Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Trumpergency Speech. Or The National Emergency Which Isn't National.

I watched Trump's speech declaring a state of national emergency.  Now I am very tired, even though the emergency he is declaring is not a national emergency.  It's a Trumpergency, a state of great (the greatest!) Trump-anxiety, caused by his inability to get his way through mere temper tantrums.

But that's not what made me tired.  It was taking notes of the speech while desperately trying to understand what kinds of "facts" his assertions might have been based on. 

So while I listened to his speech, I scribbled down key words and phrases: 

Very talented people, extremely well (negotiations with China went), very good relationship (with a North Korean dictator), couldn't be done before by others (repeated boasting about how he has disarmed North Korea), finally the US is respected, phenomenal (North Korea's location), phenomenal US economy created by Trump, tremendous stock market figures created by Trump, wasn't done before by others (fixing the southern border), economy he created going to the roof (!), never done before (China trade deals), nobody else could do it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Trickster God And The Yearning For A Political Savior in American Politics

The following two stories are intended for the pleasure (?) of those who like to spice their political meals with mythology, fantasy and literature.

First, the recent events in Virginia politics should trouble all of us, but there's extra trouble for those who prefer Democrats to run that state but who also don't want to condone or ignore allegations of sexual violence or the use of racist imagery by their "own" politicians.

Let's start by summarizing (1) those events for anyone who hibernates in the winter or isn't properly obsessed with American politics:

On February 1st, the conservative Web site Big League Politics published a photo from the medical-school yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam. In the photo, from 1984, one man wears blackface and another wears a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially apologized for appearing in the photo, though he didn’t say which of the two men was him.

The next day, at a press conference, Northam insisted that he wasn’t in the picture, after all—though he confessed that, at some point in 1984, he had worn shoe polish on his face (“I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off”), in order to resemble Michael Jackson at a dance contest.

Soon afterward, Big League Politics reported on the existence of a private Facebook post in which a woman appeared to accuse the state’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, of sexual assault at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Fairfax, who would become governor if Northam were to resign, denied the allegation; the woman subsequently came forward to reiterate the allegation in her own name. 

Two days after that, the attorney general, Mark Herring, who is also a Democrat, and currently second in the line of succession to be governor of Virginia, admitted to wearing blackface at a party during his college years—he was in costume, he said, as the rap musician Kurtis Blow.

Get it?  If Northam resigns, Fairfax would be the governor, and if Fairfax then resigns, Herring would be the governor.  What happens if all three resign?

The new governor would be the speaker of the Virginia house of delegates, the Republican Kirk Cox!

And there you have the Democrats' dilemma:  Those who want to see all three men resign would then have to accept a Republican Governor for Virginia!  That just might have even worse economic and social consequences for African-American men and for all women in the state of Virginia.

Reading about this made me think of the Trickster, a common mythical archetype in many cultures:

Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the trickster as a "boundary-crosser".[1] The trickster crosses and often breaks both physical and societal rules. Tricksters "...violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis."[2] 
A Trickster god, the joker that he is (2),  would adore the dilemma I have described above, and might even willingly create it, because the resulting chaos and confusion allows us to learn something important, something which cannot be learned while staying safely inside the boundaries decreed by our particular political conventions.

The joke the Trickster makes in the Virginia case is the bitterly hilarious juxtaposition of the types of behaviors Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively,  are sanctioned for.  What is rewarded among the Republicans (think of the sexist and racist Trump in the White House) is sanctioned among the Democrats.  But in this case sanctioning the latter would directly reward the former!

That outcome is to teach us an important lesson, in a rather painful manner, as is the custom of the Trickster gods and goddesses.

Second,  while following the overall political conversations about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I noticed how she triggers weird responses not only from the political right, but to some extent also from the political left.

The latter are not nasty jabs at her or attempts to find a mote in her eye and then call it a beam (3), but almost the reverse:  They reflect a desire to see her as the lone savior, the new hope for the country,  the heroine who will all alone fix a broken political system.

Some lefties saw Barack Obama in that manner before he was first elected.  Even then I doubted the wisdom of putting all one's political eggs in one basket, especially as that basket was carried by one single human being.  What I feared was the chance that when someone is elevated in such a manner, the first misstep that person makes will cause the pendulum to swing to the other extreme.  And all humans make missteps.

Now, I like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She is smart, media-savvy, and assertive.

But she is also still inexperienced, and she will make mistakes.  We should expect some mistakes, because they are part of how we learn.  Those who elevate some politicians to demigod status will, however, have great difficulty coping with any newbie errors she might make.  The incentives, then, are to deny that the mistakes even happened.

And that's a understandable reaction, given what the political right will do with them.  But still.  It's not a good idea to hand over our political salvation to any one person.

All this reminded me of the late and great fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett.  In several of his Discworld books he has his characters talk about justice.  In Reaper Man, Death (an anthropomorphic death, a skeleton in a black cloak) says this:
There’s no justice. There’s just us.
Many interpretations of that statement are possible, but my own has always been this:

If we want justice we need to create it, Justice is not found in the bricks of the courthouse walls or in some separate god or demigod of justice.  Justice and injustice operate through the acts of us all. 

And so does political salvation.


(1)  These issues are listed here in time order, but they differ in their ultimate consequences.  Fairfax is accused of something criminal, sexual violence, and a second woman has come forward to accuse him of rape during their college years.

(2)  Mostly the Trickster is depicted as male, though there are also female Tricksters, among the Japanese kitsune, for example.

(3)  I plagiarize the Bible there to show how female politicians tend to be treated in the media.  A recent example is The Case Of Kirsten Gillibrand And The Chicken.