America’s troubled days

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I took this picture on a beach in Evanston, Illinois a number of years ago. It was a cold and windy day, with the wind whipping in off of Lake Michigan and not another soul around me. The red sign on the empty lifeguard’s chair reminded me that I was on my own.

But that day passed, and the sun came out again and life continued on. If only things could be that way in the post-COVID, post-rioting America that we’ll see at some point in the future. But for now, we’re in the thick of both fights.

On the day that Donald Trump was sworn in as president, I found a way to avoid the television and judged a middle school science fair, instead. I knew that he didn’t have any words that I wanted to hear. And indeed, he spoke of “American carnage” to the very people he was about to lead.

The term “American carnage” seems to fit this moment perfectly. A virus that arrived on our shores has taken 105,000 American lives, and counting. There truly is no end in sight. Whenever the vaccine comes, hopefully we can move beyond social distancing and the need to wear masks in public. But Trump’s February prediction that it would miraculously disappear when the warm weather arrives obviously hasn’t come to pass.

On top of this catastrophic virus is now the worst civil unrest that has happened in my lifetime. For the first time in my life last night, I was subjected to a mandatory curfew. It was warranted, because people who were ostenstibly mourning the murder of George Floyd in broad daylight on the streets of an American city turned into a rampaging mob, instead. So much for re-opening the American economy anytime soon.

The mayors and governors, local police and National Guard, are doing their best to deal with this unrest, but centuries of injustice and generations of hurt have been unleashed. As Malcom X once noted, in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the chickens have come home to roost. And so many places in this country, including in my city, now resemble a war zone more than anything else. It’s American carnage, of another sort.

Through all of this, the leader who spoke of “American carnage” on day one of his presidency has been powerless to address these threats. He gave himself a “ten out of ten” when it came to addressing the coronavirus threat, and took no responsibility for anything that has happened, although a Columbia University study found otherwise. Likewise, he called protestors in the streets THUGS (a racial code word, and in all caps, to boot) and threatened to unleash dogs and weapons against anyone who would seek to do him harm. Once again, as we’ve seen throughout his presidency, Trump looks out for Number 1 only. The proverbial lifeguard of this nation has abdicated his post, leaving all of us to fend for ourselves.

What can such a man say to calm this nation’s troubles? To protect the nation that he was elected to lead? It’s  painfully apparent that he doesn’t have any inspirational words, nor does he want them. Should he make any public announcement on the issue, it will be to congratulate himself and make threats against those who imperil his re-election in November. That will be the make-or-break moment for this country. Either Trump will be made into Donald I, king of the nation formerly known as the United States of America, or he will be denied the validation he so desperately craves?

Will the lifeguard’s chair that currently sits empty be turned into King Donald’s throne on November 3? I sure hope not. But for now, it appears that there’s a lot more American carnage ahead.

FU Coronavirus (Part 2)

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I’ve been thinking about the Michael Jordan Era in Chicago a lot lately. It technically started when the Bulls drafted him out of college in 1984, but for many years it didn’t happen because, well, the team just wasn’t any good. But the team slowly got better over time, and the hated Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons finally moved aside and then it was time to rock and roll.

Gary Glitter’s song Rock and Roll Part 2 was undeniably a part of the experience inside the Chicago Stadium during the Jordan Era. Nobody went there to hear that song, of course, but when it would come over the loudspeakers during a timeout, everybody knew the melody, and everybody shouted out “HEY!” when the time came. And the crowd inside the Stadium rocked along with the music and enjoyed being alive.

I was a part of that thriving, singing mass of humanity just one time, in February of 1993. The Chicago Bulls were the two-time defending NBA champions on that date, still a few months away from the epic showdown with the New York Knicks which cleared the way for what was, in my mind, the most satisfying of the six NBA titles they ultimately won.

Bulls tickets, in those days, were impossible to get. The official stated capacity for a basketball game at the Chicago Stadium at the time was 18,676, with the vast majority of those being season tickets in the hands of people who could afford to have them. The Bulls were the best show in town back then, maybe even the best show anywhere.

The man at the center of it all, of course, was Michael Jordan. If I live long enough to have grandkids (which is still a few years away, I hope) I will tell them at every opportunity that I saw Michael Jordan play basketball at the old Chicago Stadium. They will roll their eyes, of course, but I’ll tell the story anyway.

I somehow got my hands on a standing room ticket which cost (appropriately enough) $23. I stood in the highest reaches of the Stadium for hours on end and had an experience that I can’t quite think of a parallel for. Personal experiences like marriage and childbirth, as incredible as they are, happen on an individual level. There are a few people around, but not a lot. And outdoor experiences like concerts and a Cubs victory rally are also great, but having the open sky above tamps down some of the vibe.

Put 18,676 people together in an indoor space, and get them rocking along to Michael Jordan’s basketball artistry and Gary Glitter’s music, and you’ve really got something special. I’ve spent 27 more years on this earth, hoping to find something that electric, and I haven’t yet done it. I don’t know if I ever will, either.

The Madhouse on Madison wasn’t big enough for the Bulls’ party, so it was torn down in 1994 and the United Center was built across the street. It seats upwards of 20,000 for basketball games, and a few thousand more for concerts. I’ve been to both at the UC, and while the extra capacity is good for the bottom line, the intimacy of the old Stadium just isn’t there anymore.

There’s a generation of people who never had the chance to experience what I did at the Chicago Stadium on a February night back in 1993. And the ones who were in their prime years at the time are getting older now, and some have undoubtedly died off. As Journey once sang, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.

In the NBA, Kobe and Shaq and Lebron and all the rest have come on the scene, creating whatever magic and memories they can for their fans and the teams they play for. But anyone who ever packed into the old Chicago Stadium to watch Michael Jordan play in the 1980s and early 1990s knows what a unique experience that was.

The news that the United States has just passed 18,676 deaths due to COVID-19, as of the day I’m typing this out in April of 2020, gave me pause. Many people, unless they’ve been inside a concert hall or professional sports arena or maybe a megachurch, have never been part of a throng of humanity that large. And I’m exempting outdoor arenas from this category because, as I’ve said, the open sky changes the experience.

A throng of 18,676 souls, from all walks of life and from every conceivable group that humanity divides itself into, has been taken away by a virus that we can’t see. And there’s no end in sight either, since more than 2,000 Americans, in all but a small handful of states, left us just yesterday.

Donald Trump, who bears more responsibility for these deaths than anyone else, drew a line in the sand at 100,000 deaths, or maybe even more than that. Any death toll under that amount, in his eyes, is a testament to his great leadership. But, as always, he’s full of shit for saying that.

I’ve been in a crowd of almost 19,000 people before, and I know the enormous personal scale that a crowd that size has. To lose that many people in less than two months time is a severe blow, not only for the families of the afflicted, but to all of us as a society. It’s a national catastrophe, and most certainly not a testament to whatever leadership Trump thinks he is providing.

I mourn for those we have lost, and for all those we still will lose in this moment of great national (and global) peril. And a final death toll of under 100,000 Americans will not entitle Donald Trump to crow about anything, although he most certainly will do that. He goes wherever he wants to go, and dares anyone to stop him. And so far, no one has.

I’m not a religious person in any conventional sense (more of a Thomas Paine-styled freethinker, actually), but I am praying that America gets it right in November of this year. The alternative is simply too much to contemplate.

Some People Ain’t Kind

RIP to John Prine. I’m only now discovering his music, and that’s certainly my loss for waiting so long. But those who were in the know about these things are mourning his loss today. It’s such a tragedy that a virus that was officially written off long ago was what finally did him in.

His music stands as his legacy, and we must keep it alive. I nominate the above song, as a microcosm of the thinking that got us to where we are today. Maybe John Prine mentions “some cowboy from Texas” at the end of this song, but “some jerk from New York” would work just as well.

Thank you for the songs, and the insights into who we are.

What the pundits missed in Trump’s Oval Office speech

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I’m not at all a fan of Donald Trump. Spend five minutes on my blog reading some of the other posts I’ve wriiten, and that much becomes clear. I’ve essentially shut down this blog, which I once really enjoyed writing, because responding to Trump’s actions can be an all-consuming task, especially when it’s done on a volunteer basis. In other words, life is too short to engage with a Trump presidency.

But having said all that, I wasn’t going to ignore his speech from the Oval Office this evening. I knew there was nothing he could say that would win me over to his way of thinking, and he didn’t really even try to do so. But I found one sentence at the end of the speech to be nothing less than stunning.

Of course, as soon as the speech was over, the paid political analysts began flooding the air at CNN, MSNBC, and (I would presume) Fox News. Some people get paid big money to tell us, the unwashed masses, what to think. It feels as though we’ve outsourced any intelligent thought of our own to the same two dozen or so talking heads who call this their career. After all, we have Kardashians to keep up with, and isn’t that challenging enough?

But I prefer to think for myself. I started this little blog–in the great online wildneress in which it resides–to put my own thinking on the record, in whatever humble fashion that may be. And here’s what nobody seems to have noticed from the end of Donald Trump’s speech.

The exact words that escaped from his mouth are linked to above, and they begin at 9:16 of the video posted to CNN.com. His exact words were “When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do.” But that, like so many other things he has said over the first two years of his presidency, was a misrepresentation of the truth.

The U.S. Constitution–in Article II, Section 1–sets forth exactly what the Presidential oath of office is. I think of it as a script, which has been passed down from Washington and Hamilton and all the others from 1787 to today. The presidents who take the oath are like actors, who can bring whatever inflections or verbal interpretations to the words they want to. But the words themselves are not subject to being improvised or rewritten. In order to become the president, the words have to be spoken exactly as the Founders intended.

The words that Donald Trump uttered, not quite two years ago, are as follows:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What was said on that January morning, as the Constitution requires, is that the president swore to defend not the United States itself, but the Constitution that established it so many years ago. It must be said that the land itself, and the people who live on it, are not addressed in the presidential oath.

Was this misrepresentation of the presidential oath intentional on Trump’s part? I have to believe it was. The stated rationale for building a wall on the Southern border is to keep out all the drugs and the gangs and the people who are coming to take our jobs and ruin the country we all love. But there’s no Constitutional mandate for this course of action. Checks and balances, the enumerated and reserved powers of the three branches of government, and the provisions of all the amendments made through the years are what he actually swore to protect.

To the extent that a Trump supporter would ever read these words, I would say I know that you will defend him at all costs. He’s always right, in your worldview. I’m a misguided and dangerous far left radical who doesn’t love this country in the way that you believe I should.

And you’re wrong in these beliefs, of course.

I’m merely pointing out the words that Trump uttered back on Inauguration day, and describing the role that he has agreed to take on. If he’s willing to be dishonest about that, why should anything else he says ever be believed?

The present government shutdown threatens to drag us all down, the longer it goes on. But strip all of the rest away, and it’s clear–to me, at least–that Trump does not grasp what his duty actually is. He doesn’t owe me, or you, or any other American any form of personal protection. But what he does owe to me, and to you, and to every other person in the United States, is fidelity to the terms of the document that created and sustains this nation.

 

One song, Comey

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As the six year anniversary of my blog is coming up in a few days, it’s pretty clear that my interest in doing this has waned considerably. I once thought the Trump era would lead to all sorts of insights and observations on my part about how terrible everything has become under his stewardship, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Every day new “bombshells” are revealed, each one more terrible than the one before, but nothing seems to happen as a result. And while this didn’t start off as a political blog, the nature of the times has made it difficult to muster up much interest in writing about anything else.

The plain truth is that republicans in congress are aiding and abetting Trump, and they aren’t going to change their course, either.

Jim Comey–who all but ushered Trump into office last October–will get his comeuppance against Trump tomorrow, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I hope that Trump’s malfeasance in trying to kill the investigation into Mike Flynn is as tawdry and shameful as anything that’s ever been said aloud in the halls of congress. The rest of the world is already aghast at this villain who seems bent on upending the United States and all of its democratic institutions.  They scoff at him, and at all of us Americans for electing such a buffoon in the first place. And by allowing him to remain in office for over four months so far, we deserve their contempt.

So let Jim Comey swing away at Trump tomorrow. If there were any justice in the world, his words in June would unmake Trump as president, as effectively as his words made him president last year. But with the Obamacare repeal and tax cuts for people who don’t need them and that grotesque farce of a budget on the horizon, the republicans are like Slim Pickens at the end of A Clockwork Orange: They’re going down toward certain destruction, but they’ll be waving their hats and hollering as they go. Here’s hoping that Jim Comey can at least throw a wet blanket over their ride into oblivion.

(NOTE: The title of this post is a tribute to Jonathan Larson and RENT, which I saw for the second time recently, nearly two decades after the first time. The songs still sounded as good as I remember them. Viva la vie boheme!)

An indefensible act

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By removing the United States from the Paris Agreement–which every other nation in the world save for Syria and Nicaragua has signed onto–Donald Trump has declared war on the planet that all of us inhabit. He clearly doesn’t care about my children, shown above on the rim of the Grand Canyon and in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. They don’t matter to him, nor do millions of other children around the world, who rightly consider this world of ours as their birthright.

This planet is my home, and I won’t keep silent as Trump attempts to ruin it by his actions. Laughing at Trump–which once seemed like it would have been enough–isn’t the answer. Scoffing at Trump hasn’t worked either, not as long as he has a sycophantic army of supporters who seem oblivious to the harm he is doing. But we all must speak out, to raise our voices in protest of this diabolical act.

Red Alert for Democracy in the USA

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The Trump White House has gone lower and lower since it began on January 20, and today it struck an alarming new low. This president fired the man who was investigating his ties to the Russians. Make no mistake: This was the act of a desperate man.

What’s going to happen next? I don’t know. I want congress to stand up and become the bulwark against tyranny that it was designed to be. But the republicans in the house and senate (no capitalization is used because that indicates respect, and none is appropriate here) have put their own political party above the nation that they once swore to protect.

Trump is an unqualified stain on this nation, and every day that goes by drives us deeper and deeper into a quagmire that we must extricate ourselves from.

USA? How about SOS instead?

It’s all hands on deck

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On the first day of this new year, I met up with a cousin I hadn’t seen in a very long time. He was in Chicago with his family, and we met up to see a few sights and–in true Chicago fashion–have some deep dish pizza. It was a great day, and I was happy to begin 2017 by renewing an old acquaintance.

As we were talking over dinner, I mentioned that I write a blog. My cousin asked if it was political, and I replied “It can be.” I didn’t start writing this blog for that reason, and baseball and family and rock and roll–the things that really matter to me–are my principal writing muses. But here in 2017, politics  appears to have crowded out everything else. These times don’t allow for much else besides a discussion of our government system and how to protect it against a despot. For progressives like me, this is our moment of truth.

The fact remains, no matter what is said to the contrary, that Hillary Clinton received millions more votes than Donald Trump did. He entered the presidency with that hanging over everything else, and the tens of millions of people who saw Donald Trump’s name on the ballot and voted for somebody else have a right to feel betrayed by the electoral college. We all were.

The ties to Russia and the hacks directed by Putin and the Kremlin on Trump’s behalf further clouded the matter of Trump’s ascension. How many votes would Trump had lost if this information had come out before the election? We’ll never know for certain, but it’s fair to say at least a few Trump voters may be feeling some buyer’s remorse at their decision.

And then there’s the actions Trump has taken since that dark and desolate Friday, just ten days ago. The immigration ban is by far the worst one, striking at the heart of what America has always been for the rest of the world. Those tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free have been replaced, inside Trump’s warped mind, with a bunch of angry jihadists. The countries where the terrorists actually came from–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and a couple more–are left alone, while seven countries that are far less of a threat statistically are left out. So what if those seven nations aren’t lucky enough to have a Trump golf course or high-rise within their borders? That’s just a happy coincidence, isn’t it?

Trump’s nominees, from Jeff Sessions on down, must now receive “extreme vetting” by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. And what about the Supreme Court nominee, who is expected to be announced as early as tomorrow? That needs to be a war like none other that has ever been seen. Clarence Thomas should wince by the time that process is over, if it ever does come to an end.

I love the sight of protests in airports and peaceful marches through cities and towns of all sizes, and all around the world. Trump’s presidency has awakened something that I had always hoped was there: the defiant mood of a people who realize that America is worth fighting for. And fight we must. Resistance is the watchword of whatever number of days or weeks remain in Trump’s presidency. I’m not suggesting violence in the streets, because Trump and the strongman facade will spring into action if that happens. More restraint will be needed, instead. But the cause couldn’t be any more important.

The time for remaining silent probably ended before Trump’s inauguration address. As Thomas Paine once wrote, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” A Mike Pence presidency doesn’t seem like too much of a triumph to me, but we have to get Donald Trump removed from office. Every day his presidency reaches new depths, the likes of which Jefferson and Franklin and the others in Philadelphia could scarcely imagine.

I long for the day when this blog goes back to trivial things like guitar solos and baseball games. But on January 31, 2017, we aren’t at that point. A hard struggle lies ahead, and I’m in for whatever happens along the way.  The continued viability of America is at stake.

The battle is joined

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Yesterday I wrote that I wasn’t too happy to call myself an American. Today I take it all back.

250,000 people in Chicago–my wife and younger daughter among them–participated in a march that grew so large that there was no marching to be done. Cities around the country, and even around the world, also joined in, and the total is easily in the millions. Not a single person of those millions was happy about the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, either.

Trump sent out his press secretary to lecture the press about inauguration crowd size estimates, and basically try to shame the press into reporting the things that Trump and his people approve of. Oh, and deflect attention away from the marches that were going on at the very same time. It was an awful performance, but if it serves to get the people more fired up and ready to go than they already were, it will be a great thing, indeed.

I wasn’t able to attend the march today, but I did pass by it at one point. I noticed a sign saying “History has its eyes on us,” which is an obvious reference to Hamilton. The pro-Trump crowd will desperately search for something else–anything else–to put their eyes on at the end of this terrible day for them. But the message has been delivered, and Trump and his people would be terribly unwise to ignore it.

American Ugly

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This is what Donald Trump appeals to. This big scary guy filled with rage wants to intimidate anyone who he doesn’t see as “American.” This guy is only one Trump supporter, but he’s also a symbol for the dark, destructive urges that Trump plays to. If Trump wins, this guy wins, too. That simply can’t happen.

The video is filled with as much ugliness as you would expect, so watch at your own peril. But the picture and the story are enough to paint a very disturbing picture. Silence in the face of this is not an option, either.

I’ve been struggling with the idea that one of the two main political parties could nominate Trump to run this country. I’m still convinced they’ll snap out of it before it’s too late, and throw the nomination to someone else. That person could even be worse than Trump, but the folly of putting Trump on the ballot should be clear for everyone to see, except for maybe this guy. And that’s precisely why Trump is so toxic for this country.

The First Amendment, UIC, and Donald Trump

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I earned my Masters degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC for short, back in the early 1990s. I never really considered it as my alma mater, because I didn’t live on campus and my degree only took two years to complete. I was working full time and going to school at night, so my heart was never completely invested at UIC. But I am glad to have an affiliation with them, all the same.

I didn’t like the fact that Donald Trump had planned a rally on the UIC campus for the Friday before the Illinois primary. I wrote a piece for HistoryBuff.com, pointing out that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was at odds with the life’s work of Jane Addams, who ran Hull House for decades in the neighborhood where UIC now stands, as a place where immigrants could feel welcomed into Chicago and the United States.

If you were to strip away everything else from this country, you would find that immigration is what makes the USA great. Trump simply doesn’t understand this, and it’s one of a long list of reasons why he’ll never be president.

But before tonight’s rally at UIC could commence, there were tensions both inside the venue and out. Trump called off the rally, and his supporters cried foul. They wanted to hear their guy speak, and those who opposed him had denied them of their opportunity to do so. What the protesters did, at least according to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, was deny Donald Trump’s rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

At the risk of sounding crass, I’m calling bullshit on that argument.

Strong language is needed here, in order to fully address the claims that have been made. The suggestion that Donald Trump has a First Amendment right to make a speech at any public venue of his choosing is simply false. It reveals an ignorance of what the First Amendment actually says, which is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment, as adopted more than two centuries ago, restricts the actions of Congress. That’s all. And Congress has made no laws restricting what Donald Trump says,  either in Chicago or anywhere else.

Donald Trump can say just about anything he wants to say, and so can the protesters both inside and outside the building where the rally was scheduled to take place. Nearly everyone feels passionately about Trump, either in favor of him or against him. And Congress should have better things to do than sorting out what Donald Trump and his protesters have to say.

If Trump didn’t speak tonight, it was because he decided not to take the stage. Trump let down his supporters at UIC, but Congress had nothing to do with this.

Freedom of speech is alive and well tonight. But as for an understanding of the Constitution, that’s a different story.