I was born with 2 giant sweet teeth sticking out of my head. I have such life long sugar addiction that for the past 2 months, I have been on a strict sugar blackout. Not a bit of sweetmeat has entered my system. Thus was my state when I went to see a new ballet called “Whipped Cream”, involving a decadent Viennese pastry shop, dancing sweets, and a revolution by the lower pastry orders.
The original Whipped Cream ballet was called “Schlagobers”, and was a resounding failure at its June 1924 premiere. According to Wayne Heisler, the author of “The Ballet Collaborations of Richard Strauss”:
“Vienna was in a time of economic crisis, and the ballet cost a fortune and was seen as frivolous”. “The score is, in some ways, a great one, Strauss’s masterpiece of high and low art. It’s really honest in that the spectacular aspect of it is not framed as high art or something transcendent.”
The whimsical story follows a boy with an over active sweet tooth who, following his first communion, joins his friends at a sweetshop, eats too much whipped cream (who here hasn’t stood by the refrigerator door squirting Reddi-Whip into our moths?), falls ill, and has a grand adventure in a land of sweets, not unlike The Nutcracker.
So, this Republican presidency is shaping up to be like a 7-year-old boy’s vision of what he would do if he was president. He will be a spaceman and a cowboy and the president, and also he will be Hitler, because the 7-year-old boy is damaged. And! He will still be in the reality TV business because somehow he will have time to fit that in between playing on Twitter and going HAHA DUNNO, MAYBE HE’S MAGIC.
Gertrude of Nivelles depicted with rats, circa 1530.
I was bagging on St Patrick’s Day, like I do, when an Irish Twitter pal clued me into a cat connection. You might think of March 17 as St. Patrick’s Day – when we are all supposed to wear hideous Kelly green, eat raw potatoes with the skin on, guzzle Guinness at 8AM, and make stereotypical and demeaning assumptions about an entire nation, and insulting people women by asking if they have any Irish in them. What you DON’T KNOW, is that March 17th is also the feast day of a lesser-known saint: Gertrude of Nivelles, (unofficial), patron saint of cats.
SO, for cat lovers, airline travelers, insane people, and common gardeners, today, March 17 should be a day of revelry and celebration.
Gertrude became known as the patron saint of gardeners, travelers, widows, recently deceased people, the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, and travelers in search of lodging. But as the centuries wore on, she also became associated with rats. Gertrude was known to pray for the souls of those in Purgatory, and medieval artists often portrayed those souls as mice or rats. She also prayed for the rats that were overrunning the world at the time, to go away, and they did. Because of the great rat exodus, people referred to Gertrude as the patroness of cat lovers. So, yeah, people call upon Gertrude for protection from mice and rats, fever, insanity, and mental illness.
Stephen Miller – apparently the illegitimate love child of Hannibal Lecter and Daryl Issa – is President 45’s newest pick to be a senior adviser in the White House.
Stephen parlayed his experiences as a conservative activist at Duke – where he palled around with white nationalist leader Richard Spencer – into a job on Capitol Hill, as one will do. He worked for 2 batshit crazies: former Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, and then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, where Miller quickly became associated with the hardline anti-immigration, anti-globalist views that characterize a main theme of the Trump campaign. Stephen Miller has long ties to prominent white nationalist, the very punchable Richard Spencer, who sees him as an ally of the movement. Miller has allegedly denounced multiculturalism and expressed concerns that immigrants from non-European countries were not assimilating. Stephen Miller played a key role in drafting and rolling out Trump’s immigration executive order that unleashed global chaos.
Some quotes from some of Stephen Miller’s college paper via Slate.
On feminism and closing the pay gap:
“What feminists don’t realize is that bosses simply want to run a successful business. They will reward and promote whichever employees are doing the best job. If John sells more than Jill, he gets promoted; if Jill sells more than John, she gets promoted. That is the simple beauty of the free market.” (“Sorry Feminists,” Nov. 22, 2005)
“It’s vital to keep in mind what it would actually mean for women if we were to close the pay gap. For many, it would mean giving up a noble career in social working or putting in 50- and 60-hour work weeks and not being able to spend time with the family. It would mean trading in jobs like housekeeping for night shifts doing road repairs; it would mean giving up the joy of being home during your child’s first years of life.” (Ibid)
After making the rounds on the Sunday shows (he needs a teleprompter for interviews), last week, Stephen was ruthlessly mocked on Twitter. He is the latest in a long line of the Trump White House’s Misfit Toys. Stephen was a conservative in liberal Santa Monica growing up – never got to be cool, fun, or happy so now he’s just a dour nerd trying to throw elbows with fascist power behind him. He’ll get his revenge on all the kids who made fun of him now! Just you watch. He’ll show us all.
Every morning when my eyes slam open to the world, I think, “well yesterday was the nadir, and I can’t possibly feel any more helpless, hopeless or angry.” Every day I am proven wrong.
Let’s recap what, in 2 weeks of “45”‘s reign, we have learned:
1) 45 rules by alternative facts
2) His first thought upon waking up in the White House was not “How can I help the American People?” but “How can I stop those who dare publish the truth about the crowds at the inauguration?”
3) “45” governs by asking first “how will this make me look good?”
4) “45” is obsessed with his popularity, or, lack thereof
5) In foreign relations, we are a laughing stock in Mexico, and have ceded power to the Chinese in Asia.
6) Republicans no longer care about deficits, executive power, Benhgazi, private email servers, the Constitution, or democracy now that they’re control.
7) Republicans still care about putting the heavy boot on the necks of government on brown people, women, and anyone who cares the truth now that they are in power.
8) Steve Bannon, a Nazi, has been appointed to a permanent position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Meanwhile, 45’s daughter and son-in-law continue to be Jewish.
9) We are hearing a lot of braying about Voter Fraud but now know that 45’s daughter and idiot son-in-law have committed voter fraud, and apparently, according to 45, didn’t vote even vote for him.
10) Most major news organizations have to start each morning with “This is what the president said yesterday, and here are all the lies he told when he said it.”
11) After instructing Justice Dept lawyers not to defend 45’s Muslim ban in court, our only Attorney General was told, “you’re fired” by 45 and now we have no AG (side note: Yates was one of the senior officials who warned Comey that his Oct. letter would violate Justice Dept’s standard operating procedure).
11) We learned that 45 may not be dying of Dysentery or Diabetes or sniffles like a common Hillary, but he is dying of fear of staircases.
12) George W. Bush is starting to look like a passably capable president, and Dick Cheney like only a semi-anti-democratic center of evil.
What I lay awake at night worrying about is that we will wake up in 2 to 4 to 8 years and find out that Opposition tried and failed to do anything about the catastrophe unfolding all around us, and then realize the failure was – in some significant way – self-inflicted. A lot of my time has been spent thinking about effective ways in which to fight back against a president who despite all his grotesqueries, is a master of populism.
The populist recipe is pretty simple: it stands on the narrative of the wounded little guy who lives an ordinary life vs the bad rich guys with all the influence and who gobble up the lion’s share of the pie. It plays to people’s bitterness with what life has to offer – which is somehow never enough – and assigns blame for it: the “bad guys” are “minorities”, “illegals”, “politicians”, “wall street bankers”, whatever.
Bad guys are cartoons: vermin, thugs, evil masterminds, banksters, liberal latte guzzlers, deluded millennials, nasty women, you name it.
There’s a savior – their ONLY HOPE. Tell the wounded guy that you know how they feel. Rant and rave at them. Forget about policy and plans, just enrapture them with a story – one that starts in anger and ends in vengeance that they can actively participate in. POTUS 45 is a draft dodger who doesn’t even to know what the nuclear triad is, yet his demagogic skills put him in the perfect position to exploit the national neurosis created by the war on terror. By being brazen enough to openly advocate torture — to inflict pain for its own sake —45 was tapping into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been programmed to fear since 9/11) Ignite their worst passions and create a megalomaniacal and sectarian fervor, and suddenly they are not interested in the improvement of society as an ideal, but the erection of a structure of power which occupies all social spaces and destroys all existing institutions and social structures in the name of some lofty utopian apocalyptic ideal which naturally destroys the society, root and branch.
This is how it how it becomes a “movement”. A “revolution”. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Though full of hatred, it promises redemption.
Populism can’t cure your suffering, but what it can do is build a satisfying narrative around it. A fictionalized account of your misery. A promise to make sense of your hurt. It is them. It has always been THEM. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The complicated problem is now made simple. The problem is us.
5 Simple Rules to Populism:
- Remember who the enemy is.
Populism cannot survive without polarization. It works through caricature, and the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy.
You are the enemy. Yes, you, with the Intelligentsia latte. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon monster, as a scapegoat. “But facts!”, you’ll sputter, missing the point entirely. What makes YOU the enemy? It’s simple: if you’re not among the victims, you’re among the culprits. In your case, you’re that modern bogeyman: the liberal urbanite who thinks all cultures and religions are valid and equal, and who laughs at and condescends to them. You are ‘a citizen of nowhere’ whose utopia is a world-wide kumbaya with artisanal kale and no church.
It’s asinine and offensive, because you do care. But as long as we don´t recognize the problem is not “the message”, but the messenger, we are wasting our time. Our focus has to be on erasing the cartoon you’ve been drawn into. Scrambling it. Undermining it.
2. Remember it’s the Messenger, not the Message.
In their own fashion, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were both populists protesting inequalities and the corruption of public life without really going so far as to call the entire system into question (Sanders may have spoken of “revolution,” but he still chose to run for president within the two-party system.) Trump’s vicious hostility toward Mexicans, women and Muslims is reprehensible beyond belief . But every major “populist” insurgency is in some ways a warning about serious problems festering in our civil polity. To simply blame the messenger is an exercise in denial. The “populist” whose politics you abhor is always a demagogue disguised as a hero of the masses.
3. Dial down the contempt.
This is a really tough one for me. I think I was weaned on contempt. Even when I don’t feel contemptuous, my crooked eyebrows and permanently turned down mouth belie me. But our organizing principle should be simple: don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. It is really difficult for me to stop going on about how stupid it all is. That’s been my mantra my entire life. Not only to my likeminded friends, but to the Republican electoral base itself. “You voted for that guy? Are you nuts? You must be stupid and nuts.”
My own political awakening was set off back in the early oughts, by the tectonic realization that Dick Cheney and those jackals however evil, were not actually all that stupid.
The subtext was clear: they’ll destroy the country! They’re blatantly lying, they’re sadists who love torture. They’re clearly not smart! They’re also destroying the economy. They clearly have no respect for democracy! For the intelligentsia- you and I – who are enlightened and know how to produce things and do business, we know this, read about this, thought about this. In history, economics, in diplomacy…. Now, learn this word: fascism.
The populist says, “Don’t listen to them”. “Stop letting them do the thinking for you, schooling and fooling you. The only true fact is that the enemies are few and that they lie. Let’s show them they are the ones who are stupid and wrong. Turn off the TV, Listen to me.” AND, We’ve just lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, we ’ve played into it.
- Remember that outrage is not a strategy.
The people on the other side, and crucially, Independents, will rebel against us if we look like we’re losing our goddamn minds. Worse, we’ll have proven ourselves to be the very thing we’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy. And have given the Populist and his followers enough rhetorical fuel to justifiably call us spoiled, unpatriotic saboteurs. Non-democratic channels are counter-productive: you lower your message, and give the Populist rhetorical fuel.
I am trying really hard to stop showing contempt for the wounds of those that brought Trump to power; and to be patient with democracy.
- Understand your counter-argument.
I struggle relentlessly – every minute of every day to free myself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of me. We have to stop trying to prove that our ism is better than their ism. Because, again, the problem is not the message but the messenger. It may not actually be that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it might be that we simply are much more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot. The problem is tribal, right? Our challenge is to prove that we belong in the same tribe as them: we are American in exactly the same way they are.
American party politics has become so polarized and tribal party identification intense, that a GOP national candidate is virtually guaranteed a reliable 40% floor at the polls. That 40% will vote for the Republican on the ballot regardless of whether the candidate has two horns and a tail; considerations as to whether the system will save them from their choice does not enter their heads.
And to not fall into the abstraction trap, a trap I could have built I abuse it so regularly. We can write over and over about morality, principles, the separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But how do we break the tribal divide, come down off the tweets and the op eds and show them we are real? And no, this is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing our standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber.
It’s way easier to get this wrong than to get this right, and maybe the people getting it wrong will drown out those getting it right. But we really do want to be part of the solution. Recognize WE are the enemy they need.
5. Consider rebranding “resistance”
People have been using the “it’s not normal” thing since 45 was elected. So, when we recast the fundamental building blocks of civic engagement not as “normal”, or as essential tools of public engagement by citizens, but as acts of resistance that we deploy only against extraordinary threats to our system, we risk having those acts tagged as “crazy” rather than normal reactions to attacks on our democracy. Meeting our basic civic obligations as citizens is not the same thing as revolutionary action. These are all things we should have been doing in the first place. We don’t want the basic functions of our political system to be recast as partisan and radical, rather than as fundamental and routine.
The unforgivable truth is that we are where we are because too many of us abdicated our civic responsibilities and let the politicians do what they want. Now they have perverted the Constitution and enacted walls of protection that make it almost impossible to throw the bums out of office, or even cause them to be uncomfortable. Democracy has long been atrophying in plain sight. The collapse of civic responsibility by the non voters heralded the symptoms of illness in social consciousness and government responsiveness. This was the initial proof that many in the voting age public believed their influence was so negligible that they would not give a vote the time of day.