Life is stupider than fiction: Trump edition

Here is me complaining about how stupid it was for Mitt Romney’s campaign manager to go public with their plan to “Etch-a-Sketch” his campaign after he won the nomination.

Those were such innocent times!

I find it difficult to imagine Trump as a literary character, because the humorous parts of his character (his absurd vanity, for example) are so hard to reconcile with the incredible damage he could if he somehow managed to get himself elected.  This is real life, unfortunately.

Fiction (the kind of fiction I write, anyway) needs to assume a level of competence in the protagonist — that’s where the tension comes from.  You want a real Russian spy, not the dim-witted dupe that Trump apparently is.  You want a real billionaire who is nefariously turning his attention to politics after mastering the business world, not an unsuccessful huckster.

Trump’s incompetence would be disqualifying in a novel; it should be disqualifying in real life as well.  Too bad reality doesn’t play by the same rules.

Why didn’t Republican elites try to stop Trump?

I’ve been too busy finishing my novel to blog about my many insightful political observations.  But anyway, I was reading many discussions in the media over the past few days about how the Republican elites failed to stop Trump.  The canonical text is this article in the New York Times.

In public, there were calls for the party to unite behind a single candidate. In dozens of interviews, elected officials, political strategists and donors described a frantic, last-ditch campaign to block Mr. Trump — and the agonizing reasons that many of them have become convinced it will fail. Behind the scenes, a desperate mission to save the party sputtered and stalled at every turn.

This became obvious to me as I worked out in my local gym in the mornings leading up to the New Hampshire primary.  The Boston TV stations reach into New Hampshire, so we see all the campaign ads aimed at NH voters.  I would be on the treadmill looking at the news on three separate TVs, and each of them would be running the same set of ads.  And none of them were negative ads aimed at Trump.  I can see why the individual candidates wouldn’t run them–they were too busy trying to bolster their own campaigns.  But why not an outside SuperPAC?  Why wouldn’t Mitt Romney dump a few million dollars into this?

The Massachusetts primary is coming up this Tuesday, and the latest poll shows Trump getting 43% of the vote.  And where is our popular, moderate Republican governor Charlie Baker?  Sitting silently on the sidelines, now that the candidate he endorsed, Chris Christie, has dropped out.  Why won’t he use any of his political capital to try to stop Trump?

If I were a rational Republican (and I don’t know how many of them there are), I would be gnashing my teeth.  But of course, if they were really rational, they would long ago have abandoned the modern Republican party.  Here is Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo:

Trump is very little different from the average candidate Republicans elected in 2010 and 2014, in terms of radical views and extreme rhetoric. All he’s done is take the actual GOP issue package, turn it up to eleven and put it on a high speed collision course with RNC headquarters smack in the middle of presidential election year.

Why does someone with a dirty secret go into politics?

I don’t know much about Dennis Hastert, but his problem sure sounds familiar.  Apparently he has a dirty secret in his past, and he spent a lot of money to make sure it stayed secret.  It strikes me as a bit odd that someone would choose a political career knowing that he had such a secret lurking in his part.  But this is, of course, the way politicians are.  A major plot element in my novel Senator involves just such a situation: Senator Jim O’Connor (who has his own problems) finds out about his opponent’s dirty secret.  What should he do about it?  Should he use the knowledge to destroy his opponent?

What would you do?  Well, you’re not a politician, so that doesn’t matter.  It’s these moral conundrums that interested me most in writing the novel..

Should Charlie Hebdo get an award?

PEN wants to give Charlie Hebdo its “freedom of expression courage” award.  This has provoked an outcry from many writers. PEN isn’t backing down, saying that they reject the “assassin’s veto”.

My son lives in the Middle East, and he was baffled by the “Je Suis Charlie” thing.  Why isn’t the West protesting the many courageous Muslim bloggers and journalists being persecuted by autocratic governments in the Middle East and elsewhere?  Well, fair enough, I’m happy if they get awards too.  But I’m a part of the West, and free speech is one of the things the West does right.  As a writer, that matters to me.

Nowadays, the “most helpful” review of my novel Senator on Barnes & Noble is a one-star review complaining that it used the Lord’s name in vain multiple times at the beginning, so the anonymous reviewer read no further.  Again, fair enough.  Readers who don’t approve of using the Lord’s name in vain have been warned.  But nowadays I could easily imagine a world where offending religious people like my anonymous reviewer would be illegal (especially in Europe); or, where corporations like Barnes & Noble would decline to sell books that contained certain words or phrases deemed offensive to a religion.  (Does Barnes & Noble sell books that contain imagines of Mohammed?  I have no idea.)

I have this sense that conventional liberalism has lots its way over this issue–or at least, it’s too vexing an issue for liberals to respond to it coherently.  What happens when two core liberal values–diversity and freedom of speech–collide?  When blacks on campus claim they are the victims of hate speech?  When Muslims claim they have been scapegoated for the actions of a few crazy terrorists?  Do we have to parse all of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to determine if the magazine is worthy of an award?

Here’s a paragraph from the PEN statement that I like very much:

The rising prevalence of various efforts to delimit speech and narrow the bounds of any permitted speech concern us; we defend free speech above its contents. We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats. There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable.

Good for them.

I’m still Charlie

I’ve changed back to my regular header image, but je suis encore Charlie.

I’ve seen some people (like David Brooks and Glenn Greenwald) complain that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were stupid, racist, and unfunny, and where was the outrage when someone or other published published an anti-Semitic cartoon?  This seems to me to miss the point.

A few years ago an atheist science blogger, P.Z. Myers, got hold of a Eucharist.  He dithered about what to do with it for while, and then finally he threw it in the trash with torn-up copies of the Koran and The God Delusion.  This was a childish stunt designed to make an obvious point.  But if he had been murdered by an enraged Catholic or Muslim (or, I suppose, Richard Dawkins), it changes from being a childish stunt to a fundamental issue of what we should be allowed to do and say in our society.  Most of us don’t go out of our way to offend people, but we need to stand up for people’s right to be offensive.

Je Suis Charlie

That new header image up there is probably pretty pointless, but you have to do something, don’t you?

Here’s the image everyone is sharing:

(It’s apparently not by Banksy.)

And here’s a good piece by Ross Douthat (of all people):

In a different context, a context where the cartoons and other provocations only inspired angry press releases and furious blog comments, I might sympathize with the FT’s Tony Barber when he writes that publications like Hebdo “purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.” (If all you have to fear is a religious group’s fax machine, what you’re doing might not be as truth-to-power-ish as you think.) But if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you are striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.

The Symphony Hall audience reacts to JFK’s assassination

Here is conductor Erich Leinsdorf announcing the assassination to a stunned audience at the Friday afternoon Boston Symphony concert.  What I find particularly poignant is the second set of gasps when he says that the orchestra is throwing away its scheduled program and instead will play the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica.  It’s as if the audience didn’t quite process his first statement, and the change in program made them understand the reality of what had happened.

I can’t embed the audio, but the WGBH archive has a clip that starts with the legendary announcer William Pierce, unaware that the world had change out from underneath him and everyone else, introducing the Rimsky-Korsakov piece that was scheduled to lead off the concert.

Time has an interview with the BSO music librarian, who hasn’t been able to bring himself to listen to the broadcast in the 50 years since:

With the show due to start in less than ten minutes’ time, Shisler got a relayed message from Leinsdorf himself. Run to the archives, put out and distribute the music for Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. The president is dead.

Such was the rush that Shisler remembers little of his feelings from that moment. His memories get clearer of the minutes immediately following, when it was incumbent upon him to hasten to the stage with scores in hand. “The musicians were already there on the stage, in their places and of course the hall was filled with people. I had to tell each of the musicians as I was handing out the music what was going on. That was the first they knew of the death. It wasn’t an easy moment, for them or for me.”

I recall that the pop stations in Boston switched over to classical music for that weekend, realizing that Beethoven had more to say to us during that awful time than “Louie Louie,” which as at the top of the charts in November 1963.  It sure doesn’t seem like half a century has passed.

Should we boycott Orson Scott Card because he’s viciously homophobic?

My lovely wife just read a book called Dickens in Love about Dickens’s love affair with Ellen Ternan.  “I didn’t know he was such a creep,” she said.  Well, yeah.  Lots of writers are solipsistic jerks, and lots of them have obnoxious political positions.

One quite reasonable interpretation of the scant documentation of Shakespeare’s life is that he was a money-grubbing, social-climbing adulterer.

Lord Byron probably slept with his half-sister, among many other offenses.

Knut Hamsun (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) called Hitler “a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations.”

I read a bit of Orson Scott Card back in the 80s.  I enjoyed Ender’s Game, although I don’t recall thinking it was anything like a classic.  At some point I gave up on Card because I thought there was something weird about his treatment of violence.  I haven’t been paying attention to him since then, so I didn’t realize he was beyond-bonkers homophobic, to the point of advocating violent revolution to prevent gay marriage:

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

The movie version of Ender’s Game is coming out in a few months, and people are making noises about boycotting it.  In response, the terrified filmmakers say the movie and the book have nothing to do with gay issues, and, as the 16-year-old star cleverly puts it, “You can’t blame a book for its author.”

Absolutely true.  On the other hand, Card is still among us, and Dickens, Shakespeare, Byron, and Hamsun are not.  He makes money any time we purchase one of his works.  And he hasn’t been shy about expressing his opinions and trying to affect public policy.  There are plenty of good books to read and good movies to watch (well, I could be wrong about the supply of good movies).  I can’t think of any reason to support Card’s career.

By the way, here’s Dickens’s mistress, Ellen Ternan:

And here’s Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh:

And here’s a very unpleasant-looking Knut Hamsun:

What this senate race needed was a good murder mystery

Like, er, this one.

Democrat Ed Markey has defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez for the right to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for the next 18 months or so.  My affluent little town, which is a couple of towns over from where Gomez lives, went 55-45 for Gomez, but turnout in the high school gym wasn’t that great:

2013-06-25 08.31.55

This was like a TV show that has lasted a season too long, and the replacement actors just don’t have the sizzle of the people they replaced: Markey came across as a standard-issue Democrat who has been in Washington too long, and Gomez came across as a standard rich Massachusetts Republican who has nothing to offer but vague promises about bridging the partisan divide.

Also, the Bruins lost, so who cares?  We’ll have to do this again next year, when John Kerry’s term is up, and maybe the Republicans will find a better candidate.  Maybe Scott Brown will have had enough of making easy money as a lobbyist and Fox News commentator.  Markey should be vulnerable, but other than Brown, Massachusetts Republicans don’t have much to offer.

Maybe the governor’s race will have a murder mystery.