Trapped in Trump Time

I’ve been a bit quiet and distant lately, or I feel that I have.

I’m trapped in Trump time. The election, a slow-moving trainwreck, has captivated me, riveted my attention, and I can’t blink. I can’t blink until it’s over, because – have you noticed? – the foes of righteousness are really sneaky pieces of shit, and right know they’ve turned the knob way past “shameless.” If you blink, they’ll eat your kitten and start a war with some other country; all in a day’s work.

There’s a reason that “shameless” matters: at a certain point in your politics, you can no longer deny that you’re being a ruthless and dishonest bastard. Times like now bring a certain clarity, as people you thought you somewhat understood begin walking around with blood-dripping poignards, “Well, what, this is how I have always believed, you just allowed yourself to think I cared.” The de-masking happens because we convince ourselves that someone is not really that bad, since we have to work with them. Maybe they’ll wake up someday, maybe they’re not really monsters, maybe they can be trusted. The last month, for me, has been looking into America as it rips its mask off and confirms and clarifies, absolutely, how right James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn and Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass (I hear he’s doing great work these days!) and Ta Nehisi Coates really are – I don’t have to confront the fact that half of the US hates me because of something that I am [I’d say about 10% hate me just because I’m a liberal!] and wants to eradicate me.

I want to say something dramatic like, “this is the year that the mask came off” except I realize how stupid that is. 1968 was the year the mask came off. 1794 was the year the mask came off. 1965 was the year the mask came off. 1861 was the year the mask came off. See? That’s bullshit. What that really says is that decent people have sought long-term accomodation with a monstrous system run by and for monstrous people, who will pretend do be decent just long enough that they can go back to doing whatever shitty thing it was they wanted to do all along. I’ve styled myself, fairly enough, a nihilist and extreme skeptic about politics, but now I realize that I hadn’t really looked into the abyss carefully enough; it’s deeper than it looks. It started with me feeling contemptuous of my neighbors who fly Trump signs, transitioned to me feeling a bit uncomfortable when I read things about “right wing militias” and left me wondering what is the plan for a general strike and how violent it needs to be. Not “will it be violent” but “will it be time to load clips and put the ghillie suit out to collect leaves and tangles.” I know that reaction, on my part, is what Anna would describe as “very white.” But it’s because my people (so far as I can say that) have an accomodation with the system that allows us to participate in it without being too obviously part of a machine that needs to be stopped and re-calibrated.

And that’s the other reason I sit here, feeling trapped. In a reasonable world (whatever that is!) the republican party, now that they have gone into naked treason and demonstrated conclusively that they only follow the rules of the system where it’s in their benefit – would be suppressed: weeded out, fired or braced and disempowered, drummed out of polite society. In a reasonable world (whatever that is!) Ivanka Trump wouldn’t be invited to another Metropolitan Art Museum annual gala, she’d only get invitations to machine-gun shoots down in Georgia. This is not just a “culture war” it’s a culture war laminated to a class war and both of those agendas align against liberals and progressives. So Biden and Harris won, which is good, but not the senate, which doesn’t matter anyway, because Biden and Harris were not going to use the power they’ve been given, to cripple and disempower the republicans. The democratic party has tuned itself to accomodate and co-exist with the republican party and it’s not a war to the death – it’s a symbiosis. We all know that; we’ve all seen it. But I’m glued to the news-cycle waiting for the many other shoes to drop: all of Trump’s staff that just blew off summons to testify; they’re going to get away with it. Bill Barr’s turning the DoJ into a partisan consigliere; they’re going to get away with it. The packed judiciary, the gerrymandering, the stolen election in Georgia 2018, yadda yadda yadda; they’re going to get away with it. Just like they got away with killing 1.5 million Vietnamese and Cambodians, and setting up and defending Jim Crow. We’re accomodating people who act like Susan Collins to our faces, and Ghengis Khan to our backs.

All of this makes me feel stupid when I try to create something beautiful. Lately, I’ve been sending money to anti-republican candidates but I feel resentful as I do even that, because it’s an admission that I’m also playing in a corrupt system. Throwing money at a candidate you really shouldn’t trust, because they’re the lesser of two evils, does not mean you’re doing anything you believe in; it just means that you’re caught in the gears of the corrupt system and are playing my its corrupt rules. I don’t believe that “this is the time, now or never!” any more than I believe that World War I was the war to end all war.

So I’m trapped, watching the news cycle like an addict, quivering with hatred the whole time. It’s not healthy to be so worried, so attentive, and so angry.

The kind of material I am consuming is everything I can get my hands on about the people who are bringing us this tsunami of shit. It’s easy to figure that the main actors are horrible shitty people, but they’re such caricatures that their hangers-on are less visible. It’s as if, after getting a good idea what bastards Sauron and Saruman are, we decided to ignore the Nazgûl. Meanwhile, they understand it’s a war to the death and they’re not thinking “I’ve learned my lesson, I’m not going to try that again” it’s “I’ve learned my lesson, next time I’ll prepare better and be sneakier.” The republicans are not learning right now that it’s impossible to perform a soft coup; the lesson they are taking away is that all they need is control of the house, too, and they could pull it off next time. The danger is not this coup attempt, it’s what the republicans are learning from this coup attempt. I hate to say this, but there ought to be massive purges after this. If that doesn’t work, there needs to be cultural revolution-level re-structuring and purges; I once interviewed a software company’s CEO who had grown up in China during the cultural revolution – she talked briefly about walking to school down the street, and recognizing her teachers hanging from the trees and lamp-posts outside of the school. That kind of shit changes you. This kind of shit is going to change a generation of Americans. It had better. I remember, when I was a kid, that there was a huge amount of talk about the Battle of Da Nang, and the Tet Offensive fighting in Saigon – I didn’t understand any of it, but I grew up understanding that it was an important moment. It shaped a lot of people in a lot of ways (the permanent war party calls the backlash from the Vietnam war “Vietnam Syndrome” – i.e.: the desire to keep that from happening again).

I’m afraid that right now everyone’s feeling is that they just want things to go back to normal. They want the COVID vaccines to get out into the public, they want the movie theaters back, the grocery stores to not feel threatening, etc. There’s economic uncertainty and pain right now – which is why the politics are going the way that they are – the republicans are taking advantage of the situation to try to take over the government. Treason is everywhere and I’m afraid that if we can get through to the other side of this, we’ll all be so happy that we try to forget the whole thing. If there’s no retaliation for this; next time they do it, they’ll have all the pieces in place and it won’t be a clown like Rudy Giuliani as the front-man.

After 4 years of Trump, everyone should have figured the whole situation out well before now. Sure, there were nervous nellies talking about how he’d try to steal the election, but I admit I was one of the ones who scoffed at the idea. Now, we’re in full-blown treason and everyone’s trying to get back to a situation where we were merely scoffing about it. Damn all these assholes for pushing things so far. I guess the nature of power is to never relinquish it willingly.


  1. says

    I’d call it fifty years of American Devolution. Fitting, given that it’s fifty years since Kent State, amongst the witnesses being members of Devo.

    The 1960s represented the high water marks of american aspirations. Since then it has been nothing but a slow decline or downward spiral of goals, of ethics, of progress, of democracy. Slow in democrat presidencies, faster in republican.

    I want to say something dramatic like, “this is the year that the mask came off” except I realize how stupid that is. 1968 was the year the mask came off. 1794 was the year the mask came off. 1965 was the year the mask came off. 1861 was the year the mask came off. See?

  2. fossboxer says

    Spot on analysis. I, personally, have given up. I’m working through my small retirement, enjoying my time writing, drawing, learning a bit of science I’m not terribly familiar with. Once the money is gone … well, I’m done. Because the United States is finished and I want no part of the shit-show that’s sure to follow.

    Of course, most of the planet is doomed, once the changed climate settles into a new, terrible equilibrium.

  3. komarov says

    The other take-away for Republican may well be how sneaky they don’t have to be. Announcing naked conspiracies to grab and keep power? News headlines and some lawyer-money wasted, that’s about it, consequence-wise. The money was dontated by someone who has enough and /or they don’t care about. The headlines are more likely to strengthen support in their camp, which is a good thing for them. Add it to the list of “benefits” of a two-party system where supporting Choice B is simply unthinkable and no softer choice exists to bleed off support as party policy becomes ever more extreme.
    Their efforts might fall through this time, but as usual the Republicans are normalising things. In four years (and in between) the same rubbish will elicit little more than eye-rolling as the Republicans “are at it again”. The gerrymandering, roll-purging, voter suppressoin – all lready pretty normal – lawsuits, and very loud musings that hey, maybe the courts will just anull everything in their favour.
    Incidentally as an outsider to the US, the matter-of-fact-acceptance of something gerrymandering simply astounds me. It’s bascially a trivial hack of a shoddy system that changes election results, and everyone in the US just takes it in stride. “Well, that’s how it works.” It’s insisting you’re the winner because of a misprint you found when everybody knows its a misprint and how its actually supposed to go. If you really wanted to purge the system, the time to start would have been when that practice first appeared. Whoever had the idea first should have had their little desk sign (The Honourable Whatsit of Statesomething – Partysomething) lodged deeply in their instestine before being carted off to the nearest for-profit dungeon, thus impressing upon their fellow law-makers that this misprint ought to be fixed forthwith to prevent further legislative constipation. That it wasn’t can be added to the list of dubious benefits of the shamelessness you mentioned.

  4. flex says

    I’ve been thinking about this too, but I haven’t reached quite the level of despondency.

    I think there is a change which has happened in American politics, and it’s related to the Boomers and the increased longevity of their generation.

    Yes, the conservatives want power. But why? And what would they do with it? We know what the would do with power, they’ve not only told us what they would do, they’ve done it. They would try to re-create what they remember as the happiest times of their lives, which in their case would be the middle nineteen-fifties. Many people feel that their adolescence was the best time of their lives, they were getting the pleasures of being an adult without all the responsibilities, and they were generally ignorant of how the rest of the world outside of their home town, worked. At least in most of America this is true.

    So they would ban abortion, it was banned then and the world was a better place. At least as far as they remember. Because they do not remember the back-alley abortions which killed women.

    They would abolish any equal rights legislation. In their view, women who are competent and work hard would succeed, just like men do. There were successful women in the 1950’s, so all the stories about the glass ceiling must be hoaxes. Promoted by the socialist liberals who want to push successful men out of their jobs. As for people of a darker skin color, it is obvious to everyone that they are less intelligent and only suited to low-skilled labor. How else can you explain why almost none of them are in positions of power. Cities which are now managed by black people have serious problems with crime, which has nothing to do with all the white people moving out and taking all their businesses with them.

    As for immigration; people coming in from northern European countries, who already speak English, are fine. But the conservatives don’t want to hear any language other than English spoken outside of the ghettos where “those people” live. Discouraging immigration, to the point where immigrants are rounded up and put in cages, only hurts those people who were told they weren’t welcome in the first place.

    The actions are not limited to those three examples; OSHA regulations, pollution controls, EPA, forestry service, hunting laws, etc. If an argument can be made that a law either wasn’t on the books in 1950, or even was perceived as a bad law then, the conservatives want to eliminate it. The frightening thing is how far they are willing to go to destroy modern USA in order to “Make America Great Again”. They are willing to embrace authoritarians who demand loyalty and who promise something which cannot be done.

    Which brings me to my second point. This sort of wishful desire for the past is not uncommon. We all have it to some degree or another. What is different now is just how long this generation has held onto power.

    Up until this generation, political power was mainly held by people in their late fifties to early sixties. The people who entered politics started to get power in their thirties and within 20 years they held the reins of government. By the time they were in their seventies their generation was dying off… they were dying off. So much of the government activities were managed by people who were only four decades from their youth. In other words, their happiest memories were formed not when their parents were in power, but when their grandparents were in power.

    That has changed. The Boomers gained power in their fifties, but unlike previous generations they have not relinquished power as they aged into their seventies. They lived through Vietnam and the Civil Rights period. They felt that Vietnam could have been won (and they still don’t recognize that the Vietnamese were fighting a war of independence which couldn’t be won by any occupying power). They formed their opinions about civil rights protests at the time of the Watts and Detroit riots (and never knew about race riots which occurred prior to the civil rights era). They saw Reagan as the savior, someone who would kill the inflation of the 1970’s by being strong against OPEC (never mind that what probably causes the inflation of the 1970’s was Nixon taking us off the gold standard and the resultant expansion of the credit market. It was the right thing for Nixon to do, but a period of high inflation as the money supply expands should have been expected). Bush-I was the last pre-Boomer president, and represented a continuation of St. Reagan. But society was changing by that time, and changing in ways the Boomers didn’t fully like or understand. And for them, it became personal.

    Society wasn’t like it was when they were growing up. They were expected to learn new things. And it wasn’t just new job skills. They were expected to stop disseminating derogatory stereotypes about women, blacks, Jews, foreigners, etc. Even within their own groups which excluded those populations. Homosexuals were no longer in the closet, there were characters on their TV screen and in their movies which were gay. Women were suing corporations for behavior which was considered normal (if boorish) only a couple decades ago. I look at the whole Clinton impeachment as a big “Fuck-You” by the conservatives, who were basically saying, “If these are the rules you want us to live by, we are going to fuck up your hero by applying them to him too. No matter if it was consensual. We don’t care. You want us to abide by them, so we’re going to make you abide by them. Even if they don’t really apply. Fuck you liberals, don’t tell us how to live our lives!”

    But the real problem is that the world has changed, dramatically, since they grew up. It sounds to those of us who are liberal that their only policy is to “own the libs”, but that’s not really true. They want to change the world, far more than any liberal does. They want to take the USA structurally and socially back 65 years, and it simply cannot be done. It was always a fight with conservatives who wanted to go only 40 years back, but forty years isn’t too far, even for younger voters. But the fight to go 65 years back is unwinnable, which is why they are heading to fascism. The end justifies any means.

    I don’t know if this will be the new normal for conservatives. It may become so, as each generation will be living little longer. But the result of that is a shrinking of the conservative portion of the electorate. What they fight for will become more and more unattractive to people who have moved with the world. There will always be idiots who will long for a past time, even a “golden-age” where they were the ones on top. But young people will not remember their great-grandparents belief’s all that well. They will appear somewhat dated and kooky.

    And the Boomers are finally starting to die off. When Biden finishes his term will have had 32 years of Boomer presidents (excluding Obama), we should have had 20 at most. Previous generations have often had no more than twelve to fifteen years of influence. But we are nearing the end of their monopoly on power.

    Could the Boomers take us down the road into fascism? Yes, but from now on, every year it will get harder for them. I’m not a fan of Biden. He’s another Boomer and no matter how liberal he is, he hasn’t had the same experiences of the world as almost anyone younger than fifty.

    As for the forces which are taking down this road, I think the concept of regression to the mean is important to remember here. Sam Walton’s children have not been as greedy as he was, and while Walmart is not a beacon of liberal justice, some reforms have happened. Murdoch’s children have criticized how he directed Fox News. The generations coming of age seeing the criticisms of their parent’s, and finding that there is some truth in them, will change (if they can) how the companies they run are managed. This has happened in before, in previous generations. While we abhor the mind-set which collects wealth to the exclusion of all else, including how it may hurt other people, we should recognize that it is rare that either the desire or the ability crosses generations. Don Jr. and Jerald Kushner may have the desire, but both of them, as well as Don Sr. lack the ability of Fred Trump in gathering wealth. Only a minority of people are truly assholes, and while we should have better regulations to prevent assholes from harming others, the creation of an asshole is probably more environmental than genetic.

    So, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve hit the peak of Boomer idiocy. It started with Reagan winning them over in 1980, even though he was no Boomer himself. And now, 40 years later, I’m hoping we’ll see in Biden and McConnell, the end of their outdated understanding of the place of the US in the world. Over the next four years a lot more young people who have a better grasp, or at least a more recent grasp, of the place of the US in the world will be able to vote. And a lot of people who’s idea of the US is stuck in the 1950’s will be dying off. It won’t solve everything, but it should make some of the social changes since the 1950’s less important to the majority of voters.

    Wow. What a wall of text. The TL/DR version is: Eschew Despondency.

    I’m putting that on my Holiday Cards this year. Tails Up!

  5. DanDare says

    You can’t fix a problem by merely opposing it. You need a positive, single, well articulated change. Then align people with it and work to bring about the change.
    For example its no good having “get rid of the electoral college” as a goal. Instead you want “one person, one vote” as a goal. Under that slogan comes the idea of votes comming from districts that are determined by population boundaries and not a gerry mander. And it requires an independant electoral commission that applies the formulas neutrally, adjusting the boundaries when the numbers edge over some tollerance level.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Biden and Harris won

    I wonder.

    Not whether they got more votes, or even more electoral college votes – I’m not a fucking idiot.

    What I mean is: I look at the 2016 result, and I don’t think “Trump won”, I think “Clinton lost”. Against the second worst candidate ever to stand, she somehow pulled defeat from the jaws of victory. Similarly W didn’t win – not the popular vote, and not even (if they’d counted the votes properly, IIRC) the electoral college – Gore lost.

    Obama won. Biden just managed, just about, not to fuck it up. Not a landslide, not at all, but not a monumental failure either. Good enough.

    @flex, 3:

    I look at the whole Clinton impeachment […]. No matter if it was consensual

    “Consensual”? You’re talking about a situation where one of the parties was 22 and an intern and the other was 49 and the President of the United States. I missed my woke lecture this week due to lockdown, but I’m pretty sure they banged on, AGAIN, about people on the wrong side of a power imbalance not being able to give meaningful consent, and as power imbalances go, Lewinsky/Clinton is a doozy.

    The generations coming of age seeing the criticisms of their parent’s, and finding that there is some truth in them, will change (if they can) how the companies they run are managed

    … and as a result, those companies will fail and fall and be replaced by other more rapacious, competitive alternatives. Yay, capitalism!

    I wouldn’t say I’m despondent, but then, I’m not American. I am employed by an American company, but I’m undespondent enough to imagine that the entire US economy won’t collapse before I retire. I’d put my confidence level for that, right now, at about 75%. China is coming. Its rise in influence will be exponential, and we’ve not hit the steep bit yet… but we’re approaching it, I think. They’ve done the groundwork, while the US was busy bombing shit.

  7. flex says

    @sonofrojblake, #5,

    You’re talking about a situation where one of the parties was 22 and an intern and the other was 49 and the President of the United States

    My point was that I don’t believe the conservatives cared about consent or not. Regardless of whether the contact was abusive or consensual, the conservatives used that opportunity to indicate their displeasure with the whole idea that actions they viewed as normal (e.g. racial slurs, discriminatory practices, segregation of minorities) were being condemned by liberals. The liberals played the “we are morally better than you” card enough times that when a prominent individual (in this case the President) was caught don’t something the liberals condemn, the republicans leaped at the chance to rub it in the faces of the democrats.

    While prior to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair there was a lot of talk about how both sides were lying cheaters, since the impeachment of Clinton that affair was used as evidence of the truth of that belief. So vote for your lying cheater rather than the lying cheater from the other party. I don’t think the younger generation cares as much, but for the Boomers that was a powerful argument.

  8. flex says

    @Komorov, #2,

    If you really wanted to purge the system, the time to start would have been when that practice first appeared.

    You’d have to go back a good bit in history for that. Far enough back where most of the current nations and governments in today’s world hadn’t yet been formed.

    The gerrymander was the result of Massachusetts’s governor in 1811 creating a district of 12 towns, where the population of a single town (Marblehead) was so heavily Democratic-Republican (Thomas Jefferson’s Party), that it outweighed the other 11 towns who were strongly Federalist. Governor Elbridge Gerry (hence “Gerry-mander”) was defeated for re-election in 1812, but became Vice-President for James Madison also in 1812. The 1812 election is interesting in that the popular vote was split between two Federalists, and if there had only been one Federalist on the ballot the difference between the Democratic-Republican and Federalist popular vote totals would have been within 1%. None of this is new.

    Engraver Elkanah Tisdale took the outline of the district which Gerry created, added eyes, teeth, wings and claws, and published the “Gerry-Mander” in the Boston Weekly Messenger. And thus the gerrymander was born.

    It was successful. In 1812 only 11 Federalist State Senators were elected, while 29 Democratic-Republican State Senators were elected, even though the Federalists won the popular vote by 51,766 votes to the Democratic-Republican vote count of 50,164.

    Even at the time the voters thought it looked like cheating and the Democratic-Republicans lost favor in Massachusetts shortly afterward. The first gerrymander was repealed in 1812, after it had done it’s damage.

    At the time the Federal government was still navigating the waters on how to treat the states. State sovereignty was more important then than it is today, and districting rules were a jealously guarded privilege of each state legislature. The US Civil War clarified some of the relationship between the states and federal government, but districting remained firmly in the hands of each state. Because there was no federal guidance, no state wanted to give up their authority voluntarily because the other states wouldn’t, and that might give the other states an advantage. At the federal level all the representatives and senators relied on the gerrymandering system for their own election, so there was no incentive to change it.

    Changes are occurring, but these are mainly through direct citizen legislation efforts rather than the elected legislatures.

    A stronger federal government might have been able to drown gerrymandering at birth, but the federal government at the time was not strong enough to do so. Subsequently, the legislators at the federal government benefited from gerrymandering, so they had no incentive to make changes.

    But you are right, this is not something we should live with. It’s an aberration in a democracy.

  9. flex says

    I see a made a mistake in my last post at #7, federal level senators are not directly impacted by gerrymandering. At least today.

    Historically they were indirectly affected. Until 1913 federal senators were chosen by a number of different rules decided by each state and most of them were appointed directly by the state legislatures. Gerrymandering in each state would affect the composition of the state legislatures, which would then affect the selection of the federal senators. The 17th amendment changed that.

    The US democracy is a work in progress.

  10. aquietvoice says

    HmmmMMMmmm…. no.

    Ok, to be fair your assessment is basically solid, especially the complicity of the Democratic leadership, but is only half the story.

    You’ve really focused on what makes systems fail and how people can hurt each other. I get that, and it’s something you know a lot about so it’s fairly natural for you to really focus on it, but there’s always another side: how people can work together and cooperate, and specifically how it can fail when done badly.

    The greatest weakness of the republic party and the grubby grubs inside is that there really isn’t powerful internal cooperation or meritocracy, especially when it comes to objective clearing and work assigning.

    You may be thinking “but they are cooperating, they work together to form a soft coup!”, but it’s the difference between two mutual greedy people doing game theory, versus the ability of others to talk about who they need to become and how they can improve themselves.

    I mean, it is well possible that the next Trumpalike could be more intelligent and goal focused – from regression toward the mean if nothing else – but eventually the inability of racists to correctly assess and promote merit will pull them down; the total inability of plutocrats to understand the real world will fracture them; the inability to articulate common goals will not allow complex cooperation to attain them.

    In the short term, this assess-exploit crap pretty much always wins, and many people will be hurt as a result. This is the harsh truth. But the equally harsh truth is that the ability to exploit a hole in a ruleset or project a social image…. isn’t that special.

    If you inherit a fortune, you can be shielded from your own stupidity your whole life. You can run for president and think that the pandemic was a plot to take away your air time. But you can’t become actually effective, and you can’t work out who you need to promote to be effective.

    In short, they aren’t Genghis Khan. Genghis put a stop to inter-tribal raiding, made strong working groups, had internal power structures with meaningful expectations and clear responsibilities, and always ensured that the soldiers had the practical means to accomplish what they were asked to.

  11. cjheery says

    “We’re accomodating people who act like Susan Collins to our faces, and Ghengis Khan to our backs.” Now THAT is perfection.

  12. seachange says

    Mr Ranum, you matter to me.

    Making fun of people is a good coping mechanism. If you can and are willing to do it in public like the child in Emperor’s New Clothes it can even be a powerful tool.

    You never know when it the good time for/the appropriate time for just the right bon mot, the right “have you no decency”, or say if you were inclined to do any weird thing like that saving your witness to the mercy of Christ for when the Holy Ghost inspires. :)

    Hang around and hang on just in case.



    Biden is not liberal. Words can be lies, so actions are important.

    Psychology is not real, it is an evil and destructive criminal enterprise, and the made-up sociology/poly sci based on it here of reversion to childhood is just as pulled-out-of-the-ass as any of it. The whole nine-yards that essay is, that it is part of, falls.

    You are presuming there isn’t a Permanent War Party and a Burn All The Carbon Party.
    All evidence points to that there are both, and that the majority of our power structure that belongs to and is both major parties are part of them. This is delusional on your part, Flex. You are presuming that words, political-words, are more important than reality.

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