Election Postmortem

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If you’re one of those folks who’s wondering what (s)he could’ve done differently to stop Donald Trump from the White House, let me throw some water on that. This election was a perfect shit-storm, and there is nothing that any individual could’ve done to alter its appropriately shitty outcome. Okay, there are a few high-profile agents you could blame—you know who I’m talking about—but looking back on this, historians are going to view this more as a slow-burning accumulation of multiple small causes than as one massive eruption. Hillary Clinton and her campaign turned complacent and choked. The DNC played favorites and ate crow for it. Some Sanders voters made good on their stupid, nihilistic Bernie or Bust promise and either stayed home or went for a third party. There was voter fraud—by which I mean, voter ID laws and other measures were instituted in key states to prevent “voter fraud,” which is GOP code for non-whites, millennials and poor people voting. There was a severe Obama backlash. There was a sharp backlash to PC culture. Every long-simmering prejudice you can think of resurfaced. The economic alienation of the Rust Belt pushed it rightward. The anti-intellectual conservative propaganda machine flew off the handle. Every major ideological branch of the GOP sold out and convinced enough of their base that Trump was a normal candidate and they should stay loyal to the party. The FBI intervened—with help from, among others, an overgrown fuckboy who once dreamed of being mayor of New York and who now needs to depart the public eye for good. Russia intervened—with help from, among others, a certain tool of theirs in London’s Ecuadorian embassy—for several variously troubling reasons.

(Let’s unpack that last one, since to me, it is the most disturbing of contributions to Trump’s good luck. What did Vladimir Putin want so bad that he was impelled to violate American sovereignty to get it? Does he hope to do to the Baltic states what he’s done to Crimea? Maybe he thought Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone over Syria would lead to WWIII and he sought to deploy some realpolitik to prevent that—which is understandable. More likely, he wants to keep Bashar al-Assad in power—which is disgusting. Maybe he perceives America being the world’s sole superpower as hazardous and wants to take it down a peg and equalize Russia—granted it’s a thin line between that and elevating Russia to the status of world’s sole superpower. Worst-case scenario: Putin is a power-mad Soviet hanger-on who aims to envelop the world into a hard right-wing political paradigm in which might is right and strength is measured by crushing dissent, in which political elites form friendly relations based on their shared belief in demonstrating willpower by keeping their respective subjects leashed, in which Putin can disregard national sovereignty even more wantonly than he is wont to, in which he can influence the lives of Americans such as yours truly for his own pleasure and subject our democratic republic to death by a thousand cuts. If that’s the case, he’s not only winning—he’s penetrating the Iron Curtain and dismantling the West in ways Stalin could never have imagined. And we thought the Cold War was over.)

Our political system has become dominated by spite—no wonder the more spiteful candidate prevailed. Our two major parties have grown so polarized and so internally divided that many think the U.S. is on the verge of Balkanizing—and yes, I am taking the threat of California seceding very seriously, because at this point, anything goes. The shit has hit the fan. Do you really think Trump would have a problem with a Calexit? Politically, it’d be all to his advantage. (Gov. Jerry Brown would and will resist it, and for good reason.) We have grown contemptuous of the other perspective to the point of devolving into narrow cultish mindsets. This goes well beyond standard issue confirmation bias. I am noticing a disturbing trend on the right, among many Trump voters, of taking everything around oneself as confirming their deepest beliefs, tragically mistaken as they are. When Trump speaks to what they feel, they are gratified. But when the opposition—liberal media and such, plus people that had an existential investment in seeing Trump defeated—protests and counter-argues, it gratifies them even more. They hate the opposition so much and are so convinced of their ineptitude, they see the pain of the “other” as further proof that Trump is right. Do they think that our pain is contrived and selfish? Or that their pain is greater? Or is it just that it bothers them to hear about it? Don’t overthink it: this is a defense mechanism meant to discourage and tame the opposition, and it’s present in several GOP superstars, from Mitch McConnell—who relishes his villainous reputation—to Steve Bannon—who is proud to be called an anti-Semite by the New York Times and CNN. These men, with Trump at the helm, have abandoned the idea of politics as a cooperative endeavor, preferring to make it a victors-get-spoils zero-sum game in which the losers’ angst is part of the fun. Trump did not cause this gross authoritarian way of thought; he catalyzed it.

I cannot and will not apply a double standard: the left is equally as mired in this sort of moral one-upmanship. Through the end of this traumatic election season, we assured ourselves that calling Trump supporters bigots for their mere willingness to associate with the guy would, one way or another, shame them into seeing the light and either voting for Clinton or staying home. Boy were we wrong. (And yes: I plead guilty.) The time for partisan demonization is long over. We must be attentive to how another’s unique life experiences have shaped his/her political outlook. We must show our political opponents that perceiving society as divided by severely contrasting demographic identities does not work for society in the long term and is bound to backfire. When a Black man lives in fear of running into a rogue cop who associates his skin color with a criminal disposition; when an undocumented immigrant brought across the Rio Grande as a mere infant lives in fear of deportation to the narco-state of his birth; when a Muslim family lives in fear of incessant NSA surveillance facilitated by a registry; when a woman lives in fear of losing her bodily autonomy to a rapist, or perhaps to the state; when a gay couple lives in fear of losing their marriage and being subject to a new Jim Crow regime; when a bright autism spectrum kid lives in fear of people focusing not on his intellect but on his eccentricities and claiming that we ought to get rid of them by getting rid of vaccines; when a working class family lives in fear of losing benefits and seeing their public sector union dismantled; when an indigenous people lives in fear of seeing their ancestral lands sold out by the government to an oil corporation; when millennials live in fear of facing arrested development in a quagmire of unpaid internships, student debt and mental health issues; when our military lives in fear of the government sending them into combat (maybe to clean up a mess it made) and then taking their service to America for granted; when the poor and homeless live in fear of more and more wealth being redistributed away from them; and when laymen all over live in fear that one day, they’ll fall victim to a gun massacre, or that one day, the effects of manmade climate change will pass the threshold of human adaptability because we prioritized short-term profit over long-term survival—we all neglect and lose something of the spirit of America, and we all suffer. These are legitimate concerns, and I don’t think I’m being a delicate snowflake or a hypersensitive crybaby by elevating them. If you have more of a problem with my expression of pain than my pain, or if you think I should swallow it because my side lost the election, that’s on you, not me.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric is henceforth moot. All I care about now are his actions, and the actions of his VP Mike Pence, a smooth-talking Santorum-level wack job who already seems to be playing Cheney to Trump’s Bush. Some questions remain, and there is still some benefit of the doubt, but most of those actions thus far—cabinet appointments among them—have been unusually irksome. For what it’s worth, I no longer have any use for the pessimism and sensationalism of the left-leaning news sources that I relied on before November 8. (The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg have been helpful, healing replacements in that regard.) There is no need to reiterate and dwell on all the ways the Trump presidency may well feel like a four-year prison sentence not just to liberals, but to the nostalgic Reaganite rural and working classes who are about to learn the hard way that this was not a gamble worth taking. We know the ways. Now is the time for activism—at the local and state level where the federal is bound to fail, because as the cliché goes: all politics is local. A situation in which stagnation is the best-case scenario is intolerable. Let it be said that the resisting grassroots mobilization I have seen take shape in the past month is awe-inspiring and unprecedented in my lifetime. I’d still be in a state of panicky despair without it. It’s what I need, and it’s what this nation needs now more than ever. The First Amendment is what, if anything, makes America great. If you are not capable of listening to, learning from and taking criticism from alternative perspectives—whether from dissenting speech, a gadfly press, or a protesting assembly—you are unfit for the presidency. As an artist, a writer and a principled devil’s advocate who has been and will continue to be vocal against Trumpism on this blog and elsewhere, I have invested in the First Amendment and stand to lose much if it is crippled. I feel on the brink of a unique historic maelstrom; we really are about to find out how strong our Constitution is. In the event that Clinton won, I was planning to write an extravagant über-dark alt-history Trump presidency-themed sci-fi novel. Chances are, if there’s a God, He put Trump in the Oval Office to prove to pessimists such as yours truly that America is more resilient than we think it is—or at least that we American millennials are more resilient than we yet know.

From now on, for every comment I receive from a troll, I donate $10 to a left-wing political activist organization of my choice.

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Election Postmortem

I Have A Media Problem

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I like writing about cinema. It’s a hobby of mine, something I’d like to do more often. And up to this point, it’s all that I’ve done on this blog—on its WordPress incarnation, at least. That’s all this blog should be—a space for me to display my thoughts on film, and for you, whoever you may be, to read and consider them. It should not be a haven for ads. I do not try to gain your attention with shallow, misleading clickbait. If I link to anything outside the blog, I do so because I find it relevant and intriguing and am confident it will not lead my readers down an Internet rabbit hole. There is nothing frilly in the formatting; I picked this WordPress template (“Minnow”, it’s called) for its simplicity, and because it’s free of charge. My blog is in a sense my ideal for the Internet—absent of distraction, with a single, focused purpose. If there’s anything you’ve ever seen here that’s out of focus, it’s because most of my film reviews are quick, instinctive, stream-of-consciousness first drafts. There’s nothing contrived here, but I understand if it can get tricky to follow. Part of it is my natural writing style. But I’ll work on it. I might just make it one of my New Year’s Resolutions.

All this is more than I can say for the Internet as a whole. When scrolling down my Facebook news feed, for one, I often encounter a vast deluge of clickbait, much of which has a theme—political pessimism. Doomsday prophesying. People griping about the way things are and the direction they’re going in. Money runs the world, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s only going to get worse. We are slaves to the wealthy, and whoever tries to fight against that status quo will be completely defeated, so we should probably just grin and bear it. That sort of thing. All talk about problems, with nothing about potential solutions, and thus nothing useful. What I find especially fascinating is anything written in the tone of voice that says, “You didn’t know this was going on?! You thought the world was hunky-dory?! How naïve of you! This whole time, you’ve been hoodwinked by the political elite and their media monopoly!” There are few things in this world I despise more than the concept of open secrets—of taboo dealings that everyone knows about but no one discusses because of some ludicrous impulse to sustain a fragile veneer of respectability and decorum, if not to protect the innocent. I hold just as much chagrin at the people who pride themselves on the knowledge of such secrets, and who look down upon and exclude the innocents who are unaware of them. As a result, none of the injuries stemming from these secrets are ever remedied, and none of the problems they present are ever particularly solved. You can see why I try to limit my time on Facebook; looking at my news feed can often be a fatiguing, numbing ordeal.

I don’t blame this all on Facebook. Rather, I speak of Facebook as a microcosm for the Internet as a whole—and when I say I’ve been trying to gauge my time on the Web, I mean it. What am I saying when I say I have a media problem? you may wonder. I’m essentially saying I have a trust problem. For an example, I’ll use an issue that I’d like to get to the bottom of, but that I likely never will because of the state of the Internet [trigger warning here]: the case of Juanita Broaddrick, who—at the height of Bill Clinton’s impeachment brouhaha—accused the ex-President of raping her in a Little Rock hotel room in 1978. Whether she is credible has been eagerly debated. Yet, I can’t find anything in the media (besides perhaps the late Christopher Hitchens) that I can rely on to objectively walk me through the case because everything about it has been obfuscated through the narrow lens of competitive partisan politics. Most conservative media seem to meld Broaddrick’s and other women’s accounts into their traditional Clinton-bashing, laden with conspiracies and designed more to get Republicans voted into office than to advance any genuine feminist cause. Most liberal media, in deferral to the Clintons, treat Broaddrick with what we in Japanese might call mokosatsu—which translates roughly into “indifference” or “contemptuous ignorance”—“murder by silence,” more literally. Google “Juanita Broaddrick,” and you’ll see what I mean. Most of what pops up is right-wing sensationalism and commentary from scrappy little blogs such as mine. Why is this? Why do women’s rights only matter to elites when they are convenient to their political outlook? Is it because of the perfect storm of institutionalized misogyny and hypocrisy that we call rape culture? Is the media negligent on this matter because we have consigned this case to a brand of pre-Internet ‘90s politics that the jaded American public is sick of hearing about? Frankly, that’d be pathetic.

For me, the case of Broaddrick and Clinton’s myriad other accusers lies at the very foundation—not so much the visible, above-water tip of the iceberg as its unseen, underwater bottom tip—of whether Hillary Clinton, who has stood by Bill despite his outrageous philandering (to say the least), can be trusted with the U.S. Presidency. I don’t think she can. I’m not going to go into the Broaddrick case blow-by-blow at this moment—though perhaps one day, I will, to provide the Internet with some of the objectivity that I’d like to see on it—but for the time being, let me say that right now, I think Broaddrick is credible. That feeling alone is enough to prompt me to display some serious mokosatsu towards all the polls, headlines and punditry trying to proclaim that Hillary’s already sewn up this whole election. She most certainly has not, no more than she had the ’08 election, when she was leading in all polls right up until Obama began showing his muster in the primaries. The media right now is not the American people talking; it’s the money talking. It’s the political and media elite struggling to convince the naïve to vote for Clinton, and to discourage the supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders from believing that their guy has a chance. The way I see it, on the left, the media’s gunning for Clinton, and everyone else is gunning for Sanders; just look at how Sanders has trounced Clinton in some of those online post-debate polls. Let me tell you: the most important issues to me are youth rights and education, feminism, LGBTQIA rights, racial equality, mental health, gun control, social mobility and the wealth gap, Mexico’s drug cartels (the essence of the border and immigration crises), campaign finance, accountability, climate change, and the U.S.’ responsibility for the calamity in the Middle East. I do not agree with Sanders on all issues, but my beliefs do line up with his on most issues—and I consider his commitment to the Nordic model, in particular, exemplary. Come Super Tuesday, he has my vote. (Don’t get me started on the GOP. In that party’s current state, they are against virtually everything I stand for.)

The great films are the ones you keep coming back to in your head. Network is one of those films. If you’ve never seen it, see it. It’s timeless. It has countless great scenes, and one of them is Howard Beale’s maximally ironic on-air rant on the power of television to brainwash, which ends with him pleading, “Turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I’m speaking to you now! Turn them off!” Reader, when you reach the end of this essay, I beseech you to close this window, turn off your Internet connection, and turn off your computer. Do something else. It’s okay. Take a break from this. Take a break from the aimless pessimism, the exploitation of trauma for attention, the insults to the intelligence, and the relentless fear mongering in which the Web at large revels. The man who directed Network, the late Sidney Lumet, has a book called Making Movies, which is a great primer on the technical aspects of cinema for literary folks such as me. Lumet here says time and again that if a filmmaker is losing concentration during a rush, a take, or a scene, it means it’s not grabbing his/her attention, thus the audience will check out, too, and it should be cut. What I take from this is that maybe I ought to trust my instincts. If I’m losing focus while reading an online article, either don’t trust it or close the laptop. Or both. I should make that a golden rule. After all, I don’t feel excitement reading all the media extoling Clinton; I feel numbness, fatigue, nausea, disgust. I feel lies fighting to win at my expense. I want to escape from it all. I don’t want to wallow in thoughts of “inevitability”. None of us should. We should fight for change. We start by voting.

I Have A Media Problem