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Category: Politics

That Bad Smell
In case you haven’t noticed, we have a new president now. By any measure I can think of, that is a good thing. Even so, it will clearly be expensive and time-consuming to repair all the damage the former guy and his confederates have wreaked on our country. Indeed, the damage continues even now.

I have resolved, however, not to obsess about the previous occupant of the Oval Office. For my own mental health, I prefer to simply let him fade away like a bad smell. That mindset, unfortunately, has been difficult to maintain. The smell permeates everything, and I find my mind being drawn toward notions like justice, and righteousness, and the rule of law. And — I must admit — to punishment. For wrongs committed and for corruption of the good.

These are not bad thoughts per se, but left unchecked, they can lead back to the very obsession I am seeking to avoid. So I have adopted a new article of faith to guard against such temptations. It is simply this: 45 will avoid accountability for all of it — as he always has. There will be no jail time, no fines, no loss of influence other than by the passage of time and the world moving on. He will skate on all of it.

For some reason, I am finding that my acceptance of this as an outcome is oddly calming. It relieves me of the need to follow his every move or to keep track of the thorny legal jeopardies that entangle him. I don’t have to pay attention to his awful family or despicable defenders. Most of all, I am free of worrying whether he will ever get what he deserves. He won’t.

Let me be clear that I do not want to discourage those who are pursuing justice through investigation and the law. I cheer their efforts. But they will be fruitless. That is what I have chosen to believe.

This leap of faith has been a real time-saver and a cooling balm for my peace of mind. Better yet, should my article of faith ever prove to be ill-founded, if the Mar a Lago monster is made to take responsibility for his crimes, then I will be treated to a pleasant surprise and encouraged to believe that all is not lost and that better times lie ahead.

And if you were to ask me whether I care if he has a lamb chop duct taped to his butt and is towed through shark-infested waters or whether he is dipped in molten beryllium and dropped into the Marianas Trench or whether he is simply spayed, I will answer that I just don't care even a teeny, tiny bit.
But Why?
I will take, as my prime example, Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy had a morally spotty, albeit brilliant run as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and went on to become the mayor of New York City. He ran for president and actually led in the Republican polls for a while. In the days following 9/11, he become a symbol for American toughness and resilience.

His tombstone, had his public life had ended there, would have read “America’s Mayor,” and he might have received grudging respect even from his enemies. His legacy was certainly secure enough that he could spend the rest of his days as an elder statesman — a source of political savvy well beyond his own party. But that did not happen. Instead, he boarded the Trump train. Why?

In retrospect, it was a very poor decision. It is impossible now to think of Rudy Giuliani without that rivulet of hair dye flowing down his cheek, or of him holding forth in front of the Four Seasons Landscaping Company, or spouting wild-eyed gibberish on Fox News. It seems, furthermore, that some sort of grimy, quasi-traitorous criminality will soon be added to his lasting image in posterity. Right now, that tombstone is more likely to read “Craven Buffoon.”

Rudy seems to have made this choice freely, even eagerly. Indeed, large numbers of Republican politicians have followed the same course. I can understand their rationale for the short term — curry favor with Trump, and thereby keep their power — but what about the long term? I can’t imagine the Trump train heading anywhere but toward political oblivion. Unless this country falls into an abyss of authoritarianism and decline, these people will surely end up in the same cemetery of shame with Rudy.

Or so it seems to me. With the exception of Chris Christie and Bill Barr and the ever-slippery Mitch McConnell, however, they have made the calculation that no one will care or remember that they are serial liars and frauds. Chris and Bill and Mitch went with a simple show-me-the-proof strategy. That would seem like the perfect way to get out from under Trump and still keep your clout. Why the rest of them opted instead for total buy-in, I do not understand. It’s just so stupid.

Or maybe it isn’t stupidity, exactly. Rudy Giuliani isn’t stupid, I don’t think. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz aren’t stupid. You might argue that the people who actually believe the election was stolen (unlike Josh and Ted) are IQ-challenged, but I have come to believe that plain old stupidity does not explain that, either. So what is the answer to this puzzle? What is causing people to make such bad errors in judgment?

I have an answer, but I don’t really have much confidence in it. I don’t think I will ever really understand what is going on with these people. Anyway, my current theory pins the blame on some deep self-delusion. They want something to be true so badly, that they will believe it in spite of the evidence. For the Trump supporters, it’s the Big Lie (and all the other lies, no matter how easily disproven). For the seasoned politicians, it’s the belief that they can inherit Trump’s glory, such as it is. In both cases it’s nuts, but apparently they just can’t help it. So they just tell themselves that, despite the facts, the fantasy is real.

I’m still a little challenged to explain why they are so easily tempted by self-delusion. I don’t know anyone like Rudy Giuliani. I don’t have the slightest idea what kinds of dark motives are surging through him. I cannot grok his state of mind because I have nothing in my life to compare it to. The cultist mind of Trump followers is equally mysterious to me. Whether it manifests as part of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple or the world of MAGA, it is utterly alien to me. And yet, almost half the country is there, drinking the Kool-Aid.

In either case, I still come back to “why?”. Yes, it’s self-delusion, but so what? Yes, they’re cultists, yes they’re shameless political opportunists, yes they all live in a world of make believe. But it still makes no sense.

Maybe I should be glad of that. If it did make sense, then I’d be on the Trump train with them, and all of us would be headed for the abyss.
The Sad Truth
I have just returned from a trip through an alternate universe, and boy am I glad to be back. It was a brief trip, and I’m pretty sure that it did not cause any permanent changes to my personality or to my political beliefs. Still, it was a harrowing journey, one I am not eager to repeat. I watched Fox News for ten minutes.

I force myself to enter that universe every once in awhile just to keeps my wits sharpened. It’s always disorienting, but this particular visit was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. First, there was the explosive story about Joe Biden’s secret plan to take away my quarter-pounder. Before you could say “rump roast”, that story had spread like wildfire across the rightwing media. Then came a “correction” — or perhaps they called it an “adjustment”. It wasn’t a “retraction” because I don’t think that word exists in the alternate universe.

The adjustment revealed that there was, in fact, no secret plan to deprive Americans of their meat. All the outrage, all the fulminations and accusations and calls for accountability had been based on an untruth (which is so much nicer than “lie”, don’t you think?). Never mind, said Fox, without any apparent remorse.

Meanwhile, another blockbuster revelation had received front page treatment in the New York Post, another news-ish Murdoch entity. This scoop featured Vice President Harris, and asserted that her children’s book, Superheroes Are Everywhere, was being distributed at migrant shelters as part of care packages for immigrant children. Once again, the outrage had swept like a tornado through rightwing media outlets, and once again an adjustment was issued to modify another untruth. More outrage about nothing.

In both cases, a world-stopping exposé was revealed to be just plain false. For me, a resident of this universe, all of this was head-spinning. In fact, my dizziness forced me to flee the parallel universe, so I’m not certain how people who live there ended up dealing with it. My guess, however, is that the untruth is still a truth over there. Not to me, but to the Fox regulars and their ilk.

I see this as one of the main problems with that other world. Facts don’t have to be true in order to be facts. Anything that confirms an opinion — even if it is admitted to be false — is repeated as gospel even without proof. Unfortunately, this philosophical paradox affects those of us who live in our world, even if we don’t share that mania.

And speaking of philosophy, here is what I have come up with on this subject over the last four or five years: it’s not Trump, it’s not the media, it’s not the Republicans, it’s not anybody else in particular. It’s us. Human beings. These two universes have always existed, and we are all part of both of them. Like it or not.

And that’s what I believe, pending a retraction.
Seeds of Destruction
My favorite scene from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the moment when the hero fully awakens to the horror that giant seed pods from outer space are duplicating humans and replacing them with icky, all-vegetable versions. In the key scene, Kevin McCarthy, tipped to the alien scheme by the bland new personalities of some old friends, comes face to face with a waxy, flawless version of himself in an old greenhouse.

I want to be clear here that the Kevin McCarthy I’m talking about is not the one who is Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives. My Kevin was a veteran character actor from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. He appeared in Body Snatchers in 1956 at a time when the specter of creeping communism was haunting the American psyche.

Even at the time, the film was seen as an artistic manifestation of those fears. The pods, once they had copied a human’s body, waited for it to fall asleep. It was then that they completed the supplantation by absorbing the victim’s consciousness. What happened to the human cadavers after that was never fully explained, but I think we can assume that they were not given a proper burial. Typical commie move.

Anyway, the veggie Kevin in that greenhouse is sheathed like a giant ear of corn, complete with husk, and it’s got that fresh, unblinking glow that they get right before they suck out your mind. Kevin the man is understandably disturbed by the existence of this meatless imposter. He ends up killing his copy with a pitchfork.

But that one act can’t stop the pod scourge. Later, while fleeing their relentless advance, he flips out and runs into nighttime highway traffic. “They’re here already!” he screams to the bemused motorists. “You’re next! You’re next!” No one believes him, of course, and he ends up being hustled off to an insane asylum.

These days, of course, the fear of being replaced by someone with a different ideology seems rather quaint. We have since returned to the more traditional rationales for hatred: cultural differences and skin color. The body snatchers to be feared now are (once again) non-white immigrants. They are the ones who have come to replace us and leave our brain-dead carcasses to rot… at least according to Tucker Carlson and his legion of white supremacist hate addicts.

Naturally, the supremacists would not be literally replaced. They would still be able to vote and exercise all their rights under the Constitution. Their political influence would be diluted by the foreigners, though, along with whatever cultural standards they thought they stood for.

What really galls these guys, I am told, is the fact that these non-whites seem to be out-reproducing them. White birthrates are down, while the rest of the color wheel is multiplying like rabbits. The supremacists focus some of the blame for that on white women for not being full-time baby machines. Most of their rage, however, is reserved for the Others arriving from abroad.

(If you watched any of the Capitol insurrection on January 6, you might imagine that there are some other reasons for these folks’ low rate of reproduction. To my eye, those dudes did not have a whole lot of mating potential. If I’m an ovum on the make, and I want to enhance the chances of perpetuating my own DNA, I might decide to shop around for some better prospects. But that is a topic for another day.)

Like my movie protagonist, Tucker and his rageaholics also see an existential threat in the newcomers. And as January 6 demonstrated, they seem ready to burn the whole thing down in order to “save” it. “They’re here already!” you can imagine them screaming. “You’re next! You’re next!”

Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy (the GOP minority leader, not the actor) has his own problem with replacements. In his case, coincidentally, those are the same supremacists who are villainizing immigrants. He and his leadership pals have actually welcomed these body snatchers into the bosom of the party — courted them, normalized them, and tried like hell to co-opt them. But they couldn’t pull it off, and now the January Sixers are about to do some serious Republican mindsucking.

So it seems that the two Kevin McCarthys have something in common after all. But while movie Kevin took a pitchfork to his nemeses and torched as many pods as he could, politics Kevin prefers a mild public tut-tutting of his pods or engaging with them in very, very serious private chats. The movie ended in a hair’s-breadth victory over the invaders. It remains to be seen what real life has in store for the heroes of the GOP.
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz