Win or Learn

On one hand is the idea that any moral code has certain noble and universal qualities. On the other hand, well, it’s full of the shit commonly known as reality.

‘Sweet mercy’ may indeed ‘be nobility’s true badge,’ so naturally, we are disillusioned by the vigor of Republicans and the Plutocracy they promote. Greed tramples mercy into oblivion. Our leaders, of all stripes, have no nobility. The conversation has been usurped by truthiness and deception.

If the Christian ideal of teaching by example were truly observed by the youth we would have a generation of lying, deceitful hypocrites who pray on Sunday and abuse mercy the rest of the week like the rich, well-heeled Plutocracy that now dominates America’s government.  What am I saying? Those people could be my freshman peers from the hyper-religious Grove City College in the 70’s who earned degrees in hypocrisy ostensibly by studying Biology or Spanish.  Mandatory chapel 35 times a semester only helped justify the debauchery at the frat house the night before.  Each student organization was labeled with the word: ‘Christian’ pointing out the impotence of the word itself. What isn’t ‘Christian’ if everything is labeled as such regardless of its true merit?

I taught Theatre Arts for a living. My students would study techniques for presenting metaphors of great ideas to a live audience. Now, the technology of my art has been stolen for nefarious purpose. The Plutocracy has scripted a fantasy of truthiness and dispersed it throughout mass media where it has taken hold of the gullible and lazy. I know of their tricks of illusion and persuasion, so it pains me to see them misused for deceitful political and theological purposes.

Persuasion has replaced discourse. Two sides are not ‘both alike in dignity’ when one says: “I am here to grow in understanding” and the other says: “I am here to win at all cost”. There is no nobility in the pretense of honest discourse when the only goal of one side is to persuade through deception. In the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump you could almost see the library of knowledge and experience behind her as she discussed policy with detail. He, on the other hand, was steaming with red-faced passions and vitriolic pettiness shrouded in orange and yellow hair. As she spoke we were all focused on the melodrama, not her. She was upstaged. He gave a hyperbolic voice to frustrations and she said a lot of smart stuff. Which sells more? The spectacle, of course!

So, you take a block of styrofoam and carve it into a shape and paint it with gold paint and Ta Da! You have the substance of: TRUMP. Majestic, isn’t it? A genuine facade! Look, it’s gold! That’s impressive isn’t it? Well, maybe not to someone reading this, but much of America doesn’t see past the surface veneer.

When having a conversation with evangelical Christians, are they there to grow in understanding, or to win at all cost? Isn’t their mission to win? Christian Dominionists “believe they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions including government” A conversation with them is the same as with a used car salesperson, “What will it take to have you drive out of here with a shinny newish Toyota?” Perhaps not as brash but certainly as determined and aggressive. They already know, with certainty, all they need to know. They are there to persuade, not to learn and grow together.

Due to their label, Christian, they have a facade as artificial as the gold-painted styrofoam that Trump has. The problem is that the word Dominionist is attached and that means dominate. God mandates that they control all of mankind until Christ returns. If this reminds you of Sharia Law then you’ve got the plan. Label everything “Christian” even if it is just waste removal or whatever, force attendance at chapel, require bible study in school, and turn a blind eye toward the human parts of life.

Money, gods, and racism are all tied up together in this Presidency. They all want dominance, and they don’t want to grow beyond their certainty. Truthiness has the upper hand right now. Does Democracy have what it takes to counter this stupidity or do we destroy and rebuild?

The Lie and The Metaphor

I grew up in a Funeral Home. I knew about death and practicalities of addressing death, it was a blunt reality. Death was a daily component of my life so I understood it on that level. What I didn’t understand was the way other people addressed the topic. Their language was full of softer words like passed, or passed on, passed away or gone to a better place and even ‘kicked the bucket’ which tried to lessen the impact of the word ‘death’.  They have met their maker, gone to heaven, bought the farm, or given up the ghost as substitutes are easier than saying, ‘she died’. The goal is to avoid discomfort and mask the permanence of death.

Since I only ever heard the blunt truth at home I would easily become confused with the euphemisms of the world. This would make me upset. I was well into my teens before I figured out what R.I.P. meant on all those cartoon tombstones, I never saw it on the real ones. In well-mannered society, people hide behind pleasant words; I was simply confused by them. They weren’t saying what they meant. I’m not afraid of dying so the words don’t bother me. I’d prefer to stick around and experience more of my existence, but the condition of being dead seems quite natural too. I will live on in the memories of those who encountered me in life and my composite chemicals and minerals will return to the earth to continue the process of nature.

People prefer the gentle lie over harsh truths. We mask the hard edges of emotional extremes with manners and polite words. We formalize the events of life with rituals and build elaborate myths to dull the impact of death. An Easter Bunny myth moderates the violent death-myth of a deity. Labeling the day of Jesus’s death as “Good Friday” is an early example of truthiness, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. What I’m saying is that lies are not necessarily bad. They assist us communicate the hard realities. Metaphors are lies too. They are acknowledged to be what they are, in order to assist communication. I hate reducing the poetic elegance of a metaphor into “lie” but it is. When lies are meant to assist communication we find them acceptable and even artistic on occasion. The difference between the art of language manipulation and blatant falsehoods is one of extremities.

Speaking untrue statements with the malicious intent, to mislead or deceive is harmful; these are lies. There is no good purpose to that deception. Intent separates a malicious lie from other figures of speech and minor untruths. What is the intent of the speaker of lies? Who are they harming by making the statement? Why would people cause harm through lies? Well, that is a bigger topic than one expects to find in this discussion. Lets just say for now that evil exists.

What compels a serial teller-of-lies to do so? We seem to have a President who tells lies with the ease of a poet using metaphors. He sprinkles his statements with falsehoods as if he were clarifying his point. The problem is we are not sure how to take it. His spokespeople tell us to ignore his words and listen to his heart. No one seems to know how to do that, so that advice doesn’t really help.

TruthinessdictStephen Colbert brought us the word “truthiness” in reaction to deceptive practices of the political right. Instinct, lies and gut feelings guide truthiness not logic or reason or facts. The right to discriminate is called Religious Freedom, Fresh Air legislation allows for more pollution, you know, that sort of thing. Religious Freedom sounds great, but if your religion is immoral enough to cause you to discriminate, then how is that freedom for the excluded class it creates? Deceptive tricks like this are not the way to run a country. Deception through misnomer is wrong. It is also a favorite tool of the Republican party, so after George Bush did such a bang-up job with the economy and getting us into some wars, Republicans thought they would try kicking it up a notch by electing Trump.

He is a far better liar than Bush. He doesn’t care if what he says make sense at all. His bullshit is not meant to be understood. So, forget about kicking buckets – it is best to call death, death in this circumstance. Although, kicking something may be quite satisfying. We just need the plain-spoken truth.

His most dangerous lie is the one that takes away our diversity. His staffer, Michael Anton speaks vociferously against diversity. This manifests in acts of omission such as leaving the mention of Jews out of the Holocaust Remembrance. Trump’s inaugural speech said nothing about the vast diversity of the country when other politicians make sure to mention every group they represent. Native Americans are not a good enough reason to stop the pipeline, and Mexicans are a good reason to build a wall. Christians get preferential treatment at the borders. If things go Trump’s way the melting pot of America will become a cold hard lump. And that, my friends, is a metaphor.

Temporal and Eternal Questions

The joke I use on first day of design class is: “I’ve never met-a-four I didn’t like.” It always bombed but that was intentional on my part. Students don’t often get metaphor. They can recite the definition, but something about the world of metaphors is elusive. My Theatrical Design class was about creating visual metaphors. If they don’t get and understand that message first then the rest of the semester was going to be tough.

In theatre we start with the play. We read and discuss it. We notice the subtle rhythms of the playwright. We analyze and research the time and place and society and history surrounding its origin. We process that information together as a group of collaborators. We discuss and decide how our interpretation of the play will exist on stage. Each designer presents their understanding of the group’s interpretation with sketches and research. Over time, a clear path forward is achieved and that is what ends up on stage. The scenery presents a visual metaphor of the theme we have chosen. The costumes reflect the significance of each character in reference to the theme. Each element on stage is designed to tell the story according to our interpretation.

In theatre we start with the play; in life we wonder. What questions are astir in our time and place that require a metaphor to make them clear? What story can we tell? What questions of significance require thought and consideration? What truths can be laid bare to incite solutions to the mysteries plaguing existence in this time and circumstance? Do we tell a story of the man that dominates headlines and may lead to the demise of civility and governance? Do we tell the immigrant’s story to motivate sympathy and compassion? Do we tell the injustice of life as a farmer in the cold hard North working 12 hours a day, who can’t comprehend the daily news about the sexuality they find confusing or the scary dark skinned folks in the big city? There are so many stories and so little time.angels

A genius like Tony Kushner only comes along infrequently. He appeared on the scene at just the right time to make sense of the 1980’s. He wrote the world’s first universal play, Angels in America. One play in two parts that touched upon a vast array of contemporary and eternal topics and concerns. He made the transition from analog to digital (metaphorically not electronically) for live theatre. He didn’t just address one family in a house dealing with its problems in analog form. He took multiple stories from across the globe and heavens and generations and religions and bound them coherently in one masterpiece of theatre art. He showed the matrix of the world’s concerns in one two-part play. We need that infrequent visit from a visionary to happen again, now! It has been a while since the ’80’s and we’re due.

What art form will become the vehicle for this savior? I don’t know, but I hope they come in the form of a digital Banksy, the British graffiti artist and social activist. The savior will be as sophisticated as Obama in politics, as insightful and poignant an intellect as Kushner, as omnipresent as Anonymous, and as peaceful as Gandhi.

A single graphic image will not suffice. A series of clever, coordinated, occurrences will have to present themselves frequently, startlingly and with the goal of befuddling the lying deceivers now housed within the White House. We’ll out-baffle the baffler. We’ll do it the way Bugs Bunny did it to Elmer Fudd. The joke will be on the  joker, not the masses. It will make him angry, which is the key to his undoing. Trump is a one trick pony – the artful lie, yet we contain the tricks of millions of tricksters. His wit doesn’t exceed his grade-school vocabulary, yet ours is the wit of the many. This will be the improvisation of a lifetime.

Please go to for grass roots advice.

Images For Change

In recent posts I’ve been proclaiming a need for an image to unify the resistance against Trump. This one showed up on Daily Kos the other day:


The yellow four finger Rabia sign from Egypt is a bold symbol for the Muslim Brotherhood.


Betsy Ross made the first flag of the USA.


These seem to have strength too:

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These images describe the passions of a movement.




These are poignant but mostly mock instead of advocate.

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These incite participation.

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These incite through hatred and are counterproductive.

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What Is In A Name

When I was a freshman in college, before Jerry Falwell demonized it, I called myself a Secular Humanist. I did this to ward off questions from people who wondered why I was no longer a Christian. My plan was to use terminology that was so obscure the questioners would be embarrassed to show their ignorance of the subject. It usually worked. I ran the risk of encountering someone who knew what it meant but I was willing to cross that bridge if I ever got there.  Anyway, I liked the sound of the words together, lofty and poetic. I did have a modestly informed understanding of the term; Philosophy 101 taught me all I needed to know!

SecularHumanismLogo3DPrideRainbowColorsLook at the root meanings of the word secular – ‘generation’ or ‘age.’ If I say: “I am of this age” I am usually defining myself without implying any moral quality. However, another root meaning exists, it may be used to suggest: ‘the world.’ So, if I say: “I am secular” then I have given myself a label that is not so clean. If I am secular then I am not ‘sacred’ which back in George Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ America implied that I am profane. The world is a place for sinners; it is not like heaven (or presumably the White House), which is clean of sin. The world is secular and therefore it is less than good.

‘Secular’ is wrought with negative connotations; add on ‘humanist’ and you have made the whole thing much worse. Our society would rather put faith in a myth than in its fellow humans. The humans are the sinners for goodness sake! Why would you put your faith in sinners? This works out well for most people until they need a doctor or mechanic or something … real? Secular humanists have two strikes against them for their name alone. They might as well call themselves ‘profane sinners’ for all the PR value in the name. Can the premise of ‘secular humanism’ ever become as clear to the Trump voter as say, ‘God is love’ is to Christians?

How does one assert their secular humanistic ideals without confusing the issues via a misunderstood name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or, is it even possible for this ideology to achieve clarity of understanding through a name? Christian, Hindu, Jew are simple names that are clearly identified by anyone. Secular Humanism is a phrase, a phrase that requires an explanation. Can the premise of secular humanism ever become as clear to an every-day person as say: God is love?

I’m mentioning all this as a prelude to a discussion about names and the ways in which we distinguish a rose from a carnation, or whatever. The longer Trump stays in office the more pundits, columnists and bloggers try to define him with currently available names and categories.  “Populist-fueled democratic backsliding” is the term of art being used by David Frum in the Atlantic today to describe our current condition.  His article is a must read point-of-view.

13991024189_243d8eed92_bDavid Frum used a couple thousand words in his Atlantic article to bring us, “Populist-fueled democratic backsliding;” that’s a four word phrase found in a quote he provides identifying the problem he discusses. Will his point ever be synthesized into a single word? One that Trump followers can understand? One that can be used to express the depth and breadth of the complicated monumental degradation of the state of our government from what it was two weeks ago. Words like kleptocracy or kakistocracy, chrysocracy or plutocracy, argentocracy or moneyocracy have meanings that require a dictionary to understand and even that is not enough. How do we make known the problem if its name is four words long? It doesn’t come trippingly off the tongue.

Mr. Frum spells out for us the issue so I won’t try to do that in detail here. Basically, he says that the fight for control of the government has shifted from tanks in the streets to the internet and that a well-told lie will have the power of a massive bomb. The virtuous gentlemen’s approach to the presidency is gone and so are the ethical codes of the past. The newly installed virtue of greed usurps all others. There is still time to combat this as he states:

And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

So, I support this idea in theory, but what shall we call it? Christian, Hindu and Jew are simple names that are clearly identified by anyone; so is “Trump”.  Democracy used to be a glorious ideal until Trump pointed out its flaws so blatantly. The Frum resistance effort takes place on an ephemeral plane, it uses a complicated system of abstractions: honesty, integrity, and professionalism. This strategy appears to simply insist that everyone play nice.

Even so, defining “nice” is crucial to clearly understand our objective. People can have a strong sense of integrity and actively use that characteristic quality honestly to reach different conclusions. Professionalism is not easy to define and it has no morality clause. A business person is obligated to get the greatest profit possible even if it means cutting jobs and closing mills and upending people’s lives. An obligation to business professionalism is not always an obligation to the country or even morality unless those things have an effect on sales.

I place a lot of faith in “integrity,” I’ve written about it in my new book, Billy’s Moral Adventures. I describe “honesty” as being a child’s introduction to the concept of what is holy. “Professionalism” is neither a uniformly meritorious nor a consistent concept and should be disregarded. A better concept in its place would be ethical behavior. 

So, now that the aggression of our bully, Trump has set his sights on Mexico and Australia of all places, and religious bigotry orders are in the works, how do we identify his actions with one simple word that both acknowledges the problem and suggests the solution?

We need a flag to rally around, a new image to follow (as Vaclav Havel says), a clear mission that we can define with precision. If we don’t fix this soon it will take decades to repair. It needs to be done quickly and arrive with a figurehead of opposition. We need to keep caring and fighting for an ideal or watch it all backslide away. Who will our savior be and how long till they get here?

BTW, I call myself an Existential Humanist now.


A moment or moments of time, where habitual or regular actions are repeated for a purpose. Frequently, rituals are used to formalize official activities, instruct or have a religious purpose.

Statements, ceremonies or other organized or improvisational proceedings can be rituals. We may participate in them automatically if trained to do so like genuflecting or saluting an officer. Rituals serve the purpose of bonding people through a unified activity. They build cohesiveness even amongst dissimilar participants and reinforce a shared ideal or sense of virtue.

A trial in court begins with the assembled folks rising for the entrance of the honored judge. In doing so, there is an acknowledgement of the authority and power accorded a judge by society. An oath is sworn by participants ritualistically to agree to the unifying elements of justice. The judge wears a robe and sits behind a desk, above and facing the other participants and controls the proceedings.

The peaceful transfer of power from one political entity to its opposite demands a formal ritual to clearly define the exchange. Our structure of governance would crumble without it.

Bureaucracies are composed of a series of formal rituals created to serve the purpose of running a business or government. The filling-out of a form hardly seems to be a ritual but the ritual of filling out forms is. I used to tell my students that half of their education was to learn how to deal with the bureaucrats administering the State-run University. I know that government procedures lack the symbolic significance of, say the ritual of a funeral, but tell that to the teenager getting his driver’s license or an immigrant becoming a citizen. Those folks place a lot of value on the ritual. Rituals here are rites of passage.

The power of the ritual comes from the symbolic meaning we give to it. In the Sixties, the ritual of burning one’s draft card was far more powerful than going to the county seat and registering for the draft. The formalized qualities of ritual can define a culture. The highly structured rituals of live theatre is evident in a European-style performance. The audience sits and watches a structured formal event performed upon a stage. Altered Conscience Theatre, and other tribal rituals sometimes known as “unconscious drama,” in contrast seems to have almost no formality. Its purpose is not solely entertainment, but intends to involve participants in the formation of self-transcendence. The event may have no plot or formal structure, its significance comes from the individual experiences of those participating.

A key element of these cultural rituals is improvisation. The story isn’t clear until the end of the improvisation, and it may never seem coherent at all to Western eyes. The act of doing provides the ecstatic emotional surge. I’ve rarely ever seen speaking in tongues so I can only surmise that it is a western-style simulation of a similar phenomenon. The goal of unconscious rituals is to leave the confines of the flesh and create art through that ecstatic state of being – like the Whirling Dervish in Turkey transcending the earthly plane through dance. Can you imagine the focused attention required to spin like a top yet leave your mind totally exposed to sensation? A western style preacher inserting gibberish into his sermon is not the same thing at all.

Let’s consider the expectations of the audience, in Western style theatre the audience will be entertained, edified, and humanity exalted, not through participation, but by observing and reacting. When the boundaries between performers and audience are broken, people become visibly upset. Say, as an example, the actors leave the stage and speak directly to audience members, insulting them for their looks. The conventions of the ritual have been broken causing alarm. Now, think of the first week of the Trump administration; he is upending all of our moral traditions and rituals isn’t he!

Obama, during his time in power, broke two of the most honored rituals favored by uneducated white evangelicals, the wedding, and fag-bashing. Trump was elected by white evangelicals as revenge for that violation of their privilege. Their response is that, since you broke our ritual we’ll get a rich professional doofus to break all your rituals until there’s nothing left to break. Then they stick their tongues out and blow a raspberry. “See how you like that!”  The flaw in the “reasoning” is that the doofus isn’t really on their side.

He is more like the preacher spewing nonsense syllables as if in a state of ecstasy. Really folks, look at the artifice! The preacher is speaking to you through a microphone with a prepared script in the European tradition, in a well structured and choreographed production. There is nothing spontaneous about it. Even the moments of ecstasy of the audience have a scheduled beginning and ending point. You may call it speaking in tongues but it is truly FAKE NEWS.  If you fall for it in church you’ll love it in a President.

When all the rituals are destroyed by Trump, his supporters will be worse off than before. The new rituals he creates in their stead will be incomprehensibly spoken in the tongues of the wealthy.

Our show must go on, but we should be aware of the artifice of theatre:

  • Unconscious drama is a genuine experience that changes the participant through a true and personal ritualistic experience of self-transcendence. How that individual interprets their moment of ecstasy is another matter.
  • Western Theatre (movies, TV) relies upon the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s fake, but observers know that and acknowledge the artifice, and expect to grow intellectually and emotionally from the experience.
  • Faith causes you to ignore the fake and pretend it’s all real. Big mistake.

The Power of an Image

I posted two blog posts on his inaugural speech at, and a ton of time reading: his words, the news and other opinion pieces trying to figure out what Mr. Trump is all about. One thing is clear – if he knows he doesn’t want us to know.

So much for seeking first to understand. Let’s move on to a solution. The Trump modus operandi is to disorient on stage then act behind the scenes. This is the Big Lie. It is meant to obscure the truth through misdirection and deceit. The only image he has representing himself or his ideas is his clownish hair, a dark suit and an extra long tie.

To achieve significant change in politics one must change the image according to Vaclav Havel the past President of Czechoslovakia, and eventually the Czech Republic, “If we are to change our world view, images have to change.”  That happens to be the process we are going through now with Trump, only in reverse – Havel fought a repressive regime and Trump is installing one. The new image of government is clownish hair, a dark suit and an extra long tie.

Trump is removing the image of a magnanimous government that is ready to share its knowledge and research with free access. He is replacing it with barriers and restrictions. By befuddling the media and lying to us he is preventing the growth of knowledge and intellectual well being. The image of Trump signifies hidden knowledge, exclusion, secrets and bafflement. If the government speaks only through one mouthpiece and edits new knowledge out of the discussion, they gain more control. Knowledge is no longer free, so it becomes a commodity to be sold.

82290-004-9B7D3012Vaclav Havel began his rise to fame as an artist: a playwright, during the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia. His plays and essays were quite popular because they pointed out the flaws of a communist style oppressive regime. He became a dissident (and occasionally jailed) for merely expressing his point of view. His works were suppressed by the government, but there was such demand that individuals would hand-copy his writings and pass them on through an underground of dissidents. That, of course, was well before the internet; a different strategy is needed today.

Bloggers will become the new dissidents if we find a way to channel our verbiage into action. The diversity of our opinions and the normalcy of our witty rejoinders may gather a crowd of resistance protesters, but that action is more symbolic than actual. We have all become so jaded that The Joker can walk right in and take our stuff while we laugh at a cartoon of him doing it. How do we resist in this condition? True action must evolve at a ground level and swell into a movement. This has nothing to do with democrats, they are irrelevant now; the republicans will follow suit after Trump destroys them.

3e7c9523e02677ef46879f377b8f2a84If we follow Havel’s advice to form a new image, the image will have to be more significant and powerful than the Guy Fawkes mask used by Anonymous. That is a tough standard to exceed. It has been a successful piece of iconography used to convey the message of an anarchist political movement. It’s right up there with the red, white and blue Obama campaign logo, or the pre-Trump significance of The Statue of Liberty as an iconic symbol for a political idea. Its political significance comes from an anarchist movement adopting the mask image from a movie  (V-for Vendetta) based upon a graphic novel that came from the artist, David Lloyd’s mind while illustrating a story by Alan Moore of a futuristic dystopian England and the vigilante who attempts to overthrow an authoritarian government; it’s based on a moment in British history where a militant (Guy Fawkes) in 1605 failed to force the return of Catholic leadership to London.

obama-08-logo-18The Obama campaign’s logo was sheer genius. This was the first time such a soft, feminine graphic was used to symbolize a male candidate for US presidential office, even though there were similar  examples of the look elsewhere in the world. Most political graphics were military in nature like McCain’s solid rectangles with military wings and block letters. Fighting imagery had strength but the military look had been done too many times in the past to feel new and exciting. The “O” felt inclusive, it told a story through symbols that could be read many ways. A new landscape representing the circle of life, the plowed fields, the suggested sunrise, the new day dawning, the security of home, the heartland, even the comfort of the womb, etc. If you look through art history you will see a commonality through all cultures of an ideal landscape. It includes a path into the picture for the observer to get to the optimistic and idyllic place in the painting that contains a stream, growing plants and plenty of sky. It says: hope and illustrates the potential for sustainability. That was the message of his campaign and the symbolic text of his logo.

Our new “image” is going to have to exceed these two brilliant examples of the graphic arts. It will need to express the rebellious, self assured and ironic nature of the mask and the optimism of the Obama logo. It should speak of reformation, not anarchy. It should be about inclusion not exclusion. It should be about the search for a new order, not just complain about the current order. It should be joyful but deadly serious. It could be historic or a new creation or a combination of both.

Years ago, I went to the Occupy Pittsburgh rally. On the edge of the crowd were two girls wearing Guy Fawkes masks. They didn’t talk or move or interact, they just stood there together. I smiled when I first saw them. By the end of the event they had gained significance equal to a stone monument of the event. Each time I looked in their direction I had a new visceral reaction that was akin to awe. They projected back to the crowd all the ideas of all the speakers and performers. They became the event itself, re-made, manifest in living symbolic flesh and mask. The transformational power embodied in the use of an image is supreme.

I’ll post appropriate suggestions if you reply on the

So, America First, huh?

Where do real people fit into this plan? Is the hierarchy established yet? Who are we talking about when he say’s America: America the ideal, America the land, the laws, the constitution, the buffoon in charge, or does Mr. Trump have any of this mapped out yet? If his purpose is to include all people then great, but if he means only selected people then he should just say so as he did while running for office. Otherwise, why the change in tone? His generic word ‘people’ may not include me; I am gay.

The central idea of his speech is to “re-build the country” and to “restore its promise for all of our people.” Not all people, our people. Who are “our people” exactly? Trump has given us the duty to be skeptical of his words due to his previous behavior. He does not call out any specific category nor mention any subgroups. The only description of ‘people’ takes place in this odd sentence: “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” What movement is he talking about? When and where did it happen? Who was part of the movement? He doesn’t say. Is he including only ‘those who came’ meaning his voters – white evangelicals, or is everyone else in the country included too? Just prior to that statement he said: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Does this mean the minorities he has worked so hard to exclude in the past? We don’t know. If we give him the benefit of the doubt we’d be foolish due to the ridiculous lies he comes up with, like the most recent lie about attendance records at inaugurations.

There is the occasional poetic phrase plopped into the speech by someone who knows what they are doing, just not often enough to matter. He mentions protection a lot. He says: “You will never be ignored again” as if he is only speaking to middle class whites and evangelicals who believe they were ignored by Obama and vulnerable to all things ‘foreign’. Races, religions, nationalities and sexual identities were protected by Obama in addition to whites; but whites, who’d, in their own minds, had sole ownership of that protection, suddenly were required to share it. So, they came to doubt its value and felt ignored.

Here is another curious section lacking in clarity: “We are one nation – and their pain is our pain.”   Who’s pain are we talking about here? “Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.”  Notice how dreams ‘are’ but success ‘will be;’  why change tense within the same sentence? Will ‘we’ take ‘their’ success once it occurs to make it “ours”? The use of the word ‘their’ suggests he is talking about some group other than us which he tries to equate to us while keeping a separation. Kind of separate but equal. Since he never specifies anyone outside of the nebulous group of “our people” the audience feels unsure about whom he is discussing.

The vulgar imagery of bleeding races was startling; it arrived without context. He promised to “eradicate completely from the face of the Earth”Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Terrorism is an idea and a collection of techniques not a thing; you can’t eradicate a technique no matter how radical or what religion it comes from.

He stole this sentence from proselytizing Christians: “When you open your heart to patriotism (Jesus), there is no room for prejudice.” Why suggest that allegiance to a political philosophy is the same as an allegiance to a religious belief? Is he saying that politics is holy? Maybe his own politics are!

Trump seems to endorse a form of diversity that becomes homogeneous: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” This makes sense for a labor union fighting corporate overlords but a democracy relies upon compromise. Diversity of thought and conviction merged through compromise into a solution seldom leads to unanimity. The only solidarity represented by his election was the massive Women’s March.

If there had ever been any  attempts on his part to include blacks, Mexicans, or any minority, then I would just chalk this up to bad writing alone. The speech is total crap, obviously written by amateurs. There is no reason to trust any part of it. What makes me nervous about it is this: he is cheerleading for an ill-defined country that is populated by some undefined group of followers. He wants total allegiance to whatever he may mean by ‘America’ and suggests that we will be rewarded with camaraderie through this total devotion.

The speech is just another attempt to gaslight us. He is directing his minimally masked comments to an alt-right audience who will be his loyal comrades – “our” people? Could be!



Warning, Warning, Danger Will Robinson!!  A massive alarm went off when I heard this part of Trump’s “American Carnage” speech yesterday: “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” Dolores Umbridge anyone?

What is total allegiance? What is totalitarian allegiance? And what is the difference between the two if it is the bedrock of politics?  I certainly have no problem with loyalty to country, but he’s got it backwards. We won’t ‘rediscover’ loyalty to others through total allegiance to anything. Total doesn’t leave room for another allegiance. Total means adding up all your capacity to ally yourself and giving it all up to Trump’s version of America. Allegiance is derived from the French, liege which means the relationship between a feudal superior and a vassal: an oath of fealty and liege homage. Allegiance is the foundation of authoritarian regimes. Total allegiance is Totalitarian.

Trump’s America homogenizes all the diversity of humanity into one worker/consumer/vassal identity, identical to all the rest. If you have lots of money you are exempt from this classification. As Trump said in the speech, “White, black or brown we all bleed the same red blood.” Race doesn’t exist. We all pray in Jesus’ name like Franklin Graham did at the inauguration, ignoring those who don’t. It’s like returning to the 1950’s only scarier.

He goes not the way to persuade; quite the opposite, Trump demands our al-LIEGE-ance.  I’m not looking forward to the arm-twisting.


A fish stinks from the head down.”

an old proverb

I once designed the lighting for a play that was being directed by an opera director. He was trying his hand at directing something completely different from opera. The play was Harvey about an eccentric man who talks to a giant imaginary rabbit (Jimmy Stewart did the movie version). I shouldn’t need to mention that this play is a comedy, unless, that is, you had actually seen the production; the audience walked away from it slightly bemused and uncomfortably sad. The experience of working on this production caused me to put forth a theorem:

Art will always reflect the emotional state of the lead artist who creates it – usually, the director – despite their best efforts to hide said emotional state.

This director couldn’t get past the melodramatic influence of opera, his home art. He kept his head in the seriousness of the events, not the humor. Think of Opera Buffa, comic opera, have you ever seen the audience rolling on the floor with laughter at say The Marriage of Figaro? Sure, its light and humorous, there may be some moments of perplexing confusion, the music is great, but the effort required to perform the music leaves little room for the relaxed enthusiasm of comedy too.

There was more to our director’s emotional state than operatic intensity. He had just broken up with his partner of seven years and wasn’t speaking to us about it. It’s hard to be funny when your heart is broken. The design team would occasionally watch a rehearsal and wonder why it wasn’t turning out to be as happy as it should be.

Theatre has an authoritarian structure where the director is the boss and everyone helps the director achieve their goals. As a designer I work to understand the emotional elements of the director’s work. When I see the efforts of the director and performers at rehearsals I do my best to reflect those emotional choices with the lighting of the play. This was the saddest comedy that e’er I saw, my lord. And, consequently, it was the darkest lighting of a comedy ever.

I confirmed my theorem with every theatre company I worked for, so it holds true for art but what about other groups? Does the leader set the tone for other businesses or organizations? At my last university position the head of the faculty union was able to get the President of the University fired by using the same sneaky techniques everyone hated about the President. That event leads to a corollary of my theorem:

underlings adopt the behaviors of the leader, and the leader’s qualities are reflected in the workers and their output. 

In other words, we follow the bosses lead. We do this in subtle ways which means we are not always aware of the process. We experience the culture of the boss and it becomes part of us without our being aware of the influence.

This is why I worry about Donald Trump. We are the body of the fish and he, the head, waiting to be attached. His head was odoriferous long before we elected him, so very soon, every part of the fish will stink too. Do we really want to smell that way? Do we want to adopt the behaviors he exhibits and follow in his ways? Do we want the products we produce to be Donald-like? Our kids?

The more we behave like him the less we remain ourselves. Everybody would have to become petty just to survive.  We lost the first and most important battle, the election and now we’re stuck. Tyrannicide would leave us with The Pence, so that’s not an option.

As Trump’s underlings we might gradually start emulating his personality by:

  • blaming helpless immigrants and others for our problems,
  • hiding from the press,
  • and tweeting, too.
  • And lie.
  • And dissemble.
  • And pretend that so-and-so has committed…voter fraud, or something, even if it isn’t true.
  • Label those with conflicting opinions as our enemy,
  • register them
  • then limit everyone’s civil and religious liberties.
  • We’ll stack the military on our side
  • and make torture a virtue, like greed.
  • We’ll give our families un-earned positions of power
  • and become best friends with other tyrants.

I don’t like the solution I am about to propose.  I have studied bullying for some time now. The only solution to beat the bully is to be better at the bully’s game than they are. You have to forego your own reputation and descend to their level to try to win. It is stupid. Most people can’t play that way so they quit and leave while the bully moves on to another target. Look at all those republican officials who simply got out of the way rather than stand up to the bully. Many film and TV stories about bullying show the dad teaching his bullied kid how to fight as “the solution”. That may work for some people, but it lowers the victim to the bully’s level. It’s not a civil choice, but it is expedient.

The flaws inherent in capitalism seem to warrant democracy’s destruction now they have become so magnificently illuminated for us. A soulless demagogue can easily up-end an idyllic Democracy – Who Knew? Our ideals had been based on the assumption that virtue would remain important in society. No one could prevent the damage commerce would cause as a result of the cultural supremacy of greed.

So, are we doomed to become a nation of bullies? Shall we either:

  1. blindly accept, then adopt, his malicious customs, or
  2. lower ourselves to his childish level, or
  3. shall we flee?

All of these choices lead to the degradation of our civility and our culture. They are not tenable choices. Put those options aside. We should begin the rebellion now. We’ll build something better when it’s over. Why wait for a slow, painful collapse? Democracy, obviously, isn’t going to work without virtuous leaders who maintain a solid moral compass. Tear it all up and start again.

This ain’t gonna be no tea party, that’s for sure.

See why I don’t like this solution?

It may already be our destiny.