I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.
When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.
In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.
How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?
American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.
James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would have been high entertainment if it weren’t so disturbing. The former Director of the FBI, abruptly fired by Pres. Trump, answered every question thoughtfully in a calm, measured tone. He elaborated the details of the meticulous memos he wrote immediately after every one-on-one encounter with the president. When Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked Comey why he hadn’t given the memos to a reporter himself instead of giving them to a third party to leak, Comey replied,
The media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point, and I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide, and I worried that it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.
It was a light moment in a very serious context.
Comey said he began to record his meetings with Trump after the first of these occasions, when the president-elect abused his power by demanding Comey pledge his loyalty. Comey wouldn’t do that and cited three reasons for his decision to write the memos:
- the circumstances: Trump had dismissed his advisors and officials, leaving him alone with Comey
- the subject matter: the Steele dossier and its account of “golden showers” and other salacious details
- the nature of the person: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting….I knew there might come a day when I would need a record” to defend himself
Wow. No prevarication. No fuzz. A senior official calling the president a liar. For anyone who’s been paying even minimal attention to the Trump saga, this allegation is not a surprise. We know Trump lies, but for Comey to assert it baldly, under oath, publicly, is truly shocking. A U.S. president who lies transparently and repeatedly is mind-boggling, an oxymoron, until now. .
From the outset, Comey bristled against Trump’s “defamation” of himself and “more importantly, the FBI. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Comey is clearly quick-thinking and erudite. One of the best moments of the hearing came in the second hour, when Sen. Angus King (I-ME) was up at bat. In the context of Trump’s saying, “I hope you will hold back on that,” referring to Trump’s implied order that Comey suspend the criminal investigation of Mike Flynn, Comey observed, “It rings in my ear as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?'”
Sen. King jumped in, “I was just gonna quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?’ and then the next day he was killed. [Archbishop of Canterbury] Thomas À Becket. This is exactly the same situation. We’re thinking along the same lines.” The king’s men understood his question as a directive to murder the priest.
Two men quoting a 12th-century English king makes my heart sing. As a medievalist in a former life, I am cheered and encouraged that classics and history are not yet completely extinct. That both men remember the history they’d studied and see its relevance to the present day is just what every teacher hopes for.
“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” That’s the pointed question that the feminist art collective Guerilla Girls printed on a poster in 1989 to expose the dearth of female artists—compared to the bounty of naked female subjects—on the walls of New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
“Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Section are women, but 85% of the nudes are female,” read the poster’s potent subhead.
So begins Alexxa Gotthardt’s review of the “Nasty Women” tour of the Met by Andrew Lear. To counter this unfortunate truth, Art historian Lear has a organized a tour of the museum that focuses on influential, if largely unknown, women.
“There are so many feisty, tough women artists and subjects at the Metropolitan,” says Lear as a group gathers around him. “So when a certain unappealing man used the phrase ‘nasty woman’ on television last fall, I thought ‘God damnit, I’m going to organize a tour showing that these women exist in art—and how powerful they were in life.”
“Nasty Women” is not Lear’s first thematic tour of the Met. “Gay Secrets of the Metropolitan” explored homosexuality in the Met’s collection. “Shady Ladies” was a romp past sculptures and paintings of courtesans and ladies of the night. “Nasty Women” has been sold out in advance since it opened in March. Read more about it here.
Devastating. Donald Trump’s functional illiteracy is all that could save him from the excoriation of Rebecca Solnit’s sardonic wit:
He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires.
The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence.
Trump is “the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history.” He is the butt of jokes in newspapers and magazines worldwide and most famously, in the weekly skits on Saturday Night Live.
Solnit writes of a man with boundless appetites, one who is ultimately alone, because he does not acknowledges the existence, let alone the needs, of anyone else.
While Obama represented the best of America, Trump revealed the seamy underside; he turned over a rock and exposed the vermin crawling in dung.
I will be going to Europe in a few days. I will have to explain, nay, insist, that Trump doesn’t represent America, that someday Lady Liberty will raise her head again, proudly. He can’t debase and defile the soul of a noble though imperfect nation.
Hat tip: Vox
Buried in the turmoil and never-ending work associated with a move from one home to another I’ve kept up with the headlines, but little of real substance. Over a week ago I took a break and came across the transcript of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments. The mayor represents the new South, the Southerners who acknowledge that they live in the 21st century and understand and accept that slavery and the Confederacy died more than 150 years ago. They belong to a progressive America that has been trying to overcome that old legacy since the 1960s, an America that continues to make progress in the civil rights of people of all colors, genders and ethnicities.
Landrieu was responding to his critics who hold that by removing the statues of Confederate leaders he is erasing history:
There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.
The truth is that New Orleans is a great city, a “city of many nations … a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” It is also true that
New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.
America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.
So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.
And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.
Was the Attorney General listening?
Having watched a movie (I recommend) about the collaboration between Einstein and Eddington, this humorous mini-feature was strangely apt:
Black holes are only implied in “Einstein and Eddington,” but the movie illustrates the theory of relativity in a way that most people will understand. The movie is worth watching for its portrayal of the relationship between the German Jew and the English Quaker and the effects of World War I on the personal and professional lives of the two scientists.