Lorenzo, the clown coach at my son’s circus camp in Germany, being an expert on all things orange headed and absurd, turned out to offer the most memorable insight into America’s current “political situation”. The additional facts that Lorenzo was Italian and held a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Florence, completed his already unique credentials. When I’ve traveled to Europe in the past, there is usually no shortage of opinions to be found about American politics from the people I encounter. This past summer, however, things were noticeably different, because no one was saying very much at all. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers, who would normally have a lot to say about all things American and wouldn’t hesitate to share it, were suddenly mute. Of course there was the jarring Stern magazine cover showing Trump making the Nazi salute, while draped in an American flag. If someone saw that cover and made the salute themselves, they’d be arrested in Germany, but there it was on a German newsstand. Excessively provocative, the cover screamed out everything that was being left unsaid and more.
Having been prepared to discuss American politics, but not receiving any openings, I finally brought the topic up myself at an informal dinner. But even then the responses were subdued, the comments and questions circumspect. It felt like everyone was struggling with something they could not yet fully comprehend. Or unable to say anything at all positive or hopeful, they remained on the edge of things. I had raised the topic, but found myself embarking on a detailed discussion of the electoral college. This was safer territory. Even though everyone at the table seemed genuinely interested, prodding me with questions, it had the feel of a less threatening diversion. I did my best to explain the technical aspects of how this all had happened, while avoiding the reality of why it actually did happen.
After exhausting all I knew regarding the historical basis and current intricacies of the US electoral system, I leaned back in my chair and said, “Well, we’ll see what happens.” As I leaned back, Lorenzo, the clown coach, took it as a sign to lean forward. Then he asked, “You say that “you’ll see,” but what does that mean?” He proceeded to tell me what he thought it might mean. “It’s just like Berlusconi,” he said, “Trump will win again.” Lorenzo wasn’t the first person to draw a comparison between Trump and Berlusconi, but since Lorenzo was Italian his comments had added credibility. I was still trying to accept eight months of Trump, but Lorenzo was making a very compelling argument for eight years. I think he sensed my denial.
I had never quite understood the popularity of Berlusconi, but Lorenzo was educating me. “It didn’t matter the corruption or what he did,” Lorenzo explained, “Berlusconi had his supporters and they loved him.” The answer as to how any leader stays in power is simple, Lorenzo seemed to by saying, even if the deeper understanding is elusive. Leaders stay in power, because they have enough supporters who love them – and continue to vote for them. As much as it was somewhat of a shock, everything Lorenzo said had a straightforward logic. It also doesn’t necessarily matter how outraged the opposition is. In fact, the more outraged the better, because it reinforces division and disorientation. By keeping everyone unbalanced, opposition is fragmented, disorganized, and can’t coalesce around a viable alternative. A relatively small group of intensely loyal and highly motivated supports can be enough to retain power.
I had been clinging to a belief that things would somehow correct themselves, but Lorenzo had laid out a more likely, if sobering, scenario. A scenario based on facts, simply stated, even if those facts were difficult to accept. It took a clown expert, well schooled in nonsense, to help me begin to see reality. Trump got elected by winning the election. It may have been by electoral votes and not the popular vote, that’s a quirk of the American system. The fact is Trump won, because he had enough voters who supported him. And he’ll win again unless someone emerges who can win more electoral votes. A whole range of unpredictable things may ensue before the next election, but right now one very plausible scenario is that Trump wins reelection. And his reelection in 2020 would be less of a surprise than his election was in 2016. I’d like to say, “we’ll see,” but after my conversation with Lorenzo that now just sounds like denial.continue reading
I dreamed of these words last night – suppression, aggression, depression, expression – and they somehow made sense at the time. In the morning whatever clarity I had been certain of was gone. Suppression of Aggression leads to Depression Expression. Or Suppression of my Aggression results in the Expression of Depression. Possibly Aggression Suppression is the Expression of Depression. No, that’s not it. Maybe it’s just those four words, in a slightly different order: Aggression Suppression Depression Expression.continue reading
I humbly submit this iambic sonnet, dear reader, in celebration of All Hallows’ Eve and with respectful homage to the Bard, long dead, but whose spirit and language lives within us.
Time Portends: A Halloween Sonnet
Though gloomy and grave it may be to say,continue reading
No choice the end brings, surely we concede;
We are all merely tenants of the day,
The rent we pay, for we don’t hold the deed.
May we remain as young, the virile, strong;
Yet worn and faded photos do remind,
For every person, summer’s not for long;
Despite warm doubts, cold terms severely bind.
It all sounds dismal, murky, and too bleak;
Life’s prime torment, do we endure alone?
Or can a sober truth we bravely seek,
To know our lease will be inscribed on stone?
There’s freedom in accepting time portends,
Our lives demand untimely, certain, ends.
Credit is an abstract concept that is difficult to understand. Like the multi-dimensional reality we live in, we can only truly grasp those dimensions that we can actually see and feel. Credit, like the fifth dimension, is always going to be an abstraction that remains elusive. We may get the general idea, but the actual reality and all its implications are always going to challenge our perception. It is upon credit, however, that the development of civilization has depended.
Without credit everything shrinks: wealth, material well-being, education, health, security, and most all other opportunities. Access to funds that can be invested now, but paid back over time is a key factor in increasing living standards around the world. Modern society itself could not exist without a cushion of credit – a colossal air mattress keeping us above the cold, hard ground of a more brutal existence. It’s pumped up by confidence and our hope in the future. The trick has always been to keep a reasonable amount of air in the mattress appropriately correlated to the actual physical economy.
Since we all depend on the integrity of our collective system of credit, we all have an interest in how it’s managed. This means ensuring that those who get paid to pump air in don’t simply inflate for their own profits and burst the mattress. This also means that in correcting for over inflation too much air doesn’t get sucked out too quickly bringing us crashing back down to earth. We aren’t literally sleeping together, but we do share a bed of sorts; and it’s made of credit. Even if we sometimes resent our bedmates, especially those that trash the mattress, we always have to remember the importance of the bed.continue reading
As the initial disbelief and outrage over the accusations against Jerry Sandusky give way to high-profile court cases, there is an uncomfortable truth that continues to remain below the surface – we are simply not doing enough to protect children from pedophiles. Although the scandal in the Catholic Church elevated the topic of sexual abuse in the public conscience, the reality of pedophiles remains something many people would prefer not to think about too closely. The current scandal involving Sandusky has refocused our attention on the issue, but it may do little to diminish the overall prevalence of sexual abuse unless we face the problem more directly and with a lasting commitment. What is needed is a complete transformation in the way we as a society think about and take action against the sexual abuse of children.
Given that approximately one in four women and one in seven men were sexually abused as children and that children today are facing these same startling statistics, we are clearly not doing enough to stop pedophiles. There are over half a million registered sex offenders in the US and the majority of these have sexually molested children. These are known offenders. It is estimated, however, that there are millions more who continue to specifically target children with impunity. It sounds alarmist, but unfortunately the number of victims, who often remain silent out of shame and fear, sadly supports these estimates. This isn’t simply an institutional problem of the Catholic Church or Penn State University; it is a pervasive social problem in America and throughout the world. (more…)continue reading
Although Muammar Qaddafi will never face trial and be forced to answer for his many crimes, his recent violent end brought finality to decades of terror and murder. It was certainly long overdue. Although the synergy between NATO airpower and the courageous efforts of the Libyan people was at times uncoordinated and even chaotic, it eventually was able to overcome and destroy Qaddafi and his regime. France and other NATO allies of the US took lead roles in hitting Qaddafi in the only way that made a difference – with force. Twenty-five years obviously changed a lot, because the last time the US tried to deal with Qaddafi using force the US had to act alone. (more…)continue reading
The single factor that seemed to contribute the most to the Democrats defeat in Congress, the one thing that animated the highest animosity and energized the vote in opposition, was Health Care Reform. Now members of the Tea Party and many Republicans in Congress are vowing to “gut it”. If this is how conservatives plan to use their recently gained political capital, they will fall into the same trap as Democrats. After spending so much time and so many resources debating health care, not just recently, but over decades, Congress is poised to again squander their opportunities debating its undoing. The fundamental issue doesn’t even have anything to do with closely held beliefs, but with the most base of all things – political power. (more…)continue reading
When it comes to love of country, the only question that matters is this: What kind of love will it be? Will it be a love based on truth and understanding? Will it be a love that has depth and meaning? Or will it be a superficial and fragile love that can not withstand even a whisper of reality? To love one’s country despite a clear-eyed view of its shortcomings is the mark of a true patriot. Nothing is achieved through blind admiration – except a stagnation that gives way to an increasingly desperate defense of false nostalgia. There are those who believe that pointing out the hypocrisy in America’s past and present makes one a traitor, while those who cheer America “right or wrong” are somehow noble. But willful ignorance or outright denial of the facts is certainly no virtue; and it is contrary to fulfilling the beliefs written in the US Constitution. (more…)continue reading
In the 1960’s air travel was an elegant affair. My grandmother tells me how she wore not only a dress, but also a hat and white gloves to travel by plane. She was received in swanky lounges and attended to throughout the entire experience. From the time she entered the airport until she arrived at her destination, she was treated like a discriminating customer – someone the airlines respected and wanted to impress.
Maybe it’s partly nostalgia, because my grandmother was also handed a pack of smokes before her flight, which was not so pleasant for non-smokers; but in general air travel used to be more civilized. Now we are treated like a burden, a nameless lump that has to be fed, watered, and transported. Many who fly regularly have become resigned to the minor humilities and major inconveniences of air travel. Along with this resignation, passenger’s attitudes and behaviors have also deteriorated. When people expect bad service they tend to act accordingly, which can range from mild irritation to open hostility. (more…)continue reading
Entering New York City through John F. Kennedy Airport has become more disorganized than efficient, more rundown than modern, and more depressing than inspiring. What used to be our grandest international gateway has become worn out from overuse and fallen behind in physical appearance and quality not only to most European airports, but also to many found throughout Asia. On my last return from Berlin we were parked at a “remote location” upon our arrival, apparently because there were no available gates. I had the feeling we had arrived unannounced and created an annoying inconvenience, which now required that last minute arrangements be quickly thrown together. (more…)continue reading