Surviving the Trump Apocalypse

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I was in bed by 9:30 on election night because I could see the ship was sinking and I couldn’t stand to watch the inevitable.  I drank pretty heavily the next night as the reality sank in, but tried as hard as I could to not think about it.  As the next few days went by, I turned off NPR, didn’t bother to open the New York Times, and stayed away from any television news.  I simply could not endure the post-mortem, the intimate dissection of this horrible election season and it’s horrible outcome.

I felt oddly calm and serene about it all even though I am convinced our country is entering another era where it will be hard to feel proud as an American, that Trump will usher in a court system that does not understand the concept of justice, that efforts to improve the environment and create a sustainable energy culture will suffer greatly.  Efforts to create a more fair and transparent justice system will cease, and women’s health and reproductive rights will wither.  We are still nearly a month away from his inauguration and we are being given daily reminders that our leader is an erratic, self-aggrandizing buffoon. Americans voted for this, after eight years of the principled, educated, visionary presidency of Barack Obama.

So, how can I be calm when I feel we are headed for the abyss?  It’s because my capacity for outrage was exhausted by eight years of George W. Bush. I simply cannot allow myself to read about every tragic misstep, every deception, and the constant brushing aside of the norms and values that I used to think of as being uniquely American and react with the fear and loathing that came with the Bush years.

So, what to do.  Being prone to depression as I wrote about here, it would be easy to sink into a quicksand of funk, but I’ve decided instead to “fight against the dying of the light” by dusting off the once-popular concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” that had us all snipping up those plastic soda can holders to save the seagulls back in the 80’s. As I’ve talked with friends, most of us are still feeling as if we are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Most of us know we are still in some stage of shocked denial, and all of my friends have mentioned self-protective measures they are planning to take, so nothing I suggest here may seem or be original.

Regardless, for the next 4 to 8 (shudder!) years, I intend to do the following:

ISOLATE

I already don’t watch much TV news, but I’ve been dedicated to following print news, with subscriptions to the New York Times and my local paper, listening avidly to the NPR news program, reading political posts on Facebook, and daily scanning through the Daily Beast website. No more.  I now will only get the NYT on Sundays so I can have the travel and book review sections, and the local paper will allow me to scan the headlines and get the short version of any news I need.

I simply can’t spend a couple hours a day reading about and listening to news that will tear down my spirit.  I’ve already noticed, that I have freed up a full hour of time in the morning simply by letting go of the news.  I have better things I can do with that time.

EXERCISE

That means I’m often out the door by 8 AM for my morning walk around our neighborhood.  As a slave to my Fitbit device, I need to put in a good 4 miles to enjoy the satisfaction that those damn 10,000 steps require.  However, I’m determined to live long enough to watch the nation realize the terrible mistake it has made and begin the necessary course correction that will eventually come.  If I happen to lose weight and lower both my blood pressure and my cholesterol levels, I will have Donald Trump to thank for it.

I’ve also added yoga as a daily practice.  I try to spend an hour a day now either in class or communing with Rodney Yee on the DVD as he soothingly takes me through an hour of stretches and exercises designed to ease my aching back.  I am lucky to have discovered a wonderful yoga teacher through our local adult school, and I go to three of her classes per week. I am enjoying the community that exists in each class.  There is such a comfort in being around a group of people dedicated to the flow and spirit of yoga. However, I also thrive in the quiet of my own room as I clear the hardwood floors to begin my practice in solitude (well, me and Rodney).

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CREATE

It is time to join the choir.  Or take up painting, learn a language, sculpt something, build a deck, deck the halls, write a poem, or immerse yourself in any kind of creative activity that will allow you to bring light and joy into the world or into your own soul.  As hard as it has been to write these past few months, I’ve decided I need to re-dedicate myself to my writing for my own sake and maybe for the sake of my 12 avid readers.

I began my retirement with lots of projects in mind.  There was that pergola I wanted to build in the back yard, landscaping and painting to be done.  I was determined to actually learn to play the guitar.  Some of these I’ve finished, some I’ve started, and some have fallen by the wayside.  I’m starting the list again and considering other creative avenues that are entirely outside of my comfort zone.

The reason I see this as an immunization against the poison of Trumpism is that I believe that anyone involved in the creative process brings light into the world, and in this time where some of us feel surrounded by darkness, it is important to bring our light together.  I’m not strong on spirituality, but I am so struck by the simple greeting that often ends yoga practice.  If you look up definitions for the word “Namaste” you will find many, but my favorite is, “The Divine light in me salutes the Divine light in you.”  I think creativity brings out the “Divine light” in all of us and gives us an opportunity to share it with others.

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Rendered by Scott Knox, friend, and self-taught artist

PLANT SOMETHING

The Trump administration is shaping up to be the most aggressively anti-environmentally oriented collection of scoundrels since, well, since the last time the Republicans controlled the White House.  Clean air?  Clean water?  Sustainable energy?  Psssh.  Who needs it?  Oil and gas, baby.

I’m looking around my yard and trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a few more trees.  I’m looking at ways to expand my year-round vegetable garden.  I feel like I need to grow as much as I can in my drought-affected part of the world to make my small contribution to the health of the planet.  Trump came along just when it looked like the country and the world were bonding together to make a concerted effort to battle the effects of climate change.  I guess that was part of the anger Trump tapped into.  The anger of those folks that were just mad as hell that someone was going to make them change over to LED bulbs.

If you live in an apartment, find a window where you can grow some basil, thyme, or parsley.  It won’t stop a coal plant’s production, but you’ll enjoy the greenery.  Every new bit of natural growth that you foster is now an act of subversion.  Welcome to The Resistance, my friend.

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VOLUNTEER

Lots of organizations are going to be hit hard by this administration, especially ones dependent on federal funding.  Groups that support the environment, women’s reproductive health, and immigration support and reform are going to need more than an occasional donation.  Organizations that support LGBTQ rights and social justice causes are going to be likewise vulnerable.

I currently do volunteer work occasionally for the Solana Center which promotes sustainability practices throughout the county and weekly for Mama’s Kitchen which provides food support for clients throughout San Diego County that are affected by cancer or HIV/AIDS.  I can do more.  Of course, I have the luxury of being retired and my kids are on their own, but too often I still find myself saying “I’ve just been so busy,” or “I just haven’t had time.”  It’s bullshit.  We all have time.  It’s just awfully hard to reorder one’s priorities, especially if you are someone like me who thrives on routine.  I have to make the effort.

CELEBRATE

Within the last thirty minutes, I heard the news that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to deny the easement for the Dakota Access pipeline.  Some people who sacrificed greatly and worked countless hours and those who supported them with money, supplies, and encouragement have every reason to celebrate tonight. It’s a big win, even if it proves to be temporary.

But I’m also talking about celebrating every small local and personal success that keeps  us positive and hopeful.  Today I met two neighbors I’ve never spoken to and enlisted them in providing lawn clippings for my personal composting project.  They were so kind and enthusiastic and ready to provide me with far more material than I can process.  That’s a win.  If your garden squeezes out a head of lettuce or your new tree flourishes, grab a neighbor and break out the champagne.  Make sure you tell everyone who will listen every time you hit a new personal fitness goal.  Post your artwork, photography, writing, and other creative pursuits on Facebook and let us honor your efforts to help to raise each of us up during this dark time.

I might be wrong about just how bad this presidency will be, but I doubt it.  I do have faith though in the swing of the pendulum.  Look where we were as a country in 2008 when we elected the first black president of the United States, voted for vision, hope, and change.  Eight years later, I’m not sure what people were voting for, but the pendulum will swing back once again.  In the meantime we will need each other more than ever before. We will need to come together to be “keepers of the light.”

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I’m Doing The Best That I Can

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Even though I am an early riser, I’m not one of those people that jumps out of bed and is out the door to hit the gym, or take a walk, or do much of anything physically active. I’m more a cup of coffee and newspaper kind of guy. Lately, I’ve had to be a little careful of what I choose to read about in the paper, or I will sink into a depression that sends me right back to bed.

The grief over the Orlando shooting seems almost exhausted, and then I hear about a Sacramento pastor who has already delivered a sermon declaring that the Orlando victims “got what they deserved” and that the only sad thing is that more of them weren’t killed. Really? A pastor?

I’m starting to skip most of the presidential election coverage and really wish the election could be next week instead of having to watch five long and painful months of moves and countermoves, accusations and lies. I try not to read the articles, but it is nearly impossible. It’s like trying to take your eyes off of a slowly evolving but inevitable train wreck that no one can stop.

So when I see something in the paper that really inspires me, I sometimes will clip it out as I did last March when an obituary, of all things, caught my eye.

It was written in tribute to Bob Ebeling (1926-2016) and was entitled Predicted Challenger Disaster.  A booster rocket engineer, Ebeling and other members of his team had begun to worry that the cold temperatures might harm the O-ring seals of the booster joints allowing burning rocket fuel to leak out—the exact problem that led to the Challenger explosion.

Ebeling becamed convinced that the mission and the astronauts were in grave danger. He gathered data that illustrated the risks and spent hours arguing with his bosses to delay the launch. In the end, his concerns were dismissed, and sadly, his predictions were proven to be accurate.

The part of the obituary that got to me though was that he was wracked by guilt over what had happened. He became convinced that he should have done more to stop the launch. He felt personally responsible for something completely outside of his control. After a twenty-year career with NASA, he retired a few months after the disaster.

After he left NASA, he and his wife immersed themselves in conservation work, spending hundreds of hours restoring a bird refuge near his home. “It was his way of trying to make things right,” his daughter was quoted as saying.

But apparently he was gripped by the guilt until just a few months before his death at age 89, when he was featured as a part of an NPR story on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and Ebeling was inundated by hundreds of supportive phone calls and letters. His daughter revealed that “It was like the world gave him permission, they said ‘OK you did everything you could possibly do, you’re a good person.’” So this good man, this honorable man finally found peace in the last three months of his life.

It made me think a lot about self-forgiveness, something with which I struggle. It may be time to put a post-it over my desk that reads, “I’m doing the best that I can” and then try letting go.

Note:  As hard as I tried to keep this all in my own words I may have used a phrase of two directly from the AP account of his death. My apologies to the obit authors of the Associated Press.

 

Let’s Elect a President Who Has Already Been President

I really have resisted for as long as I could. It is simply not possible to be a writer and not long to comment on the 2016 presidential campaign, especially as it becomes weirder and more unpredictable by the day.

As of today, the front-runner on the Republican side is reality star/businessman Donald Trump, who almost daily spews out some kind of new outrage, continually lies about what he has said in the past, and stomps all over any kind of decent political discourse. Most disturbingly, his clone-lets across the country continually mouth his rhetoric about “making American great again” and profess their loyalty because “he’s someone who tells it like it is!” even though he never actually says anything.

And on the Democratic side there is the surprising candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I thought simply wandered into the race by accident. He is from a state that is about as big as my garage, but he has a strong, idealistic, and completely unrealistic agenda that is capturing the imagination of yuuuuge numbers of young people pulling for the old dude to upset the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton.

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s beyond what fiction would allow. Every day that I read the paper, I feel like I’ve stepped into a Dali painting. It reminds me of how I felt in 2003 when California, in the midst of a deep energy and economic crisis, recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with an Austrian weightlifter—and then we kept the Governator on the job for 8 more years!

So nothing seems particularly outlandish to me anymore and I am ready to unveil my radical proposal. Let’s elect someone for president who has already been president!

No, I’m not suggesting we bring back Bush, Bubba, or Barack. Let’s choose from some of the fine actors who have pretended to be president in film and TV because, after all, isn’t being president all about pretending that you know what you are doing most of the time?

So, let me suggest the following five candidates, in no particular order chosen based upon two criteria. One, they showed the ability to give a great speech, one that inspires and unifies, and two, that they showed the ability to get something done.

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 As far back as I went in my research, America’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama, but rather Tom Beck, played by Morgan Freeman in the 1996 film Deep Impact. Personally, I’d feel very comfortable with Freeman at the helm given the air of thoughtfulness, honesty, and wisdom that he shows in this film. After all, he faced an oncoming ecological disaster (a comet racing toward earth) without pretending that it didn’t exist or that it was no big deal (see all Republican candidates re:climate change). Not only that, he came up with not one, but two plans to see that life would continue on earth after the catastrophe and helped to calm the nation both before and after.

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Kevin Kline also gets my endorsement as a candidate for his role in the 1993 film, Dave. Kline is uniquely qualified because as an actor he has already pretended to be a guy who is pretending to be the president! Kline plays Dave Kovic, a look-alike for the sitting president, Bill Mitchell who takes over the role when the president suffers a catastrophic stroke. Not only is he able to stand up to his scheming chief of staff, he works cooperatively with his cabinet to cut ridiculous appropriations to save his not-First Lady’s pet homeless shelter project, and launches an ambitious jobs program. He addresses Congress by owning up to the sins of his predecessor and summarily exposes all of the corruptions that had been allowed to flourish. His ability to pretend to be warm and honest would serve him well as our president. I would have no problem endorsing Kevin/Dave/Bill for president.

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My third potential candidate would be Dennis Haysbert who played President David Palmer from 2001-2004 (in season 1, he is candidate Palmer) in the action series, 24. During his presidency, he faced an unprecedented series of potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks, supported by CTU, possibly the most inept counterterrorism unit ever created. I realize they needed to keep the crisis going for a full 24 episodes, but honestly, not once did a CTU leader say the words, “you guys cover the back in case the terrorist decides to sneak out the back door when we storm the front.” Just never occurred to them. Despite this, Palmer inspired calm and confidence and managed 3 full seasons without ever being shot or tortured by Jack Bauer, no small accomplishment. And through every potential disaster, he kept it quiet that he had our back—he had an Allstate Insurance policy lined up for the entire country.

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My toughest-to-make endorsement goes to Kevin Spacey who has now completed two seasons as President Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards. Sure, he is unprincipled and ruthless, but those certainly have never been presidential disqualifiers. We have seen his ability to work behind the scenes to push legislation through, cajoling, charming, threatening, and occasionally murdering individuals that might resist his agenda. Frank has also shown to be modest and compelling in giving a speech, even as he lets us, the audience, know that he is dishing pure, undiluted bullshit. Kevin would have to reign in some of Frank’s rough edges to get my full endorsement, but let’s face it, there are scarier people than Frank Underwood who are currently being taken seriously as candidates today.

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My final recommendation is certainly my most heartfelt. From 1999 to 2006 on every Wednesday night, I could comfort myself that for one hour my president was named Josiah “Jed” Bartlet played by Martin Sheen on the immensely popular television series, West Wing. Bartlet showed toughness, compassion and a strong intellect as president. As long as writer Aaron Sorkin was nearby, he was never at a loss for a speech that was comforting and forceful. Maybe his most important contribution was helping me to hold faith in the American political process while suffering thought eight years of George Bush. For seven years, Jed Bartlet was my president. I’d have no problem voting to give him another four or eight.

Fanciful? Maybe. But look at the five remaining candidates and tell me if you think that the primary winnowing process has produced the five most trustworthy and qualified people to lead our country. Tell me you have complete confidence in any of them. Now, look at my five candidates, each one of them with extended experience in being a pretend president. I’m not even sure where the write-in box is for the presidential vote, but I may be looking for it when November rolls around.