Politics For Dummies…err, Writers

Look, my contempt for a certain ex-President has been pretty open on these…err…”pages” over the last few weeks.  This post is not about that.  What it is about — tangentially, at least — is naked politics and power.  More importantly, it is an attempt to touch on how those things can be, and have been, used in the creation of fiction.

I am a political nerd in many ways.  If those ways are mostly historical, they still can and will color my perceptions of politics today.  Which is as it should be.  What happened before will always color what happens now.  Anyone out there who believes Irish animosity and resentment toward the English did not have an impact on the bitter, contentious negotiations about Brexit needs to revisit the repressive brutality of the English occupation that officially ended only a century ago.

Hell, even after 160 years, many in the US are still verbally and morally fighting the Civil War.

The trouble with being a historian is that the list of causality never ends.  Everything that happens now was influenced by something that came before, which was influenced by something that came before that, and something that came before that…on and on ad infinitum.

Want to put January 6th in perspective?  I would love to point back to Caesar — facing trial and ruin both politically and financially — and the Rubicon, but if I do that I then have to go back and talk about Sulla first marching a legion into the Forum…and then back to Marius and Saturninus, which leads inevitably back to the Brothers Gracchi…

I think also about the import and impact of events and personalities from other periods and nations.  Events surrounding guys like Edward VIII, Cromwell, James II, Richard II (my favorite Trump comparison) sit right alongside my Roman “causes” for the current zaniness.

Then I could go all Japanese and talk about Nobunaga and Akechi, Toyotomi and Tokugawa.  I would then, of course, have to go all the way back to the Heian period, and the rise of the Shogunate…

See my historical problem?

Okay, so none of what I hinted at above would be interesting to read in terms of modern politics.  The socio-political absurdities currently going on in the US are more than enough for most folks.  No, where all of that background thinking becomes interesting is in the boundless fun only we fiction writers get to truly have: world-building.

If you’re writing an intimate, tightly-focused love story, you can probably skip the political shenanigans. But if you are — like me — writing sci-fi and fantasy, do yourself a favor and build some Machiavellian scheming into your world.  Hell, I spent several weeks sketching out the politics and high-level ruthlessness for a story about poor and desperate kids whose awareness of politics resembles that of overly caffeinated squirrels.  That background work has paid off, by the way, as I transition that story from just a stand-alone to a trilogy.  The first story remains closely personal to the characters, but the following two grow the plot and conflict into the larger “world.”

Does your fantasy knight-errant need to know Thing One about the royal councilors who are the true power behind the throne?  Nope, not a bit.  But what if that same knight-errant picks up a spouse — or an enemy — with ties to that council?  Then you can grow your story from slaying monsters and looting dungeons for fun and profit to the needs and problems of more than just your hero.  That gives you, as the creator, another source of tension and conflict by opening for your (presumably) tough and capable hero a venue where he has nothing but disadvantages…

When I think about ideas for plots and stories, all of those thoughts about history and politics I mentioned above are at play in my mind.  Those thoughts, and how I develop them in terms of world-building, provide depth and shape to the final form of any story I develop.  Honestly, I don’t think it is possible (for me, at least) to actually understand and set-up a story unless you know why and how things are the way they are when you type that first sentence…

Oh, and, if you think all of the shit from the last year ain’t currently influencing the stories, you need to go back to Writers’ School!

Random After-Thoughts:

1)  I’m as sick of the cold as I am of COVID.  Can Spring just come, please?

2)  I just read that Rush Limbaugh died.  Now, whether you loved or hated the guy, let the dead rest in peace for at least a little while.  I was pissed at Trump for his vicious attacks on McCain after the latter’s death, and I am just as pissed at the attacks on Limbaugh so soon after his passing.  When is it “too soon” to criticize the dead?  To paraphrase the old definition of pornography: “I can’t define too-soon, but I sure know it when I see it…”

3)  A year ago — a year! — I posted that I need to travel in the worst way.  That obviously did not happen in 2020, and it doesn’t look like 2021 is gonna happen either.  *extensive cursing snipped*  Get me out of this fucking place!  I don’t care if it is two weeks in a damned Chinese prison camp, I need the inspiration and rejuvenation that comes with traveling!  Ahem.

4)  I got so bored, trapped at home this winter, that I started to learn charcuterie.  Anyone want some cured lamb loin?  Take it from me, it goes very well with a nice winter ale…

{Musical Note — goin’ old school because…well…I feel like it!}

What I Couldn’t Manage Yesterday

Apologies for the terse post yesterday.  I had more to say — a great deal more — but I was far too angry and upset to even begin to untangle my thoughts and words from the emotions.  I am still angry and upset as I type this, but with a night’s sleep and a pot of coffee, I am at least going to try…

All of the articles and TV pieces are using one key word to describe the assault on the United States Capitol: sedition.  It is all-too true that the actions of Trump and his mob yesterday fit every single aspect of that crime, but it is not the right word for what went down.

No, to offer the right word, I want to first provide its technical definition under United States Federal law:

“the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R.)

THAT is the definition of what Trump and his thugs did yesterday: terrorism.

Trump’s supporters, then, accomplished what Osama bin Laden could only dream of — they put a terrorist in the Oval Office.  Congratulations.

To my friends and family who served in uniform who still support Trump, I want to offer this reminder:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

How can you square that particular oath — given on your honor to support and defend the Constitution of the United States — with acts of terrorism against the United States Congress?  Those who served in the sandbox and rockpile sacrificed incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears against al’Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

In spite of those efforts, in spite of those sacrifices, we still have terrorism here at home.  Sadly, we have that terrorism not from the blood-soaked shores of the Middle East, but from the sociopathic, narcissistic mind of one man: Donald John Trump.  Make your choice, and make it now…you either honor your oath, and the sacrifice and blood of your compatriots — as well as your fathers and grandfathers — to support and defend the Constitution, or you forever make mockery of all that this nation has suffered to be the only democracy* with centuries of peaceful transfer of power.

*Yes, yes, I know…we’re a representative republic, not a “true” democracy — let’s just skip the pointless pedantry, okay?

Why am I writing this, I ask myself, when so many others are doing so in venues much larger than my little blog?  I’m doing so because I have to go on record.  If I do not record my disgust at the events of yesterday, I am complicit through my silence.

Look, I’ve said before that those who want artists (and athletes, and countless others) to just “shut up and sing/act/write/play” are not just foolish, they are in denial of what art truly is.  Art is agency…the agency to take a stand; the agency to praise, and to condemn; the agency to foment change through expression.  Art is, at the core of it, the voice with which you can — you must — express yourself not just on the internal, quiet things, but also on the loudest and most external of things.

Trump — I will not bestow the honor of the title of President on the “man” who not only besmirched the office for four years, but yesterday outright betrayed it — needs to be removed from office, and he needs to removed immediately.  I know that it is, from one perspective, pointless to use either the 25th Amendment or impeachment to remove him with only two weeks left.  But from the greater perspective, there are two reasons:

  1. He is insane.  Plain and simple, his complete mental breakdown makes him by definition unfit for office.  It is foolish in the extreme to risk the kind of damage a madman in the Oval office could do over the next two weeks.
  2. The symbolism matters.  If you advocate for, and outright incite, terrorism against the United States, you don’t get to be President.  Period.  Even if the process takes until five minutes before Joe Biden takes the oath of office, it is vital to our future stability that Trump be recorded as the first — and hopefully only — President to ever be forcibly removed from office.

The words of John Kelly matter, here.  I think his thoughts absolutely nail what the rest of us — those not so lost to thought, morality and maturity that we avoid belonging to a lunatic’s cult, anyway — when he said this morning:

“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker’s character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women and minorities, why they are asking office in the first place, and only then consider the policies they espouse.”

The emotional, visceral part of me wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  “The Republicans should never hold office again!” I, the ex-Republican, want to rage.  “No vote for an R ever again!”

But then I think about it…

Look, as bad as things have been since the election — and as fundamentally insane as they got yesterday — there still were Republicans who stood up when it mattered.  The least of those is Mike Pence.  He was an avid, outright, aggressive enabler of Trump’s insanity, but when it came down the final step, it was a step too far.  Pence, in the end, did the right thing.  He is no hero — you are not a hero for doing the right thing only under the utmost duress — but still he deserves a nod.

But then you have R’s like Sasse and Kinzinger and Romney.  They spoke their consciences throughout the entire four years of Trump’s insanity.  In spite of the prices that Trump and his enablers tried to exact, both personal and political, they stood up for what they believed.  They have earned more than a nod, they have earned respect.

Oh, and to my former home of Maine, I have to give my thanks.  You knew better than the rest of the country when you re-elected Susan Collins.  And to Senator Collins herself, I offer my applause.  She has stood up as well, and earned both the respect she deserves, and the influence she will exert for the next several years.

But the true hero of this not-so-little Shakespearean tragedy?  Raffensperger.  That man put up not just with Trump’s insane attacks, but also literal threats to his life and the lives of his family.  And he never wavered.  He hated the results — he wanted the R’s to win — but throughout the entire thing he did what was right.  He stood up for his oath, for his office, and for his state.  In the end, Brad Raffensperger stood up for the entire country.  He is the person who takes the inner rage I talked about and shows it for the foolishness that it truly is.  Were he to ever run for national office, I would have to give him very, very serious consideration.  Cheers, then, Mr. Raffesnperger, and I will give you the highest of compliments: in the decades to come, your children and grandchildren will be proud of you.

And the children and grandchildren of the villains of this whole thing?  The children of Hawley and Cruz and the antagonist himself, Donald John Trump?  Shame and embarrassment, and an acknowledgment that the sins of today still matter in the coming years and decades.

Musical Note — this was actually a hard one. There are a lot of songs I could use, and finding the right one was proving to be impossible. Then I went back and re-read Trump’s words from yesterday, and watched again the violence that he so wanted, and the song picked itself:

It Was A Great Country While We Had It

Thanks, Republicans.

To quote the faith so many of you Trumpies claim to follow, “You shall know them by their works.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Law enforcement officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Well, That Didn’t Take Long

One of my unspoken resolutions for this new year was to cuss less, both in my writing and in my real-life habits.  I made that resolution, just like the others, in perfectly good faith.  But, then I kept reading the news…

I kept reading the news…

Are you fucking kidding me?!

Jesus Christ, Trump, can you go any goddamned lower?!

I would add a *sigh* here, but this isn’t worth a sigh.  What Trump and his sycophantic enablers are doing gives rise to indignation and anger, not the passivity of a sigh.

The election is over and Trump lost.  There was no appreciable fraud.  Trump lost.  Votes were not stolen by the hundred of thousands.  Trump lost.  A state official cannot just “recalculate” to give a different electoral outcome.  Trump lost.  Congress cannot override the expressed will of the nation to install whatever candidate they choose.  Trump lost.

TRUMP FREAKING LOST!!

Far too many loons are out there saying, “There’s no way a zero like Biden could have won!  Who would vote for him?”

That answer is easy: I did, as did millions just like me.  Well, I didn’t vote for Biden, I voted — vehemently, aggressively even — against Donald J. Trump.

Those loons love to look at idiots like Cruz and Hawley and say, “They’re just asking questions.  The Dems did it, too, and would do worse if they were in power right now…”

Good Lord, that’s not even an argument, that’s a kindergarten tantrum!  “He got to pee on the carpet, why can’t I?”

Socially I’m pretty moderate-to-liberal, but as far as fiscal, defense and foreign policy go I’m still pretty damned conservative.  I realize there is no one out there who will change their mind at this point, but I’ll link an article here and another here in the hopes that some random MAGA might read it anyway, and rediscover a touch of common sense and decency.

When an aircraft goes into a dive that is too steep, and too fast, it is dead.  Flat out, there is a mathematical curve to any maneuver that defines life or death.  If you stray onto the wrong side of that curve, you will crash.  It doesn’t matter what you do at that point, the capabilities of your airframe and engines determines your fate.  It sounds cold, but “alive” or “dead” really does come down to a simple equation at that point.

Well, what Trump, Cruz and Hawley — and far too many others — are doing is turning our collective political race to the bottom into a dive that is flirting very, very close to the wrong side of that curve.

Oh, their efforts will fail…this time.  No matter what tantrums Trump throws, no matter how insane his slavish followers become, there are enough sane people left to stop them.  This time.

This time.

But in the future?  In 2024 this is all just going to happen again, whether Trump is on the ballot or not.  It doesn’t matter who wins and who loses that election, it is going to come down all of this again.  And again in 2028. And in 2032. And…you get the idea.

Just like that aircraft in the dive,  each time it will go a little deeper, a little faster.  “Hey, nothing bad happened last time…” is perhaps the most dangerous thought-pattern in human history.  In life, that thinking leads to the funny videos and moments captured in the Darwin Awards.  In life, it leads to laughs and little frissons of schadenfreude that at least we ain’t that dumb…

Politically, however, it is nowhere near so harmless.  Politically it leads to ever more extreme actions.  Politically it leads to consequences — most unintended — that all too quickly grow out of control.  Politically it leads to the wrong side of that curve.

The most frequent responses I hear from the die-hard MAGAs nowadays are coded references to “watering the tree of liberty” and “2A solutions.”

Oh, I can dismiss the idiocy of those who roar, “Trump will order out the military to deal with the steal!”  The military is not going to get involved, even if Trump “orders” it.  Yes, there are plenty of MAGAs in the service.  Just as there are plenty of Biden folks.  And plenty of middle grounders, too.  There might be a few loons who dream of being “let loose,” but most take very seriously, and very personally, their oaths to the Constitution (not the President, nor any other individual or body).

No, I don’t worry about the military.  What I do worry about are the idiots running around and screaming at the sky, dreaming that the pistol on their hip can keep a blatant criminal in office.

This has gone far, far beyond politics — as nationalist-populists always have, throughout history.  It has gone beyond even the “cult of personality” I found so distasteful when Trump gained steam in the 2016 primaries.  No, this has entered the stage of outright religion.  We are, if we don’t soon pull out of this dive, looking at the potential for a Trump-driven conflict that will match the bloodiest of religious wars.

I hate being right.