I’ve vowed not to write about Trump, just General Kelly, because Kelly and I share a bit of the same background — same age, same hometown. Here’s a bit of what he said the other day:
You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.
Here are some things I remember from growing up, like Kelly, Catholic in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton in the 50’s and 60’s:
Birth control was illegal and also sinful, except for the rhythm method. One time I was looking for something in my parents’ room and I came across a little pamphlet about the rhythm method. This totally creeped me out, because it strongly implied that my parents had sex, which seemed incomprehensible to me. I became aware much later that merciful ob-gyns would sometimes administer unneeded hysterectomies to women whose bodies (and lives) were wearing out from constant pregnancies.
Divorce was also sinful, and hard to come by even if you decided to go ahead with it. So abused women just had to take their abuse.
The best public high school in the city was Boston Latin School. Except girls couldn’t attend it. (They could go to Girls’ Latin, where my mother went; it was pretty good, but not the same.)
The best colleges near our neighborhood were Harvard and Boston College. Neither admitted women on an equal footing with men until the 1970’s.
There was no such thing as intercollegiate sports for women — at least, nothing like today.
Women, if they worked at all outside the home, were mainly teachers, nurses, secretaries, or sales clerks. The Globe helpfully divided their Help Wanted section into male and female sections, in case you weren’t clear on the concept.
Boston teachers weren’t allowed to teach after they became pregnant. In the 60’s, a sister-in-law of mine hid her pregnancy for as long as she could because she and her husband really needed the money.
These sorts of things are, I assume, not what Kelly had in mind when he talked about looking upon women with great honor. Maybe he was thinking about holding the door open for them, doffing your hat, giving up your seat on the subway. Maybe he was thinking of religion: May processions in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, statues of her in the front yard or on the living room mantel, kneeling down in front of her to say the rosary along with Archbishop Cushing on the radio. This is the rosy view of the past as seen through a conservative lens. This is MAGA in the mind of a true believer.
Only a true believer would tell a blatant lie about a black woman to make a point about how sacred women are. Only a true believer would ignore the many ways in which his boss has not held women in great honor. In a tweet, the New Yorker claimed that Kelly was Trump’s latest victim. But he’s not a victim; he’s an enabler. He’s not trying to save the country from Trump; he’s trying to help Trump do a better job of destroying it.
I keep telling myself I won’t write about politics anymore; it’s too depressing. But I keep making an exception for John Kelly, the ex-Marine general who headed Homeland Security and now will be Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.
I make the exception because Kelly is my age and from my home town. Many of the same forces that shaped me presumably also shaped him. But here we are. One could imagine a military guy agreeing to take on Homeland Security — it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Better someone who is competent that an idiot or an ideologue. But if competence leads to an outcome like this, give me idiocy:
Colindres always thought of America as a dream refuge. He fled Guatemala in 2004 to get away from the drug trafficking, from the murder, from the country where one of his family members was killed. He came across the border through Texas — where many of those he traveled with were caught. He decided to turn himself in and he was released into the US on a provisional waiver.
What he did not know, until after he married Samantha and began legal proceedings to become a US citizen, was that he had missed a court date in Texas. New England Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Shawn Neudauer said an order of removal was issued by a federal judge in 2004.
Colindres maintains the system failed him, too. Officials had his name and address wrong, he said, so he never knew about the court date or resulting order.
“I’m not a criminal. The only thing I did wrong was miss a court (appearance),” he said. “I didn’t know, I was just 20 years old. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I think that’s all I can say.”
And now Kelly will apply his competence to–what? It will all end badly, for Kelly and for the country. He is likely to end up a dignity wraith, to use Josh Marshall’s brilliant term, having accomplished nothing except ruining his reputation and, like his predecessor, expressing gratitude to the great man who has humiliated him.
Here’s an article about Jamie Gorelick, the high-powered progressive attorney who has become the lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Just another day in Trump’s America.
I find this interesting because the lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, was in my class at Harvard, and this has become the subject of some interest on the class mailing list. As with the head of Homeland Security, I don’t know this person, but it feels like there’s a connection. And I find myself wondering: how does this person make such a choice? The article says that she didn’t realize that some of her friend would call her a turncoat. How could she not realize this? Gorelick has done far more than I have for liberal causes, but if I were attending a reunion, I’d be hard-pressed to shake her hand, knowing that she has in any way aided Trump’s family. At the end of the article Gorelick gets emotional as she worries about the quest for “political purity”:
She teared up, reached for a tissue, and, with her voice cracking, she added, “It would be a travesty for this country to go down that road. I believe in the facts. I believe in the law. I believe if you follow that system, you will get to a fair result. I don’t see that changing. Even now.”
But what if, in following the system, she enables a bunch of people who are intent on destroying that system? How will she explain that to her grandchildren?
Here’s the song running through my head, which is much more nuanced than I’m feeling nowadays:
That night at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had dinner with Sessions, Bannon, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, among others. They tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban, according to a White House official.
This is not a Cabinet secretary; this is a courtier. Does he think he is helping America by doing this? Does he think his grandchildren will honor him for doing this? I can imagine a person who takes a job hoping to improve an awful situation by providing common sense and sanity. This does not appear to be Kelly’s motivation.
Here I pondered what to do with myself after giving up on the American experiment. Some updates:
My garage is much cleaner, thanks for asking. Although not exactly, you know, clean.
I haven’t read A Theory of Justice. But it’s on my Amazon wish list (hint hint)! Also, it was mentioned in a good book I read about philosophers of the Enlightenment called The Dream of Enlightenment.
Following my brother’s suggestion, I have listened to Schoenberg’s orchestration of the Brahms piano quartet. It was great. Thanks, Stan! Thanks, Amazon Prime! Thanks, Brahms and Schoenberg!
I’ve speeded up my fiction writing. I’m up to about 40,000 words of my first draft. Theoretically, that should be about halfway through. Unfortunately, I seem to have about a dozen point of view characters, and things keep getting more complicated. Occupational hazard.
I haven’t read more Shakespeare. On the other hand, I have listened to Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. I’m generally conflicted about McEwan, but boy is this novel great. It’s a modern retelling of the Hamlet story; in this case, Hamlet is the narrator, and he happens a fetus overhearing a plot between his mother (Trudy) and uncle (Claude) to murder his father. It’s ridiculously well written, even if McEwan’s characterization of a third-trimester fetus isn’t always, um, plausible.
Is my mood any better? Actually, no, despite the state of my garage. Here is Charles Blow in the Times, summing things up pretty well:
We are not in an ordinary postelection period of national unity and rapprochement. We are facing the potential abrogation of fundamental American ideals. We stand at the precipice, staring into an abyss that grows darker by the day.
Clean out my garage. You’ve seen my garage, right? You haven’t? It’s a mess. Decluttering is all the rage. Maybe I’ll start there.
Read A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Reading about his theory clarified for me why I’m a liberal. But I’ve never read the book itself. It’s, um, long. And if I read it, maybe I’ll have to read all the books that have been written in response to it. And meanwhile the garage will get messy again.
Listen to more Brahms. How come I got to be as old as I am without listening to his string quintets? They’re great! What else am I missing? I can listen to Brahms while cleaning my garage.
Finish my novel. Faster. Luckily, my novel doesn’t have anything to do with politics. Of course, it’s entirely possible politics will sneak in before I’m done with it.
Re-read Shakespeare. I’ve let that go for too long. Now would be a great time to start it up again. Also, there are a couple of Shakespeare exhibits at the Boston Public Library. How come I’m not there right now?
Of course, there’s always the chance that at some point I’ll rethink my current attitude. As that noted optimist Samuel Beckett famously said:
I was intrigued by the Clinton camp’s response to the Times bombshell about Trump’s taxes. One phrase stuck out:
Clinton’s campaign said the report “reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures” and declared “the gig is up.”
What does that mean: “the gig is up”? Shouldn’t it be “the jig is up”? Was the Clinton press team so excited that they misspelled “jig”? (Okay, shouldn’t I be more interested in the future of our nation?) Google Ngram Viewer shows that “the jig is up” is way more popular, and always has been, although “the gig is up” also shows up occasionally. But maybe the 2016 campaign will change usage, as with the word denouncement.
Here is a hilariously detailed discussion about jig vs. gig from the CBC. Just a taste:
Replacing the “j” with a hard “g” (as in “guffaw”) suddenly makes the expression far less familiar, if not actually strange, to the ear and eye.
Musicians have called short-term jobs “gigs” since the early 20th century – especially one-night engagements. But do jobs ever become up? Certainly contracts can be up, which means they’ve expired on a specific date. But gigs?
Although there is no reason we couldn’t start saying “the gig is up” to mean “the gig is over,” the phrase isn’t well established.
“The jig is up,” on the other hand, is cited by lexicographers all over the western hemisphere. Indeed, in his Dictionary of Historical Slang, Eric Partridge points out that “the jig is up” was actually “standard English” until 1850, when it slid down a few notches to colloquial status.
Now that I have that off my chest, I can go back to worrying about our future.
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.