The Next Four Years of Donald J. Trump

Whether he’s the President or not, we will be stuck with him

✎ WAYNE K. SPEAR | NOVEMBER 2, 2020 • Current Events

AMONG THE MORE foolhardy undertakings is the prediction of future events, especially now, when we are hours from an election and the speculations multiply on matters that would have been taken as granted only a few years ago. Will the President declare victory before all votes are counted? Will Republicans allow a thorough counting? Would Mr Trump accept a defeat? Will there be a peaceful transition of power, or is the country headed for chaos and violence?

Should this President remain in office, and by whatever means, what might we expect of the next four years? This is the concern of the present essay, and while I have meagre confidence in my ability to foretell, the past four years have provided decent material from which to conjure an outline. Some conclusions are plainly obvious—for example that the President will spend the next four years propagating lies and assaulting those who refuse to pay him tribute. No one doubts that wherever Donald Trump goes, chaos happens. What I aim to accomplish in the following paragraphs is a deliberation of outcomes that are less obvious but nonetheless plausible.

If re-elected, Trump will find himself surrounded by hills that need surmounting. Opposition to his government will be fervent and the Democrats will throw up every conceivable obstacle to his administration. Past experience tells us that the opposition to Trump is ineffective, but this will not discourage it. The second term will be more dramatic than the first. The thirteen current investigations into the President’s business affairs will yield shocking revelations and, if they are sufficiently lurid, efforts once again to remove him from office. These scenarios will be taken as granted by Mr. Trump, and he will set himself to the business of preventing them, replacing the bothersome officials that he can and pre-emptively neutralizing those he cannot. At some point the President’s rhetoric will have reached the pitch at which even his own supporters, driven mad by the constant spectre of dangerous radical leftists, will turn on him, unless he produces show trials and sentences.

The 2020 election will have taught the Republicans important lessons that they will begin to apply on day one of the next term, along the lines of how to maintain power as a beleaguered minority-rule party with a diminishing base of voters and a populous and dedicated opposition. The Trump administration’s approach to this election has been scattershot and improvised, especially their focus on mail-in ballots and what they consider to be voter fraud. It remains to be seen if this administration institutionalizes its thinking, by making systemic changes that reflect their pet theories. The general tenor of the administration will be of a heroic struggle against the organized forces of evil. Increasingly what Trump does will matter less to his supporters than what Trump is, the occupant of an office that would otherwise be occupied by The Enemy.

The transformation of a professional civil service into a political operative division will continue, as will the reconstitution of the federal justice system as a personal legal team whose chief purposes are to give teeth to the President’s grievances and to dispense absolution to loyalists. For years now Trump has endeavoured to reproduce the working conditions he knew as a businessman, surrounded by underlings who did what they were told, no matter how criminal or irrational the instruction may be. It will likely take another four years at least to purge the federal bureaucracy as well as the courts to the President’s satisfaction, and he will set himself eagerly to it. He will cast Presidential term limits as a Democrat conspiracy to steal offices from Republicans, and the Republicans will indulge this fiction as they have every other. 

The war on media will go on, even though the battle has been won. At least as far back as Reagan, conservatives despised journalists and paid them no attention, except to denounce them as dangerous hateful traitors. Now journalists and journalism are held in low regard across the political spectrum. When the revolution arrives, those who write for the papers or who serve as talking heads will be front of the queue for the guillotine. The uselessness of the media is evidenced in the fact that four years of damning news, some of it remarkably detailed and well-researched, has not dampened the President’s approval rating. In any case, many media outlets are only steps from insolvency and are no less likely to be gone in four years than Trump is.

I have said little so far about policy. Trump is less a policy President than he is a dealer in sentiment and symbolism. He is more interested in inciting crowds over the notion of a border wall than he is in building that wall. He knows that anger over a fabrication is real anger. The appearance of something will do just as well as the reality of it. Television taught him that an educated person will take medical advice from someone who once played a doctor, and for this reason he invests heavily in perception. Whenever he is asked about a specific legislative proposal, such as the Republican health care plan, he adverts to feelings rather than proposals. He can not say for sure what the Trump health care plan might be, only that it will be wonderful and everyone will be happy.

This administration of course has not been without policies. Where they exist, they are not that different from conventional Republican policies: tax cuts, generous spending on the military, deregulation. President Trump stands apart when one considers immigration, trade, and America’s relationship with the rest of the world. But as I have suggested already, these are less intellectual policy differences than they are a sentimental distinction, for all share a common emotional denominator: the frightening menace of the outside world. Foreigners take advantage of the United States with crooked trade deals, drag American soldiers into their wars, and send criminals and rapists to hollow out the country from inside. This bleak view of human nature is applied to the country itself, which is understood above all else as a struggle between Patriots and Radical Anarchist Antifa Leftists. Completely absent from the Trump worldview is the notion that people with whom one disagrees can ever have honorable motives. Trump policies are reducible to self interest and to psychological dramas and their attendant emotions, especially fear and ressentiment over perpetually being victimized.

As he has for the past four years, the President will make the noises that his advisors tell him are pleasing to his political base, white evangelical Christians. For the most part his concessions to them will be unserious, such as his yearly claim to have brought back the phrase Merry Christmas, but in other cases like abortion real things will be at issue. In the back of every Republican’s mind will be the hazards of 2020, which no one will want to repeat, and the GOP will feel compelled to work out once and for all how they can go on governing with little more than the votes of old white men to sustain them. The answers thus far have been gerrymandering, voter suppression, and political messaging that trades in apocalypse. Another four years would provide opportunity to work on other arrangements, such as incentives to boost white fertility rates. As improbable and outrageous as this idea may sound, it is the most obvious long-term solution to the challenge now confronting Republicans—the dwindling of their base—and it’s unlikely they haven’t thought of it.

A good many people are finding their comfort in the imminent removal of Donald J. Trump from the White House, but even if this happens, we should expect the man who has so much dominated the news for the past four years to continue doing so over the next four. At bottom this President is a propagandist and an agitator and a show business celebrity, roles he could fulfil as easily outside Washington as inside it. He will need money to finance his considerable debts, and he will need attention to satisfy his bottomless appetite for validation, and combined these needs will push him in the direction of the spotlight and megaphone. He is also now the leader of a massive cultural movement that is only incidentally Republican or even conservative, a fact that will not be lost on him and that he will exploit in both financial and political ways. If and when the GOP-Trump alliance breaks down, his movement will follow him and not the Party of Lincoln, and for this reason a November 3 defeat will not mark the end of the Trump era and will in fact mark the beginning of a new phase of it.

The President Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing

Donald Trump

Qasem Soleimani deserved what he got but this doesn’t redeem the clueless incompetence of the President

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 3, 2020 • Current Events

I HEARD ABOUT Qassem Soleimani’s killing, by American drone, on Twitter—the same place where I found a National Post article describing him as (I’m not making this up) a “hugely prominent Iranian military leader and Instagram celebrity.”

Everyone could tell prima facie this was a big deal. Of course the Iranians would retaliate: the fact was so obvious, even Lindsey Graham soaked it in. Beyond that though everything was wild speculation. This attack is a diversion from impeachment; the President is going to declare martial law and suspend the Constitution; it’s going to be the Iraq War all over again. And so on, and so on. Alas and alack each and every reach for an analogous moment stretched into an era when wars were not conducted by drone and rumours of war were not arbitrated by Instagram celebrities. In other words, and in case you need to be told, it’s 2020 and not 2003.

ABOVE: One of the President’s agitprop stooges with a turd of a proposal. Last December, Trump abandoned the Kurds, and in doing so gave Syria and Turkey permission to undertake ethnic cleansing. The Kurds have watched Trump oblige dictators and would be fools to trust him.

It would be bad enough if history repeated. The American effort to bring democracy and peace to Iraq has fared poorly, to put it in the most bland of terms, but the proxy and cyber warfare that the United States is now likely to face will be even more challenging to its military and security capabilities. At the same time news of Soleimani’s death was making the rounds, a Haaretz article (Trump Envoy to Visit Israel, Discuss Middle East Peace Plan After Months of Standstill) put into my mind the terrible thought that the Trump administration will be as effective at war as it has been at peace, and for the same reason: the placing of loyalty above competence. On this principle the President has shaped the White House and the Departments of Justice and State. What does nepotism at war look like, you ask?

The Peace Team
ABOVE: Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz, the President’s Middle Earth Peace Squad. Neither of these kids have ever had a real job.

Donald “End the Endless Wars” Trump has threatened to bring fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen, to North Korea. (This was before he fell in love with Kim Jong-un.) He once bombed a Syrian airstrip. Momentary reactionary rage and impulsive but pointless bombings are what he does best and indeed his only military strategy, so far as we know. If he has anything else up his badly-tailored sleeves, he’s kept it a secret. Don’t misunderstand me. Soleimani deserved what he got and, yes, war with Iran hasn’t been so much declared as it has been acknowledged. What happens next is beyond everyone, including the incompetent President. ⌾

We’re in no mood for explaining ourselves to Canada

We don’t need, and we don’t want, a devil’s advocate to set us right about the value of Indigenous lives

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 11, 2018 • Politics

I CAN’T IMAGINE ANYTHING worse than losing a child.

Now consider, for just a moment, how weak that sentence is. A cliché, wrapped around a euphemism, squatting on a conjecture. I don’t want to imagine the death of my son, or even to write the words, and I definitely don’t want to know what it’s like. Grant me the bliss of ignorance, now and forever.

Colten Boushie

The trial of Gerald Stanley is about the death of a son, about pain that requires no explanation, about the worst of all possible nightmares come true. If Mr. Stanley were sitting in a cell at this moment, the family of Colten Boushie would be mourning a loss all the same. For those who knew and loved Colten, there is today an expansive, terrible hole the universe will never fill. Every parent across Canada can sympathize with this, and so too everyone who has lost a brother or sister. Some things are universal.

But some aren’t in Canada, and the trial of Gerald Stanley is about this too. When the acquittal arrived, I was shocked but not surprised, like Indigenous people everywhere. I felt a sickening, heavy weight come down on me. I was angry and sad, outraged and hopeless. I wanted to kick something over. Instead, I went to bed, thinking it best to check out for a while.

My show the next day was about Indigenous identity, and how we’re all different from one another. I couldn’t have arranged worse timing for this topic. Yes, we are all unique, but in the hours and days after the judgement of innocence was announced, we felt the same emotions and expressed ourselves in a shared language of pain. Indigenous people experienced the Stanley trial the same way because our lives have been shaped by common experiences. We know instinctively that other Indigenous people get it, without anyone having to explain a single thing.

At the Toronto #JusticeforColten gathering, a speaker said she was exhausted by reconciliation. Aren’t we all. At times like this we’re expected to go on television or to write moving newspaper articles explaining ourselves to Canada. Everything we have lived and known is fodder for debate: the suffering of Indian residential school survivors, the legitimacy of our expressions of pain, the continued existence of our communities. We are told that our past is something to get over, and that our aspirations for the future are impractical. As for our present, we should show more gratitude and get on with assimilating.

When I was twenty-four, the Oka confrontation taught my generation of Haudenosaunee that our lives were of less value and importance to Canada than golf. We were forever changed by the Summer of 1990. Twenty-eight years later, our young people are living their Oka, by which I mean they are having their place in the Canadian scheme of things underscored and re-affirmed. The message is clear: it’s okay and even necessary to shoot an Indigenous person over a quad, because a quad is a valuable piece of property.

Ah, but what about the other side? Balance and fairness. The devil’s advocates and the debate?

Some things are universal, like the grief of a bereft parent. Canadians should at least be capable of expressing sorrow over this without having it explained to them. Unfortunately, Indigenous people are forever expected to educate the country and to give an account of ourselves, over and over and over again, as if Canada would be moved by our pain to change its direction. We’re exhausted, and we’re in no mood for explaining ourselves right now, and after this week we may never be again.

Life in a time of moral clarity

My enemies are admitting they want to go back to a time when white men could own human beings. This is progress of a kind.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 12, 2017 ◈ Politics

UNDER THE OLD dispensation politics was a bipartisan craft and the interests of the country superseded those of the party. Or so was the theory. In any case, that was then and this is now. Not long after this article is published, Alabama may well have elected to office a man already twice removed from office, for refusing to uphold the oath which he had sworn. As Senator, Moore will go to Washington in the mode of a Trumpist, which is to say contemptuous of the rule of law, of the constitution, of the norms of the legal profession, of most of his colleagues, of the separation of church and state, and of the American culture itself.

Before Roy Moore was notorious as a Gadsen, Alabama deputy district attorney with an appetite for teenage girls, he was the notorious champion of a Ten Commandments monument who was removed from office for (among other things) refusing to follow the law and for abuse of administrative authority. Roy Moore’s career has been a lifelong effort to play a both-ways game, as a simultaneous officer of the law and a conscientious objector to the law. Courts and judges and rules and norms are all fine and good, for you and for me, but Mr. Moore recognizes the legitimacy only of the subjective interpretations of his personal God. The law is what Judge Moore decides that God wants it to be.

The Trumpists have not simply endorsed or welcomed Moore, they have made him into a figure of existential significance. And it’s not wrong-headed for them to do so. Either the Party of Trump is going to take the country further along the trajectory of autocracy and vengeance, and in doing so flourish, or else it will stall and maybe even perish. The bits of their souls “establishment” Republicans were unable to sell they’ve now given away, by making a final bargain with the racists and authoritarians of which Moore is of a piece. Let’s go over the inventory: candidate Moore is now on record for linking 9-11 to American godlessness, for glancing nostalgically upon the era of American slavery, for recommending elimination of all constitutional amendments 11–27, for wanting to keep women and Muslims out of politics, for comparing homosexuality to bestiality, and for supporting Birtherism. And this is only a partial list.

His opinions are not illegal but they are necessarily a matter of law, or will be if once again the people of Alabama choose to hand Moore the power to legislate. It’s not hard to imagine what laws a Senator Moore would champion. He’s told us time and again. But apart from any individual law, Roy Moore is eager to take America back to the cultural norms and atmosphere of the 1800s, when African Americans were property and women knew their place and the South had not yet suffered ignominy. To get there Moore will doubtless support Trump in the work of persecuting, prosecuting, firing, intimidating, or otherwise eliminating any and every critic and obstacle, including institutional and constitutional checks and balances.

The onset of my adulthood arrived roughly at a time when the Roy Moores of our world were in retreat, forced by the advances of civil rights and feminism to rephrase themselves. The terms of that long yet superficial armistice have now been repudiated. We are now firmly in the Trump Era, where abolition of the 15th Amendment is a Twitter hash tag and where deliberations of the coming white ethnostate are occurring in an urban coffee house near you. Donald Trump has clarified the landscape in an exhilarating way. The people who love and admire him are emboldened to undertake his cause, and the rest of us should likewise be emboldened—to fight and to prevail. We are living in a time of moral clarity, and that’s progress of a kind.

NatChief PB is Doing Very Good Great Things at the AFN

I watched the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly. This is what I saw

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 7, 2017 • Current Events

IF YOU FOLLOWED THE Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly this week, like I did, you heard two federal cabinet ministers (and omg one of them is Indigenous) say that Canada did some very no good very bad things in the past—but the Trudeau Liberal government is a new and different government altogether. And on account of this differentlyness very good great things are going to happen to us very soon because. WAIT shouted the chiefs WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT but the Ministers had to leave the moment their speeches were over. Just like pretty much every Minister at an AFN gathering ever but different.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said much the same things the government people did—almost as if his speaking notes were coordinated with those of Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who omg is Indigenous just like the rest of us. NatCheef B-Garde enjoys one of the warmest Crown-Chief relationships of the AFN’s history, so it was no surprise when his leather went all buttery-soft and he said dreamily that we are “in the midst of a tremendous opportunity” and that federal money is about to rain down upon us from the sky, along with big bucketsful of inherent Indigenous rights, no strings attached. The dangers, said Ency BeauGardz, are acrimony and division. Also, totally unrelated, there’s a National Chief election next year. The takeaway is that we must re-elect NC PeeBee (don’t get all dividey now, Chiefs!) and then also PeeEMJayT, so the wonderful things we have been promised will happen. In their second terms, for sure. Because.

Who Wants an Eagle Staff, Yo!

No Indigenous person outside of Ottawa actually knows what the AFN has been up to over the past few years. There’s an UNDRIP which sounds like a plumbing issue (if you’re fortunate enough to have actual plumbing) but isn’t. Also the AFN wants to close The Gap, which is fine because no Indian shops there anyway. None of us can point to a single improvement in our lives and say “Thank-you, National Chief, for this wonderful [fill in the blank]” but most of us can point to something that really sucks, like undrinkable water and moldy schools, and say ruefully that nothing appears to be changing. Fortunately that is all going to change lickety-split, because there’s a new Prime Minister in town who loves us, and we know this because tears fall from his dreamy bedroom eyes when he apologizes. He cares so much that, for the first time in Canada’s history, a federal government has a plan for the Indigenous people that is going to be great for them. We are going to love it! And it’s going to be different from the past because in the past governments never came up with ideas to make the Indians better-off.

For some reason there are Indigenous people who don’t trust the government or the AFN. (No, really.) These people say silly things like “Well what’s the plan exactly?” And by people I mean, of course, dangerous radicals. One of these unhinged extremists, the AFN’s Anishinabe Elder, Elmer Courchene, suggested that the AFN Chiefs were guilty of collaboration, which he defined as traitorous cooperation with the enemy. Whoa there, cultural Marxist SJW Elder Courchene! Not only that, he accused the AFN of disrespecting elders, then brought up National Chief Bellegarde’s gifting of an eagle staff to Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s representative to the United Nations. I mean, what has the world come to when a Chief gets grief simply for handing sacred Indigenous objects over to random white guys?

Then other radicals jumped in and all hell broke loose. Even the youth took shots at poor nc/pErRyB. Mark Hill, Co-Chair of the AFN’s Youth Council, accused the AFN executive of centralizing power and authority, and he reminded everyone that the AFN is a lobby group and not a government elected to negotiate on our behalf. “The nation-to-nation relationship is between our peoples and the Crown,” he shouted, while setting his hair on fire. (Not really. I made that part up to sound more radical.) NatchyCheef PeBellGeGard didn’t look very happy about any of this, but later on he reminded everyone that this is a pivotal moment for a legacy so we are moving forward with much work to do it’s the grassroots let me tell you the youth they are our future. This didn’t convince anyone, so he pulled an 11.8-billion-dollar bill out of his headdress and waved it around until it was time for everyone to go to the casino.

Is it Even Possible for the MMIWG National Inquiry To Do Better?

The problem may well be the inquiry process itself

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 2, 2017 • Indigenous Affairs

THE NOVEMBER 1 interim report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is the first bit of positive news from an organization known for headlines like these:

– National inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls postpones first family fall hearing
– Trudeau sidesteps calls to reboot MMIW inquiry amid calls for resignations
– Manitoba families push for Indigenous-led MMIW inquiry, want commissioners to resign
– Government policies making it difficult for MMIW inquiry to do its work on time: chief commissioner
– Family members say Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry a failure; call for ‘hard reset’

There are only a few plausible reasons that an agency will tumble into the category “problem plagued,” as the National Inquiry clearly has. One is suggested by a headline, above: government policies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a mess in the beginning, because it was a micromanaged sub-department of the federal bureaucracy, subject to the government’s byzantine rules and lacking executive authority. Early on the TRC headlines had to do with things like the delays faced by the Commission while waiting for ministerial authorization to order furniture and paint offices. The work stalled and morale took a dive and everyone wondered if the TRC would be able to restore the lost trust and confidence, just as they wonder today about the wayward inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls.

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TRC Commissioners came and went—again, just as they have at the National Inquiry. I interviewed a number of people who told me the TRC departures were a result of political interference from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I was told that political agendas had contaminated the organization and made cooperation among the three commissioners impossible. Internal politics and political rivalry is a second plausible cause of dysfunction.

The third is personality conflict, and doubtless there’s some of this going on at the National Inquiry, as there was at the TRC and in every organization I’ve ever seen that was staffed by members of homo sapiens.

A moment ago I said that the interim report was the first bit of positive news from the National Inquiry, but that’s not entirely the case. The report has already been trashed by those who don’t see it as positive at all. Pam Palmater wrote on Twitter that “if u subtract references notes graphics definitions & recycled #MMIWG NI promo, then all that remains is a mini-literature review. #disgrace.” I wouldn’t say her assessment is wrong, but only that her expectations are high. Just as the expectations of the TRC were high. And not only high, but misguided.

At the onset of the TRC’s work, I had conversations with Indian residential school survivors who made no secret of their pleasure that justice was about to be served. I had read the Commission’s Terms of Reference and didn’t have the heart to tell them that there’d be no such thing. The lawyers who created the TRC are the lawyers fighting the Human Rights Tribunal ruling that orders Canada to bring on-reserve child and family services spending to parity with its non-native equivalent. They are the lawyers who have absorbed $110,000 in legal fees fighting a $6,000 dental procedure required by an Indigenous girl. The government’s lawyers are risk-averse and tenacious and not at all in the business of exposing their client to the messy inconveniences of justice.

The National Inquiry’s interim report is a literature review, as Pam Palmater says, because the Terms of Reference say so:

an interim report, to be submitted before November 1, 2017, setting out the Commissioners’ preliminary findings and recommendations, and their views on and assessment of any previous examination, investigation and report that they consider relevant to the Inquiry.

There’s even a helpful list of reports for review, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia. The TRC, like the National Inquiry, is mandated to “sit at the times and in the places, especially in Indigenous communities in Canada, that the Commissioners consider appropriate” for the “gathering of statements by qualified trauma-informed persons.” It is not mandated to go after the police or to point a finger at the corrupt or inept. The MMIWG National Inquiry is furthermore mandated to submit its findings, on or before November 1, 2018 (“without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization”) and a list of non-binding recommendations.

So far the MMIWG National Inquiry has been a disappointment, but I wonder how much it is within the power of this organization to do better. To what extent is the National Inquiry hindered by Canada? Over the years the federal government has mastered the art of politically expedient, toothless commissions which provide ministerial speaking points and aspirational calls to action that may be ignored or co-opted. The independent or arms-length inquiry, with powers of subpoena, has given way to therapeutic talking circles micromanaged by the Privy Council Office. Recent experience suggests that the inquiry process is broken, and it’s at this dysfunctional process itself we should be directing our ire.

God’s Men In Washington

As weird as it may seem, “Theocracy” is the logical description of Trump’s Administration.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 31, 2017 ◈ Politics

THERE’S A GAME I sometimes play on Twitter, and it begins whenever I find a vicious troll in a Twitter feed. If you use Twitter, you know the type of person I’m talking about. He (or she) confuses your / there with you’re / their, uses the words snowflake and libtard, has a thing for all-caps, and loves Donald Trump. Now for the game. You must guess the precise wording on his (or her) Twitter profile. Follower of Jesus? Proud Christian? Lover of God? Five points if you correctly choose “Bible citation” as your answer, ten if you pick the chapter and verse.

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It’s petty, I know. But it’s also revealing. Across social media the Jesus People are handing hourly beat-downs to their fellow-Americans, oblivious to the irony. Perhaps there is no irony. Evangelical Christianity is an angry and self-pitying creed, obsessed with persecution and impatient for a strong leader to initiate the final battle against the enemy. Soon enough the social media wars will be transposed to the streets, and when they are I won’t be surprised to see Christians trading their bullet-points for bullets, once again with no sense of irony.

Eighty-one percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, a man who enjoys the support of a pious rogue’s gallery including, but not limited to, Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Jerry Falwell Jr (Liberty University), Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Ralph Reed (Christian Coalition), and Pat Robertson (700 Club). In the days after the Unite the Right rally, in Charlottesville, several of the President’s advisory boards disbanded, appalled by his non-denunciation of neo-nazis and white supremacists. But the Evangelical Executive Advisory Board remained intact, minus only one member, the African-American and megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard. Evangelical Christian support for Trump has been strong from the beginning, and it looks as if it’s going to stay that way until the red heifer comes home.

White evangelical Christian best describes the Tribe of Trump. Not everyone who supports this President is an evangelical, but an evangelical is highly likely to support this President. Tucker Carlson identifies himself as an Episcopalian, but his contempt for the Episcopal Church makes it clear that his religious views are fundamentalist. Sean Hannity is the executive producer of a recently-released conversion-porn movie called Let There Be Light, about a miserable and alcoholic atheist who finds god in a near-death experience. Hannity plays himself, although not very convincingly according to a review I found online.

There are enough evangelicals in Trump’s cabinet to cast a movie called Let There Be Theocracy, starring Mike Pence as the Vice-President, Jefferson Sessions (Attorney General), Rick Perry (Energy), Betsy DeVos (Education), Ben Carson (HUD), Sunny Perdue (Agriculture Secretary), Tom Price (HHS), and introducing Scott Pruitt, as the godly EPA Administrator who says that “true environmentalism, from my perspective, is using natural resources that God has blessed us with.” In Let There Be Theocracy, Sean Hannity also plays himself, again not convincingly, in the role of a Fox News host who believes that Hillary Clinton is the President and that she should be prosecuted for colluding with Russia.

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Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka went to the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit recently to declare war on behalf of the Judeo-Christian West. Bannon put one of the Bible’s most poetic books, Ecclesiastes, to a cheap and nasty use: “There’s a time and a season for everything, and right now it’s a season of war against the GOP establishment,” he said. The many evangelicals and conservative Catholics around the President keep telling us that Donald Trump is fighting for Christian (or “Judeo-Christian”) values and doing a great job of it. Who am I to argue?

America’s evangelical Christians finally have God’s man in Washington, and God’s man is stuffing the government with Theocrats. We will soon learn a lot about their God from this administration, and it’s going to be a long, long time before we’ll forget what we discover.

Jagmeet Singh’s Charm Offensive

His nice words don’t quite square with nasty realities

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 5, 2017 ◈ Politics

THE HEADLINES trumpeting Jagmeet Singh’s NDP leadership win each conformed to one of two themes. Either his victory as a “non-white” candidate was unprecedented, or it could be credited to the very-much-precedented appeal of charisma, GQ-worthy style, and handsomeness. The American papers in particular didn’t fail to notice that another Trudeau had arrived on the scene, ending the Prime Minister’s cornering of the charm market. Nor does the ringing of familiar bells end there. Kesh and kara aside, the new NDP leader is political boilerplate: a lawyer from Scarborough who speaks (cautiously) in both official languages and who celebrates Canada’s diversity and wholesomeness in, no doubt, focused-group-tested terms.

Jagmeet SinghCanada’s newest GQ leader

But, of course, he isn’t just another politician. He’s Sikh, and he is now leader of a federal political party, and as such he’s nullified a barrier to political office we should be glad to see nullified. The Charisma War can now begin, and how discouraging this prospect must be for the Conservative leader, Mr. Scheer, whose New York Times headline said: “Canada’s Conservatives Choose Andrew Scheer as Their New Leader.” In the meantime we all know how these battles are going to be fought, and that is with the ammunition of buttery words shot at the hardworking families of the middle class. Gone are the days when a political party might actually have something to fight for or about, such as proletariat revolution or tooth-and-claw capitalism. It’s three parties for the middle class, comrade. So who do you think has the nicest suit?

There are still things in this world for which and over which people fight and kill and die. The recent history of the Indian and Pakistan Punjab, birthplace of Jagmeet Singh’s parents, comes to mind. Since the British withdrawal from the region in the 1940s, the Punjab and Kashmir regions have been among the world’s most dangerous and volatile. The sectarian hatreds of two nuclear states and their diverse internal populations have engendered horrific violence, and while it may be true that none of this registers with the average Canadian, some of the old-world baggage has found its way to places like Brampton and Surrey and Vancouver. Canadians ought to care about that, more than they do.

There was a time when obscure causes like an independent Sikh state of Khalistan (obscure from a Canadian perspective) made headlines from Halifax to Vancouver. On June 23, 1985, Sikh terrorists associated with Babbar Khalsa put a bomb on Air India Flight 182 as well as on a plane bound for Japan—the latter detonated at the Japanese airport, killing the baggage handlers—one member of Babbar Khalsa having vowed that “we will not rest” until they had killed 50,000 Hindus. There are Sikh nationalists who to this day celebrate as a martyr the man behind this crime, the largest-ever mass murder of Canadian citizens, Talwinder Singh Babbar.

What has this to do with Jagmeet Singh? Nothing, really. But at the prospect of questions about Khalistan and Sikh extremism and the “martyrdom” of Talwinder Singh Babbar, the charming bespoke Jagmeet Singh fade into the curtains to be replaced by a cagey and defensive and lawyerly Jagmeet Singh? Why does he demand that all questions along these lines be submitted in advance and all transcriptions of his answers vetted prior to publication? Probably all the reasons one asks for these things: to prepare an answer, to avoid surprises, to make the best possible impression.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 10.52.32 AMA headline from Sikh Siyasat News

To his credit, Jagmeet Singh appeared on the October 2nd episode of Power and Politics despite Terry Milewski’s refusal to grant Singh’s terms. There, Milewski asked, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” Singh argued, falsely in my view, that Sikhs and Hindus co-exist “in peace and harmony, and we need to celebrate that.” (I ask you: how on earth can you square this idea with the Flight 182 bombing?) Pressed further, he said:

So, it is so unacceptable that violence that was committed—the heinous massacre that was committed—is something that Sikhs, Muslim, Hindus all denounced, the violence as perpetrated against innocent Canadian lives, is something we all denounce. I regularly denounce it on the anniversary. It’s something that we all collectively are opposed to. There is no question about this, that innocent lives were killed and it is completely unacceptable and needs to be denounced as a terrorist act.

He never answered the question, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” But he did answer two questions that Terry Milewski didn’t ask. Again I am reminded of Trudeau.

One Nation Under Theocrats

In Trump’s America everything depends on the manner in which Republican factionalism is resolved. In Alabama we may have come closer to a resolution

✎  Wayne K. Spear | September 28, 2017 | waynekspear.com

HOURS AGO, as of the time I write these words, the President of the United States deleted his endorsements of Luther Strange from the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump. Now, in the untidy corner of social media he alone controls, let the record show that the President is and always has been a Roy Moore guy.

The likelihood has increased that Alabama will send a theocrat and conspiracy theorist to Washington in December. There he’ll join fellow-travellers Trump and Co. in the work of stirring a witch’s brew of fake populism, culture war, and white resentment. (I can’t resist observing that, if Trump had won the day, it would be a Strange Brew.) An irony of the Strange-Moore contest is that Trump backed the lesser-Trumpist candidate and the more-Trumpist contender won. Moore is just what the Republican party needs in 2017—another Bannon-and-Mercer-backed extremist who loathes the government and who comes to Washington not to build but to destroy.

Alabama Capital Steps | Photo by sunsurfr (Creative Commons)

Across his career Roy Moore has agitated to “bring the knowledge of God back to the United States,” whatever that means. Eighty-six percent of Alabama voters self-identify as Christian, half of them as evangelical Protestants, and still Mr. Moore deemed his fellow citizens sufficiently god-stupid that he commisioned a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments granite memorial for the state’s Supreme Court building. Ordered to remove it by unanimous resolve of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, Moore refused. This was the first occasion of two dismissals from public office—in 2003 and 2016—for (among other things) disregarding a federal injunction, abusing administrative authority, and demonstrating an unwillingness to follow the law. And so, to return to the theme of fellow-travelling, one can hope that if Moore goes to Washington, he might well go at the moment the President is facing dismissal on similar charges.

The only law Mr. Moore recognizes is the law of God. Under the law of God same-sex marriage is “the ultimate destruction of our country” and homosexuality is “an inherent evil” and the deaths of September 11, 2001 and Newtown, Connecticut are deserved punishments for America’s waywardness. Under the law of God Muslims are not fit for office and lesbians are not fit for parenthood and the laws of mere mortals may be ignored. It’s worth noticing that the victorious Alabama Republican primary candidate for the US Senate holds views that would be unremarkable in a Wahhabist-jihadist training camp. Also, why do these God people always have sex on the brain?

Beginning in the 1980s the Dixiecrat Alabama of George Wallace slowly morphed into the Republican Alabama of today. Here political diversity does not take the form of parties, but rather of Republican rivalry. It is easy for outsiders (and especially for northeastern urbanites) to sneer and condescend at Alabama, but what is happening in Alabama matters because it is happening everywhere. One need look no further than Washington, D.C. for confirmation. Conservatism has split into two principal factions, one grounded in political norms and institutions and the other in theocracy and resentment and the culture warfare of ethnic-nationalism. Everything depends on the manner in which this factionalism resolves, and in Alabama the nation just took another step closer toward resolution.

Thoughts on Christianity and Authoritarianism

Trump Christians

Should authoritarianism one day overtake the United States, we should expect evangelicals to reconcile themselves to it easily

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 • Politics

I

F THE REPORTS ARE to be believed, one-third of Americans today approve of the President’s performance. The constituency most likely to go on approving of Mr. Trump is evangelical Christians, in particular middle-aged white evangelical Christians. Much has been written of this political alliance, along the line that Donald Trump is a man of un-christian character, angry and vain and materialistic, and so on. How can the faithful regard him as theirs?

They have done so by casting Mr. Trump as a modern-day Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar, which is to say a flawed individual who nonetheless—perhaps even because of this—has been chosen by God and through whom the divine is achieving His will. Anyone who has been to an evangelical gathering, especially of the revivalist-testimonial type, knows that the best witness is also the most lurid. Invariably a solemn and clean-looking fellow will electrify his audience with a tale of debauchery, the lascivious details of his previous life of depravity serving to underscore the point that “if God could save a wretch like me ….” Before he was St. Paul, Saul of Tarsus by his own admission was a dangerous fanatic who went eagerly about the work of murdering the followers of Jesus. The tradition of playing up one’s nastiness in the service of a cracking testimony obtains from Saul through Augustine to the present day. Human wickedness is baked into the Christian religion in the way that class struggle is baked into Marxism, so that to point out Mr. Trump’s shortcomings is only to affirm a central tenet of evangelicalism, that God can and does work through even the most thoroughly fallen.

But why Mr Trump, when the field is crowded with flawed candidates? Perhaps a better line of inquiry is to consider what evangelical Christianity is, not as a religion, but as a political system.

When the plainly superstitious details of religion are removed, for example virgin births and ascensions to heaven etc, what remains is a set of propositions about the world and of our place within it. The propositions are as follows. The universe is a work of omniscience, governed by universal and immutable law. To go up against the law is to offend the Almighty and to invite His wrath. There is no court of appeal. God has put down His laws in writing from the beginning of time, and it is a work of supreme arrogance even to question. The only recourse of man is to follow the law and to conform to the natural order, which is to say God’s word. Do as you may, eventually everything is going to collapse in a conflagration of evil, a fate most of us deserve. The effect of St Paul’s teachings was to sublate the Jewish law into a doctrine of divine grace, but without altering the universal and fixed nature of God’s will. In the universe of Christianity, everything is presided by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Father whose wrath or love is ineluctable as well as non-negotiable. One’s only options in this life are to accept the offer of divine grace on the terms advanced or to suffer eternally.

It takes little mental effort to translate this notion of an all-powerful, all-seeing, law-and-grace-issuing Father into a political system, and that system is best described as totalitarian. Say what you will of monotheism: it is not a democratic system or a working out of an evolutionary process. The only role of the demos in evangelicalism is to follow the law and to affirm over and again the glory of the Dear Leader. Evangelical Christianity as a political system is less about the negotiation of consensus and compromise, of inching laboriously toward the good if imperfect society, than it is about sorting the world into good and evil so that the final battle might get underway. The human heart is wicked in an irredeemable way, and thus unreliable as a moral guide. From this it follows that human solutions to human problems are also unreliable, so that the chief political task is to ensure that the good prevail upon the wicked by imposing upon them the strictures of law. What Christianity proposes is an authoritarian and not a pluralistic, liberal view of society.

I am not suggesting that all Christians or even most of them are totalitarian in outlook. What I am suggesting is that evangelicalism and authoritarianism are fellow-travellers. Should authoritarianism one day overtake the United States, we should expect evangelicals to reconcile themselves to it easily, provided it is an authoritarianism of the “Travail, Famille, Patrie” variety. The only thing Donald Trump had to do to win over evangelicals was to make pleasant noises about the importance of faith while advancing a law-and-order agenda that broadly repudiated the liberal belief in a society made better through the work of human social engineering. The President’s hyper-masculine persona could only be reassuring to someone who has cast her lot with a Father Who Art in Heaven, especially a law-giving Father obsessed with a tribalist program of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Trump’s grievance and resentment based cultural war of us-against-them ought to be familiar to the most casual student of monotheism, whether the subject is Twentieth-Century Ireland or present-day Islam.

A moment ago I alluded to “the work of human social engineering.” This phrase can be understood in more than one way. It can apply to the current materialist effort to deconstruct human sexuality and gender, the idea that male and female are nothing more than oppressive constructs. But the phrase also comprises the Enlightenment notion that human societies are malleable and not forever determined by divine precept. The term for this point-of-view, that our lot may be improved through the application of human reason, is liberalism. The ideology of liberalism emerged at about the time the United States of America was established, and against it stood the authoritarian principle—the Great Chain of Being, the divine sanctioning of the monarch and aristocracy, and so forth. To be a liberal is to believe in progress driven by human intelligence and reason and effort.

At bottom liberalism and monotheism are incompatible, although it is possible to hold both in one’s mind and to claim an allegiance to both simultaneously. Many of the monotheistic schisms are in fact over this exact question, and they take many forms. Jewish anti-Zionism repudiates the man-made state of Israel on the grounds that only the Messiah may establish the Kingdom. Likewise within Islam there is a disagreement over whether the Caliphate should be established now or only with the return of the hidden Imam. In any case the City of God will be by definition a theocracy, where votes are not cast and there are no protests or courts of appeal.

Even if I am wrong about everything I have written above, it is objectively the case that President Trump is the most perfect specimen of an evangelical President. Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower can not touch him for popularity. In an era when politicians are as a rule held in contempt, Mr. Trump consistently polls around 80% favourable among evangelical Christians—a useful fact, for it shows us what the ideal evangelical candidate looks like. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, but of course this is not true. Vengeance is President Trump’s, and as a matter of proxy it is now also the province of evangelicals. For what must feel like the first time, they have something approximating real political power. They are set about the work of repudiating liberalism and re-establishing the law, if necessary at the expense of conventional politics itself.

Sir John A. Macdonald: a morally unremarkable man

By the time I have finished this little essay of mine, the Twitter storm which is its occasion will have passed, and a new and equally useless storm will be underway. Only a fraction of people take notice of Twitter, and only a fraction of the fraction treat it as more than a frivolity. The chief utility of Twitter, as any self-aware user knows, is to pass some time as tiny bursts of whatnot stimulate your vision, like roman candles.

A recent vote of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has put forward the motion to remove the name Sir John A. Macdonald from all public schools in Ontario. Needless to say the idea was met with horror and outrage on Twitter, as all such proposals are. There is however a swelling of the call for such undertakings, and from a broader segment of the population than would have been likely even a decade ago.

Here are the more common arguments I have found against the motion:

– The Slippery Slope, Erasure Argument: No one is safe once the principle of removing names of the objectionable takes hold; soon all names from the past will be erased and forgotten, and Canadian history will disappear
– The Presentist Argument: Of course Sir John A. Macdonald was a racist, etc., but only by the standards of the present. By the standards of his day he was unremarkable, everyone at that time being a racist, etc.
– The Balance of Good Argument: Sir John A. Macdonald is a founding father whose positive achievements outweigh whatever ill he may have done
– The Revisionist Argument: It is wrong to re-create history to suit the tastes of the moment.

It is worth noting that, with few exceptions, the arguments against retracting the name of Sir John A. Macdonald concede that he “bears responsibility for the Indian Act and for residential schools” and for associated views “that are repugnant by today’s standards” — these are John Ivison’s words, from the August 24, 2017 edition of the National Post. I say “worth noting” because only twenty years ago it was common to find defences of this very same Indian residential school system in the pages of the National Post and elsewhere. It would be a matter of small trouble to produce a dozen examples, but one will I think suffice:

March 21, 2001
Healthy skepticism
National Post
In the past five years, Canadians have been led to believe that church- and government-run Indian residential schools systematically stripped Indian children of their identities. In 1998, Jane Stewart, then the federal Indian Affairs minister, conferred the federal government’s official blessing on this view when she expressed “profound regret” over the fact that residential schools “separated many children from their families and communities and prevented them from speaking their own languages and from learning about their heritage and cultures.” Ms. Stewart was no doubt taking her cue from the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which describes residential schools as inherently “abusive” institutions that continue to cast “a deep shadow over the lives of many Aboriginal people and communities.”
Statements of claim being churned out by law firms on behalf of Indian litigants similarly allege that residential schools tried to “kill the Indian in the child” and engaged in “organized cultural genocide.”
Challenging this view requires courage …

etc., etc.

The common opinion-editorial view of only twenty years ago—that surely these well-intentioned residential schools couldn’t have been all that bad—is not without its present advocates, but there is no doubting that opinion on this issue has shifted. Today even the most reactionary commentator (Conrad Black comes to mind) will as a rule clear his throat with a qualifying phrase such as “of course there were some bad apples” or “although it’s true that terrible crimes were committed” before launching a defence. Few writers are willing to take the position that the Indian residential school system was on balance a good idea, with respect both to intentions as well as to execution. What has brought about this change? Above all else it is the result of a vigorous and sustained campaign led by the people who knew these institutions from the inside and who in many cases left them broken and diminished. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when I was working at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the fear was not of the erasure of Canada’s history but rather of its restoration. Against this effort of abuse survivors, to restore the historical record, stood the government and church lawyers and a good deal of the media.

Some unpleasant truths follow from the preceding. The first is that there is no getting around the fact that history is forever being re-written, that (as Auden put it) the words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living, and that “erasure” at one time or another is our universal fate. It is unlikely that a majority of Canadians know more about Sir John A. Macdonald than could be written on a Dentyne wrapper, and that even this small amount of knowledge would contain errors. No amount of statuary or school naming is likely going to help. Furthermore it is as easy to purge oneself entirely of inherited values and prejudices, and to apprehend the past in its purity, as it is to stare at the back of your own eyeballs. We celebrate heroic men and women of the past precisely because they did something exceptional: they defied the standards of their time (often suffering for it) and remained mostly unsullied of the gewgaw and falderal all around them.

We are living through a time when the very notion of objective truth is under obvious and stunning attack, but anyone who has studied the past knows that there is always some degree of war going on against truth, particularly against unpleasant and inconvenient truth. Thirty years ago I had bitter arguments with university professors over matters that would be uncontroversial today. Often the argument bogged down in banal human factors like aesthetic tastes. For example, I recall taking the position that Duncan Campbell Scott’s poetry should not be isolated from his work as a senior bureaucrat, a proposition that threatened to sully the enjoyment of his work. It is the case however that very few artists would come out of a thorough scrutiny of their lives with their reputation enhanced, and the same is true of politicians and editorialists and activists and of homo sapiens in general. The effort to suppress truth is often a rational effort, but in the interest of preventing dangerous lies to take root it ought to be resisted and repudiated.

The truth about Sir John A. Macdonald contains a good many unpleasant facts, but it happens that the facts are more unpleasant for some than they are for others. For some the unpleasantness of a history is abstract, and for others it is Uncle Roy, who never came home from the war. Or it is your mother, who got on a train in Łódź never to be seen again. Sir John A. Macdonald is not regarded, even by his defenders, as a man of the heroic mode, but he is regarded as an abstraction, and a powerful abstraction at that: he is “the father of Confederation,” the man who made Canada, and likely this is why the call to remove his name invoked the wrath that it did. He is bound up in an Anglo-Canadian nationalism which walks softly but carries a big hockey stick. I am tempted to say that no Indigenous person can feel in her bones what many Canadians feel about their symbols, but doubtless there are some who can. In any case, for a great many Indigenous people, Sir John A. Macdonald is a man who caused the suffering of our dead and living relatives, a man who described people not unlike us as barbarians and savages. Yes, by the standards of his day he was morally unremarkable, and that is precisely why we find him so hard to take.

When the Centre No Longer Holds: Trump and the Media

The day will arrive when the world is rid of this menace of a President, but just as the rot did not begin with him, neither will it end with him. The rot itself is that the centre cannot hold and that, as a result, America is today two warring nations. With each passing day it feels more and not less that mere anarchy will be loosed upon the world, or at least upon American streets. If recent trends continue, the President who succeeds Mr Trump will likely be despised by a large minority of the country, if not by a majority, and the disgruntled will immediately set to the business of conspiracy theory and dark-corner whispering and agitation-propaganda. In other words, business as usual. Optimistic invocations of healing and unity fall upon the ear like a sour quip. Who among us believes that sweetness and light await, and not blood and struggle?

Above I have perverted Yeats’ phrase “the centre cannot hold” to suit my own interest and ends. I subscribe neither to Yeats’ peculiar views of history nor his evident admiration of fascism. The centre that no longer holds is simply the proposition that America can be fashioned into a community of shared interests, a notion that has never been true but which has held enormous sway, much like the fiction that America has no classes or (what amounts to the same thing) one universal class, the middle-class. Still, even a lie can have its utility. As long as Americans believed in the universal middle class, the fiction obtained in a uniquely American form of positive thinking. Then, throughout the Reagan years and beyond, the progressive left took to chipping at the myth of a classless society, and by the 2000s the anti-globalist right had joined them in denouncing the elite. The Internet made it possible to cultivate and spread tribal grievances and provided adherents to the most outlandish views the comfort of knowing that they were not alone. With the election of Mr Trump, the conspiracy theorists and white supremacists could fancy themselves respectable and not the rejects of polite company they had long known themselves to be. The emotional charge that attended this must have been intoxicating.

The word I am reaching for is frisson—the vertiginous thrill at the thought that something extraordinary is occurring. Upon hearing of their election victory, the devotees of Trump doubtless felt what supporters of Mr. Obama felt in 2008. In the case of the Obama victory, intoxication led partisans to say plainly ridiculous things, for instance that America was now a post-racial society, healed of its past. Intoxication however is a passing state, as the alt-rightists discovered soon after concluding that it was now de rigueur to wave the Hitler flag in the Charlottesville daylight. Much has been written and said of the rally aftermath, but the pedigree of the present moment merits reflection also. For only a year ago, the generic Klansman knew to keep hooded and the fellow travellers of National-Socialism understood the public relations downside of chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us” in the open air of a small American city. Only a long, occult incubation punctured by a sudden mainstreaming of fringe sentiment and style—and the resulting discharge of excitement—can account for the far-right’s present boldness. Once its nose is up against the unyielding glass of reality, however, Trumpism will probably fare no better than Obamaism.

Before we learned to decry the tribalism of social media, and to heap the blame for present ills upon it, the material world provided its own opportunities for tribal self-segregation. It is no mystery for example that a certain kind of person is attracted to the nation’s largest cities, whereas a different kind of person adverts to the rural heartland. Much is said of the liberal media, a category of person you will find clustered in New York and Los Angeles and not in Boise, Idaho or rural Arizona or the ranches of Montana. What makes the media liberal? Above all, an outlook formed by social class. Rarely will you find a big-city journalist who takes the Bible literally or who thinks that the biggest threats to America are abortion and gay marriage. Whatever his political views, the “liberal” journalist will look down upon evangelical Christianity not because it is conservative but because it is déclassé, hence a threat to respectability and advancement. And since the whole point of choosing where one lives is to ensure you are around others of roughly the same tastes, prejudices, habits, and outlook, the liberal journalist will feel himself no more liberal than the fundamentalist Christian will feel odd for believing the earth is only a matter of tens of thousands of years old. Most of the folks he rubs against will believe the same. Until Twitter arrived, it was unlikely that you would stumble upon your political antipodes in the course of daily commerce, and that’s how we liked it. The result of self-segregation generally speaking was that water found its level. Everyone felt that they lived in Their America, because the Other America was far away, in a city or town or heartland they would never, ever visit.

There is of course a way to connect two distant points, and that is to put something in the middle. The thing that is put in the middle is a medium, and more than one medium are media. The media bring us unpleasant word of the faraway, and we despise them for it, because they undo the subliminal mental and physical effort to which much of our interior life is dedicated, that is, insulating ourselves from unpleasant facts and people. Nor is this hatred of the media a recent turn. I can recall political phone-in shows of the early Reagan years where diatribes against the liberal media were a commonplace. The subtext of most liberal-media complaints, if not all, is that They (liberal journalists) are not Our kind of people. As a writer for the newspapers I encountered this sentiment as a matter of course. How dare I express the unpopular views of an outside caste! This attitude was evident also in the people who held me in high esteem merely because I happened to share with them a pet prejudice.

It is no longer possible to keep the old ways going, but it is also difficult to get beyond them using the tools of conventional electoral politics. The centre, where debate and nuance and consensus building used to live, no longer holds. In theory the media might be able to do something about this, but in theory television and the Internet were also poised to deliver us into the new enlightenment. There appears to be no way forward but toward the precipice. This, in a thimble, is the American problem today, just as it is a problem everywhere tribalism has taken root. Mr. Trump will soon be a memory, and the sooner the better. If we are lucky he will not do irreparable damage. The most we can reasonably hope for is that narcissism will keep him tethered to his obvious, chief concern—how he is spoken of on television. Incompetence and laziness might limit his reach, as may his utter lack of interest in anything that does not, or will not, bear his name. In the meanwhile the media have acquired a central place in the drama of this administration. It is worth considering to what extent journalists comprehend the position they are now in, the nature of the opportunities and dangers, and the probable consequences should the media themselves no longer hold.

Sonny Daze Meets the Orange Menace

The two August Leaders, one the President of America and the other the President of that country somewhere in the vicinity of America, clashed in a fierce battle of handshake. The Orange Menace grimaced, jerking the arm of his rival. Sonny Daze stood his ground, dreamily smiling, his core muscles taut with alacrity. The Orange Menace worked the resolute limb, twisting and yanking as if extirpating a root. Yet the mighty tree could not be felled. The Orange Menace has met his match: he who spends an hour each morning at his hair now contends with he who also spends an hour each morning at his hair. One lives for the camera, the other for the camera lives. Each adoration craves. The Orange Menace applies brutal force in service of dominance, while Sonny Daze has charmed his way to this mountaintop.

– I am King of this Mountain, says the Orange Menace.

Sonny Daze does not speak. He adopts a Yoga pose and gazes dreamily into the cameras.

– I have done more in 100 days of being President than any President in the history of the world of Presidents.

Sonny Daze says nothing. He puts on a fringed buckskin jacket and portages to the river, dropping his canoe into the water. He paddles his vessel toward the cameras.

– Look upon my tremendous works! says the Orange Menace.

Sonny removes his buckskin jacket and rends his shirt. Bare-chested, he dashes four miles westward to a couple busied at their nuptials. Henceforth and forevermore shall he be immortalized on the mantelpiece photo where this day will be eternally commemorated.

A jealous and enraged Orange Menace takes to Twitter in an effort to regain the world’s attention. Sonny Daze puts on a faux Indian headdress. It is the War of The Manchildren, a force of personality against the force of personality, a clash of surfaces, a contest of brands, a struggle of perception against perception. They are different and yet the same. They are what you want them to be. They are yours and you must love them, if for no reason other than they are created for you and in your image.

Who will emerge victorious in this battle of the vanities?

– Look upon my mighty works, says the Orange Menace.
– Strong Together We Middle Class Better We Good We, says Sonny Daze.
– I will smite America’s enemies! says the Orange Menace.
– Love We Middle Class Together Good Together Canada Strong, says Sonny Daze.

They take their places. The battle proper has begun. Now we will see and judge them by their works.

The sky darkens as the Orange Menace lifts his adamantium scimitar heavenward. The mighty instrument draws an electric stream from the firmament. Energy ripples from the Orange Menace like an angry stone thrown into water. He shouts a primal scream

– Yyyyaaaaaaawwwwwwwwaaaaaaoooooooorrrrrrrraaaaaaaaggggggggaaaaa!

The Orange Menace points his scimitar to the West. He issues a tremendous bolt of energy with a roar that splits the Earth. The bolt in an instant strikes the ground at 719 Church Street, in Nashville, Tennessee, 666 miles distant. When the smoke dissipates, the Orange Menace gestures with pride toward the awe-inspiring deed.

– Look upon this hole, which by my own hand I now designate the future Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse!

With a nice and supple hand, Sonny Daze takes up the Unicorn-feathered holly wand, gifted to his father by a once-Potentate of the Levant. He raises the wand to a swell of birdsong. Of a sudden, the air is redolent of neroli and mandarin. Across the world the humble pause momentarily their toil to hold the hand of a neighbor. The cameras chatter. Sonny Daze points his wand north to the Langevin Building of Ottawa, Canada, 565 miles away. A stream of glowing pixie dust issues from his magical tool, crossing Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and the US-Canada border into Ontario at the eastern edge of the Great Lake. Up goes the pixie dust, along Highways 401 and 416, turning east at Highway 417 where it exits at Bronson Avenue to travel north toward Wellington via Queen.

When the pixie dust arrives to its destination of Parliament Hill, Sonny Daze tucks the Instrument of Dreamy Wonder in an inner pocket of his suit jacket, designed specially for this purpose. He pauses dramatically, before saying

– I hereby re-name the Langevin Building “The Building Where Governmenty People Do Governmenties Stuff.”

The people cheer. Look at his eyes, he is so dreamy, they say.

Not to be outdone, the Orange Menace next names the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic, in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic.

Not to be outdone outdone, Sonny Daze renames National Aboriginal Day “National Indigenous Day.”

Not to be outdone outdone outdone, the Orange Menace renames the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center, in Center Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, the “Abie Abraham VA Clinic.”

Sonny Daze renames the ten dollar bill the “Indigenous People Are Wonderful Bill.”

The Orange Menace re-renames French Fries “Freedom Fries.”

This goes on for hours and then days, with no clear victor emerging. Incapable, or perhaps unwilling, of anything of substance, they lock themselves into a shambolic war of pandering gesture. Their tribes applaud them, as the cameras record every word and facial expression. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life goes on.

Introducing Ken Detective

Ken Detective takes the last of the bourbon. He of broad shoulders, square chin, chaws chaws the glass to tabletop, until a waitress arrives on a circuit that will soon return her bearing another.

Ken Detective eyes the courtyard. Birds fall from the clouds to walk the earth. The birds tell men secrets of sky-gods. The birds whisper to the sky-gods tales of human disappointment: the corn that does not grow, the infertile wife, the idiot President. The gods are bored but also indifferent. They do not listen. They have witnessed the efforts of men, Icarus on his waxy feathers, Neil Armstrong tumbling through space in a bucket. Long ago they decided that mankind is absurd. The birds return to earth, where the impotent men take note of their flight or eviscerate them, spilling the entrails for divination.

Today the birds reveal nothing to Ken Detective. The only thing certain is that the President, Mr Crusher, is a dangerous idiot. Detective takes the last of the bourbon, chaw chaws on the table, awaits his blessed comet of booze. The bar is dark, and if not for him it would be empty also, an ebony nothingness where no comet would bother to go. A good thing that he likes the darkness, likes to hunt it down, to invigilate it for intel. His best work, the real and true art of his occupation, happens in back alleys and taverns. Ken Detective has no use for the bright nonsense of men and their lucent delusions, or for people in general, unless they have information to spill. Then, by all means, find a dark place to slice em open. Shed some light on a shady subject.
*
The President is a shady character, a narcissistic con artist with a lot of low friends in high places. Russian mafia, Chinese crooks., pimps, hustlers, dirty operatives. The kind of people your mother told you to steer clear of when you were a child. You know the type: grubby and snotty-nosed lowlife bastards who pulled to the curb and offered you candy. Hucksters and shysters, perverts, liars, and creeps. All the President’s men. I haven’t nailed him yet, but jesus I will I swear, on whatever you got in those pockets of yours. I’ll get the bugger, if it’s the last act and the curtain is hitting me in the face. Shit on my corpse and never speak of me again if I don’t.

The thing about being a detective is you care about the facts like you care about oxygen and the kind attentions of a pretty woman. It’s in me like the piss and vinegar is in me, like the bourbon is in me, and although it burns and sometimes makes me go mad, I keep coming back for more. If I have to crack a head for my facts, by god I’ll crack a head. It’s only business. I get to the bottom, and sometimes, my friend, the bottom is a long way down. Not many men have the iron for it, I’ll tell you that. Look at the folks who went punch drunk mad building the Brooklyn bridge, diving and surfacing, diving and re-surfacing, until their brains turned to mush. But I ain’t like that, somehow. I keep on going, I push, I go to the bottom. And I come up and do it again, and then again some more, because the drive is in me. If there’s anything I hate it’s an up-to-no-good liar, covering his lying ass with a sack of lies. I want to kick that ass clear all the way to damn hell. So because I have it in me that’s the thing I’m going to do, so help me god.
*
Ken Detective takes the last of the bourbon and rises, dropping a bill on the table. He has an appointment in a dark place, with a fellow whose head just might need some cracking.