Parsing What Comes Between the Thanks and the Giving


by Roxanne Tellier

Americans celebrated their Thanksgiving this past week. Many families endured long journeys, traveling across the country, to spend time with the people they love. The lucky ones gathered around tables that groaned with heaps of delicious, fresh, and sometimes even healthy, food.

Norman Rockwell; Freedom from Want

Following in the tradition of the giving of thanks, families and friends joined hands and expressed their gratitude for those they love, for all that they have, and for all they hoped to amass during the capitalistic human centipede orgy known as Black Friday shopping.

Amen.

For the fortunate, it was a warm, loving, pre-holiday feast. Some families went to bed feeling loved, with full bellies, and visions of the sugar plums they’d enjoy next month.

Other families – not so much. Beyond worrying about how to pay for that groaning board, they had to deal with the ‘difficult’ relative – the aunt, or uncle, or son or daughter or in-law who, instead of bringing a sweet potato and marshmallow pie, brought their anger, fear, and their disdain for the political party that the rest of the gathering espoused.

All In the Family; Archie, Edith, Michael and Gloria

And that could be to either party. While I have my own bias, I’m well aware that a family that has an altar to trump is gonna have trouble with the family member who is a ‘never trumper’ – and vice versa. Think Archie Bunker, wrangling with son in law Michael Stivic, while Edith and Gloria tried to calm the troubled waters. Oh yes, it was ever thus. As then, so today, but oh my living lights and liver! It’s so much worse now.

Tell me,  how’d we ever get this way.

Not everyone experiences these unpleasant interactions. Maybe you are blessed with a Hallmark card family that never disagrees. And many people use social media sparingly, as a place to connect with loved ones, and to enjoy funny gifs and Youtube videos. That’s a perfectly valid – probably the most sensible! – way to enjoy the internet. What I’m talking about here is those of us who compulsively follow the news, with a fetish for politics. That’s a whole other experience. For us ….

” These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call. The way the camera follows us in slo-mo. The way we look to us all, oh yeah”

Paul Simon – The Boy in the Bubble

Maybe we can blame it on social media, on our ability to reach out and touch every other person on the planet who enthusiastically agrees with our theories and preferences, but the truth is, a huge segment of society has somehow devolved into something primal and tribal. It’s no longer a disagreement or a difference in opinion; it’s outright war against anyone who doesn’t toe exactly the same political lines we hold dear.

And no matter how ridiculous. 

The level of insanity exhibited by the Mad King installed in the White House is only matched by his sycophantic court, who gladly traipse along behind him, carrying his water, and informing the people that his most insane pronouncements are only misunderstood by his subjects because the hoi polloi can never dream of attaining the level of ‘genius’ trump was born with. Sigh.

You know – the way North Koreans are taught from birth that their holy family in the Kim Dynasty are beyond human understanding, and must be worshipped as gods. Like that. 

The sad truth is that the rules of modern civilized engagement have been fundamentally changed, and many people have decided that they prefer these new rules. Why tell the truth, when the president, all of his administration, and apparently almost all those of wealth and power, no longer feel the need to do so? What kind of sucker tells the truth and takes accountability for their misdeeds, when there’s dirty money to be made, and a seemingly infinite number of lawyers prepared to argue that your fake truth is just as valid as someone else’s declaration?

The people in charge are making it up as they go. Reality is now whatever the 1% say it is, and the rest of you better ‘get over it.’

75% of Americans don’t trust their government and politicians, while 64% don’t even trust each other. And the response from their governmental spokesperson?

“This is the way it works. Get over it.”

Nick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, October 17, 2019

And why bother being civil to each other, when accusations, personal sniping, and the flinging of links to sites that trumpet your truth, is the new way to communicate? The loudest voice seems to rule the day, as those with softer voices and gentle demeanours fall by the wayside.  Even many of those that we may think of as friends and colleagues seem unable to stop themselves from snapping at our heels, unmoored from a frontal cortex that might stop their lips from voicing what might, in better times, have never been uttered, like so many stroke victims who have lost their verbal filters. 

The atmosphere seems to favour the conceit that we are the most important and most knowledgeable person in the room, while simultaneously being the biggest, and most ignored victim, in history. Schrödinger’s Narcissist, demanding to be heard, no matter how inane and mundane our input may be. The shining lead in a reality show in which it truly is all about us, and the ‘little people’ are on their own.   

The trouble is, when everyone’s the boss, when everyone is too important to be of help, things get really dicey when you actually need help yourself. And we’re all so short of time. When we want something, we want it now, and the not getting of something we want the minute we want it leads to tantrums and tears over stuff that we might have brushed away as no big deal, just a few years ago.

Maybe our narcissism and self-focus is a by-product of the things we cannot control or change. Spending our time on self-soothing leaves little time for thinking about how the rest of the world lives. While we complain about how hard it is to get rid of stuff so that we can buy more stuff, there are millions of Canadians and Americans who are homeless. In truth, the average person is just two or three pay cheques away from being in the same boat. Maybe even just one.

” Millions of middle-class Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty, with 4 of 10 considered “liquid-asset poor,” or without enough money socked away to cope with even a sudden disruption in income. “

Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades and solid economic growth, many Americans are on thin financial ice, Prosperity Now found. Minority households are particularly lagging on key measures such as income and wealth, the study found. Across the board, more than 1 in 10 American households fell behind in their bills in the last year, a signal that many are struggling with rising costs and stagnant incomes.  “ cbsnews.com

While blowhards rant about how ‘welfare queens’ pump out more mouths for taxpayers to feed, and claim with no evidence that the poor use their food stamps for steak and booze, the sad truth is that America can be a harsh and unforgiving place for those born to anything less than middle class. Many resent giving the poor and vulnerable ‘hand outs,’ but have no solutions as to how we should go about helping those less fortunate than themselves.  

This epidemic of poverty and homelessness is not new; society was ever thus. What is so startling about today’s wave of needy citizens is the glaring contrast between the haves and the have nots.

Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has 10 yachts, 12 private jets, 4 helicopters, a government job replete with perks and benefits, and pays no taxes.  She also has 24/7 security, at a cost to the taxpayers of $20 million to date, because she ‘fears for her life’ due to some teacher-led protests.

At 10:30 a.m., this Black Friday, I walked along Yonge Street near Bloor, picking my way through the hands held out for change, while avoiding the prone bodies in sleeping bags that hugged the curb. Across the street, the glittering shops of Yorkville were swamped with fur coated shoppers proffering their black AmEx credit cards to take advantage of sales.

Toronto‘s libraries don’t talk about it much, but they are often the only place able to provide a safe haven for those with no homes, and nowhere to go during the day. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see a bundle buggy heaped high with all of a person’s worldly possessions parked in a library foyer or washroom. And while it may be tempting to sniff that you are opposed to paying for this with your tax dollars, the question then must be what you are prepared to do to help with the situation instead. And that takes a great deal more money, courage and empathy, than kicking in a few pennies per year in your taxes.

Looking beyond our cities and nations, people all around the globe are dying by the millions, from war and neglect. In Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation, along with countless adult civilians. In Syria, the Kurdish people, who just a month ago were American allies, are being slaughtered as the Turkish militia go door to door in search of ex-fighters. Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and is at war with the Ukraine.

Southwest Bangladesh

The nation of Bangladesh is frantically trying to bail out the waters that are threatening to sink this South Asian country, due to climate change. And it is not even an island nation. It’s population of over 163 million will soon need somewhere to live. Like the other countries facing imminent disaster, they will become climate refugees, searching for new homes, along with Comoros, Tonga, the Seychelles, Palau, Nauru, Kirbati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and the Maldives.

Last week, koalas became functionally extinct, joining the more than nearly 500 species that have gone extinct in the last century due to continued human degradation and destruction of natural habitats.. Your grandchildren may never see a koala, polar bear, rhinoceros, lion or tiger other than in a picture book.

And yet .. and yet .. and yet ….

The wealthiest people on earth increased their combined personal fortunes by about $1 trillion dollars last year. The poorest person on Forbes Richest People List, at number 20, is Jack Ma, who has a personal net worth of over $41 billion dollars. Mr Ma, alone, if he wished, could end world hunger. 

I know that it is difficult to cope mentally with all of these issues, of climate change, man’s inhumanity to man and animals, wars, populist politicians, societal division, a lack of civility and decency, inequality, and the disparity of income and the ill treatment of our most vulnerable that we see around us. How do you justify these things, when so many of these problems could potentially be ameliorated by the very people who compound the issues in their quest to amass and hoard more wealth than most of us can envision?

If you allowed yourself to really feel the despair of all of those who are afraid, hungry, cold, or in pain – how would you be able to get up every morning and go to school, or work? How do you keep the wheels of the world turning, if you are grieving for people you don’t know, and are unlikely to ever encounter?

I don’t see a lot of happy people these days, on the streets, in the stores, in their vehicles or on transit. I see a lot of angry people, a lot of frustrated faces, and people rushing to be somewhere that doesn’t seem like a place they want to be. I see beggars on the streets of a wealthy city.

“How can you tell me that you’re lonely? And say for you that the sun don’t shine.”

Ralph McTell, Streets of London

Maybe we need to re-examine how we engage with each other. These days I hear so many more raised voices, and so much less laughter. Maybe it’s time to encourage and reward civility and good humour, rather than making heroes and celebrities of those who delight in disrespecting and brutalizing their fellow human beings.

And with the holiday season nearly here, and the cold of winter encroaching, maybe we can all just take a minute to be truly grateful for what we have, and to help those in need. Not a single one of us can save the earth – but all of us together could make a start.

Monsters Under The Bed


“They’re bad people and they’re pouring in, and it’s ISIS and San Bernadino, and Chicago, I mean, look at Chicago .. it’s hell. There are bad dudes coming in here, bad hombres, bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do …”  (SNL, Feb 11/2017)

Do we laugh or cry over Trump’s first 100 days, which he’s cunningly sandwiched into three weeks? At least that’s how it feels, as every day seems to bring some new crisis to the fore, whether by tiny finger tweets, or CNN alerts, or hysterical ‘breaking news!’ posts on social media.

bannon-as-rasputinIt’s exhausting. It’s truly exhausting and it’s designed to keep the nation and the world off kilter. In the biz – the biz of demoralizing a nation prior to establishing a dictatorship, that is  – a shock event is an order that has been designed to throw society into chaos. Any student of war and destabilization knows that these events work very well ..too well, actually.

Unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game,” Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College historian wrote on Facebook last Sunday, “It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. ”

twitlerIt’s too much, this daily bludgeoning. It’s like there is no escaping his grasp .. he’s here, he’s there, he’s bloody everywhere, attacking everything in sight, rushing through executive orders that tear at the fabric of society, as though he’s Santa Claus granting every nasty request on every nasty Republican politician’s wet dream wish list.

And it would seem that those who have been waiting for this overreaching power can find no axe too small to grind, no neck too thin to chop.

While the major executive orders, like the Muslim ban, have galvanized the nation, he’s slipped through all sorts of ‘minor’ cuts to American life, that not even those who are in the field can keep up with. Got a pet? Enjoy it while you can – the regulations around the welfare of animals and of pet food safety are going to be scrapped. pet-food-trump

While there were eleven cases last year where a pet food was pulled from the shelves in order to prevent poisoning pets, the cost to pet food companies was apparently too high. So, bye bye Fido food integrity, hello pet poisoning and soaring stock shares!

The reach is so extensive, the bad executive orders so intent on pummelling us from every direction, that it’s hard to focus on anything but the TrumpReich. Some say that this is a way of giving us “protest fatigue, ” which will not only give beleaguered Republican politicians a break from the nation berating them, but that will eventually cause us to lose our will to continue the fight, regardless of further negative actions.

trump-in-bathrobe-white-houseI can see that. It’s all too much. The thing is, people aren’t wired to process this much change on a daily basis. We don’t want to deal with disruptions day and night; we want to have a break from the onslaught, a chance to put up our feet and relax at the end of the day.

I think Trump himself needs a break from it too. He’s completely out of his depth, trying to make his puppet masters happy by signing off on their Machiavellian demands, unread and not understood,  with the grin of a four year old desperate to please mummy, but meanwhile, at least according to White House leaks, unable to sleep, and wandering through strange rooms in his bathrobe in the middle of the night.

go-away-monster-sprayAnd sadly, all of this chaos and disruption is having the exact opposite effect to what he intended to portray. Rather than appearing a strong man and in control, his raving paranoia makes him seem in need of some ‘nightmare control spray.”

Toxic, incompetent, and weak, according to Der Spiegel Online:  “His disdain for human rights, misogyny and religious bigotry stands as a barrier with America’s traditional allies. His incompetence, ignorance, and unwillingness to learn makes him untouchable for nations in the balance. His weakness, combined with belligerent, pigheaded stubbornness, makes him both easily controlled … and easily discarded.”

I mean, when a beleaguered country says, “thanks but no thanks” to assistance .. you’ve really got to reassess what you consider as your strengths.

“Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.”  (nytimes.com, 02/07/2017)

We feel it here, in Canada, even as we are essentially helpless to prevent disastrous events. All we can do is protest, and signal our anger and disdain for this new definition of what America and Americans believe.

My cousin, Kieron Donovan, sent this clip around to members of my family this week, adding,  “When I saw this clip, it sent chills down my spine. The values and conviction of purpose our parents used in bringing us up were forged in poverty and war. We were the first ‘entitled’ generation who decided that they were all wrong and so we rebelled against everything that they stood for. But as I try to direct my son into becoming a compassionate and giving human being, it’s not the 60’s generation I look to for guidance. In the face of corrupted ideals and moral decay found all around us, I use words and concepts that are foreign to my son and his peers. Words like integrity, loyalty and discipline. Words that were rarely used but fully realized by those who had survived and sacrificed the best years of their lives. Strange, I always thought of myself as a left over hippy born 10 years too late, while coming of age in the chemically hung over 70’s. My ideals haven’t changed since I was 20 but the values I preach to my son belong to his grandparents. Judging by the way everything is today, maybe they had it right after all.”

elizabeth-warren-put-up-or-shut-upThis was the American stance in the fifties. I think, for the majority of Americans, it still is. Maybe they need to remember their own history, and discard the revisionist fantasies of Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon. This is not an America made great – it’s an America brought low by greed and selfishness. Not fighting, as one might think, to serve the people, but rather racing to the bottom to suck corporate dollars, aggressively and maliciously pursuing a race to the bottom.

I take much encouragement from the pushback we’ve seen this week, as Trump has had the Muslim ban overturned by the saner judiciary (though I’ve doubt we’ve heard the last of this yet; today’s Washington Post says that he and Bannon are busily re-writing the order to squeak it past the courts.) The FEC‘s chairwoman also had harsh words concerning Trump’s repeated allegations of voter fraud, demanding evidence to prove his words.  At long last, we are not expected to accept, “I feel, ” “I hear,” or “people are saying” in lieu of hard evidence.

Reports of Trump’s cronies and Republican politicians being stood up to, by the media and citizens, is also heartening. We were all taken by surprise at the complete lack of civility or reality in the first two weeks of the TrumpReich, and that had many wondering if there was ever again going to be truth and reality in an ‘alternative facts’ world. We can only hope that Americans, whether in the media, politics, or the citizenry, continue to fight against  the dystopic world Trump’s advisors are trying so hard to put into place.

 

(first published Jan 12/2017 @bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/roxanne-tellier-monsters-under-the-bed/)