Monthly Archives: November 2019

Happy Thanksgiving, America 2.0

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving, between the turkey and the stuffing and the cranberries and the pie, it is an appropriate time for reflection.

Thanks to countless films and television shows, Americans have come to understand that Thanksgiving means having to tolerate your extended family members for a few hours. For some it represents a lone annual occasion for parents and children, or siblings, to be in the same physical location.

If one judges by our cultural depictions of the holiday, there are no families left in this country who don’t roll their eyes, sigh in exasperation or argue loudly over the expansive holiday spreads. In the age of Trump, the squabbles are certain to be more fierce and unavoidable than ever before.

From what I understand of the rest of the world, where such a formal holiday rarely is celebrated, such familial dysfunction is not nearly as common. Respect for elders, for instance, is still strong in many cultures. In America, of course, the elderly are treated like trash, to be carted away to the curb when they are no longer useful. Nursing homes are universally understood to be the most sordid places in our horrific medical industrial complex. And they are incredibly expensive. And yet, the vast majority of people, if they live long enough, end their days in one, or in gentler named assisted living facilities or hospice. One wonders how old people were cared for, in the days before such institutions, and before Alzheimers became common.

At the other end of the age spectrum, I know too many young adults whose parents have discarded them like refuse, refusing to assist them financially or even give them shelter. In America 2.0, the bottom half of workers make less than $27,000 and have less than 1% of the collective wealth. My mother used to be fond of warning me, “It’s a cold world out there.” If she were alive today, she would have to come up with a much stronger adjective to describe the callousness and lack of empathy that permeates our crumbling society.

It’s fitting that America’s biggest tyrant, Abraham Lincoln, first proposed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, after a pivotal victory by the Union army during the war he waged so relentlessly. His official proclamation, like all of Lincoln’s writings, distorted a horrendous reality into often beautiful poetry.

While waxing over the wonderful bounties we all take for granted, Lincoln provided the following bit of political delusion: “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict….”

As I document in my new book Crimes and Cover Ups in American Politics: 1776-1963, Lincoln was a noted nonbeliever in God. This, however, never stopped him from invoking the name of an Almighty he denied when it suited his political purposes. Thus, he expressed gratitude for “the gracious gifts of the Most High God….” and went on to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife…and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes….”

Dissecting these words of Lincoln is almost as mind-boggling as determining how he could boast, in what the court historians assure us was the greatest speech in the history of this country, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” when he was trying to prevent the seceded Southern states from doing that. What do we make of his reference to “peace has been preserved with all nations” in this proclamation? At that point, all of our leaders were still adhering to the advice given by George Washington in his Farewell Address, and to John Quincy Adams’ declaration that “America does no go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” America would be an ironclad “isolationist” nation until the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Analyzing this proclamation further, Lincoln’s note that “order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed” was especially laughable, in light of the untold thousands of political prisoners he locked up in the north, the hundreds of newspapers he shut down, and his unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. “Harmony” certainly didn’t prevail in those makeshift prisons; one of those imprisoned was Frank Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key. In an incalculable irony, Howard was incarcerated in Fort McHenry, the very spot where his grandfather was inspired by the glorious flying flag to write The Star-Spangled Banner. 

Lincoln’s concern for all those widows and orphans didn’t compel him to order bloodthirsty Union generals like Sherman and Sheridan to cease their unprecedented “scorched earth” campaign. It’s impossible to determine how many of those widows were raped by soldiers, who also plundered their remaining valuables, burned their crops and salted the earth behind them. As far as Lincoln imploring the “Almighty Hand” for anything, this flies in the face of his own, well-documented atheistic beliefs. His cold exploitation of a faithful, religious populace with these persistent, flowery references to an Almighty being he didn’t believe in himself goes beyond even what we see in the modern world of practical politics.

So perhaps it’s appropriate that the proclamation that gave birth to our annual Thanksgiving holiday was filled with the same kind of insincerity and cosmetic hypocrisy that all too often characterize the family gatherings it spawned. It is a special indictment of the modern American experience that so many seem to agonize over interacting with close blood relatives once every year.

It isn’t that Thanksgiving is markedly different in America 2.0. Certainly, there were family disagreements, and uncomfortable holiday gatherings in America 1.0. But I don’t think the dysfunction was as shockingly obvious, or public in nature. A facade of civility prevailed, even where genuine affection didn’t. A combination of cultural indoctrination into the curious concept that family reunions constitute a hardship, and the clash between oblivious Baby Boomers, grown up latchkey kids, and millenials reared in the age of social media, have changed the traditional nuclear family forever.

Siblings that haven’t spoken in decades. Parents alienated from adult children. Young adults encouraged by peer pressure, and the culture, to move as far from home as possible. In other words, to live as far from their parents as possible. Maybe I’m impossibly old-fashioned, but I think this is a very sad development.

So enjoy the gluttony. Watch the football games. Embrace in lukewarm hugs. And offer up thanks for the blessings we all enjoy. Once a year is better than never remembering.

Being a Modern Heretic

It’s not easy going against the grain in any time period, in any society. In our present crumbling America, it may be more difficult than ever.

When you oppose both authoritarian political correctness, and the all-encompassing greed that has produced an unprecedented disparity of wealth, as I do, your prospects in all ways will be severely limited. Family and friends roll their eyes, at best, and at worst shun you. Prospective employers are not impressed.

It’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re a heretic. I should have been more thrilled than I was, as an old-time Washington Senators fan, to see the Nationals win the World Series. While I watched more baseball than I have in many years, and was happy over the victory, it was impossible to ignore the diminished level of play. This is probably even more the case with professional basketball and football. Since I can’t watch such a bad product in silence, I am not a popular guest at parties.

How does anyone watch commercials these days without becoming apoplectic? Much of the time, you can’t even tell what product is being promoted. And they are dumbed down dramatically, like the morning talk shows, which revolve exclusively around fluffy celebrity worship and cooking recipes.

I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the cinema. I normally average one picture at the movies each year. That’s more than enough. Going to see Joker with my son was an enjoyable overall experience. Joaquin Phoenix gives a stunning performance. But I couldn’t  help but notice that those harassing a good-looking woman on the subway were white businessmen in suits. Seriously. They were actually throwing french fries at her. Does anyone do that to attractive females? At any rate, this upholds the tradition from all superhero films; neither Batman, Spiderman, or any other superhero will ever encounter a Blood or a Crip, or a Hispanic gang, in the mean streets of Gotham City or New York. In Hollywood, it’s white skin heads or Russian gangsters who commit street crime in our urban areas.

Why doesn’t some political candidate run on a platform that features a promise to rid us of those annoying automated menus, which every business and government agency feature now? Or on a promise to ban traffic light cameras? Or to abolish all toll roads? Does any citizen like these things? Wouldn’t that be a winning platform?

Going back to Hollywood, I’m the only person I know of who has criticized the absurd whispering dialogue in every film now. Combined, of course, with the blaring effects from every non-dialogue sound. What kind of filmmakers want to make the crucial conversations between characters difficult to hear? Maybe I ought to jump on this bandwagon, and start advocating for my books to be printed in a smeared or blurry style, so that readers can “enjoy” them in the same manner.

Why don’t people RSVP appropriately any more? This has been going on for twenty years at least. Whenever we’d sent out invitations to our children’s birthday parties, we were amazed at how few people paid attention to the request to RSVP. Then again, how many people don’t answer emails or phone messages? On Facebook, I have noticed that those I sent them to have “seen” my messages there, and yet not replied. When I asked them if they could at least extend me the courtesy of a reply, they simply ignored that as well.

We are living in a collapsing civilization, that is filled with impolite people who don’t seem to have learned, or remembered, the very basics of civil interaction. How many people  have you held a door open for in public, who simply brush by you without an acknowledgement? Shouldn’t saying “thank you” be automatic in certain situations? But then again, we’re dealing with an increasing number of people walking around in public with their heads buried in their smart phones, like zombies, who seem to have forgotten the “look both ways” before you cross the road thing, which they all were presumably taught as preschoolers.

Carrying that a bit further, what do we make of people who you pass by on the street, or in the workplace, who stare silently back when you extend a simple greeting? How do you not respond when someone says, “How’s it going?” Maybe it’s just me, but an alarming number of people seem to fall into this category. The great Ambrose Bierce probably defined “politeness” accurately when he called it “the most acceptable hypocrisy.” Still, without simple manners, sincere or not, it’s impossible to have a civil society.

I’ve commented before on how physically unattractive Americans are becoming. A frightening increase in the average weight of males and females of all ages, along with the popularity of tattoos, and an uber-casual style of dress, has built a populace that is now largely as unpleasant to look at as they are to work or socialize with. Social justice warriors, feminism, overt favoritism, unclear rules, expectations and standards of conduct, which can unpredictably result in onerous punishments, have created a toxic stew which everyone has no choice but to consume.

What makes this all the more tragic, and hopefully rescues it from the “get off of my lawn” old-timer mindset, is that we have the wealth, and the technology, to create a world far better than the one Baby Boomers like me grew up in. Life expectancy should be through the roof. Instead it’s actually declining now in America. We should probably have a ten hour work week, at most, by this point, given artificial intelligence, scientific advances, and increased productivity. Instead, most Americans have to work longer, for less pay, than ever before, just to join the 70 plus percent existing from paycheck to paycheck. Maybe if they’d release the papers of Nikola Tesla, we’d have things like teleportation, or universal free energy. Or those cool flying cars from The Jetsons I fantasized about as a kid.

Not only should our infrastructure have been upgraded significantly over the past 60 years, we should have heated highways by now. The technology is there- ask the One Percenters who have it under their own driveways. Free Wi-Fi should be available for the masses. So should rapid mass transit. That would all be possible, with a different set of priorities. Instead, our horrific leaders continue to pad their own pockets, ignite one senseless war or occupation after another, and recite platitudes about “education” and “a strong defense.”

Politicians can seemingly keep the sheeple voting for them simply by buttering them up, by telling them they’re the “greatest” people, who live in the “best” country. I think the fact that American voters return 96 percent or so of our wretched incumbents to office in every election alone requires a much different adjective than “great.” The fault lines along Donald Trump’s personality have assured that this mindless partisanship, based exclusively on issues that don’t dramatically impact anyone’s life, will continue to dominate our electoral process. This also guarantees that the people in this country will never get any viable kind of “representation” from our political leaders.

I could go on. Why do I wind up sitting at a red light so often during a simple commute? Has anyone analyzed how traffic lights are seemingly coordinated to not be synchronized, to increase traffic rather than to make it flow better? The madness of policing for profit, asset forfeiture, the wild disparity in sentencing in our injustice system- the list of my complaints about modern America is endless, as anyone who knows me can tell you.

Donald Trump’s recent bragging about what was probably a fake assassination of a fake terrorist, mirrored an identical non-incident during Obama’s administration. Right down to the staged photo from the White House. What’s crucial here is that Trump, like Obama, Hillary Clinton, and seemingly all of our leaders, now openly endorse the assassination of others. This is a sea change of enormous proportions, and tells us all we need to know about our present collective morality.

I know there are others out there, who don’t like what’s happening, who notice all these things. But there is an understandable reluctance to speak out, a reasonable fear, that modern heretics will wind up thrown in the water to see if they float, or burned at the stake.

Maybe there won’t be a literal witch hunt this time. After all, there aren’t very many of us.