Sunday, October 29, 2017

You Go Along with This?

I think it was probably mid-'50s when I learned that flying the American flag upside down was a code for trouble, nation in distress. Boy scouts lore again. We also learned to march in close formation, and to savor Army surplus gear. The Army had a more practical canteen than the Scouts model, which operated more like a purse on a long strap. I had an Army canteen on camping trips to the mountains, and to the piney woods around Fort Bragg. But I also had a dad who often said I should "read between the lines," and so when he accompanied me to movies like Flying Leathernecks and Sabre Jet, the exciting air battles were tempered in my ten-year-old brain. Good thing I still think. I still managed to shoot a neighbor kid in the ankle with a .22 one Sunday afternoon when I was supposed to be at the movies--this was when I was older, probably 8th Grade. But I at least had the rifle pointed at the ground like my Dad always taught me when I accidentally discharged it, and the kid, Ed Marr was his name, went on to serve with honor in the 82nd Airborne, which meant that he could land a jump ok. He healed up in other words, and didn't decide to kill me!

But we learned a lot more than President Trump learned apparently, and thank god we didn't learn enough about living a cunning life to turn into what Trump also seems to be. There's certainly no question but that Trump learned, very long ago, that one need not ever "tell the truth." I always knew pretty well when I was lying. So did the rest of Troop 3 I think. Maybe we didn't really understand, in a way that involves real empathy, what those bullet holes that appeared in the airman's leg during the dogfight in Leathernecks actually meant. But we knew something. Maybe enough to start seeing through Vietnam, although I'll certainly give plenty of credit to Martin Luther King, Jr., who came some after the Boy Scouts in my education.

Anyways, it's pretty easy to see through Trump's phony patriotism, even when Pence articulates it in his masterful stylings of reprehence. Newt couldn't do it better, even with his new Vatican connections. And that gets us to General Kelly. USMC, Retired. Man of the Empty Barrel. With Trump there is always a kind of blur that must be contended with. Trump lives in masterful inarticulation. Kelly, the other day, was clear as ice, strolling amongst the tombstones and savoring the fact that, as he said, "I put many of them there." You'd think the only worthy soldiers in Kelly's army are the deceased. If you didn't know one of them personal, why you don't even deserve to sit with the adults and talk realities, even if those so-called realities include an utterly spurious rendition of an event Congresswoman Wilson attended which turns out (thank god) to be preserved on tape.

None of this is a surprise. General Kelly helped build his deportation force before switching jobs. Here's what some of them are doing, in Laredo, TX.

Border Agents Proudly Detain Just-Hospitalized Child Who Has Cerebral Palsy

Look at her. That's the face of evil right there. [photo of smiling ten-year-old girl with withered arm] That is the face of a future rapist or drug mule or murdering member of the MS-13 gang that has us all huddled in our houses, curtains closed in fear. Where will she strike? Whose job will she steal? Yeah, when you look at the grinning girl in a Moana t-shirt, you are seeing the insidious reality of the illegal immigration problem in the United States. And God help us if we don't treat her like the criminal she is.

Or, maybe, you could see little Rosamaria Hernandez, who was brought to the United States 10 years ago, when she was a 3-month old baby. Her parents wanted to get her more help for the cerebral palsy she has, and this week she was on her way to a hospital, from Laredo, Texas, to Corpus Christi, in an ambulance so she could get an emergency gall bladder operation.

The ambulance had to cross an immigration checkpoint, which led to Border Patrol agents discovering Rosamaria's status as an undocumented immigrant. They allowed her to get the surgery, accompanying the ambulance to the hospital, but they were stationed outside her room to take her away when she was well enough to be moved. The surgery was on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Border Patrol took her into custody and brought her to a detention facility in San Antonio to await deportation.

We're talking about a 10 year-old developmentally disabled girl with cerebral palsy who has lived all but 3 months of her life in the United States and who asked her mother over video chat, "Mom, where are you?" after she was being taken away. Oh, and she's got a grandfather who is a permanent U.S. resident and a cousin who is a citizen. If you can read those facts and not feel even a wince of empathy, you are a fucking monster who deserves this Trump-coated shit world we're damned to exist in. Hell, you probably love wallowing around in it.

I wonder how the Border Patrol agents felt doing this. I wonder if they were proud of how they were discharging their duties. I wonder if they went home after work and told their partners or spouses or other family how they were responsible for making sure that a little girl was taken away from her parents. I wonder if they thought for even a moment that they could have been using their time perhaps going after those drug mules. Or maybe stopping some human trafficking. I wonder if they thought it was really worth it, that it had been a good day. I suppose they could claim they were just doing their jobs, except that immigration enforcement standards say they shouldn't be targeting hospitals (let alone kids in hospitals).

And then I saw this: [photo of smiling uniformed Border Patrol agent]

That's one of the agents smiling as Rosamaria's bed rolled by. And I both had a moment of sympathy - here was a man who was obviously smiling to comfort a little girl going through a frightening situation - and more than a few moments of rage. Because that smiling son of a bitch is there to make sure that little girl's life is turned upside down and that damage is done to her that she may never recover from.

I hope smiling fuckface up there wakes up in the middle of the night, wondering if the anxiety that's pounding his chest is a heart attack, as he realizes that his life was devoted to hurting children. And I hope he'll tell his supervisors that it's bullshit and can't he go after real criminals. And I hope his supervisors will tell people at the Department of Homeland Security that it's bullsh--

Nah. Who am I kidding? He's fuckin' proud of what he did. And so are all of the idiot hordes who voted for this.

This is who we're saluting when we stand for the flag and then anthem today at all the sporting events, including some that will get hours of national attention later on in the evening, in Houston, TX, just up the road a bit from those streets of Laredo. It's of course not all we're saluting. It's of course always a mixed bag, this patriotism, unless and until some black day that's not quite here when the whole body of undoubtedly courageous young Americans who Kelly worships as the one percent, the true Americans, is so stained by his own hard corps of enforcers that the nice distinctions can no longer be made. It certainly has come to that in other places and other times.

We really ought to thank our stars for the handful of NFL players who are kneeling. Today I hope they're saving a place for that little girl who went to the hospital and is now in military custody and on her way, apparently, to a deportation to a place she's never known, and without her loving mother. This is General Kelly's logic, as it was the logic of General Sherman, and of Harry Truman. When you grow up--if you've learned enough--you can often see the tragic flaws before they are visible to those who embody them. All you can do, sometimes, is fly the flag upside down.

General Mattis, meanwhile, said that we're not the Peace Corps in Niger, we have guns. That didn't seem to me like some sort of consolation.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

In Plain Sight

Mr. Trump is conducting an experiment in advertising and power. It is beyond cynical, because the premise is patently contradictory. His presumption is the same as when he suggested, during his campaign, that he could actually shoot someone and be forgiven. (This is more or less what the nice folks grinning and chortling around the lynched in the many keepsake postcards from that era are also presuming.) His experiment is also entirely devoid of any empathy, which is one of his weird personality traits. See, e.g., the towel toss in Puerto Rico. If Trump remains in power he will be tossing paper towels to the ravaged in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, and no doubt his supporters in the throng will catch them with joy as the mineral wealth of those places they live will be even more quickly transferred to the billionaires who support Trump's policies. By then Puerto Rico will be losing its able-bodied population even more quickly, and valuable beach front real estate will pass into the hands of the main land monied.

Here is the contradiction embedded in Trump's experiment. He calls on every one, as a patriotic duty, to perform a particular ritual to "honor" the anthem and the flag. There will be no exceptions, and he suggests that any who make such efforts should be fired from their jobs. While he's referring explicitly to the NFL, he is presenting a universal policy at least in theory. Anyone who has a job should lose it, or be in some way punished, should they be "caught" failing this test of patriotism. This is the new "where's his flag pin?" The experiment is having remarkable success, although Trump is trying to leverage his own oligarch "class," and most of these folks are quite aware that their football money comes from the labor of highly skilled, mostly black athletes who are acutely aware of the problem of police racial attitudes in their own communities and who want to do something to change these attitudes. Nonetheless, when Aaron Rodgers suggested that his fans in Green Bay all link arms in the stadium during the National Anthem to express solidarity with the underlying problem of government racism, the fans (many of them) booed Rodgers during the Anthem.

As Rodgers noted in later comments, booing him during the Anthem was as "disrespectful" to the Anthem as anything he'd done. But Trump's experiment was to some degree proved. Cognitive dissonance was not an impediment to his exercise of power. And presumably the dissonance already embedded in the whole idea of being coerced into a patriotic gesture was similarly disarmed. Any number of veterans, of any number of wars, will tell you that they weren't fighting for a scrap of cloth, or a song, but for the freedom America stands for. If you want to think about this for a brief moment, consider the apparently most patriotic country in the world, North Korea. There is universal fealty in North Korea for the government and its leader. Mr. Kim Jong Un has made it clear that there are existential and immediate consequences to any apparent lack of support. He has shown that he will have you shot, or sent to the salt mine.

This is what Mr. Trump is also suggesting. Whether you lose your job, or get shot, is merely a matter of degree. And I'll posit another thought experiment here. If Libby and I go up to Martinsville for the NASCAR race in a couple of weeks (as we've done for nearly a decade, spring and fall), and if we were to wear Kaepernick jerseys and sit for the national anthem, and the race track prayer, and the flyover, my prediction would be that we'd be likely hit in the head by a full beer can or several flung from well above and behind us. That, of course, could even be a death sentence. Thus is American patriotism currently enforced in the land of NASCAR, which supported Trump's campaign almost 100%. But in truth, of course, patriotism cannot be ordered or enforced or bought and paid for. Patriotism is like love that way. It comes from within. The football players who were kneeling during the Anthem were expressing the same patriotism and respect as most of the fans who were standing with their hands over their hearts.

I saw an interview with a participant in the so-called "Values Summit" that Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon addressed last Friday and Saturday:

Mandeville, Louisiana-resident Denise Hopkins called it “absolute nonsense” that Bannon gave a platform to white nationalists.

“You know what’s emboldened neo-Nazis?” she countered. “Eight years of the previous regime saying ‘all white people are terrible and you have to pay back for what someone did 200 years ago’ and stir up racial stuff.”

Funny. I never heard Mr. Obama or his supporters or representatives say, not even one time, that "all white people are terrible." I guess you have your cognitive dissonance, and you have your projection, which might be a kind of psychological defense against the experience of such dissonance. How does one deal with the plain fact of Tamir Rice if any acknowledgement of collective grief is psychologically impossible.

There's a dissonance in the observation of a lot of nice people just having a good time together, if you harbor a burning hatred in your soul. You want to scream, "Fuck Your Feelings." Sometimes you even end up here:

Mr. Trump's experiment is working. God bless the USA.