Jeff Spevak, Writer

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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.

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Art, and policing inconvenient truths

Barack Obama, by Kehinde Wiley.

My Friend Sarah, My Friend Jones, My Friend Sue and My Friend Scott have all been recent visitors to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where the two most-talked about pieces are of Barack and Michelle Obama. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of the 44th president depicts him against a backdrop of flora in which Obama and his ornate wood chair seem to floating. Amy Sherald’s First Lady shows Michelle Obama in a gloriously flowing dress of geometric patterns and curiously gray skin, the signature style of Sherald.

The two works are responsible for drawing unprecedented crowds to the museum. It is an emotional experience, My Friends say. The people viewing the paintings are hushed, reverential. I suspect it is not merely the beauty of the art. No, I’m sure they are looking at these portraits and silently realizing what we have lost. The White House is no longer home to these graceful, intelligent, beautiful, 21st-century people.

They see that the White House is no longer a home to truth and beauty.

The Obama portraits – the subjects are relaxed, unique artistic statements – are also a truth that is not generally seen in the traditional, stiff portraits of the high and mighty: False images that demand respect where none is deserved.

After Aretha Franklin died last week, I was watching video of her at a concert sitting at a piano, which she played well, singing “(You Make Made Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It was breathtaking. The camera moved up to the audience – it looked like they were in The Kennedy Center – and it paused on Barack Obama. He appeared to be brushing away a tear. His humanity was genuine.

I read a lot of history. But I know that it is often wrong. That’s why history is so often re-written. Fiction, and art, is superior to the non-fiction word. Fiction is a true representation of something, even if it is simply the writer’s vision, what he or she sees. Non-fiction can often be a guess. It is not genuine.

Michelle Obama, by Amy Sherald.

No one gave Rudy Giuliani the power to define what truth is, or the right to declare that “truth is not truth” in his now-infamous defense of Donald Trump. No, truth is truth, just as trees are trees. What Giuliani sees is a truth that is obscured, manipulated, taken out of context.

And at that point, it is properly defined as a lie.

We must rescue the concept of truth – the definition even – from the liars. Because it’s only going to get worse. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and similar social media handmaids of bullshit are already awash in lies, lies that can generally be exposed through a little research or a minor expenditure of common sense. But new “deepfake” technology will soon allow trolls to create falsehoods far more undetectable from the truth. Videos will purport to show Neil Armstrong confessing that images of the moon landings were actually shot in an abandoned warehouse, or Hillary Clinton admitting that, yes, she and Bill really were running a child sex and human trafficking ring out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C.

And these lies will look like the truth. Your choice will be: Do you believe?

You might. Despite indisputable evidence that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, for years Trump and his Birthers continued to circulate the myth that Obama is a native of Kenya. And many people believe that lie to this day.

Policing the truth. Can it be done? Trump has already offered a solution: His administration will determine truth, it will declare what news outlets are to be believed, and which are “Fake News.”

Donald Trump, by Jim Carrey.

Umm, thanks Donald. You can put your hand down, now. Something about a president who has uttered nearly 4,500 misleading statements or outright lies since taking office, according to a tally being kept by The Washington Post, suggests tasking the government with handing out certificates of truth is not a workable solution.

Trump is not the picture of the public servant who fuels strong democracies. One wonders: Where will Trump’s official portrait hang? As it seems certain his presidency will shake out worse than Watergate, I’m thinking his tangerine image, perhaps one of Jim Carrey’s sketches, might find a home on a cafeteria wall in one of those white-collar, country-club prisons in rural Virginia.

And then, will someone emerge to get us out of this mess? I think that woman or man might be out there.

Senator John McCain died this past weekend, his funeral now a week-long, cross-country event, with 24-hours-a-day tributes on network and cable television. This respect being showered on McCain’s memory must infuriate the small-minded Trump. And these glowing eulogies are a reminder that exceptional leaders can emerge in difficult times. McCain had ideas that didn’t work for a lot of people. Bringing in Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate certainly exacerbated the divide in this country. But in one memorable video clip making the rounds, during his presidential campaign against Obama, we see McCain shutting down the famous Woman in Red who says she’s heard Obama is an Arab. McCain’s comeback wasn’t perfect, as there’s nothing wrong with someone being an Arab, or Muslim, or Jew. But McCain did correct her facts, noting that Obama is a Christian and good family man.

It speaks volumes that Trump was told he is not welcome at McCain’s funeral. And Palin has not been invited. Their inauthentic souls, the fog of untruth that surrounds them, would not be a true picture.

McCain’s insistence on the truth, no matter how convenient the lie might be, is something that’s been lost in the halls of the National Portrait Gallery.

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Americans are exceptional confabulists

Intelligence test: Which U.S. president was born in Hawaii?

Intelligence test: Which U.S. president was born in Hawaii?

The singer-songwriter Bat MGrath writes earnest, heartfelt songs of relationships. Every word rings true. Nothing political. Yet it seems as though every time I see him play, he lets slip some hint of where his sentiments lie. As he did Saturday night. Between songs he described himself as an optimist, which I do believe he is. But, he added, it’s really hard to be an optimist these days.

So true. Friday morning, after I had got the coffee going and fed the dog, I turned on NPR, whose handful of reports on the big news of the day all seemed to open with the same words.

“Officials were converging on a small Oregon town in the hope of finding out what and why…”

What. Another mass shooting in America.

Why. Because a significant portion of America is living in a fantasy word. Refusing to deal in facts, maintaining nonsensical positions and, very often, turning to lies to defend the indefensible.

Dodging truth and embracing lies. Frequently hiding behind the phrase “American Exceptionalism.” On Saturday the United States Air Force launched a strike in support of our extraordinarily corrupt allies, the Afghan government. Leaders so corrupt that, according to Americans who are living there, trying to help keep that country functional, the local people actually prefer life under the Taliban. According to American officials, the Air Force attack was “in the vicinity” of a hospital. If so it was exceptionally bad aim, as they blew up the place. The Afghan government said the Taliban was using the hospital as “a human shield,” but hospital officials said that was a lie. The only people in that building were medical personnel and patients. And now 19 of them are dead. Including children.

American Exceptionalism is overrunning the planet while the rest of the civilized world steps back, aghast. All of the great work that this country has accomplished in the last couple of centuries – slavery, robber barons, stealing Texas from Mexico and genocide of the American Indian aside – is being overwhelmed by a loud, rude, angry minority.

Don’t overlook that word, minority. The conservative point of view, a dangerous ideology propped up by easily refuted lies, is the minority opinion in this country.

Here are the facts. Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of gun control. They approve of marriage equality. They like science. They are fed up with endless war in the Middle East. They want cops to be held accountable for their actions when another unarmed black man is shot or choked to death. They understand the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency. They acknowledge our world is being destroyed by climate change. They’re ready for the legalization of pot. They see racism and economic disparity – nor Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s email server – as two of the primary issues faced by this country. They understand evolution is not a theory, but a fact. They overwhelmingly hate Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gives corporations the same rights as citizens, and is now exploited by Republican benefactors such as the Koch brothers (and, OK, comedian Bill Maher, who gave $1 million to President Barack Obama’s reelection) to inject obscene amounts of money into political campaigns.

A lot of Americans believe in UFOs. I wish that one were true.

Americans are also largely in favor of a woman’s right to her own reproductive decisions, and they are overwhelmingly supportive of funding Planned Parenthood, which has a higher approval rating than Congress. The Planned Parenthood sting videos that conservatives now use as their main argument for de-funding the program are a hoax. (As were the ACORN sting videos, which brought down an organization that helped black people register to vote.) At the second Republican presidential primary debate, the spectacularly failed Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told a moving story of an aborted fetus, its legs kicking, as Planned Parenthood employees discussed keeping it alive so that they could harvest its brain and sell it for medical research. Not only is that scene not in the fake sting video, no one’s been able to find that specific image anywhere. If you wish to debate the legality of abortion in this country, you may do so. But come armed with facts, not lies.

Most economists scoff at Republican economic theories of endless tax breaks for the rich. Most social academics dispute the Republican mantra that the poor can join the plutocracy simply by working harder. Conservatives gather zombie-like around the notion that poor people, especially poor black people, only want free stuff. Well, politics is all about handing out free stuff. The rich get more, and better, free stuff.

Conservatives are mindlessly caught in the gravitational pull of unstable objects. George Zimmerman, the gun-obsessed killer of an unarmed black teenager who was walking home from a convenience store and paid for it with his life; Zimmerman is a reprehensible creature who’s been involved in a handful of violent scrapes with the law and has recently been tweeting pictures of the body of his murder victim, Trayvon Martin. You may have already forgotten about Cliven Bundy, the New Mexico rancher whose declaration that he wouldn’t pay taxes for allowing his cattle to graze on government land was defended by a score of rednecks who rode their pickups into town, pointing guns at Federal agents. They got away with it. You can bet they wouldn’t have if they were black.

Conservatives establish fundraising web sites for cops charged with murder.

Joe the Plumber. Sarah Palin. Ted Nugent. I’d never even heard of reality TV moralist Josh Duggar until he got caught up in scandals of sex abuse and a web-site designed for spouses who want to cheat on spouses. Where do Republicans find these erratic mascots?

More recently, conservatives are celebrating that wrung-out dishrag of a Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis. Last week she met with Pope Francis, a move hailed by conservatives as Papal approval for her brand of ignorance. Except now it looks like Davis’ publicists pulled a fast one, sneaking her in with a crowd of a few dozen people, never explaining to the pope’s handlers that this was the woman who’s decided she can break a law – in this case not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples – because she doesn’t agree with it. The Vatican this week issued a statement that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support of her position.” Apparently the Vatican doesn’t get Fox News on cable, the pope didn’t recognize her.

NASA said this week that there’s liquid water on Mars. Rush Limbaugh says it’s not true.

Conservatives are awash in crazy conspiracy theories. Anchor babies. Obama and Hillary as The Antichrist. If you want a good laugh, Google “Jade Helm” or “Agenda 21,” a benign United Nations resolution that conservatives have re-built from spare parts, a Frankenstein of mismatched logic, into a program for one-government world domination through environmental action in concert with the liberal media (Although most media outlets are owned by conservative corporations).

Conservative fantasies include the infamous death panels: Yet most Americans approve of government funding for programs that will help the elderly and terminally ill people make comfortable, end-of-life decisions. And “Truther” quests: The sheriff of Douglas County, Oregon, re-posted a now widely debunked YouTube video questioning whether the Sandy Hook shootings actually occurred. Two days later he sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who was heavily involved in organizing gun control legislation, claiming that gun control would not prevent school shootings, adding that he wouldn’t enforce gun legislation that impinged on the Second Amendment gun rights of the citizens of his county.

That sheriff, John Hanlin, now has 10 dead and seven wounded people on his hands after Thursday’s massacre at Umpqua Community College.

Conservatives cite the Second Amendment as irrefutable proof that they may carry guns with abandon. It does no such thing. The Second Amendment is about militias. That’s why it prominently uses the word “militia.” But we no longer have militias. Just as we no longer have slavery. When reading the Constitution, the context of the times in which it was written is very important.

But context doesn’t matter to conservatives, re-writers of history. Jeb! Bush, your brother started those failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and created the instability that opened the door for ISIS. Not Obama, despite your claims that he prematurely abandoned “The Surge” and allowed victory to slip away. The truth on that one: All of the generals who were involved at the time have said the surge was always intended as a temporary measure meant to give the Iraqi government time to get on its feet, after we’d destroyed it. A full-time surge would have been an unending, unsustainable effort. So quit lying about it.

Conservatives love war. Americans build exceptional tanks and aircraft carriers. But we haven’t won a war since 1945.

ISIS. A reprehensible organization that cuts the heads off of journalists and Muslims alike. Fear grifters such as Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s inept contribution to Congress, insist that terrorists with knives hidden in their robes are crossing the Mexican border illegally to kill us. KILL US ALL! Wide-eyed, spittle flying from his mouth, he’s offered no evidence that this is happening, and ignores the fact that virtually all of the terrorists who hijacked four airliners on Sept. 11 were in this country legally. As were the terrorists who shot up a movie theater in Colorado, an elementary school in Connecticut, a McDonald’s in California, a military base in Texas, a church in South Carolina and now a community college campus in Oregon.

Conservatives are bleeding from the eyeballs out of fear that radical Islamists are the greatest threat to America today. But the only terrorists who are killing people in this country seem to be home-grown, socially inept, angry, well-armed loners. All of the developed Western nations have them. But we’re the only first-world country where 36 people a day are killed by guns. We have a third-world casualty rate. Because too many Americans believe the answer to any problem is to point a gun at it. And too many American leaders insist that the solution to our international squabbles is to have some 19-year-old soldier in a Wyoming bunker steer a cruise missile into a village on the other side of the world, and it doesn’t matter how many children and goats and old people we kill.

Americans are exceptional confabulists. Conservatives hide behind lies rather than confront their inhumanity and inconsistencies: Why do Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both the sons of Cuban refugees, hate immigrants? Conservatives want simple, easy-to-understand, bumper-sticker solutions in a complex world of many cultures.

Everyone wants free stuff. But how can we award the kind of tax breaks that conservatives advocate without exploding the national debt? Economists say we can’t. The Republicans running for president are all college graduates, I assume they can do the math. They must be lying to us.

The majority of Americans know that Obama is not from Kenya. If conservatives are so committed to simple ideas, perhaps that could be the intelligence test for the cabal of unqualified losers currently vying for the Republican presidential nomination: In what state was the current president of the United States born? A one-word answer will suffice.

They all know the correct answer. Hawaii. But they’re loath to admit it’s true.

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