One Nation, Divisible

Our Chaos President has been at it again; he can’t seem to go 24 hours– or at least a news cycle– without attacking some person or institution in a way that causes dissention and outrage.  That’s his goal, obviously– we’ve seen this pattern when things are going poorly in his government.  The pattern is particularly strong when the GOP healthcare agenda, embodied in the zombie-like Repeal and Replace bills, threatens to collapse yet again.  Divisive declarations and insults, his stock-in-trade, come flying out of the White House (where is his Chief of Staff?) whenever public approval of Trump policies hits a low point– whenever he needs a jolt of energy from his unshakeable “base,” or something to distract everyone else with.

With a firm NO from Senators McCain and Paul, and Sen. Collins leaning against it (but bribes to Maine and Alaska apparently are still negotiable), and even Sen. Cruz saying he’s not convinced about the bill, the rushed vote desired by the GOP looks likely to be another embarrassing defeat for the party.  Meanwhile, the usual crises– you know the ones:  natural disasters, climate change, opioid addiction, threats of terrorism and nuclear war, etc.– continue to swirl about, without a “win” in sight.

What better time, then, for POTUS to condemn NFL players– especially the one who started it all, Colin Kaepernick– for taking a knee during the national anthem?  There’s no mention, of course, that this is a peaceful protest against racial inequality and police brutality toward African-Americans.  Ignoring history as usual (half a century ago, you recall, a peaceful march from Selma, Alabama met with a more violent reaction, but the attitude hasn’t changed), taking a knee is seen purely as an act of disrespect for “our” nation that should be punished, period.  And Charlottesville proved that the more divisive Trump’s statements, the more successful the diversion.  The place and the timing (at a rally in Alabama) was cynical but perfect:  1-2 days before NFL’s football Sunday, maximizing the predictable response from players.  The next day, over 250 athletes, trainers and team owners joined together in an impressive, moving show of solidarity.

It reminded me of the 1960 movie “Spartacus,” in which a Roman general demands that the defeated slave rebels turn over their leader.  Give me Spartacus, the general says, and I will let everyone else go.  One by one– beginning with Kirk Douglas himself– the rebels declare, “I am Spartacus,” resulting in the crucifixion of all.  Fortunately, incursions on Constitutional rights under this Administration have not yet involved capital punishment!

Here’s an excerpt from Fourth World Nation, the second in the trilogy, which will be published in the coming month:

“That is impressive, Martin:  the assassination of Ambassador Mauer, the co-ordination of demonstrations and sabotage, the recent bombing at City Hall.  Your Gang of Three has certainly been a busy group.”

“Thank you!  I appreciate that, truly,”  Martin blushed, all of a sudden feeling quite jovial.  “Ha!  We do make an excellent team, even if I say so myself!  It’s like that old saying:  ‘Strength in numbers,’ am I right?”

At the door there came a soft knocking sound, unsure.  The man frowned at the interruption, crossed the room in three strides, and opened the door just wide enough for Martin to see two guards and a badly bloodied prisoner standing in the corridor.  After a brief exchange of agitated murmurs and a quick glance in the direction of the doctor, the man swung his full attention back to Martin, who was awaiting him with bated breath.

Quite typically, the Superintendent did not miss a beat.  “‘Strength in numbers,’ you said?  No, that’s not quite right, Martin,” Khalmed Salman corrected him:  “What we say around these parts is ‘divided, they fall.’”




Welcome to Our Planet

Eight months ago, coincident with our Chaos President’s dark and threatening inauguration speech about “American carnage” (see my previous post, Inauguration Blues), six people entered an isolated environment on the Big Island of Hawaii, a NASA-run simulation of life on Mars.  Amazingly, their eight months separated from the world have passed, and yesterday the four men and two women emerged to discover that Donald Trump is still the Chaos President, still denying climate science, still unable to build the Great Wall of Mexico.  They will find the world unsubtly and unsettlingly different, however:  while they were gone, the US has withdrawn from TPP and the Paris Agreement, circling its wagons and surrendering its leadership position worldwide; multiple hurricanes, boosted by warm ocean waters and rising sea levels, have laid waste to the Caribbean and parts of Texas and Florida; DACA has been rescinded, exposing 800,000 young people while 11 million undocumented immigrants continue to live in fear; North Korea has launched missiles over Japan and tested a hydrogen bomb; the President has blustered at the United Nations that we may have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea; he has also doubled down on his statement that neo-Nazi white supremacists and those protesting against them are equally to blame for violence; a parade of White House officials have departed in disgrace; a special prosecutor is closing in on the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia to influence the election; the GOP is cynically trying for the fifth (or is it the sixth) time to bring their cruel and destructive healthcare agenda back from the dead (see my previous posts Vive le Healthcare and Kill Bill 3)– Trump wants this bill, which would result in millions losing healthcare coverage, passed by next week, before the Congressional Budget Office and other expert groups can provide any analysis of its dire consequences.

In Inauguration Blues, I advised the six Martians-in-training, when they finally came out of isolation, not to utter the classic line, “Take us to your leader.”  But I’ve changed my mind; they should absolutely see our Chaos President, if only to demand of him, “What’s happening to our world?  Why are you doing this?”

Denial and Detachment

This isn’t a doomsday blog, warning of some great approaching apocalypse.  But there is a pervasive sense of disaster in the air, as pointed out recently in the NY Times:  deadly hurricanes all in a row, record temperatures and numerous wildfires out of control in the West, a huge earthquake in Mexico killing dozens.  I would add the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, refugees from war denied entrance to some European nations, and the testing of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea.  Our Chaos President made some appropriate noises after Hurricane Harvey, but I’m not sure those wading through the flooded ruins of their homes got any relief from his saying the ground team was doing a great job; it was a beautiful thing to see; or “Have a good time!”  Political gain is clearly his first priority, not true concern for Houston’s storm victims.  What about the warming waters of the Caribbean boosting the strength of the hurricane?  Rising sea levels increasing the danger of the storm surge?  Prolonged droughts and heat waves predicted by climate science?  I’m afraid climate change deniers, including the President’s “base” in Florida and Texas, remain unwilling to at least consider the scientific evidence or the possibility of a connection–  even while standing knee-deep in its consequences.

The more evidence piles up, the more desperately they’ll cling to their denial:  cognitive dissonance is an amazing thing.  Add to that a sense of detachment and unreality, these calamities unfolding at a distance as though we’re looking at a movie or video game.  No matter how calamitous, we want to believe- and at some level do believe- that everything will go back to normal when it’s ended.  Game over?  Just reset.

In the case of North Korea’s hydrogen bomb, the President is playing a game of chicken.  His dismissal of science and ignorance of history (again, denial and detachment) does not increase our confidence that he knows what’s truly at stake.  Nuclear fusion, as in a hydrogen bomb, releases a thousand times the energy of fission, as in an atom bomb (physicists please chime in), and Kim’s missiles can now reach San Francisco.  So far, discussion of this fact has seemed rather abstract, lacking the immediacy that one might expect.

No, this is not a doomsday blog.  It was created to support my science fiction novel, Fourth World, and not to declare that the End Is Near.  But Fourth World does have a dystopian view of the future.  Here’s an excerpt:

They picked their way carefully up the stairway to the remnants of Market Street.  There was no throughway; large sections of collapsed buildings lay on their sides, the spaces in between them clogged with jagged chunks of concrete, twisted metal beams, and shapeless, glassy masses of stone/aluminum/steel/people/plastic/sand fused together for eternity.  The adjacent hillsides all looked the same; not a single street had escaped the crush of the giant falling dominoes.

For a long moment, Benn and Lora stood in silent awe at this death-mask of a city.  The heat of battle must have been incredibly intense, with temperatures well over a thousand degrees…  He could almost smell the explosive combustion of oil, bones, flesh, starch, sulfur:  any substance whose molecules could combine with oxygen had turned incendiary…  Because of global warming and subsequent flooding, a seawall had been erected long before the war, to prevent the rising water level from claiming prime bay-front real estate.  Sections of this seawall had been severely damaged, forcing them to detour around wide flooded areas.  At one point, they had to turn westward to higher ground, where charred stumps of former skyscrapers huddled like an encampment of the homeless.  Only one building had not been completely leveled; judging by the sloped angles of its four corners, discernible as they got closer, Benn guessed that the building had originally been shaped like a four-sided pyramid, and still reached about one-third of its original height.  Here they traversed a small, serene forest of redwood trees which had miraculously survived the conflagration… .