

This happened because the Elephant Party made a deal with the Devil back in the 1970’s, to pander for votes, and in two generations, it has destroyed the Party. It may have tarnished the brand beyond redemption: the Republican Party may well vanish in the next generation. If it doesn’t, it will have to rebirth itself.

The Donkey Party has been corrupt — meaning bought-off — for a long time: it was seduced by union money in the 1960’s, and then switched allegiance to the bankers in the 1990’s. I’m sure its love of money goes back to the beginning: it was, after all, originally the party of the Antebellum South, the wealthy Southern land and slave owners whose ancestors came to the US to get rich.

The thing is, this love of money has led the Donkey Party into a lot of stupid behavior over the years, including the widespread vote-tampering in this primary election. If Hillary had been as strong a candidate as they want us to believe, none of that would have been necessary, or even tempting. The problem was, she wasn’t a strong candidate to begin with, and Bernie became a legitimate, and then serious, threat to her campaign. The Donkey Party leadership all across the country panicked and started vote-rigging.

That was a stupid move, because we’re not living in the 1800’s any more: that kind of open-handed vote-rigging gets easily caught and exposed.

Now, in defense of the Donkey Party, I have to point out — again — that it’s a club, and neither Bernie nor the Independents he pulled into this primary are (to put it delicately) their kind of people. They gladly took our money, and our votes for one of their own, but they really, really didn’t want to put out our candidate. They thought Bernie would be a fringe candidate who would bring in a few extra bucks, and it blew up in their faces.

This brings us close to the real problem: an arguable plurality of people in the US do not have any political representation at all. It isn’t that this group can’t vote — though there is a lot of overt vote suppression — but that the entire election is rigged. We routinely are forced to choose between Hitler and Stalin. It’s how the system is set up, and it’s been that way for generations.

Even then, though it’s a horrible shock to anyone who has grown up with the idea of fair elections in a democracy, that’s still not the real problem. In fact, we can argue that rigged elections are necessary to protect us all from the mob. Even if you don’t buy that argument, our flawed system of vote-rigging has been getting by, more or less, for quite some time.

The real problem is that the Parties — the vote-riggers — have lost touch with reality in a changing world.

The point of elections is not to give the people control, but to give the people voice. It is the job of the elected officials to listen to that voice: not to pander to it, nor to “help their constituents” line their pockets, but to pay attention to what is really going on in the country. That’s what representation means.

What’s perfectly clear right now is that they are not paying attention. They are paying attention to the money, and nothing but the money. As the money leaves the middle class and goes to the rich, the government has become an oligarchy. The unrepresented masses are getting restive.

The dysfunctional political parties are creating a disgruntled mob.

So let’s bring this back to the Bernie or Bust movement. A lot of people wouldn’t vote for Hillary on a bet. That’s fine — then they shouldn’t. But if the Donkey Party nominates Hillary, a lot of people who don’t really have such strong feelings about Hillary herself, will still want to punish the Donkey Party for being a Jackass. They want to confront the Jackass Party with an existential crisis, by pulling out their financial and political support. They want to make Hillary lose, to punish the Jackass Party for their failure to listen.

I know: I feel that way, too. But it’s the wrong way to go about this.

It’s time to form a new political party. One that will kick the Jackass Party from here to the moon, and give it a real existential crisis, and nightmares, and weak bowels. We need a true and enduring threat to their oligarchy and their corruption and their smugness. We need a party that offers us the kind of government we need, not the broken and out-of-touch kind we have.

Let’s call it a Progressive party.

In that context, we have to ask the question. If Hillary is nominated for the Jackass Party, which will aid the most in supporting the creation of a Progressive Party? President Hillary? Or President Donald?

Arguments can be made for either approach.

Electing President Donald will, if we survive the experience, unite a lot of people with a common enemy, but I think it will strengthen the Jackass Party in the end. And we might not survive the experience.

Electing President Hillary will buy time to set up a political party that has some clout. It will give people four (or eight) more years to see the flaws in the Jackass Party and its candidates’ policies. We still might not survive the experience, because our continuing out-of-touch oligarchy is actually destroying the country by inches: but I think we probably have eight years left.

I’m still waiting to see what happens at the Jackass Convention. The superdelegates should promote the stronger candidate, and that’s Bernie. I suspect they won’t. If they do nominate Hillary, I’ll probably vote for her. Just to buy some time.

But I’m good and ready to put the Jackass Party out of business. Who’s with me?

Feeding the Poor

Last Sunday, I went to the grocery store, and on my way from the parking lot to the front door, I was approached by a young man who asked me for money.

We have a substantial homeless population in the area. I’ve never gotten a convincing answer as to who these people are, though there are many opinions and theories. They could be homeless people from San Francisco. They could be the home-grown poor. They could be part of the itinerant population of illegal pot-harvesters in the area. There are some theories about how this is the only county in northern California that is “soft” on the homeless, so they come here because they get free stuff. There are other theories about mental patients from Ronald Reagan’s war on mental health care back in the ’80’s, still wandering the streets like zombies. There are still other theories about other counties actually busing their homeless problem here. Some of the homeless are clearly mentally ill: they walk down the street shouting angrily at people who aren’t there — or at least, who aren’t visible to me. Others look healthy and capable.

This young fellow was one of the latter. He said he was trying to raise $60. It was a complicated tale he tried to spin in the twenty seconds between me and the door, involving some official social program in Ukiah that had put him up in a hotel south of town that cost $60 a night to stay in, that he somehow had to come up with. He said that he had most of it, but he needed another $22.

I’ve been around long enough to not really believe anyone’s story on first hearing, especially when he’s asking for something. I knew I didn’t have any idea what the kid really needed the money for.

But it touched me that he was so specific. Twenty-two dollars. Not twenty. Not fifty. It wasn’t a sob story about getting back to his dying maiden aunt in Oregon, or how he hadn’t eaten in a week, or how he was a homeless veteran. It was a simple financial goal, to have a roof over his head tonight, and he said he was close to reaching it.

Doubtless a con, I thought. He’s figured out that people fall for the old I’ve-got-a-financial-goal approach. And this business of being in a program that sends him out, unsupervised, to drum up sixty bucks by begging stinks like bullshit. Just give him the brush-off.

The angel on the other shoulder whispered, What a fine Republican way to look at this. Congratulations! Why don’t kick him, while you’re at it, and scream, “Get a fucking job!”

The heart has its reasons. I stopped, pulled out my wallet, and handed him a twenty.

He thanked me, politely and sincerely, and then he said there aren’t many people like me around: most people would give him a quarter, or a small handful of change, or a dollar. He said it was hard to come up with sixty bucks, begging: an all-day, exhausting effort. When someone like me came along, it really, really helped.

I’ve been thinking about that interaction on and off all week.

UnknownEveryone cites the old metaphor about teaching a man to fish. If I knew how to fish, I could probably teach someone, and yes, that would be better than giving him a fish.

The problem is, I don’t know how to fish.

Yes, I know how to fish, that thing with the pole and the hook and the bait — at least well enough to get good and wet and come back to a cooler full of beer and brats without too much more injury than a sunburn and a rash of mosquito bites. I can even make up stories about how much I enjoyed every hot, itchy minute of it. But if I actually had to live on the fish I caught, I’d starve to death. So no, I don’t really even know how to fish.

But this metaphor isn’t about fishing, it’s about surviving in our modern US society. And I don’t really know how to do that, either.

The truth is, I’ve never had to struggle to survive. It’s partly this thing that racial minorities in the US call “white privilege.” It’s partly that I was raised in a stable middle-class family during that brief period in US history when stable, middle-class families were common, with enough to eat, enough to take an annual family vacation, enough for piano lessons, swimming lessons, and summer camps. It’s partly that I was fearsomely school-smart in that brief period of US history when public education was valued and funded and offered career paths. It’s partly that, pretty much by accident, I picked up some mad skills in software design and development, and then sleepwalked into that brief period of US history when those skills were not only in demand, but proved — unlike almost every other profession in the country other than larceny — to be relatively recession-proof.

Now, I have a killer resume, top-game skills, experience, strong personal references, and that white privilege isn’t going anywhere soon.

What if I had none of that? What if I’d never had it? What if it all became somehow worthless?

I don’t know this young man’s story. Abusive home? Meth problem? Mental illness? Police record? Running from bad people? A trust fund baby who spent it all on whores and whiskey and is now flat on his face in the gutter?

Or maybe just an ordinary guy who lost his job, his family, and his home.

What would I do in this young man’s shoes? I wouldn’t even know how to beg. I’d probably die of hypothermia before I starved. If flu didn’t kill me in the first year, depression would.

My so-called “survival skills” in the modern world are the lucky product of privilege and leisure, useful only in a profession that is the product of privilege and leisure, in a society that is the product of privilege and leisure.

I don’t know how to catch a fish — I buy my fish at the grocery store. I can’t teach someone else how to catch a fish if I don’t know how, myself.

What I can do is give someone who asks for help, twenty bucks to buy a fish.