Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Is Bullsh*t

Last night I posted about a new Tragically Hip record coming out. A band I have loyally followed for decades. I read today that Gord Downie, the lead singer and guiding force, has terminal brain cancer. They plan on touring this summer anyway. See 'em while you can. I have vivid memories of a small club show by the Hip I saw circa 1990-91. Not to be missed. Looking forward to the record even more now. Although, don't look for a Bowie-like goodbye on this one. The record was written and recorded prior to his diagnosis. This is actually big news in Canada. The Hip are still a huge band there. His doctor held a press conference to discuss the diagnosis. Apparently the mean lifespan for people after diagnosis with this type of brain cancer is about 2 years. Downie claims that he plans to keep making music. Should interesting stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2016

New Hip

One of the only bands that still gets me excited about a coming release is Canada's own Tragically Hip. They've been putting out great stuff for over 25 years now. Granted, their records are often hit and miss (the only perfect one from start to finish is Road Apples), but when they hit, they can still hit me hard. It is difficult to explain these things, where a certain band has a certain sound or turn of melody or style or chords they use that just hits your emotional sweet spot. I like the new song "In a World Possessed By the Human Mind," from Man Machine Poem, out in mid-June. Here's the video, I like the mood it creates quite a bit. But perhaps that's because I'm listening and watching late tonight while the wife is out of town and the kids are long asleep...it's like getting a phone call from an old friend...thank God for the Hip.

Fun question for those reading: what bands/artists still putting out new material hit that sweet spot for you? Not every song, but consistently enough to where you are still excited when you hear of a new release on the horizon. this is especially an interesting question for those 40 or over, since I think it is harder for anything new to emotionally penetrate us like it used to.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

There Aren't Enough of Us

I have held off from discussing the election here at GNABB. Too many musical obituaries to do. But I have been following it very closely. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to write anything, though. Partly because I have so many thoughts and feelings about it, I haven’t had the energy to sit down and sort them out. But here goes…

Trump vs. Hillary. An historical election, in part because we have never had the two major candidates both have such high negative polling. Polls indicate that over 50% of Americans dislike them both, so…???? Anyway, they are our candidates. No amount of wishing them away will change that.

As someone who generally leans middle/right, the Trump phenomenon/fiasco has been especially interesting/infuriating. I was onboard the Never Trump train early on, but at the same time I always held out a little hope that he could convince me otherwise. That he would fulfill his promise that the primary season was just an act, a carnival sideshow, and that he would magically become “presidential” when it mattered.

Trump: “I’ll be so presidential it’ll make your head spin.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just handed Trump an opportunity to be exactly that, presidential. In an unprecedented move, the Speaker of the House refused to endorse the presidential candidate of his own party. Or at least, said he was “not ready” to do so. Trump could have taken up the challenge, said something like “Speaker Ryan is correct, I need to bring this party together and I am determined to do just that. I invite Speaker Ryan and other party leaders to meet with me and we can come together and discuss a host of issues, and then together we can lead this party to victory in November.” But it just isn’t in his DNA to collaborate. Instead, Trump responds in the only way he knows how, confrontationally. He said that he wasn’t ready to support Ryan’s agenda. So there, the trenches on the battlefield are dug.

Trump just doesn’t care. The very idea of a political party has very little use to him unless it is simply an apparatus to get him what he personally wants. Paul Ryan was talking about the great responsibility to live up to the best of the GOP legacy, to live up to the principles and leadership of Lincoln and Reagan. To Trump that hardly registers, and that is one of the many problems here.

What is Ryan doing? Is he giving cover to vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in Congress this year, so they can also distance themselves from a Trump scorched-earth candidacy? Is he trying to preserve true conservativism (which is a religion to Ryan, and a matter of convenience to Trump), where Ryan and others might actually be willing to throw this election in order to preserve the Republican Party for the long run? All are possibilities.

Paul Ryan: Losing the battle on purpose to win the war?

The greatest damage that Trump has done to the Republican cause is demographically. By 2050, many experts believe that the United States will be “majority-minority,” meaning that there will be no ethnic group that is a majority in this country. The fastest growing demographic is Hispanic. During the 1990’s, the Hispanic population passed up the African-American. I have argued for years that in many ways, the Hispanic population and the GOP are a good fit (social issues, economically). It is a matter of messaging and perhaps some movement on a few issues. The Republican establishment, like Paul Ryan, had realized this and were trying to work on this long term issue. Trump has blown that effort out of the water (tweeting a picture of The Donald enjoying a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo saying “I love Hispanics!,” notwithstanding).

ABOVE: Apparently, all you have to do is eat a taco bowl and proclaim "I love Hispanics!" on Cinco de Mayo, and all will be forgiven

If the Republican Party does not figure out a long term plan to expand its base, it will become a party perpetually in the wilderness. So Trump calls Hispanic immigrants rapists, he calls for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration, and shows an anachronistic, dismissive attitude towards roughly half of our population (women). As a father of two daughters, I would punch someone in the face if they spoke to one of them in the way that Trump has addressed women in public. For that reason alone, it is hard to stomach supporting him and having him be an example to my girls. Trump has managed to alienate most anyone who is not non-Hispanic white from the Republican cause. Perhaps Paul Ryan and others see the long game, and the need to sacrifice this election.

What explains Trump’s popularity (beyond just obvious bigots, because there are a lot more people than that supporting him)? As has been much discussed in the media, it is the same anger fueling Bernie Sanders’ movement on the other side. People fed up with comfortable establishment figures who maintain their power while things seem to be getting more unstable and out of control internationally, and at least stagnating domestically. People want change. But The Bern’s socialism and Trump’s demagoguery and narcissism are not the answers.

Trump has tapped into a fear and frustration that has been there for awhile amongst working class whites. Which is one reason he still could win this thing. Frankly, there are quite a few northern, working class whites who normally vote Democrat who are flocking to Trump (what we called in the 80’s “Reagan Democrats.”) Can they make up for the Never Trump Republicans? Maybe. Add to that Hillary is a very weak and vulnerable candidate who has serious issues of her own.

I can’t support Trump for several reasons. His wall and his plan to round up millions of illegal immigrants and send them back are absurd (but “the good ones” can come right back. How does he know who is “good”? Will he interview them all personally? Can you just see the Gestapo-like images of people being rounded up, separated from family members and shipped back to foreign lands?) So what is his point? Is he just that cynical, stirring up nativist sentiments, knowing he can’t really deliver? Or does he really think he can do these things? Either way, it is ridiculous and dangerous.

Even worse is his foreign policy. He casually talks of dismantling NATO, of promoting nuclear proliferation in Asia…he discusses reversing American foreign policy that has been in place since the end World War II with as much thought as you or I would dedicate to ordering take-out. I swear, it looks like he says these things the moment they pop into his head. His Middle Eastern policy? Which Trump do you believe? We should pull out and let them fight out their own problems? Give the Russians a free hand to do with Syria what they see fit? Go carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion? It seems to change with each week that passes. Again, whatever pops into his head at the moment. One thing that he said is true. The U.S. would be “unpredictable” under a Trump administration. The problem with that is that for close to a century, global stability has depended on a predictable American foreign policy. Our allies depend on it, and our enemies are kept in check by it. Trump: “I’ll make great deals.” Meaning everything is now negotiable? The majority of conservative foreign policy experts agree that Trump’s foreign policy would be a disaster. Not everyone has such dire feelings about it, though. Vladimir Putin is a noted Trump fan.

So no, I can’t vote for the Donald. Country over party. And actually, not voting for Donald, in the long run, is probably best for the party too. Perhaps the Republicans will need to go into the wilderness for awhile and reinvent themselves. Like after The New Deal, and it required a Barry Goldwater to plant the seeds that only came to fruition 15 years later with Reagan (or as I describe him to my students,

“Goldwater with a personality”). It might take more years of horrendous policies like Obama’s to finally convince Americans that another way is necessary. But it is not Trump’s way.

There are just not enough of us out there right now. Reasonable, thoughtful, Libertarian-leaning conservatives who are concerned about the deficit and debt and fiscal future of this country. Who recognize that the American character and work ethic is worth preserving, at least the best aspects of it. Who understand that America has a leadership role to play in the world that needs to be predictable and steadfast for our allies (which Trump doesn’t seem to understand), and that also must project strength and be able to strike a certain fear in the hearts of those who would oppose us or try to do the world harm (Obama doesn’t seem to understand, or at least agree with, this part). Reasonable conservatives who understand that we need to cut government spending, reform entitlements (including the difficult ones like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), but also that not all taxes are automatically bad. Republican icon Ronald Reagan understood this. He once said that if you get 80% of what you want, then that is a success. He understood that you had to work with the opposition, that it did no good to demonize your domestic political opponents.

We have ourselves (on the Right) to blame for Trump. It started with talk radio, I think. I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio on my drives to and from work. And I agree with much of what they say. Many critics of the genre haven’t actually listened to much of it, and it provided an outlet for a point of view that had been blocked out of the mainstream media. But they hold on to and expand their listenership through demonizing the Left, there is no doubt. Most every issue that comes up is proof that Obama and others are out to destroy America. Not that they have different opinions on solutions, but that they just hate America. Ratings equal stirring up anger and resentment. Some are more reasonable than others (I loved Bill Bennett when he was on, I enjoy and respect Dennis Prager and Michael Medved quite a bit, not coincidently two who have come out and said that Trump is wrong for this country), but then you also have the Michael Savage’s of the airwaves. It is an industry built on resentment and intransience, on the belief that if you compromise with the Left then you are a traitor. Reagan, in this environment, would have been excoriated. Talk radio created the Tea Party. Tea Party resentment paved the way for Trump.

ABOVE: With these people becoming a vocal part of Republican politics, was Trump far behind?

The funny thing is, Trump is not even a conservative. And he will actually run to the left of Hillary on some issues. But this pitchfork and torches contingent of the Right is so angry and emboldened now, they don’t even notice that Trump is a carnival barker opportunist who will bend and change with the populist tides and his own whim on any given day. Add to that the Reagan Democrats that he has courted. Trump has no core ideology at all.

So, what to do? Hillary is not a good candidate, nor an honest leader. I think at heart Hillary is pretty moderate. Bernie has pushed her left. Can she tack back center once the children (Bernie supporters) are put to bed and the adults in the Democrat household take control again? I don’t know. But she is not dangerous like Trump is. At least not in the same way he is. I could see Trump doing damage that will be much harder to repair than Hillary. I either vote for her or I don’t vote, I guess. Or cast a 3rd party protest vote if the Never Trump crowd can get something together.

Ryan/Rubio ’20.