Saturday, February 18, 2017

Episode 4 of the Old Dad's Records Podcast

Episode 4 of my podcast, Old Dad's Records, is now up. In this episode I took the theme of "bridge and tunnel," and looked at artists from the fringes of the New York City metropolis. The song of the week is "Two Tickets To Paradise" by Eddie Money of Long Island. The album I focused on is the debut of The Roches from right here in New Jersey. That record even features a song about riding a commuter train! Last but not least I discuss Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen's early 70s band before he was famous. As someone who's moved to bridge and tunnel territory and commutes to Manhattan every day, I feel a kinship with this music.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stop Pretending Impeachment Is Easy Or A Foregone Conclusion

Nixon drunk-dialing his former chief of staff Bob Haldeman on the day of the latter's resignation is one of my favorite things. It took over another year for Watergate to run its course.

In the wake of the Flynn scandal, a lot of liberals and progressives have been joyously discussing the possibility of impeachment, or even the fatuous notion that we will have an election "do over." Sorry folks, I'm here throw a bucket of cold water on you. As a historian, that's kinda my job.

As to the "do over," there's absolutely no constitutional precedent for that, so just stop talking about it like it's a thing. As to impeachment, it should never be discussed as if it were something easy to do. No president has been removed from office via impeachment. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached but survived the process, and Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could be voted on. I am pretty sure Nixon would have been impeached and removed from office, so I guess I'll let you have one example of a successful impeachment.

My point is that it is almost impossible to pull off. It is beyond impossible if the president's party is in control of Congress, which means you should just stop thinking Trump will be impeached before the next midterm election. It won't happen. It's much more likely that a 25th Amendment scenario happens, but I doubt that'll happen, either. Paul Ryan is creaming his shorts about the prospect of eliminating the social safety net, and if Trump is a vessel for that, so be it. I've said it before, I'll say it again: there's no such thing as "Trump voters" anymore, only Republicans, and Trump is putting forth an aggressively Republican agenda.

So let's say the Democrats manage to win back Congress in 2018. (I'm not holding my breath.) The process behind impeachment is extremely time-consuming. The early Watergate allegations against Nixon started getting serious in January of 1973. He would not resign until a year and half later, in August of 1974. That was even with a Democratic congress. Nixon did everything he could to slow down the process. Later presidents learned from this scandal to make it even more difficult to unseat them. For example, in the Iran-Contra Scandal of the 1980s, Oliver North merely shredded the relevant documents, destroying the evidence. I imagine Trump has minions willing to take the fall, too.

I don't like this impeachment talk because it is yet another wish for the salvation to come miraculously come from on high and end Trump's rule. That simply is not going to happen. Instead of waiting for a miracle, we need to be out there opposing Trump tooth and nail. We need to fight like hell in 2018. We need to keep up the pressure. We need to put our bodies on the line, if need be. The legal processes of this country installed Trump in power, start trusting yourself instead of trusting them for a change.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Yo La Tengo, "From A Motel 6"

February is the worst month of the year. Winter refuses to go away. With Super Bowl over and March Madness and the baseball season yet to start, sports options are really lame on nights when I have nothing better to do than watch television. Hollywood dumps its shitty movies in the theater. Awards shows and their fatuous celebrity worship are everywhere.

Every year at this time I never fail to get into the dumps. In these times I have lean especially hard on music for help. Back in grad school I even made a mix tape (one of my last) called "Late Winter Blues" that I kept in my car tape deck through the whole month of February. One of those songs, one that I always return to, is Yo La Tengo's "From A Motel 6." While this came out during their 1990s heyday, I did not discover them until I met my friend Kevin back in the year 2000, when we learned we were both way into indie rock. The Painful album was one of the first CDs anyone ever burned for me. The year we spent rooming together was a musical education, one I am still grateful for.

I like Yo La Tengo's 90s period in winter because of the droning, Velvet Underground-derived guitar. It's the sound of hard, cold winter sunlight reflecting off a snowbank whizzing by my window while I drive on slushy streets. I have no idea what the song's about, I just know that the title is a reference to Bob Dylan's "From A Buick 6," which also has a strong riff behind it. When I listen to this, like a lot of 90s indie guitar rock, I let my mind wander in the swirls of the feedback-drenched guitars, losing myself for a few minutes. It's a welcome deliverance from February.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Fascistic Tendencies Of The New Regime (And Some Tentative Reasons For Hope)

Now that Donald Trump has been in power for three weeks, it is becoming obvious that his decision-making is being driven by ideological considerations. I think Trump's personal ideology is rather soft, but his general proclivities align well with the Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, who are converting those general notions into hardened directives. Trump is obviously an instinctual ethnic nationalist (it's the one thing he's never compromised on) and in favor of scrapping the international order in favor of making America a free agent. Bannon the self-described Leninist is using this golden opportunity to advance his obsessions, which overlap enough with Trump. It is getting harder for me to deny that it is an inherently fascistic regime that we are dealing with. (Not sure I can say it's pure fascism due to lack of paramilitary arm or abrogation of the constitution, but it definitely rhymes.)

Based on earlier statements and his intellectual interests, it seems that Bannon differs from others on the nationalist right with his interest in religion. He truly believes in a Christian West eternally at war with the Other, especially the Muslim world. His assumption, which is also held by Miller and Trump, is that all Muslims are inherently America's enemy. Based on what I've gleaned from articles about Bannon and the circles he runs in, he is a believer in "organic" notions of society, which fits with his emphasis on religion. And yes, this worldview tends to overlap very heavily with fascism. Fascist movements in Hungary and Greece (like Golden Dawn) are firmly rooted in organicism. For the new organic society to grow, the forest of the current political order be clear cut and the stumps burned. This new regime is not conservative or reactionary, but revolutionary. In that respect, as an ideology of right wing revolution and transformation, it is fascistic.

As with fascism, it all boils down to the nation. Jeff Sessions has been reading all the same articles we all have about how America will become a nation without a white majority in the coming years, and decided to stop that. Trump's regime isn't just going after undocumented immigrants, it is planning to severely curtail legal immigration, too. It is hardly surprising that the first sweeping actions by Trump have been to bar Muslims and deport Hispanics and to build a border wall. The regime's goal behind all of this is to maintain a white majority nation, and to keep white people in charge. Hence the very fast-moving effort to root out "voter fraud." This practice has been used to essentially make it harder for people of color to vote, but now will be tried out at the national level. Trump will need no Enabling Act, by barring enough of his opponents from voting he will be able to maintain his position.

Of course, the fascistic nature of this regime is especially apparent when it comes to the way it wields power. Trump has shown a staggering and unprecedented contempt for the legal system. Today on television Stephen Miller basically said that Trump was above the judges, meaning that he is above the law or constitution. Fascists pride action and conflict over all else, and that has been the hallmark of this administration. Witness ill-fated raid in Yemen, or Kellyanne Conway's touting of Trump as "a man of action." Miller claimed today that Trump had accomplished more in his three weeks than most other presidents had in their entire administrations. That claim is patently false, but Miller needs it to be true to burnish the image of Trump as that man of action.

Ultimately, fascists believe there is no truth except for the nation, the leader, and power. Already we are seeing how feeble it is to "fact check" the current regime. They have no regard at all for the truth, They lie and lie and lie and lie about crime rates and made-up terror attacks. And these aren't just lies, they are lies intended to justify the use of state power and violence. Accordingly, this regime has made war on the press in unprecedented ways. Just remember the day after the inauguration, when Trump sent out Sean Spicer to scream at reporters and peddle the lie that attendance at the inauguration had been underestimated. That was, in many respects, Trump's first real act as president.

Amidst this fascistic onslaught, there are reasons for hope, though. Successful authoritarians rely on mass popularity, which Trump does not have. They also rely on total control of the state, but Trump has been stymied by the courts. They can close the gap by destroying civil society, but civil society, from Twitter to SNL to the Washington Post, has not been forced to bow. The day after inauguration saw the biggest mass protest in this nation's history. Trump is deeply unpopular, opposed by the courts and elements of the deep state, and dogged by scandal.

My reasons for hope are tentative because Congress is in his hands, he will get the swing vote on the Supreme Court, and he has a major ace up his sleeve. If there is a terror attack by Muslims on American soil and/or the United States goes to war, all opponents will be called traitors. I think Bannon is counting on this. I remember well how the hapless Bush regime exploited 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Fascists see war as a positive good rather than a necessary evil, and if this regime continues in its fascistic ways and the general posture of America in the 21st century, war is sure to come soon. Without war, I can see this regime imploding. With war, all bets are off.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Episode Three Of The Old Dad's Records Podcast

I just can't stop making these podcasts! I find it awfully relaxing and fulfilling. One of the best things about the internet is that dilettantes like myself can indulge in a creative pursuit and put it out there. I need creative outlets more than ever in my middle age, where I spend too much time at home on Saturday nights.

In this podcast the main song under discussion is "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" by Lou Rawls. The album is the Bee Gees' Horizontal, which I will defend with every fibre of my being. The contemporary music I discuss is by the Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li. I'm hoping to record another episode this weekend, and I'm leaning towards my first country track.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My Letter to Senators Sasse And Fischer

Dear Senators Sasse and Fischer:

I am writing both of you as a proud son of Nebraska. Although I currently live in New Jersey, it was Nebraska where I was born, raised, and educated. Here in the Northeast I often expound on Nebraska’s natural beauty, the friendliness of its inhabitants, and how Lincoln and Omaha are two of the nation’s most livable cities. While I am not your direct constituent, most of my family still lives in Nebraska, and it is my spiritual home.

I am writing because I am disturbed by your recent votes supporting the nominations of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. Although both of you claim to represent “Nebraska values,” I see little of those values in Sessions or DeVos.

I grew up in Hastings, and benefitted from an excellent public school education. Even though it was a politically conservative town, people still generously supported public services, which had a great effect on the community. My family has had a lot to do with that. My mother taught in Nebraska public schools for four decades, a tradition taken on by my younger sister (who has been calling your offices about Betsy Devos in recent weeks.) Nebraska’s public education system has consistently outshone most others in the country, and it has been founded on vigorous support and respect. Betsy DeVos, on the other hand, has contempt for public education. Her actions in Detroit are evidence that her goal is to break the public education system for reasons of ideology and profit. Those policies have also proven to be a massive failure. I cannot think of an action more alien to the “Nebraska values” that I was raised with and benefitted from. The type of policies DeVos favors also do not fit with the priorities and realities of the rural school districts where a large number of Nebraskans are educated. By voting for her you have not only gone against the values of Nebraska’s public school system, but also of the interests of the very people you are supposed to represent.

I am also very disappointed in your votes for Jeff Sessions. His record on civil rights was so atrocious that a majority Republican Senate refused to accept his nomination to the federal bench in 1986. Coretta Scott King’s letter to Congress in response to his nomination that year is a document so damning that you and your fellow Republican Senators cowardly silenced Senator Warren’s attempt to read it into the record. You cannot hide from the fact that Sessions is a white nationalist with a history of seeking to limit the ability of black Americans to vote. I now must assume that you hold with his beliefs that voting rights be limited and that America ought to be a fundamentally white nation. During the 1980s your Republican forbears refused to countenance such behavior, now you are openly endorsing it. It is a disgrace that you are willing to support a man whose racism and xenophobia will do so much harm to so many Nebraskans once he is the nation’s leading law enforcer. Of course, I know full well the absolute lack of empathy or concern most people in your party have for people of color. Your vote for Sessions has made that indifference to their rights as boldly manifest as possible.

Perhaps you both are concerned about furthering your political careers, and deep down have reservations about the unhinged tyrant who now resides in the White House. I would hope that you would value the needs and livelihoods of your constituents over political expediency. History will record that you had the chance to stop a disastrous president from putting a white nationalist in charge of enforcing civil rights and an unqualified billionaire who wanted to destroy public education in charge of public schools.

I am honestly not sure how you can sleep at night. Maybe you are true ideological believers. That ideology, however, has nothing to do with “Nebraska values,” and you should be ashamed at having the unmitigated gall to use those words in support of an agenda that will do great harm to Nebraskans. Although I hold out little hope that you would do this, I would beg of you that in this important time that you do not respond to an autocrat like Donald Trump with automatic support. Nebraska, and the country, deserve a lot better than that.


Dr. Jason Tebbe

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REM, "Life And How To Live It"

World events got me down to begin with, and I witnessed something today personally that's got me down much that much more. (Being cryptic, but don't worry, it doesn't directly effect me.) I've been leaning a lot on why I would call "comfort music" these past few weeks, and none has been as comforting as early REM.

REM was the first artist I really obsessed over, the first group whose whole back catalog I consumed. Their music has become almost elemental to my being. I have a special love of their first three albums, perhaps especially Fables of the Reconstruction, an album the band itself used to poo-poo due to its difficult recording in England. It was meant to evoke their native Georgia, and it does have a feeling of Southern Gothic weirdness mixed with London fog. I've used it for 25 years as a warm musical blanket to help me survive winter.

"Life and How to Live It" is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It is a fast-paced song, reminding me a little of the ravers on their Chronic Town debut EP. There's punk propulsion, but it's been put in the service of something more artistic and less angry. In a lot of ways REM were the most successful postpunk band in America, but their rootiness has seemingly caused people to miss that.

Like a lot of REM songs from this period, the lyrics are hard to make out, much less decipher. Michael Stipe's genius was to use his lyrics as a kind of Dada sound poetry, creating moods and ambiguous meanings that the listener could search for. This song makes me think of driving in a Midwestern snowstorm, the flakes flying around me as I sit in rapt concentration, slightly frazzled but pumped up by the adventure.

It's good to go back to music like this, I need it more than ever.