Sunday, February 19, 2017

8.0 Paint it Black

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There've been a lot of stories lately on the boost in popularity of dystopian fiction, in particular, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and It Can’t Happen Here, that’s coincided with the transfer to the new administration. I love dystopian stories. I’m writing one myself! They can be wickedly fun and frightening. What makes them fun is a faith that humanity is just a little too humane to allow society to ever devolve that far. What makes them frightening is our understanding that humanity always feels like it’s teetering on the brink of allowing it to happen. The fact that, historically, we have occasionally allowed it to happen, however, makes the idea of dystopia genuinely terrifying. If Europe under Nazi control wasn’t a dystopia, perhaps I have a poor understanding of the term.

If you heard Don Presidente’s inauguration speech—I did, albeit not live; I waited until I was off work and appropriately self-medicated—you’d think we already live in a dystopia.

...for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

This is actually optimistic when compared to his Convention speech.

Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life…

...Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.

Now, I’m not saying there’s absolutely no truth to behind his words, but all great lies require some truth to be believed. There’s no denying his vision of where America stands in this point in history is a dark, violent place. The irony of this is that it’s only what he’s done and said that makes it feel as if the country is slipping into dystopia.

While his dystopic speeches are little more than an over dramatization of what’s happening on the ground in tiny pockets of the country, it’s the administration’s attempts to delegitimize the media, to promote alternative facts as real facts, its pockets of admiration for, even coziness with, totalitarians and oligarchs that actually threaten to derail this country and set us on a path down that dark, dystopic spiral.

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Even the decision to add Alt-Right (aka White Supremacist) kingpin Steve Bannon to his National Security Council (NSC) while the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will only be invited to attend “when issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are being discussed” smells like burnt coffee. Considering this is the government body responsible for coordinating policy on national security issues and advising chief executives on matters related to protecting us all, how is including Bannon, while limiting the attendance of the other two players, supposed to make us feel secure?

It’s not. It’s a purely political move, one that George W. Bush avoided with Karl Rove,  Barack Obama avoided with David Axelrod, and every president in modern memory was able to avoid. This is akin to the elevation of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s infamous Minister of Propaganda. Why? Because it points to how important the administration imagines having a professional propagandist in the NSC. This means Don Presidente intends on setting policy based on and framed by Bannon’s White Supremacist ideas. That’s frightening.

The roll out of the executive order temporarily halting travel from seven predominantly muslim countries, and indefinitely from Syria, is a perfect example. Several reliable sources claim that, rather than vetting the order through Homeland Security, the State Department, etc., Bannon was the primary go to guy in developing this foolhardy policy. Sure, Rudy Giuliani was instrumental in having an order drafted that could avoid being labeled as a muslim ban, but the concept? That was all Bannon, all part of his America First strategy.

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Lest we forget, this is not the first time there was an America First movement in the U.S. The original America First Committee was formed in 1940, presumably as an attempt to avoid having the country dragged into World War II. Like the ban, it used homeland security as an excuse to prevent refugees from entering the country, particularly Jews. It’s no surprise that, years later, when reconstituting the idea of America First, Pat Buchanan praised the actions of the original organization.  It’s also no surprise that the man who finds a way to insert the name of that movement into his inauguration speech signs an order that mirrors, in many ways, what the original movement did in the 1940s.

And his supporters are thrilled! They fell for this black, dystopic view of America that’s been fed to them for years, so of course, they are just as ready to believe in the administration’s solutions. Until reality wakes them up, assuming it ever does, they will be perfectly happy to allow Ill Douche to rule by fiat, issuing executive orders at an alarming rate, despite the fact that Obama’s judicious use of them made him a tyrant. It begs the question: Are his supporters perfectly happy to trade democracy for national and economic security?

That’s precisely what Russia did. The rise of Putin had plenty to do with a desire within the country to rein in the power of the oligarchs who had been perfectly positioned to take advantage of Russia’s, then, new free market economy. Putin stepped in, in his now patented strongman style, and took care of it. The oligarchs could either support him or be bankrupted, jailed or both. Those who fell in line became part of the regime. Those who didn’t are either poor, incarcerated, or dead. So is free speech. Just recently, we’ve seen one Putin appointment hospitalized, in critical condition, poisoned for the second time in a year. Another, Alexei Navalny— an anti-corruption blogger considered to be Putin’s primary opponent in their upcoming election, was convicted of embezzlement. While Navalny was lucky enough to only receive a suspended sentence, he will likely be barred from running against Putin.

Fortunately, Don Presidente can’t use Putin’s playbook, easily. The Constitution offers us some protection for the media, so we won’t see the same government takeover of media outlets that Russia was able to institute, and the chances that we will see his allies buying up enough media outlets to make a difference are slim. I also doubt we will see the illegitimate jailing of his opponents. None of that is to say that there aren’t things Agent Orange can do. We may very well see legislation introduced to suppress the media, and we all already know how effectively Twitter can be used for character assassination. As leaks are another obvious problem for the administration, I wouldn’t be surprised to see journalists dragged into court and threatened with jail if they don’t reveal their sources. And of course, by directing his most ardent followers to use only “trusted” news sources, he’s trying to close off the information loop, so those still in his thrall will automatically dismiss everything outside of that loops as false, or propaganda. All of this points to some very dark days to come.

There have been rays of light. The travel ban has been stayed by the courts, for now. Every day seems to reveal more of Chump’s connection to Russia, whether the fact that the ongoing investigation has substantiated some of what was uncovered in the infamous Russian Dossier, or the resignation of National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, famous for being anti-muslim and espousing even some of the more obscure conspiracy theories out there, due to his lying about the content of his calls with Russian diplomats. While some Republicans seem open, few are eager to see this investigation through. Who can say what the Justice Department will do about any of this, especially now, with Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, III at the helm.

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While the country may be spared the dystopia that makes many of us lose sleep at night, one thing is undeniable. The administration itself is, irrefutably, its own dystopia. The chaos. The leaks. The lies. The everyone for themselves attitude. The casualties. The atmosphere in the White House is being compared to Game of Thrones. How sad would it be if the story of our country turned from American Dream to pure nightmare, not because we were being led by a mad tyrant, but simply because those running it are just too fucking inept. That’s terrifying!

The midterm elections in 2018 will prove incredibly important. It’s our last, best chance to check Ill Douche’s power by electing more voices of dissension. Unfortunately, voters on the left, the very voters who most oppose the administration and its misguided policies, have tended to avoid the polls during midterms. The best example of the effect of this lack of drive took place in Colorado, where after the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings, despite a majority of voters approving of new, common sense, gun laws, voters were able to recall two of the state senators that voted for the measures. Why? Because the people that actually made it to the polls on election day were the ones that were pissed off, because of NRA propaganda turning any gun safety law into an attack on the 2nd Amendment. The theory holds that pissed off voters are more likely to vote than contented ones.

Well, there’s little doubt that we have plenty of pissed off centrists, left leaning, and progressive voters, now. The question remains, however, can we be effective? Gerrymandering has made genuinely free and fair elections difficult, and the courts have yet to make a final determination on voter ID laws. I’m afraid, unless Don Presidente repels enough of his voters that were already on the fence about him, and unless we can coax voters that felt too disgusted, by either the candidates or the process, to even make it to the polls this past November, we won’t see many, if any, gains next year.

We can’t afford more losses, or a stalemate. It’s clear that elected Republicans are more than willing to put power before country. They will continue to appease him, as long as they believe he will sign off on their agenda and make their bills laws. Rumor has it that they are happy to get along with little complaint, but that they expect that he will eventually fuck up so badly that he will be forced to resign or face impeachment. Chump is seen as little more than a seat warmer for Mike Pence, until he’s no longer politically viable. Perhaps they forget Chump’s been counted out, before.

As it stands, we don’t have enough influence in office, and while you get the occasional Republican speaking out on Chump’s foibles, there are never enough of them, at any given time, to mean anything substantial will happen.

I would love to tell you that we’re not slowly slipping into dystopia. I’d love for my piece of fiction to be the closest the world will ever get. But the odds do seem to be against us as we see Putin’s strategy of inserting himself into the elections of other countries being adopted throughout Europe. We have seen the rise of right wing movements throughout the world, and where his influence has failed, we have seen war. We will know, soon enough, how the Putin Strategy works in France and Germany.

Like Putin, Chump is more eager to be a ruler than a leader. We will know soon enough if he can manage to be either. Regardless, he will continue to push forth his dark vision of the country, while his policies will create the real nightmares, and the sheer ineptitude of his administration will continue creating epic chaos. While Chump keeps painting everything black, it’s up to us to protect a brighter future. One way we can do that is to not succumb to the darkness, perceived or real. If we can accomplish that, we can then begin to be the light we want to see in world.