Saturday, 3 December 2016

City on the Edge of No Tomorrows - Umberto Tosi

The election debacle has me flashing on 1968 when it seemed to this old lefty - as it does today - that the stars were arrayed against our every hope for that better world we had thought briefly within our grasp. Part of it has to do with my preparing to release a new, print edition of Our Own Kind, a semiautobiographical novella about black-and-white relationships at a newspaper during the catastrophic three months between the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles - a story that I tried to let unfold along nexus of private lives and public calamities while skirting the edges of America's ever-present racial divide.

And here we are again. Fast forward 48 years to another American presidential election year ending badly. This one started out almost as a comedy. But the potential for calamity is worse - quite conceivably an end of the republic as we know it. Nearly every measure Trump and his corporate Republican cronies are salivating to enact will have terrible personal consequences for tens of millions of Americans, particularly middle class and poor, living in urban centers, where most of the population resides. This is not to mention mass roundups, detentions, and deportation Trump & Co. promise to gleeful xenophobes and those who will profit grandly from such enterprises. And he didn't even win, not in any decisive confirming sense. November 8 looks more and more like a coup than an election. Let the fascist occupation begin.

The Vichy media's talking heads and well-meaning liberals babble interminably how resentful. underemployed white males in the rust belt states voted and overlook the multiracial American majority coalition of male and female working poor, middle class and millennial voters who soundly rejected Trump at the ballot box. The media's back-to-normal buzz ignores the rampant coast-to-coast apprehension, disgust, and loathing coast-to-coast at this electoral travesty and Trump's menacing first steps in Washington. Serious secession movements are underway already in Oregon, Washington, and California, the nation's richest and most populous state by far. Families ponder emergency alternatives. Community-minded churches prepare for the ugly fallout.

Those spontaneous, massive post-election demonstrations in our cities were but a prelude. The first act opens with an Inauguration-Day "million-woman march" on Washington January 20th, but don't count on pundits to take it seriously. Trump meanwhile is derelict in his presidential duty to reassure and reunite the populace instead of throwing more red meat to his white nationalist base. His satraps threaten draconian repression of dissent and are seemingly eager to engage in thinly disguised ethnic cleansing and repression. You don't have to be a writer to smell the arrogance and greed already emanating from Donald Trump's new and expanded Washington swamp.

The corporate hacks and right-wing fanatics who run Congress and helped enthrone Trump can't wait to destroy what's left of the social safety net in order to fund their giveaways to the rich.

No wonder. American's aren't stupid. Most of us, like the outgoing president whom we actually elected twice by large majorities, value integrity, hard work, diversity, knowledge, compassion and have been too damned fair and nice to the people who obviously wish us ill. We've been punked. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed out recently, "Republicans do not have majority support in this country. The majority of voters supported Democratic senators over Republican ones. The majority of voters supported the Democratic candidate for president over the Republican one. ... They don't have a mandate," she declared.

It's not like after your team loses a football game. The threats of an unchecked Trump administration are life-changing and pervasive, a poisonous brew of America's worst social Darwinist, racist, misogynist, anti-intellectual, reckless, militaristic ideas.

Normalizing news media, demagoguery, and empty promises be damned, it's hard to believe that half the country will just line up and drink Trump's Kool-Aid in the coming, uncompromising four years. It's a perfect storm. The Trump coalition of deplorable billionaires, flimflam televangelists, corporate stooges, and white nationalists has made no secret of its intention to destroy every progressive gain of the past century, not just those under Obama. It's a corporate lobbyist's wet dream. Trump's friends can steal all they want, while granting the wishes of those hostile to minority and women's rights, gay rights, environmental safeguards, science, public education, child care, immigration, first- and fourteenth-amendment freedoms, renewable energy, net neutrality, food-and-drug regulations, public health and safety protections, banking regulations, prison and police reforms, every form of public investment except, of course, corporate giveaways. Forget freedom of the press. Flexing muscles, top Trump aide Corey Lewandowski has already threatened jailing New York Times editor Dean Baquet for publishing part of Trump's 1995 tax return during the presidential campaign.

Already they chomp at their silver spoons to kill every federal health care and medical assistance program in sight, mindlessly throwing millions to the dogs of "free market" providers. They're ready to repeal Obamacare, gut Medicare and Medicaid and replace them with harebrained partial "tax vouchers". Millions of families will suffer, including thousands of Trump voters in eastern Kentucky suddenly worried about losing their ACA coverage. I worry about one of my daughters who cannot afford to be bumped from Obamacare-protected health coverage because of a previous condition that calls for costly, probably overpriced medication she critically needs. I am concerned about a grandson with a neurological disability whose medical benefits Trump and the Republicans can't wait to slash to pay for their planned corporate and billionaire-benefiting boondoggles.

Nixon, Ulysses Grant and Warren G. Harding will be regarded as boy scouts compared to Trump, who is hip deep in conflicts of interest weeks before even taking office. It was no secret to everyone in his home state of California that Richard M. Nixon - the 1968 "change candidate" - was a duplicitous scoundrel. But he was a statesman and savant compared to Trump. Today's Republicans wouldn't even have nominated him. Tricky Dick may have been neurotic, sleazy and vindictive, but  he was not unhinged. He was calculating, but not impulsive. Plus, a Democratic-controlled Congress and a liberal Supreme Court were there to hold him in check through much of his administration. Trump and his cabinet of cronies, however, start with complete control of Congress, thanks to Byzantine gerrymandering that allows them to win seats without having to win more votes than their opponents.

Nixon ticker-tape parade, Chicago Loop, 1968
Nixon won the popular vote in both of his elections. On the other hand, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.5 million nationwide and counting as of this writing.  Nixon tried the Watergate break-in. Trump did him better. He got help from the FBI and Vladimir Putin's FSB hackers. He'll annex the White House to Trump Tower courtesy of Electoral College, an archaic institution long overdue for repeal, conceived when the U.S. Constitution sanctioned slavery and allowed only propertied white men to vote.

The Electoral College system makes hacking a US election relatively easy for super-sophisticated operatives like, say, those working for the FSB. They don't have to rig votes across America's hugely complex electoral landscape. All they would have to do is inflate the vote-counts from a handful of Trump-leaning key precincts just enough to gain an edge in a half dozen swing states to tip the Electoral College Trump's way.

Forget all the post-electoral political hand-wringing. We've got more basic problems. The US Constitution, for all its glorious history, enumerated rights, checks-and-balances, and federalism, has become dysfunctional. The whole system needs a 21st-century upgrade, starting with abolition of the Electoral College. The redoubtable Constitution - as applied now - favors oligarchy and discourages even the most gradual progressive change. Its anachronisms promote racial, sexual, political and economic inequality while stifling popular participation.

It gives white voters in sparsely populated rural states disproportionate electoral power over far-more-numerous citizens of the multi-ethnic metropolitan centers that produce most of the nation's wealth. The system gives corporations more rights than people. Unlike the constitutions of progressive states like California, officials in Washington can wheel and deal freely without fear of public initiatives, referendums, and recalls.

Yes, reform seems remote right now, but so, we can imagine, did women's suffrage a hundred and twenty years ago when only men voted. So did the 1964 Civil Rights Act when Rosa Parks got on that Montgomery Alabama bus. So it seemed in the 1960s when inner cities were in revolt, fires burned, the Vietnam war seemed unending, blood ran in the streets. It was two steps forward, one step back then, as now, maybe two.

How foolish of Democrats (progressive and centrist alike) merely to call out the pro-Trump forces for their extreme policies and rabble-rousing racism during the campaign, without seeing the inexorable, dark-money-funded putsch moving just under the surface. Trump crying "rigged election" should have tipped them off that he was a ring master diverting attention from the real fixers. You have to hand it to him. He knows how to distract our hollowed-out pusillanimous news media.

Criticism be damned, a Harry Truman or a Teddy Roosevelt would have fired Republican FBI Director James Comey summarily last July when he first put his thumb on the electoral scale - illegally - with that gratuitous memo attacking Hillary Clinton personally as an addendum to his official report that the FBI had found nothing to prosecute in a year of investigating her emails. Obama should have known that Comey would not stop there. And why did the FBI downplay links between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin's U.S. election hackers?

This feels like the end of an abusive marriage when divorce seems the only civilized alternative. Barack Obama - with his hopeful message of white-state-blue-state, black-white American unity - tried to be America's marriage counselor. Obama's terms ends with dignity, but with little hope of the conciliatory dream coming true. He leaves as one of America's most beloved presidents while Trump enters, seemingly oblivious to being so far its most reviled. He offers no quarter, arrogantly assuming a popular mandate he never won, dismissive of compromise. His entourage of cronies, cranks and haters seem fiendishly intent on opening the treasury to mega-corporations while riding roughshod over everyone else.

Red-state Republicans wanted no part of Obama's "one America" and did their best to sabotage it for eight years. Texas talked secession. I thought to myself, fine. There's the door. This isn't 1860. Texas secession could be a win-win. Millions on both coasts and here in Chicago seem to feel the same way after this foul-smelling election. They want no part of Trumpism and what he plans to shove down their throats. The hashtags are flying: #NotMyPresident, #Resist, #CalExit. Marchers march and a national opposition movement that - in the words of Michael Moore - "will dwarf Occupy Wall Street" unless Trump pivots towards national reconciliation and/or hell freezes over.

No more kumbaya. The Czechs said goodbye to Slovenia for the better of both. The Soviet republics went their separate ways in 1991 to the benefit of all. If Scotland can choose to exit a post-Brexit UK, then why not Blue from Red-state America? Why not a create a Republic of Pacifica? A Canadian-style Commonwealth of New England? A sovereign Chicagoland? An autonomous Land of Enchantment down Santa Fe way?

It's a good bet that we'll get along much better as exes than we have as irreconcilable spouses. It doesn't have to be a nasty divorce. A productive Commonwealth or confederation would be feasible after the dust settled. But at this moment, forced cohabitation under Trump's pussy-grabbing thumb starts to feel like rape. Just call it "states rights" on steroids. It's what the banana Republicans have always wanted.

As in 1968, the center has not held. Maybe it was an illusion all along.

It would seem that no good can come of this, but no one can predict the course of events once Trump does his worst. One thing seems certain, however. These are times when writers and artists double down, make their voices heard and their visions clear while they still can do so.

When all that we have known fails us, we are compelled to seek what is new and as yet inconceivable. We shall overcome, but only by rejecting, refusing and resisting the miasma of total Trumpism, each in our own most effective way. The only path is forward, leading by example and courage, undaunted by bullying and vapid Tweets.

We humans can be terrible bastards, but we also are, by nature, the species that imagines and creates as it breathes, a species capable of passion and moral resolve, makers of worlds. Anyway, what choice is there? The hijackers of American democracy offer no viable future, not even for themselves. Their parasitic agenda is unsustainable. Let us not go gently into their dark night.
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Umberto Tosi is the author of Ophelia RisingMilagro on 34th Street and Our Own KindHis short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. He was contributing writer to Forbes ASAP, covering the Silicon Valley tech industry, during the 1990s an oughts. He has been editor of San Francisco magazine and California Business, and has written extensively for major metropolitan newspapers, magazines online and in print. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to several of its anthologies. He resides in Chicago with his partner, noted visual artist Eleanor Spiess-Ferris.


6 comments:

Marsha Coupé said...

"When all that we have known fails us, we are compelled to seek what is new and as yet inconceivable." Prescient as always, my brilliant friend. You hit exactly the right note between optimism and the brutal knife of reality.

Enid Richemont said...

Read this guy's 'speech' to Pakistan - it came across like something written by a not-very-bright twelve year old who was really trying to impress, but had no idea what he was on about. I have nothing at all against not-very-bright twelve year olds, but wouldn't dream of giving them serious responsibility - that's for grown-ups. And as for putting the nuclear button within their reach? That's total madness.

One day he'll write a self-help manual about this, with a message that runs something like:"If someone like me can win the highest post in the land, then so can you."

Alicia Sammons said...

Absolutely, let us not go gently into their dark night! Trump is a bully;and at their core, all bullies are fearful. Trump is in the echo chamber of his base---touring the country to bolster his ego via his post-election rallies. But his sycophantic crowds are not the country...and we have only began to roar!

dipika said...

Thinkers like you give me hope...great post.

Umberto Tosi said...

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Dipika, Alicia, Enid and Marsha. Happy holidays!

Fran B said...

Thanks for that, Umberto. I stuck with it right to that end and was glad I did. Insightful but depressingly worrying. This is a dark moment in world history indeed. Let's all pray hard!