Me, Me, Me

I don’t know how, why or when the “Me, Me, Me” movement began to flourish in our nation. The 1980’s revealed such an ethos, thanks to TV shows like Dallas, but the surge seems to have reached some sort of peak during the past four years. The adrenalin rush of superiority it gave Americans led to a new level of pseudo-superiority and isolation upon the world stage for our country, and not because of the Pandemic alone. The monstrous ego of our president during that time dazzled many Americans into believing that we owned the planet and that no other countries mattered except those with heartless, conniving dictatorial leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un and anyone who was White. Demeaning others through snide insults through innuendo and braggadocio became the stuff of America’s new personality, accepted and even adored by his gullible worshipers. The president even bamboozled people into believing he was a religious zealot. They fell for the whole package of rubbish, as long as he swung a Bible in the air or hugged an American flag. That’s really all it took.
There was the constant flood of “Tweets” that his followers drank up like cheap wine in a ghetto, his face and bitter swagger consuming television news every few minutes. He made Don Rickles look like Mother Teresa to the point where at times it seemed to diminish the oxygen supply of political discourse. The resident leader became a cult figure to his blithe and unquestioning followers. He was a Svengali who knew all the right buttons to press at just the right times, exploiting fears, real or imagined. His greatest asset was paranoia itself, wielded like a sword. His speeches were always filled with catch phrases like, “many people are saying,” or “everyone says.” But HIS opinion was the only one that mattered. He had the apparent swagger and unswerving confidence of Benito Mussolini or monstrously conceited Adolf Hitler from the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Some still cling to his model for what they feel is the essence of actual leadership, which really funnels down to unswerving egomania that is mostly carny show stuff with little or no substance than fake bravado, more entertaining through its making fun of any skeptics. He made Roman emperors Nero and Caligula look like rank amateurs when it came to colossal vanity.
Now that the show is pretty much over and we’re facing national issues under a new leader who is finding his way without the shield of a grotesquely oversized ego, or a nation that is not anywhere together on anything anymore, or the stage farce that merely tried to distract attention away from shared national problems, through tantrums and insults, reality is finally setting in.
I hope that the old issue of background checks for lethal weapons can come about through a wider understanding that legal, safe gun owners will remain perfectly fine keeping their weapons. No one is trying to dissolve the Second Amendment. The moronic myth that all weapons will be retrieved by the government is pure rubbish, and the rumor mongers know it. Such nonsense and unreasonable fear is what continues to make Republican senators huddle in terror against telling anything resembling the truth. Their muteness will mean only more unnecessary slaughter, while they sit quietly twiddling their thumbs in silence even during the next pointless gun massacre of the innocent. JB

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The Long Road Ahead

There have been times recently when I hardly recognized The United States as being my country. The far-right white-Anglo Saxon, Bible-toting hordes have become almost too easy to satirize. They seem to have done all the work for me. Their smug, self-righteous, myopic views have become so extreme at times, that they make even William F. Buckley seem like a screaming liberal. The tightly woven fabric of their narrow convictions has created a dichotomy of religious rhetoric mixed uncomfortably with guns and violent verbal abuses aimed at those who don’t always agree completely with them.

Jesus is no longer really the symbol of the far right American political ethos. Christ has been quite unceremoniously replaced by Donald Trump, whose screaming vulgarity and empty promises have beguiled his base into thinking we can actually go back to the 1950’s whiter-than-white society. The Christian cross is still part of white religious symbolism, but it has devolved into rather a violent weapon or battering ram used to injure and control rather than to comfort and protect. This has not gone unnoticed by other nations overseas. The joke has become ugly and threatening to our entire history as a republic.

Our laws and Constitution were assailed on January 6, 2021 by smug, would-be-heroes, who turned out to be the usual street thugs who would happily have turned our government into their personal venue for as much control as that of any tyrannical third world country.

To0 many have happily devoured a diet of conspiratorial, blood-boiling tabloid “news” by masters of duplicity, like Tucker Carlson and Rush Limbaugh, whose fear-factor techniques have made them very wealthy men, who feed upon the dismay and ignorance of a huge swath of the American public. Even some of my own relatives have come to believe only the most scathing critiques of the far-left. Some of those folks are cousins, who would think that Cotton Mather was too liberal. Their entire political ethos is based upon the conviction that there are liberal factions behind every door waiting to pull the wool over our eyes to turn America into a nation of spendthrift libertines, who scoff at any kind of morality. Their views are always prepackaged, neatly and scathingly composed (complete with photos) to raise the blood pressure of the unwary. It’s all really too absurd, but it does provide that adrenalin, roller coaster rush that is pleasing to a mind that has become so self-righteous that Fox News and its ilk become what they believe is their only lifeline to reality. Even Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini could not have accomplished such a feat of imposed fear and suspicion in such a short time. Of course, they didn’t have the mass media that now wafts its messages constantly over the airwaves.

I’ve not given up, despite the armies of opposition that surely lie ahead during the next few years. I still believe that America can and will find a balance and regain its sanity. If not, Costa Rica is looking pretty good to me.   JB

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Day of Delusion

January 6 (Epiphany for Christianity), 2021 will go down in history as a turning point in American democracy. It was a day that will be remembered for self-righteous indignation so extreme that it will echo the mob rule of Italy and Germany of the 1930’s. All semblance of order and reason were replaced by mob mentality that grew only stronger as the fervor of a mock-religious egomania created a false sense of heroism in battering down doors, smashing windows and generally desecrating the halls of democracy in favor of temporary , puffed-up swagger.

One of the most offensive images that day was of some hysterical individuals using a large wooden cross around which some of them prayed for “victory” as though Christ himself must be on the side of the holier-than –thou thugs who were using that symbol of peace, love, and compassion to cover up the ignorant, cruel violence they had already wrought on the grounds and in the building itself. That religious blur made the mob believe that the citadel was being saved in the name of something other than the desecration of democracy it actually was.

Mindless malevolence ensued, of course, leaving in its wake its twisted path of hate, racism, physical assault, death, and the false sense that they were actually doing something heroic and that any form of martyrdom would be just fine on the evening news. Rather, those events will leave an ugly scar as smug and shameful as if they had set fire to The Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

On the world stage, our country, for many, now resembles in too many ways the dictatorships of South America. It is almost as though our most glorious ideals of democratic governance had been discarded in favor of those who believe that loudness, bullying, vulgarity, and disrespect for equality and compassion for one’s fellow citizens must rule the day. They have, of course, been taught by a master of deceit with big gestures that puff up egos by denigrating other citizens and the rest of the world.

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”  Ann Pratchett

There are currently too many who are afraid to take a stand against what occurred that day (and subsequent days), shrinking away from truth as though they would be turned to salt by looking directly at it. The president’s denial of any wrong doing does nothing but place a thin shroud over all our past attempts and successes at rendering our nation a “…land of the free…with liberty and justice for all.”  JB

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How Easily We Forget

Like many other Americans, I sat transfixed, terrified and enraged at seeing the Capitol Building in Washington assailed by mindless, violent thugs in their narrow, self-righteous attempt at overthrowing a government that over the past four years has increasingly become the personal property of a man whose insidious, though accurate, instincts have attracted and controlled armies of dissatisfied citizens who live in terror that our nation might actually belong to all its citizens, regardless of race or color. The fear that something might be stolen from them has grown almost to the point of civil war, even though these people and the President himself would furiously deny that their hateful rhetoric is in any way racist.

I think of Italy and Germany of the 1930’s under Mussolini and Hitler whose bigotry was the basis of fear and unrest, the flames of which were fanned by those leaders to promote suspicion, terror and, finally, shameless mass murder on an unfathomable scale, which many of the criminals from last week’s embarrassing drama in the USA would be too ashamed actually to admit really even occurred. Such denial, self-righteous egomania, and aggrandizement made it easier to flout law and order for their own megalomania, which had been bubbling under the surface for years until what they deemed a “strong leader” fomented unrest through his army of psychotic marionettes, controlled like the pawns on a chessboard.

Blind mob rage created the terror and destruction they hoped for, leaving an ugly scar on the democratic process at which they scoffed for their own egomaniacal purposes…naïve gullible armies of them (like ants), seeming to believe absolutely anything the President said or even implied, as though carrying the American flag was what made them patriots. History repeats itself, sometimes very painfully for those who either forget it or want to use it for their own selfish purposes. So it goes, sadly this time with an army of spineless, gutless Republican lawmakers, cowering in their little comfort zones of what they deem their power and money. History will not look any more kindly upon them than it will upon the Brown Shirts and Black Shirts of eighty year ago in Europe. My hope now is that history books will not leave out the greed and utter treason of those who have shamed themselves over the past weeks (four years) and rendered our country a nation of fear, greed, suspicion, bigotry and utter shame on the world stage.  JB

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2020….Entombment with Netflix and HBO

To say that I’m relieved that 2020 is over would be a vast understatement, as I’m sure it would be for most of the people I know. Phone chats and computer communications aside, it was a lonely, painfully isolated year during which even brief chats with neighbors over fences and hedges were social events of convivial importance. My face-to-face communications were few, making even Silas Marner look like a sparkling socialite by camparison. It’s sad to me that one of my most convivial experiences last fall was a visit to Walgreens for my flu shot, after which the nurse and I chatted happily for almost twenty minutes, laughing as though we had just polished off a bottle of Champagne.

When I took the dog to the vet for his booster shots or when I went to my doctor for a check-up, wearing a mask made me feel like a bandit, but my chronic bronchitis sadly made it necessary to take every precaution, as I am now 75 years old and could be snuffed out like a candle if I caught the Covid virus, and there was also the discomfort others might feel had I not bothered with a mask anywhere in pubic. The political ramifications were silly but real from time to time. The look of “Are you one of THEM?” became somewhat laughable on one hand but sad on the other.

In any case, I know that the calendar changing from 2020 t0 2021 is mostly symbolic and doesn’t mean that we’re out of the hole yet, despite the vaccines, which seem to be experiencing rather a slow start anyway. Being overly confident is still dangerous for many of us. Bravado means nothing but a vain pose, particularly with the new strain of the virus, which is no more lethal but is much more easily transmitted.

Regardless, I see light at the end of the tunnel, though I can’t yet tell how long we’ll be winding our way through that tunnel to experience the fullness of that light. Thank goodness for books, crossword puzzles, DVD’s, Netflix and HBO. They’ve spoiled me through distraction and escape when I needed them. The news about the vaccines was almost enough to make me try a cartwheel in my front yard, but being hospitalized for hurting myself that way seemed too embarrassing a prospect, so I went back into the house. When the Covid nightmare ends or is officially under control, I want to party in the streets with family, friends and neighbors again. I’ll bring the wine!  JB

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A Crack in the Mirror

Every once in a while I suppose just about everybody needs to vent his or her frustration and dismay by kicking a chair leg, throwing a rock into a pond, or screaming into a pillow. Some folks even get drunk. So many on Facebook have been doing just those kinds of things regarding politics lately, mostly those whose lives seem tied up in (by) our current president, who is still trying to convince us that meanness of spirit along with cheating are strengths that must be honored instead of dismissed. Everyone else is a “loser.” My release of pent up ire or disappointment is generally letting it bleed all over typing paper in a storm of words this afternoon that need not worry about stepping on anyone’s toes, mostly because the words don’t fret about anyone who stepped on mine, politically, emotionally, socially, or personally during the past four years.

I’m dismayed, (shocked) by and ashamed of the clueless, misinformed, narrow-minded posts (“thoughts”) concerning the recent national election. Facebook acquaintances, and even a couple of friends and relatives have managed to leave me in a state of shock at how apparently gullible and self-righteous people can be, people who don’t even have horns, fangs, or poison arrows.

I’m really talking here about people who are far enough to the right to make William F. Buckley, Jr. look like a screaming liberal. They usually see their own personal views as heroic in their amazing veneration of a president they worship blindly, believing somehow that wisdom pours from his lips like a fifth Gospel, instead of the greedy, narrow, mean, vengeful, lunacy it really is. I will never comprehend being dazzled (hoodwinked) by him, though he certainly knows the right buttons to push in order to activate floods of rage and indignation in his wide-eyed, adoring hand-puppets.

Isn’t it time to admit that we need to reunite our country, leave the dirt and slime behind us and stop making cruel, narrow rhetoric sound like some elixir that will save us from destruction? When and how did we lose our way? Our current president has the same effect on his star-struck base that Benito Mussolini had on too many Italians of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Our nation doesn’t have to be ugly, smug, and cruel to be respected on the world stage. News flash: Neither do people.

Almost all the criticism I’ve seen on Facebook against “the liberal left” has been manufactured (by God knows whom), stuff that is cunningly designed to push the right (far right) buttons to raise the adrenalin of self-righteous folks who enjoy having targets (scape goats) for their being pissed off at the world in general… not from respected, impartial sources, but from those that resemble the worst excesses of tabloid trash, like The National Enquirer.

Isn’t it time to stop being poor losers and begin showing some level of respect for the nation itself and its history and laws, instead of manufacturing bloodcurdling scenarios in a crybaby way, denying truth and the history of our Constitution and every other law that has kept us as ONE nation? It’s almost 2021, NOT 1862. We are not, or should not be, at war with one another, the flames being fanned by voices from sources I suspect aren’t even American ones. Our laws and history are more important than the whims and ego of a crybaby golden calf that has become a thing of blind worship rather than the dangerous, egomaniacal distraction he really is. He and God are lightyears apart, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change or disguise that ugly fact.

Fox News and other twisted, adrenalin-raising sources of heavily tweaked information, continue to intoxicate the unwary, even though the wool has not yet been pulled over everyone’s eyes. Senators on the far right whose backbones have been lost or hidden during this administration, oblivious to the needs of our country, and those who have followed their lead, will be judged much more harshly by history than they have yet been able to imagine. The cult they have protected and nurtured over the past four years will be seen in a much harsher light as time passes. Money and power may look quite different in retrospect. It’s not going to be pretty.    JB

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.” Ann Patchett

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Where Two Roads Diverge (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Isolation over the past eight months has given me a new perspective, particularly about The United States, where I was born, raised, educated, and where I have lived since I was born in 1946. As a senior citizen, I remember the era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, the fear, division, and rancor he generated in narrowing the definition of being an American. He honed it down to a snide view, tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin. Though young and not yet aware of the wider perspective that would come from experience and education, I was conscious of a fear in watching beloved entertainers being grilled mercilessly about the faintest possibility that they could be Communists. The phony heroism of McCarthy and the narrow-minded bigots who were his cronies fanned the flames of hate, often in the name of religion. Lives were destroyed. Truth didn’t really matter. It was merely a stage production to make McCarthy appear to be some kind of protector or savior.

Over the past four years, a similar, simplistic patriotism that excludes rather than includes, has turned fear mongering and suspicion into art forms that make race demonstrations and political protests of the 1960’s look like mere football skirmishes. Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, our leader is gifted in his astounding ability to find and stoke terror about imagined foes, funneling the blame for social ills down to stereotypes of race and political party. Mistrust is intensified by biased accusation and malevolently blurred fault. That adrenalin rush for many is simply too irresistible and gives the gullible a feeling of satisfaction at finding easy scapegoats.

The peace and prosperity we might now have, had the pandemic been taken more seriously by our egomaniacal braggart of a leader, who is in everlasting denial about any responsibility he might have for anything, has little chance in a society of bored deniers of science and facts (a view that they emulate from its source in Washington). Self-righteous indignation has replaced civilized discussion, respect for real knowledge and social healing. Eloquence, compassion, decency, and goodwill have been replaced by screaming insults, blame, and fear that we may never again find the American dream, because “the other side” is trying to snatch it away and replace it with some apocalyptic nightmare. I suppose the two opposing fears, based upon the extremely oversimplified views of the two political sides are socialism versus totalitarianism (dictatorship, which we already seem to have). Few seem even remotely interested in any middle ground, but such compromise may prove the only way we can, as a nation, survive. Either way, the world is watching.   JB

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A Monumental Division

The phrase “one nation under God” has lost most of its former meaning and power over the past four years. Even the name The United States of America can now seem only a memory that sticks in one’s throat. The terms “conservative” and “liberal” have now also become oversimplified and almost airtight stereotypes that can automatically summon unspeakable horrors (real or imagined) on both sides of our social and political landscape. Racism, inequality, and ill-feeling are rampantly triggered by our haughty assumptions of right and wrong being as simple to identify and judge as black and white.

For example, even wearing or not wearing a mask in public places has become a label for being a Republican or Democrat. Flouting science and facts has become, on one side, an act of heroism or bravery instead of the thoughtless and ignorant gesture it really is. Respect for others has become less important than appearing to be heroic. The word “fact” has been abused by our nation’s leader by his using the adjective “fake” whenever he feels cornered by actual truth. His messages are convoluted to the point of absurdity, but his followers still worship him without question or interest in veracity on any level. Perhaps they’re too embarrassed to admit their initial adoration for a man who makes Benito Mussolini look like Mr. Rogers. Braggadocio is much more fun than boring common sense. Phony heroism and modest acceptance of facts have locked horns on the world stage, where any attempts to define or face facts is met with a resentment of tarnishing the imagined luster of the current administration and its blithe disciples. “I have my rights” has become something our forefathers might not even recognize in terms of its descent into egomania over the past four years.

Boredom for some is more and more opening doors to reckless behavior on a national scale.  On a recent evening newscast one woman screamed at the idea of having to wear a mask in public. “I don’t have to wear a mask. I have the right to die if I want to.” Of course, she forgot that perhaps she didn’t have the right to kill others by exposing them to the microbes she might be carting round. Her self-righteous view of “freedom” during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic might also have defied the quarantine laws. During World War II, she would not have honored the laws governing black-outs during bombing raids, the result of which no one knew from day to day. During the 1960’s she would have ignored the new laws regarding seatbelts for herself and her children. In those instances, the scream of “I have my rights!” rings hollow in the face of public safety and shared responsibility.

It’s almost too easy to imagine outside forces from foreign governments fanning the flames of our national division. Destroying ourselves would most certainly save Russia, North Korea, China, Iran and other hostile nations the trouble of doing it themselves. Their input into our politics now is, I suspect, more powerful than we can yet imagine. The Dems and GOP, by and large, have become two separate and mutually hostile countries, digging through their daily battles the trenches between what we used to be as a nation and what we’re becoming. The adrenalin rush of snide, selfish, one-upmanship on both sides has given us an almost video game mentality, where we don’t share the benefits of cooperation, but rather feel the need to score points that make the struggle between Generals Grant and Lee look like a children’s puppet show.

It seems unlikely that the nation will wake up any time soon, coming together with shared values that honor what we perhaps once were or thought we could become. It may yet become the most methodical and diabolical self-destruction since ancient Rome.  JB

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A Steep, Downward Slope

President Trump, over the past six months, has been almost literally painting a huge smile face over the pandemic and riots, editing out the horror of them with his self-image of a supposed savior at every turn, while others in power wink at his deceptions in order to maintain the control and privilege that they have already clawed out of the nation’s very bone marrow. The President’s method is to brag about his mythical effectiveness as a leader and to deny any blame for anything at any time. His divisive swagger is sadly invisible to a base that worships him as their only hope in destroying a mythical liberal army who can be accused of any national “evil” of the moment.

Loud banter is the President’s weapon of choice. Compassion, foresight, planning to help the masses are not parts of this absolute monarch’s method. Bluster and noise of accusation in blaming others are the distractions that seem to fool so many into believing that this is what leadership really is. Boasting and yelling seem to work best for the current president, which is perhaps why we hear him speaking almost exclusively outside, where there are other noises like traffic, so he can scream his messages. So much more impressive to his flock as a deception of power.

All this brings to mind the methods and styles of past world leaders of the 1920’s and 1930’s…Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, strutting majestically upon the stage-set of their own design so that the audience doesn’t see what’s really there until it’s too late. This mass hypnosis has its powerful effect, because the real values the president espouses were bubbling under the surface before he was even elected. Racism, resentment against real national equality for all citizens are strange to some whose sense of privilege has been threatened by laws passed under President Obama that were just too inclusive to keep those who believed themselves to be the top layer comfortable. It reminds me of the quotation, “Equal right for others doesn’t mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie.”

But the views on our TV screens of cities on fire set by anarchists have created war zones that seem to be getting more violent as our leader fans the flames yet further with more threats and insults instead of discussion for real change. The original purpose of discussing real equality has shifted to a national confusion that fails to separate the criminal element of looters and arsonists from the majority who have legitimate needs and complaints that are being side-tracked by the hype of suspicion and accusation. Where this will end is anyone’s guess, but change is essential for us as a nation to move on as a more inclusive and compassionate country with shared hopes instead of rancor and division. The Civil War of the 1860’s never really ended. We’re still fighting on the world stage, where other nations like China and Russia are biding their time while smiling at the hope that we destroy ourselves and save them the trouble.  JB

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A Sharp Turn in the Road

Though I’m on FaceBook and enjoy seeing news and humor from friends and former students, there are changes I’ve been observing over the past few months that are draping an ugly shroud over that social experience.

I thought that, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic, we might all be able to lift up one another in supportive and sympathetic ways as a nation. My miscalculation in that regard has been nothing less than cosmic. The increasing rancor and division in our nation, often based upon blind party loyalty, social class, skin color, misguided and twisted religious fervor, and utter paranoia, have turned the country upside down in a vortex of suspicion. I suspect that all these reasons have been bubbling like molten lava beneath the surface of whatever social equanimity we at least thought we had before.

Composure, discussion (not wrangling), and actual reasoning seem now to be on hiatus in favor of passionate denunciation of one group or political party by another in the most insultingly simple ways. Both sides are guilty of this, but the problem is that the two sides rarely if ever anymore merge for the good of the nation, where there is terrible need amid the rage of name-calling and constant accusation hurled hourly by one party at the other…in both directions. What does this solve? “Nothing” is the correct response, friends. If Vladimir Putin himself were the puppet master (which I believe he may well be), he couldn’t be pulling the strings for his own benefit more successfully in order to encourage our self-destruction.

On FaceBook there are posts every few minutes, not of news and facts, but of stories about supposed evil plots (i.e. mail fraud, blown way out of proportion for the benefit of the current administration) that make the National Enquirer look like The Farmer’s Almanac. Much of this, of course, has to do with terrified and suspicious people who find comfort in myths about conspiracy theories, ones that are shared as “factual” instead of the absurd, dangerous lies they are. Such terror and hopelessness are, I believe,  origins and nursemaids of the terrifying “Q” phenomenon upon which history will someday look back the way we now see the appalling ignorance and horror of The Dark Ages. High emotion based upon hunches and preconceptions are being systematically tweaked and polished as actual news by those whose blind worship of our current leader in The White House couldn’t be more terrifyingly strange if it were based upon Voodoo, or secret mass lobotomies after which the scars are covered by hair and the victims continue to function, but in the most bizarre ways. The real reason for the sudden and massive changes in limiting voting rights has nothing to do with facts, but rather with fear that the current jig may be up for our current absolute monarch.  JB

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