Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Baron Harkonnen in the White House

The internet is a museum of memes for all occasions: Trump as a character from “Dune.”

The days preceding had shown so much promise. First there was the news that the arch-villain Jerry Fallwell, Jr., president of the conservative hatchery Liberty University, enjoyed watching his wife have sex with the pool boy. Then a sneak preview of the new book by former Trump mob lawyer Michael Cohen revealed that the president enjoyed sneaking off to Las Vegas to take in live sex shows that involved golden showers.

And I thought: This is going to be sooooooome kinda rockin’ Republican National Convention.

Well, you know how that turned out. While you were Googling “golden showers,” the convention was an utter disappointment. Same old racist, divisive, snarky, lie-loaded genuflection over a childish man whose psychological profile has been elevated, by experienced mental-health professionals, from an early-presidency diagnosis of malignant narcissist to what is now full-throttle psychopath.

How is it that someone can successfully identify generic pictures of a man and a woman on a test for dementia and proclaim it’s proof of his superior mental acuity? We could spend all day making a list of the president’s inexplicable behaviors. But if you can read, you already know them.

This weekend, we took a ride east on Rt. 104 toward Oswego. Stopping at a fruit stand for peaches. Cruising around the perimeter of Fort Ontario, a massive, star-shaped construction of dirt and brick built on top of a series of destroyed or abandoned forts dating back to 1755. I bought a few bags of smoking wood from an unoccupied stand at the end of a rural road, with an honor box to put your money in, because I don’t have the time these frantic days to take a walk in the woods and pick up fallen oak branches myself.

This region was clearly marked as Trump territory. Conservative pundits like to call it “Real America.” What you see are TRUMP signs. Not like those modest “Biden-Harris” lawn signs that are starting to appear around our neighborhood. No, TRUMP banners are king-sized bedsheet in scope. TRUMP flags fly from makeshift flagpoles of 2x4s tied to the awnings of trailer homes. The sides of weathered barns are painted with TRUMP as big as a drive-in movie screen.

Why? These Real Americans may be struggling. But they likely have access to the internet, television other than Fox News, National Public Radio and reputable newspapers such as The New York Times. These Real Americans must know that Trump does not care about them. That all of his actions as president – tax cuts, deregulation of laws protecting the trees where the possums live – are for the benefit of the wealthy, the one percent, yacht-sailing America. Trump is playing these Real Americans of Western New York for suckers.

There is no evidence that says otherwise.

Oh, look! Someone has posted on the internet a bust of Trump’s head! It’s made entirely of bullshit!

It is a fact that the bulk of American men and women who comprise the armed forces come from low-income families. Real America, as they say. But we know what Trump thinks of them. The people who lay their lives on this line, and sometimes lose those lives, are “losers.” They are “suckers.” Trump denies he has said these things. But many people in Trump’s own administration have confirmed that he holds this view. Even a Fox News reporter (you must always use the word “reporter” loosely in the context of Fox News) confirmed some of these statements.

And we know these words are consistent with Trump’s history: Remember how he attacked the Pakistani immigrant and American citizen Khizr Khan, whose son – a captain in the U.S. Army – was killed in Iran while protecting his fellow soldiers from a bomb-laden car in a suicide attack? Remember what Trump said about John McCain, who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war, tortured after his Air Force plane was shot down over Vietnam? “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Trump believes you are a sucker and a loser if you serve your country, rather than use the time to pursue personal gain.

There is no evidence that says otherwise.

Trump has ascended to the level of super villain, a White House version of the sadistic, unspeakably gross Baron Harkonnen of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune. Harkonnen is a man so weighed down in depravity that he uses anti-gravity “suspensors” to support his weight.

There is no evidence that says otherwise. Those who insist it is not so are Trump’s “suspensors.”

In recent weeks, we’ve learned that Trump refuses to acknowledge that the Russian government has placed a bounty on the heads of Americans killed by the Taliban.

Just days ago, we learned that Trump has been paying his legal bills with cash siphoned off of funds Americans have contributed to his re-election campaign. And this week the U.S. Justice Department, funded by your tax dollars, and run by the insidious toadie William Barr (the sadistic Piter De Vries, if you’re following the Dune analogy), has suggested that his people should take over Trump’s defense in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll, a woman who has accused Trump of sexual assault.

Losers. Suckers. Is that who he thinks we are?

We know Trump is a loser of fortunes, his bankruptcies say so. We know Trump is a sucker being played by Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jingping, and the Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz. All world leaders know the strategy: Stroke Trump’s ego, and he will follow like a puppy.

This holiday weekend, Trump supporters in Austin, Texas, gassed up their power boats, decorated them with TRUMP 2020 flags, and joined the “Trump Boat Parade” on Lake Travis. Their exuberance became a rescue operation after five of the boats sank. Fortunately, no one was hurt, so I did smile a bit at a social media post that noted how the image of the wakes from millionaire yachts swamping outboard-motor dinghies is a perfect metaphor for the Trump administration.

Only four paragraphs into this screed – thanks for staying with me! – I suggested we could spend all day making a list of the president’s inexplicable behaviors. Things that are already well reported. Yet people like you and me, guided by facts and science, sometimes can’t help but sift through his debris, like archaeologists searching for an overlooked shard of broken vase that will tell the story of a lost civilization. So our recreational reading is a list of well-documented Trump failures as compiled here by The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, in a piece called “‘I Keep My Promises,’ Trump Said. Let’s Check.” 

Hmmmm… Mexico isn’t paying for the wall…? He really said, in 2016 while running for president, “We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else…?”

Welcome back, suckers. That took a long time to read, didn’t it?

And Trump will release his tax returns when…? That’s been like trying to pull a sock out of my dog’s mouth.

Oh, plenty of dog analogies come to mind when I think of Trump. When consuming the morning news, a cacophony that announces the fall of America, I am a Rottweiler running wild in a candy store, snatching treats until someone throws a net over me and drags me back onto the sidewalk. Trump himself tells a story of cities on fire, Black people seizing control of white women’s suburbs, rising crime rates and the certainty of fraud in the upcoming election. Vote twice to prove it, he says.

To different degrees, these are imaginary scenarios, but they do beg the question: He’s the president, why doesn’t he do something about them?

And Wednesday morning, the news arrived that Bob Woodward’s upcoming book on Trump, Rage, reveals that Trump was aware of the deadly nature of COVID-19 way back in early February, but chose to “play it down,” as he says on the tapes that Woodward released Thursday.

Yes, as was the case with another Woodward nemesis, Richard Nixon, there are tapes.

On Woodward’s recordings of his conversations with Trump, the president blithely admits that he’s downplaying the dangers of COVID-19 because he doesn’t want to panic the nation.

As we approach 200,000 dead Americans, does that sound like a good idea? Honestly, when faced with impending danger, do people go running willy-nilly from their homes, screaming, like they’ve just spotted Godzilla lumbering down their street?

Trump wasn’t watching over our tender psyches. He was watching out for his political career.

We’re not living in a horror movie. COVID-19 is real. If something threatens your life, be it radiation-engorged giant reptile or a microscopic virus, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you rather make the decision on how to save your life, rather than leave it to a grifter like Trump and his co-conspirators?

So allow me to add one more conspiracy that emerged recently. When Trump told a Fox News reporter – there’s that misplaced word again – that:

We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that.

Whoa! That sounds like trouble!

The reporter (I’m at a loss for the appropriate descriptor), Laura Ingraham, asked for details.

“I’ll tell you sometime,” Trump said. “It’s under investigation right now. But they came from a certain city. And this person was coming to the Republican National Convention. And there were like seven people on the plane like this person, and then a lot of people on the plane, to do big damage.”

“Coming for Washington,” Ingraham said.

“Yeah,” Trump assured her, “this is all happening.”

So who saw these thugs? Wearing the black uniforms of what organization? Coming from what city? What Federal agency is investigating this? How did the person on the plane know that these thugs were going to “do big damage?”

No one has answered any of these questions. No one ever will. With Trump, each week’s conspiracies are launched by what “some people say…” Trump, who vowed to honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else, has spewed more than 20,000 lies during his presidency, according to a running count kept by The Washington Post. And in his tale of dark forces on airplanes, likely henchmen of the Deep State, he was lying again.

We’re all trapped in the president’s fantasy world. How do we get out of here?

Baron Harkonnen watches the television in his White House bedroom, observing this disaster unfold. He’ll tell us how we get out of here. Sometime.

By then, it’ll be too late.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

When words are worth more than a can of beans

President Trump engages in a food fight.

For years now, I’ve written one or two blogs a week. Until recently. A glance at my web site confirms my suspicions, that I haven’t written one in… 10 weeks.

It’s not writer’s block. I’ve been cranking out plenty of words for my gainful employers. And I’ve been two-finger tapping away on my keyboard at the other stuff I write on my own time. The baseball book, the novel.

But when it comes to the opinions that fuel the blog, The Critical Mass…

…I just can’t find the words.

I’m overwhelmed by the firehose of bullshit that is the Trump White House, and America today. Remember when families desperate to leave the terrible circumstances of their homeland came to our southern border, seeking safety, only to be turned away or imprisoned, children taken from their parents and tossed into cages?

That’s a tragedy that’s been swept aside in a year of crashing worldwide economies and unemployment. Racism and white nationalists emerging from the shadows. Climate change and wildfires. Poverty. The longest war in American history continuing in Afghanistan, with no explanation. Murder hornets and 17-year cicadas.

We can’t focus on one outrage, the atrocity of the day, before we’re forced to confront the next one. That’s the strategy. Wear us out, until we give up.

Our claim to the title of the greatest country in the world disintegrates as we are increasingly unable to protect our citizens from a virus, while virtually every other “advanced” country – most of Europe, Canada, even North Korea – is doing better. We’re doing worse than what Trump once called the “shithole” countries of Africa. The Trump spokespeople claim the situation is getting better. The emergency room personnel, the infectious disease experts and the numbers all tell us that it’s getting worse.

Who are these strange men in unidentifiable camo outfits and unmarked vans, swooping down on citizens in the streets of Portland, Oregon, detaining them, intimidating them, then allowing them to go free after a few hours, without charging them? It’s like a dystopian novel, and we’re only in the first chapter.

What are we to make of the words this week from White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany? In defending the demand from Trump that schools must open – despite warnings to the contrary from scientists – she exclaimed, “The science should not stand in the way of this.”

“Science should not stand in the way…” The words that will surely Make America Great Again.

Trump. You’re a sucker if you’ve written a check to the Republican Party, in the hope that the money will support… oh, ideas like building a wall along the entire 1,954 miles of our southern border. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 2016 the Trump family, and its businesses and properties, have ingested $17 million in Republican National Committee campaign money. Your border wall dreams are going toward grooming Trump-owned golf courses.

I can’t find the words. But maybe Lindsey Graham can. Here’s what the senator said on May 3, 2016, during the Republican presidential primary: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed… and we will deserve it.”

He was right!

During The Critical Mass drought, I did try to find the words. I keep a lot of notes, I scribble things on stray pieces of paper. Here’s one idea I jotted down:

It’s astonishing the chaos we find ourselves in today. After 244 years working on it, you’d expect the United States would have figured out this democracy concept.

Those words didn’t go anywhere.

Remember back in April, when a thousand or so people stormed the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, protesting the “stay-at-home” order as the coronavirus pandemic was overtaking the country? Militia guys in camo outfits, waving automatic rifles, demanding their right to infect anyone who gave them a cross look?

In response, I scribbled these words:

Liberals stormed the nation’s libraries yesterday, waving library cards, demanding their right to news and information…

Those words, also, led me nowhere.

Action follows words. I will no longer buy Goya products, after this week the CEO of the company praised Trump. After all Trump has said, and done, to harm Latinx people. Goya’s products are essential to the Mexican cuisine I love; we lived on the southern border for 1½ years. Goya joins a list of my personal boycotts that include Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, WWE, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. I’d love to add Facebook to that list. But then, you wouldn’t be reading this, so I’ll have to dance with that devil. For now.

That photo of a smirking Trump, posing with Goya products on his desk in the Oval Office, demonstrates how divisive a can of beans can be.

Everything’s been upended. Careers. Families. Dinner.

I’ve lost a few friends this year. And our memories of those friends were limited to Facebook posts, because large gatherings in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic are dangerous. My Friend Jackie was one of them. Smart, funny, wise, sarcastic, caring Jackie. Sitting in a coffee shop at the Rochester Public Market, working on The New York Times crossword puzzle. Maybe asking me for help once in a while.

“What’s a five-letter word for home run?”

“Tater.”

She passed away on May 23. Here are words from her obituary, which she wrote herself:

Contributions may be made in her name to any political parties/organizations that work to unseat right-wing elected officials.

Political words? Perhaps. But really, they’re the words of a person who cared deeply about others. She saw what has been happening in this country. And who is responsible for what appears will be maybe 200,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 by the time the November elections roll around. And she wasn’t afraid to assign blame.

So where words have failed to appear for me over these last several weeks, I have found them in others. In fact, a whole bunch of words arrived in the mail last week. A letter from my niece, Bryden, who was planning on marrying her fiancée, Brian, this October in Colorado. In their words, why they’ve called it off:

It didn’t have to be this way. Through ineffectual leadership at nearly every level, at least 2,200,000 people have been sick and over 116,000 people are dead so far in the US. To have any of you end up in either category as a result of our little get together would be devastating.

Consider using your newfound free time for something more important: to learn more about what people who are not as privileged – and who are much more dramatically affected by recent events than we are in having to cancel our wedding – have been facing in this country. People who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, non-white, queer, trans, non-binary, etc. Everyone we invited has undoubtedly benefited from privilege in some way to varying degrees; acknowledging that and learning from it are critical to how we improve as a society.

If you were going to come, you were going to spend a few hundred bucks on the trip. Consider donating some of that money to a cause that helps people.

The best time to make a change was yesterday, the next best time is now.

I miss My Friend Jackie. But after that letter arrived, I began to think we’ll be OK.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

There’s no hiding from the Trump Apocalypse

My Friends Rick and Monica have a 1950s-era bomb shelter in their basement. Rick turned it into a rec room, and put the pool table right in the middle of it.

I’ll bet they’re having second thoughts about that now.

Millions of us saw this coming, and that’s just one reason we voted for Hillary Clinton. And, quite frankly, Al Gore before that. Even so, the depth of this Trump disaster, and the speed at which it has happened, seemed inconceivable to most of us. As fans of The Walking Dead, Rick and Monica should have expected The Trump Apocalypse. The end of American Exceptionalism.

The United States is now just one more ridiculous banana republic.

Even sunlight doesn’t kill Trump’s vampires. They’re operating now in plain sight. On Thursday, Attorney General Bob Barr announced that the Department of Justice is dropping a felony charge against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted in federal court to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador. Excusing Flynn is part of the Trump administration’s scheme to make the impeachment of the president look like some kind of Democratic Party-led, Deep State insurrection.

To put it simply, this has never been done before. No legal scholar can point to a case where a government official has plead guilty – twice, mind you – to such a crime against his nation, and then been told… “OK, off you go.”

All we can do now is throw up our hands and run to the nearest bomb shelter. The foundation of our country, the rule of law, is gone. It was only a figment of the imagination of a court system that has built the largest prison population in the world, most of them non-violent offenders.

Let’s not fool ourselves. This inequity has been America for a couple of centuries. Right, black people? Right, poor people?

I grew up about 20 miles from Kent State University. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Ohio National Guard murdering four students, and wounding nine more. I was 13 years old. Too young, and surrounded by too many adults who actually thought those students had it coming, to understand what an obscenity this was.

French Revolution aside, hoping for a nation change course is like watching an ocean freighter make a 360-degree turn. It takes a while. But at least we can attempt to move in the right direction. You can skip the next two paragraphs because, as a smart person who remembers history, you know that…

In eight years under Barack Obama, we saw positive change happening. We came out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, huge strides were made in LGBTQ rights, the auto industry was saved, the Bush torture policies were stopped, we saw new laws protecting the climate and the environment, the war in Iraq was ended, Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, consumer protection acts were introduced, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Lilly Ledbetter act calling for equal pay for equal jobs for women were signed, and the Affordable Care Act made health insurance a right, not a privilege, for millions of Americans. And Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

That’s the kind of guy Barack Obama is. We also saw an elegant, educated, well read, smart, real, and sometimes even funny family living in the White House. They liked dogs.

Now what do we have?

Listing the insanities of the Trump administration is a useless exercise. The sheer volume of lies and bullshit and lack of empathy and grifter mentality has numbed the ability to react among those of us who have our own lives to live. We endure new outrages every day. The decent world has lost respect for the United States, as Trump excuses murder and racism by insisting there are “good people on both sides,” and watches as Trump builds cozy relationships with world leaders we should revile. Saudi Arabia murdered and dismembered a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who worked for The Washington Post. Yet Trump has continued to play clown prince to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who apparently ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

Trump, at a G-20 summit 1½ years after the murder, even shook bin Salman’s hand.

What would Trump’s reaction be if a Republican senator were murdered and dismembered by bin Salman’s henchmen? Pick any senator, I’m beyond caring.

Trump has lowered the bar on everything.

He never seems to smile, he only smirks. And he does not like dogs.

And now Rick and Monica’s bomb shelter resonates with the crack of pool balls. I’m just mad I don’t have anywhere to hide.

I have to go now… There’s a bunch of dead people banging on the front door.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

 

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