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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The State of the Union is Bad

“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

If you know me at all, you’ve seen that quote pop up at steady intervals over the last few years, particularly this last year, as the sickening trudge toward yesterday’s election crept closer to fruition. The last time I clearly remember dropping it was what I considered at the time to be the point of no return; on June 8th, the day after my home State of New Mexico voted for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee, in the wake of most of the major media outlets calling the race for her on the 6th. And I feel it would have fit well today, too, had she won the presidency. When Dr. Thompson coined it in 1972, as a last desperate gasp before the inevitable re-election of Richard Nixon, he may not have known it, but he was perfectly summarizing the character of the American electorate for the next four decades. Whether we “laid back and said it” or not, just about every election since that one has been decided from that exact perspective. But not anymore. What happened yesterday marked a shift. It marked the end of an era. It marked the true point of no return.

What I’m about to explain to you may sound like doomsaying, but that’s not how I mean it. I’m not trying to scare anyone. We’re all plenty scared – some for good reason, others just because it’s what our surroundings have conditioned us to feel right now. I’m also not guaranteeing in any way that events will play out this way. I only want to point out a pattern I’ve been observing the development of since I was old enough to follow politics in this country. Because if I don’t, and it plays out, I’ll never be able to forgive myself. This is not so I can tell you I told you so. This is because if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance I care at least a little if you live or die, and I want us all to be on the same page.

I was born in a country called Yugoslavia. Don’t look for it on a map. You won’t find it if your map is any younger than a high school student. It was torn to pieces in the early 1990s after its long-time leader, Josip Broz Tito, died, leaving a power vacuum. The leaders of several different Republics (think of them as states, but more demographically segregated – primarily on religious lines) began vying for political control over the country as a whole, and quickly realized that it was easier for them to whip up support for their agendas if they pandered to the ethnic majorities in their respective regions, and championed the differences between them. Soon realizing that the demagogue in Serbia (where the Belgrade, the capital and my hometown, is located), Slobodan Milosevic, was prepared to assert his dominance by use of military force, the demagogues in several of the other Republics pushed their people to secede. First came Croatia and Slovenia. Milosevic responded with the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. Soon after, Bosnia, which was primarily ethnically Muslim and Croatian (Catholic) called for independence. Serb militia groups in Bosnia (primarily Orthodox Christians) then began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” (read: genocide) against their neighbors, in the name of nationalism. I don't mean the folks that live in the next county or city, I'm talking about the folks next door. The region plunged into a war that lasted almost a decade. Every side committed war crimes against every side, and the only people who truly suffered were the ones who wanted no part in the violence at all. And when it was over, all that was left were 6 newly “independent” nations with devastated economies, brimming with hatred for one another over centuries old wounds that had just been carved back open. The Serbian genocide in Bosnia was spotlighted by Western media outlets, but the tens of thousands of Serbs that were forced from their homes in Croatia and the trains of refugees that were shelled as they fled didn’t get as much airtime, because it’s really hard to galvanize international support for one side when everyone is murdering everyone in the streets.

But that’s enough Eastern European history. I only brought that up to make a point. As afraid as many of you are of Donald Trump right now (and you should be, as I would be if I didn’t happen to fall into the only demographic he hasn’t threatened directly yet), he is not the real danger. In all likelihood, he himself will not be the President for long. If he even his impending fraud suit doesn't derail him before election day, he’ll likely quit out of boredom or be removed by the political establishment that was absolutely not changed one iota by his upset. Remember that most of Congress and the Senate on both sides of the aisle hate Trump. He made fools of all of them, and they’re going to be looking for any excuse to impeach him. And if the precedent for that kind of action is lying about a blowjob, I can only imagine how quickly he’ll give them a much better one.

The Republicans that will take over thereafter might undo most of the progress we’ve made since booting them out of the White House and appoint enough closed-minded lunatics to the Supreme Court to ensure that justice is never served in this country for the next 20 years, but even they are not the real threat on the horizon.

What is really troubling is that this country is now far past polarized. I shudder to think what some of Trump’s more virulent supporters will do when (not if) he is removed from office before his term is up, but even they on their own are not a threat to the future of this union. The fact that there are hundreds of groups right now on both the left and right extremes of our political spectrum that are making more appealing arguments to most of the population than our existing political establishment is absolutely a threat to that future.

Think about what every Trump voter who still won’t admit he hates (or at least doesn’t give a single fuck about) minorities throws out as their reasoning for voting for him: “He tells it like it is! I’m sick of the status quo!” How do you think they’ll react when their orange hero is gone and President Pence starts trying to tow the party line?

Now think about how many of your usually reasonable liberal friends today casually commented on how it’d be nice if someone just killed Pence and maybe Paul Ryan as well, so we can just get rid of everyone in office and start over. Sure, your buddy was speaking rhetorically, and would never harm another human being, but do you realize there are people in this country right now on BOTH ENDS OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM who are deadly serious about wanting to see a revolution? Lets assume Trump serves out his 4 years and gets the Republican establishment on his bandwagon. How long before the alt-left takes a page from its 70s playbook and starts blowing things up? How long before the alt-right starts retaliating?

Sure, all these extremists have existed for years, but you notice how firmly Obama’s election galvanized the ones on the right? Are you ready for the ones on the left to do the same now? Are you ready for what happens when the two sides start clashing? Do you realize there is no unified front on either side, so you’re really just talking about hundreds (literally, hundreds) of small groups with no central goal or clearly defined mission entering a free-for-all with no one solution?

Remember on September 12th, 2001, how – no matter how fake and orchestrated to pave way for the war it was – everyone in the country was just proud to be American and wanted to stand together against what had just happened? Eight years ago, the presidency was delegitimized in the eyes of half the country. Last night it was delegitimized in the eyes of the other half. What happens when you have hundreds of groups pushing for violence and nobody in the middle reminding us that we’re all Americans? When the only people in a position to rally us all for a common cause are reviled and ignored by the growing crowds on the far ends of the political spectrum? What happens when #notmypresident becomes the only thing anyone believes in?

The worst part is, Trump didn’t do this. He just capitalized on it. He catalyzed it. He saw a quick way to make a buck and get some more brand recognition and never for a moment considered the ramifications of pouring gasoline on the slow coal-fire that’s been burning just beneath the surface of the American identity.

He gave us an excuse to tear each other to pieces, and there are those that have been waiting for this moment for a long time, and the “revolution” is already under way. Ever heard of “Cascadia?” Well, there’s a large group of tech executives now pushing for California to secede. It’s barely 12 hours since the results were finalized and students are protesting all around the country. There are elected officials calling for protests. I’ve never seen this. I was an actively furious adolescent during the Bush era, and I never saw politicians calling for an uprising.

The notion that the United States of America will be a thing of the past in my lifetime is now a real possibility. Let that sink in for a moment. And then look back on my paragraph about what happened in Yugoslavia, and realize that all of the really ugly shit that happened was perpetrated by disorganized, quickly slapped together, often non-uniformed militias who referred to themselves as armies in name only. The massacres and concentration camps in Srebrnica and Sarajevo, the pushing of Serbs out of Croatia, the shelling of breadlines and refugee caravans – every fucking bit of that was committed by people who had been neighbors until just a few years earlier. They acted the way they did because they were convinced that the people they were murdering would murder them right back given the chance. It was kill or be killed, and Big Brother was suddenly not watching, because he was just trying to keep the whole machine from falling to pieces.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in America. But I know we have a lot of guns. And I know we don’t like anyone telling us how to live our lives. For a long time, we had a national identity. We were the good guys, and “they” were the bad guys – whether they were Germans or Russians or VC or Terrorists. But that isn’t the case anymore. The people we hate now are the ones that voted that orange piece of shit into office. And they felt pretty similarly eight years ago about us.

So my advice to you is this:

Meet your neighbors. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to agree with them. But meet them. Eat with them if you can. Make sure you can at least have a conversation, and that at the end of the conversation, you both realize that the other one is a human being. Wherever you both fall on the political spectrum, try to forget about that and just enjoy one another as people.

When the time comes for “us” vs “them,” and bullets start flying, and bombs start exploding, and buildings start burning, and mothers are in the streets crying over the bodies of their children – remember that whether you choose to fight, flee, or hide is ultimately unimportant. If we get to that point, my words will be useless to convince you of how to carry it. At that point none of this will matter, and we’ll be living in a new paradigm with the chance to either repeat the cycle we seem to be approaching the end of, or try something new. And you and I won’t get a choice in how the big picture plays out. But we will get a choice in how we treat each other.

This country will likely never overcome the red/blue rift that we’ve drawn. It will either continue plague us and disappoint us 50% at a time, as the pendulum swings back and forth every four to eight years, or it will tear us apart eventually. I’m not sure how I feel about that, or what outcome I hope for. But I know that if you’re reading this, chances are that I love you. I want you to live. And I don’t want you to become the monster you currently fear.

Please remember that in the moments when you become most afraid, over the next few years. Because those moments could come sooner than you think. And right on their heels will be people who will tell you that you can be saved, if only you follow them. And maybe you will, but maybe it will cost you more than just your life.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

It appears my body will no longer let me sleep past 6 AM. With the extra hour from our antiquated system of saving daylight, that’s one more hour of early morning silence to sit through before the distractions can start. Back when I only worked three days a week, it was easy to stay up late every night, wake up tired on the days I had to work, and sleep in the mornings that I didn’t. I’d wake up around noon and sit in bed and write. I don’t do that so much anymore.

Somewhere along the way, I slept it off; sobered up on my own bullshit. Maybe not entirely, as I still sound like the self-loathing narcissist I always was, but at some point, I must have decided no one else wants to hear that nonsense. Everyone deals with their own brand of pathetic self-interest, so why talk about my own? What difference does it make in anyone’s life to hear that their basest negative emotions are the main thing they share with the rest of the human race? Our victories are our own. Our failures are just like everyone else’s.

And maybe that’s what Bradbury meant with the above line. If you stay drunk on the notion that someone needs to hear what you need to say, you can spend your whole life throwing words and phrases and personal revelations at people – who will catch them out of politeness, and maybe relate for a minute, but would have likely eventually come to the same conclusions on their own. Or maybe they wouldn’t, but in those case they probably didn’t need to.

But the moment you sober up – and realize that everyone’s been there, everyone has felt that thing, and you’re not discovering something new, but merely describing the same rock we’ve all tripped on a thousand times – you wonder, much like with a hangover, why you ever did that to yourself in the first place. Why waste the time? Why expend the effort? Why bother, if we’re all going to get here sooner or later – not as a group, but alone as ever – fall on our faces, dust ourselves off, and keep trudging toward the inevitable? “What’s the point,” a much wiser fellow than myself once asked me, “If there is no point?”

And what is the point of having this extra hour? This hour that was never extra, we just refer to it as such, until we have to give it back in the Spring. Is it a do-over for the hour before it that I slept through? Or perhaps an hour to keep in my pocket and use down the line in a moment where there’s not enough time? If only. I’m pretty sure it’s just a reminder; a symbol of all the time I’ve wasted wondering if there’s a point to what I’m doing. An hour I get to keep with me for the next six months, but never use, for fear that when the great counting comes, I might come up short.

The sun won’t be over the mountain beyond my East-facing windows for another four hours or so. It won’t be over the houses to the South until March. So do I get drunk on my own bullshit again and spout off semantics about the things we all know we face when Winter comes? Do I wax philosophical about politics and music and sadness?

Or do I just sit here? Staring, sober, into the darkness?

Who needs a drink?