Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ship of Fools

Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet
-- African proverb

Trump was going to defeat ISIS in the first 30 days.

He was going to “win” in Afghanistan – after all, he knew more than the generals who had studied war for their entire lives and who had been fighting in Afghanistan for more than a decade. He knew more than the State Department. He knew more than the history professors. He scoffed at the experts, the “elites,” because he knew more than they did. Remember?

He was going to "repeal and replace" Obamacare "on Day One." That’s what he promised. It seemed impossible, such a promise, but it would be easy, he said. He had a great plan. Great, Folks, you’ll see.

He was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. When critics questioned how that would work, how he could possibly make good on such a preposterous promise, they were shouted down.  And the press was vilified and penned into corrals far from the stage.

He was going to throw out all the illegal immigrants.

He was going to make a deal with North Korea and Iran and China and Russia and the world.

He was going to … do something. Yes, something. Something something gazpacho and make America great again.

The ignorant mouth breathers who make up his base ate it up, even though he was always short on details and long on rhetoric.

They actually believed him.

They actually believed Donald Trump – Donald Trump of all people – could somehow bring them some vague undefined victory in the Middle East. That he would somehow secure 10,000 miles of porous American borders and make a profit doing it. That he would give them great high-paying jobs complete with healthcare that didn’t require any effort or education or initiative on their part whatsoever while at the same time sticking it to everybody they considered lazy and unworthy and unfit to be an American. And somehow – somehow – he would cut taxes and reduce the size of government while at the very same time increasing spending by untold billions on some mightily “restored” military and he was going to eliminate the national debt through some magical new trade deal that he would personally work out with the rest of the world.

And he was going to power the whole damned thing with clean coal.

And they actually believed him.

They did.

But then these are the same drooling cross-eyed dipshits who think a billionaire New York real-estate developer who builds tacky casinos and swanky country clubs staffed by foreign workers, a Reality TV host whose shows are an hour-long fuck-fest of tits and ass and self-serving backstabbing narcissism portrayed by the personification of some backwoods West Virginia county fair demolition derby cheered on by drunken rednecks in cow shit spackled overalls, married to a string of vapid trophy wives, buoyed up incestuous nepotism, and surrounded by a scurrying host of toadies, sycophants, ass kissers, discredited fringe political hacks, cashiered generals, Wall Street crooks, war profiteers and foreign interests, a guy who has never shown the least charity or nobility or degree of compassion, a guy who daily craps in a golden toilet, yeah, that guy, is actually going to look out for their interests from his penthouse windows.

These are people who steadfastly refuse to face reality in any fashion while the seas rise and America falls.

These are people who think there are easy, cheap, simple sound-bite answers to the problems of civilization.

These are people who believe that you can end terrorism by bombing nations into rubble -- because for them, every problem can be solved with a punch in the face or a bullet in the guts.

These are people who think poverty, racism, and inequity can be solved by smugly telling poor people, "get a job, loser!"

These are people who actually think human migration can by stopped by a wall despite thousand of years of history that repeatedly and definitively proves exactly the opposite.


This morning, even the most stalwart Trump supporters are howling in outraged betrayal.

Reality is setting in, both for Trump and for them.

The Great Wall they were promised is just a renovation of what they already had, and they’re going to pay for it, not Mexico. Because building an actual giant wall across 2000 miles of Mexican border is not only impractical, it’s fiscally impossible – and it won’t work anyway.

Trump is now making noises that he’s maybe open to fixing Obamacare, single-payer in the form of Medicare for All is suddenly making progress in Congress, and the diehard Trump supporters are disappointed to the edge of tears.

Trump’s big MOAB of a plan to crush ISIS is a dud, and his plan for Afghanistan is, well, more of the same.

And now?

This morning he’s actually praising the Dreamers and saying he doesn’t want them kicked out of the country.

Former Trump supporters like Anne Coulter…


… are now shitting their collective colons inside out in white hot fury.


A year ago, those like Coulter thought Trump was “the only one making sense.”

Except he wasn’t.

He wasn’t making sense.

He never made sense.

At all.  Ever.

He never answered a single question. He never gave any details. There was never any plan of any substance whatsoever.

It was all just bombast and bluster, vague hand waving and impossible promises and I’d like to say than any fool could have seen it coming but that’s obviously not true. More than Sixty millions fools just like Anne Coulter couldn’t seem to see it. 


The simple truth of the matter is that there are no simple solutions.


There are no simple solutions and there never have been.

If you believed Trump’s promises, well, you’re a goddamned fool and you have nobody to blame but yourself.

You can't end terrorism.

Not in thirty days. Not in thirty years. Not ever.

War, conflict, terrorism, you can't end war and killing and destruction by more war, more conflict, more terror.

Wars to end all wars don’t. And never have.

You can't drop civilization on people from the belly of a B-52.

What’s that?

World War II?

We ended World War II by bombing the Nazis and the Japs out of existence?

Did we?

Did we really?

Or did the killing actually end when those nations were rebuilt over decades into new, peaceful, productive civilizations? When the things that precipitated that war, food, resources, rights, industrialization, inequality, trade, economy, were addressed and at least to some degree fixed.

I spent my entire adult life bent to the business of war. I’m a professional at it. So don’t roll your eyes and call me some silly liberal peacenik with flowers in my hair. I know all about war and I’m not at all a fool. I’m not saying that the war isn’t sometimes necessary, or that we don’t need rough men ready to do violence in the night on our behalf.

But war is a failure of civilization.

Afghanistan has been bombed to rubble over and over, but there still isn’t any peace there.

Africa has been bombed and blown up and raped and mauled and mangled and shot and pillaged and there still isn’t peace there.

No matter how many bombs, no matter how much death, no matter how many die, the war, conflict, terrorism does not end.

It does not end until there is something better.

It’s not the bombs that end the war and terrorism, it’s civilization.

You can't magically give everybody healthcare. You can't magically feed everybody. You can't magically end poverty, homelessness, racism, hate, disenfranchisement by waving your hand.

You can't do it by telling people to get jobs.

You can't do it by telling people to pull themselves up if there’s nowhere for them to pull themselves up to.

You can't do it by giving people things.

But you also can’t do it by not giving them things.

You can't end illegal immigration by arresting people.

You can't end illegal immigration by deporting people.

You can't end illegal immigration by imprisoning people.

You can't end illegal immigration by building a fucking wall, no matter how long or how high.

You cannot – can not – make America great by engaging in the things terrible countries do.

There are no simple answers.

Civilization is complicated.

Our civilization is the most complex in all of history.

All of these things, war, peace, terrorism, safety, poverty, economic opportunity, law and order, chaos, immigration, jobs, stability, all of these things are facets of the same complex, ever-changing, fluidly dynamic structure – that is: civilization.

There are no simple answers.

There are no permanent answers.

Moreover, there is no single right answer.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not on the left. Not on the right. It’s more complicated than that. It will always be more complicated than that.

Every single day, you have to push back against the fall of night.

If you really want to end war and terrorism, then you have to work to reduce the fundamental problems that lead to destruction.

People resort to terrorism – and to illegal immigration for that matter – because they don't have anything better.

People turn to crime, to drugs, booze, cults, to myriad destructive actions including violence and terrorism, and to politicians who promise easy solutions and simple fixes, because they're looking for something better. But you don't end war and conflict, terrorism, illegal immigration, crime, chaos, by building walls and blowing up the world.

And you sure as hell don’t end it by pulling the ladder up after yourselves.

“Fuck you, I got mine” is a lousy ideology to build civilization on. 

The rest of the world sees America, the ideal of America, and they want that. That’s why they come here – legally or not.

A moral people would strive to bring the rest of the world up to our level, to ensure all people everywhere have what we have, not slam the door in their faces.

Hunger, poverty, lack of healthcare, lack of opportunity, disenfranchisement, bigotry, inequality, homelessness, hate, fear, uncertainty, all of these things are what lead to war, to conflict, to crime, to illegal immigration, to division, and ultimately to the collapse of civilization.

The only way to ensure a stable and reasonably secure future for you and your descendants, is by building a better world for everybody.

You reduce the likelihood of civilization’s collapse by working to reduce inequality and disenfranchisement, by working to see that everybody has the things they need to live decent lives – for themselves and for their children. Food. Shelter. Healthcare. Jobs. Stability. Order. Education. And so on.

It's ongoing, forever.

There are no simple answers.

There are no easy solutions.

If someone tells you there are, simple answers, that it's easy, that they can fix it all in a few days, well, then they're either a con artist or a damned fool. Maybe both.

Now, to some extent, America can abide foolish leaders – our founders expected such an eventuality and they planned for it.

They built in safeties.


You are that safety.

America can abide a foolish leader, for a while anyway, but it cannot long survive as a nation of fools.

If you want a better nation, a better civilization, then you have to be better citizens.

For starters, that means being smart enough to know when you’re being conned.

And then to face the world as it exists, not as you want it to be.

There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world's ills will be cured.
-- Henry Ford

Friday, September 1, 2017


I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
-- Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, First Inaugural Address, 1981

Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

It’s happened elsewhere. Societies too big to manage, nations fractured by conflict and politics and chaos, civil society torn apart by madness and religion, diversity become irreconcilable differences and populations grown more dissimilar than they are alike, national bankruptcy, unquenchable rage, anger, distrust, malfeasance, until it all just … falls apart.

History is littered with the yellowed bones of failed nation states and dead empires.

History is chock-a-block with countries that put a gun to their own head and pulled the trigger.

Is that us?

Is it?

Since November, and particularly since Charlottesville, I've gotten thousands of messages asking the same question: Are we doomed?

Is America done for?

Are we next?

If my email is any indicator, many Americans seem to think so.

A lot of people outside of America believe it.

It certainly seems as if we’re on the cusp and it could go either way.

But then, isn’t that how it always is?

America, we’re always on the brink.

Balanced on one foot, arms wind-milling, teetering over chaos with alligators snapping below. 

We’ve been through this before.

And it’s been far worse.

We …


What’s that?

Oh, you want to know when it’s been worse than it is right now?

When I said that a few days back, it’s been worse, on Facebook, a number of readers called me on it.

When was it worse?

When? Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view.

Better, worse, it’s about perspective. For example: I regularly speak to people of a generation who think the 1950s were just about as damned near perfect as it’s possible for a nation to get.

And they were, perfect.

So long as you were a member of the newly minted, post-war middle class with a well-paying job in one of America’s new industries, and if you weren’t too particular about civil rights or a woman’s place in society or drafted to fight in Korea or suspected of being a godless commie or one of them believers in evolution, well, yeah, things were pretty good. But for people not in that demographic, if, say, you were a black man in The South of that time, well, maybe things weren’t so great, especially when the KKK was putting a noose around your neck. For a lot of older Americans, nothing will ever be as good as the 1950s. But maybe, for some Americans, maybe that time was worse than now.

Maybe that decade was much worse.

It depends on your perspective often enough.

As a nation, as a fractious people, we've been through worse and survived.

Hell, the ink was barely dry on the Constitution when George Washington himself had to send in federal forces to put down armed rebellion. A few years after that, our former masters in London invaded the United States and burned the White House to the ground. The Civil War didn’t just break out suddenly one day without warning, you know. There were decades of tension and acrimony between two utterly incompatible ideologies. If you think Congress is broken now you should study what it was like in the years leading up to that war. And there were decades of tension and acrimony after the Civil War as well. Jim Crow. Separate but not so equal. Lynching. The Ku Klux Klan.

Then there was the Great Depression and then World War II. The Bomb. The Red Scare.

I mentioned those people who grew up in the 50s and how much certain of them idolize that time. Me? I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the streets were full of riot, drugs, crime, chaos. War in Vietnam and at home. Civil Rights. Woman’s Rights. Equal Rights. George Wallace. Martin Luther King. Malcom X. Bobby Kennedy. Charlie Manson. Love Canal. Segregation. Bussing. The Man. The Establishment. Tune in, turn on, drop acid.  Some days it seemed the whole goddamned world was on fire. Everything just kept getting shittier and shittier. Every day it was some goddamned thing.

Then came the Energy Crisis and the Great Malaise and one recession after another and … well, here we are.

And to me? From my perspective? Things don’t seem nearly as bad now as they could be. Because I’ve seen it worse – or at least it seems that way to me.

History is often damned painful to live through.

And it can always – always – get worse.

Advancement is never without cost, without pain and rage and blood.

But we've been through worse and rebounded better than before. Stronger. Smarter. More compassionate. More equal. Closer to the ideal of a better nation. What came out of the war and riot and chaos of my youth was a better society, a better nation, better for a lot of people in a lot of ways.

But again, “better” is often a matter of perspective.

And it’s always easier to go backwards instead of forward.

It is far easier to destroy than it is to build, to create, to innovate, to dream.

Depression is always easier than optimism. I can think of a hundred ways life is worse now than in my youth. I have to work to think of ways that it is better. But it is better, I believe that.

How and when, if, we emerge from this dark time depends on a lot of things and there are no guarantees.

However, I would point out that while it's easy to focus on the hate and rage and ugliness that fills our feeds every single day of late, what you might be missing is the overwhelming push-back from common Americans.

It’s easy to focus on the terrible, harder to see the good.


But, armed Nazis, Klansmen, Confederates – all the worst, most horrible ideologies humankind has ever come up with, combined together – marched on Charlottesville to defend a monument to racism and sedition. And hundreds of thousands of Americans showed up to tear it down. Pushed the haters back. Faced the Nazis down. The Klan, the Nazis, the Confederates, they came with guns and clubs and they killed one of us. And still they were routed, sent fleeing like the cowards they are. Sent fleeing in defeat, same as they always have been.

Right now they are being found and arrested and they will be held up for the world to see what they are.

Right now, cities across the nation are tearing down these monuments, removing them from town squares and public campuses and banishing them to museums or battlefields or dusty storehouses where they belong.

Forty white supremacists showed up in Boston for a rally. Forty thousand Americans showed up to shout them down.

In San Francisco, the haters were sent packing before they even got started.

That wasn't the government in Boston, in San Francisco, in Charlottesville, that was Americans who did that. That was common Americans, black and white, gay and straight, right and left, who stood up, filled the streets, and pushed back the haters who would burn down civilization.

It’s easy to fall into depression.

And as anyone who suffers from depression can tell you, it’s damned hard – damned hard – to claw your way out.

History is often painful to live through.

As it is right now.

It pains me to say this (you have no idea how much), but the Bern-It-All-Down crowd might very well get their wish.

Perhaps, once again, it has finally become so bad that those of reason and good will on both sides might at last find common ground and get off their asses and do something to make things better.

It has become so bad, as it always does, that those who love America more than they love their ideology and own selfish interests might once again come together to face down a common enemy and stand together against the fall of night.

Civilization advances in fits and starts. Three steps forward, two to the side, two back, and forward again.

History doesn’t flow smoothly forward, it lurches like a drunkard.

History is very often painful to live through.

And this, this right here, is what I warned you about last year. This is what a lot of us warned America about.

If you can't bring yourself to vote because you demand a purity of your principles, because the deck is stacked against you, because the system is corrupt, because the choices are distasteful, because you’re not given the perfect candidate, well, what you get is ... this.

Chaos. Riot. War. Ruin. Rage. Disaster. Two steps sideways and four back.

History doesn’t care about the gains you’ve made. The tide will erase your sandcastle as if it never was and wipe the beach clean to start over.

Unless you take action to protect it.

Unless you care enough, unless you’re pragmatic enough, to do something about it.

Hashtagging your social media posts with #resistance isn't organization. It isn't a plan. It isn't a movement. It's not advancing civilization. Just as slapping a $2 made-in-China magnet on the back of your giant gas-guzzling SUV isn’t actually supporting your troops or doing anything to prevent war in oil rich Middle Eastern countries.

The selfish, self-aggrandizing, self-involved, morally bankrupt conspiracy theory that passes for much of American ideology nowadays should be easy to rally against.

This lunatic in the White House, the barking ninnies who make up congress, the toothless ignorant Nazis, the impotent illiterate beer-bellied Klan, the endlessly defeated inbred Confederates, these people, well, we outnumber them a thousand to one. Ten thousand to one.

They should be easy to beat.

But they never are.

They never are.

Victory is never easy and never permanent.

And it’s three drunken steps forward, two to the side, two back. One painful staggering step at a time. And so, here we are. Life, civilization, adulthood is often a choice between less-than-perfect options. Sometimes you have to choose the best option, even if it's not what you want, even if it's not perfect. Because that's just how life is.

That's how adults have to face the world.

History is very often nothing more than choices between less than perfect options because the universe just doesn’t give a good goddamn what you want.

The streets are today full of liberals and progressives and rational conservatives. But it's going to take more than pink pussy hats and shouting down Nazis on our streets. It’s going to take more than pulling down statues. Those are great starts and well, well worth doing. But Americans of good conscience must get organized. Must rally. Must stand together. Must stop the endless pedantry. Must find common ground.

And more than anything, we must get over this childish demand for perfect leaders and grow the hell up.

Creationists don't build starships.

And modern conservativism has been eaten alive by the Creationists.

But guess what? Liberals don't build starships either.

No, instead they spend all their time and effort arguing about the advisability of sending humans to other worlds when we haven't even fixed (insert endless list of causes) and they never actually get around to building the damned ship.

You know who builds starships? People who believe, that’s who. Those who believe in the future, those who work every damned day to advance civilization, those who stand steadfast against the fall of night. Once upon a time, those people were Americans.

And they can be again.

If we are to build that better future, if we are to claim the stars for our own, instead of falling back into the dustbin of history next to Rome and the Soviet Union, well, then we’re going to have to get organized and do something.

We have to do more than just protest.

We have to do more than pedantically complain and correct each other and engage in endlessly recursive social justice oneupmanship.

We have to organize.

We have to build a coherent vision, one that appeals to all Americans, not just left or right.

Folks, if you can't get it together, if you can’t dream big enough, to beat the sorry shitshow in office right now, well, you'd best just give up. Just give up. Knuckle under. Stand on the side of the street and raise your arm to the fucking Nazis.

It's damned depressing.

It can be damned depressing.

It’s easy to believe we are doomed.

It is. You'd like to think we've advanced beyond this. But civilization is never a steady progression. It's always two steps forward and three back and two sideways and one ahead and stagger to the left and to the right and do it again.

The fight to advance is never over.

The struggle to move civilization forward is never over. Never. That is our biggest failing. Far too often those of conscience achieve some victory, civil rights, economic reform, democracy, social safety systems, something, and then they think it's fixed. They’ve won. So they fire up a fatty and declare victory and go back to watching the game.

But it never ends.

It. NEVER. Ends.

I hear progressives say all of the time, I'm tired of having to keep fighting this battle. We fought this battle for (insert whatever cause is important to you here, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage), we won, now we gotta do it all over again and I’m tired, man, I’m tired.

Well, shit, folks, I'm tired of fighting gravity, but there really isn't an alternative if you want to stay upright.

Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

I don’t think so.

Down there in Texas, it’s pretty damned bad right now. But – but – Americans of good conscience, Americans of will, Americans who believe in each other and in a better nation and a better future, have all come together to save each other. Americans have rallied from across the nation to Texas and no one gives a damn who’s left or right, who’s gay or straight, who’s black or white. What matters is each other. What matters is civilization. What matters is pushing back the tide.

That’s America, right there.

That’s why I believe we can change our fate, save our country, build a better future. Because of those Americans.

We’ve been here before. It’s been worse before. And even if we stand together now and once again push back the fall of night, bad news, folks, we’re gonna be right back here again at some date in the future. But we don’t have to join Rome or the Soviet Union, we can push back, we’ve done it before. We can save this nation if we want to. We can emerge from this dark time better, wiser, stronger. We can make this world a better place for all. We can. We will. But sooner or later, we – or our children – will be right back here again.

Because that’s how history works.

And it’s painful.

And it’s hard.

And it’s perilous and uncertain and it just never ends.

It’s about perspective.

It’s about how you face it: on your feet or on your knees.

But if you want a better nation, well, Citizen, you have to keep fighting.

And it's really that simple.

So let's get to it.

Note: A  short version of this essay was originally posted to my Facebook page. // Jim