Saturday, November 16, 2019

Watching Impeachment

The events surrounding Watergate were riveting in my youth. I grew up in a well-off suburban family where Dad went full-off the default Republican bandwagon, joined an organization called Common Cause and vocally supported busing that would include the suburbs. Those were tumultuous times, and Buffalo was an epicenter for aspects of those times.

I remember meeting my uncle at the Buffalo airport when he returned from Vietnam. He was a West Pointer some years ahead of William Taylor, who served in Vietnam in some very tough times. His older brother was also a West Pointer. I'm not certain what privilege they shared, but both were rather blond, handsome, and extremely upright.

I had the vaguest sense of these matters, even though I was politically active in my high school; that only meant that I was willing to speak out on some things about which I had marginal knowledge. I had a girlfriend whose parents were lefty intellectuals, and they were glued to what was happening on TV and so I had at least a clue. In my house, television "rotted the brain," in pure analogy to the way that soda pop rotted the gut. Both were banned in my house, and that was the extent of the reasons given.

But I do remember the helicopters lifting off from Saigon and I do remember Nixon's wave as he was boarding his departure helicopter; I remember stories from my uncle about fragging, and his scramble to toss a grenade out from the officers' mess; from my father about shitting on the beach in the Philippines as it was being strafed by the Japanese; finding a severed leg in an outhouse that stank worse than the outhouse would have; being evacuated for having wiped his ass with some kind of poison ivy which became a life-endangering and certainly debilitating injury. He was evacuated to Hawaii and then returned to the front.

Both Dad and uncles on the mastiff side were sober types, honorable to the point of fault, and both stopped talking about their experiences in their wars by the time I got old enough to understand them. It's as easy to imagine Dad staring down the strafing Japanese as it is to imagine my uncles' sacrifices. Dad would not commit the indignity of stopping mid-shit or leaving his ass un-wiped. He gave away his beer and cigarette rations to those he drove up to the hilltop to indulge in Filipino tent-cities of comfort women, keeping the truck running just in case. That image is indelibly seared into my brain; rows and rows of pup tents with candlelit glows from each, and lines of GIs outside them.

Anyhow, I did recognize both William Taylor and George Kent as members of my family. I differ starkly with their brand of patriotism, since they evidently still do believe in an American that never did really exist as far as I can tell. My America propped up dictators in South America and the Middle East and can't let go of constant vilification of China and Russia in just the way that my uncle never could let go of their dangers - or of Jane Fonda - even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Deng Xiaoping.

The dangers of the strongman politics of Russia and China are real - don't get me wrong. But there may be a greater danger in turning those countries into some kind of meme while we ignore the dangers of strongman politics at home.

I started to think that maybe my Fox News uncle was right as I watched the opening of the public impeachment hearings yesterday.  During one of the breaks Reince Priebus was trotting out his arguments as to why the impeachment is a travesty. He seemed to be saying that Trump can't be impeached on the basis of any of his actions, and that the Democrats could only investigate his state of mind. My image was that we were conducting some kind of invasion of privacy, and that we have no right to investigate the President's thought processes or the secret processes of his (supposed) deliberation.

How ironic, right? Whatever is in his mind is surely a hot mess, and there ain't no deliberating there. Thank goodness the Democrats had the presence of collective mind to remind everyone that attempted murder is still a crime, even though the intended victim may not have died.

But Priebus did remind us all that Trump was elected precisely because he 'raised his middle finger to D.C.' So, is he like Ai Weiwei now? Has the presidency become performance art, and we are testing how far our cherished American freedoms can be stretched? Is Trump just glorying in the Buffalo-based exoneration of Larry Flynt? Even Howard Stern would be an improvement in the White House.

I'm guessing that the Republicans are making a different calculus than the one we think they make. They are more like highly paid football stars than anything else. Even football stars can be articulate when interviewed for the camera. Nobody would expect them to be making any real contributions to society in return for their pay and glory, though we do hold them to higher standards than we do our president.

But however he does his signalling, Trump has let those Republicans know that he will keep the oxygen sucked out from the news media to the extent that no attention will be paid to their looting of the republic. Those Republican political stars can carry that out in the name of those ideologies that they do seem truly to believe in; though who could really tell the states of their collective hive-mind?

There might be a kind of honor to that behavior, or there could be if they did hold actual ideological beliefs. We cheer our football stars, and at least in Buffalo sometimes honor them even more in the breach when they kick the ball wide right, say. I used to think that Lindsey Graham had some integrity. Now he's shown himself to be a looter like the rest of them, and shill to the power of money. I can only guess. Too bad, so sad.

We might wish that Bernie Sanders could be as good a stooge for the media to bring in socialism under the radar. But alas, his is a different brand of integrity. Imagine in this world of Googling if what you see were really what you get!

It was notable to me how few Republicans actually questioned the witnesses. Jim Jordan was pulled in for his attack-dog style of unabashed inquisition, lacking any rapport or history with the committee. Most Republican members seemed happy to "yield" their precious minutes to a very few attack dogs; were there even more than three on day one? The Democrats all seemed happy to have their own personal moment of vilification. Rhetorically at least, the contest was pure Democratic rout. But in this age of Twitter, rhetoric clearly counts for naught.

So why was I so rapt? I mean, I really want to know. I watch plenty of movies and fall asleep during some. I try to spend my days reading and writing, but that can be exhausting. I have sleep trouble and so I often black out during the day with a book or a computer in my hands. But yesterday I was glued to the screen. What was playing out there had the clear ring of history, and it was reminiscent of what was happening in my youth. Whither the republic?

Two events from my youth were far more important to me than Vietnam or Watergate. One was the death of Lake Erie above whose cliffs and clean broad beaches I was raised. The other was the discovery when I transitioned from bicycle to motorcycle that every hamlet in upstate New York was being homogenized by franchise chains. These two were the same thing in my mind, and I've been waiting for some grand awakening to that horror ever since. Now it seems that we've passed the point of no return.

The America I still do imagine distributes wealth and knowledge by distributing ownership and responsibility back to local shop-owners, manufacturers and job creators and away from  those sitting on top of the wealth pumps of technology. Yikes, I guess that makes me be leaning Right! WTF!

So, while it won't seem so from what I'm writing here, I wasn't taking sides in the hearings. I wasn't a spectator for the competitive sport of two-party politics. That's not what kept my attention. I kept trying to glimpse what country was in the making there, and how it might differ from the one we have. Last time, we got a dystopian America of greed. No matter how nice its been living on its inside as a white male, our impact on the planet has been decidedly disastrous. We deserve to be hated, and at least Trump has given us that.

The Democrats were fighting for what seemed for all the world to be a return to Republican values: Decent celebration of capitalism and a strong military. All the Republicans have left is the value of wealth for the few. It's hard to find vision anywhere.

After day two of the pubic inquiry there is some new hope, with Trump caught on a call saying just what the Democrats claimed he was saying behind closed doors. It's easier now to imagine Giuliani joining Roger Stone in jail, right alongside those he once put there (there is rough justice in that) and one begins to see an America post-Trump. Surely his behavior can't stand.

But what America do we wish to reinvent? Will it be the one represented by the true believers in patriotism who work the foreign services? They do sometimes seem more concerned about what Trump is doing to undermine our power than they do about what we might become.

There seem to be two classes of up and coming young people; the one is masculinist focused on the ejaculatory glory of bringing some technical unicorn to the magic billion-dollar mark. These are the dangerous class, the arrogant believers in a manifest destiny for technology no matter what it does to the social fabric. The other class is feminist and personified in A.O.C., perhaps. They might look askance, as I do, at military-style honor even while such behaviors run in my very own bloodline.

No coincidence that Trump chooses the day of his greatest embarrassment to exonerate several soldiers who have dishonored the military. Never even bothering to think about it, Trump accepts the conspiracy minded bloviation of Fox News as actual reality. He likes that plot line, I guess. I like it myself, but there has been zero evidence of any Rambo-style heroics from Trump, except perhaps on his own behalf. There is no honor of any sort at all there.

The dangers we face are not those personified by Trump but those arrayed behind his taking office. We have been in the throes of the rotted brains of TV addicts since the election of Howdy Doody Reagan at least. Channeling the voice of Walter Cronkite as William Taylor did plays only to us oldsters. If we don't take hold of our technologies for the public good, there can be no hope for either a return to the greatness we once thought our Republic to promise, nor to anything remotely representing of and by and for the people.

That makes me very very sad.

But! (he says with raised finger, and not the middle one)

As that cheerleader Steven Pinker might say, all of our dangerous technology has brought about positive change in the aggregate. It seems that the proliferation of images and massive trade and intercourse across the oceans might indeed have tempered our lust to create and then vilify some other. Our collective wanting on various Black Fridays and Singles Days is at the very least a vital force which might yet be diverted to something worthwhile.

I remain optimistic that this merely decades long fever will pass and a more healthy humanity will prevail. For the moment I am grateful for Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi.

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