All posts by spdonlan

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me (2016)

Written quickly after the election last November

The original song is here (among other places)

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Racism, xenophobia, gross misogyny

Twitter rants and hateful policies

Trump’s deplorable, but that didn’t stop y’all

Racism, xenophobia, gross misogyny

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Tiny hands, short fingers, gross vulgarity

Lies and a narcissistic personality

Trump’s deplorable, but that didn’t stop y’all

Tiny hands, short fingers, gross vulgarity

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Fred Trump Statement on the Bombing in Selma

16 September 1963 – New York City:

Thank you very much.

As you know, this was a small press conference, but a very important one. And it was scheduled to talk about the great things that we’re doing with black tenants here in New York.

And we will talk about that very much so in a little while. But I thought I should put out a comment as to what’s going on in Selma.

They’re great people. Great people.

But we’re closely following the terrible events unfolding there. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

It’s been going on for a long time in our country.

What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.

I just got off the phone with the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, and we agree that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now.

We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Selma, to me it’s very, very sad. I want to salute the great work of the state and local police in Alabama. Incredible people.

We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are, so we want to get the situation straightened out in Selma, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen.

(the real transcript of yesterday’s conference is here)

A Capitol Idea: An Open, Working Thought Experiment

During the primaries last year, I briefly began an article on comparative politics and political institutions. The idea seemed simple: imagine the United States with a parliamentary system. I put if off as a ridiculous exercise given the magnitude of the danger that then slouched toward Washington.

Now I can’t find my draft and lack the time and energy to recreate it entirely.

But imagine that the American people decided that, as of 2020, its political system would become parliamentary rather than presidential. Fiddle as you wish, but follow through (in the comments below) with some sense of how politics there might be different as a result of different institutions. Alternatively, read my proposal here and tell me how things might work out.

Go on, go on, go on, go on (the Irish will understand).

For my purposes here, I’ll assume

  • mandatory voting, akin to that of Australia (how un-American!)
  • an electoral system of proportional representation, perhaps along the lines of Germany rather than, say, Ireland (to ensure that parliamentary representation would largely line up with public opinion and doesn’t bow towards the Center)
  • a threshold requirement of 5% of national votes for parties to receive the ‘list members’ of proportional representation (eliminating fringe parties)
  • a parliamentary model geared to consensus – and strong committees – rather than conflict, ie a more European than British/Irish model
  • an Executive formed only by the House after its elections (eliminating the Electoral College), secured with the confidence of the chamber but with an outside term of five years
  • a meaningful Senate elected in much the same way as today – though perhaps representing the States again – but reorganised with only the power to delay decisions by the House (rather than effectively veto them)
  • the elimination of any actual veto (superfluous, if not inappropriate, in a parliamentary system)

For now, I won’t commit on whether or not a President still exists as a (largely formal) Head of State. I’ll have to give that some more thought; selection by a revised Electoral College for a five- or seven-year term is tempting. I don’t propose any alteration in federalism (though there are many other federal models) and won’t consider what, if any, changes might occur within the States. Americans have been surprisingly unimaginative with respect to State institutions.

And I have a number of ideas, too, about the courts – term limits, mandatory retirement ages, etc – but that’s for another day.

Some dynamics could change immediately. Elections would be skewed still further to areas with large populations, though not necessarily States as cities would be more important. And while parliamentary systems can’t guarantee quality (see, eg, the UK), demagogues and political dilettantes would find it comparatively more difficult to rise to power. And it’s even possible that national and state parties would have a far more complicated relationship than they do now (as can happen, for example, in Canada). Etc, etc.

While over time, it’s possible that a return to a two-party (plus) system could develop reasonably quickly (cf the UK, Canada, etc), I’m curious, for now, about the outcome of the first election with the expanded electorate and 435 Representatives. While we can quibble about the categories, I’ll assume that, in a flurry of activity, the parties just either side of the threshold were – from roughly Right to Left – the following, with the following results:

  • Nationalists (Nationalist Right) – 27%
  • Conservatives (Center/Center Right) – 12%
  • Libertarians – 10%
  • Democrats (Center/Center Left) –  28%
  • Progressives (Social Democrats) – 15%
  • Greens – 8%

Without going too deeply into PEW numbers and, you know, empirical research, I’ve used the actual results of the popular vote of the last elections as a starting point and assumed, quite dangerously, that the new voters will vote in much the same way. In reality, they might well swell the numbers at the Center.

I also assumed away a still further Rightwing, paleo-conservative Constitution Party. But have I been too harsh on Conservatives, too easy on Libertarians? The Left is, if anything, still more fluid: would Greens siphon off more support, are Democrats over-represented?

But the $64,000 Question – Americans will understand – is what coalition would result from these numbers? A Democrat-Progressive-Libertarian Government might be more likely, for better or worse, than a Democrat-Progressive-Green coalition.

You get the idea. Any thoughts.? Humor me. I’m tired.

COUP D’ÉTAT? COUP DE GRÂCE? KELLY FIRES TRUMP

Washington – 31 July 2017

In one of his first acts as White House chief of staff, John Kelly has pushed out President Trump, a stunning move that suggests the new boss has wider leeway than many people thought when Trump announced Kelly’s hiring late Friday.

Trump spent less than seven months in his post, a stunningly short period of time by any measure of presidential tenures. Even in that short time, he repeatedly made waves by his rank ignorance and vulgar manners.

When Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci and Reince ‘Scalded Hound’ Priebus were fired over the last week, Kelly’s hiring appeared to be a signal that Trump had finally chosen safe hands over small hands and patriotism over petulence.

Indeed, Kelly’s hiring seemed to clash with the White House image forwarded by the President. A four-star Marine general known for discipline and organization, Kelly was the opposite of the free-wheeling and free-talking Trump. The presumption was, however, that Trump’s closeness to Kelly would insulate him in spite of the massive controversy caused by his presidency.

That presumption was proven wrong Monday evening. Why? Because we may well have underestimated Kelly’s negotiating power when deciding to accept the chief of staff job or his influence over Trump once he took it.

Most Republican establishment types applauded the move, believing, as Kelly clearly did, that Trump had already sacrificed his credibility inside and outside the White House, and had become a massive distraction.

“General Kelly is 1 for 1,” tweeted Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the wake of Trump’s firing. “Let’s keep it going.”

Curbelo reflected the feelings of lots of Republican elected officials who viewed Trump as, at best, a distraction and, at worst, an actively negative force within a White House already careening out of control.

Trump’s firing at the hands of Kelly will give some within the GOP establishment hope that Kelly will bring much needed message and personal discipline to a White House that has shown little of either. In the ouster, there will also be some who see evidence that Kelly is what the country needs — a four-star general.

For today, however, the forces of order won out over the forces of chaos. And given how Trump’s last week went, that’s a very good thing if you are a Republican on the ballot come 2018.

Fake News Corporation (the original article appeared here)

Be Prepared. Be Very Prepared.

Washington, DC – 27 July 2017

Only days after a controversial, partisan, and predictably vulgar address to the Boy Scouts of America, a source in the White House has revealed that the President has proposed a new Scout Sign (pictured) and drafted a new Scout Law for the group. 

The draft Law reads:

A Trump is

  • Erratic
  • Unfaithful
  • Deceptive
  • Acrimonious
  • Rude
  • Callous
  • Insolent
  • Dour
  • Reckless
  • Lily-Livered
  • Filthy, and
  • Profane.

The President is quoted as saying that, with this new law, he hopes to ‘Make Scouting Great Again’.

It’s unlikely, of course, that the current text will be changed any time soon. The President has had very little luck with laws of any sort. Sad!

LOOK AWAY: MOTHERS, MONUMENTS, AND MYTHS

The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.
– Robert E Lee

(Originally published on The Moderate Voice)

Much of the work of writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) explored the complexity of moral judgement and action in the face of human suffering. This reflected his wartime experience in the French Resistance, as well as his upbringing. Born in French Algeria, the global South, his parents descended from colonists. They were poor, but, as European stock, remained a caste separate and above native North Africans. Camus understood compound, competing loyalties from the inside.

Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus was asked about the struggle against French rule in Algeria. He is frequently, if apocryphally, cited as answering that ‘[b]etween justice and my mother, I choose my mother.‘ His actual response was more subtle. He condemned the terror of anti-colonialism, not the equity of the Arab cause. He feared, not without reason, that independence would erase his people from North Africa.

Camus’ comments, and his writing, came to mind as the Confederate monuments in my native New Orleans came down. Like the racism they celebrated, intentionally and incidentally, the monuments should be things of the past. They should be in our museums, not our main streets. But the words attributed to Camus are wise. They suggest the deep, felt priority of familial affection, and indeed national or communal allegiances, over abstract principles. The failure to attend to such nuances of identity and morality is a central cause of our current political impasse.

Each of us must balance our pasts and presents in contexts not entirely of our choosing. Born in the Crescent City and raised in rural Louisiana, I confess that I had a small Confederate flag on my wall as a teenager. I placed it next to my picture of Martin Luther King. To my immature mind, this was an attempt to marry my peoples and principles. I knew even then that even a symbol like the Stars-and-Bars is ‘a complex tangle of ideas‘ that may have anodyne associations for specific individuals. The (aging) fans of The Dukes of Hazzard needn’t be devotees of David Duke.

But such private subjective views, however sincerely felt, are insufficient to alter the meaning of Confederate symbols for too many of our fellow citizens. The presence of the monuments in the public spaces of New Orleans is an obvious, standing insult to black Americans. To them, such images are more likely to represent the worst acts of injustice and degradation: kidnapping, forced transportation, and the ongoing violence – battery, murder, and rape – of race-based, perpetual chattel slavery. The fact that many of the memorials were explicitly erected to defend Jim Crow makes them still more odious. It was, to mangle Faulkner, a past ‘never dead. It [was] not even past.’

Slavery is our nation’s original sin, and is visited on us all. It was the root and trunk of our uncivil war. If other American groups and individuals have also suffered, the African-American experience was of an entirely different order of repression and pain. Only bigots or fools could deny this. Sadly, we have too many of both.

The greater number of these simply shut their ears to present prejudice. A smaller number who’ve actively protested the removal of the monuments haven’t hidden their hate. Or their weapons. And this week saw Mississippi State Representative Karl Oliver suggest that those removing the monuments should ‘be LYNCHED!’ Representative Oliver is, of course, an honorable and a Godly man. And a Republican.

But in addition to the deplorable and the deluded, there are many other plain folk entangled in their cultural attachments, affections nearly as natural as family. Democrats and Republicans, they might acknowledge the equity of the removal of Confederate monuments and flags if it didn’t mean, at the same time, ratifying a portrait of their predecessors as entirely depraved. And they may be right to rebel. Despite the simple stories we tell ourselves – in our popular films, political platitudes, and judicial decisions – composite causes and mixed motives are the historical norm.

Beyond the opinion pages, too many progressives too rarely engage with the cultural and moral middle. Anyone who hesitates to condemn the monuments, and the flag, is labelled an apostate, a slack-jawed yokel who confirms the Left’s moral superiority. Many of these liberal foot soldiers, not least across social media, engage in little more than name-calling. Southerners were ‘losers’ and ‘traitors’ (though rebellion is only treason when it fails). And Confederate monuments are so many ‘participation trophies’.

Such arrogance is inappropriate. American history is no simple morality play of good versus evil. It’s nonsense to suggest that, to a man, Northerners fought as abolitionists to ‘forge a more perfect union’ while every rebel rallied to slavery, rather than to his homeland and his neighbors. To project into only one side what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’, is a sort of collective hagiography, not history. It substitutes one morally-abridged myth with another.

Condescension is also obviously unwise. It does progressivism little good to confirm the long-standing stereotype of liberal ideologues more concerned about the abstract than the actual. It was, in part, such cultural dismissal and tone-deafness that ensured a victory for the champion of white identity last year. And this either/or ethics even cheapens the sin of slavery, the horror of which is magnified, not minimalised, because ordinary men and women were its agents.

In The Plague (1947), Camus created a fictional epidemic in the real city of Oran in French Algeria. The work, written only two years after the Second World War, is widely understood to have been a metaphor for the Nazi occupation of France. But it also reflected Camus’ central theme: the Sisyphean human quest for meaning and belonging. In the midst of the plague, the two main characters had the following exchange:

‘I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don’t really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is – being a man.’

‘Yes, we’re both after the same thing, but I’m less ambitious.’

Rieux supposed Tarrou was jesting and turned to him with a smile. But, faintly lit by the dim radiance falling from the sky, the face he saw was sad and earnest.

It is our lot, not least those in and of the South, to deal with men rather than saints. We needn’t coddle or capitulate to the Olivers of the world, but we can’t erect a wall between Left and Right. We can’t afford to treat those who aren’t already true believers as so many lost souls or lost causes. We must instead proselytize among them so that we might all be saved.

We must, to coin a phrase, ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner.’

Keep on Trumpin’

Donald Trump recently acknowledged that he was responsible for the phrase ‘priming the pump’. While it’s not always acknowledged, the President has enriched the English language in ways so profound it’s almost impossible to fully gauge his impact. He’s given us uniquely vivid ways in which to express hope and despair, sorrow and rage, love and lust. And even if you think he’s a short-finger vulgarian, you’re likely to have quoted him unwittingly. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Here are a few examples:

  1. Show me the money!

  2. I am Who am.

  3. When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

  4. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

  5. Keep calm and carry on.

  6. Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

  7. Hang in there, baby.

  8. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

  9. All we have to fear is fear itself.

  10. Here’s looking at you, kid.

  11. Greed is good.

  12. Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.

  13. Only you can prevent forest fires.

  14. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

  15. Keep on truckin’.KeepOnTrumpin

  16. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  17. There’s a sucker born every minute.

  18. And they lived happily ever after.

  19. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

  20. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  21. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.

  22. Say hello to my little friend.

  23. I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

  24. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

  25. I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another… then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.