Increasingly Blurred Partisan Lines Offer Hope for Journalism in 2018

2017 has been a strange and disturbing year for the United States in so many far-reaching ways. Long, well-researched books will be written about this year’s impact (or lack thereof) on income inequality, government corruption, gender dynamics, the justice system, immigration, suffrage, healthcare, civil rights, the First Amendment, foreign policy, war and climate change. I’m hard pressed to think of a major issue facing humanity that hasn’t been stress tested to the point of breaking spirits, cultures, families, the economy and the nation in the seventeenth year of the 21st Century.

For liberal political journalists, it’s been especially hard to dissociate the self from the reporting. 2017 has been an unusually challenging year for investigating topics unemotionally. At least tangentially, we have a stake in the story by virtue of sharing space with other people affected by a policy, decision or revolution.  I don’t live in Puerto Rico, but I don’t need to in order to feel helpless anger over fellow Americans failed by every possible government system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People are still dying from the ripple effects of disease, water and power shortages, not to mention the callousness of a President who believes a paper towel tossing photo op is #MAGA – because brown people are takers.

As a writer/human hybrid, there have been many days and weeks this year when the power of the pen hasn’t felt forceful enough. That the exercise in information sharing that is journalism falls impotently short of the action needed to right a country that has popularly lurched toward heartlessness at the highest levels of government. Isolationist xenophobia, backs turned to war-torn refugees, a place where Nazis are labeled “very fine people,” black lives only matter when it comes to kneeling in protest and female reproductive health is a political bargaining chip for the dominant hierarchy of middle-aged white men. It’s easy to become disoriented and confused to the point of inertia. Should I be writing about this? Should I be in the streets? Am I supposed to be deliberating? Hand me another scotch in the meantime.

I do not pretend to be a moderate. Never have. I can’t be less than all the way when it comes to constructing government and social systems that support and offer opportunity equally. I do not believe we go it alone. Call me a socialist, a radical, an angry intersectional feminist or any of the more colorful epithets offered by my (typically male) Twitter trolls. When the leader of the country governs by pandering to the ignorant 35 percent, rather than representing all Americans, displaying the kind of divisive, threatening behavior and rhetoric well known to despots, I’m happy to be branded an enemy of the state. As lonely and frightening as it can be to sit outside the circle, the air is a lot less toxic.

All of this is to say that as the end of the year approaches, I and many other exhausted journalists in my acquaintance are still trying to find our footing. Just the facts has been replaced by fake news, many of the policy threats are deeply personal and after all, wallowing in the muck of the Trump era is spiritually exhausting. However the work continues in a bi-partisan way, and if there’s comfort to be found in the crusade, it’s the unexpected shared experience with an increasingly large number of conservative writers and pundits. If you’d told me just 18 months ago, that I’d find myself aligned with the thoughts of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center – in the same week! – I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But here we are:

“The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation…Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.”

“The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”

“[Republicans], have faith. Not everything comes down to an immediate election that is this coming Thursday. Think long term, philosophically. Be true to your own political principles, but have some faith and don’t make decisions that are not ones that you’re really comfortable with.”

Suddenly it seems conservative to stand against cynicism, pedophilia, party before country and the corporate raiding of the American people. I and other liberals may disagree with these writers on “everyday” policies. But in 2017, normalcy has been supplanted by Constitutional crises and the end days of representative democracy. The journalistic blurring of party lines may offer small 2017 comfort. But as a writer, it gives me energy to take on 2018.

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Me Too: Louis C.K. Joins Hollywood’s List of Outed Sexual Predators

Yesterday afternoon, hours after the cancellation of his film, I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K. publicly admitted that yep, he’s been a creepy wanker. I’d tell you what the shelved movie is about, but I can’t bring myself to type the words. So I invite you to read New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwartz’s account of needing a “barf bag” to endure the disgust. And oh by the way, C.K. – which is apparently an acronym for “cock” – also uses the “N” word in the movie. We really missed out, America. There’s just not enough self-involved, middle aged, white male stories of privilege being told (see: Election 2016).

C.K.’s fans have always found him edgy and – in a cruel irony – honest. The man traded on this reputation to create sometimes artistic, often funny content that also, from any angle, included plenty to make one wince. It was part of the brand. But hey, he was all in on Hillary Clinton, even if he felt the need to use the word “bitch” to describe her toughness. He has two young daughters. American audiences validated him. Unconventional feminist for sure, but we’ll take allies anywhere we can find them. Cool, I guess.

Except no. Louis C.K. and the guerilla-style perversions with which he attacked up and coming female comics were no secret to the industry. The power players – who are overwhelmingly male – enabled and uplifted a sick man who made them rich and famous by association. Let the shame hang on you now, Hollywood industrial media complex. You’ve also given us Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Brett Ratner, Charlie Sheen, Woody Allen, Billy Cosby, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly and Casey Affleck. None of these men committed their wide range of predatory acts in the shadows. Some of them, like Charlie Sheen, made TV millions after allegedly assaulting a young Corey Haim, and knowingly exposing female partners to HIV. That’s #Winning in the anything goes patriarchy.

And of course, Louis C.K., a writer on The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, has been running around with his dick in hand for over 20 years. His own work made no attempt to camouflage it, and still he kept rising (pun acknowledged, if not intended). In March 2012, now-defunct website Gawker, published a blind item entitled, Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?

I’ll give you three guesses, but you only need one.

Five and a half years ago, the author wrote, “this shameless funnyman whips it out at the most inopportune moments, often at times when his female companions have expressed no interest in watching him go at it.” Yes, this checks out with what we now know. But appallingly, no one but the victims – two of whom who were intimidated by C.K.’s manager Dave Becky after one particular Aspen incident – would publicly say the emperor of American comedy was wearing no pants.

Well there were a few folks who decried the star’s penchant for pud pulling, but they’re women, lesbians or both. Why listen to them? Funny lady Tig Nataro, the deadpanned creator and star of Amazon’s One Mississippi, publicly distanced herself from her former collaborator long before the story broke this week. Jen Kirkman, Roseanne Barr and others have talked about Louie C.K.’s reputation as a glorified subway creep in an expensive trench coat. Nataro wisely advised the comedian to “handle that.”

As we know, after the quick flight of C.K.’s many entertainment partners this week, his weird, traumatizing business has been handled for him. No longer will the wildly successful comedian have access to talented, ambitious women he degrades by pleasuring himself. Louis C.K. belongs in intensive therapy, not on our screens. The victims deserve to be heard, if they wish. They must be believed regardless. And if the timing were not so totally cynical, while still lacking in honesty, the comedian’s Friday afternoon admission of guilt might have offered a chance to begin healing. The too little, too late, empathy is almost touching, nearly enlightened:

“I want to address the stories told to The New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not…. what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

We know there are more than five brave women who’ve endured the full Louis. C.K. experience. And we know that there are more predators hiding in Hollywood’s sunshine-filled plain sight. And that should make us all angry, mad enough to finally start calling these pigs back to the trough (I’m looking especially hard at you, male allies). There’s no excuse for Louis C.K.’s behavior. But the celebration and inner-circle secrecy that allows powerful men to illiberally victimize women and young boys is what’s truly inexcusable.

Handle that.

The Spice Girls

Yesterday, as news broke regarding the resignation of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary, I immediately contacted a fellow Washington vigilant – my younger sister Jenny. Since our earliest childhood days, we’ve been news and politics aware (I’ll hardly regret a ballot more than one cast for Reagan in a 1984 kindergarten mock election). But ever since the post-9/11, Fox News-aided ascendancy of modern-day Republican ideology, neither one of us has been able to relax for a moment.

Wound tightly by patriotic and personal concerns involving the war on terrorism, protracted assaults on woman’s reproductive health, the social safety net, voting rights, immigration and rational gun policy, we’ve been busy worrying. The Obama years brought some comfort in the form of a decent, rational if imperfect leader. But even then the Tea Party and other self-styled citizens of the “real America” talked endless, incendiary shit about the President, immigrants, the LGBTIQ and a long-settled woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Some of it was more than talk. Jenny and I have paid attention to what’s gone down in the states, including our own. Budget impasses, government shutdowns, disgustingly offensive bathroom laws, innocent citizens of color gunned down by local police. Elections matter and the right has been gaining the macro and micro majorities required to transform America into something less free for “those people” (most of us) – for decades.

My second favorite pundit and I are especially alert, exhausted and afraid for our country in the Trump era. The international shame, ridicule and danger. The proud, illiterate ignorance of our President, the moral and ethical stench wafting from every corner of the White House. But every now and then we’re given a gift of comic absurdity, a small moment of levity that transcends danger into the mere comically sad. So many of those moments have been offered by Sean Spicer these last, harrowing six months. Bless him.

It’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. Writers such as Erin Gloria Ryan have pointed out that Spicey came out swinging for the unintentionally humorous fences:

“Mr. Spicer’s relationship with the press got off to a bad start. Just one day after President Trump’s inauguration, our boy Sean issued a bizarre statement claiming the crowd was the biggest ever. His sagging suit indicated that perhaps he was not the greatest at gauging the sizes of things.”

Her piece in The New York Times yesterday ends with an endearment I burningly wish I’d written first: “Goodnight, sweet wince.”

No matter how insane Spicer’s behavior grew in defense of his probably-bankrupt-in-every-sense boss and the Trump administration, it was a mostly harmless show. We (and here I mean the larger “we,” not just Jenny and I) have long expected slanted spin from the Press Secretary’s podium. Spicey added that special mix of pitiful audaciousness that made his briefings among the highest-rated programs on daytime television. The man hid from the press in the bushes. This is a thing that actually happened. Under the direst circumstances – the running aground of America by a circus clown and his enablers – we need the occasional laugh to keep us going.

What are we to do now? Basically, this was my question to Jenny when I messaged her late yesterday morning. I sent her a link to the Times’ breaking news item about Spicer’s decision to walk away from the madness. She’s a mother of two girls married to a wonderful Muslim-American man. As many readers know, Jenny’s had to take vigilance a step further than some (me) when it comes to protecting her family from rhetorical and legislative threats. Thus she was predictably less flapped than I:

“This should surprise no one.”

Point taken, and yet somehow I was blindsided by Spicer’s move. I assumed that a man who’d spent six months and a day eating shit in front of America on behalf of Donald Trump could survive anything – especially a new supervisor. The moment when one is lulled into the belief that a head can’t be further scratched, The Donald and his team offer a new itch.

In reply to Jenny’s resigned assessment of the latest Friday news twist in Washington, I offered this. Maybe a sign of obscured, but persistent optimism.

“We must be ready for anything and yet because absurdity continues every day, any sort of end of it is still a jolt.”

Spicey was easy to dismiss. A fool who earnestly wanted respect, even if he had no idea how to gain it.  As Forrest Gump said, “Good, that’s one less thing.” Scaramucci, Sanders and their soulless sleaze on the other hand? No more laughing. Just more worrying.

Misogynist-in-Chief

Nine months ago, after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” audio footage that got Billy Bush sacked from The Today Show, my brave younger sister Jennifer wrote I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture. Both of these events suggested the promise of an honest conversation about the country’s regressive and damaging gender politics.

With Trump’s exposure (word deliberately chosen) as a misogynist pig of the highest magnitude, it seemed impossible that his presidential campaign could continue. After all, 51 percent of the American voting population?  Female. And for one beautiful moment, our male allies on both sides of the ideological spectrum united in rebuke at the notion of mothers, sisters, friends, wives and daughters seized by the genitals. Some of the language used to condemn Trump smacked of patriarchal appropriation (cough, Mitt Romney) but there was a brief, national consensus that a sexual predator ought not to be Leader of the Free World.

At the same time, women like my sister – a suburban wife, mother and broadcast journalism professional – seemed to reach a breaking point. Jenny’s long radio career makes her no stranger to working in a male-dominated field and the public and private discrimination and harassment that come with it. She’s tough, hardworking and certainly not a snowflake. But to read her story is to absorb the traumas of millions of American women who stopped feeling safe in their own bodies, and became aware of unequal opportunity, shortly after hitting puberty. We were tired of staying silent and refused to let Trump’s behavior become normalized for our sons and daughters. Pussygate was ugly. It was dehumanizing. It was painful. But if ever there was that overused trope, the old teachable moment, we were there.

Yet on November 8, 2016 the Misogynist won the election. The Electoral College perversity was more than an affront to a popular vote that overwhelmingly favored Trump’s opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It was more than the selection of an inexperienced, proudly unread corporate grifter over the most qualified candidate to ever run for President. The real punch to the vagina was the clear opinion, articulated at the ballot box by voters of both genders, that the possession of lady parts is the ultimate leadership disqualifier.

How else to explain why white women in every demographic pulled the metaphorical lever for Trump more often than Clinton? Slate’s L.V. Anderson bespoke the November 9 anguish of the sane, Caucasian female minority and gave voice to the anger of intersectional voters: “What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman?…Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.”

The months following the election – the effectual end of Hillary Clinton’s long career of public service, the elevation of a clownish, perverted reality television personality to the nation’s highest office, and above all, the undeniable truth that the climb from the pit of social, economic and political misogyny has barely begun – were so difficult. I stopped writing altogether. I avoided media – social and traditional – of every kind. Existential depression and disappointment. The knowledge that the country was under the executorship of a gaudy, classless and ignorant shithead who may or may not be in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. It was all too much.

But like many other Americans, male and female, I found my voice again. I stood with my Midwestern sisters at the January 21 Chicago chapter of the Women’s Marches. With renewed determination, I picked up a keyboard to critique a Trump administration that poses a cornucopia of threats to peace, security, freedom of speech and social morality.

The current occupant of the White House has brought a dizzying amount of shame and scandal upon the office and the country – in a very short time. Hateful immigration policies, withdrawals from international agreements, an illiteracy so appalling that complete sentences and a basic familiarity with American history prove too much to ask. Frederick Douglass deserves every moment of his surprising 2017 resurgence but come on…

And last week’s Twitter war between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe is a stark reminder that Access Hollywood is no regrettable fluke of early Aughts “boys will be boys” braggadocio. America’s leader is an active and determined misogynist. He will not be educated. He will not apologize. He will not even be discreet. However, could this ultimately work to the pissed off poon advantage?

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes:

“Hostile sexism seems to motivate women even when they merely observe it happening to others…There’s some evidence that Trump’s hostile sexism, as evidenced most infamously in the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has had exactly that result…”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s current approval rating with women is just 28 percent. Yes, #AllWomen. Even the white ones who’ve finally figured out that placing patriotism – and pussy – in this POTUS’ care is an act of self-annihilation.

Second Amendment Trumps All Other Constitutional Rights…Again

I want to preface this post by admitting that the attempt to articulate a deep, impotent sadness over the country’s bizarre and dangerous permissiveness of mass casualty gun violence will pale in comparison to the genius of Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Both of these pieces are worth a full read, but the titles alone suggest the feelings of many exhausted warriors in the battle to secure a right to life above the right to unload magazine clips on one’s fellow Americans:

Nothing Really Changed on That Ballfield Yesterday

When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent

In the former post, Pierce writes:

“If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, Simpson Field is not likely to be, either. Until there’s no profit in hatred, until civility proves to be a ratings juggernaut, nothing will change. Until the instruments of mass killing are regulated as stringently as we regulate automobiles, nothing will change. Until we have as serious a conversation about the actual misuse of the Second Amendment as we are currently having about the alleged misuse of the First, nothing will change.”

In the second musing, Pierce says of Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game telecast on C-SPAN:

“The broadcast crew, from a Washington radio station, kept up the patter and there was a lot of talk about unity and civility, because that was the order of the day. And I continued to wonder where it was that all these people grew up.”

I have a close friend, Beth, who introduced me to the concept of losing one’s bones several years ago. You know that condition when a situation is so frustrating and hopeless, there’s just nowhere to put your feelings? So metaphorically, and oftentimes physically, the body cannot remain upright and hold its shape. The skeleton and soul collapse in on themselves, landing a person in a fetal crouch – without the reassuring comfort.

Many of us have lost our bones this week, simultaneously grappling with cognitive-dissonance inducing gratefulness that we still have cartilage left to shed. 51 year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will survive his injuries with luck and quality medical care (a luxury available to members of Congress that Republican policy puts out of most Americans’ reach), but Wayne Chan ‘s life is over.

Who is Wayne Chan, you ask? A 56 year-old man murdered in a mass casualty event on the same day that Scalise was shot on an Alexandria, Virginia ballfield. Chan was an employee of a UPS facility in San Francisco, killed along with 50 year-old Bensen Louie and Michael Lefiti, 46. The names of these men deserve as much press as Scalise, not the least because none of them publicly carried water for the National Rifle Association. Earlier this week, New York Daily News writers Meera Jagannathan and Leonard Greene observed:

“In May 2015, he introduced the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, legislation that aimed to modify the criminal code to relax restrictions on cross-state gun sales — or, as he put it, eliminate ‘archaic red tape burdening gun owners who legally purchase firearms across the nation…’

‘The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort,’ the gun group said in a statement.”

Whenever the NRA expresses gratitude to loyal ambassadors of Second Amendment regulatory annihilation, you can be sure dead people will follow. All in the name of freedom (profits). In 2016, gun sales broke an 18-year record, with 28 million firearms purchased. That number does not encompass weapons acquired through theft or other illegal means. Although the list of verboten procurement methods grows ever smaller owning to the NRA’s wildly successful lobbying efforts.

It may be tempting to indulge the fantasy of chastened Republican (and Democrats) lawmakers currently in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre, undergoing a spiritual awakening in light of Scalise’s critical condition. But as another close friend of mine likes to advise with regard to magical thinking, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

The false narrative doggedly peddled by LaPierre and his ilk remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s events – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy packing equal or greater heat. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks, just hours removed from nearly meeting his Maker in Alexandria, said this to CNN:

“It’s never easy to take when you see people around you getting shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself so you are not in a position where you can help defend.”

There it is. The usual cynicism, impervious to reality. The answer is ALWAYS more guns.

Trump’s Away, But Congress Still Plays with America’s Future

When President Trump boarded a plane last week Friday for his first foreign mission (as with any discussion regarding the Trump administration, “mission” is a loose placeholder word for whatever it actually is this group executes), I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m certain there were others of the same mind. Moments of national embarrassment were bound to occur. Perhaps Trump would exhibit behavior more reckless for the safety of our union, inveterate loose cannon such as POTUS is. But it was kind of nice to have the house to ourselves for a moment. To take a deep breath and if not process all that’s happened since January 20 (who has that much time and money for therapy?), at least grab our collective bearings.

Because Trump just can’t help himself, the restorative breath did not last long. Some of the tour’s early coverage exposed the President’s oddly low brow, yet stubbornly persnickety, eating habits. Per Newsweek via Raw Story, “President Donald Trump eats like a 6-foot-plus, 240-pound petulant child—if that irritable youngster had the ability to push a button and make a lackey fetch a Coke.”

Other reports centered on Trump’s attention span and stamina challenges. And just what, in the what, in the WHAT was happening with that orb business in Saudi Arabia? It was the two-dimensional plot kickoff to an Austin Powers movie.

But while some of our attention drifted overseas in tandem with Trump’s reality show farce of a presidency, there’s still plenty going on stateside. Enough to remind a majority of voters that 45 is an ongoing danger to sanity and integrity wherever he roams, yes. At the same time he’s merely a product of the political culture from which he spawned. It took the Republican Party and its “base” four decades to bring us this week’s cynical two-ring mendacity circus. And President Trump was far away from the Big Top.

Let’s start with the proffered budget plan. Unveiled this week by Tea Party darling Mick Mulvaney, it doesn’t contain much to further candidate Trump’s populist agenda. Esquire’s Charles Pierce found it both wanting and sadly predictable:

“Make no mistake. This is not a ‘Trump budget.’ This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.”

Not only does the plan, as it were, savage funding for the arts, sciences, Medicaid and numerous human services – certainly nerve-wracking enough. But the actual numbers are an irrational output of magical thinking. Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget during President Barack Obama’s first term, was quoted by the New York Times in response to a review of Mulvaney’s document. Words were not minced.

“It is not hard to write down a series of number on a paper and say: ‘Tada! I balanced the budget!’…That is a much different process than having a credible plan for how that could be achieved. And they have not done that.”

Americans are being served the same warmed-over, inequality-propelling trickle-down economics. A decades-old can of Spam we’re supposed to accept as fresh and nourishing. We watched this approach balloon our deficit in the 1980s and early 21st Century. Yet all the scolds and hawks of the Obama era seemed to have vanished. Funny, that.

This ideological pattern has little to do with Trump. He is merely a distracting, erratic vessel. It’s ok if he costs the Republican Party a generation of voters as long as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan achieve upward redistribution of wealth and maintain a Republican SCOTUS majority. There’s no long-term thinking for these guys. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. We little folks are just so many generic cigarettes.

The other freak show in Washington this week is the House Intelligence Committee. I have to admit, I’m not even sure what the GOP is doing here. This investigation is not helping further American interests. It’s also not doing much for Trump and the Republican Party. A disgraced Devin Nunes skulking around the White House in March. And just yesterday, former CIA Director John Brennan pantsed Trey Gowdy. A lot of time and money wasted on a forgone conclusion that embarrasses everyone involved.

Donald Trump returns to the White House this coming Saturday. There’s hope for a somewhat slow news weekend as the man-child recovers from jet lag and a public rebuff from Melania. Enjoy another few moments before Hurricane 45 unleashes anew. But never take your eyes off Congress. There’s not much novelty there. Just more of the same bad policy and American Dream erosion.