Punch Drunk LOL

Piece-Now.jpgHave you ever hit someone so hard that they cried? How well do you take a punch? Ever been on the ground, trying to fend off kicks to your head? Ever been cut? Ever been shot?

These questions aren’t meant to be rhetorical. I’m curious in the serious meat/real world sense. More and more younger people of my acquaintance are, if not directly advocating “punching Nazis,” sympathetic to the violent concept. Given the current landscape, such feelings are probably inescapable, however inadvisable.

But, fascists don’t deserve free speech! They must be pushed back, made afraid, and ultimately defeated!

You’d think we were fighting for the Spanish Republic. Yet a 21st century America led by a media-created, soft-skinned narcissist doesn’t rise to the level of Falangist Spain, much less Nazi Germany. We have our own brightly-lit, pulsating hell to deal with. I’d like to say that it’s unique, and in many ways it is, but imperial decline is nothing new. Only the toys get more expensive.

When it comes to denying fascists free speech rights, Noam Chomsky would disagree with you. After all, Noam defended the free speech rights of French writer Robert Faurisson, who trafficked in Holocaust denial and was fined by a French court (also, allegedly physically attacked). While Noam deplored Faurisson’s views, he nevertheless felt that the state should not determine historical truth. Promoting a vulgar theory of history should not get you fined or imprisoned, and certainly not punched.

Ah, but if we don’t stop fascists at the polemical stage, their dangerous ideas will spread and lead to another Nazi state!

I’m not a historian of fascism (though I’ve known a couple and have read from their shelves), but I do know that the US is nothing like 1933 Germany. It’s larger and more culturally diverse; dissent has in many ways been marginalized, yet remains strong and influential, thanks to social media. In other words, we’re not heading to the camps anytime soon.

The spontaneous defense of Muslim immigrants and refugees is not strictly an answer to encroaching fascism, but a widening and deepening awareness of the present moment. You don’t need to sucker punch Richard Spencer to show fascists where you stand. Strength in numbers and solidarity is a more effective, lasting reminder. Under Trump/Pence, that collective strength will further solidify.

Still, there are adventurist souls who seek direct confrontation. They’re welcome to it, but what’s the end game? Assaulting some asshole scrawling swastikas on public transit may feel good, yet does nothing to undermine the larger problem. And I wonder to what degree this actually happens. There’s lots of talk, but where’s the daily, hourly video feed?

I’ve met and spoken to some of the people calling for this, and like many domestic radicals before them, most couldn’t kick open a bag of flour. Their romance with violence remains theoretical and, in the Twitter age, a spectator sport. Which brings me back to the top of this piece.

I’ve been punched, kicked, stomped, and thrown against walls; I’ve returned the favors, though not as sadistically as my tormentors. I’ve been cut. I was once shot at and somehow wasn’t hit. I’ve fired automatic weapons, a rocket launcher, and thrown live grenades (courtesy of Uncle Sam).

I’ve known violence, and it’s not a meme. We should be bashing corporate capitalism. It’s not as immediately satisfying and is much more elusive, but it’s the true face we need to punch.

Deny Everything

twump.jpg

In 1979, Dead Kennedys released “California Über Alles,” a satirical attack on then-California Governor Jerry Brown and his “Zen fascists.” It was rumored that Brown would challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination (which he briefly did); DK lead singer Jello Biafra imagined a New Age Nazi regime where jogging and mellow vibes would be mandatory.

Funny for its day.

Brown never became president, but Ronald Reagan did, bringing with him a darker blend of fascist notions. Biafra’s parody of Brown was suddenly pointless. He rewrote the song, casting Reagan as an American Shah bent on war and Christian conformity. It was re-titled “We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now.”

Accurate, though given present reality, increasingly quaint.

Is Trump worse than Reagan? Hard to say this early in, but the signs aren’t encouraging. I don’t recall this much craziness at Reagan’s dawn — and Al Haig was Secretary of State! (“Scary man, with morals of a styrofoam cup” as SNL put it at the time.) But then, elites were pretty comfortable with Reagan who was much more popular than Trump. There’s nothing like an unstable narcissist to drive a wedge into the so-called “consensus.”

As we’ve seen, liberal reaction to Trump is all over the place, ranging from conspiracy theories to left-bashing to calls for a military coup (Sarah Silverman’s brilliant suggestion). Marches and demonstrations have increased (I went to three in one week), and there are pleas for a general strike or anything that will slow if not hinder the machine. Bernie Sanders’ campaign anticipated this, but it took Trump to get liberals off their asses and into the streets.

It’s nice to see liberals arise from their eight-year slumber. I don’t know how long it will last or how deep their waking commitment runs, but with President Trump there is no lack of stimulation. Of course, mainstream Democrats remain loyal to the system, regardless of who’s managing it. For many, Trump loses on style points, not for using the weapons honed and passed on to him by Obama. And in case anybody was confused, Nancy Pelosi reminded us that capitalism rules.

Vive la résistance!

Some radicals are opting for more direct confrontations. After fascist dweeb Richard Spencer got sucker punched in DC, and a group of demonstrators aggressively shut down an appearance by alt-right celeb Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, violence is being considered as a viable tactic. We’ve been here before, usually with disastrous results (there are those who think that the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 were successful, but somehow global capital survived). I suppose each new generation must experience this personally, so we’ll see how violent resistance flies this time around.

I would counsel my young, eager radical friends to think this through. Captain America knocking out Hitler is cute, but physically confronting domestic fascists carries serious risks. Unless you’re armed or know how to fight, chances are good you’ll get the worst of it. Ask the survivors of the Greensboro massacre of 1979, where communists took on the Klan and paid dearly, five with their lives. And don’t forget the fascist-minded in uniform, who have the increasing power of the state behind them. Something to consider before donning the black mask.

It appears, dear ones, that we are in deep shit. And it’s only just begun.

March Point

rally.jpg

Climate activists blocked the Red Gate entrance to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump supporters, many in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, tried to push through but were repeatedly rebuffed. Some waved their passes and cited credentials, as if this would magically disperse the blockade. Then an angry man stepped forward and punched one of the activists (a young friend, Andrew) in the face. He quickly left, scorned and heckled; Andrew smiled and said “That’s not the first time I’ve been hit today.”

That might have justified fearful talk about Trump’s fascist base, yet they were in scant evidence compared to those protesting. Some  seemed bewildered by the numerous groups represented. I heard one guy say to his friend that this was the first time he’d seen actual communists. Others muttered “garbage” and “scumbags.” An older Trump fan asked me if I’d ever seen “so many losers.” I stared at him for a beat, looked at his red cap and replied, “No.”

While much of the Trump faithful looked like they came from central casting (especially the Bikers For Trump, who no one dared block), there were non-white people wearing Trump gear as well. Two Black men argued about one’s support for Trump, the other shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you crazy, man?!” he yelled. “Are you suicidal?!”

Despite it all, Trump was sworn in. I watched his inaugural address in a Capitol Hill bar filled with his supporters. They were oddly quiet as Trump bellowed, and looked down when a few of us openly jeered or laughed at Trump’s “promises.” Regardless of their candidate’s victory, D.C. is doubtless seen as foreign soil. Mocking Trump in a small town bar would probably elicit a different reaction.

The Women’s March the next day made the inaugural look like a county fair. (I was surprised that no food truck proprietor put out a sign that read, “Before you smash patriarchy, try our falafel!”) I’ve participated in many marches and demonstrations, but I can’t remember the last time I felt such passion and focused energy. Every street leading into the Capitol teemed with pink-clad humanity, opposition to Trump firm, faith in each other strong.

Not everyone shared the same anti-Trump perspective. Naturally, there were countless pro-Hillary signs and clothing (though not as many Bernie Sanders displays). This included references to Trump being Putin’s Puppet, hammer and sickle emphasizing the supposed connection; the FBI as the KGB; calls for Trump to be prosecuted for treason, and the rest of the DNC script.

treason.jpg

I’m not sure how to alter this mindset. Facts are essentially meaningless. Once liberals embrace a line, they tend to dig in and double down. It’s why many of them still bash Ralph Nader.

There were numerous young people for whom this was their first mass action. Most appeared content to chant, cheer, shout, and march. A segment peeled away and approached one of the White House gates. Secret Service police looked edgy as the crowd swelled and the chants grew louder. People began warning about possible pepper spray use. A sweet young man, maybe my son’s age, gulped wide-eyed and asked me, “Would they really use pepper spray?” I smiled back and said, “Yes, they would, so stay alert and be ready to run.”

He fought back his fear, waved his fist and chanted with the others. Whatever tension existed soon dissipated. A SWAT officer helped a man in a wheelchair negotiate the crowd, wished him well and gently patted his shoulder. Since there was no where else to go, people began moving away from the gate, fanning out among those still marching on the main streets, or streaming into overcrowded Metro stations. The mood remained buoyant throughout.

Everyone wonders what’s next. No doubt Trump will provide daily fuel for opposition, but in what direction that goes is anybody’s guess. Radicals and social democrats will try to expand on the Sanders model; mainstream liberals may seek another savior or beloved celebrity to guide them. The youth now politicized will hopefully deepen their engagement. There remain some rifts in what has the potential to be a powerful, political force. Simply being anti-Trump is not enough.

And what of working class people who support Trump? Liberals tend to write them off completely, while radicals look for economic common ground. As Trump inevitably screws over his followers, perhaps they’ll be open to real populist appeals. I have relatives and old friends who voted for Trump. Maybe that struggle begins at home.

(Photos: Laura Guyer)

Smooth Operator

Give Barack Obama this: he knows how to leave the stage.dropp

Commuting the prison sentences of Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera ostensibly showed the Real Obama under the imperial cloak, the savior at whom eager progressives threw themselves in 2008. And who knows — maybe a genuine heart does beat in Obama’s chest. I’m sure that Manning and Rivera embraced the news regardless of true presidential intent. Take what you can get.

Manning’s commutation was especially ironic, given Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers. It put liberals in an odd position, since many have been touting the CIA in reaction to Trump’s victory. Of course, liberal support for secret police is nothing new, and in this they’ve had a friend in Obama. How rich it is to see them scurry about, trying to wrap their partisan minds around Obama’s actions. Imperial decay does have its rewarding moments.

Now that he’s done, what do we make of Obama? If not for him, we probably would have experienced President Hillary, though if she lost to Trump, she might have lost to McCain/Palin as well. (With Hillary, it’s always a crap shoot.) So we can thank Obama for sparing us that.

On the whole, Obama was the perfect neoliberal president at the most opportune time. He steadied the imperial ship after the chaotic Bush/Cheney years, while keeping in place and expanding that administration’s commitment to surveillance and war (there was no way that Obama would ever close Guantánamo). His drone program, operating in at least seven countries, has been more forward-looking than the traditional boots on the ground approach. He bailed out the big banks and preserved Big Auto. His adoption of Mitt Romney’s version of health care produced mixed results, and is now (it seems) heading for the scrap heap.

For Democrats, Obama has largely been a disaster. Unlike the Clintons, who command loyalty and deference from party regulars, Obama didn’t really help down ticket candidates. The party remained in corporate centrist hands, beat back a populist challenge with whatever weapons they could grab, which resulted in the monumental embarrassment of losing to Donald Trump. With Obama leaving, these political geniuses have retrenched themselves, certain that they control the party’s destiny. They probably do, which should alarm Democrats, but it will take more than last November’s defeat for them to learn their lesson, assuming that ever happens.

When my three-chord polemic SAVAGE MULES was published in ’08, Obama-mania was at its height. This didn’t bode well for sales, even though I mentioned Obama only at book’s end. There was little chance that my critique of the Democrats would derail Obama’s campaign, but a number of liberals, from websites to bookstores, wanted nothing to do with it or me. (Glenn Greenwald, then at Salon, was one of the few in the media to honor his commitment to discussing MULES.) Still, I think I got it mostly right:

“Little wonder that Barack Obama’s rhetoric cast such a strong, hypnotic spell over [liberals]. His oratory was sweet music. Hillary simply spooked the room, putting everyone on edge. But Saint Obama spun much gentler yarns, elevating captive moods while keeping all in place. After the madness of the Bush years, Obama clearly seemed the most logical choice to manage the abattoir — smiling, waving, oiling his hammer gun, making sure that the conveyor belt’s running smoothly and efficiently.”

With Trump’s orange riot blowing into Washington, Obama looks better than ever, at least better than he should. He and his glamorous wife Michelle will be the toast of countless parties and benefits, earning millions while receiving praise for his sane, steady leadership. Unless Trump kills us all, that is.

The Fisher Queen

carrie-large

Biographers shouldn’t have regrets, because once your book is published there’s little you can do to alter its narrative in subsequent editions. Hopefully, the biographer has chosen wisely, angering as few of the subject’s survivors as possible.

When I landed MR. MIKE, I felt elation and dread. Suddenly, the life and work of a seminal American humorist was solely in my hands, making me hyper-conscious about not pissing off numerous celebrities and powerful showbiz figures. I wanted to be taken seriously, and this narrowed my creative approach.

Michael O’Donoghue’s widow, Cheryl Hardwick, granted me full access to Michael’s voluminous files. I was allowed to use anything that Cheryl had not previously removed. Still, I was cautious, for I knew that Michael had … let’s say singular, private experiences with notable individuals who might not be in a sharing mood. My focus narrowed even more.

One Sunday afternoon I discovered a file titled “Puppy Flesh” which contained various items connected to Michael’s affair with Carrie Fisher. Puppy Flesh was his pet name for Carrie who was nearly twenty years Michael’s junior. This was emphasized by a glossy photo of Carrie, dressed as a little girl, sitting on Michael’s lap — Lolita to his Humbert. There was no real time frame for their affair (it looked to be between the first two STAR WARS films), but it was clear that they had a rather intense one.

There were love letters and poems, mostly written by Carrie. Some were sexually explicit, others sweet and tender. One letter devolved into scribbled gibberish, which made sense as Carrie confessed that she was tripping on LSD. Regardless of catalyst, it was obvious that Carrie adored Michael, and poured her emotions into these missives.

I sat on the floor with the file and pondered. Should I use any of this? How would Carrie Fisher react if I did? She certainly wasn’t shy about sharing her drug and booze history, but this was pretty private. Did she even know that the file existed? I spent the rest of that day running various scenarios through my mind. In the end, I made fleeting mention of their relationship and left it at that.

I interviewed a number of people who knew Carrie, but never Carrie herself. I don’t recall why; our paths simply didn’t cross. I’m sorry for that, because I suspect we would have had a revealing conversation, not just about Michael, but also the original SNL world she inhabited.

Of course, now that conversation will never take place. Dying at 60 is relatively young, though given Carrie’s tempestuous life, it’s probably as old as she was destined to live. Her books and live show, WISHFUL DRINKING, affirmed Carrie’s quick, self-deprecating wit. You saw why she could hang with heavyweight talents, how she was much more than an ageless fantasy for STAR WARS fanboys.

I don’t know what happened to the Puppy Flesh file. I may have made copies of her letters, but if I did, they’re packed in an unmarked box in my attic. The only public evidence of her relationship with Michael is her brief appearance in MR. MIKE’S MONDO VIDEO. In a piece called “American Gals Love Creeps,” where various female celebs confess their sexual attraction to society’s losers, Carrie sits on Michael’s green couch in his Chelsea apartment, confiding that she wouldn’t kick Ralph Nader out of bed.

Nader should’ve been so lucky. So long, Carrie. However flawed you were, you remained inimitable. RIP.

Old Realities

kissputHenry Kissinger could be dead by the time you read this, or he’ll outlive us all. I put nothing past the old war criminal. As Kissinger continually proves, he is not to be underestimated.

Nixon’s former valet (Gore Vidal’s description) recently spoke about Russian hacking, which Kissinger not only expects happens, but should happen. Far from clutching his chest in outrage, the good Doctor reminds us that great powers spy and lie, cheat and look for openings. Putin identifies with the rich history of Russian nationalism, Kissinger says, “which [Putin] believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features.” This makes Putin a difficult puzzle, “a problem we have never had.”

I can see a younger, robust Kissinger flying to Moscow for a series of meetings with Putin. For all of his awfulness, Kissinger wasn’t an ideologue, but a realist — a realpolitikist, if you will. Putin would be one more foreign feather in Kissinger’s diplomatic cap, a challenge, yes, but someone who ultimately understood the balance of global power.

And don’t forget the private parties. Russian leaders love parties. Brezhnev threw some memorable ones.

What makes Kissinger’s comments even more diverting is the memory of Hillary’s team practically groveling for his endorsement. To his credit, Kissinger withheld it, which made Hillary’s overture look desperate and pitiful. After all the chaos and bloodshed Hillary helped to unleash, after all the encomiums to the great man himself, Kissinger wasn’t impressed enough to Be With Her.

That must have been a long walk back to campaign headquarters.

Kissinger’s cool assessment of Putin runs counter to the anti-Russian delirium still affecting countless American liberals. Now that the Electoral College won’t overturn the election results, Democrats are somewhat at sea. Tearing at their clothes, shouting “The Russians have taken over!” isn’t a long-term political strategy, nor even remotely close to political reality. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than organizing a grassroots resistance to Trump.* Consider it primal scream therapy for the enlightened.

*Had Hillary won, I’m sure Kissinger would find something positive about her leadership potential. But she didn’t, so Kissinger turned to Trump and said “I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president.” This is who Hillary actively courted. Ouch.

We Shall Overkill

Presidential transitions are slow motion previews of the next phase of plunder. Cabinet positions are filled amid murmurs and rumors; pundits speculate or celebrate, depending on partisan mood. And we are constantly assured that this process is, if not a miracle, then certainly something to behold.

Donald Trump’s transition may be the exception. Not since Reagan has such a polarizing figure assembled a toxic crew, though Reagan was much more popular coming in. It was Morning in America all over again, and even mainstream liberals looked to find something positive, a resurgent patriotism if nothing else.

Trump hasn’t been given such latitude. Unlike Reagan, who was a two-term governor and took two stabs at the presidency before succeeding, Trump remains the wild card he was when first announcing his candidacy. Despite long months of rancid behavior, Trump’s presence is still shockingly fresh. Each day, people wake up to the fact that he is indeed the next president. It may take years, or some catastrophic event, before that realization seems less bizarre.

So far, liberals have done an awful job fomenting resistance. Stunned by Hillary’s collapse, American liberals grab at any phantasm they hope will ease their pain or clarify their confusion. The Russians Did It is still the main excuse (had Hillary won to antagonize Putin, one can see how triumphant liberals would rally for war), but any reaction will do, so long as it reinforces the fantasies projected on Clinton and, by extension, themselves.

Say what you will about Cold War liberalism, at least it was moored to the labor and, to a degree, civil rights movements. Contemporary liberalism, primarily as expressed on social media, is attached to little more than corporate power, assuming that corporatists have any further use for Hillary fans. Lacking solidity, liberals are free to float any notion, regardless of pressing realities.

Their bitterness has curdled into hatred and blame, their favorite targets (after the Russians) being poor/working class whites and socialists, who are often conflated, albeit for reactionary reasons. Instead of reflecting on their election-year tactics in order to understand what went wrong, numerous liberals have doubled down on their arrogance and elitism.

They want nothing to do with powerless people or economic justice; too grimy, too déclassé. They somehow see their stance as anti-racist and pro-LGBTQ, simply because they say so. And as good Americans know, if something should be true, then it is true.

So, as Trump assembles his gang dedicated to strip mining what’s left of the economy and culture, liberals have decided to wage a two-front battle: Trump, of course, and those who believe in a more direct democracy. The former receives cultivated scorn; the latter, unbridled contempt. Mercifully, liberals don’t hold much actual power. Sadly, they reject those committed to power’s redistribution. All they have is their hostility, and they wonder why people don’t like them.

shark