Eastern Promises from a President Elect

Welp, here it goes. The world is waiting on pins and needles to see what exactly is going to happen over the coming days and weeks as Donald Trump is inaugurated and his administration begins to take shape. This week represents a dramatic shift in US and World politics, unlike anything we’ve seen since, say, the 16th century. Although to catch a glimpse of what an unchecked Trump Presidency might look like, there is one other modern country that embraces his leadership style.

There is one country that always seems to overplay its hand. One country that has thrown caution to the wind and completely adopted a bull-in-the-china-shop approach to diplomacy. One country that is consistently viewed from afar as irrational, insane, and stupid, but keeps on keeping on day after day. There is one country that is continually dismissed and underestimated, but which has bluffed its way to a seat at the adults table. One country which, in the face of more or less global opposition, has staged three nuclear weapons tests in the last decade.

Donald Trump’s campaign has much more in common with North Korean leadership than terrible hair. It’s not a stretch to think that he’ll use a similar strategy as leader of the free world.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd as he walks onstage for a rally at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) – photoshop work uncredited

This warrants a look at North Korean policy with the premise that the Kims are not fundamentally insane, but that the Madman (Petulant Child?) With A Bomb visage is carefully curated. North Korean leadership is, at the end of the day, acting in their own best interest by keeping the Pacific Rim in a perpetual risk of nuclear war.

Korea’s nuclear gambit pays off in both foreign and domestic policy, and we’ve already seen Trump borrow a play or two.

  • Domestic Policy – A state of impending war has, for centuries, bought any national leadership a bit of leeway with their constituency1. It whips up nationalist fervor, hardens The People to outside propaganda and information wars, and breeds a kind of stoicism to national shortages of things like food and energy.
  • Foreign Policy – By projecting an image of nuclear equipped insanity, North Korea has insulated itself from invasion. In 2003 President Bush identified North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as the “Axis of Evil.” We saw how that played out. American policy has, for a few decades at least, been to undermine or topple foreign governments2 that are both a) unfriendly to American interests, and b) unable to do anything about it. North Korea’s commitment to nuclear development and putative willingness to deploy those weapons has dramatically reduced the risk of Normandy East.

Now, does capitalizing on nationalist fury and my-way-or-the-highway negotiating to win power sound familiar? Donald Trump was never going to win an election based on his policy chops or command of the issues, but his willingness to kick over the checkers board resonated with an electorate that has grown cynical about neo-Liberal policies.

Importantly, the weekly gaffes and Twitter tirades that have typified the past year are not the random ravings of a madman, but a clearly effective strategy for overplaying his hand.

Looking forward to a Trump administration, it’s hard to imagine a change in tactics.

Part of North Korea’s success relies on a robust propaganda machine and controlled messaging. We see this at home in Trump’s efforts to fundamentally dismantle the concept of truth through fabricated news and a prolonged assault on the news media. His efforts to expand libel laws and weaken the First Amendment indicate a real move toward weakening legitimate journalism and strengthening his own propaganda apparatus.

Bluster like a Mexican border wall and weakening NATO works in two ways. It appeals to latent racism (white nationalism) that has been ignored by mainstream politics for a long time (but is clearly still central to the American Identity), and erodes global confidence that the world’s largest economy and military will act in a predictable way.

And the thing is, it’ll probably work. In the same way that Trump actually (sort of) won the Presidency and that North Korea still hasn’t been invaded by some Coalition of Willing partners, this approach to government really may benefit the US in the short term.

If we’re willing to drill for oil in National Parks, we’ll see an uptick in jobs. If we’re willing to upend a century of diplomacy, we’ll probably see concessions from our allies. If we’re willing to ignore the idea that some things are true and other things are not, then we’ll certainly be able to believe that our own Dear Leader has our best interest in mind, and that we really are great again.

The question, then, is what we’re willing to give permanently in order to believe that we’re doing better now.

 

1Of course this has also been a cornerstone of US foreign policy since at least the 1950s, although we’ve selected wars on ideologies (like Communism, Drug Culture, and Terrorism) rather than anything actually defeatable to prolong the uncertainty.
2 Iran, Syria, Guatemala, El Salvador, Lebanon, Cuba, Congo, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Brazil, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria again, etc. – Any I forgot? Leave ’em in the comments!

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It’s Like the other Tuesdays, but Different

Hey y’all,

So . . . it’s Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, unlike most Tuesdays, the fate of humanity rests in your hands. Fortunately it’s super easy to stave off damnation for another four years – all you gotta do is vote.

And I know. Voting is hard. You have to take time out of your busy day to go all the way to a special place, and wait in a line, and answer a bunch of questions. It’s like going to Chipotle at rush hour only you’re still hungry after. And it probably doesn’t even make a difference, right? The lizard people call all the shots anyway.

Wrong! Sad!

It’s really pretty easy to come up with excuses not to vote, and so I’m going to go ahead and try to head a few of the popular ones off here:

  • They both stink! It doesn’t make a difference. – Ok so this is just demonstrably untrue. But there’s been a ton of lip service about the staggering differences between our main party candidates this year, and at this point nothing you read here is likely to change your mind. If you really believe that the candidates are indistinguishable, then sure – leave that bubble blank.

    Because here’s the thing – Google Analytics tells me that the vast majority of you, My Dear Readers, reside in Montana, California, and Illinois. That means that the presidential races in your state is probably pretty well buttoned up.

    You’re still not off the hook for voting.Down ballot races are way more important than the one at the top (especially if you don’t live in Florida, or Michigan, or North Carolina or something). Feel strongly about Planned Parenthood funding? I wonder how your state legislators feel about that. Fond of public land access? Jeez, maybe there’s a state supreme court or Gubernatorial candidate on the ballot who could really change how that works.And then there’s the initiatives. Legal marijuana! Weird shady tax things! A new school playground! This stuff is up to you! Remember Brexit? The Columbian peace deal falling apart? That shit wasn’t decided by elected officials.

    So yeah, even if you really can’t tell the difference between the two options for president, you still need to vote.

  • I don’t have time. – I know we’re all busy in these crazy days, but come on. You’ve got time. Americans watch between four and five hours of TV per day. We spend about 90 minutes gazing at our phones. We spend 42 hours a year sitting in traffic, and we spend at least a couple hours each day screwing off at work. If for just one day, you woke up in the morning and were perfectly efficient, you would have a brand new 8 hours to fill with whatever you’d like to do. Maybe preserving our democratic process could make the list?
  • What do you mean vote? I thought American Idol got cancelled? – You are correct! And I know you’re just jonesing to get all that vote mojo out. May I suggest National and Local elections? Warning – You cannot text your vote.

vote

  • Eh, fuck black people. And Hispanics. And women. And Muslims. And the disabled. And the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 13th, and 19th Amendments. And the Geneva Accords.  And the fabric of democracy. – I mean, I guess if that’s how you really feel it’s actually pretty hard to argue with.
  • I don’t know where I’m registered. – It’s cool. We have a tool for that. Click right here to see where and when you can vote!
  • There are armed white men standing outside of my polling place. – Yes. The “poll observers.” We were worried about those guys, especially after the Malheur Farce. The best thing you can do is call a local hotline to report voter intimidation. In the meantime, you can probably lure them away by telling them that you just saw a Bad Hombre trying to sneak into a voting booth around the corner.
  • I am still an undecided voter. – I get it. This election is tricky. It’s like being in a pizza place where the only options for toppings are anchovies and shattered light bulbs. You’re torn between, “ew, I can see its eyeball,” and “it’s possible I won’t die.” I guess my only advice would be to order the actual food, even if it’s not your favorite.
  • Shouldn’t we just be able to text our votes in? – Still no.
  • I am actually dead. – It never stopped Mayor Daley from getting elected in Chicago! Just kidding. Voter fraud isn’t really a thing. Unless you consider voter suppression and contortionist congressional redistricting fraud, in which case, yeah I guess.

So that’s it. You just wasted another 4 minutes of your day reading this post. Put your phone away and go to the damn polls. If you ride your bike there you won’t even waste all that time in traffic.

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Things We Can Agree On

The National Dialogue, over the last year or so, has been . . . contentious. A lot of us feel pretty strongly about more than a few things, and there’s been some awfully heated disagreement over foreign policy, healthcare, what constitutes a crime, and so forth. It feels like there’s nothing we can agree on. And so I’m pretty excited for November 9, when we can finally open our arms to President Stein and put this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad election behind us.

In the meantime, as two people collectively spend like $200 million in a week to scuff each others’ shoes, I thought it might be nice to focus on a few things we can agree on. Remember, we’ve got much more in common than we do apart.

  • Clear coffee cups are wrong – This is even truer if you take cream.
20161028_101132
The horror. The horror.

 

  • The left lane is not for driving – It’s for passing. And turning left. And that’s really it. If you’re over there for more than like 30 seconds at a time, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  • Airplanes are for silence – Unless the plane is actively crashing and we’re coordination an evacuation, there’s really nothing to discuss. Keep it to yourself.
  • Pie>Cake – “Cake” is a fancy word for flour and air.
  • Climate change is a thing – Look, we still have a lot to fight about. Let’s pull together on this one. It’s not something stupid like healthcare as a human right, after all, and just acknowledging it doesn’t mean we actually have to do anything about it. Besides, once we get on the same page here we can spend more time talking about that Walking Dead premier.
  • Toilet paper rolls over the top – Like a waterfall. If you’re in the loo as a guest in someone’s home, and they’ve accidentally loaded it upside down, please feel free to correct it. Don’t feel pressure to bring it up, we can all be forgiven for an occasional mistake.
We can all agree that's how it's supposed to look.
Correct.
  • Butter goes on the counter – So it spreads. If it’s warm out, I suggest a butter bell.
  • The whole “Rolling Coal” thing has really run its course – We get it, high school was awesome. That night you won state was like, the best ever. But there really are better ways to memorialize your fading relevancy than being this much of a twat.
  • No touching – There should be no bumping, brushing, glancing, shaving, or other forms of incidental contact between strangers at any time. Wait your turn. This includes concerts, shopping malls, mass transit, and sporting events.
  • Iceberg lettuce is a crime – It’s like slimy, perishable, packing peanuts. Advertising salad and serving iceberg amounts to fraud, and should be prosecuted accordingly. Enough with the emails. This is what true crime looks like.
  • Keep shit out of the hinge – If you borrow a pocket knife, don’t use it for spreading peanut butter. Or jam.

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Entropy at Work

Those of us who were born recently enough to only have followed the last several national elections may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that our democracy is in the throes of unraveling, and that the Great American Experiment is, at last, a failure.

2000 found us stating that we were faced with the worst candidates in history. In 2004, we took it all back and declared that no, in fact, these were the worst candidates we’d ever been forced to elect. In 2008 the ascendancy of our country’s first black president gave rise to latent white nationalism from coast to coast, and was the most polarizing election in memory. The most polarizing election in memory, of course, until 2012, when the TEA party hijacked the Republican party and talking heads spoke exclusively in superlatives for like eight months. That shit was wild.

But then we have 2016. Holy crap. The world, it seems, is on the cusp of demise.

trump

 

This election cycle has seen the most inflammatory language we’ve ever heard on the presidential stage, and it has incubated the ugliest in all of us. The last debate nearly came to blows, the candidates finally resorted only to libel. The Republican party is actually imploding before our eyes, and zealots across the political spectrum are openly calling for revolution if they don’t get their way.

Isn’t it great?

See, our body politic is reeling right now, but there isn’t really any better way for it to unfold. What we’re seeing here is entropy at work. Entropy, remember, is that pesky tenet of thermodynamics that you heard about in college and forgot about as soon as f’ing possible. That tendency in a closed system to err toward disorder.

Physicists deal with it all the time in a candid way, but entropy is a constant in all of our lives. You ever notice how it’s a full time job to keep the kitchen clean? Or the bedroom picked up? How a clean house will apparently descend into chaos over the course of a week if it’s allowed? That’s entropy. And it’s at work right now in our body of representatives.

It takes an outside force to restore order. It takes effort. The Trump campaign is, like he promises (one of the few things he’s right about), well positioned to fix a broken system. He really is poised to Make America Great Again, the same way that months’ worth of moldy pizza boxes under the couch are poised to get you to clean the living room.

Partisan inflexibility has gridlocked Congress for more than a decade. It’s that ineffectiveness that’s given rise to a candidate like Trump. People are sick of that shit, and this is what we’ve come up with: a big, orange cudgel brandished at our representatives that they’d better get their damn affairs in order or we’ll give ’em more of this whack job.

I hope that the Trump candidacy is simply an indication that our national politics have reached a state of squalor unparalleled outside of Shel Silverstein poems (a garbage fire, in other terms). That it’s time, now, to clean our bedroom. To put away those dishes. To wash and fold those piles of dirty clothes. Unchecked, the state of things will always tend toward disorder and chaos. I hope that we can agree that it is time, now, for a reset. It’s physics, after all.

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Donald Trump and Diet Coke

Consider, for a moment, the following photograph:

20160828_195301

I suppose that you see a glass of soda (pop? coke?), sitting on a wooden pedestal. A background of brick and sunkissed glass in the background, it’s a picture of summer evenings and sweet things quenching your thirst.

I, however, must disagree. Instead we are looking at the truest analogy we have for the Donald Trump candidacy.

Take, for instance:

The Old-Timey Patriotism – The glass itself is an ode to an older time. When war meant killing Nazis and coming home to a dame and a factory job and house from GI Bill. The glass is blazed with Red, White, and Blue, promising to spirit to your lips the best of America. It invokes the days when America was Great. With ticker-tape parades and jingoism. The shape of the glass is even a classic, harking to the good old days of Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. Its silhouette alone is the sum of our nostalgia for grainy John Wayne films and Ballpark Franks. The glass alone seems to be screaming “Let’s Make American Great Again!”

The Homage to a Craft – In America, we used to make things. Like machines. And beer. And diabetes. And here, to appease our yearning for an era of production, is blazed upon that glass’s curves is something we can all agree on: “Take pride in your beer.” And who wouldn’t take pride in their beer? Who wouldn’t like to see America great? It’s a statement so banal that to raise an eyebrow is akin to treason.

And yet, hidden in the glare of the setting sun, is the signature of a registered trademark. Yessirree, this here token of American exceptionalism is the intellectual property of one REDACTED Brewing Company. This simple statement is more than an affirmation of good faith. It’s the cynical commercialization of what we all hold dear – not so different from a TRUMP steak or the $25 Bling H2O available in Trump Hotels.

The Bait and Switch – Of course the glass that proclaims “Take pride in your beer®” holds no beer at all. The glass we see came filled, not with the bounty of fermented grain, but with a mass produced vacuum bag of sugarwater. Cynical branding aside, it’s the bait-and-switch. The glass promises the fruits of America’s heartland and delivers cheaply manufactured fluff. What’s more Trumpian than that?

I’ll tell you what’s more Trumpian. The double bait and switch. That there soda is a Diet. The promise to “Take pride in your beer®” can’t even deliver real corn syrup. How will it build a wall?

The Glass Half Full – And so we’re left looking at a half-full glass of unnaturally colored liquid, and we’re not really sure of what it’s made of. Sounding familiar? Well, you may have noticed that I said half-full. That’s pretty optimistic. Maybe it’s half empty?

Nope.

Take another look at the glass. The geometry of the thing, the bulbous top and narrow bottom mean that it’s not even nearly half full. And when you consider that most of it there is icy cold filler, not much substance, then the glass barely holds anything at all.

The more we look at the photo, the less it looks like a cool drink on a hot summer night. Even the condensation on the glass evokes the campaign team sweating as the new poll results roll in. It seems more like we’re looking at a cynically branded, disingenuous homage to the American Greatness of a time we never knew. It’s a bulbous, diaphoretic, discolored poison trying to emulate a flavor that is, for better or worse, a part of our shared heritage. Its substance is bloated by coldness, so that what seems to be a half-full lesser evil is hardly more than a few drops of sticky moisture.

A few drops of sticky moisture. Please try to remember that phrase when you’re alone in the booth, and think about how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

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