Monday, February 27, 2017

Trumpism Is White Baby Boomer Generational Warfare

For pretty much all of my adult life I have seen generational warfare afoot in this country, but never on the level of Trumpism. Trumpism is white baby boomer generational warfare at its most acute, as Trump's recent budget proposal proves.

This budget would add tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget, a military buildup likely to lead to a war (they always do) where the youth of America will be sacrificed. At the same time, social and environmental spending will be slashed, while Social Security and Medicare will remain untouched. The elderly white middle class will thus retain their entitlements and be protected unto their deaths, which will likely happen before the effects of mass pollution take hold for everybody else.

The aging white population came out for Trump in a big way. They are basically fine with making everyone else suffer as long as they are protected. Back in the 1980s, Reagan had also figured this out. He too sheltered Medicare and Social Security while slashing away the parts of the safety net that helped the young and poor. Reagan was a shrewd enough politician to know that his free market hocus pocus didn't wash with the great masses. He also knew that middle class white people would support him if they knew that other people were getting nailed harder than they were. It's a tale as old as time in this country, my friends.

Those of us below a certain age will likely find out that the tiller is empty when we come to collect our retirement. In the meanwhile we'll be breathing polluted air and watching the thermometers rise. That's been par for the course for the older generation, of course. They grew up with a robustly supported education system that made it cheap to attend public universities. At the same time, they could get good jobs still without higher education. Then, once they reached adulthood, they decided they'd rather not pay the taxes their parents did, and made public universities insanely expensive right as they became more essential for entry into the middle class. They were the first generation and in fact the only generation to benefit from the post-New Deal state from the cradle to the grave.

The generational war is over now, and those of us not fortunate enough to be on the winning side are going to have to face a bitter defeat who consequences still can't be foreseen.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Episode of the Old Dad's Records Podcast: Bowie, Pop, Berlin

I've just put up episode five of the Old Dad's Records Podcast. In the interest of keeping things lively I will be breaking from the usual formula every fifth episode. This time, instead of highlighting an overplayed song, a cheap album from my collection, and a new song I'm currently digging, I talked about some of the more prized records in my collection. In this case, it's three of the records that David Bowie and Iggy Pop made in their Berlin period: The Idiot, "Heroes," and Lust For Life. This happens to be some of my favorite music of all time. It's also very difficult to disentangle this music from a specific time in my life. I delved deep into it while rooming with my friend David in Chicago, he the "rocker" preferring Iggy and me the "mod" preferring Bowie. He died very suddenly four years ago, and it is still difficult for me to believe that he's not here anymore. As I say in the podcast, if there's a close friend who lives far away that you haven't talked to outside of social media, give them a call or write them a letter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

World War I On My Mind

At my school we have five short terms instead of two semesters, which allows more room for short electives. I'm teaching a class starting tomorrow on World War I, at long last.

World War I was the historical event that first got me into history. I picked up a book about it at the school library at the age of 9, and I was shocked and intrigued by the images. Some of them still stick with me, like Gavrilo Princip being mobbed after his assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, with quaintly dressed police with swords and fezes in the shot. 

Or a photo of a corpse with its face eaten away, but its hand held up to shield from certain death.

I was a morbid child, what can I say? 

It is an event that still fascinates me above all others, even if I never ended up making it the subject of my dissertation. As my course prep has shown me, too much time spent in this world of useless death and suffering makes me too depressed. I am not capable of immersing myself in the trenches with any sense of emotional remove.

In this year of our Lord 2017, I also feel the pull of World War I in different ways. It was a truly cataclysmic event, one that broke empires, inspired revolutions, and sent Victorian notions of culture and propriety to the grave. It was the ultimate catalyst for the 20th century in all its feats and horrors. I feel that I am now living in times more tumultuous than I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. To paraphrase Marx, all that is solid is melting into air. The post-1945 international order looks doomed. Our president is a kleptocratic ruler (not office holder) who does not adhere to the norms of democracy. Nationalism of the worst kind is on the march around the world, from America to Russia to France to India. 

I can feel the tectonic plates of history shifting, as surely as the Red Guards felt them in Petrograd in 1917 or the Arab army when it took Damascus. I do not know where it will end, and I seriously don't feel like I have any control over it. We have been cast into the whirlwind, I only hope it will be without as much bloodshed this time.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Green Lantern Movie I Want To See

As I have mentioned on this blog, I have recently re-entered the world of comic books after a quarter-century absence. I am of the opinion that everybody needs silly cultural diversions, and I find comics more fulfilling than television and more ethical than watching the NFL or college sports like I once used to. I also enjoy watching so-bad-it's-awesome movies, but my lovely spouse is not as enamored of this pastime.

I am a born contrarian, so I also tend to like stuff other people don't, like the Mets, White Sox, prog rock, and the Green Lantern. He is definitely a second-tier hero, and being in the DC universe, already has a strike against him in the hipness department. One of the big reasons I like him is that many of his adventures take place in space, and "cosmic comics" are able to render scenes that millions of dollars in CGI can't replicate. One of the things I love most about comics is how they can render visual flights of fancy that other mediums cannot, and Green Lantern is especially conducive to this. He is also limited in key ways as far as his powers are concerned. The Green Lantern derives his power from his ring, and he has his ring as part of his job as a galactic law enforcer. His ring only works through his willpower, meaning that his inevitable human weaknesses can thwart him. Superman never has that problem.

So far there has not been a good film adaptation of the Green Lantern. I have yet to see the Ryan Reynolds flick all the way through, but I've seen and heard enough to know it's sub-par. I doubt we'll get any new adaptation any time soon, especially considering the failures of the Zach Snyder (blech) driven DC films. But I know a great one that could be made, and with a more limited budget, to boot.

Green Arrow gets woke

Back in the early 1970s, when comics were losing readership, DC teamed up Green Lantern with Green Arrow in a short-lived but influential title: Green Lantern and Green Arrow. It was written by Denny O'Neil, and drawn by the great Neal Adams. While the title lasted only about a year, it was revolutionary. After being confronted by an African American man over Green Lantern's neglect in helping the oppressed people on this planet (as opposed to others) he joins with the far more socially conscious Green Arrow on an Easy Rider type road trip across America. That trip and later issues dealt with things like drug abuse, slum lords, racism, environmentalism, and political corruption. While many of the title's stories come across as ham-fisted or dated today, the approach taken was revolutionary.

I would not want to see a period piece or direct adaptation on film, but a Green Lantern movie set today with the same conceit. I would like to see a superhero confronted with their complicity with authority. I would like a superhero movie where structural inequalities and the political system, not outlandish super villains are the enemies. It would be a good way of showing how pernicious and powerful those things are if superheroes who can take on Sinestro cannot defeat them. I also think the interplay between Green Lantern and Green Arrow would work well, and could be used in some interesting ways. Green Arrow would still be the radical, Green Lantern still the decent person unaware of how invested he is in the power structure. Green Arrow could even be used to show the pitfalls of "white saviorism" and bad allyship.

And if I could get real crazy, I would love to see Batman and Superman as antagonists. After all, Batman is a violent, vigilante billionaire out for vengeance with little understanding of social justice. Superman pledges himself to the "American way," which includes a lot of injustice within it. If I could be truly gonzo, I could see a movie where Superman maintains his loyalty to the government under President Trump. In the end Batman would realize that he needs to make war on more than criminals, and Superman would realize that his immigrant roots are more important than his loyalty to the American state.

 I know this will never get made, but a Green Lantern fan can dream, can't he?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Episode 4 of the Old Dad's Records Podcast

Episode 4 of my podcast, Old Dad's Records, is now up. In this episode I took the theme of "bridge and tunnel," and looked at artists from the fringes of the New York City metropolis. The song of the week is "Two Tickets To Paradise" by Eddie Money of Long Island. The album I focused on is the debut of The Roches from right here in New Jersey. That record even features a song about riding a commuter train! Last but not least I discuss Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen's early 70s band before he was famous. As someone who's moved to bridge and tunnel territory and commutes to Manhattan every day, I feel a kinship with this music.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stop Pretending Impeachment Is Easy Or A Foregone Conclusion

Nixon drunk-dialing his former chief of staff Bob Haldeman on the day of the latter's resignation is one of my favorite things. It took over another year for Watergate to run its course.

In the wake of the Flynn scandal, a lot of liberals and progressives have been joyously discussing the possibility of impeachment, or even the fatuous notion that we will have an election "do over." Sorry folks, I'm here throw a bucket of cold water on you. As a historian, that's kinda my job.

As to the "do over," there's absolutely no constitutional precedent for that, so just stop talking about it like it's a thing. As to impeachment, it should never be discussed as if it were something easy to do. No president has been removed from office via impeachment. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached but survived the process, and Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could be voted on. I am pretty sure Nixon would have been impeached and removed from office, so I guess I'll let you have one example of a successful impeachment.

My point is that it is almost impossible to pull off. It is beyond impossible if the president's party is in control of Congress, which means you should just stop thinking Trump will be impeached before the next midterm election. It won't happen. It's much more likely that a 25th Amendment scenario happens, but I doubt that'll happen, either. Paul Ryan is creaming his shorts about the prospect of eliminating the social safety net, and if Trump is a vessel for that, so be it. I've said it before, I'll say it again: there's no such thing as "Trump voters" anymore, only Republicans, and Trump is putting forth an aggressively Republican agenda.

So let's say the Democrats manage to win back Congress in 2018. (I'm not holding my breath.) The process behind impeachment is extremely time-consuming. The early Watergate allegations against Nixon started getting serious in January of 1973. He would not resign until a year and half later, in August of 1974. That was even with a Democratic congress. Nixon did everything he could to slow down the process. Later presidents learned from this scandal to make it even more difficult to unseat them. For example, in the Iran-Contra Scandal of the 1980s, Oliver North merely shredded the relevant documents, destroying the evidence. I imagine Trump has minions willing to take the fall, too.

I don't like this impeachment talk because it is yet another wish for the salvation to come miraculously come from on high and end Trump's rule. That simply is not going to happen. Instead of waiting for a miracle, we need to be out there opposing Trump tooth and nail. We need to fight like hell in 2018. We need to keep up the pressure. We need to put our bodies on the line, if need be. The legal processes of this country installed Trump in power, start trusting yourself instead of trusting them for a change.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Yo La Tengo, "From A Motel 6"

February is the worst month of the year. Winter refuses to go away. With Super Bowl over and March Madness and the baseball season yet to start, sports options are really lame on nights when I have nothing better to do than watch television. Hollywood dumps its shitty movies in the theater. Awards shows and their fatuous celebrity worship are everywhere.

Every year at this time I never fail to get into the dumps. In these times I have lean especially hard on music for help. Back in grad school I even made a mix tape (one of my last) called "Late Winter Blues" that I kept in my car tape deck through the whole month of February. One of those songs, one that I always return to, is Yo La Tengo's "From A Motel 6." While this came out during their 1990s heyday, I did not discover them until I met my friend Kevin back in the year 2000, when we learned we were both way into indie rock. The Painful album was one of the first CDs anyone ever burned for me. The year we spent rooming together was a musical education, one I am still grateful for.

I like Yo La Tengo's 90s period in winter because of the droning, Velvet Underground-derived guitar. It's the sound of hard, cold winter sunlight reflecting off a snowbank whizzing by my window while I drive on slushy streets. I have no idea what the song's about, I just know that the title is a reference to Bob Dylan's "From A Buick 6," which also has a strong riff behind it. When I listen to this, like a lot of 90s indie guitar rock, I let my mind wander in the swirls of the feedback-drenched guitars, losing myself for a few minutes. It's a welcome deliverance from February.