Saturday, October 29, 2022

Preparing for the Apocalypse

There's a bad feeling in the air right now among leftists and progressives. Republicans are poised to win the midterm election despite maintaining their support for Donald Trump and all that implies. Politicians who openly deny the 2020 election and have implicitly taken the side of the mob who ransacked the Capitol will be gaining even more power and control over at least one house of Congress. 

This week, in the midst of this dread a Qanon type just tried to assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Right wing billionaire Elon Musk has gotten monetary support from the Saudis to buy Twitter and make it private while letting the Nazis and white nationalists run riot. Just today I saw an explicitly Nazi account touting Joseph Goebbels' birthday. Donald Trump's ban will likely be lifted as well, the one tangible punishment he has faced for trying to overthrow democracy. The mainstream political media has reacted to this by maintaining their "both sides," horserace coverage. 

At times it feels like watching a slow-motion disaster. We can see the apocalypse coming, and feel helpless. 

Standing and watching by is not an option, it's time to prepare.The first order of business is to get out the vote on November 8, but that won't be enough. We need to be ready for what comes after. 

Republicans have made it clear that they wish, once again, to use the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage so that they can get their extremely unpopular, radical agenda put into place. After all, there's only so much they can do with the courts that they have so deflty packed with ideologues. Gutting the social safety net will require direct action.

If we know this is coming, we have to pre-empt it. Congress could possibly do this by raising debt limits now, but we also have to organize. The spirit of protest, so active in the Trump years, needs to return. If they want to the government hostage, we need to have people in the streets. We need to be ready to take to the streets and make them think twice about this course of action. Maybe it won't work, but it's better than doing nothing. 

This week's political violence is a reminder that Biden's election win was only a temporary reprieve from the forces of fascism. Too many people thought that Trump losing was like killing the head vampire in a horror movie, unwilling to see how he is the product of the right-wing mob, not its creator. Because of this complacent attitude, we failed to strike hard against the mob after 1/6 and to make anyone who tried to deny the election into a pariah. 

We blew the chance to reaffirm democracy after January 6. As far as I can tell, we won't have many chances left. In my darker moments, I tend to think that we are already out of chances. However, that kind of doomerism leads to its own complacency, a complacency that is poisonous. Those of us who after four years of resistance (yes I said it, cooler than thou leftists) thought our work is done need to get their shoulders back on the wheel. Failure is not an option. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

An Update on America's Brezhnev Years

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have long theorized that the American empire has entered its Brezhnev Era. I've written about this here and elsewhere, and this week on my Substack I posted a new update on my theory. Essentially the lack of alarm most Americans have about democracy's peril reflects the fact that most Americans have lost faith in the nation's animating ideology, much like Soviet citizens did in the USSR's waning years. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

It's the Silence of God, Charlie Brown

I was bummed to hear that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown would not be getting a live TV airing this year. Perhaps it's my dumb old man nostalgia talking, but it was always my favorite of all the holiday specials on TV when I was growing up. In those pre-streaming days they were true appointment television, and this special was one of the first things my family taped off of TV onto our brand new VCR. It also inspired thoughts much more intense than the usual holiday special fare. 

The Great Pumpkin special came out in 1966, in the midst of a cultural moment where many speculated that traditional notions of God had outlived themselves. Time magazine, hardly a radical outfit, put our their infamous "Is God Dead?" cover that same year.

No foreign film director dominated the art houses of the day like Ingmar Bergman, and earlier in the decade he crafted his "Silence of God" trilogy: Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. All three grappled with the fact that we live in a world where God manifestly does not intervene. If there is no divine being actively guiding our lives and giving meaning, what then? Although Bergman rejected his religious upbringing, I find these films to be far meatier meditations on faith than what professed Christian film-makers have been able to come up with. At the end of Winter Light a disillusioned minister doubting his faith still holds service in an almost empty church but manages to find a reason to live in it. 

Like Bergman, The Great Pumpkin contemplates God's silence. Linus is a true believer surrounded by doubters who mock his steadfast faith. In fact, their mockery only strengthens his belief. He goes out into the pumpkin patch, eagerly awaiting the Great Pumpkin's arrival, even fainting when he mistakenly believes it has arrived. When comes to, he finds out it was just Snoopy. His deity has refused to give him a sign, or to requit Linus' devotion. 

However, his faith is not shaken. The next day Charlie Brown tries to comfort Linus by saying we've all done stupid things, causing him to explode in anger. How dare Charlie Brown call his belief "stupid"! His response to God's silence is thus to pray that much harder. 

I've never known quite what to think of Linus in this moment. Yes, he is being obstinate and silly, but his devotion to his principles is admirable. After all, the Great Pumpkin will only reward the most "sincere" pumpkin patch, and Linus is wholly sincere. 

We live in a scary and seemingly senseless world. It is hard to maintain belief in anything in the face of our world's all-consuming cynicism. In the face of injustice, humanity cries to the heavens for assistance, but it does not come. At the same time, letting cynicism win ensures that nothing will be able to change. Maybe Linus sitting fruitlessly in the pumpkin patch isn't so laughable. In this broken world cut adrift from divine assistance, we could all use a little sincerity. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

John Carpenter's Halloween and Fortress Suburbia

I released my newest Substack this weekend, inspired by my first viewing of John Carpenter's Halloween. Released in the late 70s after the last major waves of suburbanization and before the dawn of gentrification, it questions suburbia's founding myths. The place that supposed to be protected actually spawns true evil. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Pale Blue Eyes, "Globe" (Track of the Week)

I have made some good and bad choices in the past few years, but the best was making sure that I mostly listen to new music. It is truly mindblowing how much good music is out there, and how much work it can be to access it sometimes. Despite those difficulties, listening to new music helps keep me fresh in middle age and from becoming yet another Gen X bore getting high on nostalgia.

Sometimes, however, I cheat a little. A lot of my favorite new music strongly recalls the sound of new wave and post-punk. It's kind of great to hear so much music that strips out the best aspects of 80s music and leaves its excesses of overproduction out. 

Pale Blue Eyes is a band in this vein I just discovered via the Sound Opinions podcast. The name is such an obvious Velvet Underground reference that it's almost cringy, but the band still delivers. You'd have to in order to get away with such a bold move. Despite the Velvets' name, the sound recalls other sources. The insistent, pulsing bass owes much to Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order, the nervy rhythms are pure new wave. The airy synths recall the textures used by The Cure. Somehow it's not in any way derivative. I like a lot of their songs, but "Globe" brings the elements together most beautifully. 

This is a style of music I always come back to in October, as the leaves die and fall and the nights get darker and longer. In years past I might have been content to spin Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles yet again. I am glad in my middle age to find someone current to give me the same spooky vibe.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Whatever Happened to "Virtue" and "Character"?

I put out of a Substack newsletter installment last week called "You Can't Shame The Shameless" about how the shamelessness of radical conservatives in the Trump Era is a kind of superpower. They can never be caught in a scandal because they refuse to play along with the media. When they get caught, they just double down and refuse to admit wrongdoing. Their base only cares about gaining power, and anything and anyone is justified in protecting "Real America" from its political opposition. 

I'd like to expand on this theme a little here. I just finished reading a couple books about politics in the 90s, and it was striking to re-familiarize myself with the conservative rhetoric of that era. Today "values" issues for right wingers means abortion prohibition and attacks on trans teenagers. Back in the 90s there was still plenty of fetus fetishization and gay bashing, but there was also a softer side of social conservatism. Social conservatives criticized what they termed a selfish society that had strayed from old virtues.

Movement conservative types like William Bennett kept sounding this trumpet. During the Clinton presidency it wasn't just used to term progressives Godless, it was used to undermine the president himself. He lacked virtue and "character" as well. The impeachment proceedings arising out of the Lewinsky affair injected this stance with a shot of steroids that would've made Mark McGwire jealous. In the worldview of the virtue mongers, the country could not be great if it tolerated such an immoral man at the top. 

At the time I did not think this was just cynical point scoring. I truly thought that social conservatives believed this stuff. In my book these were misguided beliefs, but I still had to take them seriously. I'm also someone who thinks our society is harmed by negative values, especially the worship of money and power. These are not the things social conservatives excoriate, but my own stance inclined me to believe that social conservatives truly wanted a more virtuous polity, even if I found their definition of virtue to be hollow. 

Two decades after the Clinton administration I've witnessed social conservatives bow to the altar of Trump, the personification of greed, pride, and any number of sins. I hear very little talk of values, virtues, and character from them. Their power worship does not have any time for such petty trifles. 

This week marks the sixth anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape. It was a turning point for me because after hearing the vile things Trump said about grabbing women by the genitals the same people who I've known forever who were incensed at Bill Clinton's lack of character back in '98 were open at how they were still going to vote for Trump. In that moment I realized all those years of virtue rhetoric were complete bullshit. Instead of bullshit, we are living with something worse, a full-throated, undisguised movement dedicated to destroying democrac.