No Thanks

banana republic

Two days ago, on a Sunday morning, I downloaded a PDF of the full Mueller report.  I plan to read it, in dribs and drabs, as my busy schedule permits, in its totality, because I feel it’s my patriotic duty to do so.

After downloading the thing, I did what many middle-class dudes do on a beautiful Sunday when it’s been a couple of weeks or so since the mower’s been out of the garage.  I rolled the beast out, filled its belly with high octane gasoline, and yanked the start cord.  The things spurted, then roared.  I commenced pushing it all around my yard.  The sweat rolled down my cheeks as countless blades met their gruesome ends.  In an hour or so, the grass had been decapitated and I was done.  Done.  Done.  Done.

I went inside, stripped down to my birthday suit, and climbed into the shower.  The hot water felt good and I started thinking about politics.  For one to ponder politics while he is soaping his naked body up after a dirty job is likely a sign that said person needs to get a life.  Certainly there are many other more pleasant things to think about.  But my mind delves—nearly of its own accord without my permission–into the political nearly every chance it gets.  I think I’m so into politics because I spent a large portion of my early life dirt poor, raised by a mom who didn’t have a husband or an education.  To say that things were tight during my childhood is like saying Donald Trump is a bit obnoxious.  Those early experiences taught me, in the most visceral way possible, that the poor and powerless get screwed in a million different ways and that it’s the rich and powerful that do the screwing.  It should not surprise a single reader to hear me say that the disempowered frequently become the disenchanted.

Thus, politics, to me, is personal.  I can’t claim ownership of that statement.  In fact, I ripped it off from Mayor Pete, now on the campaign trail along with half the Democratic powerbrokers that reside in this land of the fruited plain with so much purple mountain majesty.  I heard him say it recently, perhaps when he was being interviewed by Rachel Maddow?  I liked it so much I decided to commit plagiarism and stick it in this little ditty.

What came to me this past Sunday (when I was in the shower) is the thought that I don’t want America to become Trumpistan.  I’ve lived in Trumpistans before, and I saw how such places work.  Actually, they don’t work.  They stagger along like zombie nations—not dead, not alive, but certainly rotting.  Though we still claim to be the good ole United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, we are slowly being corrupted by a corrupting influence.  We don’t want to live in a place where the leader is above the law.  We don’t want to live in a place where racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and such become acceptable.  We don’t want to live in a place where there’s one system of justice for those with clout and another for those without.  We don’t want to live in a place where nationalism and patriotism are conflated.  We don’t want to live in a place where America gives the middle finger to its international allies and trashes long-standing partnerships.  We don’t want to live in a place that closely resembles a theocracy.  We don’t want to live in a place that devalues education and educators and poo-poos the idea that climate change is real and a threat to our very existence.

That’s why I’m going to read the Mueller report and advise everyone else to do the same.  If we don’t learn as much as we can about the sickness that’s infected our body politic, this place we all claim to love might cease to be the sort of place we can be proud of.

 

December 18, 2018

fist

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Twitter recently.  The direction of my thinking on this social media platform is mostly aimed at trying to determine if it’s something I want to continue using.  (As I write this, I haven’t tweeted a thing for weeks on either of the two Twitter accounts I’ve created.)

Though I haven’t come to any real firm conclusions yet, I’m beginning to feel more and more comfortable not tweeting.  In the beginning, when I first stopped, I felt like I’d gone cold turkey and was inches away from clenching up and breaking out in a cold sweat.  Then the days began to pass and it seemed like I was beating the beast’s hold on me.  I could clearly feel its grip lessening day by day.  As I write this, I have almost no urge to read what others have posted on Twitter, and I have zero desire to tweet.

I guess, looking back, I had seemingly fallen into what I’m more and more seeing as a self-destructive pattern of behavior.  Because I am such a political person, I was mostly tweeting political things.  (By the way, if you were to ask me today why I’m so politically inclined, I’d answer that I studied political philosophy in college—as an undergrad—and then moved on to other things in grad school, but that I’m still obsessed with politics because it is one very important way humans expressive themselves collectively, and there is nothing more fascinating than human expression.)

So I am very progressive and I was using Twitter to declare my version of Holy War on regressives.  (I won’t refer to them as “conservatives” because they aren’t trying to conserve anything.)  In fact, they want to take us back to a time when WASPs effectively owned the country because they suffer from a kind of white angst.  Of course, there’s great irony in the fact that political regressives feel this way since they think America suffers from what they call a “culture of entitlement,” meaning that too many feel like government owes them something.  At the same time, they want the rest of us to unquestioningly recognize their preeminence and to behave appropriately subservient.  If that isn’t acting privileged and entitled, then I don’t know what is.

Back when I was still tweeting about politics, I had a few favored individuals I liked to seek out and clash with on a daily basis.  I began to realize, though, that these Twitter wars weren’t helping me to feel better or victorious or good about myself and what I was becoming.  In fact, the more I engaged in these skirmishes, the more spite and anger I experienced.  A kind of red-face rage began to fill me, and I started feeling disgust with both those I was tweeting against as well as myself.  Despite the fact that I often “won” these Twitter conflicts, I didn’t feel like a winner.  I felt hateful, mean, and petty.

I really feel so much calmer now that I’ve walked away from Twitter and have stopped tweeting nasty things to those I disagree with.  I like to think of myself as someone who eschews violence.  But there is more than one way to attack a person.  One can pick up a weapon and inflict physical pain, or one can login to one’s Twitter account and send out hurtful messages which leave ugly scars that are invisible to the naked eye.

The self-reflection I’ve been doing mirrors the self-reflection our nation will eventually have to engage in once it moves past this moment of anger and brutal tribalism.  We will have to come to terms with how we’ve treated our political opponents.  This reckoning is likely to be painful.  It is likely to be instructive as well.  Let’s hope our nation learns an important lesson from this difficult historical moment.

 

 

October 30, 2018

I lived in Egypt from 2008 to 2015.  That put me in the country during the 2011 Revolution.

After the Egyptians flexed their collective muscles, others, including the Americans, were inspired to follow suit.  (Everyone remembers the Occupy Wall Street movement, right?)  Activists squatted in Zuccotti Park just like the Cairenes had done in Tahrir Square.  Then the movement metastasized.

Eventually, though, the occupiers dispersed or underwent a metamorphosis.  (Energy of that sort never fully disappears.)

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square.  And I’ve gained some insights about what happened in those places.  For example, I’ve come to see revolution as a metaphor. It is a kind of human flowering that occurs even during a drought.  Actually it occurs because there’s a drought.  That makes it very ironic.

Revolution is an ending.  It is a beginning too.

It can also be seen as an expression of that which can’t be fully expressed.

October 25, 2018

pumpkin scary halloween

I’m scared.  It’s mid-October, but my fear has nothing to do with the ghouls and goblins that normally occupy the human imagination this time of year.

Trump, politics, and the upcoming midterm elections have me shaking in my boots.  If you’re not scared about what’s happening in these dis-United States of America, you ain’t paying attention.  Pull your head out and open your eyes and ears.  If you do, you’ll certainly see and hear the rambling and wildly irrational speeches of a demagogue with an impressive comb over.  He’ll likely be surrounded by a throng of red-hatted septuagenarians with angrily contorted faces and raised fists.  Many who make up such a mob will likely be frothing at the mouth and hurling insults at a variety of scapegoats.  Their Great Leader encourages their ire and expertly directs their hatred.  He plays them like a musical instrument, but the sound produced lacks all beauty.

These screaming cultists simply need to be given marching orders.  The moment he sets them loose on the rest of us is the moment of the lighting of the fuse.

Not long ago, seeing where things were going, I made sure I knew where my passport was located.  And because I’m married to a North African émigré who practices the religion of Islam, I very quietly and without causing alarm, put together a Plan B just in case Plan A—staying in America—became, suddenly, unworkable.

I’ve lived in countries where things rapidly unraveled because of politics.  What I see happening now, in this “first-world” country, reminds me a lot of what went down in the “third-world” nation-state of Egypt during the run up to the deposing of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

I know that might sound like hyperbole to many Americans who think IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE.  To those who feel this way I would say that IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING HERE.

For folks who are as concerned as I am and want to know what they should be doing to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse, I leave them with this fantastic piece—an oldie but a goodie—by the brilliant Timothy Snyder.

 

#NotMyPresident #TheResistance

points-of-light

I have this friend named B*** S******.  We got to know each other while we were both teaching at The American University in Cairo.  I returned to the US in 2015 and he did so a year later.

When I came back, I got a pretty lucrative education and training job with the Department of Defense as a private contractor.  I was hired to work with foreign military personal—both enlisted and officers.  I had students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritania, Togo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Georgia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Mongolia, South Korea, and Indonesia.  I might have left out a country or two, and I apologize if that’s the case.  Then, student enrollment declined, beginning in the springtime, and I got laid off exactly one year after hiring on, making me collateral damage which sounds a lot better than a bullet-riddled corpse that had been mutilated beyond all recognition.  It was the first layoff of my life and it came at the worst time imaginable.  In fact, it’s left me with ugly scars and something akin to PTSD.

B*** came back and got a job at a community college in some Podunk in the Midwest, an area sometimes called “flyover country,” and for good reason, because to land there puts one at risk of contracting a deadly form of ignorance, the sort that turns the brain to mush, making someone like Donald Trump look like a reasonable human being who might make a good president.

I might be giving my friend’s current place of abode away by saying it garnered national news a while back when the police arrested three scraggly, lily-white, neo-Nazi-looking guys who were in the midst of plotting to blow up a building inhabited by Somali refugees who had committed the heinous crime of leaving their troubled homeland to start life anew.  I’ll go back and look at the reports again, but I believe one Donald Trump, the fellow who froths at the mouth like a rabid skunk when you suggest he’s opened up Pandora’s Box of hate in the country, had been the rednecks’ primary inspiration.

To quote one of my favorite writers of the 20th century, a kinky headed dude named Kurt Vonnegut:  “And so it goes.”

B*** and I talk about politics on the phone from time to time.  During one of our pre-election conversations, I said, “There might be a silver lining to the election of DT if it happens.”

“What the hell would that be?” B*** asked incredulously.

“Well, in the short run, I agree it would be catastrophic, but in the longer term, it would likely be a powerful impetus to kick start a truly robust progressive movement the likes of which American has maybe never seen before.”

Do I see such a coming together of progressives happening now that we are living in the alternative universe known as Trump Reality?  Quick answer:  Hell yes.

The last time we talked—about two weeks after that very flawed presidential election—B*** was terrified.  (I could hear him quaking in his boots through the phone.)  His fear was that we were entering a phase where the fascist brutes, aligned with law enforcement, would just start rounding people up or mowing them down—whatever was most cost-effective and convenient.  I advised my buddy to get on Twitter and just have a look around at the pushback that was taking place against the Chief Nihilist of the US and his fascist minions.  If he did so, I exhorted him, he’d feel a lot better.

I have always felt that STEP ONE in the resistance of despotism can only come after millions of people have linked arms—this linking can start virtually, on places like Twitter—become comrades, and have declared a common goal.  This is happening as I write this.  If you’re feeling alone, hopeless, and isolated, reach out to others who are your political brothers and sisters.  Once you do this, you will begin to feel a part of something that is much bigger than yourself.  This will embolden and inspire you.  You’ll see that lots and lots of people have your back.

You will also discover resistance movements and find out about street protests and planned acts of resistance and civil disobedience.  Join one and become an activist.  Use your feet to move through the streets.  As your feet carry you along, your voices will rise up to say “No!”

My feeling is the fascists are really mostly bluster.  (It is no accident that the most obnoxious ones hide behind fake Twitter handles, afraid to show their true identities.)  Stand up to them.  Get in their faces.  And they will ultimately slink away.

My Recent Telephone Conversation with Mom about Trump and Trumpism

forest-trees-northwestisbest-exploress

My Egyptian wife and I left Cairo and moved to America in 2015 to escape political instability and the personal danger that comes with it.  And now, a little more than a year after arriving in what was supposed to be a sanctuary, we find ourselves in the same predicament, in a country that seems to be politically unraveling or exploding or just going to the fucking dogs.

This morning I had a long and heated telephone conversation with my mother, a septuagenarian who lives in a beet red part of a mostly backward southern state.  (By the way, calling a state both mostly backward and southern seems to be a tad redundant, don’t you think?)  The purpose of my call was to see if she’d read an editorial that had been published on DallasNews.com, the online version of the Dallas Morning News, a daily—one of those old-fashioned things composed of real ink that’s been printed on large sheets of paper—which is destined to eventually go the way of dinosaurs.  I’d emailed the article to her several days earlier and had introduced it by saying, “It has come to this in the US—that sober experts, people with real credentials, are actually writing and publishing this sort of stuff.”

By the way, I advise everyone to read the piece at the link and then follow the writer on Twitter @TimothyDSnyder.  Snyder is a well-known historian at Yale University who offers advice on what Americans can do to prevent totalitarianism from arising in the US.  The underlying premise of the piece is that such ugliness is on its way and that we all need to be planning how to resist it (or at least survive it).  If you do read the editorial, you might want to spend the next couple of evenings sleeping with all the lights on.  Otherwise, slumbering in the dark after such a reading might cause you to have really terrifying dreams.

My mother said, and I quote, the writer of that article, “has gone off the deep end.”  My mom is obviously one of those Americans (of a certain generation) who believe “It can’t happen here.”  Because Americans have grown up thinking the nation’s shit don’t stink, many of them can’t recognize seedling fascism/despotism/totalitarianism when it sprouts up right in front of their eyes.

American exceptionalism is something I’ve discussed with her before.  The idea is deeply ingrained in her that the nation is somehow protected by something resembling a force field.  This weird belief that the US is somehow “chosen” and special is a danger unto itself.  The more people who think this nation is immune from fascism and the like, the less likely they are going to be able to see danger and realize that the time to take appropriate action was yesterday.

My mom, it seems, is one of those who is trying to rationalize or normalize what’s happening.  For more on the dangers of doing so, listen to the podcast found at the link below.

https://megaphone.link/SM3064947354

Anyway, getting back to my conversation earlier today with my mother.  Toward the end of our exchange, she said, “I trust the American people to not allow anything like tyranny to happen.”

I asked her, “You mean you trust those same people who voted for a man who ridiculed a handicapped person, called Hispanics rapists and murders, talked about grabbing women by their pussies because his fame allows to get away with such, and has blurred the line between ordinary Muslims and terrorists?”

Of course, my query flummoxed her and thus she didn’t have an immediate comeback.  I then followed that question up with a declaration:  “Clearly, your faith in the American people seems to be a touch misguided.”

I do think there are good Americans out there and that many of them, like Professor Snyder, are bravely writing about what’s happening, making them something akin to heroes.  I’ll have more to say about such types of people in a future blog.

 

 

 

Forced Awakening

seeing-whats-there

I can’t believe I’m being dragged back into politics.  But that is exactly what’s happening.

In 2015 I quit visiting all the political websites that had held my interest for many years.  I stopped thinking about politics and discussing the topic with others.

2015 is also the year I left Egypt after living and working there for seven years.  During that time, I was very political, at least from 2008 to 2014.  In 2011, I witnessed the mass uprising against Hosni Mubarak and found myself swept away by the euphoria that followed his deposing.  Then, two years later, during the month of July, I watched in horror as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown in a military coup.  Some very scary characters referred to it as a “second revolution,” but the more apt term was “counterrevolution.”

The counterrevolution crushed my spirit but not because I was a Morsi fan.  I was devastated because I had seen how hard brave Egyptians had fought to free themselves.  And I saw the sacrifices they’d made.  Suddenly, though, they were right back at square one or even worse.  The only way I could survive such devastation was to numb myself.  So, I withdrew from politics and became apathetic, which takes me back to the point I was making about myself in the second paragraph.

I had a bit of a revival when Bernie Sanders decided to run for president.  The old political juices began to flow again.  From the moment he declared his candidacy, I felt the Bern.  Eventually, he built an incredible following and I began to see a glass that was half full.  Egypt had certainly lost its way but America, it seemed, was on the verge of finding its soul.

Then the Democratic Party machine decided that Hillary Clinton was somehow owed the nomination.  Bernie was treated unfairly and his supporters were pushed aside.  Many of us warned that Clinton was too compromised and therefore vulnerable.  Too few listened to those warnings.  Too many people were too certain about what they thought was a foregone conclusion.  There were many ominous signs for those with the ability to see and read them.  With Bernie out of the race and everyone saying Clinton was a shoo-in, I began to lose interest again.

But I never drifted entirely away.  That weird sense of foreboding I felt wouldn’t let me turn completely off.  The mood of the nation reinforced the sense of dread I felt.  It seemed all too possible that something catastrophic might happen.  And it did on November 8, 2016, a date that go down in infamy.

Now that the world as we’ve known it is in the process of vanishing, the old jump-up-on-a-soapbox Troy has reawakened.

I grew up during a period when Americans smugly believed that the nation and its people were somehow special—or exceptional.  They watched as other countries fell apart or came under the influence of evil powers but felt that such things could never happen in the greatest country the world had ever seen.  America would always remain the beacon.  It would always set the model for others to follow.

But just look where we find ourselves now.  Just look.  Look long and hard.  And while doing so, make sure not to turn your eyes away.  Don’t delude yourself into believing that what you see isn’t as bad as many are suggesting.

The truth is, it’s every bit as bad as people are saying.  We cannot know for sure how bad it may get, but it is already way beyond horrific.